Sunday, May 27, 2007

American Idol Finale Diary

In the spirit of last year's showcase finale, I took notes as we counted down to Jordin's inevitable win. The singing finale, like all finales with the exception of season 2, was a major disappointment. Clay vs Ruben was great, not only because there was actual doubt as to who would win, but because they each performed three new songs (i.e. nothing they had already performed that season) and most importantly, none of them were introduced by an announcement that they were about to sing some grandiosely shitty ballad that was slated to be the new single. Blake was badly hurt by this year's rules -- not only did he have to sing a shitty ballad, but he didn't even get his *own* shitty ballad. Instead, he had to sing the same shitty ballad as Jordin, who excels at singing big shitty ballads. Jordin took him to school on the final song, sealing her victory beyond any possible doubt.

I say this every year, but I hate HATE when the judges drag out the whole "it's a singing competition" line. It's not a singing competition, it's a star-making competition, which is why Melinda didn't make the final, Haley stuck around weeks longer than she should have solely based on her looks, and ratings sank once Sanjaya was voted off because he was eccentric, unpredictable, and very different from any finalist they'd ever had. If it was a singing competition, then Blake wouldn't have made the final. He obviously did so based on his creativity and showmanship rather than purely on account of his voice (which is very good, but certainly not spectacular). After diverging into rock and country over the past two seasons, and away from the show's R&B and pop beginnings, Blake was the only truly "new" type of talent (unless Sanjaya counts), genre-wise, that AI produced this year. Why turn sour on that, during the finale no less? Maybe the show's producers know that they got lucky with Blake and figure that a turn to more "pure singing" is the way forward for the next couple of seasons. I don't know. In any case, Blake's only chance was to compete against Melinda and steal the youth vote from Jordin's elimination. Instead, Melinda was voted off, the "singers" vote obviously went to Jordin, and the youth vote was split. No contest.

1. Blake/Jordin, "I Saw Her Standing There". This is silly, fun, inoffensive goofiness, and is perfectly suited to Blake's puppy dog good looks. At this point, I thank the heavens that Melinda wasn't in the finale because then she would have been singing this with Blake instead of Jordin and I might have had to cut my own balls off due to the complete and utter unsexiness of it.

2. Gwen Stefani graces us with a "live" performance from her current tour. Who gives a flying fuck about this pointless self-promotion? Yes, her album is a hit, but she already had a whole week devoted to her and contributed almost zero in terms of useful guidance to the Idols.

3. Kelly Clarkson sings her new single "Never Again". Kelly really shouldn't do the "angry young bitch" act; she's too wholesome to pull it off properly and tends far too much toward shouting in live performance. "Since You Been Gone" was more playful and celebratory, but this sounds like something PJ Harvey would have sung circa 1993. Not to mention that this performance is a tuneless, screaming train wreck, the kind of thing that would have gotten Gina Glocksen voted off three weeks earlier she actually did.

4. Smokey Robinson and the top six guys ... hearing each of them (sans Blake) sing their solo bit only serves to emphasize how boring this collective bunch of guys turned out to be. No sooner than I can think "Smokey showed up and he's doing bloody 'Being With You'?!?!", they switch to "Tears of a Clown" with the guys doing Four Tops-ish dance moves in the back. The dancing reminded me of how my dad always says that he preferred the Temptations to the Four Tops because the latter group danced like a bunch of white guys, with really simple hand-waving and turn moves that any klutz could do. The whole medley here was passable enough though.

5. Blake, Doug E Fresh, "The Show". And here it is, actual hip hop making a spectacular debut on AI, probably for the first and last time. This, to borrow Randy's phrase, blew it out the mofo box and I might as well turn off the TV now because there wont' be anything better tonight. This is a good time as any to reiterate that Simon Cowell is a great talent critic but an iffy talent scout, having passed up (during the audition phases) Clay Aiken (doesn't look like a star, voice is too Broadway), Taylor Hicks (doesn't look like a star, don't like me no soul or blues), and Blake Lewis (too much reliance on beatboxing, it's a singing competition you see).

6. The top six girls perform their medley, and Melinda introduces Gladys Knight (fittingly, considering the similarities) for an ensemble take on "Midnight Train To Georgia". This was vastly more interesting than what the guys did more interesting than the guys did, principally because the girls were interesting this year, meaning there was actual anticipation involved in seeing the band put back together again. It doesn't hurt that everyone looks stylish and adorable, either.

7. As Ryan introduces Tony Bennett, do I spot Constantine Maroulis in the audience looking like a homeless guy shoveled into a suit? Bennett's voice has weakened a lot in the past ten year or so, but who cares, the dude is like 80 years old and is still captivating, romantic, luxurious, and when he needs to (like during the red hot finish) he can bring it on without breaking a sweat. For a moment, right before the coda of "For Once In My Life", I fear they'll bring in "old soul" Sanjaya to duet, but thankfully they don't. The only thing that could have made this cooler would have been Bennett borrowing the pseudo-smoking jacket that Randy is wearing tonight.

8. Melinda, BeBe and Ce Ce Winans, AKA the people she used to sing backup for who are now 1000x less famous than she is. We see that the Winans were good talent spotters and hired the right backup singer because these sorts of soul rave-ups are Melinda's bread and butter.

9. Carrie Underwood, "I'll Stand By You". You know, I think I liked Gina's version better from earlier in the season! Gina was undervalued this year -- it's not like she could have won but she was top five material. One of these years, AI is going to land a 19-year old brown-haired rocker chick who can do the Pat Benetar thing properly and it's going to be massive. Just try convincing me otherwise -- Avril Lavigne and the rest of the pop punk princesses aren't going away anytime soon. In the aftermath of this, Blake and Jordin win new cars, and Jordin's ugly pink and fuchsia striped dress lead me to think that she had a terrible ratio of ugly:decent or good dresses this year, maybe worse than any Idol contestant ever.

10. Clive Davis gives the State of the Idol Union Address. It justifies the overall theme for the evening, i.e. we make the stars now, so this year we're not going to rely so much on outside singing talent in order to stock our finale with big names. Chris Daughtry and Kat McPhee's are praised (Taylor Hicks, who he?), then they make up an award on the spot and present it to Carrie Underwood for selling a zillion albums, and Carrie's speech is all like "I'm not gonna waste more time here, let's move on with the show already, Blake and Jordin are nervous."

11. The African Children's Choir burn up the stage ... it's the next generation of Idol contestants!

12. Sanjaya is joined by Joe Perry in reprising his early-season version of "You Really Got Me". Amazingly, he's the only person from this season to sing solo tonight! Whatever your opinion of him, three years from now he might be the only guy anyone will remember from this season once Melinda returns to singing backup, Jordin vanishes a la Diana Digarmo to rid herself of some baby fat, and Blake's failed Ne-Yo produced single peaks at #24. Everyone will still remember that mohawk.

13. Green Day perform "Working Class Hero", from the upcoming Darfur charity album. I'm a bit surprised that ultraconservative FOX would allow Green Day to take the stage on their #1 show, but I guess it's easy to find common ground over John Lennon and the issue of Darfur. Actually, if the left and right can't find convergence over Darfur, then we're all fucked. Don't expect "Green Day week" on AI season seven, however.

14. Taylor Hicks belts out his single "Heaven Knows" and I guess asking for a jumpstart to his career is too much to ask. If Chris Daughtry can stoke the flames of angst rock's popularity (notice how he wears eye makeup now, just like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and all the other cool rock kids) then why can't there be a Michael Macdonald revival? I know, that doesn't make any sense. The point, as always, is this: Chris Daughtry sucks.

15. Speaking of careers needing a jumpstart, here's Ruben Studdard to sing "You're All I Need To Get By" with Jordin. Ruben still has the big bubba soul brother thing going on, remains in fantastic voice, and overall does a great job of showing the good qualities that everyone saw in him in the first place. Unfortunately, his look (the size, the suits) isn't MTV-friendly and his singles were such drab R&B fodder. Let this be a reminder to anyone who thinks Melinda Doolittle can sell records.

16. Bette Midler, "Wind Beneath My Wings". OK, so if she's taking over for Celine in Vegas and plans on charging several hundred dollars per ticket, then she didn't do herself any favours here, at least as the long-term health of her show is concerned. Her voice sounds tired and restrained, she simply can't make the vocals take off and soar and all the other flying metaphors that apply. On top of that, as is the case with pro wrestling, why give away something on free TV instead of making people pay big money for it on Pay Per View (or concert tickets)? And after these dismal results, who will want to pay that sort of money now? I guess there's always "The Rose" ...?

17. 17. Tonight's surprise mystery number is a "Sgt Peppers" medley featuring all the past Idol winners (except for Fantasia, who is duly occupied on Broadway. Joe Perry and Kelly Clarkson tackle the title track quite well, Taylor Hicks takes "A Day in the Life", Carrie Underwood (and the Idol girls choir) is surprisingly good on "She's Leaving Home", Ruben (and the Idol boys) sing "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" and we wrap with everyone doing "A Little Help From My Friends" in tonight's "epic booking" blowoff moment. Again, this cemented Clive Davis' "look at our legacy" speech, with the former Idol winner playing the parts of the big celebrities from last year's show. Regardless, I preferred last year's show. Former Idol contestants might sell millions in the real world, but this TV show isn't the real world, it's a place where ordinary people get boosted to megastar status. Viewers like watching the American Dream unfold before their eyes, that's why everyone watches. So when someone like Burt Bacharach appears and performs with the Idols, it's a "Pros vs Joes" moment, a WTF juxtaposition, an acknowledgement of "hey, the music business takes us seriously". Seeing former Idols perform with current Idols removes that shock element. I see the same Carrie Underwood back in the environment I most associate with her (the Idol stage), and somehow, that's a tough image to shake no matter how many records she sells. Plus there's absolutely no WTF reaction you can get from seeing Ruben performing with a 2007 Idol that compares to the unlikely duo of Mary J Blige and Elliot Yamin, or sitting with one's mouth agape as former sexpot Toni Braxton rubs herself on an uncomfortable Taylor Hicks while they sing about poverty.

18. 74 million is a LOT of votes, hey that's the third shot of Jerry Springer tonight, Jordin's parents fill David Hassellhoff's role, and we're out!

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