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It’s “Fan-tas-ia”

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As Simon and the other Brits pronounce it.

From a career standpoint it didn’t much matter who won Idol last night – Clay has fared much better by NOT winning last year, he was permanently cast in the underdog role, his fanbase was energized – but from an aesthetic standpoint, and from the standpoint of the show’s integrity, it was a great relief to see America got it “right” in selecting Fantasia Barrino as the latest American Idol.

Fantasia is not perfect – sometimes she strains her voice beyond the breaking point in search of an emphasis beyond even her grasp, and her song selection has been spotty to say the least – but she is real and very special in her combination of unique voice, emotional commitment, charisma, stage presence and overall artistry. I agree entirely with Simon that she is the “best contestant they have ever had.”

Some of my thoughts on the show and the contestants on

    Season three of Fox’s spectacularly popular “American Idol” series concluded live Wednesday from the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles as 19-year-old Fantasia Barrino claimed the top prize, and the record contract.

    The astonishing and assured earthiness of Barrino’s church-derived Aretha Franklin-meets-Macy Gray voice and charismatic, natural stage presence is in a different — and higher — universe from DeGarmo’s spunky, “Annie”-on-steroids showbiz appeal.

    When “American Idol” first imposed itself upon the cultural landscape in the summer of 2002, I, like many others, was deeply skeptical of the concept and resentful of the brash audacity of a show that vowed to mine gold from open singing auditions and pyramid-structured competition. How could something as ineffable and fragile as pop music stardom be generated by such a gross and unsubtle process?

    Even the name seemed an inflated self-parody: “American Idol.” The Fox network and the creators of the show, Brit pop impresario Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment, didn’t aspire to create mere stars, but objects of worship, “idols” standing astride all of America, their glory resplendent in the midday sun. “Ha-ha! Such hubris will be rewarded with scorn and neglect,” thought I. I was wrong.

    “American idol” is now the cornerstone of the Fox schedule. In its third season, “Idol’s” Tuesday night sing-offs and Wednesday results shows are the first and third most-watched in all of television. Tuesday “Idols” average 25.8 million viewers, 4.6 million more than last year, while Wednesday shows draw 23.6 million viewers, up 3.6 million. Tonight’s final is expected to grab the rapt attention of around 30 million viewers.

    Appealingly unpretentious
    For all of Fox’s promotional bombast and the creator’s smug assumptions, the show itself has turned out to be appealingly unpretentious in its update of the age-old talent competition format, very entertaining and sometimes dramatic to watch, and its slowly unfolding winnowing process creates a strong dramatic arc as viewers get to know and identify with the young (16-25) contestants as they survive the ax one more week, or perform a farewell swan song over the closing credits, as did 17 year-old Hawaiian Jasmine Trias last week, setting the stage for this week’s showdown between Barrino and DeGarmo.

    Giving viewers the vote on finalists and the ultimate winner has encouraged audience investment in the contestants, and having viewers vote to keep their favorites on the show keeps the process positive rather than punitive. Despite sharp-tongued judge Simon Cowell’s reputation for verbal cruelty, he’s really just honest, upholding his vision of the show’s integrity. (Okay, so sneered adjectives like “pathetic,” “tragic,” “abysmal” and “malodorous” may go a tad beyond the bounds of descriptive necessity, but why not work on the old vocabulary while he’s at it?)

    The reality on the ground is that the show is very respectful of its contestants (at least once they are out of the preliminary rounds — the show does revel in the awfulness of the worst auditioners, but such is the penetration of the show into American culture that the worst of the worst, William Hung, has become a novelty success in his own right), seeks to present them in the best possible light, and sends them off with warmth and regret (before bringing them back for the 52-show live summer tour, of course, and guest appearances on subsequent shows when their records come out, and…)…..

Please click over for further rumination.

Lastly, while I admire, enjoy, like, and wish nothing but the best to many of the other contestants from this and previous seasons, Fantasia is the only one I love, and I don’t say this lightly.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Mark Saleski

    i hope Fantasia sticks to material with a fair amount of blues in it….because she friggin’ smoked on “Summertime”.

  • Bob A. Booey


    Thanks for the nice comments. I hate to encourage the Simon Jr comparisons, so I’ll just contest 2 points you made:

    First, the outcome was very important for Diana. Fantasia had her deal with Clive Davis already. I don’t think Diana will have the opportunities Clay was afforded because of her age, image, and the type of music she would sing. Clay was different, equally talented to Ruben, and lost by a tiny margin. Diana herself only lost by 1% but that wasn’t mentioned on the final results show (only on the “Seacrest Out” talk show On-Air Live). You don’t get the sense that Simon and BMG or Clive and Arista are going to sign Diana and invest money in promoting her. If she had won, they would have been obligated to by the rules of the show but I have a feeling Fantasia would still have gotten the brunt of their marketing push. Hopefully she gets other opportunities.

    Second, the last thing you can fault Fantasia for is song choice. The judges commented repeatedly on how she was the best in the competition at picking diverse songs that suited her well — the one HUGE exception turned out to be “All My Life,” which almost cost her the competition. Fantasia’s voice has a little gravel and waver to it, which makes her vulnerable and emotional. I like that her voice is unusual, personally, but I can understand where others find it cacaphonous.

    Finally, I agree with one part of the MSNBC article. The show is in many ways a throwback dressed up in hipper imaging and I think that’s why it has such broad appeal.

    That is all.

  • http://FantasiaiscoolK Kayla Phelps

    I love Fantasia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!