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TV Review: American Idol, The Final Four

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When this Idol season started gas was just two dollars a gallon and the TV news was talking about getting out of Iraq instead of nuking Iran. I’m pretty sure that Paris Bennett was in middle school and Taylor Hicks had dark hair. I vaguely remember that they were talking about Ace Young being one of the favorites and Elliott Yamin was in danger of being lost among charismatic performers like Mandisa and Kellie Pickler. I was still having nightmares about Kevin Covais outlasting Scot Savol.

As I watched Tuesday’s show from my hotel room in Florida this week, I got this odd but in some ways relieved feeling that I’d run out of things to say about the show. In much the same way the blogosphere had stopped finding new ways to dissect Stephen Colbert’s doing the dozens with W at the press corps dinner. Of course, this president is expected to face less criticism than your Average Idol contestant.

I’d heard Taylor Hicks chant “soul patrol” a hundred and seventy two times. I knew Paris Bennett would say “thank yew” in her squeaky voice even if Simon was saying “That was completely unlistenable. Had I compared it to nails on a chalkboard, it would have insulted chalkboards.”

I even knew the exact moment Chris Daughtry would strangle his microphone stand.

As I watched Katharine McPhee self-consciously avoid a repeat wardrobe malfunction instead of connect to yet another power ballad, I was starting to tell myself ”Wow, that Cal Ripken did the most incredible thing!”

Can you imagine watching seventeen hundred episodes of Idol in a row?

In any case, what are you supposed to comment about when there’s no weird musical guest to somehow slight one of the singers, the judges do almost nothing bizarre, Kellie Pickler is gone, and the music itself never quite makes it to memorable? Had Sominex become the show’s news sponsor?

I have to say that what’s been an entertaining season is now flirting with boredom.

Years ago, there was a Super Bowl that ended like 16-14 with a last second field goal miss. As close as it was, the game simply wasn’t exciting because each team mostly turned the ball over and there were no spectacular plays. With the show down to five finalists and each one now asked to do two songs on the same installment, it was an opportunity for one of them to grab the viewer’s attention and declare himself or herself the frontrunner.

Instead, the survivors chose to kick musical field goals. There was Chris Daughtry rocking away again with “Renegade.” The judges loved it, but I found myself thinking during the better of his two rock out numbers, “Sure, fine, but is this any better than the eight other times you did this?”

Taylor Hicks jumped around the stage and into the audience with “Play that Funky Music White Boys,” as his Soul Patrol knows and loves while the rest of America may have wondered if he did his bit any better than way back when on the show when he was Taking it to the Streets.

There was Elliott Yamin doing the R&B bit with George Benson’s cover of “On Broadway.” If you ever saw the way Bob Fosse choreographed Benson’s version to undulate with anticipatory energy to open All That Jazz, you would know that America’s best film choreographer couldn’t have managed the same thing over Yamin’s take on the classic.

Finally, there was Paris Bennett shimmying through a way too adult Prince song in yet another hairstyle. If she was doing one of those Sandy-like transformations from Grease, it felt more like dress up than full-on “Wow, what happened to Paris, the girl who sang Streisand last week?”

In all five cases, I was certain that each of the finalists had done this and done it better at some point. The judges appeared so bored that they didn’t even summon the energy to put on their usual sideshow. Idol fatigue had announced itself. Whatever was good about the singing, I’d simply seen too many times.

Had I been directing, I would have sent Simon and maybe Paula into the locker room at halftime to do the Vince Lombardi thing as they switched form song from the year you were born to something on the current Billboard Chart.

“If you really want to be the bloody American Idol then maybe you want to sing like it,” he might have said, “This is like some karaoke bar, at a wedding celebration, in a second rate saloon, on a cruise ship somewhere, if I had to be perfectly honest.”

Paula could have said something like, ”Guys, you sing about as well as I did, but… I could dance.”

Perhaps the producers could have brought in Balco labs and given them the musical equivalent of steroids. Actually, I would have settled for Barry Bonds singing, not even to the grand jury, over the “been there done that” feel of the first half of this week’s show. I’m fine with baby pictures and all, but at the rate this was going I was convinced that I didn’t care who won this year because I’m not going to remember him or her six months from now.

Totally random, but does anyone else remember Mitch Miller urging the audience at home to sing along by following the bouncing ball? I guess I actually listen when they talk about the social security trust fund for a reason. To be fair, Idol is better TV than that was.

The second half was better, but not markedly so. Elliott did a Michael Buble song about wanting to go home. While he sang it well enough, I’ll mostly remember that he broke the jinx by not turning the title of a song like that into wish fulfillment.

Chris rocked again then explained that his voice is wearing out as the judges went “Meh, meh, okay I get it, you’re a rock singer.”

Paris did Mary J. Blige and a few days later I just don’t much remember it. This is a shame. Paris may have the biggest musical upside of any of this year’s finalists. At seventeen, she proved herself the most versatile finalist and with the one exception of country night I thought there was always at least something to like about her performances.

If, however, you asked me what she will be singing in eight years when and if she gets our attention again on the charts, or whatever they call them in the second decade of peer to peer file sharing, I couldn’t tell you.

This makes perfect sense for a seventeen year old. As is often the case with these step into fame scenarios, I suspect that even she knows that she’s better off going out now than actually winning and getting trapped into being a “star” without first finding a musical identity. When Lisa Tucker returned last week to plug her appearance on the O.C., she hardly seemed upset to be in the audience instead of on stage.

Katharine Mcphee sang “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” while dancing on her knees to the rhythms of two guys playing something called the “box drum”. She was good at it. It was different from the diva in training she’d affected over the last couple weeks and it kept her in contention. The only problem is that her self-admitted miss on “Against All Odds” hurt her odds because it raised the question “Has any winner whiffed that badly this late in the show?”

Taylor Hicks then took on that brand new song “Something” by a hot new group from England called the “Beatles”. The interesting thing about the choice was that mellow Taylor hadn’t worked after the first time or so some seven weeks ago. This time, he showed that he could go slow and soft and keep it interesting without having to spaz out at all.

It wasn’t just a change of pace. It also appeared to remind America yet again that the music of thirty five years ago somehow stands up better (even if you’re kneeling like Katharine) than most of the actual contemporary stuff on the Billboard charts. Actually the last time anyone cared about Billboard Magazine was also probably when the Beatles were still together.

Now that it’s down to four, the judges continue to work hard to make Chris Daughtry the favorite. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only one with a family to support. He’s also had at least one strong performance in each of the last two weeks. I’m wondering if Taylor and Elliott have anything new to reveal musically at this point. Actually, one could say the same of Chris, but at least based on the judges’ reaction, he doesn’t need a trick play at this point in the game.

Katharine McPhee, who has already had someone bring out the Elvis in her, remains the one who seems to have the best chance of pulling the “upset” by maybe scoring big as Katharine McPhee rather than daughter of diva dearest who can’t sing high notes. “No more wiry melisma, no more wiry melisma!”

Other than seeing Chris Daughtry or Elliott Yamin come out in a white jumpsuit as lounge lizard Elvis (Katharine Mcphee as early Elvis impersonator would also be cool), what I’d like best is to see one of the performers go for the bomb, even if it’s just a Randy bomb, and actually generate some excitement during Graceland week.

Speaking of Graceland, it’s in my head that if he’d ever do it, Paul Simon week might be a good fit for the remaining finalists. In the meantime, wasn’t Tommy Mottola married to Mariah Carey and is he going to help them channel Elvis or urge them all to go Diva City which I heard is just west of Russellville, Arkansas? And what’s the over under on the number of minutes before Randy makes a reference to working with Tommy Mottola or Mariah in some way?

Otherwise if none of the finalists find a way to step up the excitement next week, America may soon learn for sure that Elvis is alive and home at Graceland next Tuesday night when he pulls out the magnum and shoots his TV set again.

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About Chancelucky

  • Linda

    “There was Elliott Daughtry doing the R&B bit”. Poor Elliott, even when he is finally mentioned in the media, he gets Chris’s last name. It’s ELLIOTT YAMIN!!

  • Charlie

    Are you Simon, you sound like Simon. I was ready for a nap after reading half of this article. Hope you can get some new negative material before you print again, we’ve already heard all this crap from Simon.

  • thanks for the correction Linda.

    Charlie, sorry. After 13 weeks or so, I suspect I might have worn out on Norah Jones or Lauryn Hill as well.

  • Darchavious Henderson

    Well, I think Paris, Mandisa, and Kelly were three of the best singers on American Idol and when they were eliminated I was very shocked and now to tell you the truth it isnt really worth watching. Well I take that back because whoever wins American Idol I deeply and truly congradulate them but our American Idol would have been alot more interesting if Paris, Mandisa, and kelly were still competing.

  • Leah

    I sure don’t agree with Charlie! People who read and write AND watch American Idol will love your clever commentary, such as the “ultimate Simon”parody you gave us at half time. I’ve been reading far too many articles and blogs about AI–can’t figure out why I’m doing this, but I’ve discovered, in the process, that it really doesn’t seem to matter what a writer attempts to say to AI fanatics–they each have a favorite and just don’t care to do more than attempt to cheer and sneer even louder than the other blog-posters. In that I suppose they’re no diffent than any other zealot. In any case, thanks for the fun! Hang in there and keep entertaining your readers.

  • Leah,
    thanks for the encouragement. It always helps. Other than being out of state last week, one of the hard things was that there wasn’t a lot to say about last week’s show, though I did think about some of the fun with Ryan chasing Paris around the stage and the gum. I seriously thought about taking a week off, but then felt the pull of finishing the AI marathon.

    While I rooted for Paris some and didn’t much root for Mandisa or Kelly, they were three of the more interesting contestants this year. It’s not as much fun without them. I do think Paris may well hae a bigger career than any of this year’s contestants.

  • Jim

    The only thing west of Russellville is London, AR. And I’m pretty sure it’s less Diva City than Meth Mountain.

    I probably shouldn’t’ve said that.

  • I’ve only been to Russellville once. I remember a lake, a nuclear power plant, and a sort of obscure college where I stayed some 20 years ago for one night. There was some talk back then about the recreational habits of some of the natives. At least I didn’t say which Diva might be hanging out in Diva City.
    I do remember being on some blue highway in Arkansas and coming across a sign that pointed to both Paris (not Bennett) and Vienna which were both reasonably close. It was funny at the time, but I guess one would have had to have been there.

    In any case, even in these places the locals knew what “on paper” meant and had heard western accents.

  • kfc

    With the show down to five finalists and each one now asked to do two songs on the same installment, it was an opportunity for one of them to grab the viewer’s attention and declare himself or herself the frontrunner.

    You’re so right…Katherine tried and succeeded with ‘Over The Rainbow’ but, she won’t have that song on her first CD. Personally, although each contestant was given a list of song choices, I feel the producers and the judges sold them all out. They played ‘ Stevie Wonder ‘ week or ‘Burt Bacharach’ week or ‘Rod Stewart’s Songbook’ week..or ‘Elvis week’ and most of the contestants weren’t even born when these people were popular. After their performances, the singers were complimented with the likes of ‘Why did you do that song, dawg..you know that song belongs forever to…..? Well, duh..talk about setting these kids up for a major let down.

    I’ve watched AI 1-4 and started to watch AI5 but it was too painful to watch these young people getting thrown to the wolves each week; the blatant favoritism….”You’ll be in the final two, I’m sure of it!!!!’ and the destructive comments.

    Okay, I’ll get real..it’s a part of the process of learning about the real world…however, the judges intimidated the contestants so much that they chose ‘ulta safe songs’..well, maybe the only ones they recognized..Chris did his best and stayed true to himself by ‘rocking out’ and Elliot came a long ways in his singing skills and everyone dissed Bucky (I loved his voice and smile)and people either ‘got’or didn’t ‘get’ Taylor. I loved Kellie Pickler and Mandissa and Ace and Paris, Kat and Lisa but…..

    ..there were no fabulous ‘glory notes’..or personality that said ‘Ah’m gonna wink at mah fans’ (except Ace..) and Taylor’s ‘Levon’ was a total disappointment compared to Billy Clippert’s rendition on Canadian Idol…and that really was a WOW moment…No one was flamboyant like Jacob Hoggard of Hedley or soul-stirring like Josh when he sang Halleluah..(all of CI3 fame). There wasn’t one song on AI5 that consitutes a WOW moment.

    And, after all the blood, sweat and tears, Taylor managed to get upstaged by the ‘singer supreme’ of glory notes…of the wonderful personable wink..and the joyous smile..and the stylish hair (okay ..the 60ish hair)…by the one who knows how to say it all by saying nothing at all.

    Taylor won AI5 but, to sell CD’s, he’s got to project charisma…he’s got to listen to what the public says and he’s got to bring it home. He’s got to find a song that sings to him and will, in turn, sing to his fans.

    To keep AI popular, the producers should be using current day successful singers as role models (the good ones, that is). There are a few out there…eh, Clay?

    Red Deer Alberta Canada

  • Red Deer,
    As an American, I’ve never seen Canadian Idol. I would be curious to see how the formula plays out in iohter countries. Obviously, the show started as a British show, but how much does the formula vary?

  • kfc


    There is very little difference in the format of the two shows..only the word American has been changed…lol; however, although our judges started out a trifle harsh a la Simon, they’ve found out people don’t appreciate that much negativity and have adapted a more moderate tone….although Zack Warner is still ‘his own person’. Sash Jordan is akin to Paula..except she’s got all her faculties..and Jake Gold and Farley Flex, also record producers, tend to go for rockers…Farley is a very sharp dresser and leaves the ‘dawgs’ at home.

    Thanks for your comments…love your writing style.

    Red Deer Alberta Canada

  • Red Deer,
    I had wondered about that. Canadians, in general, have always struck me as much more “polite” than Americans. Again, Simon’s British, but wasn’t sure how his style would play there. Actually, Paula’s ruder than Simon in a lot of ways though not as a critic.
    Thanks for the info on Canadian Idol. I’ll have to find a way to check out the other versions before season 6 of AI starts.