The finals have begun. How did I know?
My son and I were down in the basement working out like manly men, and between sets I was hopping over to the computer to see what was up. We were having a pretty big traffic day yesterday and the counter was spinning with alacrity. I forgot Idol was starting at 8 last night – I’ve been losing a fair amount of interest over the last couple of weeks of semi-finals, it all kind of blurs together.
So anyway, around 8:15 I went over to the computer and checked the traffic, and it had slowed down to a crawl. I was puzzled, then I looked at the clock and remembered Idol was on: The Finals. Damn, a lot of you people must watch that show because normally 8-10 is a good time for our traffic, but it was limping in for those two hours last night.
And what of the show? First, the difference between the finals and previous rounds of the competition is enormous: the backing is full-on karaoke, as opposed to just a capella, piano, or half-assed karaoke. Surrounding the singers’ voices with comforting padding makes all the difference in the world, as does the big, enthusiastic live audience.
In previous rounds, the whole enterprise felt sort of hermetically sealed, a kind of private stylized showdown between the singer and the judges, but with an audience rocking and a large stage to stalk, the dynamic was very different: some grew, some were diminished by the show biz of it all.
Another wrinkle was the presence of a fourth judge, legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, of Holland-Dozier-Holland. ALL 12 finalists were required to sing an HDH tune, so it was Motown night on Idol. While Dozier is an almost peerless songwriter, he looks like Lou Rawls on a planet with outrageously powerful gravity, his face has gone into a geologic slump, and he has the charisma of cardboard. I think he told every single singer: “You made that song your own,” which is nice for a singer to hear from Lamont Dozier but not terribly incisive. Say what you want about Randy, Paula and Simon, but they command the screen and know they are part of the total performance package.
The biggest winners in the new format: Kimberly Caldwell blossomed and dominated the stage with confidence, energy and ease. Her slightly raspy alto filled up the room
It all came together for lithe, dark, beautiful little Trenyce, who had her way with a Supremes song and invoked all of the best aspects of a young Diana Ross. Her smile and grace filled the room – damn!
Clay continued his unlikely charge through the contest: a somewhat self-conscious, nondescript, gaunt Peepers-type, when the music begins he is transformed into a polished natural. When Clay sings, it’s the singer not the song. He grows with every performance and may be unstoppable.
On the opposite end of the body scale, gentle man-mountain Reuben Studdard continued his confident but humble, inspiring roll through the process – he’s already a star.
Whether it was the Motown or the expanded venue, these performers seemed diminished: sentimental fave, Marine Joshua Gracin; Mr. Personality Ricky Smith, powerful and polished Kimberley Locke. The others stayed about the same.