I've never been less excited for an American Idol final than tonight. Most years I have a hard time getting through the day, and when I'm able to leave race home hoping to get home so I can watch it live at 8. Today, I had a brief conversation with some coworkers about the final, read maybe one article on the Internet about it, and when I got of work around 8, went to pick up a couple things at the grocery store before I went home. I even turned on the Nats-Phillies baseball game for a little bit. It was official: American Idol had become a chore to watch, even for me, a longtime obsessive of the show. (I'll try to provide a couple reasons for this at the end of tonight's blog.)
And yet when I turned on the DVR and watched the show tonight, I was surprisingly entertained. For a combination of reasons--five out of the six songs sung were new, the coronation songs weren't quite as bad as in the past, and because one of the two singers was sensational--this might have been the best final since the classic Clay-Ruben showdown in season two. (You could argue season four's Bo and Carrie might have been better, I suppose.) And speaking of Ruben, it was nice to see him, but I guess the weight-loss program he supposedly went through a while back didn't really take.
Before we got to the singing part of the show, though, we had to sit through another example of why this show is increasingly difficult to watch. There was an unconsiconable 14 minutes before anyone sang tonight, so we could sit through silly Michael Buffer intros, five minutes of commercials, the judges giving their typical "you got to sing your best" advice before the show, etc. Perhaps they could have used a few of those minutes for singing time? Let them sing a full four minute song for once? Like they'll have to do during their music career? But why would we want to see that? But at least we got to see Luke Perry, so that was nice.
And we did get Andrew Lloyd Webber back, although being incorporated into those ridiculous metaphorical clips with Jim Lampley just made everyone look ridiculous and he didn't get to say that much.
David Cook ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For")--So Clive Davis is back and doesn't do David Cook any favors. He gives him one of the most famous songs by the biggest rock band of the last 25 years--a soaring, spiritual song that can't be equaled, let alone improved upon. I suppose David did fine, but all I could think of was that I'd rather hear Bono singing this song. That's not David's fault, but it was just unmemorable. Oh, and Randy? It's not 2007 any more, it's 2008--although I suppose Randy's still saying the same things he said in 2007 (or 2004) to the contestants, so it's understandable he's confused.
David Archuleta ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me")--David Archuleta sang his face off on this one. Where was this David Archuleta most of the competition? He showed emotion, he changed his arm movements, he looked like he really wanted to win. He had a messed up note at the very beginning, and the backup singers were way too loud and almost drowned him out at one point. And granted, he got a better song--it's been covered before succesfully by George Michael in a duet with Elton John, and this was one of Clay Aiken's top performances on season two. But Archuleta made me forget about them--he was great.
And did I really see a sign that said "David A is a hot A"?
Cook ("Dream Big")--It's good that a singer was finally able to sing a coronation song that wasn't a typical overwrought ballad, but something that suited his style--or at least he was able to adapt it to his style. Having said that, it still wasn't that great a song. The whole performance sort of sounded like a mediocre Journey song. The vocals were good, but the song was kind of boring.
Archuleta ("In This Moment")--It wasn't as good as the first performance, but it was still very good. The song fit him very well, and yet it was different enough from his typical song that it didn't feel like we had heard it before. As Simon alluded to, the lyrics fit the night very well (something I usually think Simon is giving way too much credence, but for some reason the lyrics stuck out tonight). Archuleta wins round two.
Cook ("The World I Know")--I liked David Cook on the show this year, but I have a feeling I won't like whatever album he records because I don't really care for his taste in music. Our Lady Peace, Switchfoot, and tonight Collective Soul--all these bands have plenty of fans but I'm not one of them. This Collective Soul song isn't bad, I guess, and I thought David Cook gave a nice, emotional, restrained performance of it. But it didn't make me leap out of my seat and say "That guy's the American Idol!" In fact, the whole night I felt like David Cook, from his song choices to his performances, never really had that "lay it on the floor" moment that you really need to win Idol, particulaly when the other guy is singing his butt off.
As for Simon's comments about how David should have sung "Hello" or "Billie Jean," I understand what he's saying and he's probably right, but I give David points for not doing a repeat of something he'd already done in the competition--something I hate.
Archuleta ("Imagine")--But if are you going to repeat something, repeat something we haven't heard in months and do it better than you did the first time. And that's what David Archuleta did. Another fabulous performance I loved from a guy I wasn't even looking forward to listening to earlier today.
OK, before I get to my pick, two theories on what's wrong with Idol. First is something that's partly out of the show's control: It's simply gotten too big. A portion of this is the fault of the show, and its apparent refusal to turn down any opportunity to incorporate advertising into the show--so that ads for ITunes recordings of the songs sometime seem more important than the singers performing the songs on the show. But part of it is due to our insane media culture these days, which beats everything good--and bad--into the ground with such force that you quickly tire of it. I started watching American Idol because it was the fun little show that could--a show produced for about 100 bucks that first summer that happened to have a great concept, good chemistry between the judges and Kelly Clarkson. And for those first few years, all the so-called experts would say that Idol wouldn't remain popular when the season started and it would just become more and more popular each year as more and more people discovered it. They realized it was a great way to put aside the problems and troubles in your own life--and forget about the sometimes upsetting news headlines--for a couple hours a week and just enjoy yourself with a entertaining television show. But sometimes a couple years ago, American Idol somehow became the news headlines. You can barely turn on the TV, check the Internet, pick up a magazine without seeing obsessive discussion of Idol. The crush of attention is just oppressive, and drained the fun out of the show.
My other theory--the last two years may have had some talented singers, but none of them had either of the qualities that helped to make Idol exciting in its first five years. All of those seasons had singers who either were giving people something different than what they were getting from the music industry at the time, or, to quote Simon talking about Clay Aiken, didn't "look like a pop star but you can sing."
In season one, while she's become more of a rock/pop artist, Kelly Clarkson came to prominence being a white woman singing soul songs, a niche that wasn't being filled by anyone else at the time in the music biz--although now we have Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Duffy doing the same kind of thing (and in the case of the first and perhaps the third, doing it better.) In season two, both Ruben and Clay, and even Kimberly Locke, didn't look like pop stars. In season three, it's hard to describe Fantasia, but she was certainly different. Carrie Underwood was a pretty typical country artist in season four, but Bo Bice was giving us true southern rock--something which hasn't been on the charts since the Black Crowes were selling records in the early 1998s. And in season five, Taylor Hicks was certainly different from what the music industry is providing, and Elliot Yamin didn't look like a pop start. But last year, Jordin was a pretty typical pop singer, and LaKisha and Melinda were typical belters. As for Blake, you could make an argument he was different, but he was really just a modern rock singer with a boom box gimmick--not something anyone was necessarily clamoring for. And this season no one was particularly unique--except for the stoner thing Jason Castro was doing and I'm not sure there's a market for singers who forget the words. Brooke is a pretty typical female singer-songwriter, Archuleta is a teen-type pop artist, Cook is a rock singer,and Syesha is a belter. If Michael Johns had sung more blues songs instead of rock songs, he might have inherited this mantle, but he really only did it once and then went back to rock and got eliminated. Does this make any sense? Leave a comment with your opinion.
I'll stop rambling now and give you my prediction. David Archuleta will be the next American Idol.
Labels: American Idol