You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged Idol for the past couple of weeks. Partly that’s because I’ve been too busy, first prepping to go to Tokyo, and then actually being in Tokyo. But it’s also because, dear God, people, have you noticed how awful this season of Idol has been? One can only grit one’s teeth and trudge on through it for so long. Eventually, shitiocrity fatigue sets in.
Now we come to the final week, and the results are just a few hours away, so it’s safe to say that this was unquestionably the worst season of Idol. There can be no quibbling about that. Since Kelly Clarkson’s coronation and the Clay/Ruben battle, we’ve had the diva season (Fantasia, LaToya, Jennifer), the Southern season (Carrie and Bo), the fabulous wreck that was Taylor Hicks/Katherine McPhee, the epic sixth season (Melinda, Sanjaya, Blake, Jordan), the battle of the two Davids, and The Year of La Lambert. There were crap contestants and crap shows every year, but there was always a story, and there were always a few people to cheer for and a few people to boo, and it was always an entertaining diversion. This season was just limp.
Not that this season didn’t have a hero. Crystal Bowersox is clearly a very talented and atypically authentic Idol contestant, with a great voice and genuine musical ability. The problem is, there was no-one around to challenge her, and that made the whole season a tiresome drawn-out bore. She might as well have been given a free pass to the final two.
There were people who could have put up a more interesting fight against her, but Lily Scott was voted out way too early, and Siobhan Magnus succumbed to bad advice, and towards the end we were left with the shockingly dull quartet of Aaron Kelly, Mike Lynche, Casey James and Lee DeWyze. You know those political polls were they put a known candidate up against ‘Generic Candidate’ to see how they might fare? Those four boys were all Generic Candidates, and none of them were fit to touch Dame Crystal’s hem.
For what it’s worth - and it’s not worth much - Lee DeWyze is the nominated generic candidate. Last week the judges made a considerable effort to persuade us that Lee was a contender, spouting the most egregious bullshit about his growth and talent (while unceremoniously kicking third-place contestant Casey James to the curb). They even got Lee to sing Hallelujah, which is the ultimate pimp song.
Can Lee sing? Sure, OK, I suppose so. He doesn’t have great vocal control, but there’s something there. Can he perform? No. He’s a sleepy lump on the stage, wholly lacking in charisma. Silence is more engaging.
Can he win? Of course he can. He made it to the final two, and the final is always a toss-up. And never underestimate the appeal of someone safe, pedestrian and mid-Western to the safe, pedestrian mid-Western audience. He could be crowned champion tonight - but he’s no Idol.
Of course, the same could be said for Crystal. She’s probably not what the producers were looking for. She had never seen the show before she auditioned, and it was clear at the outset that she didn’t really understand what she was getting into. She seems to understand it now, but she still bristles at the idea of being a performing puppet and singing nothing but cover songs. Whoever wins this year’s Idol will not fit the mould, and will likely be a tough sell for marketing team.
The contestants each have different ‘winner’s songs’ this year, and those songs showed the size of the chasm between them, but also showed what odd ducks they both are. Lee’s song is U2’s Beautiful Day, which is reason enough to pray he doesn’t win. Astonishingly, he made the song even more mawkishly grating than it was before. When the performance was over, it seemed that the judges were embarrassed to have him up there at all.
Crystal’s song is Up to the Mountain, a little known folk song about Martin Luther King. She sang it beautifully, but it really doesn’t feel like the sort of song - or the sort of performance - that you expect five months of American Idol to lead up to.
Lee can win tonight; I’m fairly certain that he won’t, and I’ll be very happy if Crystal is the victor, as inevitable and plodding an event as that would seem. In a way, she’s as subversive an Idol finalist as Adam Lambert was, because she represents real musicianship peeking its green roots through the asphalt of modern manufactured pop. Whether she can go on to any kind of commercial success, even with Idol behind her (for as long as it stays behind her), is hard to guess, since her music would probably appeal most to the sort of people who hate Idol.
The worst ever season of Idol should yet come to a solid conclusion, and hopefully the show can recover next year. But, is it possible that Idol has run out of plausible contestants? Should they rest the show or a few years while America grows a new crop of TV-friendly talent? It now makes sense that Simon Cowell has decided to quit after this season, but I bet he’s wishing he’d made that decision a year earlier. How disappointing, to go out with a whimper.