Ok... It may be unfair of me to make my first post in ages about something as terminally lame as American Idol. But I've got to get the ball rolling somehow.
First, a confession: I've never been a big American Idol junkie. At least not for the competition itself. Since the first season, I've made it a point to not miss the audition round. Or, the "Parade of Humiliation" as I've come to call it. Sure, this cycle kind of peaked with William Hung. But there is still some mighty fine entertainment in this phase. And there are still lots of genuinely deluded folks out there who think they have the talent or skill to be a star. The schadenfreude went to an extra special level in this year's auditions with what seemed like an exponentially higher number of contestants who had been getting "vocal training." These people had gotten lessons. They had their teachers with them at the audition. They had the confidence of a professional ready to step on to the national stage. And they sucked. Bad. I have a feeling a lot of people were asking for their money back and then some for the emotional distress. I'd have felt bad for those people if it wasn't so dang funny.
But I digress....
Typically, I check out once the public voting sucks. By that time I've picked a favorite or two I hope will make it to the final round (I didn't really have a favorite the first year that I can recall, though I remember rooting for Fantasia and Rueben Studdard very early on, and I thought Mario Vazquez would have been a real contender if he had not dropped out of the top ten--though I totally understand why he did it) but I don't really have the interest to follow what is, essentially, a sober, adolescent karaoke contest. So I'll watch something else till they get down to the final three or so, keeping tabs just closely enough to know who I hate and who I think might have a glimmer of talent.
This year, however, I've caught either the performance show or the results show, if not both, nearly every week. I don't think that this group is particularly stronger than past groups... I'm not even sure I'm more interested this year than in the past. I guess my Tuesday and/or Wednesday nights have just been a little bit freer. But even as the "cool" part of me pretends not to care, I have some definite opinions on the process and the performers, and, as we move into the final five, I'm going to publish some predictions to see how well I'm reading things.
Just to get things out of the way, here's who I'm glad to see gone (and please pardon me if I spell names wrong):
Kellie Pickler. She made it to the top six by being blonde, thin, and having a decent set of boobs. But she absolutely could not sing. And she was so dumb she made Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears look like Mensa members.
Kevin Corvais: Kind of a cute nerd, sure... and surprisingly confident. But his level of talent topped out at being able to generally hold a tune. He had no performing instincts or emotional connection to the music.
Of course, there's a couple of people I'm surprised to see gone:
Ace: He's pretty. He can hold a tune. He can work an audience. But, then, he really doesn't know his range and he can't confidently perform outside that comfort zone. His falsetto is nice, but he's not all that compelling when not delivering a song's money note. Still I thought he'd make it to the top five.
Mandisa: Based on talent, she was my early pick (along with Paris) for the top spot. But then she was found to have a less than empowering attitude about homosexuality. And when you're a plus-sized sister with a voice strong enough to dominate on a dance floor, you have to know gays and lesbians are going to make up a sizeable contingent of your voting block. Piss them off and you, apparently, go from "favored-to-win" to out the door in one week.
Now, of the five who are left I'm only sentimentally favoring a couple, but I have some dispassionate predictions on how the rest of the season will go down:
Paris: She's out on May 3. She's easily the best singer left in the competition. Her voice is well-trained, soulfully expressive with eloquent phrasing. Given the time and material, she could mature into an artist for the ages. Of course, I'll hedge this bet by reminding myself and everyone else that I also thought Tamyra Gray was going to be the biggest star to come out of season 1. I chalk that up to bad management that is way more interested in short-term chart success than building an enduring career. I would say that's why we've not seen much from Ms. Gray. And why Kelly Clarkson so publicly disassociated herself from the show and its producers this season. Back to my main point: Paris has also been a bottom three or bottom two vote getter for the last few rounds. So, I'm guessing she'll get voted off by the majority of AI viewers who all probably think Billie Holiday was a man.
Elliot: He'll be out on May 10. He's the judges' favorite. He's a competent singer. He has also been a bottom three vote getter more than the other three remaining contestants. As an interpreter of songs, I don't buy Elliot's performances. He's a skilled imitator of soulful singers. But I don't think he brings any real soul or emotion to the performances of his own. All of which makes him inimitably maleable and marketable to teenage girls. But, by my observation, as the AI voting block seems to be skewing older this season, I don't think that will pay off in his favor.
Taylor: This was a hard call to make, but I predict Taylor will be out on May 17. As I said earlier, I've noted what appears to be an older voting block making itself known in this years' selections, and I think that accounts for Taylor's success thusfar. Has be been bottom three more than once? I like Taylor and I think he's the performer in this year's group that needs the least development, who has the biggest handle on who he is on stage. I also think he'll have the broadest appeal of this year's crop when it comes to selling records or concert tickets. But as the field narrows, I think the age factor is going to become a more critical element. I'm betting Katherine is going to pick up most of Kellie's and Elliot's voters which will eventually cut Taylor out of the competition.
Chris: despite my unrequieted desire to make ravenous love to him each week, will be out on May 24. He's a strong performer. He's learning more and more how to make the creative choices that broaden his appeal while maintaining his own artistic integrity, such as it is. That said, I have the least idea what Chris will be like after the competition than anyone else in the running this year. Chris' taste in music (and his history of playing in bands) is the least likely to mesh with the pre-fab manufactured pop produced by the winners on their first efforts. Does he have his own songs he's going to push to record and perform? Will his image be crafted into the Nickelback/Evanescence/Godsmack mold? Will he be allowed to play with his old bandmates? Or will he get watered down like Bo Bice until he gets enough of an audience to push his own agenda? Chris is also the performer that will be the toughest sell to his target audience. Sure, doing covers of covers is original on AI, but it only works when your competition is Kellie Pickler and Kevin Corvais. It won't go nearly so well when he's competing for airspace with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Live. Because his interpretations of these songs have, in fact, been mostly the work of other, more popular artists, he is going to have to work twice as hard to establish his own presence when he can't crib so blatantly from one of his favorite bands. So, in the long run, Chris comes out as one of the artists most in need of development in order to score in the big leagues even as he continues to be one of the strongest performers on the show.
Katharine: I predict Katharine will be the winner on May 24. That said, I don't really get her popularity. She's competent, sure. She's pretty, she can carry a tune and hit her marks on stage. But she doesn't bring any real soul or feeling or committment to her performance. She's perfectly maleable and terribly boring. And I think that's why the judges love her so much. They all come from the music business. And in McPhee you've got an almost perfect marketing construct: She's attractive and sensual without being slutty. She can sing well, but she doesn't try anything really complicated or artsy. She's a confident performer, but creatively in need of a strong producer's guidance. I think the phrase I'm looking for is "pop robot." She can be programmed for success. But that doesn't mean we have to like her.
Now that my predictions are out of the way, I have a question: Where have all the past American Idol performers been this year? Seriously. I mean, Kelly Clarkson made a big stink about how she wasn't going to appear on the show this year and was going to police how her songs were used in the competition. But where has Clay Aiken been? Or Rueben Studdard? Fantasia Barrino? Carrie Underwood? Bo Bice? Tamyra Gray? Justin Guarini? William Hung? or ANYONE that's ever been catapulted to fame by AI? Are they ALL so disgruntled that they're keeping their distance? Or are the producers saving them until the competing herd is thinned out enough that they'll need to bring in older performers to fill up airtime?