Look, I’ve always asserted, from the point of view of a real music fan, that “American Idol” got better–and more credible–in Season 7, when contestants were finally allowed to play instruments. That development opened the competition to a whole new type of performer: singer-songwriters like Brooke White, Jason Castro, Michael Johns, Megan Joy, Scott MacIntyre, and Matt Giraud (the latter two of whom performed on dueling pianos during “Idol’s” results show this week). And of course, let’s not forget that real musicians like David Cook and Kris Allen won the entire competition, guitars firmly in hand. But this troubadour trend reached its trendiest point this season, with a glut of guitar-strumming and piano-tickling hopefuls joining the fray. Suddenly, it was a case of be-careful-what-I-wish-for, as all these contestants sort of started to sound a little same-y. Therefore, it was inevitable that some of them would cancel each other out in the end. It was just the wrong ones who got canceled out, in my opinion.
This theory explains some of the elimination shockers this week. For instance, Alex Lambert, one of the most unique male voices on the show but unfortunately one of the least seasoned performers, was unjustly eliminated after doing a perfectly lovely Ray Lamontagne cover Wednesday, while other songwriter dudes–Lee Dewyze, Casey James, Andrew Garcia, even Tim Urban–stayed. I guess one of those guys just had to go…I just wish it hadn’t been Alex, who I think had real potential. (Adding to this tragedy was the fact that his final interview and swan-song performance on Thursday were marred by audio problems, plus he was so choked up he could barely sing, so he wasn’t even able to enjoy one last “wow moment.”)
Another one of the jaw-dropping shockers of the night for me was that undeserving alternate contestant Tim Urban actually made it through instead of Alex. I guess that encouraging hug from Ellen DeGeneres Wednesday night–and what Simon Cowell called a “reactive” song selection (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”)–helped the underdog contestant’s cause–although Tim was a VoteForTheWorst.com posterchild, and that probably didn’t hurt.
As if Alex’s exit wasn’t bad enough, Lilly Scott’s Tuesday night performance of “I Fall to Pieces” proved horrifically prophetic, as she too was eliminated Thursday–even though I’d always had her pegged as one to beat (an opinion that was unanimously shared by the judges). “I know there are people out there who want to jam with me,” a visibly saddened Lilly mused. And she’s right: Lilly, if you’re reading this, I’ll jam with you on your Moog and mandolin any time. You were robbed.
Another songstress, Katelyn Epperly–who was a seeming frontrunner after her star-making Coldplay and Beatles covers–also went home Thursday. And, like Alex Lambert, she was in tears. (So was I!) But Paige Miles, whose “Smile” performance had the judges sternly frowning this week, surprisingly made it through. Why? Well, Paige still has yet to truly define herself as an artist–does she want to sing rock? R&B? polka?–but one thing is clear: Paige is not a coffeehouse singer-songwriter chick. This differentiates her from Lacey Brown, Crystal Bowersox, and, yes, Lilly and Katelyn (all whom had to split their votes among their shared, Lilith Fair-ish fan base). So, sadly, Paige stayed and extremely worthy contenders Katelyn and Lily got the axe. Of course, the 11th-hour support of VoteForTheWorst.com probably didn’t hurt Paige, either.
However, my one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other theory, which explains Lilly, Katelyn, and Alex’s eliminations, doesn’t hold water for Todrick Hall, the other male contestant cut this week. Todrick stood out like a glittery thumb on Wednesday night, belting out a Broadway-style Queen cover while almost all the other guys played it safe with ho-hum acoustic ballads, and I would have expected this bold move to earn the votes of all the theater buffs and glam-rock fans watching at home. But perhaps there are so many singer-songwriter types this season that “Idol” has alienated a huge portion of its audience, and the theater buffs and glam-rock fans just aren’t watching anymore, period. Or maybe all the bad press surrounding Todrick’s shady past had something to do with his low vote tally. Maybe it was just karma. Whatever the reason, his elimination was less distressing for me personally than the others–but I still think Todrick’s Queen performance should have been enough to keep him in the competition over Tim Urban.
Sigh. At this point I should be excited about “Idol” Season 9: It’s the top 12! And they’re performing Rolling Stones songs next week! But I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm. My lingering doubts about this season seem likely to linger a whole lot longer. I’m simply not very jazzed about this season’s dubious dozen, and really, all I can think of is how cool it would have been to hear Lilly perform “Wild Horses” or Alex do “Angie” during Rolling Stones Week.
Anyway, for those of you reading this who still even care about the results, this season’s official top 12 are Aaron Kelly, Andrew Garcia, Casey James, Crystal Bowersox, Didi Benami, Katie Stevens, Lacey Brown, Lee Dewyze, Michael Lynche, Paige Miles, Siobhan Magnus, and Tim Urban. Congratulations to them, I guess.
Siobhan Magnus, Crystal Bowersox, Casey James, and Michael Lynche: If you’re reading this, I’m counting out you four to save the entire show now. You guys are my only hope, barring any last-minute reinstatement of the show’s old Wild Card policy.