This American Idol thing is pretty amazing. Not only is it the dominant TV force of the past several years, which is no small feat in such a fragmented market, but it has spawned megahit records, Grammy winners, and even an Oscar winner. I could never have imagined that Fox’s silly little reality show could become the juggernaut that it has. But here it is.
The key, I think, is that it’s something that appeals to a very wide audience. It’s not just obsessive teeny boppers that watch and vote. I’m often surprised by the people that admit their Idol habit. Classmates, family members, and acquaintances of a variety of temperaments and life situations are fans. Even my middle-aged scientist boss watches. One reason for the broad appeal, I think, is that there are usually several reasonably talented contestants that will appeal to people of different proclivities and musical sensibilities: there’s always rock-ish kinda contestants, gospel-style belters, pretty girls who sing ballads, spunky teenagers, quirky personalities, hunky heartthrobs, and so on. Plus, there seems to be a regional rooting factor almost like sports teams (it didn’t matter how weird Carmen Rasmussen’s voice was, as a Utahn, I wanted to see her do well).
This season hasn’t really hooked me yet. I’m not quite sold on any contestant. There are some extremely talented singers (Lakisha, Melinda), some fun personalities (Jordin, Chris Sligh), and some heartthrobs (Blake, Sanjaya), but nobody has demonstrated enough of a complete package that they stand out in my mind as the next Idol.
This week didn’t do anything to change my opinion. The people you would expect to do well in a Diana Ross show did well—Lakisha and Melinda were fantastic—and everyone else kind of coasted. I did like that Blake and Chris Sligh tried to do something, anything, to bring some life to those old songs. Blake fared better, but neither was very good. Still, I hated that the judges criticized them for even trying.
This week’s biggest “what are the judges smokin'” moment came when they suggested that Jordin was in the same league as Lakisha and Melinda. The song was terrible (“gooey” is about right); her performance was alright, but not even in the same universe as the other two. It was very predictable and she was straining to give the song weight it just didn’t have.
Contrary to what the judges keep insisting, this is NOT a singing competition. It’s a popularity contest in which singing plays an important part, along with personality, performance, instinct, looks, and so on. Which is why I can’t predict that Lakisha or Melinda will win this year. They are by far the standouts as far as vocals go, but I don’t know if they have enough else to get the votes.
Last season I correctly predicted Taylor Hicks would win after the second week (we won’t mention what I incorrectly predicted) so I’ll give myself one more week before I try and predict the winner. This week I’ll list those who I can’t see winning at all. In order, from “no chance in Hell,” to “stranger things have happened, but,” they are: Sanjaya, Brandon, Haley, Phil, and Chris Richardson. I can imagine each of the rest of the contestants winning, even if I’m not sold on any of them. This week I think Brandon will go. Sanjaya probably still has enough admirers to keep him around for another painful week or two.
Sanjaya has been the biggest disappointment for me so far. When I first saw him I thought he’d be an interesting contestant. He was a cute kid with a smooth voice and distinctive look. I imagined him bouncing around the stage like a Jackson Five throwback. But he just has no energy and no performing instincts. Poor kid doesn’t know what’s hit him.
My wife thinks it’s a mistake to count Chris Richardson out. Apparently my mother-in-law really loves him. He is a reasonably charismatic performer and a good looking guy, but his voice is kind of weird to me. I don’t see him garnering a lot of consistent support. I could see him going as far as the final four, but no farther.
Who are you counting out?