Saturday, May 26, 2007

Jordin Rules (American Idol 6 finale)

I better start with a confession here. I only saw about ten minutes of the Tuesday show. Part of it was that the Bachelor After the Rose show was on at exactly the same time and I’d committed to blogging that instead. A bigger part of it was that this final didn’t feel right. Unlike many others, I think the argument can be made that Jordin Sparks is a plausible winner. She’s even the one of the twelve finalists who makes sense as the winner in the show’s terms (more about that later). In retrospect, once Stephanie Edwards bit the Dusty on British Invasion night way back in the round of eleven, Jordin actually was the most logical winner.

At least in Idol terms, every other finalist had some fatal flaw. Even though there were two better singers, Jordin Sparks was the only one who could sing, could project a poised yet exuberant personality, had an appealing look that played well to the camera, and who could perform the kind of pop drek that the show uses to coronate its winner without cringing.

Idol owes at least some of its success to its capacity, conscious or not, to pick up on undercurrents in American pop culture. In the last twenty years, one of those trends has been the way we’ve come to fetishize the notion of generic self-actualization. In movies, books, celebrity, etc. it isn’t important that you stand for anything in particular whether it’s God, country, peace, social justice, a set of principles, or just want to write songs and stop working at Coyote Ugly. It’s much more critical that you

1. Believe in yourself (have a dream)
2. Work hard for it (be a survivor)
3. Be emotive once you get there

I tend to think of it as Oprah America (actually Lakisha Jones may have had the best line on the show this year when she said she knew Bon Jovi because he’d been on Oprah). As long as you overcome a couple obstacles and believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter if the dream is simply to run your own business, find a lost relative, win some ridiculous endurance test, learn to read as an adult, get a real estate license, or sing in front of 60 million television sets.

Consider the following Idol valedictories,

A Moment Like This
Flying Without Wings
I Believe
Inside Your Heaven
Do I Make You Proud
This is My Now

Are any of them about anything other than some generic personal triumph? Other than comprising a ptoential nightmare medley, does anyone else notice how self-absorbed the Idol anthems tend to be collectively? In a sense, the show is the apotheosis of what the intellectuals refer to as “American Exceptionalism,” the doctrine that America is a “chosen nation” that somehow defines both what’s good and necessary for anyone else. What’s more American Idol like than to believe that you were chosen for your own dream?

It strikes me that Jordin Sparks was the perfect slate on which to reprint Idol’s annual message of “Yes it’s me and I made it. I’m the chosen one.”

This is incidental, but it’s also fascinating that the show subtly responded to last year’s most tabloid-like storyline- Katharine Mcphee’s emergence from being self-conscious about her body image to being the finalist in the tight-revealing clothing to coming out as someone who had worked through an eating disorder. This year, the winner just happens to be a big-boned but very attractive teen girl who won a national big and beautiful modeling contest before auditioning for the show. Does anyone else remember that the Arizona native also auditioned in Seattle? America votes, but who they ultimately get to vote for isn’t necessarily an accident.

Part of the reason, I didn’t watch the Tuesday show though was that I simply felt cheated.

This season’s semif-finals started with an implied promise. In the year when Jennifer Hudson won an academy award, it looked like the show was going to make a mid-course correction. Lakisha Jones opened the semi-finals with her version of “I’m Staying”, the song that broke Jennifer Hudson out of being that really good singer who didn’t look good enough for Idol voters. When Simon declared Jones the frontrunner that night, there were so many subtexts it made my head spin. It was dissing Hudson and honoring her at the same time. Instead of talking about “fitting the mold”, maybe the show was ready to consider the possibility of letting America actually decide what it liked?

After all, hadn’t they done that two years running when Bo Bice, a rock singer, broke into the finals without having to make like some third-rate version of Bryan Adams singing about Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. Then last year, Taylor Hicks whom Simon had openly dissed as not commercial enough, won the whole thing. As the show has continued to grow in popularity and confidence, the line between the show’s making America’s pop music taste and reflecting it has gotten hazier. With its growing cultural power, should Idol pander or lead?

As things do with Idol, it got twisted from there. Both Bo and Taylor’s post-idol careers haven’t compared favorably in the sales column to Carrie and Kelly, the two winners the producers had found a way to market. Nonetheless, for several weeks this was going to be the year of the real singers. While America seemed to be enjoying Sanjaya, most people insisted that Melinda Doolittle, the other great singer who one would never expect to date Dallas Cowboys’ quarterbacks post-Idol, was repeatedly being given the message by the judges that she was the clear favorite.

I don’t know how much anyone should trust the numbers from Dial Idol, but she also topped that measure for several weeks while Jordin Sparks, the eventual winner, apparently got close to elimination in the early rounds. One week, Simon gave a signal by telling Jordin after “Broken Wing” that he actually thought she might win. Suddenly Jordin Sparks started doing better in the Dial Idol standings and Melinda faded. What was that about?

Clive Davis may have explained it best when the show pulled him from his crypt to present an award to Carrie Underwood as the embodiment of everything the show wants. Their criteria was simple enough. The Oklahoma native sold six million records with songs written and produced by the show’s stable of writers etc. Idol doesn’t want an artist, it wants somebody to front the machine. Clive’s speech about what it meant to be a truly successful Idol left no doubt about who or what runs that machine. A hint- it’s not whoever happens to get to sing that cheesy ballad at the end of the finale and it’s probably not even the guy with the British accent and the man boobs.

Of course Kelly eventually bucked against that brand of Idol taming. After all, she was rocking out in near scream mode at the beginning of the finale. Yes, they clearly also love Chris Daughtry who they now unsubtly tell America was the real winner of season 5 and whose song they played every Wednesday this season….but the basic idea is that it’s not really about the singing, regardless of what the judges say, it’s about the money.

Thoughts on the Finale

What was up with Gwen Stefani on the show this year? Not only did they keep pimping her appearances, she always seemed to do the bare minimum including the singing part. When they showed her live-remote performance or whatever it was, I turned to my wife and said, “You know as much as people criticize the Idols, at least half the time the guest stars don’t have voices that are nearly as good.”

Almost as mysterious as Gwen’s Madonna Version 2.0 thing, what was going on with the sudden surfeit of Beatles’ songs on the finale. Did they get the rights for two days and get scared that Paul was going to change his mind? The Jordin-Blake duet on “She was Just Seventeen” wasn’t exactly convincing unless you really like high school musicals. Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that Blake comes off as younger than Jordin? The Idols singing half of Sergeant Pepper just made me miss the days when new Beatles albums were actual cultural events. Where was this material when they did British Invasion night?

Idol now separates into three distinct seasons. There’s the “let’s make fun of the clueless and those who pretend to be clueless just to get on tv” of the increasingly long audition season. There’s the actual competition. There’s this kind of odd variety show extravaganza that plays out on Wednesday, this year’s dual finale of Idol Cares and the coronation show, and the judges+Ryan byplay that mostly consists of outing Ryan Seacrest or letting Paula do her take on the Peter Finch role from the movie “Network.”
Where it once seemed to be a chance to reprise the finalists and actually name the winner, the Finale now seems to pay homage to all three of those seasons.

Even though the whole crown a winner business with the faux fireworks, confetti, and synthesizer plastic ballad playing in the background still happened, the single oddest thing was that this year’s finale just wasn’t much about the contestants or even the two finalists. Sanjaya got a whole song to himself though with considerable assistance from Joe Perry and Melinda got maybe the best musical moment of the show. She was very much in her element singing as a peer of the Winans’s instead of as one of their backup singers. It truly was a sweet moment and it also said something else pretty interesting. That was Melinda Doolittle’s music. She might do other genres well, but Christian gospel pop is who she is and she’s great at it.

The rest of the non-finalist finalists basically got to play backup singer. Notably, Brandon Rogers, the other professional backup singer, suddenly seemed more comfortable singing behind Smokey Robinson than in front of him. Chris Sligh actually sounded good, but if he wants a serious career the guy needs to stop putting his keyboard in his mouth with his blog. Chris Richardson, Stephanie Edwards, Gina Glocksen, and Haley Scarnato though were barely in evidence on the finale.

I did think the girls sounded much better behind Gladys Knight than the guys did with their Beach Boys’ style chorus for Smokey. Gladys Knight started her career on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, so her appearance was a nice touch. Both were two of the better singing elderly performers to have appeared on Idol. If you remember last year’s finale and Meat Loaf et. al., a lot of this year’s guest performers did a much better job singing with the Idol finalists.

The other notable thing was that the ex-Idol winners got much more face time than any of this year’s finalists. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this level of inbreeding, but it was nice to learn that Taylor Hicks actually is alive.

Capsules on the other guest artists:

1) Bette Midler- yikes…..who was that lounge singer? What happened to the energy, the arch sense of humor, the whacky tasteless performing values? Where were the Harlettes?

2) Tony Bennett- one of the odd things is now that he’s one of the last crooners still going, it’s common to consider him “mainstream”…I’d forgotten how much of a shouter he is and how blunt instrument can be with some of his songs. Bill Evans brought out the best in Tony Bennett. Ricky Minor did not.

3) Green Day- I like Green Day, but I think Idol thought they were going really punk/alternative by putting them on the show. These guys looked like they could be doing “tribute” concerts in maybe five years. I know that their cover of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" was supposed to raise a bunch of social issues not normally discussed on the show, but they felt about as edgy as a ball of silly putty.

4) Doug E-Fresh….I thought he might expose Blake Lewis in that duet. Instead, they gave Blake Lewis the bulk of the solo space. Would you pay to see Robin Williams sing? I also find myself thinking Vanilla Ice more than Eminem here.

5) Reuben Studdard – there’s a part of me that wonders if they brought him in to sing the duet with Jordin because he’s one of the few singers who’s actually taller and bigger than she is? He’s a good singer. I do like Clay Aiken okay, but I think America got it right. He’s less affected and more musical.

6) The African Children’s Choir- I did’t miss Josh Groban. It was fun just to see a different kind of act on the show.

The Golden Idols

1) I’m sorry but that older black woman dressed as Big Bird made me think Stepin Fetchit. The loud, overwrought singer guy too. It felt like Blackface for the Tivo age.

2) Jonathan and Kenneth Briggs, Simon’s Bush Baby reminded me of the show’s tendency to try to have it all ways. The show was telling us that Simon crossed the line, but by doing so he’d actually done these two young-disabled men a favor by turning them into celebrities.

They name a Bush Baby for Simon in the Milwaukee zoo and he gives the two “good sports” a standing ovation and all is supposed to be forgiven. You know what ever happened to just having the producers or Ryan say, “We’re really sorry for having been deeply offensive” ?

Going overt with the whole Simon-Ryan homo-erotic subtext also seemed to be their way of saying “See it was okay, we make fun of ourselves too.”

3) I still feel bad for Antonella Barba and think she got a raw deal. Why wasn’t BFF, Amanda at least in the audience?

Last year’s finale was monumentally tasteless-clever and mysteriously right-on. It caught everything that’s serendipitously mesmerizing about the show. Simply put, this year’s finale was tired. I thought Jordin sounded good enough on “This is My Now.” I do actually hope she makes it.

My friend Pogblog who doesn’t watch the show but who has done a lot of tv production mentioned to me once that she saw a shot of Jordin once and knew she was the winner because she has the kind of face that can fill a closeup frame on the television set. Merv Griffin, in his enormously successful television producer phase, once articulated it as his “big head” theory. Something about big heads and big bright eyes together has an expressive quality on a tv screen.

It does happen though that Jordin Sparks really can sing, though not always consistently. I was just hoping that this would be the season when the producers took the formula to the next level instead of falling back on the old one. I still worry that Jordin Sparks' real now would have been five years from now.

To quote Blake Lewis…ah-budda-budda-gudda- uh That’s All Folks!

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot MelindaDoolittle American Idol



At 5/26/2007 06:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is not from this moment on, it is A MOMENT LIKE THIS!

At 5/26/2007 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks anonymous. Correction is made. I had looked it up in the Wikipedia and for some reason must have transposed it in my head.

At 5/26/2007 09:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comment that Melinda Doolittle is someone that we would expect not to be dating a Dallas Cowboys QB is cruel, but accurate. Is that what it ultimately takes to be an idol? P.S. Tony Romo has good taste in women.

At 5/26/2007 09:37:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I definitely don't think it should be a criteria for winning the show. At some level, it is however.
fwiw, I wasn't saying Melinda Doolittle is unattractive. She's just not flamboyant attractive in the mode of being a "People Magazine" couple fodder a la Carrie Underwood and Tony Romo.

At 5/27/2007 03:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comment "Ruben is more musical" makes me seriously question your sense of musicality.

At 5/27/2007 05:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the oddest things about the finale for me was the appearance of Joe Perry, from Areosmith. I sort of wondered if he wandered through the wrong door or something and ended up on Idol as a mistake. It was definately the highlight for me, watching him and Kelly do the Sargent Pepper bit but the Sanjaya thing I could have lived without.

At 5/27/2007 07:32:00 AM, Blogger Sunny said...

Chancelucky how could you have skipped over the best performance of the night? Sanjaya with Joe Perry. I especially adored the wind machine in his hair. The boy gave the show some humor, fun and needed energy.

Have you seen Sanjaya's video made by Will Farrell yet? Check out Will's blog, Funny or Die. It's a kick.

One more correction darling, Taylor's song was "Do I Make You Proud" - I understand your not really caring about getting these right, complete schlocky messes of Pop ballads.

Regarding Romo and Underwood, let's hope she doesn't mess up our boy here in Dallas like last end of the season's display. That last play during the season was heartbreaking.

At 5/27/2007 08:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, this finale was so bad. My only reason for tuning in was for Chris R, and as pointed out, was hardly evident.
Sadly, Sanjaya did add some much needed energy, as SUNNY put it.
I guess you could call it the crappy ending to a crappy season.

At 5/27/2007 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Heck I question my own sense of musicality all the time. Ruben vs. Clay was the only time the final was really too close to call. I actually like them both well enough and never felt that I had to hate one to like the other.
I go back and forth in my judgments at times, but right now I prefer Ruben. A little Clay goes a long way for me and at the same time I've barely heard Ruben over the last four years.

Anonymous 2,
I liked Kelly a lot better on the Beatles number and I think Joe Perry was one of the reasons. I think the finale is often the show's attempt to be the "big tent" for pop music.
Partly, I think they brought him in because the producers thought he was needed to "fill" for Sanjaya.
(sorry Sonny)

Sonny- I did think of you as soon as Sanjaya came on. He kind of confirmed that he was the most interesting performer in the top 12. I'll check out the Will Ferrell video. Is it linked on your site?
Thanks for the Taylor Hicks correction. I think I was really tired when I posted this, I keep finding grammar mistakes etc., but I have a feeling my screwing up the names of the winner ballads isn't an accident. It's like having your head dunked ears first in a big vat of Velveeta.

Your single sentence probably says everything I tried to say about the finale.

At 5/27/2007 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be curious to see if you Idolketeers (or is is Idolketears this year?)come back for more next year. It sounds as if they should cut back on the number of longer shows and make it more punchy like it used to be?

I watched '24' this year even tho it petered out awfully weeks ago -- just out of habit and I wanted to "see what happened." I lived in hope it would surprise me again. I'm not sure if it jumped the shark irrevocably for me or not. Now that I know what jumped the shark means I suppose '24' jumped the trout.

I'm still not as sure as I'm interested in what you all felt so disappointed in? It seems like most of you all's uneasiness could be cured by getting out of the longer and more shows back to an older format. What stunk?

Me, I'm hoping they do The Most Dangerous Game (the original reality show!!)with Mr. Bush & Mr. Cheney & Mr. Rove as the first three contestants.

At 5/27/2007 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
my take is that there were a lot of people who were disappointed that Blake and Jordin were the final 2.
Most people are aware that it's not completely about the singing, but the fact that stronger singers went out earlier I think was more obvious this year.

Something similar happened in season 3, but Jennifer Hudson did wind up doing well anyway after Idol.

At 5/27/2007 08:16:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Wow, that's a lot of anonymouseses. The whole show was a bit of a snoozefest for sure and I agree with all your points really although I refuse to accept your spelling errors. Tsk tsk. :-)

At 5/28/2007 02:05:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It gets confusing sometimes when this happens. I don't really know if it's the same anonymous or not.

Honestly, I'm looking forward to being Reality TV free for a little while at least. Blogging two shows wore me out.

At 5/30/2007 06:42:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

I said all along Jordin would win, just as for the reasons CL stated on the front page. And it's hard to argue with Simon sez. He may be brash or harsh, but I think he does it because part of it is the reality of being in show business.

I thought the finale was fine, enjoyed the Beatle medley. Most of the tunes were ones that Paul McCartney did the lead in writing them, which I thought was interesting.

Was it my imagination, or was the tune that Melinda and her colleagues sang a "war protest" song, but done so in an upbeat manner?

At 5/30/2007 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I thought one of the interesting things this year was how hard Simon worked for Melinda during the final 3 and how that was to no avail.

I think that while Jordin might have been inevitable, I've just never come across people who were all that enthusiastic about her as a singer. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out when she releases the CD.

I sort of wondered if the appearance of McCartney songs on AI was a reply to Heather Mills's run on Dancing with the Stars.

I'll have to look into it a little, but I didn't really hear Melinda's song as anti-war, just religious. I did think the Winans's were very good.


Post a Comment

<< Home