Saturday, May 29, 2010

American Idol Season 9 Finale

Who Should Have Won American Idol: Crystal Bowersox
Who I Predicted would Win American Idol: Crystal Bowersox
Who Did Win American Idol: Lee DeWyze

Briefly, let's look back at the performances on Tuesday at the Nokia Theater:

Round 1-

Lee DeWyze- "The Boxer"

He sang it well and it was probably his "cleanest vocal" of the evening, but I initially thought that reprising this number was a strategic mistake for him. For one thing, it lacked the impact that it did the first time he sang it on the Idol stage or even the emotional clip of him singing it at his Homecoming, and considering that I expected to see him have to sing two other low-key messagey songs, I thought he would have been better advised to do something a little more "rocking" or up tempo. I would have suggested he reprise "Treat Her Like a Lady" from the R&B week. Grade B+

Crystal Bowersox- "Me and Bobby McGee"

I thought Crystal was smart to reprise this song. It may not have had the emotional impact of the song she did on Idol Gives Back week, but it was a versatile number that showcased the range of her style and abilities. It had also been done earlier in the season than the one Lee reprised. While those reprised songs on Idol never seem to work as well as the first, it was still good to see Crystal start off slow and then build into a rousing finish. It was hard to tell if her voice was somewhat strained, but still, it was a good representation of what she had done throughout the season. Grade A-

Round 2-

Lee DeWyze- "Everybody Hurts"

British producer Simon Fuller picked this emo R.E.M. song for Lee and it was just ok for me. I really do not like the song and did not think it suited Lee very well. His nerves were also pretty apparent by this portion of the evening. Grade B

Crystal Bowesox- "Black Velvet"

Interesting that Fuller did not pick some sort of "message" song for Crystal here, but instead had her do a late '80s karaoke favorite. I liked what Crystal did with it for the most part in making it interesting and it was clear that she really was pushing to win. The only awkward part was seeing her tentatively walk down the staircase without her usual guitar, wearing a long black dress and heels. I bet she never pictured herself doing that when she first tried out for the show. Grade B+

Third and Final Round-

Lee DeWyze- "Beautiful Day"

I was thinking, ok, here come the cheesey coronation songs, and when Seacrest announced Lee would be doing "Beautiful Day", I said to myself, "why, that sounds like a U2 song." Sure enough, it was, and in the last post, I already expressed my feelings on that. It's not a bad song, but one I may not be able to get over the association I hold it with the ill-fated 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign and the Democrats utter failure at the convention balloon drop. Lee will probably sound decent on the recording and has the potential to sing it well live, but this will never be known as "his song." On the Idol stage Tuesday, perhaps because of the emotion of the moment, and maybe because he also had to walk around the stage without his guitar, he seemed really nervous and hit some bad notes. Grade B-

Crystal Bowersox- "Up to the Mountain"

I now know that this song is by Patty Griffin. I had never heard of it before, and as Crystal was singing it, I kept thinking, there is no way an acoustic gospel song is going to generate mainstream sales or get much radio play. However, she was really good on it and I thought it would have an emotional impact in the context of the American Idol competition and the last performance of the season. Grade A-

All Three Rounds: Crystal Bowersox over Lee DeWyze

As soon as I finished my last blog post with the above prediction, I checked Dial Idol to find that Lee had a fairly large lead. Considering that those numbers did not reflect those who texted their votes, I realized that he was likely to win, and thus I was not surprised on Wednesday night when the news came down.

In many ways, Lee's triumph is a feel good story. He showed growth on the season and people were attracted to his "underdog" story and "regular guy" persona. Before the show began, he was living with his parents in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where I lived for many years (and am now all of 5 minutes) away, and he is now probably the most famous person to ever live in that town. So, it's a big deal for him, for the nearby suburb where he grew up; Mount Prospect, and for everyone in the Chicago area.

When it comes to our Windy City sports teams, I am of course a huge fan and have been riding the rollar coaster of highs and lows as a fan for many years. In something as trivial as American Idol, I just could not be thrilled with this result, as on the merits, Crystal deserved the victory, and truth be told, a couple of the others (Big Mike and Casey) were probably just as talented, if not better vocalists than Lee.

There is another Chicagoan who won something a couple years back that I was not supportive of either. Lee's term will only be one year, but I wish him well and hope he finds success. I just think that among all nine winners, Lee is easily the most vocally suspect. Perhaps that means his "relevance" will help him sell a lot of albums and get a lot of radio play once his debut effort is put out by 19 Entertainment, but I think he will have a lot of work ahead of him.

While we may have our first "Blue State" Idol (though the Land of Lincoln could be poised for an exciting Republican revival this year), some other recent factors of American Idol are at play. Unfortunately for Crystal, a very talented singer, who has dealt with much in her young life (including the fact that her boyfriend broke up with her right before she took the stage on Tuesday), they did not work in her favor.

Since the advent on Idol of contestants being allowed to play instruments (mainly guitars) and the text-voting thing blowing up, a girl may never win Idol again. From the start, it was clear that Lee would be the contestant who could most appeal to those who zealously backed (the more talented) David Cook and Kris Allen in the previous two seasons. When we look to who might win in Season 10, it will likely be a white guy who plays the guitar.

While Idol has seen female winners before, things are changing for some reason, where the voting fanbase has become even more overwhelmingly female and probably a lot more white as well. These female voters, both the young ones, and those who the age of their mothers, are not necessarily voting for the most talented singer, but for who most appeals to them on a hormonal level. This was supposed to be a "girl's season" but Lee broke through. I guess all those 10-17 girls and 40-55 year old ladies think Lee is quite the looker. I don't know. To me, he comes across as someone I could have gone to school with, here in the suburbs. Women can be very superficial when it comes to American Idol I guess....except for the lesbians perhaps.

It has been joked that last week, when Crystal repeated the lyric "maybe I'm a man", over and over again during her rendition of "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney, it was all she could do to convince Idol voters that perhaps she is really a dude after all and thus it is ok to vote for her.

As Crystal began the voting portion of the season as the "front-runner", her path to victory also became harder. It is very bad to be the favorite that early on and be "pimped" by the judges. While you may make it to the Finale, the votes that other fan favorites have are going to gravitate to the other last person standing. Just consider the vocal firepower of the last three runners-up; David Archuleta, Adam Lambert, and Crystal Bowersox. All were expected to win at some point, and all fell up short to those who began the season as a "dark horse." The two seasons that proceeded those saw previous front-runners Melinda Doolittle and Chris Daughtry fall short of even making it to the Finale.

Few could logically argue that Crystal was not better than Lee in the Finale,and I think not many could make a case that Crystal's overall season was not the stronger one either, but Lee won because he peaked at the right time. Between around the Top 5 and Top 3 weeks, Lee had some "moments" while Crystal was not as consistent as she had previously been. People simply made up their minds to either be for Lee or have him as their second or third choice, once the other males got voted off and regardless of what happened in the Finale, they were going to support Lee over Crystal. The fact that he looked so endangered and the judges seemed to indicate Crystal had won, made them vote even more.

Anyways, the season is over and it was a good ride. Lee's life is forever changed and it will be interesting to see what becomes of his career. As we were told so many times, he is a guy who went from working in a paint store, to now having international fame, and he has so many great opportunities before him.

The Grand Finale on Wednesday was pretty entertaining. Bret Michaels dueting with Casey on "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" was pretty cool to see. I also enjoyed the visual image of all the former winners (minus David Cook) and the dozens of other Finalists from all nine seasons, who joined together on stage at once to sing a tribute to Simon Cowell. (Does anyone wonder if Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini still keep in touch?) There sure were a lot of 1970s acts on stage throughout the evening and I was not thrilled with Janet Jackson's new hair.

Let's just hope Season 10 is stronger all around. This one may ultimately be most remembered for "Pants on the Ground." If Idol wants Lee to sell a lot of records right off the bat, they should have made that his debut single.