Tuesday, May 24, 2011

American Idol Finale

I have yet to watch tonight's show, and it has been a pretty lousy evening. A ten run victory for the Chicago Cubs over the New York Mets even feels sort of empty. So, I am just going to watch this show and make some pretty brief comments. I think this long Holiday weekend, I may have some more time to offer more elaborate thoughts on the Finale results and the season as a whole.

In my disappointment tonight, I am trying to keep perspective about what really matters. The people in Missouri and Oklahoma who have suffered through devastating tornadoes this week have it worse at the moment and my thoughts are with them. Their plight makes things like a meaningless special election in New York or crushing NBA playoff defeat seem at least somewhat trivial.

So, as the show begins, Seacrest is in a tux. That might be a first. I read much earlier tonight that Lauren Alaina had lost her voice or something and may not be able to perform. Furthermore, Haley Reinhart was supposedly on standby to take her place if needed, and to sing for the Idol crown. I do not know if that would have been fair. Might as well just give Scotty the title tonight if Lauren cannot go and see if Steven Tyler and J.Lo can entertain on the fly.

Since I did some channel surfing and I saw that Lauren was on stage, it does appear that she was able to make an effort this evening. I feel bad for her, but this really is a no lose situation for her, at least in the short term. Very few people give her much of a chance of defeating long time front runner Scotty McCreery, although I think it is possible. If she is horrible tonight due to illness, that is only going to get her a lot of sympathy votes, and she will of course have a bit of an "excuse" when Scotty wins tomorrow in non-dramatic fashion.

If tonight is the apex of the musical career of 16 year old Lauren Alaina, I can imagine her regrettably looking back years from now on the unfairness of this vocal problem, on the biggest night of her life. If she is able to transition into a credible country music career though, even if it takes a few years, this whole night may really not turn out to be that big in the grand scheme of things. For her sake though, I hope she is able to do her best.

So, wow, they are bringing out the doctor, in scrubs, to talk about Lauren's vocal injury. She says she is fine and her speaking voice sounds ok. But man, Nigel and Company may really be trying to manipulate this thing for her Chicago Machine Style. Her illness is going to be the theme of the night, that I expect to be pushed by the judges, especially if she is good.

Round 1- Favorite Performance of the Season:

1. Scotty McCreery- "Gone"

So, first of all, no judges comments at all? They must really be rushed for time in a 60 minute episode. If they are just going to be silent all night, why are the judges even there? The only other time this has been the case was in the Season One Finale, where Randy, Paula, and Simon were sitting in some balcony.

Anyway, whether Scotty believes this was his best performance of the year or not is less important than the fact that this is obviously going to be his really uptempo song of the night, before 7,000 folks at the Nokia Theater. He is running all around, and putting on a good show, getting the crowd hyped. The vocals are not stellar, just as they were not three weeks ago, but it's still a good effort.

When he first sang this, I had never heard the song before, and now that I sort of know it, I find it both an annoying song and an infectious earworm. Scotty is really into this and everyone who has been on board with him since his audition episode aired, should love this. I think at least 75% of Idol voters have their minds totally made up going into tonight, so Scotty will be fine. If someone though were to be tuning into this broadcast, for the first time, since it is the big Season Finale week, I cannot imagine too many would be blown away by the vocals though. Grade: B

2. Lauren Alaina- "Flat on the Floor"

Here it is the big culmination of the season, and it seems like the host and production will just be in a massive hectic frenzy to get this all in on time, so that the Season Finale of Glee can air at it's scheduled time.

Anyways, this was not Lauren's best performance of the season, but it is a big uptempo number, so I think the same thing that I said about Scotty's choice applies. We should expect nothing but ballads the rest of the evening.

Lauren does not really seem to be nervous at all. She starts off with lots of energy and sounds really good. I cannot detect any vocal issues, so I am instantly suspicious that the whole thing is just a ruse to get her votes, or allow her to save face in a loss. Then perhaps, because I am listening extra carefully to see if she truly is sick, it does sound like her voice starts to give out a bit towards the end, as she is trying to power her way through the end of the song. Up until that point, she was taking the round, but I need to put all these other factors aside and just grade for vocals alone. Grade: B

I award Round One, narrowly, to Scotty McCreery.

Round 2- The contestants own Idols pick a song for them:

Does this mean that if I were a singer, I would have to get George W. Bush to pick my song? Carrie Underwood will be picking for Lauren while George Strait will be picking for Scotty. What does George Strait know about winning American Idol?

1. Scotty McCreery- "Check Yes Or No"

George Strait picks one of his own for Scotty to sing. Why not? Speaking of checks, George will be getting a royalty one for his choice. I have no idea how this song goes of course.

That fiddle player with the emo hair sure is going to be busy tonight. Scotty is singing with a guitar, but I seriously do not think he is playing the instrument at all. It's just there. The song sounds very old school country, but quite age appropriate for many in his core audience, as it is about checking yes or no in class to that whole "do you like me" quandry. Scotty sounds fine I guess. His fans will love it. His detractors will be rolling their eyes and pointing out his facial expressions, and making disparaging comments about the fact that he wears a cross, and how much he looks like former President Bush. So even though, I am completely ambivalent about all this tonight, I hope he does well. Grade: B

So, far this is all missing the drama of David vs. David and Kris vs. Adam, but at least nobody is as pitchy as Lee was at the Nokia last year thus far.

2. Lauren Alaina- "Maybe It Was Memphis"

This isn't one of Carrie's songs, is it? Isn't Carrie a capitalist? She would have done Lauren a bigger favor by having her sing "Jesus Take the Wheel", but maybe Carrie held back on that for a reason.

Every week, Lauren wears a Prom dress of some sort, but her get-up for this round, will have many more people continuing to compare her from one of the contestants from the show "Toddles and Tiaras."

Being a Jew from Chicagoland, I have no idea what this song is, or any of the ones that will be done tonight (besides for the reprisals.) Lauren sounds pretty good though and seems emotionally connected. She is a little shouty at parts, as if she is fighting her voice, but if anything, I sort of like the raspy, more rockish edge in it then, even though she probably would have points deducted if this were some sort of musical masterclass. Grade: B

I award Round 2, narrowly, to Lauren Alaina.

Randy and J.Lo agree with my rankings, almost word for word. Give me their jobs. Steven Tyler says he gives both rounds to Lauren because she is prettier. So, he is more into teenage girls than teenage boys. R. Kelly would approve, while Michael Jackson is unavailable for a rebuttal. (Too soon?)

One of the reasons the judges have a limited time to talk tonight, and because there had to be a break in the country music, Taio Cruz takes the stage to sing some new song about Coke. If this were Bruno Mars, he might be singing about a different kind of coke. At points in the song, Taio either forgets the words, or the his mic cuts out. This is a pretty horrible song. I would rather have seen Dee Snider take the stage to sing the Celebrity Apprentice winning jingle for 7-Up Retro or audience member David Archuleta singing a song about orange juice.

Round 3- their first single, which may only be airing this summer on country stations perhaps:

1. Scotty McCreery "I Love You This Big"

Ugh. The title. People are going to think the title of his first single is either utterly juvenile or disturbingly raunchy. Make up your own minds.

This song is horrible. I feel really bad for Scotty, and for many Idol Finale participants over the years, who spend all season trying to be amazing and cutting edge, and then have to sing some sort of goofy inspirational ballad that nobody has ever heard before. At least those, these are not going to be cover tunes, like last year.

As video images of his Idol journey play on the screen behind him, and while some of the lyrics seem to be written about him personally, Scotty sings in a very low key fashion, both in tone and in pace. He does that thing well, but he seems a bit disconnected from the song. I never want to hear it again and it seems to me like he is thinking himself about not looking forward to singing this song ever again. If Lauren beats him, he may not ever have to sing this song again. Hmmm. His mom is teary in the audience though. He could have given her a shout out, as he once did for his grandma, and won more votes.

One of the things shown was Scotty's three point field goal from the window of the Idol mansion. Can he suit up for Game 5 in Chicago on Thursday? The Bulls may really need an outside scorer.

I guess Scotty had to play the hand he was dealt with this number, but something seems missing as compared to the intensity and confidence he had last week, at least here, on his final Idol performance. Grade: B-

2. Lauren Alaina- "Like My Mother Does" (if that is even the title)

Before I hear a note, if she is smart, she will cry uncontrollably from her last note, and not stop until the judges finish.

Ok, oh dear lord, this song is specifically about her mother. L.L. Cool J once had a big hit song about his mother. She sings it directly to her mother (whom people on blogs seem to hate) and then during the song, the tuxedo clad Seacrest escorts her down the stairs to personally have a moment with Mama while she is singing. (I think this will be a great excuse for Mrs. Suddeth to join Lauren on her press interviews and on stage during this number on the Idol tour, if it is sung.)

My goodness, if there was every any doubt that American Idol, Jimmy Iovine, and all the Powers That Be, want Lauren to win, and have all along, this was it.

Lauren sounds decent singing it. As hard as I try to not be cynical, this is all a bit hard to swallow. I can imagine heads literally exploding among the cultural elitist crowd. But yes, it's about mothers, and how they are the "bedrock of society." They are pushing so hard for her to win. So very hard. Grade: B

I award Round Three to Lauren Alaina (with an assist from the Idol Machine.)

So, here we are, I have to be honest and give the night narrowly to Lauren, on vocals. A girl always has an edge, when matched up against a guy in the Finale, when they get to sing the "coronation song" last. (Somehow Taylor Hicks has been the only one to work around that.) Scotty played his role by deferring on the coin toss and letting Lauren go last. Perhaps they forced him to do that. Maybe it is all part of his strategy to throw the competition away.

Still though, I have to go with conventional wisdom and think Scotty will be the winner tomorrow. I think most people have just made up their minds a long time ago and Scotty could have sang the Alphabet Song tonight, and it would not have mattered.

However, I am not entirely convinced that Lauren can be completely ruled out (assuming it is a honest vote count, because if it is not, she is winning for sure.) If people tuned in for the first time, or simply decided to watch and then (power) vote with a completely open mind, she would probably win. It would not be because she was extremely better than Scotty tonight vocally, but because the stagecraft and all those factors favored her. (I am typing this before I even hear what the judges had to say about her last song.)

For the last three Idol seasons, whether accurate or not, the person who the general viewing audience (not necessarily Idol junkies) viewed as the "underdog" has gone on to win. If Lauren finishes on top, that would continue that trend. However, if, as I suspect, the judges declare that she is the winner, that will just motivate Scotty's fans and the otherwise contrary people to vote for him. The big Idol mystery is always just how much does the show have the judges try to influence things either directly or reversely.

I am so completely not invested in who wins tomorrow, and while I thought that way last year going into the Finale, one of the contestants was so much better that night, that I was disappointed when they did not win.

This Finale was both uninteresting and fairly evenly matched vocally. I sort of feel like a public school teacher, dishing out all these B's to everyone. Lauren winning is the better story (and she needs it more in the short term), but I think Scotty may just have truly had this thing clinched a while back.

Both of the contestants seem like good, upstanding kids, who genuinely deserve to have a future in the country music market. Based on what their first singles would be if they win, both of them, but Scotty especially, should maybe hope to take the silver after all.