Thursday, May 24, 2012

American Idol Finale Week

As I get ready to close the door on Season 11, I think back to what was an entertaining and competitive season, with a lot of good, musically diverse talent. Tuesday night's Final Two Performance Show was lacking though in drama, entertainment, and “moments.” Wednesday night's Finale featured some time-wasting segments, but also some really good stuff as well. When all is said and done, the same person took the Idol crown who I and many others had predicted as being a likely winner since his first audition segment ended.

In all the seasons of American Idol, the announcement and celebration of the current winner felt about as anti-climatic and dubious as any before. Still though, the franchise will go on and Phillip Phillips' devoted fans are likely thrilled and not really caring what others think. I think he is a talented musicians, and seems like a pretty decent guy, but on vocal merits, I think might have easily been seven or eight more deserving winners out of the crop of this year's contestants. P2 had a lot going for him though, including being from a small southern town, and it is hard to see what eventually might break the Idol winning formula of the winner being a “white guy with a guitar”, whose looks and personality appeal to the power voting young girls and rabid cougar women alike.

In past seasons, it was more common than not for the girl to defeat the guy in the Finale. That is certainly what happened when Idol last had a female winner, back in 2007, when a teenage girl defeated a male in his twenties. For the past three seasons now (four if you count Adam Lambert's past cross-dressing), a male has defeated a female at the Nokia Theater, even though in all three cases, I believed the female scored higher in the Final 2 performances and demonstrated overall superior vocal skills in the competition. Phillip's defeat of Jessica Sanchez just did not feel like a good story on television and while he and his family were justifiably overcome with emotion in the moment, the vibe of the crowd gathered, and the other ten eliminated Finalists felt off. Also, what happened to the remote shots of big crowds gathered at the hometowns? Was that too much money for Fox to continue this year?
Anyways, let us take a quick look back at Tuesday's nights performances, minus Jason Derulo and Scott McCreery.

The first round saw songs picked by Idol creator; the publicity shy mogul Simon Fuller. What a lousy job he did. Unlike past examples of males winning the coin toss and either foolishly or gentlemanly deferring to the young lady, P2 won it and elected to put himself in the pimp slot, not that I think it would have mattered this year.

Jessica Sanchez- “I Have Nothing”

Anything to keep the Season of Whitney going I guess. Look, I will admit to liking this diva ballad in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Ms. Houston in her prime was at her best belting this out. However, this choice offered little upside for Jessica.

It had been done so many times in Idol history, (including quite unsatisfactorily by another contestant earlier this season) and Jessica had already done two Whitney songs this year already, including the other iconic power ballad from “The Bodyguard” (and they would have her reprise that the next night.)

Jessica did her best. She sang it better than most anyone else could have, but while I think she had a “moment” in the Top 12 with “I Will Always Love You”, this struggled to connect. I was still detecting a tiredness in her voice.

All in all, quite an unimaginative selection by Fuller, and one has to wonder if that was the intent. They should have given her something to show off her youthful, more “urban” and bluesy side of her voice, especially something uptempo. Grade: B

Phillip Phillips- “Stand By Me”

Another quite unimaginative selection by Simon Fuller. Did he spend more than 15 seconds thinking about these picks? Needless to say though it was a far easier song for Phillip to sing (and probably because of his health situation, he sang far less than any of the Top 12 Wednesday night). I do not remember if P2 played his acoustic guitar or not in this round, but it was the same sort of competent, but “have seen a million times before” jam band twist he put on almost everything this season. Grade: B-

I scored a disappointing first round of competition to Jessica Sanchez.

It has to be said; Joshua Ledet would have added some excitement to the show.

Next, songs the contestants picked as their favorite performance of the season

Jessica Sanchez- “The Prayer”

If I am not mistaken, this was actually the first time she performed it this year on live television, as it might have been the song she did way back in the selection process in order to get to the Top 12 Girls. If so, you have to give her at least a small point for that.

Even during the first round, I was wondering which song she could reprise. The ones she had the biggest moments on (and which she would eventually encore the following night) were the big Whitney Houston and Dreamgirls ballads.) There is no way she could have done another Whitney song at this point and I was convinced the tired condition of her voice would not be able to remotely handle a reprisal of “And I Am Telling You.”

She perhaps needed to do something fast again, but she had received her greatest criticisms this season on those, so it was a bit of a Catch 22. In singing “The Prayer”, a melodically slow and gentle sort of song, Jessica demonstrated her talent and had her best performance of the night. It was just too bad I found it boring. Grade: B+

Phillip Phillips- “Moving Out”

This is the song he sang on Billy Joel week, and I remember liking it enough at the time. His rendition of “Volcano” was a lot better I thought from a couple weeks ago, but it seems like his strategy was to pick one number where he could do the angry intense faces. I guess I liked this about as much as the first time he sang it, but having already seen it before, I was not exactly clamoring to see it again. Grade: B

Despite the hype from the judges declaring Round 2 a P2 win or a draw, I thought Jessica Sanchez clinched another one here.

Finally, the songs that are going to be (does Jessica have this one released still this year?) the debut singles.

Jessica Sanchez- “Change Nothing”

Just great, she gets another song with “Nothing” in the title. The judges sure wanted her to change a whole lot about it though, as they did not like the selection. During the critique I was mostly focusing on how the title of the song could be used to discredit the Barack Obama Presidency.

For the final time of the season, I can say how talented Jessica is. The song though was lousy. I would even say it was “beneath” her and I did not see her get a choir or a marching drummers or a bagpipe player or anything. Talk about lack of stagecraft! It was remarked that it was too much of a straight pop song (though I think it has the word hell in it) to showcase her R&B chops. For her target audience, she is going to have better material to work with in the future, but the judges and the show pretty much gave her the kiss of death towards winning after this round. Grade: B-

Phillip Phillips- “Home”

This song was even worse. It's just that I had lower expectations for P2. In past seasons, we saw examples of how a female could easily outclass a male competitor singing the sappy, “winner's song” about overcoming obstacles and believing in Rainbow Heavens, etc, but Phillips was just given a folk song... and marching drummers. I thought it started off decently, as far as folk songs go, but then it seemed like it was more guitar playing than lyrics and some weird “la la la” sounds that I thought he sounded sort of bad on. I have said the same thing about previous winners, but I feel bad this is what he has to promote as his debut single. I will not be listening to it if I hear it on the radio this summer. Grade: B-

I had to give this a bit of thought, but trying to be as objective as I could, I gave the third and final round to Jessica Sanchez.

Who should have won American Idol: Jessica Sanchez
Who I predicted would win American Idol: Phillip Phillips
Who won American Idol: Phillip Phillips

And there we have it. After over 100 million votes, we heard nothing about how close it might have been, which leads me to believe that Phillip easily won, with about 98% of all votes coming from females, many of whom selected him a long time ago as the contestant they would vote to make their fantasy boyfriend. That's just the way Idol rolls these days. The three votes (without a busy signal) I got in on behalf of Jessica were merely symbolic and a license for me to be able to complain about the result, since I technically did vote. I suppose illegal Philippines votes were not a factor and how ironic that Phillip Phillips is the name of the person that island nation wanted to see stopped.

Best wishes to both of these young people as they move on with their careers and lives. I hope that Phillip's surgery goes smoothly and he is able to recover as soon as possible and play the role of winner on tour. Maybe getting these kidney issues in check will make him an even better singer, musician, and performer.

For the next few years to come, people will compare the sales and popularity (and perhaps who gets dropped by Interscope Records first) of both Phillip and Jessica as a post-script to the season and as as a justification/rebuke of the results. I think they both have the potential to be very successful in their own individual genres, but Jessica Sanchez is the one who has star talent. Whether she will be marketed correctly or succeed at the highest levels of music will remain to be seen.
So ends another season of American Idol, where the White Guy with A Guitar reigns again. Now, we just need to get Mitt Romney to learn how to play a few simple chords and the Presidential election should be a done deal!


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