Thursday, May 23, 2019

American Idol Season Finale

Well, this write-up will wrap up my coverage of this season of American Idol. The ABC versions sure seem to fly by. This is close to the time of year when Idol would usually end, but the seasons sure felt longer and with more merit to the eventual winner. Perhaps, ABC could cut down on the time they take to air auditions and "celebrity duets" etc, and just focus on the contestants competing.

In many ways, this finale was unlike any other. It took place over three hours on Sunday night. I only go to watch about half of it that night and did not finish the entire episode until Tuesday. I did manage to make it until 5 pm on Monday before I could not avoid finding out accidentally online whom the eventual winner was. Now, it is Thursday night and I will try to offer my thoughts both on the episode and on the overall results of the season.

For the first time ever, voters had to choose the winner only during the time the episode aired. The third place contender was cut half-way through, but the voting remained open for the Top 2 for another 90 minutes or so. Nonetheless, this was all interspersed with group numbers and celebrity performances and one, but not the other, Finalist having a celebrity duet. So, judging everything was a bit of a challenge.

Last year, the Final Three performed for the vote on Sunday night and I found most performances a bit boring. This year, everything occurred just on Sunday night. I did not find it boring so much (although I certainly did not know the majority of these songs) but that all three who took the stage looked and sounded a bit nervous and were not as good vocally as they could have been. Still, this was a strong season with talented vocalists. At least one of the Final Three was very deserving of her spot. In terms of pure vocals alone, perhaps it would have been most meritorious had she been joined by Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon and Dimitrius Graham.

The night began with Lionel Richie taking the stage to lead the audience in "Dancing On The Ceiling" and he was joined by all of the Top 10. However, since nobody had a solo, I thankfully did not have to rank it.

Round 1- Contestant's Choice

Laine Hardy- "Home"

From what I recall, he looked and sounded sort of nervous, his hair was higher than it usually is, but it was still a decent performance. This kind of country-blues is the type of music that best suits his voice. A few nights later and without re-watching, I cannot remember what else I might have wanted to say.

Madison VanDenburg- "Shallow"

It was probably a good idea for Madison to not attempt to do one of the famous Whitney ballads and instead did this recent number one hit, where she sang both Lady Gaga's and Bradley Cooper's parts. She always sounds good but again I could detect nerves.

Alejandro Aranda-  "Millennium Love"

Another original for AA. He always seems a bit nervous on the show. As is typically the case with his performances, I found the melody and his voice pleasing for the first few seconds and then I quickly become bored.

Ranking: Madison over Laine over Alejandro

No big surprise, as that is pretty much my preference going into the evening.

Round 2- Hometown Dedications

Here, for the first time ever, Finale voting would be occurring while the Homecoming video packages are shown.

 Laine Hardy- "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)"

This song was fitting for where Laine is from and he certainly has done a lot of oldies during this contest. I do not know this Hank Williams song and while Laine performed strongly on stage as typical, I found the song kind of dumb.

A lot of the dialogue in Laine's visit home seemed kind of scripted, especially when he broke down in tears and was comforted by his niece. Maybe I am just cynical. I have to say though that I thought Laine had a lot of potential on this show from his audition last year. The judges did not advance him to the live rounds, and maybe that was a good thing for him, as he was able to get the redemption and growth storylines this year. I wonder if he truly was not intending to audition though when he came to simply play guitar for his friend in her audition or if that whole thing was also just made for tv.

I remember now that he was greeted by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is up for reelection this year in a very red state, and who is trying to move to the right on cultural issues in order to try to survive. I will talk more about his race later this year, but would rank him ahead of Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom for sure. (They would not be present to greet their state's contenders.)

Madison VanDenburg- "Breakaway"

Wow. She really went there. I have commented all season how Madison sounds (and even talks) much like Kelly Clarkson. Last week, she did one of Kelly's more remembered covers from Season 1 and in this round, she took on perhaps Kelly's most well-known and emotional ballad.

I really wanted Madison to do well on this and she never sings terribly, but as the song says, "something felt so wrong here." Vocally, she seemed a bit off her game and right after her homecoming video, which was surprisingly not really all that emotional, but more triumphant in theme, Madison seemed to be a in a good mood. It's great when she smiles, but this song does not call for that. She was not able to convey the message of the lyrics which are pretty deep and even desperate. Maybe Madison's home life growing up in Upstate New York (it seems like she comes from a pretty red area in a blue state) was happier than whatever inspiration from growing up that Kelly used to sing it as a hit single.

Alejandro Aranda- "Tonight"

Another original song from "Homie" and I cannot remember anything about it other than thinking it was probably his best written and best sung original song.

To go "home", Alejandro took a commuter train (I guess they really have those in Southern California) to Pomona. The only relatives we saw were his niece and nephew who appear to be slightly older than him. Ben Harper, the local musician that Alejandro sang a duet with early in the season, was presented as a father figure. He definitely comes from a "blue area" of a blue state but the heavily Latino population seemed very proud of him and his success. I do not think at any point in the season was AA's Latino ethnicity really stressed at all by the show. Throughout the history of Idol, Latino singers have come close, many have come second, third, or fourth, (as one time commenter Conservative Democrat would remind us) but never won. That is unless you recognize country crooner Scotty McCreery as being a "quarter Puerto Rican.") In the eyes of many. Alejandro was poised to break this barrier.

There was one part of this video package that I found legitimately moving and not really fake at all. Alejandro was greeted by a children's choir singing one of his original songs back to him and he was fighting hard to hold back tears. He then thanked their parents and encouraged them to continue to support their kids' creative endeavors. Something felt unsaid there about his life perhaps.

Round Two Ranking: Madison over Alejandro over Laine

In retrospect, I might have been a bit kind to Madison because I know and like the song. I had to narrowly believe that Alejandro outsang Laine here though. With an elimination about to happen though, I decided to give the tie-breaker edge to Laine over Alejandro.

Last week, in some detail, I offered scenarios about how each of the three might win the vote. There were a lot of things that could happen here (and at about this portion of the evening on Sunday, I saw the name Laine trending on Twitter, leading me to wonder if he was the one cut first.)

My hunch on who would lose out here would be correct though unfortunately.

Who should have finished in third: Alejandro Aranda
Who I predicted would finish in third: Madison VanDenburg
Who finished in third: Madison VanDenburg

She seemed gracious but clearly down in the moment. I wonder if she knew beforehand though, because of the three, she was the only one who would take part in group numbers with the other defeated Finalists and had a duet with some country band (I think) as well.  Good luck to Madison. Out of these three, she has the best voice, perhaps because she has co-opted Kelly Clarkson's voice. It's easier to be a male on Idol though, at least in seasons where the last males standing have large fan-bases.

Weird Quasi Round:

Alejandro Aranda- "Ten Years"

Guess what? Another original song. Was there a piano for this or a guitar? I forget. There was an orchestra though on stage I think.  He's talented and I find these songs boring. Once again.

Laine Hardy- "Dirt On My Boots/Night Shift"

Here, Laine took the stage with a country singer I had never heard of with the last name Pardi. This was literally Pardi with a Hardy! That had to be the only reason because I thought the Pardi guy sounded like crap. At least Laine sounded better on this country tune. I was wondering if Alejandro would get a celebrity duet performance as well. He would not.

Ranking: Laine over Alejandro

Round 3 (or is it 4?)- Another contestant choice? Usually judges pick a song for the Finalists but thta was not mentioned here.

Laine Hardy- "Bring It On Home To Me"

Here, Laine reprised a song he did back in Top 20 week, which was like all of six weeks ago. When he sang it then, I pegged him as a potential winner when the dust settled, so I have not been surprised to see him get this far. It was another solid, if not overwhelmingly great vocal. Throughout the entire season, Laine's voice was usually on point, but he scored the most points for himself because of looking good on camera (he was shrewd enough to get veneers after being cut last year) and being captivating entertainer. He never was able to present himself as an "artist" which may mean he is necessarily mean he is destined for strong showings on the charts after the show.

Alejandro Aranda- "Out Loud"

In contrast, Alejandro does not look that great on camera, is not really much of an "entertainer" and for many his voice is an acquired taste. However, he has been shown as an "artist" from the first moment he appeared on screen. In that audition, he sang the original song he would reprise here. For me, the most memorable part of the song is the somewhat weird way he plays guitar. I recognized he had a lot of musical talent but did not understand the tongue bath he was given by the judges at the time and did not agree with it when they dialed it up even another notch after this. For one thing, Alejandro seemed glad to just be at the finish line and was seemingly not even that focused on how he was singing.

Ranking: Laine over Alejandro

So, here we were. If one were listening to the studio audience or the judges, it seemed like there was no way Alejandro could lose. While I thought it was very possible, per the reasons I discussed last week, I was still thinking Laine was probably a slight favorite for the "upset." Perhaps if it were a three-way vote the entire night, the "red state" vote would have continued to split two ways leading Alejandro to sneak in. However, when Madison got cut, her fans that wanted to keep voting probably gravitated towards Laine, the youngest male in the Finals this season.

Who should have won American Idol: Laine Hardy
Who I predicted would win American Idol (long before I saw the result online): Laine Hardy
Who won American Idol: Laine Hardy

Congratulations to both Alejandro and Laine I hope Alejandro sells a lot of records one day and I hope Laine has the freedom to do the kind of music he wants to do. I still think he has more to him vocally than the good times party oldies he often presented in satin jackets or whatever they were. I thought he stood a very good chance of winning from the moment he reluctantly accepted a golden ticket this year that he said he had not planned on wanting.  Both Laine and Alejandro were perhaps too reliant on playing guitar on stage instead of just singing, but they are clearly talented guitar players. Alejandro also played the keys. I send that Alejandro could probably learn to play the viola fairly quickly as well, if he does not already know how to play.

It is interesting to note that Laine is the first ever winner of Asian-American background. While many people might not have known that about Laine just by looking at him (his black hair aside), clearly his mother is of Asian heritage. That was never mentioned on the show though, anymore than the lack of directly acknowledging Alejandro's Latinoness.

When it all came down to it though, I believe older, more conservative voters, outvoted younger, more liberal voters. The Bayou beat the Barrio. That is not at all surprising when it comes to American Idol. We should of course be proud of and recognize the talent and diversity that exists in every corner of this country. There are "American Idols" all over the place in this land, despite the current leadership we are burdened with in both branches of our federal government.

After the results were announced, a lot of viewers may have been surprised but neither Laine or Alejandro, sweating under the hot lights, seemed very surprised at all. They shared an awkward hug and then it was time for Laine to sing his debut single. Mr. Hardy had about the most chill reaction to wining Idol that I have ever seen. His song was called "Flame" but it is not as good as the Cheap Trick classic of a similar name. If Laine shed a tear at all it was not until the confetti began to fall.

Next year, American Idol will be back on ABC, with or without the high-priced three judges of the last two seasons. I would be ready for new judges and there are a whole lot of things as a longtime fan I could change about this show to bring it back to past glory. Somehow, I do not expect to receive a call offering me the post of Executive Producer, so I will just be watching and blogging about it next winter once again.


At 12:17 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey: I KNEW Landry had it in the bag.

The Anglos & Middle America has been dominating "American Idol" ever since Season 4.


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