Sunday, May 17, 2020

American Idol At Home Finale

The weather outside my home is rainy and miserable. For some people, it may be might nicer. Everyone is making their own choices whether they are still safer at home or if they should be doing more and more things away from their residence. This entire season of American Idol has featured pre-recorded, and seemingly post-produced performances from the homes of the contestants. (The Voice has been doing the same thing basically.) This season has also gone by in a flash. It is ending tonight after just four weeks of performances. I miss the old days of Idol when this all lasted months. It is amazing that the current season of "The Masked Singer" on Fox started on Super Bowl Sunday and is just ending this week, far longer than Idol. (By the way, I knew the Bear was Sarah Palin right away.... that was the same broadcast that aired during the actual time frame when this Coronavirus thing became truly real for everyone.)

Idol has not been the same this spring and of course neither has Presidential politics. No sports either these days still. Work is definitely different (and far more difficult) for many like myself who have been working our regular jobs at home. There is some guilt in complaining too much though because so many people are out of work. Others are sick or mourning or worried about the health of loved ones. So, at least American Idol has been a bit of a diversion for the eight hours of competition rounds that will have aired. (The same will wind up being said about the 10 hours of "The Last Dance.")

As I have this season, I will be watching a DVR recording and stopping to offer comments and predictions after the performances. I take it that much of this will be pre-recorded, but then there will some actual live, very limited, real-time voting in order to crown the "winner" this evening. I have not seen any spoilers and I will try to "predict" as I go.

The show begins with a montage of the contestants literally touching their faces. How quickly we forget.

Seacrest used to host the Finale in a tux. Tonight, it looks like he is wearing a pullover spaceman pajama top.

Now, for the first time, we are told five people will be competing for the title. I assumed it would only be three.

Here were my combined rankings for last week:

7. Louis Knight
6. Jonny West
5. Julia Gargano
4. Arthur Gunn
3. Dillon James
2. Just Sam
1. Francisco Martin

Based on that, Louis and Jonny should be out. However, I do not think that will be the case. Idol being what it is, if I have to predict, (and I already predicted Jonny, Dillon, and Francisco as the Top 3), I will say they are all in, and it's an all male Top Five.

Rapid fire results are given... all things considered, I am pleased. Jonny got in as I expected, over Julia who was more deserving, although they were close together in my rankings . However, Just Sam, also got a deserved slot, and Louis, whom I had ranked last is out.

I now think they decided to make it a Top Five, because anything less than that would have been all dudes performing tonight.

1. Dillon James- "Change The World"

This first round are songs the contestants would want to celebrate with when this is all over. With a different group of people and some honesty, there might be some different choices.

I felt about this performance basically the way I look at the original song by Eric Clapton. It is pretty much just background noise. There is nothing "bad" about it, but just nothing to get excited about either. Dillon has a competent voice that alternates between folk and trying to sound sorta country. I just do not find anything extraordinary about his voice. Nonetheless, Idol is far from what it used to be with judges critiques and I expect everyone tonight to continue to be showered with praise.

2. Francisco Martin- "Adore You"

I do not know this Harry Styles song. Francisco has seemed to grow in confidence and sounded good in attempting to do a different kind of song, although he continues to play acoustic guitar on every performance. I think he proved he could sing something young and current in a credible way, although it still hard to truly judge a performer's star quality without any sort of live audience. (We all know their families and dogs adore them.) I wonder though if there are only two rounds for voting, if Francisco would have been smarter to do a more well-known song to the older women out there will be making up the vast majority of voters.

3. Just Sam- "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

Performing in a bathrobe, Sam takes on the original American Idol Kelly Clarkson, hoping to join her tonight in that pantheon. A few weeks back, she sang another winner, Fantasia. I almost wish she would have sang this Kelly song more like Fantasia would have, especially at first, where she seemed to be smiling a bit too much. Still, Sam's pitch and overall voice is hard to criticize. Towards the end, she let a loose a bit more and showed off her range, but still, as good as she always is, she is deliberately holding back on the pyrotechnics that I think are probably called for on a tv show like this.

4. Arthur Gunn- "I Don't Wanna Be"

When was the last time this song was done on AI? Back in the day, it would be brought out nearly every season. This might have been some smart strategy for Arthur to appeal to nostalgia. His voice was perhaps a bit too gravelly, but effective on this song.

It is rare for a male contestant to perform something for the iPhone this season without an instruments. I think "Arthur" deserves credit for trying to do some different things and while it looked a bit awkward, he tried to infuse movement and energy into this performance more than anybody has, at least any of the guys.

Idol seems to be awarding them states after their performances. Dillon took Alabama apparently (without a Trump Tweet), Francisco's appeal to the Asian-American vote gave him Hawai'i, where it is probably about 2 pm. Just Sam won the Idol electoral votes of Florida or will there be a recount? Arthur was given the swing state of Wisconsin, where the bars were briefly opened last week and people might have heard this song and been reminded of 2004 or the tv show "One Tree Hill."

I bet Jonny West fittingly wins Oregon or something.

5. Jonny West- "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down"

They gave him Utah. That in the west. Mormons might be glad he left Margie's pad and went home to his parents.

Vocally, I think this was probably Jonny's strongest performance. As always, he played the electric piano. It had an authentic late 90's/early 00's vibe to it. It at least made it easier to see some of the appeal he might have to fans and I think the message of the song might be good for trying to milk the everyman/underdog thing that has worked for him this season.

He has a Cross and a Bible quote behind him. Very shrewd. Joe Biden should take some lessons.


5. Dillon James
4. Jonny West
3. Francisco Martin
2. Arthur Gunn
1. Just Sam

Next, are the "Winners' Singles", which will apparently all be cover tunes.

1. Dillon James- "The Times They Are A-Changin"

Has their ever been a Bob Dylan song on Idol? Did he have to clear this? Dillon is sort of like a semi-country Gentile Dylan. You can understand the lyrics a bit better though.

If Nashville has coffee houses alongside the honky tonks and C&W clubs, this might fit in there, once things eventually open up again. As always, Dillon's voice is fine, but maybe just fine. That is about it.

2. Francisco Martin- "Alaska"

It is also a lot earlier in the day for Alaska Idol voters, but maybe they appreciate that. We already saw that Francisco has fans in Hawai'i. Speaking of states, all of the Finalists, except Kansan Arthur, are singing from locations in California. Of course, Just Sam is a New Yorker.

I do not know this song and I do not remember Francisco singing it during the audition rounds, which he seemingly did but this was good. It is not exactly my favorite style of music, but it is one of the genres that is big today and Francisco sounded like he could fit right in. This sounds a lot more like something that might be on the radio than Dillon's take on Dylan.

Francisco sang in front of a Virgin Mary statue of some sort. All of these Finalists are bringing some aspect of Christianity to their Idol identity throughout the weeks, except for the Nepalease born Arthur, who has previously been shown as a follower of Hinduism. Could all these Christians be splitting a vote?

3. Just Sam- "Rise Up"

While still relatively subdued, this is more of the Just Sam vibe that I had hoped to see. I definitely remember this from her audition. Whatever one thinks of this song and the now eternally linked connected it will have to schmaltzy Covid-19 "We Are All in This Together" television commercials, her voice is stellar. It is quite a journey for her to be someone singing on the subways of New York City not long ago to being on national television. She could have even gone more gospel on this, but still managed to show off her range within a set of vocal parameters. I find it hard to believe she has not had extensive vocal training in her past, but I do not know how her family would have had the opportunity to provide that for her.

4. Arthur Gunn- "Have You Ever Seen The Rain"

This is I believe the third different arrangement of this CCR song he has done this season, (after Phillip Phillips of course also did it on Idol.) The melody here was completely unrecognizable from the original, but it was still interesting in a haunted sort of way. I kept trying to think what it reminded me of but was unable to do arrive at an answer. Overall, his vocal style, which many will love, is very stylized. I also note that they found a time when it must have been really cold out in front of his house in Kansas to be able to film this with his breath visible and all that. I guess it did not actually rain though unfortunately.

5. Jonny West- "Makin' Love"

This song is the only original one written by a contestant in this round. I think the title of it may have cost him some fans in Utah and perhaps elsewhere in the Idol Heartland. I remember when he did it during his audition and it was ok then in the, "well, the guy who has been holding Margie's purse can sing too", but I did not really like it that much tonight. I was more impressed with the rap breakdown the first time I heard it than I was here. All I could make out was a reference to Nikki Minaj, whom Idol fans do not necessarily remember fondly. Is it possible this will have cost him the win? Maybe several placement spots?

Round 2 rankings:

5. Jonny West
4. Dillon James
3. Arthur Gunn
2. Francisco Martin
1. Just Sam

Now, the voting will officially have closed. I am relieve to not have to "judge" any tape group "We Are The World" or anything else they may be about to show. Just two rounds to judge and here are my cumulative Finale results.

5. Jonny West
4. Dillon James
3. Arthur Gunn
2. Francisco Martin
1. Just Sam

I had to break a tie for last and a tie for runner-up. I did have Just Sam first in both rounds for vocals alone.

Now, I need to make a prediction. I have really have no clue. Sam has the best voice. Francisco would probably sell the most records. However, Arthur, Dillon, and Jonny may appeal the most to the Idol Cougar Superfan base. I have never had to predict five places before but might as well do so here.

I will be happy if either Sam or Francisco wins.

My hunch though is 5. Jonny, 4. Sam 3. Francisco 2. Arthur 1. Dillon.

I will now watch the rest of the show until they arrive at the results.

The Final Two are (at least we will know):

 Arthur Gunn and Just Sam

Wow. The most deserving person made it, to my surprise, along with the person I predicted would come in second.

I hope Sam wins but I think it will probably be Arthur. I had Francisco ahead of Arthur, but just by one place. I think it came down to the "celebration" songs they picked in the first round. Arthur going with Gavin DeGraw's old Idol chestnut gained more votes from older women than Francisco's attempt to appeal to younger girls by going with Harry Styles.

A quick thought is that both of these contestants are using stage names. Putting aside matters of biraciality (like last season), I think this is the first ever Final Two in which both singers are non-white.

The three Californians are all out. Geographic vote splitting had to have played some part.

Does Seacrest have an issue with one of his eyes as we are "live" for the first time this season.

The winner of American Idol- The Home Edition is: Just Sam

How about that? I am very pleased with the result. I thought she was the most talented singer even from the auditions, but it is hard to believe she would win. I did not think she would even make the Top 5 or the Top 2 or the Top 1, but she proved me wrong. I think the old Blue State vs. Red State Idol examination may be a thing of the past. She was fortunate though to be the only female competing against four males and likely scored high with African-American viewers and probably Hispanics as well (as her grandmother is clearly Caribbean.) Technically, she has to be considered the show's first Latino winner.

Arthur is celebrating with his family and mask wearing friends like he won. Did he hear this correctly? Is he just happy it is all over? Steve Harvey could not have messed this up too?

This is a feel good story at a time when the country needs one. It is also remarkable that a young minority woman, (who may not be straight), and who literally has neck tattoos won the whole thing. The whole New York City curse is also over on American Idol. What must Pia Toscano be thinking?

Sam may very well be extremely humble and gracious. Or she could be a shrewd competitor who knew how to appeal to voters from far away by looking into the camera and coming across as she did. Amazingly, I do not think she even really had to break a sweat vocally this season in the performances she gave. I kept saying she was holding back on her voice, but I guess she did enough.

All of these kids were extremely humble this season. I think most of Sam and Francisco though in that area and compare them to Laine and Alejandro last season. Laine knew he was good and probably thought he would win from the start. There is not anything necessarily wrong with that, but it  was a different outlook. Alejandro might have been surprised by his success on the show but it seemed to really not matter to him one way or another. You can tell how much Sam and Francisco (and most of the others) really wanted this after some hardships in life and at least seemed genuinely surprised to have so many fans.

Congratulations to Samantha Diaz, which I hope is the name she uses professionally after this. Congrats to her grandmother back home in Harlem too. While I cannot claim to know a whole lot about her life, what was presented on American Idol in regards to her journey is really inspiring. I hope that her career will have a chance to take off and she can make a name for herself beyond this somewhat bastardized season of American Idol.

This is an American Idol from New York that gives us much more to be proud of than someone else born raised in that state who could take some lessons from her.


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