Monday, June 09, 2008

American Idol 2008- Final Wrap

A few weeks back, I had comitted to posting an entry in which I would look back in a broad way at Season 7 of American Idol, give some reviews on the two contestants in the Finale, and then talk about why the person who won, did so. Needless to say, I have put that off for some time, but I am finally going to get around to it, and while this post may be sort of disjointed and all over the place, I will be happy to get it over with.

I have written so much about American Idol this season, because it was a very interesting group of people. I have said that I found many of the theme weeks and guest mentor related shows to be somewhat on the boring side and not up to par with what had been shown in previous seasons, but this year's mix of finalists and even semi-finalists brought something a little different to the table, which is why even though AI ratings may have been down, those who do follow the show, did so with a greater level of intensity and interest. Last year saw some great singers such as Melinda Doolittle (who was probably the best vocalist that season), LaKisha Jones, and Jordin Sparks, the eventual winner, but I do not remember the show really having too much of a buzz about it, mainly because the personalities themselves were a little on the bland side. This year saw a greater diversity of artists and styles and while there is so much that is perhaps unfair about how American Idol producers seek to manipulate results. fans of the show really went the extra mile this year, as seen by the massive amount of votes after the Finale. Personally, I had really never voted before, but after the finale, I actually picked up the phone and called a number to vote, a measly 10 times or so. I am going to predict (and hopefully I am wrong) that next season of American Idol is going to be far less interesting as all sorts of people will say the contestants fail to live up to the ones who were on this season and we will hear about someone as a "second rate Jason Castro, poor man's Brooke White, etc). It may take a couple years or so before another batch of singers has the same sort of impact.

Now, let's take a relatively brief look back at the journey of the two finalists, who were widely expected for many weeks to eventually face off for the AI crown, my impressions of them and their journey from the auditons to the finale:

When American Idol showed David Archuleta's initial audition, I would not have pegged him going as far as he did. He looked very young and even messed up on the lyrics to a song, but most of the pre-singing comments focused on his bout with vocal paralysis. I remember thinking that he had a good voice, but it sounded a little off to me, perhaps because of thinking of the vocal chord problem. I thought that maybe they would do him a favor by not putting him through, since he was probably good enough to get into the top 24, but maybe not too much after that, and I thought that with a couple more years of seasoning, he could be a candidate to one day really go far and perhaps win it all. When they showed David Cook's audition, I thought he did really well with a few seconds of a Bon Jovi song, but also that he looked ridiculous and that the comparisons that the producers seemed to be alluding to between him and Chris Daughtry were off base.

Then, they went to Hollywood, and while I seem to remember Simon Cowell thinking that Cook was struggling without a guitar, and thus would probably just be fodder at that point, Archuleta was shown singing Bryan Adams' "Heaven" and was extremely impressive doing so. Based on his vocal abilities and the overjoyed but humble way he seemed to respond to the praise he received, I immediately picked him as the most likely to win it all (last year I had Chris Sligh early on, ha). I thought his toughest competition would come from the likes of Michael Johns, Ramiele Mulubay, Syesha Mercado, and Carly Smithson.

Eventually, the top 24 would be assembled and since both Davids went head to head every week, I can look back into my blog archives and see how they compared to each other:

Top 12 guys- Archuleta ranked 4 and Cook was 10. I think David A. did pretty well with some slight vocal misteps on "Shop Around" , but nonetheless, it was clear he would go very far in the competition. I did not really enjoy Cook's take on "Happy Together" much at all. I thought he seemed pretty unhappy about the whole thing, and judging by that as well as the way the cameras caught him reacting to all the other contestants, I made a note on the blog that it looked like he hated every one else on the show. Perhaps, he had other things on his mind that week, but I hardly would have imagined he would go far at all based on that first week of competition. I thought that for the "rocker niche", Robbie Carrico and his alleged wig would probably knock Cook off pretty early. Obviously, I read all that wrong, as things really started to change the next week.

Top 10 guys- Cook 2 and Archuleta 3. Believe it or not, this was the week when Archie sang "Imagine" and was praised to the high heavens, and it was very obvious that the American Idol Powers That Be, really wanted him to win the competition (at that time) Needless to say, I thought he did very well on that song, but I was not able to really grasp it as something earth shattering though. I was really surprised though at how much Cook had improved when he sang "All Right Now." He seemed far more comfortable on stage and was very technically proficient. It's almost mind-boggling though that at that stage I had David C. outranking David A, and I would wind up actually being upset with the results of the finale!

Top 8 guys- Cook 1 and Archuleta 5. By this point, everyone knew that Archuleta was a heavy favorite to be the winner, but Cook really made a name for himself with his take of Lionel Richie's "Hello", which we only later that week found out might have been borrowed from Incubus's arrangement. Cook really made people sit up and take notice though. It was an extremely surprising and strong performance. His place in the Top 12 was certainly assured. As for Archuleta, I thought he sang Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise" well, but it was not on par with his previous efforts. What the viewers were not told though was that he was dealing with strep throat at the time and a couple of his other song choices for '80s week were nixed. I thoguht the performance was a little too preachy for my tastes.

So, then it was on to the big stage and the Top 12 overall: Here, I had Cook 5th and Archuleta 7th. This week was remembered for Archuleta really messing up the lyrics to "We Can Work it Out" in a few spots and being off his game. On the blog, I talked here about if the producers had told him to take a dive that week and the week before in order to not have people think the season was a foregone conclusion ( I do not believe that was the case now). Instead, much of the talk after the surprisingly average Archuleta performance was about his alleged stage dad making him cry in a recording session and what not. That story line would continue throughout the season and take on several forms. Overall, that impression of Archie's father (regardless of if it was accurate or not) and the impact he might have had on his son on the show might have done more to prevent him from winning than anything else. The comparison can certainly be made between Jeff Archuleta and Bill Clinton's role in his wife's failed Democrat Presidential campaign. As for Cook, he sang "Eleanor Rigby" pretty well, but I did not think it lived up to what he did the week before.

Top 11- Archuleta 2 and Cook 3- David A. bounced back in a big way with a strong and technically perfect (if not a little dull at first listen) version of "The Long and Winding Road" and Cook was good too on "Day Tripper", but I seemed to be more focused on him coming across as pretty smug, the fact that he kept borrowing rocked out arrangements of these songs from other artists, and the oddify of his being a proud Kansas City Royals fan.

Top 10- Cook 4 and Archuleta 7. This was the week they sang songs from the year they were born and Cook really shook everyone up again with his version of "Billie Jean." I was impressed but for me, it was a little too on the emo side to really suit my tastes and thus I did not have it ranked as high as most others did. Since he had already done "Hello", I felt like the surprise factor was gone. Archuleta picked a really weird song called "You're the Voice" that very few people had ever heard of, and thus people who were sorta rooting for him were a little let down and felt the performance was overly cheesey or Disney-like or whatever. The sad thing is that if you hear the song a couple times, it becomes sickeningly infectious.

Top 9- Archuleta 1 and Cook 4. David A.'s version of "Smokey Mountain Memories" during Dolly Parton week I think was one, if not the best, performance in the entire season from any contestant. It certainly is not any kind of rocking song, but the way he sang it was very powerful and moving in its own way and while most people really liked it, I do not think it got the praise it deserved. Cook continued to show his consistency week after week (which Archuleta did not always do) with "Little Sparrow", but for me, it was kind of just more of the same. A little too emo and a little too '90s sounding. I had thought the Clinton Era was over.

Top 8- Idol Gives Back Week- Archuleta 1 and Cook 7. The theme this week was supposed to be tailor made for Archie and I think he gave an extremely strong performance of "Angels" while playing the piano (and of course Cook played both electric and acoustic guitar in many of his performances in this first season where the singers could play along, and for that reason, both finalists are worthy of lot of credit for introducing something different to the stage). In a way though, the song was too short and the piano playing might have prevented him from really belting out the number in a way that could have had the greatest emotional impact, and therefore some people were probably underwhelmed by the effort. Cook though really had his first bad week in a long time with the song "Innocent." He was off, both vocally and performance wise, he realized it, as did his growing fan base, concerned he could be at risk, rallied to save him, which probably spelled the end for Cook's best friend on the show, Michael Johns, as his safety had been taken for granted.

Top 7- Mariah Carey week (quite boring overall)- Archuleta 2 and Cook 6. David A. sang the song "When You Believe" and it was good, but just sort of too much of another instance of a slow inspiriational ballad type song and it caused people to think he was limited in what he could do or wanted to do. Cook completely changed around the ballad "Always Be My Baby" so that it had an emo stalkerish vibe to it. Watching him do it, I just really did not get it, but people absolutely went beserk and loved it and from that point on, he probably overpassed Archie as the favorite to win it all.

Top 6- Andrew Lloyd Weber (why Nigel? Why?)- Archuleta 3 and Cook 4. The two Davids were pretty easily matched this week. I really did not care for the theme at all, but I gave props to young David for changing around the song "Think of Me" from some sort of ghastly Broadway diva tune to sort of a boring but credible pop number. He messed up the words briefly in one point, but it was hard to notice. Cook gave a pretty straight-on performance of "Music of the Night" and while he sang it well, I frankly found it a little creepy. We learned that he has this big musical theatre background and may not have been the "true rocker" that some people thought. Along those lines, if he was really a rocker at heart, he would have looked as miserable on the group song numbers as Amanda Overmyer did.

Top 5- Neil Diamond week and time for two songs each - Cook 1 and Archuleta 3. I didn't think too much of this episode and the entire show was quite weird, but I was impressed by the way that Cook took two somewhat unknown Neil Diamond songs ( I am not bothering to look up the titles now) and made them interesting and original seeming. On the contrary, Archuleta picked the very well-known songs of "Sweet Caroline" and "America" and of course sang pretty well, but it came across as a little cheesy as well. By this point, Cook should have been considered the undisputed front-runner.

Top 4- Cook 2 and Archuleta 3. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame week was another pretty evenly matched result from the two eventual grand finalists. Cook was more in the Rock N Roll spirit with "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Baba O'Riley" and performed them with confidence and good vocals but a lot of people began commenting at the time that he might have already peaked. Archuleta really surprised some people in a good way with "Stand By Me" and "Love Me Tender", showing off a somewhat different side to his sometimes awkward personality on the show. It was good of course, but maybe a little on the boring side for Rock week for me and there was a bit of a missed note at the end of Love Me Tender

Top 3- Archuleta 1 and Cook 2. They did three songs each at this stage, only one of which was chosen by themselves, and again I had it very evenly matched and both certainly showed why they deserved to be in the finals. Cook had better songs to work with for the most part and did well on "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (or whatever it is called) and "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" but I felt struggled on "Dare You To Move" in Round 2, as Archuleta did in that round with an interesting attempt but sort of out of his element version of Chris Brown's "With You." But in the other two rounds, Archie was very strong on the songs picked for him, "And So It Goes" and "Longer." The only problem was the songs were really considered kind of boring by anyone under say age 60. I felt he made them more interesting though than Cook did with his already stronger song assignments. We have since learned that Archuleta was forbidden from changing the arrangements around more and there was a lot of talk that week about his father having been "banned" from rehearsal and arrangement sessions. At this point, it had become pretty clear that the producers were hellbent on having Cook win it all, as they wanted a "rocker" to win for the first time and also believed that Cook would be a more immediate money maker on the pop charts.

And then, it was on to the Nokia Theater and the Three Round Boxing Analogy-Fest. As we all know, Cook was the winner when the votes came in, but as I have said on here before, I think Archuleta was more deserving, maybe not by a "knockout" but perhaps by a split decision. To continue the boxing analogy, I will touch upon a line from the beginning of Rocky II, after the underdog had lost a decision but gained a lot of respect, when Mickey, Rocky's crusty old manager said of his fighter something along the lines of "I don't care what dem judges said, this is the guy that won the fight."

Before I look at the six songs that were sung, I think it is worth noting that at this point, the results were probably already a given and most of the show's judges and the producers were happy with the fact that Cook was likely to win. I will not take the time to go into all the political and sociological factors that were working in Cook's favor at this point, but needless to say, it was not "cool" for someone to think that Archie should win, especially if they were not a "tween" or a "granny." But I looked at it strictly from a singing competition and I had great respect for both Davids' musical abilities and appreciated them as nice, decent people at this point as well. I just thought Archuleta was the stronger vocalist throughout the season and I was hoping he would prove worthy of winning at the finale. He did himself very proud with what he did on the stage that Tuesday night, but I thikn he could have totally sucked and he might have still gotten right about 44 percent of the total vote. I also think that Cook could have completely laid an egg on stage that night as well, and Archuleta might have gotten right about 44 percent of the vote. People's minds were made up and it was all down to turnout and how organized and motivated the "power voters were." Some people were surprised that the votes went to Cook, but they should not have been. In fact, a Rasmussen Reports poll from right before the finale showed up leading a question on who should win 51-30. Of course, we will never know how the votes would have broken down if every person just had one vote (for all we know Archuleta might have actually won and while I doubt he would have, I do think it would have been a lot closer), but considering that 21 point spread, if this were an actual election, Archie would have closed pretty well to narrow the gap as he did.

So ok, Round 1- Cook had to go first (big advantage for Archuleta) and was assigned U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and Archuleta was assigned the old Idol standby when Clive Davis wants to screw someone over "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." I said that night that round one, vocally, went narrowly to Cook who was smooth and confident on his song and looked every bit the rock star performance wise. It was very proficient technically but I think it was sort of missing that "x factor." Archuleta came across as a little nervous at the beginning of the song and maybe did not hit every note perfectly, but all things considered, he gave one hell of a fighting performance and I found the stagecraft and the way he exceeded expectations to be very impressive. To use a cliche, he left his heart on the stage with that number, and that is what made it pretty powerful. In that way, his somewhat gritty performance of the song was greater than an Idol finale in the past when now father to be Clay Aiken gave a vocally soaring but somewhat cocky and aloof performance of the same song. Strictly on vocals, I had the round going narrowly to Cook, but in the whole drama aspect of it, it was Archie's finest moment.

Round 2- cheesy songwriting contest entries that the contestants picked. I have to say that I really did not like Cook's song, "Dream Big" or something and while he did the best he could vocally and with his guitar, I just was not picturing that as a hit. I did not realize that it would not actually be the coronation song though and that he would get the deal with the Magic Rainbows and all that, but as he sang it, I could not help but think what a bad song selection it was. Archie's song "In This Moment" was hardly a Grammy winner in the making either, but it was far more in line with the theme of the "coronation song" aspect and while it was sufficiently cheesy, he sang it quite well for what it was, and vocally, I think he easily took that round.

Round 3- contestants choice. Cook did a new song, "The World I Know" by Collective Soul and did really well and should get props for deciding to do something he had not done before, (and I thought he might have hurt himself when he defended the choice to Simon after the song by saying as much and realizing that it would probably come across as a shot against innocent little Archie) but to me, the song, his last ever as an Idol contestant was just lacking in emotion or impact with the opportunity he was given. It felt more like he was singing it on Saturday Night Live or something than the Idol finale. So, the stage was set for Archuleta to revisit "Imagine" which had made such a name for him many weeks ago. I did not think it was quite as good vocally as the first time he did it, (and remember, I only had him ranked third that week, and behind Cook) but at least it was a "moment", singing it before the thousand assembled. In this round, I thought he narrowly outsang Cook (while beating him to a great extent in the non-vocal factor) and thus deserved the title of American Idol, based on Finale Night itself, and on the entirely of the season.

I guess I got a little caught up in things when Randy Jackson went nuts with his proclamation of Archie once again bringing the "Hot Crazy Vocals!" and talking about singing the phone book for the 89th time (next year Randy, say a strong contestant can sing the Libertarian Party platform or something) and Simon declaring the night a knockout, I thought Archuleta might win. Then, I saw Dial Idol and realized, that no, people's minds were already made up.

I really have to wonder just how sincere Simon was on Finale Night. In interviews leading up to that last show, he basically said that Cook would win and deserved to win and was even a little dismissive of Archuleta in some ways, saying he had not had to work as hard (I note that David A. was the only one who had to go to three hours of school every day in addition to everything else) and was only getting by because he was "cute." That seemed to reiterate that they were prepared to throw the little dude under a bus to assure a Cook AI victory. So, when Simon made his comments, I was not sure what to think. Did he really mean it? Was the outcome such a conclusion, they were only trying to make things closer? Did TPTB want Archie all along and the rest was a ruse? Was Simon trying to simply fire up Cook's fans to vote like crazy and maybe lulll the "Archies" into complacency thinking they had it won? So much to ponder...

But on the red carpet the next night, Simon was saying that he watched it later on television, and had it wrong, and that Cook was much better than he thought and Archuleta was not that strong. Now, perhaps David A. was just so much stronger in the theater than even on television (where he sounded pretty good), but I certainly think Simon had already seen the results and was engaged in something called CYA. The producers and everyone associated with the show have a duty to make an interesting television program, but I would have liked to have seen some more in the line of meritocracy with the way that many things went down this season. Archuleta and Cook (not to mention many others) were perhaps done a disservice by all the manipulation that went on.

As we all know, Cook won by several million votes in what was a massive amount of voting force. Again, we have no way of knowing how it would have broken down by actual people, but I certainly think that Cook's fan (besides being fired up by Simon's knockout comments), had a far greater capacity, both money-wise and time-wise to vote. If it is true that much of Archie's base consisted on grannies with their land lines, maybe calling a few times to vote and tweens and teens calling and texting, it makes sense that they would not have been able to vote nearly as much as Cook's base. Between homework, bedtimes, and everything else, people who wanted to vote for Archuleta were not as likely to be able to spend four hours and as late as 1 am, voting for him.

So, Cook won, and he is worthy of praise. He may be a little too emo and too 1990s for me, but I admire his talents as a musician and singer and think he is impressively well-spoken and seemingly genuine about all this. I don't know if he will be around for years to come in the music business (and he may not even live up to Daughty fame, despite being a seemingly more approachable and female fan friendly type) but he will probably sell a ton of albums to start off and will have a great chance to be a success in the music business. I like the brotherly relationship that he and Archie seem to have as well and I think it might genuinely be better for Archuleta to have finished second and not have suffered what would have been an inevitable backlash had he won about a fix being in or his not being as ready. Expectations for the runner-up will be far more manageable. I just hope he is able to be surrounded by seasoned professionals who know how to guide his career and that his father is just his father for the most part, proud of the talented and humble son that he raised, but not trying to direct his career. I disagree with those who say that Archuleta is only a Disney singer or a Josh Groban type who can only sing mature ballads. I think he is talented enough to do very well on today's charts because he has a great voice and a likeable personality. On the final results show, I think he made a lot of people open their eyes with a stellar duet performance on One Republic's "Apologize." I do not think Archuleta will initially sell as many records as Cook and may not for a few years, but he has youth on his side and he has the ability to sing material as he gets older that will never go out of style. I really do think he is going to be around for a very long time and will have a successful career.

As mentioned, I think Archie should have placed first and in a way the fact that so many people voted against him and took glee from doing so is a bit like kicking a puppy. How can anyone actually dislike the kid? Because he didn't have glib answers in intereviews? Apparently, he seems to be getting better at those though, so I will not act like Michelle Obama and say that America is a mean country or say for the first time in my adult life, I am not proud of my country.

Instead, I will say that it was a good season, and I cannot believe I actually devoted these many words to discussing it. Hopefully both David Cook and David Archuleta will have careers in the music business and worthwile lives away from the stage to make proud all those who devoted so much into rooting them on this year. The music business will be better for it if that happens.


At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I had thought the Clinton Era was over."

Not as over as the Reagan Era, which your party can't seem to let go of. (John McCain's new argument seems to be comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter. Real relevant analogy, that. If anyone deserves current comparison to Carter it's George W. Bush.)

And that's not just in politics, either. I remember your comments on Politics 1 which seemed to suggest that you think hair metal was the high point of music!

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Corey said...

You actually read all of this Mike?

How bored are you?

I would so love a Hair Metal Idol show.

At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well there goes my cover. I at least temporarily abandoned the old "Mike in Maryland" tag for a fresh start in Politics 1 posting. I will probably not ever post there again as much as I used to, though, regardless of name.

I just skimmed the AI post. A show dedicated to 80s/early 90s "hair metal" would definitely be, um, interesting, but it's easy for even a casual Idol observer (like me) to see that such a show would really tax the vocal talents of many of the competitors. Song selection would be amusing, though.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Corey said...

I always knew who you were.

I haven't even read this post and I am the one who wrote it.

Sebastian Bach is a million times the rocker that David Cook can ever hope to be.


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