By the end of tonight’s “American Idol” result show, Jennifer Lopez and James Durbin had tears in their eyes, as undoubtedly did a great many of the 52 million voters who have now developed attachment to this season’s want-to-be Idols. Why the tears? To explain that, we have to pause here and shout: SPOILER ALERT!!
Ready? I’ll cut to the chase and say the third time was not the charm for the very likable Stefano Langone, the wild card who got all the way to the Final 7 with two straight last-minute reprieves after finishing in the bottom three. “If it’s the end of the road, it’s the end of the road,” he shrugged to Ryan Seacrest as he stood alongside Jacob Lusk moments before the results were revealed. “I’ll keep fighting and pushing to where I want to go in my career.”
Cue the tears.
With a final performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” Langone proved how he got this far, with a confidence and smooth delivery that wowed his female fans, the biggest one J. Lo herself, who was in his corner from the beginning. The closing montage captures her calling him “amazing” and cooing, “I love you Stefano.”
At the end of the song, a visibly shaken Durbin hoisted Stefano up and the rest of the contestants crowded the stage for a group hug to celebrate their fallen “Idol.”
As this process goes further and further, to its inevitable crowning of a champion, our attachment to the contestants as individuals makes it all seem, well, real, the drama escalating, just as it does in the music business itself, a crazy competition to curry favor with the public.
Of course, after 10 years, “Idol” has become a self-enclosed world of its own, feting their former stars, like David Cook this week, and Jordin Sparks and Lee DeWyze in previous weeks, like returning heroes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate into chart success. In fact, this season, sales of the individual downloads of the performances, as well as the full compilations, are said to be so low that the show doesn’t want the results made public, though the reason they give is because they don’t want it to affect the voting. Can this season’s winner—or even one of the runners-up—reverse the trend?
Still, as executive producer Ken Warwick pointed out this week, “American Idol” is a show whose job it is to get people’s attention, so they will watch, which boosts ratings, and allows the network to sell more commercial time. And by creating such a compelling, music-based, reality scenario, Warwick and fellow Englishman Nigel Lythgoe have rejuvenated the show this season. Who imagined a pair of Brits could produce such a quintessentially American show, which judges musical talent with a democratically elected popularity contest?… Of course, that’s merely a microcosm of what the record business is anyway, which makes “American Idol” such a fascinating mirror to how the industry works.
On the other hand, the problem with using a popular vote to judge talent, though, is that real artistry, especially in the ephemeral world of pop music, sometimes comes from doing the unpopular thing. That’s where renegades like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Madonna as well as Katy Perry and Kanye West, who performed “E.T.” on the show together tonight, come in. They happen precisely because they don’t fit in.
And that’s where we find ourselves with six contestants left. Of the remaining half-dozen, this week’s other bottom three finisher, Haley Reinhart, is probably living on borrowed time, given the unfemale-friendly voting tendencies of the “Idol” electorate this season. Still, she’s had some incredible momentum lately—her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was a definite highlight this week—and it seems the public may well be tiring of Jacob’s antics. And wouldn’t it be something if Haley went up against her purported beau Casey in the finale?
Unfortunately, that is about as likely to happen as Abrams shaving his beard off, but the race is still anyone’s to win at this point, especially if dialidol.com leader Scotty McCreery continues to underwhelm by sticking to traditional country.
J. Lo responding to Ryan Seacrest wondering who she thought would be eliminated tonight: “I hope it’s not a girl… I hope they hang in there.”
Casey, Scott and James doing Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” inspiring super-group thoughts that the three of them together could actually be better than any of them separately.
Ryan Seacrest telling Casey he was safe: “America wants more of the soft lips.”
David Cook’s MILF hugging Steven Tyler a little too long, then flashing her son the devil’s horns with a big grin on her face.
Katy Perry: A user-friendly Lady Gaga.
Steven Tyler on Jacob vs. Stefano: “I love them all. They sang their butts off.”
Stefano on exiting: “This started my career. You can’t put a price on that.”
1. James Durbin: He has followers and detractors, but this unlikely heavy metal hero has something else that could just put him over the top: a sense of theatricality and sheer verve that has made him arguably the most charismatic of the finalists.
2. Casey Abrams: Easily the most controversial—people either love him or can’t stand him—as well as the most mercurial, he embodies what true music lovers crave… someone who continually defies expectations with surprisingly delightful results. The judges, of course, love him. Trouble is, the public doesn’t like being told who to love. He could go all the way…or be voted out next week.
3. Lauren Alaina: The pre-game favorite is coming on strong, improving weekly, but at 16, is she too vulnerable for the crucible that is to come. Is she tough enough to slay the competition? Don’t put it past her. She may look like the girl-next-door, but she’s got the cutthroat instincts of a killer.
4. Haley Reinhart: She just keeps getting better, but will she fall victim to the “pretty girl” curse? Another babyface assassin, she’s a lot more hard-nosed then she looks, and from now on, will be a very tough out.
5. Scotty McCreery: It’s put up or shut up for the man who would be King. His strength is in the teenyboppers who wouldn’t know Johnny Cash from Miley Cyrus, but he’s going to have to deliver. Hearing him sing Coldplay tonight makes me think he should cross it up a little. After all, you can make any song country if you want.
IN THE CROSSHAIRS
6. Jacob Lusk: Probably the best pipes of anyone remaining, but his personality has become increasingly prickly by the week, until now it’s almost uncomfortable to watch him. He’ll be battling Haley for the bottom spot next week unless the Casey backlash continues to pick up steam.