In the end, it doesn’t matter who’s named “American Idol” because everybody wins. From returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, the advertisers, the phone company and Fox, to new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, the contestants and, of course, we, the viewers, who supported the show to the tune of 700 million votes, which is 2.3 for every one of 300 million Americans. Yes, we all get to participate in this hot-house confluence of democracy, populism, commerce, competition and crooning.
And in the end, a child will lead us to the promised land. SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know who won, skip the following paragraph.
Front-runner Scotty McCreery proved an old soul in a 17-year-old high school pitcher’s body, a “What, Me Worry” Alfred E. Neuman lookalike who could’ve come walking right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. With a record 122 million votes logged by breathless teenage girls (and from their grandparents, apparently), Scotty will walk away from this competition and straight into the arms of Nashville, where he showed he could make a smooth transition, effortlessly dueting with Tim McGraw on his “Live Like You Were Dying.”
By the end, McCreery was singing his “Idol” winning song, the much-criticized “I Love You Big Time,” hugging his family, then each of his fellow finalists, thanking the Lord (of course) then looking skyward and opening his mouth to catch stray pieces of confetti…much like the 17-year-old he was. Lauren Alaina looked on with fire in her eyes. The giggly Georgia cheerleader was an intense competitor, and obviously didn’t like to lose.
The “American Idol” finale was like the Super Bowl of variety shows, an orgy of infomercial tie-ins and product plugs, all deftly delivered by affable Ryan Seacrest, the guy you expect to see waiting at the pearly gates (or, for some, the other place) to greet you in the afterlife. More so than the Grammys or the MTV awards, the program takes a snapshot of popular music and tastes at the moment, and this show has a little something for everyone, including the show’s finalists.
And while the final duo of Scotty and Lauren made clear the show’s debt to country music—its most successful alum, Carrie Underwood, who dueted with Alaina on her “Before He Cheats” tonight, made her mark in Nashville. That seems to be the place that can best make use of the populist charms of what end up the most successful Idolists.
For, the truth is, there was a lot more exciting talent in this Final 13 than made it to the end. The charismatic James Durbin fronted Judas Priest with Rob Halford, looking like nothing so much as a couple of extras from William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” for a medley of “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law.” Casey Abrams proved he could easily be a comic musician in the mold of Spike Jones, or for a more updated reference, Jack Black, with whom he formed a wacky Blues Brothers-like soft shoe tonight on Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.”
Haley Reinhart proved she could be a sultry lounge singer opening in Vegas right now with her version of “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” with 85-year-old Tony Bennett, hawking his own duets album in the fall. And no matter what you think about Jacob Lusk, the guy’s pipes proved every bit capable of staying with Kirk Franklin and Gladys Knight on “Smile.” In a medley of Tom Jones classics, Stefano Langone took on “Kiss” and Paul McDonald delivered a soulful “She’s a Lady.” And of course there are many who still hold a candle after the shocking elimination of Pia Toscano. Any one of them would have been a worthy “Idol,” but that’s why they make vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
As for the guests, Lady Gaga was provocative, TLC and Lil Jon nostalgic, Beyonce fiery (ending her new single, “One Plus One” by chanting “Make love to me” like she meant it) and Bono and The Edge, hyping their troubled Spider-Man musical, slightly anti-climactic.
Here’s a brief rundown on tonight’s show:
8:05: The Final 13 do their version of “Born This Way” with a rendition that brings to mind “Up with People,” and ends with Scotty and Lauren jostling for the front.
8:10: James Durbin with Judas Priest. This is his milieu. He was easily the most charismatic of the finalists, and as he points out, the successful Daughtry was also eliminated just before the final three. This spirited rendition had the judges’ panel flashing devil’s horns.
8:15: A tribute to Randy Jackson featuring his two lines: “What kind of show is this?” and “In it to win it.” The Big Dawg doesn’t say much, but he is a character. He tried to fill Simon’s shoes, but was just too nice, and as a musician himself, too empathetic.
8:20: Lusk with Franklin and Gladys Knight. As they say, this is where he belongs. He has a future as a Luther-style R&B singer if he manages to curb his diva-dom.
8:25: Jack Black has a movie to plug (“Kung Fu Panda 2”), so he’s up there with Casey Abrams mugginig on “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Casey was my sentimental favorite of the batch, but of course, I’m prejudiced. He was a little out of place on “Idol,” but he turned it into a showcase for his own eclectic talents. I think the kid has a career as a live performer, if not a recording artist. First project: an updated Blues Brothers with Black.
8:30: Top 13 ladies with Beyonce on a medley of “Single Girls” and “Crazy In Love.” I forgot Karen Rodriguez was in this group.
8:40: A tribute to Steven Tyler, who proved a great sport and an outsized personality. Again, as a musician, he was sympathetic, and oddly enough, filled Paula Abdul’s pumps as “the loose cannon.” Who could forget “What’s with the jujubees on the oo-oo-bees?”
8:43: Haley and Tony Bennett. I like her, I really like her. I find Haley more intriguing and real than Joss Stone, and capable of being anyone from Stevie Nicks to Janis Joplin, and all points in between. Would love to see she and Casey, as I said, become the latter-day Louis Prima and Keely Smith (look them up on Google).
8:47: A tribute to Jennifer Lopez. With style and grace, and more than a little heart, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World showed her human side. She also offered savvy commentary and was a good sport, having her legs sung to by James and Jacob, or getting a furtive kiss on the lips from Casey (“Casey has soft lips”). If she wants to come back, she’s a keeper. Call her Paula with brains.
8:50: Lil Jon introduces the two living members of TLC, who do a number with the Final 13 girls of “No Scrubs” and “Waterfalls.” Where’ Left Eye Lopes when you need her?
9:00: The blooper reel, introduced by one-time contestant Joe Ripka, the would-be radio announcer from the Midwest.
9:05: Marc Anthony gets joined by his sultry wife, who steams up the screen with a seductive meringue, then plants a kiss on her husband. Some guys have all the luck. Still, I don’t know what she sees in him.
9:06: James and Casey argue which one of theirs was the most surprising elimination, only to be upstaged by Pia, wearing a pink, “Most Shocking Elimination” beauty queen sash. Funny. Durbin and Abrams could turn out to be a comedy rock team like Tenacious D.
9:10: The 13 Final Guys do a Tom Jones medley, with the man himself popping out for “It’s Not Unusual.” Yes it was.
9:20: A Ford Focus video of season highlights, followed by an announcement of a program for Scotty and Lauren’s home schools, with $20 donated for each test drive. The company then gives away a car apiece to the pair’s most inspirational educators and to them. You know, capitalism working at its finest.
9:24: Lady Gaga continues her media blitz with a performance of yet another single, “Edge of Glory,” before bumping-and-grinding with a dancer. Warmed-over Madonna, but still provocative given the context. No verdict yet on whether Gaga is over or just starting.
9:30: Lauren sings “Before He Cheats” in that preternaturally mature way with her idol Carrie Underwood. Funny, she looks older than Carrie. I have no concern about Lauren. With her hunger for stardom, she could be even bigger than Scotty.
9:35 p.m.: Testimonials from the other Idols on the finalists, with some hilarious jabbing about their youth. “They can’t even go to R-rated movies,” said one.
9:37: Beyonce performs a steamy “One Plus One” surrounded by red smoke. Jay-Z is one lucky dude.
9:47: Bono, the Edge and an unidentified Peter Parker perform “Rise Above” from their troubled Spider-Man musical, as Spidey swoops down from above. It woulda been a lot more fun with an equipment malfunction.
9:55: Steven Tyler does James Durbin one better, going from the piano to howling at the moon with a version of “Dream On” that disappointed only because Joe Perry was nowhere in sight. The man shows what it takes to be a rock star.
10:02: A guy with a British accent emerge and claims the results he holds in his hand are certified. With voters voting at a furious point, who are we to argue, but the suspicion remains the producers toy with the results, as they do on any reality series, going back to the quiz shows of the ‘50s. We’ll see if that backfires on “AI” in the future.
“It’s been a year since Lauren Alaina and I first tried out. We’re gonna stick together,” said Scotty when his name was announced. “I want to thank the Lord.”
And then there was one. Was he deserving? Was he the best? What does the future hold in store? Those are all questions for another time, as we deal with our post-“Idol” depression.
FINAL POWER RANKINGS (MY FAVORITES)
1. Casey Abrams: Can’t wait to see what he does next, and that’s my definition of someone I want to see.
2. James Durbin: A heavy metal with the heart of a Christian, this kid won’t have to worry about buying diapers in the near future.
3. Haley Reinhart: A spunky competitor with a sound all her own. She just needs to figure out what she wants to do with it.
4. Scotty McCreery: Could be the biggest star ever to emerge from “Idol.”
5. James Lusk: Say what you want about his prickly personality. His pipes were never in question.
6. Pia Toscano: She can sure sing, but can she electrify?
7. Lauren Alaina: Shed no tears for this precocious 16-year-old. Nashville will welcome her with open arms.
8. Stefano Langone: Don’t be surprised if he finds success as an R&B crooner. He has the chops.
9. Paul McDonald: His scruffy image and sandpaper vocals could land him in the Jack Johnson surf-rock scene.
10. Naima Adedapo: Idiosyncratic and thorny, she could be a neo-soul version of Lauryn Hill except without the attitude.