Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Idol Your Face Off

Well, friends, we've reached the end of another season of Idol. It's been a season full of great moments and great disappointments. Tonight's matchup could certainly be ranked up there with some of the great finales -- Ruben vs. Clay, Carrie vs. Bo, David vs. David. We have the Chosen One vs. the Underdog. Tonight, I thought both made their cases as to why they should win and both had moments when it seemed as if the competition was getting away from them. I have to admit that I got a little choked up at the beginning when they showed footage of both men during their auditions declaring to a camera (and clearly doing so with the help of a cue card) "I am the next American Idol." I am a sap that way -- I admit. With three songs (including the victory song co-written by Kara DioGuardi -- which I'll get to a bit later), Adam and Kris had the opportunity to really connect with their audiences and enjoy a tremendous amount of screentime. Only one can win, so who will it be? Who SHOULD it be?

Round 1: "Greatest Hit" Round
Here, Adam and Kris each got to pick one of their favorite songs they'd already performed this season. Adam wisely went with "Mad World," the song which was probably his most talked about performance of the season AND a song that a portion of his audience had perhaps never seen due to the show running over time and getting cut off on TiVo's and DVR's across the country. Once again, Adam gets the techie love with the special lighting, special entrance, freakin' fog rolling across the stage, and that kick ass trench coat. It was during this performance, though, that I also realized what has been bugging me about Adam. He has reminded me of someone all season long, and I finally figured it out tonight. He reminds me of (and man, I am anticipating crickets here since I doubt many of my readers will even GET this reference -- and making me once again wonder just how old I am) . . . Dick Shawn . Seriously . . . check out the clip and tell me you don't see a little of Adam!

During Adam's critique, which was apparently brought to us by Sesame Street since Randy gave Adam an "A for Adam", I noticed perhaps the oddest audience member ever. Seriously, wtf was ANTHONY FREAKIN' HOPKINS doing in the audience??!?!?!?!?!?!?

I would have to say I agree with Simon that the performance, though, was a bit over the top with the lighting and the fog and the coat. And I love that for Simon, dressing up for the finale just means a button down shirt and suit coat. I love that guy!

Kris's greatest hit selection was an even smarter choice than Adam's. He went back and selected "Ain't No Sunshine." It was perhaps one of the first performances where I (and others) began to think that maybe Kris had a shot at this thing way back in "Top Downloads" week. It's a performance that's not quite as fresh in our memory as "Falling Slowly" or "She Works Hard for the Money" (two of my other favorite Kris performances from this season) and a performance that hasn't quite become as "iconic" as those two or "Heartless" -- or as iconic as "Mad World" is for Adam. Kris was able to take the stage with slightly lowered expectations, make his song fresh again, and subsequently knock it out of the park. Kris finally got some long-deserved respect from the judges with Simon declaring round one for the mellow Southerner.

Round 2: Simon Fuller's Pick
I was a little worried going into this round. After all, it was the producer's pick last year that saddled David Cook with "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," David Archuleta with "Longer," and poor, poor Syesha Mercado with some song from a penguin movie. (Seriously, that has to be the most blatant case of sabotage in the history of the world! I mean, that's Black Sox Scandal levels of sabotage!) Simon Fuller apparently decided to go with a theme, assigning both singers tonight with classic soul "message" songs. Adam was up first with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song that often brings tears to my eyes. I don't know that I was quite as impressed with Adam's performance as the judges were. Perhaps it was a loyalty to the original. Perhaps it was an inability to let go of the Dick Shawn thing. I just kind of felt like it was a bit over the top, but I suspect I'm in the minority.

I much preferred Kris's mellow, funky take on "What's Going On?" -- another favorite of mine. (I LOVE 60s/70s soul music . . . just mentioning that for my stalkers out there taking notes.) He stripped the song down and went the "She Works Hard for the Money" route by bringing out the guitar and being accompanied by the bongos. Just very, very cool. Of course, he was lambasted by the judges who told him the performance was too "light" for that stage. Whatever! Kris stayed true to himself and didn't suddenly go into histrionics onstage just because he was in the finale. It was a lovely performance that I think will stand up better on repeated viewings. I would happily download it. I can't say the same thing for Adam's performance.

Simon gave round 2 to Adam; I respectfully disagree.

Round 3: The Victory Song
Oh, Lord! You know, when Ryan said that the victory song was co-written by Kara DioGuardi, I was pretty psyched. I mean, the victory songs lately haven't been too great, mired in inspirational treacle rather than being a, well, good song. David Cook's "The Time of My Life" wasn't bad, but "This Is My Now"? "Do I Make You Proud?" ICK! I don't know that there's been a decent finale song since Fantasia's "Believe" (which works mostly because Fantasia rips the roof off that song). Okay, I did sort of like Carrie's "Inside Your Heaven."

Anyway, I was hopeful. Kara wrote "Ain't No Other Man," one of my absolute favorite songs of the past several years (and my "go-to" work out song). She wrote Pink's "Sober." She wrote Kelly Clarkson's "Walk Away." Some good stuff. Okay, I'll overlook the multiple songs written for Hillary Duff. We all make our (multiple) mistakes . . . . good Lord, there are a LOT of Hillary Duff songs on her resume . . . and is that a Lindsey Lohan song? Now, "No Boundaries" makes sense.

Yes, that's the title of Kara's one contribution to this season -- a trite little piece of fluff called "No Boundaries." There's something about climbing mountains and surviving hurricanes and, you know, not having any boundaries. It just may be the worst victory song ever!

It was during Adam's rather tortured performance of the song that I had a slight epiphany. Adam should NOT win this competition. It's nothing against his talent. I agree -- he is an incredible performer. No, my desire to see Adam lose is nothing against him; it's more a desire to protect him from treacle like this. If he wins, he is basically the property of the Idol machine and will have little choice but to record bullshit songs like this. As much as his individuality is praised by the judges, how long will that individuality survive under the thumb of 19 Entertainment? Wouldn't Adam be better off going the Daughtry route and having more freedom to forge his own path? As much as I like Kris, I think that his style will work better with the Idol machine, sparing him from the soul crushing that could be awaiting Adam should he win tomorrow night.

Not that Kris was done any favors by this "song" either. First of all, the song was written out of his range, forcing him to really strain to hit those notes. (Even Kara admitted the song was out of his range -- had it been written more with Adam and Danny in mind?) He was completely overshadowed by the arrangement, too, seeming to struggle at times to be heard over the band. I wish that Adam and Kris had been allowed to take the song and kind of make it their own -- that Adam could have rocked it out and Kris been allowed to move it into his range and go with a more mellow vibe. I think it would have been more entertaining (and informative) for the audience to get a glimpse of something like that -- two singers taking the same song and interpreting it to his own personal style. Instead, we got Adam screaming and Kris struggling. It's a pity.

In the end, I suspect the Adam juggernaut is just too hard to take down. Not winning American Idol is certainly not a death sentence in terms of having a music career, and there's no reason to think that Kris won't at least get a record deal out of this whole thing. The victory, though, does seem to make success a little easier to attain, though. For every Clay Aiken and Chris Daughtry, there are many more Blake Lewises, Justin Guarinis, Bo Bices, and others who have tried to parlay their second place finishes into successful careers with limited success. That title of "American Idol" opens a lot of doors and while not every winning Idol has gone on to the kind of success enjoyed by Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the odds do tend to favor the winners over the runners-up. Sure, surprises happen and Kris Allen could be the one tearfully warbling his way through "No Boundaries" (ugh -- I threw up a little in my mouth there) tomorrow night, but the finale is one place where Idol rarely surprises us and I don't necessarily expect tomorrow night to be any different, even though I'll kind of be hoping for just that surprise anyway.

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