Friday, April 13, 2012

Idol, We Have a Problem

I didn't blog about Wednesday's Idol, mostly because my Thursday was just jam-packed, and by the time I could have sat down to write, it was time to actually watch the elimination episode. I went into last night's episode thinking that Hollie Cavanagh was likely on the way home. There was no doubt in my mind that she gave the weakest performance of the night. While I'm not a huge fan of Joshua or Jessica, I thought they were likely safe and that Hollie would be joined in the bottom three by Skylar (there is a real risk in going first, especially when the night is as solid as Wednesday's was) and (sadly) Phillip. When a group formed on the right side of the stage with Hollie, Phillip, and Colton, I honestly thought, "Yeah, that bottom three makes sense." Colton's performance of "Love the Way You Lie Part III" was okay but not particularly exciting. Colton seems rather content to float in the middle and never seems to really PUSH himself the way I think he could. Plus, his mushy articulation is really starting to seem affected and annoying. (Sorry ... I'm a speech teacher/coach!)

When Ryan announced that the bottom three was, instead, Joshua, Jessica, and Elise, the first thing I said was, "They're using the save tonight." There was no doubt in my mind that the judges would keep any of those three around. While Elise's performance wasn't the best of the night, it was strong enough to make a case that she should stick around. Yes, she's been a bottom three dweller for a couple weeks, but there's no denying the chick is terrific. Steven pretty much let the cat out of the bag before the announcement that Jessica had received the lowest number of votes; he told Ryan flat out that they were using the save. Boom!

What last night did -- other than giving Idol the shocking jolt elimination my sis argues it needed (and she's right on that -- we need those shockers to get the phone lines humming again) -- was prove that there are some real problems in the Idol machine, and they are problems that I'm not sure can be easily fixed.

PROBLEM #1: Teenage girls vote with their....hearts.
Look at how last night played out. You had a top four that consisted of two very cute guys, a perky little blonde underdog who'd been kind of brutalized the night before, and a country ass kicker with whom many girls out there can identify pretty powerfully. It seems pretty clearly understood that the majority of Idol votes tend to come from young girls. They're the ones spending hours power dialing and flooding the Internet to vote for the hottie or defend the honor of the girl who nearly cried onstage.

Teenaged girls also don't always respond well to a perceived perfection in someone else. I work with teenaged girls every single day. Nothing will turn a girl on you faster than doing well. I've seen friendships fall apart when one girl gets a boy's attention or when one girl gets a lead part in a show while her friend is cast in the chorus. In Jessica Sanchez, you have a pretty, skinny, crazy talented girl who probably is loathed by a lot of girls who deem her "stuck up." They'll vote for Hollie or Skylar (who seem either flawed or at least relatable to them) over Jessica any day of the week.

PROBLEM #2: Teenaged girls don't always have the best taste in music
Once again, last night, you had a top four that gave the demographic what they wanted. You had Hollie singing a Pink anthem of empowerment. Girls love empowerment anthems. You had Colton singing a love song that was JUST sexy enough to make them feel funny in their no-no places but not sexy enough to be creepy. You had Skylar singing a kickin' country tune. (Girls like country music.) You had Phillip being just really cute.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, you had Jessica singing a song that was waaaaay too old for her, Joshua singing a song that could easily be played over the closing credits of Mad Men, and Elise rocking out. Girls don't like soul music unless it's autotuned by Rihanna. Had Joshua done one of Bruno Mars's more romantic songs (like "Grenade" or "It Will Rain"), he might have had a stronger chance of escaping the bottom three. Girls don't respond well to female rockers -- which is interesting considering what is more empowering than a chick rocking out? If you look at the history of the show, especially over the course of the past couple seasons (particularly since this run of cute guy winners has taken over), strong females don't play well on this show -- Carly Smithson, Allison Iraheta, Haley Reinhart were all incredible performers who probably should have made a stronger run at the title before getting kicked out waay too soon.

PROBLEM #3: Girls don't like other girls
This probably feeds into number one and the whole jealousy thing, but man, girls can really hate on each other! It's been years since an American Idol winner was female, and isn't it sort of telling that the last female winner was Jordin Sparks, who was this totally relatable, not-at-all perfect teenaged girl? Crystal Bowersox made it to the finale but lost to the cute paint salesman. Lauren Alaina made it to the finale last year but (mercifully.... I think) lost to the cute baseball player. Jessica, Hollie, Elise, and Skylar should all be a little nervous, particularly with two very cute guys still hanging around (and Joshua is pretty cute, too).

It kind of makes you wonder what's happened to Idol. Look at the first couple seasons of the show. Do you think Kelly Clarkson could win now, especially if she was still going up against the undeniably adorable Justin Guarini? Would the teen girl demographic allow Ruben to beat Clay? Could Fantasia or Carrie have carried the day? Good Lord, what about Taylor Hicks?!?!? Jimmy keeps telling us that the finale is going to come down to Jessica and Joshua, and on sheer talent alone, he's probably right, but neither Jessica nor Joshua seem to sing music that appeals to that teen girl market. Their voices and song selections skew much older to songs that are not things girls are clamoring to download on iTunes the next morning. It's becoming less and less like a true TALENT competition and more like a beauty pageant or Teen Choice Awards race. The problem then becomes that Idol loses its credibility and allows itself to become a joke -- more than it is already.

Is there a solution? I don't know. Somehow, Idol has to find a way to get more adults to vote, to get people with actual incomes to start deciding who gets to release the albums and who doesn't. Of course, it's easy for me to sit here and point that finger, but I'll be honest with you -- I've not voted once this season. Not once.

I'm part of the problem.


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