American Idol 11 Finale: The Big Blowout

As I wasn’t able to watch the show live, I’ve decided not to do the live play-by-play I’ve done in previous years – either you watched it, or you’ve already read one of the recaps.   Instead, I’m just going to try to collect my final thoughts…

The Result

VFTW got their man.  And they’ve helped Idol’s road to self-parody along in so doing. 

Phillip Phillips is, apparently, a decent singer.  I won’t say he’s a nice guy, as he doesn’t come off that way at all – although his fans will argue the fact that he’s done the entire season while suffering from kidney stones that have kept him from doing the entire Idol grinder should count for something.  But he’s hardly original.  He’s made it clear from the start that he aspires to be a Dave Matthews-style rocker, and has made no attempt to do anything else.  He’s a one-trick pony.  But he’s white, male, early 20’s, plays guitar, the young girls find him attractive, and middle-aged housewifes can project their bored fantasies on him.  Those last two factors, specifically, are why the last five American Idols have been who they are.  The Idol system is broken – and the problem is spreading to the other singing competition shows.  So far, potential contestants haven’t figured it out – but at some point, they may.  When the audition pool dries up to white, early 20’s, guitar-playing, guys… we’ll know it’s too late.  FOX, 19 Entertainment, and Interscope need to fix this before they lose the cash cow.

The other problem

In order to combat the WGWG issue, the talent pool has been widened.  They’re allowing younger singers in, and trying to be diverse – but the audience, at least the audience that powers the vote, keeps rejecting that diversity.

But this has now caused another problem.  The rise of the contestbot.  Idol has been around long enough that there is now a generation of stage parents raising their kids specifically to appear on Idol.  Yes, I’m talking about the Pinoy Princess.  Jessica Sanchez has clearly been brought up by a family that had the goal of getting her on this show.  Here’s the problem – music is still, at its core, an emotional medium (corporate pop hasn’t killed it yet).  Jessica is a sheltered, home-schooled, introverted, 16-year-old.  She has shown no ability to have emotions, much less to connect with a song or with an audience.  Don’t get me wrong, she has a hell of a voice.  She just has no idea how to use it (which was exposed when she had to do an original song Tuesday night and bombed on it)… and the Idol format doesn’t allow for the contestants to figure it out.

What to do now

Make changes, naturally.  But they don’t want to just copy The Voice (judges as coaches) or X-Factor (judges as mentors) – they do need to be different to survive.  So here are a few ideas:

  • Stop casting “name” judges.  When Idol started, Paula Abdul’s career was waning, Simon Cowell was an unknown record exec, and Randy Jackson was that guy who used to play with Journey.  They need to go back to that – it’s time to purge the judges’ panel.  The show should be about the performers, not the judges.
  • Find judges who can be critical.  They’ll need to be thick-skinned enough to take being booed by the Idolbots in the audience for not gushing over the contestants – but if they’re willing to accept being the bad guy, they can help not only the contestants, but the audience.  One of the reasons the voting has been so erratic over the last few years is that there’s been nobody to tell the audience who to vote for.  One of the roles the judges should have is to clearly indicate who’s got it and who doesn’t – if the judges gush over everyone, they’re not doing their jobs.
  • Get rid of Jimmy Iovine.  This season has shown just how out of touch with modern music that he is.  They need to find a younger, hipper executive – well, they just need someone who isn’t a dinosaur.  They need someone who can help guide the show toward modern music.
  • Re-think theme weeks.  I know they have clearance issues at times, but stop pigeonholing the singers.  Give them weeks where they can just sing what they like, even if you have to pay higher royalties to do so.  Forcing contestants to sing music they don’t know and don’t connect with robs us of the chance to assess them fairly – and will almost certainly lead to flop albums when they do the music they wanted to do in the first place.
  • Fix the voting system for once and for all.  Yes, I’m sure there’s some value in being able to say there were 134 million votes last night.  But the reality is that those 134 million votes probably reflect less than 1 million actual viewers.  Because there are no caps on two of the three voting methods (online does appear to have a 50-vote cap), power texters and robo-dialers are used to artificially inflate the vote totals.  It’s simple, really.  Modern technology should allow them to cap all vote methods at the 10-vote limit every other network seems to have settled on.  Yes, it means they’ll never have 134 million votes in a week again.  But the voting will better reflect the entire viewing audience, and not just the power voters.
  • And, finally, one that I know won’t happen.  They need to cut down on the length of the shows.  Less really is more – the two-hour performance shows late in the season were overkill on a massive scale.  And the one-hour results show has always been problematic.  Of course, FOX’s programming department is such a disaster that they can’t find anything to fill whatever time they would take away from Idol – nor would it generate the revenue Idol generates.  So even though cutting back would make the show better, get used to the idea of two-hour performance and one-hour results shows.  They’re not going away.

The finalists

I’m going to go out with my thoughts on where the Final Thirteen, in the order they were eliminated:

  1. Jeremy RosadoYou want fries with that?  I feel badly for Jeremy, actually, as he was J-Lo’s ham-handed attempt to force a Latino into the final 13.  He wasn’t ready for this, and deservedly left quickly.  I don’t expect a lot from him.
  2. Jermaine Jones – Face left, please. Jermaine will forever be a living reminder that you really have to carefully vet your contestants.  They should’ve known about his past long before they embarrassed themselves (and him) with the heavy-handed “talk” in the dressing rooms.
  3. Shannon Magrane – “Hot and humid”.  She wasn’t ready.  If Steven hadn’t embarrassed himself in front of her baseball-player dad, she might’ve been told to go work on her craft for a year or two and come back.  If she had, she could’ve been a big star.  Instead, she didn’t even make the tour – and can’t come back to Idol.  She’s tall, blonde, and attractive – she will figure something out.
  4. Erika Van Pelt – Who are you again?  She might have made it deeper into the competition had she not decided to completely reinvent herself during the final series.  Once she lost track of who she was, the audience stopped following.  She’ll probably hit the State Fair circuit billed with “former Idol contestant” in big letters, and her name in small letters.
  5. Heejun HanDon’t forget to tip your waitress! His future isn’t in music.  He’s better suited to comedy with a musical edge.  He’s far more likely to turn up on Comedy Central than on a concert stage, and he’ll do well.
  6. DeAndre Brackensick – Hair’s to you? The show never defined him beyond his hair, really.  I think he’s got a shot… but it’s going to have to be after he gets away from Idol and figures out who he is as a singer.
  7. Colton DixonMessenger. Here’s the problem – he positioned himself as a Christian singer, then did Lady Gaga, and frankly, the audience isn’t convinced he’s straight, much less “Christian”.  He’ll probably embrace the Christian music audience… but they’re fickle.  The big question – will Idol feel like they have to cast his sister in Season 12?
  8. Elise Testone – Tour mom.  She may go the Carly Smithson route – trying to make it as a solo act before fronting a rock group.  She’s best suited to being a lead singer, I think… and with the right group, could break out of this pack.
  9. Skylar Laine – Nashville’s Next Big Thing.  She is going to be the one we remember.  As soon as she gets out of the clutches of 19 Entertainment, Nashville will be waiting.  Eagerly.  I don’t know if she can reach the crossover status that Carrie Underwood got to, but she’s going to be a force in country music.
  10. Hollie Cavanagh – London calling? I said it when she was eliminated: she needs to go to England and reinvent herself.  With the right management and guidance, she could take the same path Adele took to stardom.  She just needs to live life for a few years, and take that experience into her future career.
  11. Joshua Ledet – Motown reborn.  I got on him for falling back on gospel theatrics, but old-school soul is exactly where Joshua’s future should be.  He’ll do well.  There is an audience waiting for what he’s capable of.  I hope he finds it.
  12. Jessica Sanchez – From Justin to Jessica.  I don’t see it.  She could well be the least-successful second-place finisher since Justin Guarini.  Her emotional and singing limitations will be exposed by 19’s semi-competent management.  Perhaps a few years down the road, she’ll find herself.  But it’ll be too late.
  13. Phillip Phillips – Bring on the PPB.  You know what?  Sure, he’s #wgwg5, and he’s a bit of a jerk (and if that turns out to be the kidney stones, I’ll end up giving him a pass), but all kidding aside, there are people who love the kind of music he does.  For all the comparisons with Dave Matthews, he might as well go that route.   Well, as long as he doesn’t just settle into being Dave Matthews Lite, but finds his own path.  I’ll be curious to see what we get when he starts writing his own music.

The finale

Gee, I almost forgot about it – but it’s pretty much the same finale as every other year. Big name guests performing with the Idols, some “funny” outtakes, and heavy Product Placement. 

They started the results portion of the show at exactly 10:00pm.  If you took my advice yesterday, you’re welcome.  It was touching to see P2’s reaction during “Home” – it may have been the first time he showed what Idol meant to him.

Other thoughts…

Hey, at least they found one guy who’s aged worse than Steven Tyler – hi, Neil Diamond!

Nice touch, as well, to have Ace Young propose to Diana DeGarmo on-stage – although they couldn’t resist Ace throwing in a plug for the jeweler who created the engagement ring.  I’m not sure, but is this the first Official Idol Engagement?  Actually, I guess it’s no surprise – they’d already seen each other naked in the Broadway revival of Hair, so what else could they do but get married…?

As usual, the duet pairings were pretty inspired, although Idol is showing the age of its producers with the heavy use of older/classic acts in the duets.  We don’t know, of course, if they tried to get newer acts and were turned down…

…and as noted at the top, I wouldn’t complain if J-Lo and Aerosmith got extended sets as a sendoff… OK, one can only hope.

Exit Stage Left?

At this point, I am really torn about recapping either X-Factor 2 or Idol 12.  I’m aging out of the demographic, and to be honest, both shows are becoming too much of a joke to support.

I mean – Simon Cowell’s desperation has led him to hire a judge who a court has judged is incapable of managing her own life, and another who’s been through rehab and still isn’t even old enough to drink.  Frankly, the Spears/Lovato season of X-Factor is going to kill the franchise, and I’m not sure that either of them will be entertaining enough trainwrecks to make up for the fact they are going to be basically useless to the talent they’ll be “mentoring”.

And FOX is going to ignore everything above, hire everyone back, do the same thing all over again, and will end up making the world safe for #wgwg6 next spring.

Fortunately, I have a long time to make up my mind.

No, I won’t be blogging Duets.  But I am DVRing it tonight.

For now, though, I go back to blogging randomly.  Feel free to hang around if you’d like.  Or not.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), generally nice person (if you ask me).

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