Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Idol Lost, Game Over

Don’t blame me. Tuesday night I voted for the first time this season. I live in southern California and voted for Constantine Maroulis non-stop from 9:45pm until 10:15pm Pacific time. I was very concerned when it was so easy to get through to vote on probably 90% of my attempts in a region that should have been his natural constituency.

I have to say that I was thrilled by Constantine’s fierce, passionate, defiant performance of How You Remind Me by Nickelback. When I first read that this week’s American Idol theme would be 21st century pop music, the only contestant I even thought about, cared about, was Constantine Maroulis. I hoped that Constantine would choose to sing Time Is Running Out by Muse. First, the song is a special favorite of mine. Second, it is a bold, dramatic, classically inspired anthem in the style of Bohemian Rhapsody, possibly his most memorable AI effort. Third, the choice would be audacious, unpredictable and unconventional for Idol standards like Constantine the man himself.

Instead he selected How You Remind Me, audacious, unpredictable and unconventional in its own way. However, afterward I suspected it would leave some of his non-hard rock fans nonplussed. That is the primary reason I felt compelled to vote for Constantine as many times as I could in the 30-minute window available to me. I wanted to vote for Vonzell Solomon, too, until the realization that Constantine might be vulnerable clarified a lot of my mixed feelings about AI4.

Until two weeks ago, I used to think I would be content if Carrie Underwood or Bo Bice were crowned the 2005 American Idol. Both seem like unusually nice people, but their musical preferences (country and Southern boogie, respectively) leave me unmoved. On Tuesday night, Bo donned some Half Baked hippie threads to sing a safe song about being true to himself while Constantine lived it by giving another risky performance from another fresh genre. And it looks like it cost him the competition.

With Constantine Maroulis, AI finally featured a contestant who shared my musical frame of reference and appreciation for an eclectic variety of genres. He was easily the most versatile of all the AI4 performers. He could sing the cool jazz of Rodgers and Hart, the daring theatrics of Freddy Mercury, the emotional simplicity of Bonnie Raitt, and even reinvent Bee Gees' disco – all with his distinctive interpretation and sexy, toe-curling style.

Without Constantine Maroulis, this competition is the same old recycled crap that wasted my time last year – the manipulations, the favoritism, the reactionary herd mentality. If you don’t understand how Constantine’s charisma and magical talent revitalized viewers and resuscitated a show on its last wobbly legs, just try to imagine AI2 without Clay Aiken. Since the idiots-in-charge were so careless that year with Clay and his fans, I think they have been squandering borrowed time.

Clay’s grace as the first runner up in season two and his subsequent success saved the franchise. The Idol team has alienated a sizable chunk of their audience again by their carelessness with Constantine and his fans. Who will save the franchise now? Is the franchise worth saving? These are questions each of us can answer for ourselves.

I am angry, disappointed, shell-shocked. I heard about his elimination three hours before it was aired in my time zone. With Constantine’s declaration in Tuesday night’s video clip that he wanted to be the American Idol still reverberating in my befuddled brain, I was keen to watch how the crew handled his departure.

There was no personal concern for Constantine, aside from Paula Abdul's tears, no suggestion of voter wrong-headedness, no scolding the audience for their stupidity, no exhortation to America to vote for the best performer to prevent another miscarriage of justice. There was no Bo Bice treatment.

There was the same tired, broken game of choose-your-sides that was especially cold and cruel considering that Constantine had never even been in the bottom three before and then – bam – suddenly he’s gone.

There was the Simon Cowell celebratory smirk thrown Randy Jackson’s direction when Ryan Seacrest announced that favorites Bo and Carrie were safe. When Simon congratulated Scott Savol and announced that he had a right to be in the top three, he had to know that Constantine was eliminated. Do you think he cares one whit? Randy, always a Simon wannabe with a heart, had to know that his Cowell-like comment to Bo – “You’re the true rocker” – was another nail in the coffin. Hey, Randy, I got your true rocker right here.

There was a smiling Scott captured and frozen in memory by the camera, as if the idiots-in-charge were saying, “Fans of Constantine, here is your enemy.” Don’t believe it. Neither Scott nor Bo nor Carrie nor Anthony nor Vonzell eliminated Constantine. Barring some kind of bizarre irregularity, he was eliminated because he received the lowest vote total.

Without a doubt, a contributing factor was the farcical Dueling Rockers gimmick and the narrow-minded philosophy that cannot tolerate two gifted singers with nominal cosmetic similarities. The American Idol quota system rewards safe performers from familiar genres and sabotages risk takers. God knows that does not describe the Constantine we know, love and want to see lots more of.

Fellow disaffected fans of Constantine, we have reason to rejoice. If John Stevens can get a prized recording contract, surely Constantine will be inundated with offers that he can accept on his own terms, free of the Idol tentacles if he wishes. The AI team may already be negotiating with him, especially if they fear our backlash.

Things could be worse. Constantine could have won the American Idol crown of thorns as the show falls apart under the weight of its own baggage. You know he would have been blamed for killing the franchise. We might still hear the death rattle, but it won’t be Constantine’s.

Two years ago a nation of fans fell hard for the charms and talent of Clay Aiken. Our motto was, “Idol found, game over.”

For the bitter and the broken-hearted, our new motto is: “Idol lost, game over.”

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