Thursday, May 12, 2005

Three to Get Ready

On the morning of Wednesday, April 27, 2005, I posted a list of the top 6 signs during top 6 week that these are the end times for American Idol. Eerily enough, that night was apocalyptic for fans of Constantine Maroulis when he was summarily dismissed – maybe not Armageddon but a day that will live in reality TV infamy. You may have read my big, fat Greek hissy fit.

Immediately thereafter, we witnessed wars (on message boards) and rumors of war (boycott threats). Some fans compared Scott Savol to the Antichrist for laughing with wicked glee as their Bohemian angel was taken away too soon. The most common ultimatum warned the AI brain trust that, if they could not find a way to bring Constantine back from sudden death, there would be no rapture in Idol TV land.

Without Constantine, American Idol has gone from sizzle to fizzle. Just as Clay Aiken initially appeared too square, Constantine and Nadia Turner were way too hip for AI’s narrow top 40 format. While making a fairly conventional audience rethink their definition of a pop star, Constantine like Clay created his own unique market, which no substitute can satisfy. Losing one dazzling hipster, Nadia, was a blow. Losing Constantine left AI4 in dire need of hip replacement surgery with nary a donor to save the season from limping to a lame anticlimax.

The fortnight since Constantine exited the Idol stage has been the most challenging in the franchise’s history, but the news isn’t all bad. Last week Scott was eliminated and took with him the collective rancor of fan bases that blamed him for the premature departure of their favorite contestants. I appreciate Scott’s vocal talent, wish him well and regret that he became a scapegoat, but that kind of poisonous distraction we can all do without – especially the scandal weary.

American Idol has been the subject of eye-popping headlines every day for two weeks. What a relief it was to tune in Tuesday night and focus on the redeeming talent of four likable singers chasing their dream. Simon Cowell might consider niceness boring and syrupy, but it is a welcome respite for viewers, of whom many are families watching together. Perhaps Simon misses the Constantine buzz, too. As Joni Mitchell sang, "Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone."

I voted for Constantine that infamous evening two weeks ago, many times with few busy signals. After that exercise in futility, I amazed myself by wanting to vote again this week and most surprisingly for Anthony Fedorov, whom I dismissed earlier as a bland Aiken wannabe. I also phoned in dozens of votes for Vonzell Solomon. As I checked the volume of calls for the others, I was able to cast only one vote for Carrie Underwood, whose line was the busiest, and a few for Bo Bice, whose line was second busiest. Based on my experience, I predicted Anthony and Vonzell would receive the lowest vote totals.

Of the top 5 contestants, Anthony displayed the most consistency, versatility, growth, charm, poise and humor. And he’s barely 20! As often as he appeared in the bottom three, Anthony had to attract new votes each week to last this long. If he impressed little old skeptical me, I have to believe that someone astute in the recording industry also took notice. Paging David Foster.

Anthony seemed to thrive on the increasing intensity of the race even as Vonzell seemed to wilt. Baby V, a promising up-and-comer with a wondrous vocal range, lost her sweet, sunshiny smile after Dance Music Night. Now she looks like she’s suffering from a migraine, root canal and PMS all at once. I hope whatever ails her is fixable – and soon. Of the remaining three, she has exhibited the most appealing blend of singing and performing talent.

Since I came to accept his vocal limitations, I can simply relax and enjoy Bo’s performances. Some might consider him repetitive, but I call him faithful to his roots. He is just a mellow, floppy hatted, tie dyed throwback to the Woodstock era. As much as Fox loves to use cross-promotion, it’s a darn shame he arrived too late for That ‘70s Show. His musical tastes make him something of an anachronism for the current radio market, barring an unforeseen Gary Puckett and the Union Gap revival, but I will probably buy his first post-Idol album.

One of my Mother’s Day gifts was AI music, which my son thoughtfully transferred to one convenient CD. In the ensemble productions, Carrie’s is the most pleasing, dominant voice. She is obviously not comfortable as a stage performer, but her strengths really shine through on audio. In fact, she reminds me of Kelly Clarkson as both are dynamic, powerful and precise vocalists.

In less than two weeks, one of these three will be our new American Idol – maybe not mine, but certainly Simon Cowell’s or Randy Jackson’s. No matter who wins, I will be happy … to see Constantine again. Let the countdown begin!

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