Monday, May 15, 2006

Vote Like Yamin It!

The biggest shocker this week on American Idol was:

1. The elimination of Chris Daughtry.
2. Dial Idol accurately predicting the voting results.
3. The underdog, Elliott Yamin, stealing the show.
4. The final four dancing together during Wednesday’s Elvis medley.

My choice? Item 4. My eyes! My dog’s eyes! For one hideous moment I hope to banish from my optical memory, I channeled Simonvision. Taylor’s choreography is usually entertaining, but the whole lot of them staggered around the catwalk like a quartet of paraplegics sprung from their wheelchairs at a “Heal, Jesus!” service.

America, this is what happens when you vote off all the black performers.

Far from surprising, Daughtry’s departure was predictable. Last week I warned about the precedent of final four eliminations during odd-numbered seasons, a.k.a. the Curse of the Cowell-Pimped Contestants. If fans had done their homework, they would know that two other early Simon favorites, Tamyra Gray and LaToya London, were sent packing at this exact point in seasons one and three respectively. Chris described his own ouster as “the biggest shock in American Idol history.” Sure – if history began in 2006. Those Cro-Magnon relics, Tamyra and LaToya, might disagree. And besides, the season ain’t over yet.

I detailed Daughtry’s dilemma in Is Simon Cowell Off His Rocker. The AI team, and Simon in particular, wanted Chris to have a breakthrough, breakout moment – especially during the Queen show – that would secure his base, lure fans away from other contestants and establish him as an unbeatable frontrunner. But Chris adamantly refused to compromise his rocker credibility for any of the musical themes. His strategy may have cost him a TV contest victory, but it should pay off magnificently when he begins his career independent of the show.

Attention, fans – and especially Yaminions! Please note these important lessons. Don’t buy the hype, become complacent or take success for granted. Daughtry’s departure proves that American Idol is not rigged – just clumsily manipulated. Tuesday night phone calls and text messages are the only poll that counts – so vote like Yamin it! The past is prologue – every message board should have at least one historian. And there is no situation so bad that the AI team cannot make it even worse.

Did Chris deserve to be cold cocked on international TV? In his Wednesday afternoon interview, Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe explained, “Whatever happens tonight, I can assure you it’s going to be someone that we don’t want to lose.” He added, “So we’ve got to be careful how we handle it, you know, I don’t want to sort of make a mockery of the competition at this stage, but you know the vote isn’t always what you want it to be.”

If the callous send-off of Chris Daughtry represents the AI team being careful, are viewers ready for malicious? Just to be safe, I strongly encourage the top three contestants to wear Depends on Clive Davis Judgment Day.

Taylor is probably the most polarizing AI contestant since Kevin Covais. You are either charmed by Taylor, as I am, or you can’t stand to watch him. Only when he sings plainly from the heart with his shoes nailed to the floor can Simon appreciate his talent. But the Soul Patrol wants him to tear it up with his trademark dances like the Carlton Banks and the Diddley Squat. At this level in the competition, he needs to focus on pleasing the fans. Can he do that without exasperating Clive?

Kat has her share of detractors, too. Ouch! But, like so many guest judges before him, Clive may not be immune to her wanton wiles. She also appears to suffer from a geographic disadvantage. I have been a close observer of Dial Idol these past two months. Even if Jim Hellriegel, who developed the Dial Idol software, doesn’t rank the finalists in their correct order every week, the results usually fall into the margins of error he establishes between them. What I find most informative is how the contestants’ results vary in different time zones. For instance, Taylor is consistently strong as voting sweeps westward. In recent weeks Elliott, whose support used to peak along the eastern half of the country, has gained significant ground in the Mountain and Pacific zones. The west coast is Katharine McPhee’s voting base and thus far she has not made inroads in the Central and Eastern Time zones.

The good news for Elliott Yamin? Most negative reactions to him have been cosmetic and superficial. With longer hair and some spiffy duds, Elliott’s looks have actually become an asset. He even has a new fangirly nickname – Hottie White Choc-o-lat-y. Oops! Did I write that out loud?

The bad news? Elliott gave two – count ‘em – star making performances on Elvis Presley night. Conventional wisdom had him leaving last week, but he stole the show. Despite his triumphant tour de force, Elliott remains the underdog. The gambling sites still consider him a long shot to reach the top two.

As the Clay Aiken phenomenon proved, viewers become more invested in contestants who display variety, versatility and visible growth. Elliott hasn’t come this far because of flattering light shows, fawning video clips, comical dance routines, revealing wardrobe malfunctions, or kneeling/falling on the stage. Of the three semifinalists, Elliott is the only performer who has never shared the spotlight with an instrumentalist. He never needed one. His voice requires no special lozenges or fancy props – just a melody line and a chance to shine.

I will be the first on his doorstep, begging to help Elliott write his autobiography. If I fictionalized his life story, the skeptics would call it far-fetched – from Richmond to riches, from rags to recording greatness.

The AI team may not recognize the amazing gift they have in Elliott Yamin, but somebody up there is looking out for him. This week, it might be Clive Davis. If not, Elliott's future is in even better hands.