Those of us who were the heartiest of “American Idol” fans lost hope last year. We’d thrown in the towel, swore before God and our families we would never watch AI again, and joined the local bowling team that played every Wednesday and Thursday night to avoid any temptation of back sliding.
We weren’t counting on the complete and total revamp that was done to lift the spirits and face of “American Idol” and its fans. When Simon left, he took his meanness with him and even the most skeptical of us were quickly won over by the sweetness, good humor and graciousness of Jennifer Lopez and the antics and goofiness of Steven Tyler who quickly showed a strong propensity for younger female contestants. He made no bones about showing his most grateful appreciation for their outward appearances thus prompting a small ripple of criticism from fans and Fox itself implying that Tyler was being “inappropriate”. They were quickly quelled by his fervent fan base reminding us all, “Hello, he’s a rock star!”
One should never try to tame a rock star.
Randy Jackson, previously known only for his three-word vocabulary “yo”, “man” and “dawg”, came into his own as the unproclaimed leader of the judges. His feedback was more specific, diverse, serious, and confidant. Randy fared well this past season not living under the shadow of Cowell’s tight T-shirts or the man himself.
With the kinder and gentler three judges setting the tone, a jazzier and more youthful set graced the stage for the contestants and “American Idol 2011" had a different feel right from the start. The abundance of talent stood out from the beginning. It’s as if before last season even had come to its dull and anticlimactic end, “American Idol” was sending out talent scouts to every parts of the country. No way were they going to rely on the tens of thousands of hopefuls that showed up in city after city. The last two years had been disastrous, despite the fact that even in its worst of seasons, it was still the #1 watched show in the country.
The producers wised up. There were no Sanjayas, no William Hungs, no sobbing belligerent poor losers, no tattoos and no really bad teeth.
This season’s contestants were as American as apple pie who collectively received criticism like a gift and actually listened and readjusted their performances. They meant business and I don’t think a one of them justified a poor song choice or performance by insisting they didn’t care because they had FUN! They acted like professionals from beginning to end.
Pia Toscana, James Durbin and Casey Abrams will always stand out this season for their early departures that made no sense, thus cementing the biggest flaw inherent in “American Idol’s” voting system, the system that allows fans to vote as many times as is humanly or digitally possible. We all know that tweens and teenagers have more persistence and endurance when it comes to using cell phones than any other living organism in the universe. For once in their powerless lives, they hold the key to the future of these contestant’s lives and excuse me for saying, they haven’t been the best of judges.
But it doesn’t matter this year.
It's come down to three very talented singers and performers. There will be no travesties when the winner is announced next week. There will be no audible moans of disbelief from the audience at the Nokia Theater. "American Idol” is finding itself in a “win win” situation, still maintaining its #1 watched show status and in the fall will be followed on Fox by Simon Cowell and his reunion with sidekick Paula Abdul and his well ballyhooed “X Factor”.
Let’s take a look at the Final 3:
Lauren Alaina: When Lauren first auditioned for the show, she was 15 years old. In six short months, she’s aged about twenty years (show business tends to do that to women). Lauren is now 16 going on middle age. She has one hell of a voice, the girl can belt out those notes, yes she can. But does she have to look so damn old? Like she’s already had too much sun or life experience? Someone’s been trying to put young party dresses on Lauren and I can’t decide if it’s helping or if it just feels wrong. Lauren vacillates from pop to country and I’m guessing she has many fans who hail from the South who just love seeing a young Southern peach doing so well (think Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood).
Lauren’s Favorite Quote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Scotty McCreery: Ah, Scotty. Who doesn’t just loooooooooove Scotty? Scotty has come a long way since the beginning, and granted, every once in a while, he does that McCreepy cock of his head as he’s singing and tries to give the camera that “I’m so so so so sincere” look. But the boy can sing country and with those low as the Bayou notes he can dig down deep to reach, he’s made a country fan out of me.
Scotty’s Favorite Quote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Haley Reinhart: It’s surprising to me that Haley is still in the competition given the early departures of Pia and James. I love Haley. She’s got verve, soul, and isn’t afraid to belt out the high notes. In fact, she delights in screaming them. On first look, Haley looks as pure as the freshly driven snow but when she opens her mouth, you know that girl has seen some tougher days. Hailey is no girl and when she sings the songs that talk about love gone badly or seeing better days, you believe that she’s been there and done that. Her voice is unusual and quirky and she’s not your typical wholesome kid that doesn’t exist anyway.
Haley’s Favorite Quote: “I truly believe everything happens for an important reason. And with this, I always say ‘Que sera sera-what will be will be.’”
Hey, my mother would love Haley. I woke up many a morning to the sounds of that song sung by my wise mother who was trying to subtly prepare us for life. Seeing her favorite quote made me love Haley even more.
Tonight, the three will compete and one of them will be eliminated tomorrow night. It’s refreshing to be going into the final without the frustration of having to sit through yet another pathetic poor performance from another lousy contestant from seasons gone by.
All in all, it’s been a bit of a Pollyanna season for “American Idol”. Who couldn’t love the judges, especially Jennifer Lopez whose kindness, heart-felt emotions and solid feedback have been a beautiful thing to behold? I love her! Or Steven Tyler’s wistful and slow nodding of his head when he looks at a contestant after a well sung song and softly says, “That was beautiful man. Really beautiful.” Or Randy Jackson’s broad gleaming smile as he enthusiastically applauds a contestant for another fantastic performance yelling, “Yes! Yes! That’s what this competition is all about! You’re in it to win it!”
Who will win this year? Does it matter? All three are talented, seemingly good people, young people who have worked for many years honing their craft, practicing, working, pursuing, and dreaming.
It’s nice to see something going right somewhere, even if only on a cheesy weekly show that strives only to entertain. This season, “American Idol” provided the weekly escape, the wide range of talented singers and maybe not quite HOPE, but relief.
Music is the quickest way to happiness I know and right now, “American Idol” has turned into one big Happy Love Fest.
*Sometimes it feels good to do something “just for old time’s sake”.
**This one’s for Open Salon’s “Big Brad”.
Last night's competition between the 3 contestants made me want to recant most of what I said above. After the 3 performers sang each of their 3 songs, it was more than clear (at least to me) that Haley stood out like a beacon in a dark night. I found the performances by Lauren and Scotty mediocre and often winceable. The way Haley fell on the stage and recuperated with such flair and grace was impressive. Her voice is unique, sensual, sultry, smokey and her range is jaw-dropping. Even her screaming/growls sounded good last night.
HALEY IS IN IT TO WIN IT! And she should. But that has nothing to do with who will actually win "American Idol" next week. The tween voters will most likely decide and we will know, once and for all, that the producers of "American Idol" have never heard the wise adage, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results."