This week may well have been the most hyped in Idol history - and that includes the five past finales. Did it deliver? Well... not so much. We had no obvious stinkers, but even the good performances left us wanting. Of course, in many ways, that was only a set-up to the two hour "results" show... which, in what was truly an Idol first, consisted exclusively of filler.
In the spirit of feel-goodiness, let's go down the list of performances in the order they were on the show. First up... Chris. It was a good song choice for him. It's not a song that taxed his vocal abilities; it was what we'd describe as a reasonable vocal. Unfortunately, he chose to move around a fair bit, which we found distracting. What he should have done was simply sit down and sing. As a whole, it was just average. Unfortunately, this is the top six. "Average" doesn't cut it, not at this stage of the competition.
We've said before, and we'll say it again: Melinda's performances are always spot-on technically. Idol hasn't had anyone who was this good (technically, at least) so consistently. Maybe it's a case of overly high expectations, but this was not her best performance. The first half was not particularly good, but the second half was the kind of performance we've come to expect from her. It was still very good, but it didn't have the "complete" feel that Trouble is a Woman had.
If this were baseball, Blake should be walking back to the dugout by now. This is the third time in a row he's pounded a song into blandness. A lot of what we said last week about Lakisha applies, here, too. You do a song that's so strongly identified with one person - in this case, John Lennon - you will inevitably be compared to that person. That was a losing proposition no matter what Blake did. Simon was right - it came through as completely sincere, but that was really it. Where has the fun beatboxer gone? He's tried to be this staid, down-key singer... and it isn't working.
First Lakisha did Carrie Underwood, then she this week she does Fantasia. One thing for sure: she likes to make ambitious song choices. She's not afraid of being compared to two past Idol winners, either. Now, it wasn't quite the disaster Jesus Take The Wheel was. With Lakisha you will always have a tendency to "shout" parts of songs, since she has a lot of power but not always the control to properly use it. However, we got the impression that the judges were harsher on her this week compared to last. It wasn't quite that bad. The song choice was daring, but it felt like a "safe" performance. Lakisha should be better than this.
Phil is one of the more interesting contestants among the top six. When he's on, he can be very good. Not quite in the same league as Melinda or Jordin, but roughly on the same level as Lakisha and better than either Blake or Chris. Unfortunately, he has as much charisma on stage as he has hair on his head. The Change showed both sides of Phil. Technically, it was very good. Certainly, in that department alone he was well above the other guys. Unfortunately, just singing a song well isn't enough. The test of a good performance is, do you remember it as being good one or two days after? For Phil... not quite. He's in the "forgettable" category, but as we said last week he could sneak into the final four.
The judges are prone to exaggeration, and while Jordin was good, it wasn't "best vocal in six seasons" good. There's no doubt Jordin can hit the power notes as well as anyone else, but the rest of the song was just average. The one thing Jordin did very well this week, however, was connect with the material. She did that better than anyone else did on Tuesday night. Given the theme and the whole Idol Gives Back aspect of this week, that was even more important than it normally is. As an overall package, it was the best of the night, even if perhaps it had some rough patches technically. Perhaps that was the reason it received so much praise from the judges, even if on vocal merit alone it did not deserve it.
What is this? The Amazing Race?: The idea of kicking someone off on a given week is part and parcel of reality TV. The Amazing Race is perhaps the most notorious for, on occasion, not having someone leave at the end of each week. In hindsight, not kicking off someone this week made perfect sense - it would have been somewhat off-putting to boot someone after the Wednesday night show they had.
As far as the competition is concerned, though, the non-elimination week and the extended voting period will have some effects. To recap, next week the voting period will last four hours, and the votes from this week and the next will be added together and the bottom two will go home.
The big gainer from the "twists" this week and next will be Jordin. It's safe to say she had a lot of votes this week, and the little stunt that Ryan pulled - making it seem that she might be going home - will only energize her fan base even more. There is no way she can end up in the bottom two next week - we can consider her final four ticket punched.
For Blake and Phil, this week was essentially the Idol equivalent of a mulligan. They weren't good enough to merit a big boost in the votes, but not bad enough to put themselves in a big hole they can't recover from. For Phil, if he has an off-week next week his relatively good vote count this week might make the difference. For Blake, it doesn't matter nearly as much. He was probably safe in any case, and save a major disaster he's through to the final four as well.
Melinda loses out, but that's from the extended voting hours more than the vote addition. Her fan base may not be up to the task of voting for four hours straight. She may be the front runner, but our guess is her votes come from relatively more people, but with each one casting relatively few votes. We doubt Melinda is the favorite of power voters who are willing to dial for hours on end. (Someone like Sanjaya, for example, would represent the opposite extreme.) With two people going home next week, there's a good chance Ryan Seacrest would announce something like a bottom three or four. Do not be surprised if Melinda makes an appearance there. She's not going home, but a scare is not out of the question.
The ones in serious trouble are Chris and Lakisha. Both of them came into this week in a relatively dangerous position. Chris never impressed vocally; Lakisha impressed early on but has faded since. In particular, after their poor country week performances, they needed good ones to get any further. Unfortunately, neither one of them delivered. Chris is almost certainly gone; Lakisha will need to regain her form from the start of the season, and hope that someone makes a major mistake (think forgetting-the-lyrics major.) It's not likely.
Useless trivia of the week: Jordin fans may want to take note. The last two winners both made it through the entire season without ending up in a bottom two/three group. Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken both did the same thing in their respective seasons as well. Of the six remaining contestants, who could qualify under that would be Melinda and Jordin. If, as we suspect, Melinda makes a bottom group appearance next week... perhaps it could be considered foreshadowing.
Who is giving back, anyway?: the whole week was dominated by the whole Idol Gives Back charity drive. While Idol deserves credit for the publicity it's giving to various charitable causes, we hesitate to fully praise them for this. Here's why.
The final amount that will be raised will probably be somewhere around $80-100 million. (A news article we read earlier today has a partial total of around $60 million.) It's all good that they've been able to raise that amount... but how much of it is really from the various corporations involved in Idol? We know the News Corporation, owners of Fox, have donated their $5 million. What about all the other corporate sponsors they like to brag about - Coke, Ford, and AT&T? How much have they given?
We don't have any problems with Ryan, Simon, or any of the public faces of Idol. We think their concern is genuine, and it's worth noting Simon's donated a "six-figure" sum out of his own pocket. The same goes for the actors and singers who did their part for the show. There's no reason to think their concern for the needy is anything but real. Our beef is with the nameless corporate types who call the shots behind the scenes.
If you're going to ask people to give their own hard-earned money, isn't it only fair to give just as generously? Isn't it unfair to demand change from ordinary folks when you're not willing to part with significant cash from your own far larger coffers? Right now we doubt anyone topped the $5 million figure; with their love of big numbers Idol would have announced it in a heartbeat if that was the case. With ad rates well over half a million dollars for a single 30-second spot on either Tuesday or Wednesday night, Idol earned around $55 million in ad revenue for this week alone. We haven't even gotten into the money the name sponsors put into the show. So how much did the corporate powers that be really give? If they were really interested in giving, why tie the final donations to participation numbers (like votes, as News Corporation did, or Internet video downloads, as Ford will reportedly do)?
In the end, Idol Gives Back will be remembered as a great success for bringing attention to the problems in America and Africa. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that the real credit should go out to the viewers at home. The show should have been called Idol Viewers Give Back, because that's exactly what happened. Idol Gives Back was probably conceived with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the line it turned into a gigantic act of self-promotion, with the viewers at home left to do the actual work of charity. Was it a good night for charity? We can't deny that. That amount of money is significant, and we're sure it'll find its way into hands where it can do a lot of good. But we can't help but wonder how much better it could have been had self-promotion not been so much of a factor.
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