Top three week. Everyone knows what this means: next week we
put this season out of its miserycrown the next winner of American Idol. Of course, this also means that the song choices will be up, in part, to the judges and the producers. (What happened to Clive Davis? Did they forget to bring him out of his cryogenic chamber?) If you're Melinda, Jordin, or Blake... that couldn't have been a comforting thought.
We've had many shockers on Idol before, but Melinda's exit has to be one of the biggest ones in recent memory. It was at least as big a shocker as Chris Daughtry's departure at the final four last year. Is it just us, or can we hear some sharks doing warm-ups? In a way, it was appropriate: in a year where Idol has been flawed, to say the least, what many people think is the best of the three remaining won't even make it to the finale. What a disaster this season has been, and Melinda's exit was only the biggest one of this season so far.
It's a real pity that Melinda went out when she did, because this was probably her best night to date. She got off to a rough start last night, but to use a Randy-ism she pulled it out. Really, she got thrown a hard one with I Believe In You And Me. It was far from her best, but to be fair it was far and away the hardest judge's choice song on Tuesday. Considered on its own, it was good, but if one considers degree of difficulty she was definitely on top. (It's not like Jordin or Blake did well with their judge's choices, either.)
From then on, though, it got a lot better. Both Nutbush City Limits and I'm a Woman were as good as Melinda gets. She not only brought her usual vocals to the table, but she had excellent command of the stage, performance skills, even charisma - they were both superb. It's almost like she read what we said last week and decided to turn things up another notch. Like Phil, we have to say she went out with her best performances to date.
Jordin had a mixed night to us, at best. I (Who Have Nothing) was good, but we knew this was her comfort zone, and we'd literally heard it before. It didn't have nearly the same impact it had the first time she did it. As for the rest, well, we're not quite sure whether she could have done anything good with Wishing on a Star. No, Paula, Simon did not pick a good song; we thought it was a rather boring choice. The vocals were okay, but it wasn't impressive. The same could be said for her Donna Summer number. Overall, it was at best a mail-it-in week for Jordin. Good, yes. Outstanding, or great? No, sorry.
Blake is best understood less as a singer and more as a performer. If it were just down to vocals, it's not even close. We're tempted to quote Randy on what he said many weeks ago about Sanjaya: you can comment on the singing anymore. Melinda or Jordin could have laryngitis and they'd still be better singers. If you measure the overall package, though, the comparison isn't quite as one-sided. Blake is far ahead of anyone else this season in terms of style and finesse. On that criteria alone, Blake did very well. As for the singing, well, they were as good as Blake needed them to be - which isn't that good. So long as he doesn't turn in another You Should Be Dancing-like disaster, it's enough for us at home to forget his limited vocal abilities and take in the whole performance.
We wuz robbed: Normally, when we look at why someone got the boot, we can point out something they didn't do right. That's not the case with Melinda, though. Her vocals were superb right from the get-go, and her performances were showing signs of improvement by the end - we saw the first hints in Bon Jovi week, and as we said earlier she was terrific this week. So what happened?
It's not so much a case of Melinda doing something wrong as much as Jordin and Blake doing something right. All season long, we've been trying to hammer this lesson in: success in Idol isn't purely determined by pure singing or performance ability; it's about how well you can build (and maintain) a dedicated fanbase. In this area, Melinda was at something of a disadvantage; her style was always going to appeal to an older group that was not the power-voting bloc a younger set might be.
Still, she was able to get to the top three, so she was able to get a pretty good fanbase. Unfortunately, she ran into not just one, but two powerhouse fanbases. Blake can be compared to a four-person boy band in just one individual - he has the decent vocals, superb performance skills, and good looks to boot. Throw in the fact that he's something new on Idol, and he was bound to be a force to be reckoned with.
What about Jordin? Well, despite all the contradictions we noted last week, she's still 17. She plays the part of the bubbly teenager very well when she's not singing, and that's something that translates into votes. She's also had several standout performances, and so while her fanbase may not have the single-minded fanaticism of Blake's, it has to be respected.
An idea that's gotten a lot of currency is that Melinda was "dull", "boring", and thus a poor fit to be the next Idol. There's a good amount of truth in those statements, although there's a fair amount of exaggeration there as well. It sort of misses the point, though. Performance skills, charisma, all the other factors that get mentioned that Melinda doesn't have - it really should all be secondary to singing. It's like a good meal. The appetizers, dessert, the drinks - it's all supposed to serve to supplement the main course, not replace it.
Ultimately, Melinda was the victim of what's "in" or "out". She's one of the best technical singers Idol has ever seen, but she had a style that was in many ways a throwback. Taylor was able to make it work for him last year, but Melinda didn't have the extra charisma Taylor had. She was also up against two powerful fanbases, and without any special tricks of her own it was difficult - a little too difficult, as it turned out.
Trivia bits of the week: Melinda is the highest-ranked contestant to not end up in a bottom three or two group before getting eliminated. The previous holder of this record was Tamyra Gray from Season One (who finished fourth).
Jordin becomes the fifth person in Idol history to make it to the finale and not end up in a bottom two or three group along the way. This rather exclusive group includes three winners (Kelly, Carrie, and Taylor), plus Season Two runner-up Clay Aiken.
No Minors Allowed: For the first time since Season Three, we have a teenager in the finale. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to ask whether it's time for Idol to raise the minimum age.
Jordin is as good as you can expect from a teenager, but it's clear to us that a few more years wouldn't hurt. With some work from a voice coach, she could finally kick the control problems that she sometimes encounters. Also, she just doesn't have the emotional depth to pull off something like Woman in Love either. She's got plenty of natural talent, yes, but there's more to being a good singer than just natural talent. Given one, maybe two years of added experience, Jordin could be as good as anyone this show has produced. As it stands, she just isn't.
We can't think of any teenager on Idol who wouldn't have been better given a few more years of experience, both inside and outside of music. Had the minimum age been 18, the teenagers of Season Three (Jasmine and Diana) would have auditioned either last season or this time around. It's also worth noting that Carrie Underwood, who we've sung the praises of plenty of times here, had a development deal when she was in her teen years, but that fell through. Would she have been as good then? We're not so sure.
Of course, we know this is something that the powers that be would never do. For some reason or another, Idol has decided of late to chase the teen/tween age bracket. To do that, they need to get the kinds of singers who appeal to that bracket - which is why we got teenagers like Sanjaya and Jordin this season. It's a real pity, because we're convinced that if the minimum age was raised the overall quality of the contestants would go up a fair bit. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the highest priority of the Idol producers.
And the Ouija board sayeth: Because we won't be putting out our next articles until after the winner's been proclaimed, we'll put out our prediction here. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 American Idol will be... Jordin Sparks.
Now, two things. Why can we pick a winner even if we haven't heard the finale? Here's the secret: it doesn't really matter much in deciding who wins or not. Going into almost every finale, there was a decided favorite and an underdog. The underdog hasn't pulled out a win yet - however, there's a reason they were the underdog in the first place. Three songs each - repeats and the Idol single(s) - won't change matters.
Why do we pick Jordin? We think Blake's fanbase, as powerful as it is, is not likely to grow much further. Blake is really a love-him-or-hate-him singer; fans will praise his creativity while critics will bemoan him as a one-trick pony. That's not a formula for broad appeal; he's essentially stuck with the fans he has now. However, broad appeal is exactly what you need to win in the finale. Also, Jordin has not been in a bottom group all season long; you have to give that kind of achievement and record (three winners out of four) some respect.
The things that tips us firmly to her camp, though, is the Idol single. It'll probably tie in to the songwriting competition, but it won't change the usual character of the chosen songs. They're always ridiculously cheesy, faux inspirational and just plain garbage. It's something that Jordin can do well - it's practically in her comfort zone. As for Blake, well... he should ask Bo Bice and Katharine McPhee how well their coronation songs went. Suffice to say that Inside Your Heaven and My Destiny are not exactly the best material either one of them has done.
Could Blake win? It's not quite impossible, but make no mistake: it's rather difficult. If Blake can do it, we'll give him all the congratulations in the world - but we would not bet on it.
Next week: the torture that is Season Six ends. Plus, the Season in Review! For comments and suggestions, send us a PM.