(Since we’ve reached our final four, I’m rambling on for longer than usual in the intro. Live-blogging and spoilers are below the fold–I won’t be offended if you scroll on down.)
There was a lot of grumbling from fans when the finals of the eighth season of American Idol began, some of it with good reason. The Powers That Be seemed to be manipulating the show to an extent never before seen, at least on camera. Worthy singers were dumped in Hollywood for no apparent reason (Jamar Rogers), mediocre singers were advanced to the top thirteen based on physical appearance (Megan Joy) or life story (Scott MacIntyre) more than anything else, and one of the most interesting contestants was not allowed out of the judge-picked wild card round (Tatiana del Toro).
But, once given a chance, America did a good job separating the wheat from the chaff. The not-quite-ready Jasmine Murray was dumped right away. Overly-pimped looker Alexis Grace soon followed. Disappointing bust Lil Rounds, an early favorite, finally went. And with the elimination of Matt Giraud last Wednesday, the last of the dead weight has been eliminated and we have a final four worthy of what has amazingly turned into one of the most compelling seasons of Idol yet.
Danny Gokey was a front runner from the very beginning, with the producers giving him maximum pimpage. Entering the contest in the shadow of his young wife’s tragic death created an immediate rooting interest. But fairly or not, it also created a backlash as some viewers came to believe that the tragedy was being cynically exploited to sell Danny to the masses. Sappy song choices, an over-reliance on big finishes, and apparently disrespecting Smokey Robinson also helped to burn much of the good will that Danny started with at the beginning of the competition.
However, much of his sizable fan base stuck with him, moved by his life story and his big voice. Danny is now a polarizing figure, loved and loathed by many with few in the middle.
Similarly polarizing is Adam Lambert, metal shrieker, tender crooner, flamboyant showman, and force of nature. After a couple of performances designed to kick viewers in the balls, he shocked millions by singing an anguished version of “Tracks of my Tears.” From there he fell into a rut of alternating uptempo songs with ballads, and although he delivered one of the greatest performances in Idol history with his cover of the Gary Jules version of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” the act got a little stale and last week Adam found himself not just in the bottom three, but in the bottom two. Another reinvention is in order. Can he do it?
Kris Allen started the competition with the massive disadvantage of never being pimped in the slightest. He snuck into the top thirteen with a mediocre performance of “Man in the Mirror,” to my disappointment. How wrong I was.
A stunning rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine” put Kris on the map, and consistent performances have kept him there. Picked early to be cannon-fodder, week-by-week, song-by-song, Kris Allen has earned respect and a growing fan base. The defeat of Matt Giraud last week will mean a substantial boost in the size of that fan base, and, with his richly deserved slot in the final four, the young man from Arkansas is well-positioned for one more upset.
I need to get personal with my analysis of Allison Iraheta, because I have no idea what the larger audience makes of her. Allison is my favorite Idol contestant ever. Not the best singer ever, although she is very good, and not the person I believe should win this year. But she’s my favorite. Her quirkiness and her seeming inability to be anyone but herself has utterly charmed me, making the occasional poor song choice and more-than-occasional fashion disaster somehow endearing. I think it’s terrific that a sixteen (just now seventeen) year old would rather be Pat Benatar or Joan Jett than Miley Cyrus. My head is with Adam, but my heart is with Allison.
I don’t think she can win, but there are big things ahead for her regardless. Don’t let the world or the evil record people change you, Allison! I am certain I speak for many others when I say I love you as you are.
This is a great set of contestants. Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which brings us to where we are. The Final Four. The NFC and AFC championship games. The League Championship Series. The atmosphere is tense, the excitement level is high, and I can’t wait.
Let the games…begin!
Live blogging and spoilers below the fold once the show starts at 7:00 Central. Our weekly best/worst polls after the show is over.
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