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On American Idol: Holding Back the Tears

On Tuesday Fox aired a documentary on the history of American Idol. From the start, Idol has been about the music and about finding a star. Over the past four or five seasons, they have stumbled a bit but tonight was almost like old times. Two great singers, a bunch of good songs and maybe even a real contest.

Before I dive into tonight I have to say, I’ve been hard on Idol. The last few years have been painful and it takes a strong, loyal fan to stick through what has been spoon-fed to us as viewers. For what it’s worth, the show fell apart when two things happened.

  • They moved away from their main focus which, as we were reminded on Tuesday, was to let America vote for the music they wanted to hear. Since the introduction of the judge’s save, we lost our control. No more dramatic eliminations like we saw when Jennifer Hudson went out in the top 7 or when Chris Daughtry left in 4th place. The lure of Idol was always the drama and the lead-up to the elimination. Since going to a one-night format, we lost a lot of the anticipation and the excitement.
  • The show became more about the judges and less about the raw talent. When Paula left and the merry-go-round of judges took off, the focus of the news cycles became the judges. Moving from Ellen to Kara then on to Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, it was all about the star power. By the time we got to the Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey season, it was just a joke. Once the judges became less credible, the whole producer-scripted comments became untrustworthy and seemed to almost steer the votes in the direction that the powers that be wanted. The voting process was tainted and the rules kept changing, giving the impression that the whole thing was rigged.

I have loved being a viewer and I will cry like a baby tomorrow but something that Randy Jackson said on the special has stuck with me. He commented that “people will buy what they believe” and I think he hit the nail on the head. The reason the last few winners haven’t had the same commercial success as Queen Kelly, Carrie Underwood or even Phil Phillips is because the last few seasons haven’t been believable. Not the winners’ fault, just a bad turn of events. I hope Idol does come back, in some iteration, as  something more authentic. (and please…for the love of any God, NOT WITH SMALL CHILDREN) Yes, I’m talking to you, Nigel.

Anyway, so there was a show tonight. The three remaining contestants each sang a song that would be released to radio if they were crowned the next American Idol. This is weird since one of them obviously isn’t even going to be in the top two, but whatever. It was nice to not just kick somebody off at the start (Jax).

Trent apparently drew some sort of short straw and had to perform first all night. His original song, Falling, was my personal favorite of the night. It wasn’t what I would call a radio-ready song but it was a perfect fit for Trent’s jazzy, throwback side. He did get a little carried away with those faces he makes but he put a lot of feeling into the song and it was good.

Dalton was up next and his song, Strike a Match, felt a little bit like a TBT to the soundtrack from Some Kind of Wonderful. The song did pick up eventually but I couldn’t get Mary Stuart Masterson out of my head. Dalton just reminds me so much of a boy that used to be in a boy-band but now wants to be his own guy. I honestly don’t think he was ever as good as he was during his first audition or even during Hollywood week. He started out as a super unique guy and I think the show just took it out of him. He did a great job tonight but I was left missing cool Dalton with the Phantom remix.

La’Porsha followed with her single, Battles. I thought the song was lyrically perfect for La’Porsha but it didn’t really feel soulful to me. La’Porsha isn’t a pop singer, she is a soul singer and there is a difference. There wasn’t a lot of meat to this song and I just didn’t feel her in it, even though she performed it flawlessly.

Very quickly Ryan called the three to the stage for the last elimination in Idol history. It wasn’t very dramatic or even very surprising and I think Dalton knew it was coming. That’s the funny thing about the internet. It’s full of people tweeting and blogging and making predictions.

So Trent and La’Porsha finished the night with two more songs each. The first round of songs was chosen by producer Simon Fuller and the second round chosen by the contestants (aka – Reprise Round). I have to point out that during the American Dream special on Tuesday, Simon Fuller made the comment that Idol was originally about kids singing their parents’ songs. That struck me as funny because so many times I wonder where or why they pull these songs out from nowhere. Who knew?

Trent’s first song was If You Don’t Know Me By Now and I appreciated that it felt like a lot of thought went into choosing the song for his voice, his personality, and his style. Trent got his faces under control and did a beautiful job. Jenny said something silly like this was the first time in a long time (maybe ever) that we’ve had a real battle going on with the top two. Sometimes she says crazy things. Also, why is Keith doing a secret collaboration (with Carrie Underwood one could guess) and Harry is doing a secret collaboration and Jenny is doing a solo, pimp my own career, song tomorrow night? (insert angry face emoji)

Simon chose A House Is Not a Home for La’Porsha and I loved the throwback vibe and the simple, perfect way that she presented the song. I thought this was a really classy round and I applaud Simon for choosing vocal showcase songs for both of these talented kids. I call this one a TIE.

Trent chose to reprise his version of Chandelier that blew our socks off a few weeks ago. I personally would have picked the kick-ass version of Sharp Dressed Man that made everyone jump on the Trent train that same week. But this was pretty good. I thought he struggled in a few spots but he balanced it out with some amazing falsetto transitions (is that a thing) and in the end, it was memorable and worthy of the five-minute standing ovation.

La’Porsha wisely chose Diamonds which was smart because she is so good and because it reminded voters of how good she was from the beginning. She was shining and beautiful and her laugh warmed my heart. She’s a kid on a huge stage – about to have her life changed in a big way (yes, I’m predicting La’Porsha…Queen Kelly can’t be wrong). She feels it and I’m kind of excited to see how she does.

So tomorrow night the spectacle begins at 8:00 p.m. and I’m not reading any spoilers or song lists or anything. My favorite part of Idol has always been the anticipation for what was coming next. I like a surprise! I’m sure the guest list for tomorrow will be something for the record books. Kieran will dim the lights and I’ll be here, ready with my tissues, as Ryan Seacrest changes someone’s life one last time.

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