American Idol's Season Ends

simon-cowell.jpgIt's. About. To go. Down.

This has been a totally weird, schizophrenic season for American Idol; the contestants have been vocally and stylistically all over the place, and stuff like Antonella Barba's nude pseudoporn internet pictures and Sanjaya Malakar's constant hair weirdness have overshadowed the actual performances most of the time. But considering that American Idol's music has traditionally been watery and boring as all hell, that's actually a good thing; it means this has been a totally chaotic and interesting year for the show. The big finale is tonight, and I'm actually sort of bummed that it's finally ending. So since last night's Beanie Sigel show was cancelled, here's my rundown of all the contestants who made the final twelve, in order of elimination.

Brandon Rogers. The only black dude who made the top twelve, and he was gone right away! Weird! Rogers had pretty much the exact same story as Melinda Doolittle: the guy who's spent years singing background for famous singers and who auditioned for American Idol so he'd finally have a shot at stepping out on his own. Except that Melinda mostly sang backup for oldies-circuit mainstays like Aaron Neville, and Rogers sang for Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake and Usher, people who are actually popular now. Brandon and Melinda both made for intriguing stories, since you have to figure that there's this entire culture of background supporting players that far outnumber the actual stars in the music industry, and a lot of those background singers are probably pissed that they're stuck in the shadows. American Idol's own house band has background singers, and at times they totally overwhelm the actual contestants; I wonder how they feel about that. Anyway, Rogers is totally technically gifted, and he looks more like a readymade star than Melinda, but that probably actually hurt him in the voting, since the show's voters usually go for the sort of gratuitous humility that Doolittle displayed whenever possible and not for Rogers' assured professionalism. I didn't much like Rogers, since he's the sort of performer who always smiles all huge even when he's singing sad songs, which always sort of creeps me out. Best performance: "I Just Wanna Celebrate" (secrets week).

Stephanie Edwards. I liked Stephanie. She looked like a sort of bargain-basement Beyonce, and she was totally great at projecting the same sort of theatrical sass that Beyonce does. If anything, she played up those similarities way too much, singing "Dangerously in Love" during the second week and glowing whenever someone would compare her to B. Stephanie was at her best, doing big, throaty Southern soul, a style she couldn't do quite as convincingly as LaKisha Jones, which is probably why she went home so early, though it's a bit fucked up that she got voted off right after ripping through Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" during British Invasion week, a performance the judges were totally wrong in savaging. Best performance: "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" (top 24 week).

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Chris Sligh. Chris Sligh is a doughyjoker who appears to be about half of his 28 years. He got through the early rounds as much on his goofy-ass sense of humor as on his fairly impressive husky growl, and I sort of liked him; he was the only contestant who always seemed to have a firm grasp on how funny and ridiculous the show can be. During the first few week, he pretty much exclusively sang Christian rock songs, a genre he totally has down cold. When the theme shows started up, some Christian watchdog folks started getting all in his ass for not singing Christian rock songs anymore, which is pretty funny when you consider that there aren't any fucking Diana Ross Christian rock songs, at least as far as I know. He ended up going home after Gwen Stefani week when it became painfully obvious to everyone watching that he had absolutely no sense of rhythm, something he never really had to learn in Christian rock. After he got voted off, he gave some bitter interviews about how American Idol wasn't really the place for him since he comes from an indie background, which was pretty funny. I will not be checking for his band, Half Past Forever, but I still sort of like him. Also, his wife is inexplicably hot. Best performance: "Trouble" (dedication week).

Gina Glocksen. Gina was this year's edgy-rock contestant, which basically just means that she wears Avril Lavigne ties and fishnets on her arms. It's pretty hilarious how Kelly Clarkson, who was absolutely not an edgy-rock candidate during the show's first season, now looks like Greg Ginn or something compared to this year's actual rock contestant. In any case, I liked Glocksen way better than previous surly rock fucks like Chris Daughtry and Constantine Maroulis. She's got a big megaton yowl, and she sort of reminded me of the girls who worked at the Columbia Mall Hot Topic and then walked around the Lakefront across the street in packs smoking cigarettes and looking for drugs after they got off work. When I was in high school, I really liked those girls. Gina had a pretty narrow comfort zone and seemed lost whenever she was outside it, but I'd say she's a lot more likely than the previous three to be able to cobble together an actual successful career. Best performance: "Alone" (dedication week).

Haley Scarnato. It was pretty shocking when Haley made it as far as the top 12 when a whole lot of more talented, just-as-hot singers got voted off; I'm thinking specifically of Sabrina Sloan here. Virtually every single week until her final exit, she was in the bottom three, and it got to the point where I was hoping she'd go home just because she looked so stressed out all the time. She was pretty decent at waiting-room adult-contempo, and her pitch-control was crazy, but she struggled to find a personality. She sort of came into her own as the season progressed, around the time she started dressing sluttier and singing songs that had something resembling a pulse. Simon made sure to note how hot she looked while tearing apart her performances just about every week; it got a bit creepy. Best performance: "True Colors" (Gwen Stefani week).

Sanjaya Malakar. There's not a whole lot left to say about the entire Sanjaya phenomenon, which played itself out as a national joke a week or two before he actually got voted off. In any case, I've already written an entire entry about the whole thing. The night after I wrote that entry, I got an e-mail from someone who claimed that he'd been teaching drama for thirty years, that he knew it when he saw it, and that Sanjaya had it. Sanjaya started off as a perfectly legit if not particularly good contestant in a notably weak field of male contestants, and he skated by on his Tiger Beat appeal (or maybe on it) even though the judges always reacted to his performances with undisguised horror. Eventually, he started to embrace his running-joke status, which is probably the smartest thing he possibly could've done, even if it means we may now be subjected to a Sanjaya reality show. The entire Sanjaya experience made for a pretty cringeworthy moment in American pop culture, and I wasn't sorry to see it end. It'll be interesting to see whether Idol's producers try to find themselves another Sanjaya figure next season; they'd be fools not to. Best performace: "Besame Mucho" (Latin week).

Phil Stacey. I couldn't believe how long Phil managed to stick around, especially considering that he looks like a half-starved survivor from some extinct alien civilization. Stacey managed to make it through to the early rounds on storyline alone; he skipped the birth of his kid so that he could audition, and the judges gave him a pass even though he was pretty meh at the beginning. He eventually developed a sort of swagger that suited his big, warm voice pretty well, but he still made for a particularly irksome presence most weeks. During country week, he totally shanked his Keith Urban song, but the judges inexplicably gave him huge marks for it. After that he started blatantly campaigning for a Nashville contract, droning on about how he's really a country-music dude at heart and singing vaguely country-related songs every week. Given that Nashville loves people who didn't win American Idol, that was probably a smart move. But it was a bit weird seeing Phil get sent home right after he finally hit his stride and absolutely monstered "Blaze of Glory," easily the best performance on a strong night. We'll never know what he could've done with the Bee Gees. Best performance: "Blaze of Glory" (Bon Jovi week).

Chris Richardson. Chris is a Timberlake clone who used the non-word "interpretated" during his audition and sang in a weedy squeak every week, and I still sort of liked him. He knew how to own the stage even when he wasn't singing all that well, which is why he lasted as long as he did. He had a quick, rhythmic intonation, which kept him from getting lost in melismatic runs most of the time. And he seemed like a really nice guy. He's supposedly best friends with finalist Blake Lewis, which makes me think he's not a great judge of character, since that guy is obviously a creep. And you know he's pissed that he missed the boy band era. But I think he's going stick around after American Idol ends, even if he did go home on the same night as Phil: whiteboy massacre Wednesday. Best performance: "Geek in the Pink" (dedication week).

LaKisha Jones. LaKisha was definitely far-and-away my favorite contestant from this season, party (I'm being honest) because of the Maryland connection and partly because the raspy blood-and-fire soul-gospel delivery she works is just about the only style of singing that can pound the chintzy Diane Warren balladry that Idol loves into something moving and meaningful. She's also an interesting case in that she started off her run with her best performance: her erupting-volcano take on "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (a neat little meta-Idol choice considering that Dreamgirls was out at the time and that Jennifer Hudson was shitting all over Idol in interviews). That performance on the top-24 show, both left everyone's jaws hanging and left everyone convinced that she'd never quite equal it on the show, which she never quite did, although she came close a couple of times. I thought she also did really well when she toned down the histrionics and went for subtler stuff like Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," but apparently that's a minority opinion. It was probably not the best tactical decision for her to lead off with that as far as her final standing on the show went, but now that non-winners have become stars because of American Idol, nobody's really trying that hard to win anymore and everyone is trying to last just long enough for people to remember their names. I'll remember LaKisha's name, and I'm guessing a lot of other people will as well. She lasted exactly as long as Chris Daughtry did last season, and she stands a pretty decent chance of being this season's breakout star even if she did finish in fourth place. And mainstream R&B could use a few more planet-swallowing voices like hers. Best performance: "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (top 24 week).

Melinda Doolittle. Melinda's whole thing is that she's this amazingly talented singer except that she doesn't know how good she is and she's totally shocked and exhilarated every time someone compliments her. That's a nice role to play and all, but it gets a little old after twelve weeks or so, as does her persistent habit of scrinching up her neck and wrinkling her nose every time anyone says anything nice about her; Simon even had to tell her to stop doing it. Melinda can definitely, absolutely sing, but I got good and tired of her by the end of her run, especially since she kept giving sleepy reads to sleepy songs and generally chasing the sleepy boomer demographic like she was Smokey and it was the Bandit. She also chose a lot of seriously terrible songs: if you had Bon Jovi's twenty-plus years of amazing eternal anthems laid out before you, would you go for "Have a Nice Day"? Part of the reason I liked LaKisha better than Melinda was that LaKisha never carried herself with any sort of false humility; she knew it when she nailed a performance, and she wasn't afraid to act like it, which might've made voters think she was cold and remote. A big part of doing well on the show, after all, is convincing America that they like you, and Melinda's blushing act was catnip, at least up until last week. I liked Melinda the best when she showed a little fire, and she didn't do that nearly often enough. Best performance: "I'm a Woman" (secrets week).

Blake Lewis. What a cheeseball. Seriously. 311? Incubus? Jamiroquai? Competitive beatboxing? Horrible improv comedy? Post-robot dancing? Bad tattoos? Shirts with embroidered skulls on them? Spiky frosted-tip anime hair? From Seattle and he doesn't drink coffee? Fuck this guy. I sort of like Blake when he pulls back on the gimmicky theatrics and just sings the fucking song; he's got a nice thin vulnerable white-soul voice, but that's not what got him this far in the competition. I'm vaguely shocked that this goofy motherfucker has evidently managed to captivate millions of Americans, but popular taste can be a strange, strange thing. Final word on this guy goes to Human Orchestra Kenny Muhammad in this MTV News story: "As far as him doing the human beatbox, he doesn't take it seriously. He isn't a serious human-beatbox artist. He's an amateur. He's using it as a gimmick to let people know he's hip, to get that edge so he can get over by doing that. He's not really laying it down and his attitude doesn't really say, 'I believe in this.' " There you go. He isn't a serious human-beatbox artist. Best performance: "Somewhere Only We Know" (top 24 week).

Jordin Sparks. Other than LaKisha, she's definitely my favorite of this season's contestants, which makes tonight's finale a real good-vs.-evil showdown for me. She's cute, she's got a huge and malleable voice, and she manages to wring genuine pathos from irredeemable fluff, like when she sang the hell out of the theme from The Land Before Time during Diana Ross week. I also had a really tough time figuring out which performance was her best, which is always a good sign. The only thing I really don't like that much about her is the pasted-on smile she's been rocking in recent weeks, but that smile is probably what helped her outlast Melinda. If Jordin doesn't win tonight, America is fucked. Still, part of me hopes Blake wins; I could be wrong about this, but I think whoever wins has to let the Idol people produce their debut album, and the Idol people will inevitably stick Jordin with a bunch of inspirational schmaltz like "This is My Now," the song that won the Idol songwriting contest. If Blake wins, Jordin will be free to make the great teenpop album that she almost certainly has in her. This will be interesting. Best performance: "I (Who Have Nothing)" (British Invasion week).

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