We’ll always remember you, Syesha, unless we don’t
Syesha Mercado went home last night. I wasn’t surprised. Neither, probably, were you. Syesha is exactly the sort of singer who always finishes at number three on American Idol: a nice-enough dependable workhorse of a singer who got as far as she did by weathering meltdowns and shock-eliminations from most of the other front-runners but who nonetheless utterly failed to capture the imaginations of grandmothers and ten-year-olds across the country. She’s Melinda Doolittle, she’s Nikki McKibbin, she’s Vonzell what’s-her-name, and there’s every chance in the world that we’ll never hear her name again once this season finally grinds to its long-overdue halt. More to the point, anyone not already convinced that the show’s producers had their hearts set on a David-off only had to watch Tuesday night’s show. Randy Jackson explicitly referred to her as “number three” (and meant it, apparently, as praise! During the top-three show!). Contestants all had three songs to sing, one of which was chosen by the producers, and they gave her an ostentatiously bad fake-Rihanna club-pop jam from the Happy Feet soundtrack, a song no one even remembers. Granted, Syesha didn’t do herself any favors either, opting for a sexed-up cliche version of “Fever,” and nobody has ever done well on American Idol by playing to the horny-dude demographic. But last night’s results show was still the end of a long and gallingly blatant assassination campaign, and the total transparency of it just further highlights the main reason why this season of American Idol has been the worst, by far, in the show’s history.
It’s not like American Idol has ever been a stranger to viewer manipulation, but the praise heaped on this year’s chosen frontrunners has taken things to completely new levels. David Archuleta was the show’s hand-picked golden boy from the very beginning, and only his most trainwrecky performances have managed to elicit even the slightest criticism from the judges’ table. Last night, he added another one to the pantheon: a version of Chris Brown’s “With You” that might’ve been the unintentional-comedy highlight of the entire season. Archuleta might be 17, but he doesn’t seem even the slightest bit comfortable with any pop-cult advancements since, at best, the mid-70s. Doing this supremely awkward rhythmic-squat dance and trying to sing in the actual words that teenagers use in these degraded times, he looked like a boy in a plastic bubble or something. Chris Brown is about as mild and wide-eyed and parent-friendly as any newly-minted pop star of the last ten years could possibly be, and still Simon’s criticism that Archuleta was “a chihuahua trying to be a tiger” was on point. If Chris Brown is the tiger to your chihuahua, you’re not going to make much of a pop star. Sorry. He was way, way more at home singing the godawful Dan Fogelberg treacle that the show’s producers had picked for him.
David Cook, to his credit, at least took a little while longer to gain his front-runner status; he had to endure a couple of weeks of withering Cowell jibes before his strategy of covering old pop hits as grunge power-ballads really took hold. Cook, unlike Archuleta, has had a few great moments on the show, and he seems to at least consider what the songs might be about before singing them. He certainly had the highlight of last night’s show: a delicate, nuanced rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which was enough to convince me that he has a chance at finally winning the thing despite the fanatical adulation that Archuleta seems to provoke in so many. The world needs another post-Vedder consonant-swallowing yowler like it needs a summer gas-tax suspension, but I’m pulling for Cook. So, it would seem, is Simon Cowell, the one judge anyone listens to, which could give him the edge tomorrow night. Mostly, though, I’m just rooting for this season to end. This year found the show’s producers desperate to find someone who might actually sell records in a crumbling industry, going so far as to stock its roster with major-label refugees and past reality-show contestants (Archuleta and Mercado included) to prevent the show from becoming the amateur singing contest it’s supposed to be. That the show’s ratings have suffered mightily can only be considered justice.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 15, 2008