So much for inevitability
For all the producer manipulation and reliance on ringers this season, an actual amateur singer won American Idol last night, and I don’t even mind that it’s the one who picked a fucking Collective Soul song as his big finisher. This year’s season finale was everything the rest of the season wasn’t: fun, surprising, lighthearted. All of a sudden I’m looking forward to season eight.
8:00: Seacrest: “What happens when a nation is gripped by the closest competition it has ever seen?” Really, Seacrest? Really? We do still have actual elections in this country, don’t we? Cook and Archuleta, both in all white, stare each other down like this was a publicity still from A Clockwork Orange or something.
8:01: 97.5 million votes came in last night. According to Seacrest, even Ruben Studdard got some votes. Cut to Ruben, who’s starting to look like Big Pun. Should we be worried about this guy’s health?
8:03: Go-nowhere contestants from seasons past are in the two finalists’ hometowns, reporting live. That looks like reality-show purgatory.
8:05: Hey, another creepy group singalong with the whole top twelve! I kind of missed these things. They’re singing the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” an impossible song to screw up. People from So You Think You Can Dance stand all around them and sort of do the wop. As intros go, this one’s a lot of fun.
8:10: Cook and Archuleta sing that “Hero” song from the Spider-Man soundtrack, with Cook as Chad Kroeger and Archuleta as the guy from Saliva. If Archuleta spends the whole rest of his career doing things that the guy from Saliva has already done, I’ll change my mind about him. (I’ve always sort of wanted to do a post on the guy from Saliva and what a batshit-weird career he’s had. He’s the guy who sings “Faaa-aame!” on “The Takeover”! He had pretty much the worst rap verse ever on Three 6 Mafia’s “Mosh Pit”! Clearly, Archuleta should do these things.) These two actually don’t look completely awkward onstage together, which is a first.
8:12: Seacrest calls Chad Kroeger “Chad Krueger.” Like Freddy! I love this show.
8:14: Oh good lord, they’re devoting significant screen time to promoting that godawful new Mike Myers movie. I feel bad for everyone involved in this.
8:18: Shameless promotions aren’t any less lame when you make jokes about them being shameless promotions.
8:20: Syesha Mercado and Seal! Who comes up with these duet combinations? Actually, this is pretty great, especially when Seal does the raising-the-roof dance. For a randomly-appointed duet between an American Idol runner-up and a past-his-prime adult-contempo star, there’s a whole lot of chemistry on that stage.
8:26: Jason Castro gets a “Hallelujah” encore. I still can’t believe that whole thing happened. I’ve listened to every version of this song I could find since Castro sang it the first time, and I’d probably put his quavery, tremulous version in the top three. I like that he doesn’t do all the overblown vocal swoops of the Jeff Buckley version, that he just sort of calmly speak-sings those words. If a song like this can get play on a whizjet-circus like this finale, there’s hope for all of us.
8:29: All those Ford music videos get recapped, and then Seacrest tells both Davids that they’ve won free hybrids. That is some cheap cross-promotion right there.
8:31: A Donna Summer tribute? Holy shit! All the female contestants are singing “She Works Hard for the Money,” complete with fumbly choreographed danced. Amanda Overmyer and Carly Smithson kind of rip through “Hot Stuff.” I guess “I Feel Love” would’ve been too much to hope for. Still, Giorgio Moroder synth-jams on ratings-behemoth TV! I will not complain about a segment of this finale that gives burn to both Leonard Cohen and Giorgio Moroder, except to say that they really should’ve had a disco-themed show this year.
8:34: The real Donna Summer shows up to sing her new single, and it’s pretty good grown-lady inspirational synthpop. She looks good, too. The So You Think You Can Dance people are excited. Wait, was that Ryan Seacrest breakdancing or just a So You Think You Can Dance person dressed exactly like Ryan Seacrest? I’m rewinding my DVR like four times, and yeah, it totally was Seacrest! This show rules. And Donna Summer sings “Last Dance.” Other than the Love Guru thing, this finale has just been awesome straight through thus far, and not even that Diet Coke commercial with the Paul Oakenfold/Shifty Shellshock song can kill the momentum.
8:42: The two shock-elimination contestants get their moment: Carly Smithson and Michael Johns sing “The Letter.” I can feel a lot better about these two now that I don’t have to worry about either one actually winning. The arrangement is tinkly Vegas jazz, Carly looks all scarily intense, Michael comes perilously close to doing the white man’s overbite, and all is right with the world. Hey, remember when American Idol still had contestants who looked like they maybe had sex every once in a while?
8:46: Jimmy Kimmel makes fun of Sanjaya, who’s sitting right there. Somewhere, Danny Noriega is pissed. He also introduces a montage of Simon Cowell bashing fools. If they don’t start bringing back freaky auditioners, this might be the best A.I. finale ever.
8:48: No, wait, it actually is the best A.I. finale ever: the top six dudes sing “Summer of 69”! David Hernandez kind of kills it! Oh wow, and here’s the real Bryan Adams. I miss this guy. This new Bryan Adams single is pretty great. I wish this whole tribute segment could’ve found room for “Run to You” or “Cuts Like a Knife,” but I am so not mad. This show really needs theme-shows for Donna Summer and Bryan Adams next season.
8:53: Jordin Sparks, via video package, announces that there’s going to be an American Idol Disney World ride or something. Well, that doesn’t make any sense.
8:55: I take back everything I said about David Cook yesterday. as he sings “Sharp Dressed Man” with ZZ Top. I can forgive Collective Soul covers as long as this guy is willing to share stage-space with those two mammoth beards and do the Chuck Berry duck-walk. I hope Chuck Eddy is watching this.
9:00: For a second, it looked like Seacrest was going to introduce Neil Young, which would’ve been weird. But no, it’s Graham Nash, looking like someone’s creepy uncle and singing with Brooke White. Snore.
9:06: The Jonas Brothers show David Archuleta how to do this teen-idol thing right. (Hint: it involves not being utterly boring.) In the audience, heads explode. Why don’t these kids have a sitcom yet?
9:10: Obligatory freak montage. This makes me feel bad. One of the freaks shows up to sing with a marching band. Because giving this guy the attention he so psychotically craves is a good thing.
9:15: Geesh, OneRepublic. Without Timbaland. Ah, but here comes Archuleta to handle the second verse. Those Ryan Tedder/David Archuleta harmonies are the stuff of nightmares. I’m officially back to rooting for David Cook.
9:24: Jordin Sparks sings some decent-enough new single. It’s no “No Air.” Hasty prediction: the second Jordin album, whenever it comes out, will be a whole lot better than the first.
9:30: More summer-comedy cross-promotion: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. try out to be Pips, Forrest Gumping themselves into some old Gladys Knight Footage. Downey would actually make a pretty great Pip, I’m convinced. This goes on for a really long time without ever reaching a punchline, but it’s still a whole lot better than that Love Guru shit.
9:35: Hey, it’s Carrie Underwood singing “Last Name.” Didn’t I just see this? She sounds a whole lot better here than she did at the AMC awards; maybe she’s still scared of Simon.
9:45: Another top-twelve group-sing, and they’re doing George Michael songs. Oh man. You know what that means. Yup, here’s George Michael, getting a titanic welcome and just monstering “Praying for Time.” Paula cries. This guy just doubled his comeback-tour ticket sales right there.
10:02: Seacrest is teasing the results, and my DVR is coming dangerously close to cutting off. Come on, Fox.
10:03: Simon apologizes to David Cook? Whoa. He also says he doesn’t care who wins, which is such a lie.
10:05: Holy shit, David Cook wins! About two seconds before the DVR cuts off, too. This is like the first honest-to-God surprise result we’ve had all season! America, it turns out, likes grown folks. And now that I think about it, David Cook might actually have a good album in him, as long as Clive Davis hooks him up with Max Martin or Polow da Don or somebody. I’m feeling pretty great about pop music after that show, I have to say. (The priceless Archuleta-fam reaction shot is on YouTube, of course.)
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 22, 2008