American Idol Goes Really, Really Country


Oh boy, here we go. I can’t possibly overemphasize how not excited I was to watch this Idol finale: Two perfectly decent singers who stick entirely within their genre–the exact same genre, even–and who both ran out of interesting tricks and wrinkles weeks ago. TMZ had a story yesterday evening that Lauren Alaina’s voice was dead and that Idol producers were frantically scrambling to find Haley Reinhart, giving me about five seconds of hope that something unpredictable might happen, but no. At the very outset of the show, Ryan Seacrest introduced a dumpy and smug-looking doctor who said that Lauren had blown out a vocal chord but that she should be OK. I don’t remember the last time I wished that hard for a child’s ill health.

Just before we met that doctor, the camera found David Archuleta in the crowd, and I wonder if that kid wishes he could try out for Idol again. He does know something about endless, foregone-conclusion, death-march finales.

This week the kids sang multiple songs in multiple rounds, and it started out with a bit where the kids picked their favorite songs of the season and sang them again. Boring, but Scotty had the good sense to start things off by bringing back Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone,” definitely one of the best songs he sang this season. And he managed to keep all his tics from getting out of pocket on the encore performance: No cartoonish facial contortions, no crazy eyes, no mugging to obviously planted crowds of teenage girls. He kept his head down and sang a good song well. Even better, the Brokencyde-haired fiddle player was back again. I love that guy! He headbangs while playing fiddle! Somebody needs to invent Fiddle Idol just so that guy can win. The one upside to this being an all-country night: Brokencyde fiddle guy had a busy night, appearing onstage during five of last night’s six songs and getting some very serious camera time.

When Scotty was done, the judges said nothing. All night, in fact, the judges refrained from judging anything. The show was blessedly kept to an hour, and I was just fine with the whole no-judging thing. It’s not like what the judges would’ve said was a mystery anyway. It’s not like they would’ve stopped crowing unrelentingly about how brilliant these two average-ass little kids were. The judges could’ve just stayed home; I would’ve been cool with that. They got a few seconds between the second and the third round to spout some nonsense, and then again after the final songs, and I zoned the fuck out every time. Randy yelled “In it to win it!” again. He must think that’s charming. My skin actually crawled.

Lauren Alaina picked Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor,” another good song but also another instance of that classic Idol foible where new contestants attempt to handle songs that their more-famous predecessors already defined. Even if Lauren’s health had been at its pinnacle, she would’ve had no hope of handling Carrie’s wail. As it was, she barely sounded there.

In the second round, the kids’ heroes got to pick songs for them. Scotty favored ’90s hat-country O.G. George Strait, who had the temerity to pick one of his own goddamn songs, “Check Yes or No.” Very imaginative, George Strait. A humble and thoughtful move on your part. “Check Yes or No” is sleepy wallpaper bullshit, and it’s not like Scotty’s enough of a showman to sell something like that. He did fling his eyebrows around his face in some truly baffling contortions, which I guess was something.

Lauren’s hero was Carrie Underwood, and I don’t know why that should annoy me; it’s totally age-appropriate and Carrie is, after all, someone who’s succeeded wildly in Lauren’s chosen field. But the choice seems weirdly sycophantic somehow? I don’t know. Anyway, Carrie had a pretty nice choice for Lauren: Pam Tillis’s “Maybe It Was Memphis,” a slow and vaguely churchy country song with a big and sticky chorus. And Lauren sounded a lot nicer on this one; either the song was stripped-back enough that she could actually highlight her voice or she had that shit under control finally. It’s a great sort of song for Idol. Lauren got to show off with her voice a bit but not so much that it actually felt showy, and the song wasn’t beyond her emotional range; she just had to be vaguely fond of someone. Nicely done all around.

Things took a sharp turn for the weird after that, when Taio Cruz emerged to sing a song that had something to do with Pepsi somehow. All season, Seacrest has made cryptic references to a contest where those of us at home can help Taio write a Pepsi song, and none of it ever made any sense. This, I guess, was the final product, and it didn’t make any sense either. Taio had a bunch of laser lights and a drumline of Daft Punk body doubles backing him up, and he repeated “I’m gonna be positive” over and over. I was confused. At least the Brokencyde-hair fiddle player got to take a short break and go to the bathroom.

In the final round, the singers had to sing the songs that supposedly will become their singles if they win. I guess Jimmy Iovine picked the songs, though the show didn’t exactly make it clear. Scotty was forced to sing some treacly absurdity with the unfortunate title “I Love You This Big” while clips of his last few months of TV appearances flashed on the screen behind him. And of course he stretched his arms as wide as he could during the “this big” part of the chorus. That song is not going to do him any favors when he inevitably wins, but no Idol contestant has ever been given an actual good song at the conclusion of this thing, so I guess Scotty can’t complain.

Lauren got a song called “Just Like My Mother Does.” It’s about moms. Too bad it’s not about creepy, Botoxed-up stage moms–Lauren could really relate if that was it. Lauren had a mandolin player with a porkpie hat, a full string section (no Brokencyde guy), and an Oscar -ight gown, and she sang the last bit of the song directly at her mom. There was also a weird moment where Ryan Seacrest held her hand as she walked down the stage stairs; it was like she was blind or something. I don’t remember anything about the song itself.

Oh, and David Cook sang his turgid, yarly, joyless version of the Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.” If Judd Nelson had heard that shit at the end of The Breakfast Club, he wouldn’t have punched the air; he would’ve punched David Cook in the dick. The camera didn’t show David Archuleta in the crowd, so I’m just going to assume he was crying ruefully.