American Idol 4: Recap and Rx
Copyright © by Dan
Last week the top rated tv show in America crowned its fourth American Idol- Carrie Underwood. I am now going to tell you how that came about, and why it was a bad choice, although not a bad choice by the American public, as I will be essaying this past season by referring to the weekly notes I kept. I will summarize each week’s action, do the same for the finale, divine what is wrong with the show, and prescribe the best ways how to fix what ails the show, which is now bordering on quiz show scandal ground. That said, given the three prior winners of the show- banal poppist Kelly Clarkson, bloated R&B gargantua Ruben Studdard, and screechy gospelteer Fantasia Barrino, the country singing Carrie Underwood is already the best ‘winner’ the show’s ever produced, and the reason for my quotes around winner shall be explained in due course. First off, she can sing, secondly- she a gorgeous young blond who seems destined to become the next generation Faith Hill or Shania Twain. But, she was not the best singer in this season’s Top 12, the strongest class yet- and perhaps not even in the Top 4.
This season started out in late January, with the requisite bad performances by delusional wannabes, and some folk who simply wanted their forty-five seconds on national tv. This is always the most enjoyable portion of the season, for it shows how really without hope so many people are. When I sometimes question whether or not the crap that is published by presses and magazines, and fed to the public as being literary, is the product of a cabal of evil intent, or utter cluelessness on the part of the bad writers, worse editors, and worst critics, I merely have to watch these tryouts to get my answer. But, other than the clueless you get to follow the journeys of assorted characters- some of whom inevitably make it to the Final 12. This early exposure can be crucial to some singers building a fan base and others not, and has led to allegations that the show stacks the deck to get the singers it deems most favorable for ratings. My belief is that they do far more than that. Regardless, there are a number of early ‘stars’ that stick out. There is Constantine Maroulis- the lead singer for bar band. He is a rocker whose prior claim to fame was winning on an episode of the tv show Elimidate. He is hiding his tryout from his bandmates, who look down on the pop crap that AI represents. Cameras even follow Constantine as he tells his bandmates that he is leaving them for a shot at solo fame. He is soon dubbed ‘The Rocker’. Then there is blond, bespectacled ‘Miracle Boy’ Anthony Fedorov- a Ukrainian immigrant who had throat surgery as a baby, and was told he’d never be able to speak. But, he speaks, and passes his audition, and makes it to the Hollywood round. So does Scott Savol- a fat, white trasher from Cleveland; you know the sort- ugly, speaks like he wishes he was black, but he shows a terrific voice, and I peg him as going far in the competition. I tell my wife that he’s this season’s Fat Clay/White Ruben, or FCWR, after Season 2’s final duo of Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. And, the other contestant that sticks out early is the gorgeous Miss Underwood, whom the show dubs ‘Farm Girl’, from Oklahoma. They, and 189 others will be going to Hollywood, to compete for 24 slots- 12 girls and 12 boys, with two of each sex eliminated each week from the Top 24, until there is a Top 12 of six males and six females. The reason for this is because Season 3 was so lopsided toward females, with 8 of the Top 12 being female, as well the whole Final Four, that they want six of each in the end. While this may seem fair it is clearly not, for the males were clearly superior this season, from the Hollywood auditions through the finale. Based strictly on pure talent I doubt the girls would have matched the boy’s four from last season.
Regardless, on 2/8/05 and 2/9/05 the LA auditions air, and it seems a precursor of things to come, as Scott Savol acts bitchy, and shows a dark streak against two other guys he’s been teamed up with to perform as a group. The next week- 2/15/05- sees the final cuts- as Groups 2 and 4, out of four groups, make it to the final elimination, to be cut down to the 24 who will compete to make the Top 12- got it? In Group 4 are Savol, Miracle Boy Fedorov, and a 16 year old Fran Drescher clone- in looks and nasal whine- named Mikalah Gordon. That group was the best group. On 2/16/05 the final 12 of each sex are named. For the boys there’s David Brown- a forgettable black R&B singer, Nikko Smith- a bespectacled Usher wannabe lacking a good voice and charisma, but notable for his father being Hall Of Fame St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, Anthony Fedorov, Judd Harris- a short brunet kid, Joseph Murrena- an oily lounge lizard wannabe, Anwar Robinson- a light-skinned dreadlocked music teacher for children, Mario Vazquez- a smug boy band type, Bo Bice, a long-haired rocker, and eventual runner up this year, Jared Yates- a white boy whose appearance has long since faded, Constantine Maroulis- the other rocker whose tale we know so much of, Scott Savol, and Travis Tucker- the black equivalent of Jared Yates. On the female side are Jessica Sierra- a husky-voiced, big-boobed blond, Aloha Michaux- a mixed race girl. Mikalah Gordon, Nadia Turner- a thin, black artsy type with a wild afro, Vonzell Solomin- a sexy black postal worker, Carrie Underwood, Sarah Mather- whose looks remind me of an actress who did Noxema commercials, and appeared on Beverly Hill, 90210 and some soap operas, then I read of having been in an accident due to doing drugs, Celena Rae- a cute brunet, Janay Castine- an annoying young black girl who cannot sing a lick, Lindsay Cardinale, a tall brunet with limited range emotionally and vocally, Melinda Lira- who is the female version of Jared Yates and Travis Tucker, and a sexy brunet Las Vegas showgirl named Amanda Avila- a less busty version of last season’s sex bomb, Lisa Wilson.
Overall, the quality is much better than years past, and I think Year One
winner Clarkson may not have even made the cut this year. But one singer who
should have made it but didn’t was a singer/dancer named Desmond Meeks, whom
Paula Abdul fought for earlier in the competition. Now, on to the three weeks to
get to the Top 12.
On 2/21/05 the boys were on all night. Nikko Smith was ok with Part-time Lover, but was overpraised by Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. Scott Savol sang a song with good falsetto, but got ripped by the judges unfairly. Anthony Fedorov chose a cheesy Richard Marx song, but did it well, although he got no praise. He has been compared to Clay Aiken, but has not the great voice Aiken does, nor an ability to go much beyond ballads- although this could be due to his only being 19. Bo Bice, who had almost no airtime before this show, and has been lumped in with Maroulis as ‘The Rockers’, sings ‘Drift Away’. It was a safe choice, but the judges say he was the best yet. Savol actually was, but this is merely the first of many instances of overt bias overcoming obvious errors on the part of the singers. Travis Tucker sings an out of tune ‘My Cherie, Amour’, and I tag him as a possible goner. Maroulis butchers ‘Kiss From A Rose’- the worst performance yet, but he gets praised, and even curmudgeonly Simon Cowell says he has charisma. He has been tagged as one of the favorites obviously. David Brown butchered ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ by being off-key and safe. He rivals Maroulis’s horror. Jared Yates wails a slow ballad and Cowell says he’s a boy band type. Anwar Robinson does a dull rendition of ‘Moon River’, but ends well, and gets overpraised, with Cowell calling it ‘original’. Judd Harris rocks out with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Traveling Band’, and has a deep, masculine voice, and is on key and fun with the up tempo song. He’s the best so far. Joe Murrena does the sappy ballad ‘How Am I Supposed To Live Without You’, and it’s a safe, dull version, and Mario Vazquez ends the night with an upbeat song, and was good, although hardly the best of the night, although Simon declaims he has charisma. He is being positioned, along with Maroulis, for maximum girl appeal. Two nights later though it’s Jared Yates and Judd Harris who are sent home. Maroulis and Brown were wretched, but Yates’ departure is not a shocker. But, the best of the night goes home? And they do it in a cruel fashion, having Yates and Tucker stand as the final two, who seem to be goners, only to send Tucker back, and have host Ryan Seacrest turn around to Harris, who was on the couch, and seemingly safe, and rip his heart out. It’s clear, though, that a constant problem from past seasons is recurring. The contestants do not know how to pick songs that play to their strengths- they are callow performers.
The girls, however, who performed on 2/22/05, were worse- way worse! Vonzell Solomon does a mediocre ‘Heatwave’ that Cowell calls ‘amazing’, Amanda Avila does the same song that Murrena did the night before, and is marginally better, but gets no real constructive criticism, Janay Castine does a slow ballad that shows it’s a farce she made it even this far, while Underwood nails a country song, and is the best so far. Jackson calls it brilliant- a term he will rape into the ground this season, and Simon says it’s the best of both nights. It was good, but not that good- yet one can see Simon’s already picked ‘his girl’ to win the whole thing. Sarah Mather sings ‘Get Ready’ with a voice far weaker than her sex appeal, and is panned, as is Melinda Lira’s forgettable ‘Power Of Love’ by Celine Dion. Nadia Turner does the rock song of the same name, ‘Power Of Love’ and gets praise, although Cowell cautions her to not play it safe. Celena Rae bores, while Mikalah Gordon sings poorly, but performs well, Lindsay Cardinale is forgettable, Jessica Sierra is overpraised for ‘Against All Odds’, and Aloha Michaux does a funky ‘Work It Out’ that rocks, only to get mediocre reviews. The next night Melinda Lira and Sarah Mather are booted, while the atrocious Janay Castine survives.
On 2/28/05 Mario Vazquez bores with a salsa song, Anwar Robinson shows no range, yet is overpraised, as he is becoming a judge’s favorite, Joe Murrena shows he will have trouble getting gigs at weddings, David Brown bores with a sappy, slow ballad, Maroulis butchers ‘Hard To Handle’ with screams that come from nowhere, Savol does Luther Vandross half-heartedly, Travis Tucker is little better than last week, although Simon inexplicably calls him ‘a born performer’, Nikko Smith gets overpraised for a mediocre performance, Fedorov does the sappy Foreigner hit, ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’, and gets praised for the bad song but good performance, but Bo Bice shows he’s a great artist and performer with the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’. Maroulis is a poseur in comparison. Cowell calls it the best of the year, so far, and compares it to LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino performances from last season, and Jackson says it’s the bomb. Two nights later the bomb falls on David Brown and Joe Murrena- who doesn’t kiss ass, and expresses disappointment that he was not featured in earlier shows. He’s correct about that, but he was not good, and deserved to go. On 3/1/05 I notice that Paula Abdul merely echoes what Randy Jackson says. If he praises, she praises. If he’s critical so is she. She would be lost if she were to be the first judge called upon. Her comments are inane, self-contradictory, and just clueless. She’s always been the show’s critical punchline, but this year she’s at her nadir. This and her ridiculous clapping of her hands with fingers pointed out, like a seal, are only the beginning of her annus horribilus. As for the girls? Aloah Michaux is mediocre, Lindsay Cardinale does ok on a country song, as does Jessica Sierra, yet she’s wildly overpraised as the best performance for the girls in the two weeks, on what is a terrible night for the judges, while Mikalah Gordon’s voice drags horrible on ‘God Bless The Child’, yet she is praised even by Cowell, who calls it a ‘joy’. Huh? Like nails on a chalkboard! She is being set up as a possible spoiler- this is clear. Celena Rae bores, Nadia Turner is ok, and Amanda Avila does a good disco song, ‘Turn The Beat Around’ and is told by Cowell he’d love to be her microphone, in a risqué hint at fellatio, and is rightly praised. Janay Castine is horrid, Underwood does a country version of Faith Hill’s of the Janis Joplin classic ‘Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart’, and is the best of the night, yet panned, even by Cowell, while Vonzell Solomon is mediocre. The next night Celena Rae is canned, along with Aloha Michaux, as Vonzell Solomon squeaks by.
The show of 3/7/05 sees Savol do very well with ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, and gets praised by all but Cowell. He has a much better voice than AI2 winner Ruben Studdard, but no personality. Bo Bice does Edwin McCain’s ‘I’ll Be’- a bad song choice he does ok, but Cowell says it’s his competition to lose- huh? This early? Fedorov scores well with a pop song, and then Nikko Smith stinks up the joint with ‘Georgia On My Mind’- his voice breaking many times, yet Jackson first says it was pitchy, but he ended brilliantly. As if to prove a point, though, Travis Tucker is even worse. Mario Vazquez kills ‘How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?’ but is praised, as he is being set up as a favorite. Maroulis actually speaks some of the words to ‘Every Little Thing You Do’ by The Police, and really should go, while Anwar Robinson does ‘What A Wonderful World’, and is praised. He’s another favorite, but has little personality. I predict a boy will win the competition this year, and am relived when Tucker and Smith are booted two nights later. The boys side is formidable. The next night, 3/8/05, sees Amanda Avila do ok, Janay Castine at her worst yet, and told by Cowell to ‘pack your bags’, Underwood do ok, and Vonzell Solomon do a mediocre ‘Respect’. I fear that Cowell’s comments to Castine might give her sympathy votes, and Solomon- thus far forgettable- may go, instead. Nadia Turner establishes herself as the best female singer with ‘Try A Little Tenderness’- an adventurous choice she does well, and is daring. She’s worlds better than Fantasia Barrino- the AI3 winner. Lindsay Cardinale is mediocre and in danger, as is Mikalah Gordon, after butchering ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story- a song LaToya London nailed a season earlier, in one of the best performances in the show’s history. Jessica Sierra does well on a rocker. Castine and Gordon would go if there’s any justice, but while Castine is booted, so is sexpot Avila. Sexy females walk a fine line on the show, because if they’re too threatening in their looks and sexuality, females do not vote for them. One must be attractive, but non-threatening.
As for the Top 12, it seems a good choice, although Maroulis and Gordon should never have made it. I rank them this way, talent-wise and performance-wise, thus far, in no particular order: The Top Tier: Anwar, Bo, Anthony, and Nadia. Bo and Nadia know who they are as singers and performers and it’s no shock that they are 29 and 28, well over the age limit from the last three seasons, which was raised, so that younger kids wouldn’t muck things up. Anwar has potential, is a good singer, but a bit stiff, while Anthony is young, but can grow. The Middle Tier: Savol, Vazquez, Sierra, Underwood, and Solomon. Savol has a great voice, but limited range, and his ugliness cannot be compensated for by Studdard-like smiliness. Vazquez is a Boy Band clone. Sierra is a hootchie-mama blues singer who belongs in a bar. Underwood is gorgeous, a good singer, but void of personality. Solomon is also gorgeous, but has a very ‘back up singer’ quality to her voice. She is a Supreme, not Diana Ross. The Bottom Tier: Maroulis, Mikalah, Cardinale. Maroulis has made it as a bone to sixteen year old readers of Tiger Beat, Mikalah simply cannot sing, but with her Fran Drescher whine seems more fun to keep around than Castine, and Cardinale is wholly forgettable. Then, inexplicably, Mario Vazquez, one of the early odd-on favorites in Las Vegas, drops out and is replaced by runner up Nikko Smith, whose mechanical voice lands him in the bottom tier. It is rumored that Vazquez dropped out because he didn’t like the AI contract, which kills the performer, or that he was gay (a rumor that also would dog Anwar Robinson), that a family member died, and also that he might be called to testify at the Michael Jackson trial. He enigmatically says it’s for ‘personal reasons’, and soon vanishes back to obscurity. Had he stuck around it was obvious he had a fan base and could probably have been a Top 5 contender, by which point a record contract offer is almost a certainty.
On 3/15/05 the Top 12 commences with a 1960s theme, and my prediction is that the first three singers to go will all be women, and I prove prescient. Jessica Sierra, Anwar Robinson, and Mikalah Gordon perform mediocrely, while Constantine Maroulis aces ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’- by far his best performance, and a cut above his prior efforts. Simon calls him smoldering, and this is my first indication that he’s not merely a poseur. Linday Cardinale is bad on ‘Knock On Wood’ while Anthony Fedorov really nails ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ yet gets panned by Jackson and Cowell as giving a bad hotel performance or one at an office Christmas party, yet his vocals were flawless, and he made a corny song his own. Nadia Turner looks like she’s peaking with ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, and Cowell calls her steak in a competition full of hamburgers. Bo Bice kicks ass on ‘Spinning Wheel’, while Vonzell Solomon flubs a Dionne Warwick song. Scott Savol does well on ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, while Carrie Underwood aces an Everly Brothers song that Jackson and Abdul pan, but Cowell says she nailed, because she knows herself. Nikko Smith is mediocre with the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. He reminds me of Season 2’s Charles Grigsby. My comments are that Bo was the best, and a rocker could go as high as third or fourth this year, and that Lindsay or Mikalah should go. They are the bottom two, and Lindsay is cut. I also think that this year favors a white guy to win, as season 1 saw a white girl win, season two a black man, and season three a black female. I do not delude myself that there is not favoritism in the extreme.
On 3/22/05 #1 Hits are the theme, and Bo and Nadia show they are the two most versatile performers, and only true artists. Bo does Jim Croce’s ‘Time In A Bottle’, while Nadia stretches herself with a fast version of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’- it’s not good, and lands her in the Bottom Three. Her Mohawk, and sounding more like Joan Jett, also hurt her. Anthony is there with her, after a so-so performance, and so is Mikalah after butchering a terrible Taylor Dane power ballad. Carrie Underwood gets raves for her cover of Heart’s ‘Alone’, even though she started very poorly. Perhaps it’s the fact that she looks like a glammed up sex goddess, but Cowell predicts she’ll win the competition, and sell more records than the three prior American Idols combined. Such raves over such a merely good performance. This is the first real scent of foulness this year. Nikko Smith is also raved over, yet his performance was wretched. Scott Savol bombed with ‘Against All Odds’, while Vonzell scored with best of my love, and she is without doubt the best looking black babe they’ve had in the four years of the show. Maroulis then shocks everyone with a really great performance of, of all songs, ‘I Think I Love You’ by the Partridge Family. I sense he’s a great showman, and think he may go quite deep into the competition. Anwar Robinson shows that he can sing well but is void of charisma. Jessica Sierra ends the show with ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’, and really outsung Carrie, and this is a pretty good show overall- perhaps the strongest in over two years. But, they screwed up some call in numbers at the end of the show, so had to replay the show the next night, and do a re-vote. My comments included the fact that Bo is the only performer so far without a bad performance, and that Mikalah is this season’s Camille Velasco- the ‘how the hell did she get this far?’ girl. She also ends up getting the ax, thankfully. A career as Fran Drescher’s sitcom daughter awaits.
3/29/05 brings us to the Top Ten, and songs from the 90s. Bo has an off night with ‘Remedy’, Jessica butchers Leeann Rimes, and I smell danger, Anwar Robinson’s nearly as bad, Nadia picks a bad Melissa Etheridge song, but does ok, while Maroulis does ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, and Cowell says he outsung Bo. Not true, because it was the definition of mediocre. Nikko is bad, but inexplicably gets praised, while Anthony dashes his eyeglasses, but does only so-so on Elton John, yet gets hammered, even though he was actually better than Nikko. Carrie gets overpraised for the country song ‘Independence Day’ even though her voice cracked noticeably midway. More evidence of judicial favoritism? Scott and Vonzell do mediocre, as their voices crack more than once each, yet he’s damned and she’s praised- hmm? The Bottom Three are Nadia, Jessica and Anwar, with Jessica getting the ax. Just as I predicted the first three goners this year are females.
4/5/05 brings a theme of musicals. Scott bombs and I sense danger. Maroulis nails ‘My Funny Valentine’ and I think he could be a threat to win it now. He is the smartest contestant in terms of song choices, and gets raves from the judges for his performance and the arrangement. Carrie is mediocre and not overpraised , for a change. Vonzell is ok, as is Anthony, but Nikko bombs with a West Side Story song, and he’s in danger, as well. I sense a guy’s finally going. Anwar is dull, Bo is good, and nadia comes back with a good performance from Oliver. It’s obvious that Maroulis is gaining on Bo, and Vonzell has passed Nadia in voting strength. I also notice that Carrie looks a lot like a prettier Resee Witherspoon. The Bottom Three is Nikko, Vonzell, and Scott. Only Bo, Carrie, and Maroulis have not been in the bottom three so far. I also notice that Paula Abdul cannot clap normally. I don’t know if it’s her Cruella DeVille fingernails, or congenital stupidity, but she claps open palmed like a seal! I am growing to loathe her, after merely disliking her for three seasons. On the results show Fantasia screeches her single, as the franchise is trying desperately to bolster her floundering career.
4/12/05 sees the singers singing songs from the years of their birth. Nadia looks great, but is mediocre with an obscure Crystal Gayle song. Cowell is perplexed by Bo’s version of ‘Freebird’. Anwar and Anthony are the same as ever- Anwar’s boring, and Anthony sings all songs as cheesy ballads. Vonzell’s ok, while Scott butcher’s Hall & Oates. Carrie sings Pat Benatar’s ‘Love Is A Battlefield’, and it’s her best vocal of the year- even better than ‘Alone’. Yet, she gets panned. Huh? Maroulis ends and kicks ass with Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and is easily the best of the night. Even Abdul says he’s the one to beat now. The Bottom Three are Bo, Nadia, and Scott. Scott’s sent back to the couch, which means either Bo or Nadia- the two best artists, will be going. It’s Nadia, whose song choices doomed her, as well her terminal PC. On 4/19/05 the theme is dance classics. Maroulis, Carrie, Scott, and Anthony are all good to solid. Vonzell and Anwar are mediocre, while Bo kicks ass on ‘Vehicle’ by The Ides Of March. He’s easily the best of the night. I predict the Bottom Three will be Vonzell, Anwar, and Scott, but Anthony replaces Vonzell, in reality, and Anwar gets the ax. I felt Scott would go when news of an old domestic violence rap surfaces online, but there also seems to be a movement a foot to kybosh the AI voting- with a site called votefortheworst.com. They urge people vote for Scott as the winner, so that the AI franchise will have to market an ugly, fat, criminal.
The next week, 4/26/05, sees songs from the 21st Century on tap. Carrie aces a country song, Bo a rock song, and Vonzell butchers a Christina Aquilera song. Anthony never stretches himself, going with a cheesy Celine Dion ballad. Maroulis bombs with a hard rock song, while Scott is horrid with a sappy ballad for his father. I think Scott and Vonzell are the two worst, but he avoids the Bottom Three. Vonzell, Anthony, and Maroulis are in the bottom three, and Maroulis gets the ax. Now I smell foul play. He was not good, but from never having been in the bottom three to gone. Something’s fishy. Yet, compared to my initial predictions he went farther than I thought. This week also sees ABC touting its upcoming expose of the show, reputedly about Paula Abdul’s sexual affair with a contestant- named as Season Two’s Corey Clark.
On 5/3/05 the top five will sing two songs each- Philly Sounds and current Top 40. Anthony does two mediocre songs in a so-so fashion. Scott does ‘On Broadway’, by George Benson, really well, and Cowell calls it his best performance, and butchers a second song by Brian McKnight. Vonzell butchers Elvis, then does ok with the American Idol group song that’s on the charts. Bo does ‘Stand By Me’ and another rock songs pretty well, and Carrie aces an Elvis Presley song, ‘Trouble’, but only does mediocre with a slow country song, yet gets told it was a ‘perfect vocal’ by Jackson. Scott gets cocky about his survival when Cowell says he’s had more escapes than Houdini, but the next night is shown the door, after he and Anthony were sent back to the couch, and Scott claps- thinking he’s safe. I realize that were Vonzell not so damned sexy she’d probably have been toast long before. Yet, inexplicably, she is constantly told that she picks the hardest songs to sing which is a) not true, and b) even if it were, not a reason to ignore her noticeable vocal failures. I think that Anthony is getting better, and that last year, or Year One, he might have won the competition, but he’s not as good as Bo or Carrie. He’s too callow a performer. After being eliminated Scott sings better than he did the previous night, and this is something that has happened over and over through the years. The competition simply psyches some people out.
On 5/4/05 ABC’s Prime Time Live had reporter John Quinines do a piece called ‘Fallen Idol’ on Season 2 contestant Corey Clark’s claims that he slept with judge Paula Abdul. The evidence was overwhelming- recorded messages from Abdul trying to get Clark to not speak to the press, as well as hundreds of minutes of phone calls from Abdul to Clark’s cell phone in early 2003. Any guy will tell you that no woman calls any man for such long periods of time without being romantically involved. But, even if that were not true, there was certainly impropriety with a judge fixating on a contestant, and many people- related to Clark and not witnessed the two together. She allegedly gave Clark money, clothes, cell phones, tips to impress judge Randy Jackson- such as singing a Steve Perry song ‘Foolish Heart’, and then got stuffed as payment. There were former contestants, such as Hadas Shalev, a girl I thought was Top Five material that year, who were told of Clark’s preferential treatment, and they all agreed it obviated the whole notion of a fair competition. To this day Abdul has yet to flat out deny the claims. Clearly, the evidence was quite substantial, and I believe Abdul should have been fired then and there/ Her judicial skills are worthless, and now we know she was using the show as her sexual hunting ground? All through the years she has shamelessly flirted with and lusted after male contestants (this year it was Maroulis and Bo). I will address this later in this piece when I suggest remedies for the ailing AI franchise.
On 5/10/05 Nashville and Philadelphia were the theme cities. Carrie did the Dixie Chicks’ ‘Sin Wagon’, and it was ok, although her voice quavered quite a bit. It wasn’t up to par with Amy Adams’ version last year. She followed that with a dull ballad- ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’- and got overpraised for both songs. Bo did a slow Travis Trit tune, and then rocked an O’Jays song- the best performance of the night. Vonzell was very weak with ‘How Do I Live Without You?’ by Trisha Yearwood, her voice all over the place. I thought she might be vulnerable, but after weeping after the Yearwood song she may have gotten fans to her side. Anthony is very good with a country song and a much better version of ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ than Carrie- even Jackson admits as much. I think Anthony and Vonzell are Bottom Two bound, but Carrie’s weak night could land her there. My prediction holds up but Anthony is axed. Vonzell, despite a single great performance all year, makes the Top Three. We also see Bo’s never before seen audition. Only Carrie has avoided the Bottom Two or Three.
On 5/17/05 the battle to make the final begins. Record Honcho Clive Davis joins the judges. Vonzell does Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, and Donna Summer, and gets better with all three songs, but overall is mediocre. Davis chides her for missing the soul in ‘Chain Of Fools’, and she also blew several notes in the first two songs. Jackson is clueless, stating the song was great, and one of her best singing performances. Bo Bice dominates the night, nailing Elton John’s sappy ‘Don’t Let The Sin Go Down On Me’, then an a capella version of a country song by Badlands, ‘Within A Dream’, and blows the crowd away- the first a capella song in the four years of finals, and then nails the Rolling Stones ‘Satisfaction’. Davis says this was Bo’s night and win, lose, or draw he wants to make a record with him. This performance shows why Bo is a true artist, and not merely another bar band singer, as many online wusses complain. His voice was great, and a capella it’s all voice. Clay Aiken’s the better singer, but Bo is the better artist. Then Carrie came out and did Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’, and really sucked. She could not do the high notes and falsetto that make this otherwise banal song a classic, so what was the point? Cowell rightly called it wooden, while the other judges raved. She followed up with a bad Air Supply song, and Cowell thought it worst than her first song. She ended with Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’, but with none of the sass, which makes this song. She also foundered with the guttural opening notes. Based on this night it should be Bo and Vonzell in the finals- but the fix is definitely in. Carrie makes it. In truth, in terms of performance and star ability, Bo and Constantine Maroulis should have made it, in terms of singing ability it should have been Bo and Anwar Robinson, and in terms of overall excellence Bo and Nadia Turner, but Bo was the better rocker than Maroulis, and the show needed to broaden its base this year with rock and country, so Carrie got her ticket punched very early. That brings us to the final showdown.
On 5/24/05 the final had Carrie win a coin toss and selecting to go last. That meant Bo led off the show with a blasé song called ‘The Long, Long Road’. He seemed to sleepwalk through the performance, and I sensed that he didn’t want to win, and find his career out of his hands under the AI restrictive recording contract. Carried then sang ‘Inside Your Heaven’- a song that was a hit for Australian Idol Guy Sebastian. It was not good, and her voice dragged on the low notes. Bo won round one, although Cowell was shilling for Carrie. The second songs were ‘Vehicle’ for Bo, which while the best of the night was not nearly as good as his earlier performance. Carrie sung ‘Independence Day’ and her voice cracked all over the place. Bo won big, and even Cowell had to admit he beat her. Then Bo sang ‘Inside Your Heaven’ and much better than Carrie. Jackson admitted it, and so did Cowell, who said he outsang Carrie’s version. Then Cowell tried to get in a subliminal dig, suggesting Bo was nervous and Carrie wasn’t, even though the exact opposite came through onscreen. Carrie ended by singing ‘Angels Brought Me Here’ and was horrid- it was slow, she missed the very first note of the song, and her voice cracked immensely on the last glory note. Overall, the best of the four seasons of American Idol ended with the worst finale since the first year. Carrie was horrid, and Bo merely solid. Yet, Cowell, and Jackson declared her the winner, even though Bo beat her three for three, as did Diana DeGarmo whip Fantasia Barrino, and Clay Aiken trounced Ruben Studdard. Three consecutive years the clearly inferior singer loses. Hmm….
And let’s please stop with the racism or bias nonsense since there’s
yet to be a white male winner and only two of the eight finalists have been.
Yet, despite Carrie’s ‘victory’, even the shilling Cowell admitted that Bo
beat her in Round Two, and outsung her in the one song they shared. Huh? The
next night, 5/25/05, Carrie ‘won’ the AI4 title. She actually sang better
than she did the night before, but is in no way, shape, nor form, in Bo’s
class as a singer or performer. Bo can make bad songs passable, she cannot.
Still, she’s probably the most talented of the four ‘winners’, although
she is far less emotional than Season Three’s LaToya London, whose supposed
reason for losing was she was too ‘stoic’- I just love the reasons the show
puts up for why superior singers are canned. It’s gotten so blatant that I do
not believe that any other explanation but a fix is believable. How to explain
the previous two winners, when on sheer talent, alone, I would not have even put
Ruben Studdard or Fantasia Barrino in the Top Twelve of their years. Even though
Cowell’s and the show’s outright bias toward Carrie was bad, it was a bit
tamed down from the last two seasons. In short, given the Quiz Show Scandal
level of phoniness, Paulagate, and the show’s other flaws, here is what I
would do to remedy it for Season Five.
1) Dump Ryan Seacrest: Despite his Hollywood Star, he is a talentless puppet lacking humor, grace, kindness, or any discernible appeal. The show needs a rowdier and less predictable host and I think they found one in Season Three contestant Matt Rogers, whose segment from Carrie’s home town, in the final, added humor and an ‘anything can happen’ element that the best of television can do better than any other medium. First season co-host Brian Dunkleman at least had the grace to leave the show before it became disgraceful in its vote fixing and its cruel treatment of people at elimination time- see this year’s Judd Harris or last year’s George Huff moment, when the poor man was forced to choose between two groups of singers, with one being the safe group and the other the Bottom Three.
2) Dump Paula Abdul: She’s a blithering idiot, apes Randy Jackson, acts drunk and disorderly, dresses like a slutty teenager, says nothing to help contestants, and her inane mothering comes off as the worst sort of PC condescension. In short, she’s reprehensible. And this was all true before we found out she used the show as her own personal stud service. She has not ever directly answered the charges, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite what her apologists say, and seems guilty as sin. Last year there was a big brouhaha online over Simon Cowell’s ‘alleged’ affair with boobalicious reject Lisa Wilson. Yet, there was not a shred of evidence. Paula Abdul has wads against her, yet she’s still with the show? If Cowell or Jackson had such evidence against them, with a female contestant, I guarantee you heads would roll, and charges of sexism, and protests of the show would abound. But, and this is important, even if there were no sex, the very fact that she was seen with Corey Clark outside the show, and called him many times, suggests the appearance of conflict of interest and she should be let go. Otherwise the show reeks of Mary Kay LeTourneau-type double standards in OKing female sexual predation. There was a female singer named Vitamin C, who played the Paula role on the spoof show The WB’s Superstar USA, but she was actually quite good. She’d fit right in, and say some intelligent things now and then.
3) Fix the vote: Or, unfix it. The easiest way would be to have transparency. That is, release the weekly vote totals, and have them audited by an independent agency, like the Academy Awards do with Price-Waterhouse, so that fans can know who got how many. Also, there are a number of Internet ideas to limit the number of votes from any one phone number or text messaging source, or some such, so that there would be a lessening of young voters influence for a cute guy, or sweet girl, who cannot sing. That said, it would also dispel the charges, which are substantial, that the show is rigged. Only transparency would do that. But, that’s not enough, because even if the voting were made legitimate bad singers would still get through because of lowest common denominator stupidity, and tin ears, and blatant biases, and because the ‘judges’ presumably have no real power once the Top Twelve begins. That can be easily remedied.
4) Make the judges relevant: How to do that? Well, there is a simple way to achieve this, and also, assuming that the show was not manipulated for dramatic effect, stop the rise of the talent- and personality-challenged Scott Savols or Jennifer Hudsons of the world. Instead of, even with transparency, having just the lowest vote getter of any particular week sent home, make that outcome automatic only if the lowest vote getter of a week is also the lowest total vote getter over the prior weeks, to that point, as well. If the lowest vote total, cumulatively, is a different person then have those two be the bottom two, and have the judges decide which singer gets sent home, because there will always be a 2-1 margin, at least. To give a real example, let’s go back to the week of 4/26/05, when Constantine Maroulis’s exit was deemed ‘shocking’, and presumably upped ratings for the following week, by stirring an Internet buzz. At that point there were six contestants: Maroulis, Scott, Anthony, Bo, Carrie, and Vonzell, and to that point Maroulis had never allegedly been a Bottom Three candidate, while Vonzell, Anthony, Bo, and Scott all had been, with some making more than one trip. On the face of it Maroulis probably had the second or third highest cumulative votes going into that week, and even if he fell another notch, from say second to third, or third to fourth, among the six remaining singers, is it really fair that he goes home while singers like Scott and Anthony, whom he clearly had more cumulative votes for, do not? Let’s play this out with round numbers. Let’s say that entering that week Carrie had 20 million cumulative votes, Bo 18 million, Maroulis 17.5 million, Vonzell 17 million, Anthony 16 million and Scott 15 million. Again, they were probably larger totals, but these are just rounded numbers for ease of illustration. Now, let’s say on the week of 4/26/05 the standings were this way, in terms of raw numbers and positioning: Bo 4 million votes, Carrie 3.5 million, Scott 3 million, Vonzell 2.9 million, Anthony 2.8 million, and Maroulis 2.7 million. Ok, Maroulis craps out this week, but cumulatively the totals are still Carrie 23.5 million, Bo 22 million, Maroulis 20.2 million, Vonzell 19.9 million, Anthony 18.8 million, and Scott 18 million. Scott may have been third that week, but is still clearly last cumulatively. This way the decision over whom to let go, Maroulis or Scott, comes down to the judges actually judging. Maroulis was better for ratings, as well a superior performer, if not singer. Also the ‘drama’ added by an on-the-spot (or not) judge’s vote, would more than make up for the ‘drama’ lost in secrecy and ‘shocking’ results, since better and more popular singers would not be at risk for elimination all the time, with one ‘off week’. Vonzell, for example, is a middle of the road singer who seems to have benefited by slipups from better singers and performers like Maroulis, Anwar Robinson, and Nadia Turner. This sort of fairer approach would also tend to lessen the impact of desperation votes for a ‘favorite’ rather than a good singer, assuming AI doesn’t also get a handle on the mega-multiple voting problem. Of course, this system would have no effect on the first week of the finals, because it comes first, and it should not affect the finale, which could then be a clear voter affair for that week. Let’s say if Carrie had had a statistically insurmountable lead of five million votes, going in to the finale, Bo could still win by just winning the finale’s week.
That all said, AI’s credibility is at a low, but it’s not irreparable. The very same night that the AI4 champ was crowned another big winner in American entertainment was crowned, and they did it the right way. It was the final day of the three day total points challenge in the tv game show Jeopardy’s ‘Ultimate Tournament Of Champions’. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is probably the top tv trivia show in American television history, running for over twenty years consecutively, and nearly forty in toto. They held a two-plus month tournament and invited nearly 150 former champions back, with guaranteed prize money. The winner got $2 million, second place $500k, and third place $250k. There was a bit of controversy in this sphere as well, since one of the three spots in the finale of the tournament was awarded to Ken Jennings, the show’s all time consecutive games won champion. Last season he won 74 straight games, before losing, and collected just over $2.5 million in winnings. But, that was against run of the mill players, and some felt that since most former champs had been forced to quit after five straight wins, before a rule change two seasons ago, there was no way to really calibrate him against other champions. Still, they let the tournament play out, and I sensed Jennings was vulnerable, although he was an overwhelming favorite. The two challengers were Jerome Vered, a five time former champ, who defeated several legendary champs from the past, and the fellow who, before Jennings, had been the most successful champ of all time- Brad Rutter. Rutter, who was also a five time champ from a few seasons ago, won his season’s Tournament Of Champions, and then the Million Dollar Master’s Tournament. While Jennings had run up his win streak against merely solid players, Rutter had never been beaten, was sharper, having won games more recently, and faced far tougher opponents. Before the final match he even said that he badly wanted his crown as all time money winner back- which he would get by winning. Having seen both Rutter and Jennings I thought Rutter could take him, because the questions were harder than in regular games, and thereby more difficult to generalize in a field. Jennings was stumped far more often than he had been in his run to glory.
In the end, Rutter dominated both Jennings and Vered, winning the points totals for all three days, and getting better and more dominant each day. Day One saw Rutter at 18,400, Vered at 16,400, and Jennings at 16,000. Day Two saw Rutter at 20,000, Jennings at 10,000, and Vered 3200. The two day total was at Rutter 38,400, Jennings 26,000, and Vered 19,600. Jennings would have to dominate day Three to have a shot at catching Rutter, but he knew more, and was quicker on the trigger. Jennings would have even finished third, had Vered gotten the last Final Jeopardy answer right. Instead, Rutter won, and the last day saw him total 23,600 for 62,000, Jennings total 8599 for 34,599, and Vered take 1000, for 20,600.
I point this all out because real competition can be thrilling, and
enlightening, unlike the very predictable AI formula.
Let me end this piece by stating I am far from alone in believing AI is fixed. In an article at http://www.beaversonidol.com/articles/isamericanidolrigged.html a writer named James Shepherd points out some interesting tidbits that allows him to ask and answer: Is American Idol Rigged? You Betcha! Among his contentions are that the American Idol Compilation CDs, which are pressed over a month before the winner is supposedly determined, have an uncanny ability to feature performers in their inverse order of defeat, that there was a report that Carrie had won the contest a few days before she did in a Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper (Murdoch owns FOX- the network that airs AI), and he has a screen capture to prove it, that AI producers have a tiny fineprint clause in their ‘contest statement’ that they reserve the right to determine the winner, presumably if the American public gets it ‘wrong’, some interesting points on AI’s FCC status, and a few other salient digs. It sort of makes an article like the following- http://www.foxesonidol.com/cgi-bin/ae.pl?mode=1&article=article1737.art&page=1- called Why Bo Lost, or this- http://www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/81-05252005-494296.html- called Bo Blew It, seem very naïve. Shepherd’s article has caused an avalanche of replies in the last week, including these threads: http://www.realitytvtalk.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=12860 called AI4 Finale “More Rigging Than The Cutty Sark” and http://www.realitytvtalk.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=12851 called How Could It NOT Be Rigged? That Is the Question....
Of course, the show’s apologists will say that Bo’s druggy past, revealed a few weeks after Scott’s alleged domestic battering was revealed, which led to the nickname ‘Blow’ Bice, might have swayed voters, but I say bullshit. Nothing speaks as loudly as the ridiculous voting itself. Yes, America is a lowest common denominator culture that values the ephemeral over the deep, but three consecutive years of palpably inferior victors? I mean, is there any other explanation for Ruben over Clay, one of the greatest male vocal talents of the last forty years, or screechy rasper Fantasia over mega-talented Diana, or gorgeous fembot Carrie over the best artist the show’s yet produced? I say not. In real competitions the distance between these three paired singers was too great in favor of the ‘losers’, and I doubt Ruben or Fantasia would have made it into the Top Six if voting were on the up and up. I think that contestants like this year’s Maroulis and Nadia, or Season Three’s George Huff or LaToya London, or a number of talented but ‘unchosen’ others, would have risen. Again, this is not to diminish the winners personally. Ruben’s a nice guy, Fantasia is a good gospelteer, and were I twenty-five Carrie would be appearing nightly in my dreams- check that, bi-nightly, rotating with Vonzell, but AI is supposed to be a singing contest, not a sexual attraction contest. Perhaps, knowing the truth, with three years of history to learn from, Bo tanked on purpose, to make it easier for the show to select the inferior Carrie- he knew the fix was in, and was happy to avoid too much artistic handholding. Simon is by far the best of the three judges but even him going four for four in predicting the eventual winners, so early each season, is pushing the statistical envelope- not to mention his open favoritism is grating. Yet, the show simply doesn’t care about its integrity. In its results show, for example, it spoofed Corey Clark’s ABC interview, as if there were nothing to the mountain of substantial charges, which shows its utter contempt for its fans and its integrity. Yet, it is a fascinatingly formulaic show. I have watched for the fun of seeing which contestants do well, and which don’t, as well as which contestants really suck, but in Season Five I’ll be watching it like I do an impending train wreck, just waiting till AI’s own Charles Van Doren, someone more credible than the ego-shriveled Corey Clark, finally brings its fraudulence down. Yet, I admit- I’m hooked to its formula. We all have weaknesses, and this is mine- that the show is the only outlet where artistic pursuits are even discussed, even if it’s only a pretense. This is because it’s a great formula, and great entertainment- so much so that, like with pro wrestling, I don’t really care that it’s fixed, as long as it relieves my diurnal do. I just wish they would not fraudulently advertise it as a real contest, and dupe so many gullible kids like Hadas Shalev and the many others who thought they had a real shot.
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