American Idol 5: The Season In Review
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/25/06


  The fifth season of American Idol ended last night, with Taylor Hicks defeating Katherine McPhee for the title. In my years of watching the show, it’s the first time that the better singer in the finals actually won. I only saw the last two weeks of season one, and while Kelly Clarkson seemed better than Justin Guarini, neither singer impressed me, and, despite her sales figures, I’m still not sure Clarkson will make a career of it. In the next three seasons the more deserving singers- Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo, and Bo Bice- lost to palpably inferior singers- Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Carrie Underwood.

  This season kicked off on January 17th, with several weeks of auditions. Aming the notable contestants that did not make it to the TOP 24- 12 girls and 12 guys- were some fat, fey black twins- the Brittenums, Derrell and Terell, who were eventually dropped from the show after a check forgery scandal. Their antics included walking off the show, then groveling to get back on. There was a wacky blond guy named Dave Hoover, who acted like a wild man, wore no shoes, and was inexplicably put through to the Los Angeles auditions by judges Paula Abdul (till noxiously saccharine and fake) and Randy Jackson (still hit and miss with his opinions), as Simon Cowell (still the best judge) was aghast. Another also-ran favorite was a little Wyoming cowboy, from a town with a population of four, named Garrett Johnson. He crapped out with two other singing cowboys, and they were spoofed in a Brokenote Mountain segment. Another loser was Zachary Travis, a fey blond who cried anti-gay bigotry.

  After a few weeks the girls and boys Top 12 broke down like this:



Lisa Tucker- 16, black, great potential

Heather Cox- 21, blond, huge rack

Kellie Pickler- 19, blond, from Albemarle, NC, with a sob story past

Paris Bennett- 17, black, singing in her genes, a bit overrated by the judges

Katherine McPhee- a 21 year old brunet

Ayla Brown- 17, sports star, politician dad, ‘Miss Perfect’ sort

Becky O’Donahue- a twin, brunet goddess ala Season 3’s beauty contestant Lisa Wilson (Miss Georgia 2006) and Season 4’s Amanda Avila- a Las Vegas dancer

Mandisa Hundley- fat black gospeleer

Melissa McGhee- a raspy white girl

Stephanie Scott

Brenna Gethers- mouthy black girl

Kinnick Skye- tall black



Brett ‘Ace’ Young- 24, white pretty boy from LA, whose thing was falsettos

Chris Daughtry- 25, bald rocker

Sway Penala- a Filipino

Taylor Hicks- 29, gray hair, a Joe Cocker voice- Simon voted against his going to LA

Will Makar- 16- ‘Bobby Brady’ clone

Kevin Covais- 16, tiny bespectacled

Patrick Hall- thin, 27, blond

Bobby Bennett- fat lounge singer

Gedeon Mckinney- 17, black

Elliott Yamin- 27, white, jazzy voice

David Radford- 17, white Sinatran crooner

Bucky Covington- blond country singer

    By this point I was predicting a Top 5 of Kellie Pickler, Paris Bennett, Ace Young, Chris Daughtry, and Taylor Hicks. The guys seemed much stronger. When the Top 12 became:



Lisa Tucker

Kellie Pickler

Paris Bennett

Katherine McPhee

Mandisa Hundley

Melissa McGhee



Ace Young

Chris Daughtry

Taylor Hicks

Kevin Covais

Elliott Yamin

Bucky Covington

    Only Gedeon McKinney had a real right to complain, as Kevin Covais never should have made the Top 12. If the Top 12 were based on ability, I would have only ranked Katherine McPhee, Lisa Tucker, Paris Bennett, and possibly Mandisa (she dropped her last name) in the Top 12. Now, Hicks, Daughtry, and Elliott Yamin emerged as great singers, with Simon Cowell calling Yamin potentially the best male vocalist they ever had. But, his Hobbitt-like looks seemed to doom him to also-ran status.

  Over the weeks, the eliminations went in this order: Melissa McGhee- the weakest singer. Kevin Covais- who never should have beaten out Makar or McKinney. Lisa Tucker- prettier and better than Paris Bennett, but one of those inexplicable missed connections. Mandisa then went, after declaring she was a Christian, and would not perform for gays. Bucky Covington then went, but proved he was much better than the karaoke label he got. He was offered a singing gig with country band Sawyer Brown. The next to fall was Ace Young, whose good looks could not overcome the preciousness of his singing. Even my wife, originally a fan, tired of him. The next two to go were Kellie Pickler- whose dumb blond act got old, and was accused of deliberately lying of her past, and Paris Bennett- who lasted far longer than I would have let her stay.

  The Final Four were Chris Daughtry- deemed by many to be the favorite, for his hard rocking style was even purer than last season’s Bo Bice; Katherine McPhee- who survived some bottom three appearances, as did Elliott Yamin- who was the shocker- getting better each week, and delivering the three or four best vocals all year. Taylor Hicks seemed to be this year’s Clay Aiken- appealing to older women and never ending up in the bottom three.

  There were the usual guest stars to tutor the kids, and theme nights, but few were engaging, even as the show posted its biggest ratings ever. Top 4 was Elvis Presley Night, and Chris and Kat were in the bottom two. Kat has had a really bad night, even forgetting lyrics, while Elliott Yamin was deemed likely to go home. To everyone’s shock, Chris was cut, and even Kat was stunned. Chris literally said he couldn’t believe it, as he had bought his own hype. Yet, he has a solid rock future ahead of him, as this year’s Top 4, and even Top 5, was clearly the strongest yet. The next week Elliott was sent home. Yet, he never missed a single note the entire season. His voice never broke, dragged, nor was off-key. Amazing. Not even Clay Aiken did that. His rise was the season’s feel good story. The claimed vote total for the three were, in ascending order: 33.06%, 33.26%, and 33.68%. Again, Kat was the weakest, but survived.

  In the last singing show, Taylor beat Katherine 3 for 3, even though Simon and the others wildly overpraised her overwrought rendition of Over The Rainbow, as she sat, started a capella, and missed notes wildly, just as they had overpraised Fantasia Barrino’s Summertime two seasons ago. For two straight weeks Kat sang the Judy Garland classic and butchered it. In the finale, she also sang Black Horse And A Cherry Tree, the first and best song, then ended with her ‘single’ song- a sappy ballad called My Destiny. Taylor sang, in order, Living For The City, Levon, and his ‘single’, Do I Make You Proud? Despite the judges praise of Kat’s Over The Rainbow besting Taylor’s Levon, he clearly routed her, just as Bo Bice had done to Carrie Underwood, Diana DeGarmo did to Fantasia Barrino, and Clay Aiken had done to Ruben Studdard. This time, the better singer won, and Simon predicted it, going 5 for 5 in his calls of the winner, setting up claims of a fix.

  The results show was the best yet, with many wacky losers getting encores, and ‘Golden Idol’ faux awards, as well as notable performances by many old and new stars- the two most memorable being a Burt Bacharach medley, helmed by Dionne Warwick, and the last slot going to Prince, of all people. Then, host Ryan Seacrest, still dull and annoying, proclaimed Taylor Hicks the winner. He’s clearly the best singer yet to win the title, although Elliott Yamin was a better singer, overall. I would have liked to see a Top 4 finish of Elliott, Chris, Taylor, and Kat, but any of the four deserved to win, and will likely have good solid careers in music, as may Paris Bennett, Lisa Tucker (a younger Beyonce Knowles in the making?), Bucky Covington, and possibly Ace Young- although as an actor, not a singer. In the five seasons the best actual singer has finished 4th (Season 1’s Tamyra Gray- according to reports I’ve read, although she has not impressed me), 2nd (Clay Aiken), 4th (LaToya London, although runner up Diana DeGarmo had more talent, but lacked London’s polish), 2nd (Bo Bice), and 3rd (Elliott Yamin), who split the difference.

  This was the best season yet, and the most entertaining since Season Two, when Clay Aiken, who appeared at the results show with a new hairdo, to confront a Golden Idol imitator, lost unfairly. Were I to rank all the singers I’ve seen over the first five seasons, here’s how I would have my all-time Top 12, top to bottom (Season #- Season Finish):


Clay Aiken (2-2)

Elliott Yamin (5-3)

Bo Bice (4-2)

Chris Daughtry (5-4)

Taylor Hicks (5-1)

LaToya London (3-4)

Diana DeGarmo (3-2)

Katherine McPhee (5-2)

Carrie Underwood (4-1)

Kelly Clarkson (1-1)

Vonzell Solomon (4-3)

Nadia Turner (4-8)


  The show has definitely gotten better talent, as only Kelly Clarkson, the winner from Season 1, made the grade. Season 2’s runner up, Clay Aiken- the best yet, is that season’s lone representative. Season 3 saw two stars- Diana DeGarmo and LaToya London make it. Season 4 had four stars: Nadia Turner- who finished eighth, Vonzell Solomon- at third, and Bo Bice at two, and Carrie Underwood the Season 3 winner. Notably, Season 2 and 3 winners- Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino don’t make my list, and not even my Top 20, although Barrino was a bit better singer. This year’s best four was even better, and one could argue this year’s 10th place finisher, Lisa Tucker was better than Turner- although maybe only potentially. The top four this year occupy three of the top five and four of the top eight all time slots. Not bad, and a sign that American Idol has not yet jumped the proverbial shark!

  Till next year!

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