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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

 

American Idolatry: The Last Hurrah

After recovering from the shock of Melinda's departure last week on American Idol -- who I still maintain was the best voice the show has produced since Kelly Clarkson -- I settled down for last night's showdown thinking it was essentially a tie. Blake has such a winning personality, and I deeply admire his innovation and fearlessness regarding artistic risk. Jordin also gives great personality, and her voice is a dazzling instrument. So it's a bit of a surprise that, by the end of the episode, I believed that one of them had won by a landslide. Here's the rundown...and for the record, they each had to sing three tunes: a song previously performed on the show, a new song of their choosing, and (shudder) the newly-chosen single that the eventual winner will release.

Blake Lewis
Previous Song: "You Give Love A Bad Name", Bon Jovi
Sure, why not sing it again? It was his most memorable performance on the show all season, and universally praised to boot. Last night, it didn't quite fill the larger auditorium the way it had in the cozier confines of the TV studio, but who cares. It doesn't really matter...beatboxing to unusual arrangements is his thing, and he was in his element. Fans will love it.
New Song: "She Will Be Loved", Maroon 5
It's kind of a cheat to choose a Maroon 5 tune as a "new" song, since Blake's other memorable performance on the show was a different song by the band. But I believe the choice may have backfired; Blake's voice has never sounded so thin, his notes so sharp, his presence so bland. Randy and Paula praised his musicianship, but I didn't see a whole lot that made me think he was the next pop superstar.
New Single: "This Is My Now"
What a crappy title, first of all. And unfortunately for Blake, it's a big, broad ballad...a song style he has studiously avoided the entire competition. It's meant for someone with a larger sound (Phil Stacey, where art thou?), and Blake seemed to have an obvious discomfort with the song's bland, straightforward impetus. The judges did their best to cover the bad match of song and singer, and even tried to excuse his poor performance....one of the most obvious displays of favoritism on the show to date. But I'm not sure it'll surprise anyone who's watched more than half an episode this season that Blake is the boytoy of the judges. The question is: will America forgive that performance? Will America buy that single, if he is the chosen one? I think the answer is no, on both counts.

Jordin Sparks
New Song: "Fighter", Christina Aguilera
A ball of adolescent brimstone, Jordin gave life to the subtext of the lyrics, unlesashing a constrained but fierce performance of a song made famous by the world's most powerful under-40 vocalist. The fact that she could manage a song this big, and follow its emotional journey, shows why she is such a phenomenal young artist. Simon was pissy about it, and on a night like this, his opinion might carry weight. But for me, I gave round one to Jordin.
Previous Song: "A Broken Wing", Martin McBride
On first blush, you think that modern country shouldn't work on such a naturally urban voice like Jordin's. But somehow, this tune is really affecting in her hands. She's got a strong performance arc, slowly building the intensity and power throughout the verses before letting it blow wide open in the chorus. The judges were nicer, as they should be. Even if you don't believe she should be the next Idol, how can you not admire such promise and talent?
New Single: "This Is My Now"
Did I mention what a crappy title that is? It's a crappy song to boot. But it works much, much better on Jordin than it did on Blake. Partly because it's a more natural fit, but also because she gets it -- gets the overblown emotion, gets the truth behind the cliche, gets the idea of it. Yes, she cried at the end of the song, and if you want, you can hate on her for that. She's young, and her youth shows. But what the Jordin haters can't deny is that she's an amazingly talented singer, with a promising career ahead of her. As the next winner of this competition, as the next ambassador of this enormous, televised social experiment.

The Winner of American Idol Will Be: Jordin Sparks
The Winner of American Idol Should Be: Jordin Sparks

Previously on ModFab: Simon Says, Women Who Wowed, When Goth Chicks Ruled The Universe, The Sanjaya Conundrum, You're A Heartbreaker, Bye Bye Barba!, Gender Blending, To Simon With Love, Not Feeling Hella Good, Mack The Knife, Haley The Slut, Livin' La Vida Loca, Oh Bucky Covington Where Art Thou?, Not Exactly Live Aid, You'll Make It I Swear, Night Fever, Triple Crown

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