Somehow, Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis singing I Told You So was strangely appropriate. Far and away the consensus pick to go home was Michael Sarver; instead based largely on DialIdol and song age I made the call that Alexis Grace would end up in the bottom. My only mistake was to believe that Alexis’s exit would be vetoed. I was wrong on that part. Still, I was a lot closer than Conventional Wisdom was.
I already explained yesterday why Alexis was in very real danger. Her low Dialidol score tipped us off to look at the numbers more closely. Her average and median song age was disproportionately high – over 30 when everyone else except Adam Lambert was in the low 20s or below. With everyone else singing very young, singing old songs becomes much more noticable. If you’re Adam Lambert, you have a gimmick that surpasses that. She didn’t; and just one so-so performance when others elevated their game was enough to get her out of there.
Alexis can also be considered a casualty of the new semifinals format as well. One of the challenges coming out of the group rounds is that it became that much harder to build up any significant fanbase out of them: one song, with a multi-week gap, does not a solid fanbase make.
It’s something that can hurt people all season long – particularly for singers out of Group 1. In the three seasons that had the group format, only one contestant ever made it to the finale after singing in the first group. That was Season 3′s Diana DeGarmo; and her ride to the finale was far from smooth. It’s hard to build momentum if you’re not singing for several weeks in a row.
Her exit can be summed up quickly, and fairly. Despite all the pimpage and promotion she got, there were problems. She had a fanbase that didn’t have a chance to solidify, and couldn’t grow because of limited appeal – winning over the young power-voting Idol blocs with Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton was a hard task, at best. Yes, she was a good, maybe even great singer – but to succeed on Idol you need to know your audience. Alexis Grace and Idol voters proved to be a bad fit.
There’s a rich element of irony when it comes to this week’s results, though. The producers’s own rule change worked against them. Alexis would have almost certainly survived if she had gone through a three-song semifinal. It would have given her fanbase a chance to solidify, and for her to define her musical identity (which she didn’t do too well, Kara DioGuardi’s exceptionally useless advice of dirtying it up notwithstanding). As it is, though, someone that TPTB wanted to advance far is ending up going home as a direct result of executive meddling. Alexis just got caught in about as unlucky a spot as you can imagine.
Now, as to why they didn’t save her? The answer to that is tied into someone else… Adam Lambert. I’ll get back to him in a little while.
Hold the champagne: Strategically, there was one overwhelming theme for the night: favorites faltered while the midcard upped their game. Who knows, maybe everyone outside the Favored Four Three are surprisingly Genre Savvy – they can’t be all too happy at the idea of meekly standing by while the Coronation of the Producers’ Idol proceeds as planned. Kris Allen, Matt Giraud, and Anoop Desai were all midcard singers at best previous to this show – now you have to at least consider them in the mix.
Danny Gokey and Lil Rounds can recover without too much trouble. They didn’t really stink too much, they were just… mediocre. It’s the type of performance that voters won’t hold against you too much. Last week will almost certainly be better for both of them – if only because it’s hard to make worse song choices than either of them did. As I said yesterday – Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride? Seriously? That’s like carrying a wooden stick to a gunfight. While neither of them is in danger – yet – they both need a good, undisputed showstopper in the next two to four weeks if they want to get in the final four.
Kris, Matt, and Anoop all need to be able to prove that this week wasn’t a fluke. Even normally bad contestants can put it all together if they can find a theme, song, and arrangement that fits them like a glove. If they can pull it off, the upside could be significant. The dark horse in here is Kris – his vocals are not as good as Anoop’s, but better at conveying emotions. Giraud doesn’t really have the vocals to compete with either one.
There’s one puzzle in the Touring Ten that I haven’t quite figured out: Allison Iraheta. She’s sung well, her songs are young, and so is she. I don’t have any Idolmetric measurement that says she’s in danger. She should not be in the bottom three (now two). On the flip side, she’s likely to pick up at least some votes from Alexis’s old fanbase. Beyond that… well, even I don’t have the answer for that.
There’s a pretty clear division, too, about who’s clearly lagging behind: Michael Sarver, Scott Macintyre, and Megan Joy. Right now, they’re all getting by on something other than singing. Michael’s probably safe for two weeks – see the latest WNTS editorial for the reasoning behind that, but the order is immaterial. None of them are going to win, and the only question is how many others will go before they do.
And then we have Adam Lambert. He really deserves a section of his own.
Damaged Goods? Maybe.: The debate over Adam’s version of Ring of Fire will probably last until the season ends, if not even longer. Still, it’s undeniable that it did change things around.
I was never a big believer in Adam Lambert, largely because I thought the theatrics covered up a voice that didn’t know the meaning of subtlety. Adam’s style was just not sustainable in the long term. The novelty would eventually wear thin, and my money was on him finishing in the high midcard – fourth to sixth.
I know I’m going to be challenged on that statement, so let me explain it a bit more. Adam has zero crossover ability. He can’t appeal to a wide cross-section of Idol voters; people that liked that over-the-top theatric style would love it from the start, but it would have been an uphill climb to win those who don’t. That crossover ability is vital to lasting long on the show.
With that in mind, Adam’s challenge was essentially how long he could keep going along this path before leaving, or proving that he’s more than a stage actor that happens to sing decently, too. The trouble is, though, his version of Ring of Fire was so… unusual, it sped up that process. From Idol voters, a pretty common reaction was: ”what the heck was that?”
I’m sure this will prompt Adam’s fans to write in anger. I’m not going to deny that he has fans – but I think that for everyone one he won over, there was at least one who now wants to burn him at the stake and another two scratching their heads.
That’s not to deny that he has talent. He is very, very good at what he does. What I’m questioning is whether this is something that the collective Idol fan base can really stomach for long. Everything I’ve known about it tells me: no.
The upside is that right now, Adam is looking iffy for the finale. The producers are perfectly happy to keep him around as long as they want. Remember, the underlying goal – seemingly – of the whole season – was Drama and Buzz. I can’t deny Adam delivers on that.
The effect of that was to make the veto an exceptionally valuable tool for the producers – one that just wouldn’t do to be used right now. Phil Stacey had it right: the “veto” is essentially an insurance policy for Danny and Adam.
Once the novelty and appeal of Adam’s theatrics go away, he’s surprisingly vulnerable. By far, he is singing the oldest songs in the competition on average. There’s a decent chance he could crash out, say, seventh. We’ve had three weeks of Adam singing in competition – is his current pace and style something that can work for two months or so? I doubt it.
Taken all in context, what’s clear to me is that the Judges’ Veto just became Adam’s Veto. It’s not going to be used on anyone else, except maybe Danny – but he doesn’t really need it. Adam does.
If Adam had not sung Ring of Fire – if the producers had believed that he could survive for a long period independently, as they probably don’t right now – they would have had freedom to use the veto now and save Alexis. However, the producers have their own priorities – and one of them seems to be Save Adam. The judges and producers want Adam to go deep so badly they’re willing to keep the veto in check even in a perfect spot to use it, all because it wasn’t Adam up there.
Credibility? What credibility?: Having laid out the case for not using the Veto so early, one can ask why I thought Alexis would be saved anyway.
It essentially came down to two things: I knew Alexis was still a judge’s favorite and might be treated more kindly. The other reason was more pipe dreams than anything else: they needed credibility. So far, off the Idol stage, the season has been dominated by ham-handed manipulation. What we got on Wednesday was… more of the same. Does anyone think that on pure merit alone Alexis should be gone before Michael Sarver? Really?
No. Of course not. It would have been the perfect time to use the veto and live up to what they claimed it was for. Instead, it became another self-sustained injury for the Idol franchise. This week confirmed what we all had just suspected before, and will make people even more tired of the Official Manipulation.
The bye-ku returns! – I didn’t have time to do this last week, but… the bye-ku returns. Here’s our official farewell to Alexis Grace in verse:
Mother with pink streaks
Stop! Song older than thirty!
Shocker to many