Normally Quentin Tarantino movies are distinguished by the high body count, so there’s a touch of irony that this week the Idol body count was zero. The judges turned out to be in a better mood than a decent chunk of America tends to be on Tax Day, and gave Matt Giraud a reprieve.
It’s an amusing idea that somehow Matt is on the same level as everyone else who got mentioned earlier on the season. He isn’t even close. He can have his moments – So Small was his best one – but of late he’s been tanking, to put it mildly. On that level, his elimination was not some great injustice that needed to be remedied.
I said at the start of the season that the Judges’ Save was largely intended for favorites who ended up in trouble, and I stand by that statement. What changed, however, was that the original planned recipients – Danny and Adam – turned out not to need them at all. Danny has been “singing to a level” in a sense – he does well enough to not become a target for elimination, if not much better.
As for Adam, he’s managed to avoid turning in another Ring of Fire that was just as likely to hurt as help him. That was the real danger for Adam, and even if he turned one in next week his fanbase is probably strong enough by now to insure that won’t be a problem either.
Realistically, then, the judges now had a veto they didn’t exactly plan on having at this stage. So why use it now? They essentially had to. Not using the veto would probably have caused another furor: if would have been derided as nothing more than a ratings stunt, it would be raising the tension for contestants unnecessarily, etc. Considering, too, that they had a perfect candidate for saving earlier in the season (Alexis Grace), not using it would probably have been another public relations gaffe Idol didn’t really need.
With that in mind, it didn’t really matter how well or how poorly the last placer did – so long as it wasn’t bad enough that the judges couldn’t possibly justify saving him/her. Matt wasn’t quite that bad, and he has been good before.
Realistically, the only thing that got saved was the judges’ – and producers’ – bacon. Matt’s still departing sooner rather than later – but it avoids a possible furor down the road. It was done strictly for dramatic – and PR – purposes. This wasn’t the grandiose idea that was proposed at the start of the season to save Those Who Left Too Soon.
The Road to the Finale: With only five weeks remaining in the Idol season, we’re all definitely entering the homestretch. Whether that’s good or bad, well… your mileage may definitely vary.
Let’s take a look at the seven remaining contestants and see what they all need to do to get to the finale. They’re ranked in order of likeliest to make it there:
1. Adam Lambert
I’d rather not say that Adam is sure to make it to the finale. After all, I said that of Melinda Doolittle two seasons ago – and look how that ended up.
Still, Adam is still the safest bet in this field to get that far. His main challenge is twofold: avoid turning in one (or more) Ring of Fire-like disasters, and guarding against a complacent fan base. A good analogy here is Chris Daughtry: everyone thought he was headed to the finale, but two so-so performances (at best) and a fanbase that became complacent (due to Katharine McPhee’s twin trainwrecks that same night) ended up sending him home at the final four.
Another similar situation is can be found in Season Six. In the final three, Melinda Doolittle did well with all three of her songs. Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks turned in only one good performance each; the rest weren’t all that well received. Melinda’s fanbase – never the strongest to begin with – relaxed, Blake’s and Jordin’s voted like mad… and Melinda went out in third.
Still, overall, you have to like Adam’s chances of making it to the finale. In another season, things might have been different – but as it is, it looks good for him.
2. Kris Allen
Kris came into the competition with little in the way of hype, but he’s gradually emerged as a serious competitor. In fact, in our opinion, he’s stronger than the somewhat overrated Danny Gokey.
His biggest advantage over Gokey is actually pretty simple: he’s been singing better over the past few weeks. In addition, he’s established what kind of artist he is much more successfully than Danny has.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that in many ways he’s the exact opposite of Adam style-wise. Most of the time, Idol finalists tend to be have very different musical styles. Winning in Idol is all about building and keeping fanbases, and contestants sharing even parts of their fanbases are liable to go by the wayside until there’s no sharing.
3. Danny Gokey
In the Idol dictionary, Danny’s picture would be beside the word “coasting”. He’s been living off the early show speculation that established him as a front-runner… even if his performances of late show that he may not completely deserve to be called one.
Consider this: since his version of Jesus, Take The Wheel Danny has stumbled through the competition at best. The only reason he hasn’t gone home in the month that has passed since then is there have been others who were even worse. Ouch.
In normal circumstances, this would be a recipe for a quick exit. For all of Danny’s problems, though, he still has less than everyone else – which is why he’s still #3 in our list (and, in effect, our power rankings).
That said, his only real hope of getting to the finale is really hoping that Kris makes a mistake. To some degree, they share some of their fanbases – and it’s unlikely that Danny’s has gained any ground in the past month. Danny and Kris will ultimately have to square off for that fanbase, and despite the (over)praise the judges have given Danny, Kris is likely to come out on top.
On the other hand, if Danny were suddenly to get a lot better he could easily steal the thunder from Kris – and with the judges (and a lot of other writers) generally overrating Danny, he could catch up in a hurry. Is it likely? Probably not, but this is Idol-land, where strange and funny things happen.
The one wildcard here is that it’s possible that Danny may have a silent, but powerful fanbase. I’ve seen it claimed that Danny has a large Christian fan base, and because that’s a group that’s traditionally not well-represented in the Idolsphere it’s hard to be completely confident about how much it’s helping Danny. Ultimately, Idol is a singing competition, and I think that whatever his off-stage pluses, it’ll come down to the fact that Danny is not singing that well.
However, I could be wrong in that, and if Idol is becoming the latest battlefield in the Culture Wars with Adam and Danny as proxies in that, well… let’s just say that development could have long-standing effects on the show itself. Few of which I’d be convinced are good.
4. Allison Iraheta
There’s no doubt about Allison’s raw talent. You can make a decent argument, in fact, that she’s the best female rocker Idol‘s ever had. However, she has the same problem another vocally gifted rocker, Carly Smithson, had last year: she can’t get people to care very much.
Of late, she’s also been suffering from consistency issues as well: she’s been alternating well-received performances with not so good ones. Again, this is not a formula for building a fanbase.
Allison’s biggest problem, though, is she’s splitting fan bases: part of the rock vote is going to Adam. How much… it’s hard to say, but given Allison’s weak fanbase – she’s already been in the bottom group twice, any splitting is going to hurt her more than Adam.
On the flip side, though, even when Allison is “bad” she’s not really dreadful the way others can be when they have their off night. She’s a good enough singer to at least avoid sounding like an utter mess – which is better than some of the rest can claim.
5. Anoop Desai
Here’s a caveat to the rankings for Anoop on down. Realistically, none of the bottom three have a realistic chance of making it to the finale. It’s not impossible – stranger things have happened on the Idol stage – but I wouldn’t put any money on it, no matter what the odds are. There are really two near-independent competitions going on – one among the top four, and another for the bottom three.
Like Danny, Anoop has largely been living on pre-show hype. If anything, he’s been even more of a disappointment. His best performance came in the Top 11, and even that didn’t become a breakout moment, being buried by Matt Giraud’s So Small and Adam Lambert’s famous (or infamous) Ring of Fire.
His fanbase may have gotten him through the start, but its growing at about the same pace the US economy is right now – in short, not at all. Three straight trips to the bottom three? That doesn’t speak well of his fanbase. In another season, he’d be gone by now.
However, in all fairness, Anoop has been decent the past two weeks. That’s not saying much, but it’s out there. If Allison tanks badly enough, he could make it through to the final four, but probably not any longer. The flip side is also true, though: if Matt or Lil improve next week, with a double elimination Anoop is unlikely to survive.
6. Matt Giraud
Yes, you’ve got that right. The guy who would otherwise have gone home isn’t the cellar dweller in our rankings. Not that it matters much, since the bottom two are going home next week.
That may sound insane, but there’s method to this madness. It’s useful to remember why Lil managed to squeak ahead of Matt, in spite of being a worse singer overall in the finals. Her mini-tirade against the judges was the kind of thing that’s an adrenaline shot to a fanbase – but it’s not going to be repeated next week.
Matt has turned in somewhat better performances than Lil, but barring a major breakout performance – think So Small-caliber – it’s unlikely to send him into the top 5.
7. Lil Rounds
Lil has been nothing short of a flop since the finals began. Ever since she tackled Independence Day (thus proving she can’t sing as well as Carrie Underwood or Martina McBride,) she’s been on a steady downhill path.
While her annoyance at the judges is pretty well justified – she has been getting bad advice – the simple fact of the matter is she’s sung poorly five times in a row. Ouch. Now, as I said in Danny’s case there were singers who were even worse each night, but short of a miraculous improvement Lil should go home next week. She almost certainly will – I can’t see her delivering a performance that’ll leapfrog two people with disco night.
Overall, it’s something of a very static power ranking. Save for Ring of Fire, Adam hasn’t done anything to endanger his standing as a front runner. Other early front runners like Danny and Lil have faltered (particularly the latter). The big gainer is Kris, who has made a significant challenge to enter the top tier of contenders, but even that has run into missteps (like last week’s All She Wants To Do Is Dance).
It’s not the most interesting – nor competitive – crop of contestants I’ve seen on this show. They leave me underwhelmed – which, come to think about it, sums up the entire season to date.