It’s official. Phillip Phillips is He Who Can Do No Wrong. He is the Teflon Idol. He was, by a healthy margin, the worst on Wednesday night. And yet… he was the second one to be sent to safety. What does he have to do for the collective Idol voting fanbase to decide to send Dave Matthews Dave Matthews back to South Carolina and shoot a pilot of Southern Pawn Stars for the History Channel?
On the other hand, it may take a week for us to know the full damage that this week did to Phillip’s chances – if any. After all, the well-documented Mighty Mouse effect may have been in play – though oft-repeated denials by Phillip fans in multiple online forums suggest that at least some of his fans felt no need to “rally”. After all, wasn’t he called an artist by the judges?
Still, you have to respect the kind of fanbase power that Phillip has demonstrated so far. Once you get to the finale, if you’ve always been voted by America into the Stools/Couch of Safety, you win. (The only exception: David Archuleta, but only because he was up against someone who’d also avoided being all season. Clay Aiken does not count, because he had to get into the finals via wildcard.) It’s not like I’m sold on the rest of the top four either: Jessica had to be saved, Hollie is still digging out of her hole, and Joshua got sent to the bottom three despite Runaway Baby.
As it stands, Phillip has to be considered the prohibitive favorite to win. The trouble is, we don’t know if that would be a good thing for Idol as a franchise. Having a fifth so-called WGWG win would delight only Vote for the Worst. Notably, it’s a sin both The Voice and X-Factor have avoided to date. What kind of message would it send for a competition show if it was clear as day that only one kind of singer could win? We already saw how last year’s all-country finale went: ratings from the top 3 performance night fell.
Sidenote: to be fair, adding Scotty to the list of WGWGs is a bit unfair. It was never as vital to him as it was with either David Cook, Kris Allen, or Lee DeWyze. Even within those three there are pretty sharp stylistic differences. To be honest, the whole WGWG label is a little bit unfair if you look at the facts. But sadly, perceptions do count. Even if the popular perception is not accurate, the fact that it’s out there is what matters.
If this whole chain of events doesn’t convince the Idol PTB that the voting system is broken, then, well, nothing will. Let’s all remember how we all thought a girl was going to win this year. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and… that’s looking more and more unlikely by the week.
Not too surprising: With a lot of hindsight, Skylar had a lot of things going against her that explain why she went home.
Yes, she was a country singer, but there was a big difference between Skylar and most of the other country singers that have been on Idol before: she had basically zero crossover potential. Yes, Idol tends to like country, but for girls it tends to like it a bit milder, more pop-country than traditional country. Just look at last year: Lauren Alaina had plenty of crossover potential. For guys, it doesn’t matter much: Scotty had limited (if any) crossover potential himself, but that didn’t hurt his Idol run at all. But a more traditional female country singer, well, that’s novel for Idol. When Skylar ended up in the bottom three in spite of Gunpowder and Lead, maybe that was a sign that there wasn’t as much taste within the Idol voting base for that sort of music.
However, all that means is that the traditional country boost was weaker for Skylar. She had two problems that really hurt her: one was her inability to really elevate her songs from the very good to the excellent, to the I-was-blown-away stage. Yes, she could be very, very good – but she never seemed to find that one song that left everyone wowed and speechless. I’m talking about the kind of song that would get a standing ovation (back when that meant something, instead of being overhyped pimpage). There was no Whole Lotta Love or I Will Always Love You equivalent for Skylar. It’s not necessary, mind – I’m not sure Scotty really had something like that last year – but it definitely helps.
The other problem was simple: power. Or rather, her lack of it. Jessica, Hollie, and Joshua can basically reach for any note and sound effortless. Skylar can’t. When it’s a song in her comfort zone, she knows when to stop. But hand her something outside her comfort zone – say, both of her songs this week – she goes to her instincts. Those can be summarized as: attack, attack, attack. The end result, unfortunately, is she starts screaming and sounding very unpleasant. It was very evident this week, but even last week with Show Must Go On it was there for all to see.
Take Phillip’s dual trainwrecks out of the equation. Skylar did very well to get to the top five, given that she was definitely short-handed in the power department and the country boost was less than expected. She got this far because she interprets songs pretty well and never comes off as an emotionless robot the way Jessica and Hollie have been at times. I wouldn’t worry too much about her post-Idol career: she’ll get signed, she’ll get material that suits her well and producers that fit her well, too. You could ask for worse starts to an honest to goodness musical career.