Well, folks, it’s come down to this. Whatever else you can say about Idol this season… they still know how to get the pomp and circumstance down. It’s practically an Idol tradition.
One Idol tradition I’m happy to see go away, though: the Coronation Song. Frankly, is there anyone going to miss the smooth notes of No Boundaries, Do I Make You Proud, or This Is My Now? The only people not happy might be the songwriters hoping for a chance to turn their most ridiculous, over-the-top victory song into gold on the back of Idol.
Let’s do a round-by-round breakdown for how Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze‘s final performances. Round one was their replay songs.
Strategically, it’s striking just how similar their choices were, strategically. Both The Boxer and Me And Bobby McGee were their better performances (though I wouldn’t call it their best for both of them), and just as importantly not terribly challenging vocally. I thought they both did reasonably well, and while they both sang it well… there wasn’t much magic in here. On the other hand, I’m rather biased against reprises on Idol – largely because I have to listen to each performance multiple times to write my recaps. Overall, I’d call this round a push – it was, essentially, a non-factor.
Round 2: Simon Fuller’s songs. Oy. Are we sure that Mr. Fuller hasn’t been kidnapped and replaced with a double on ABC’s payroll? Neither choice was particularly impressive.
Everybody Hurts is very similar to Hallelujah in that it’s a simple song that suffers if it’s complicated needlessly. That’s exactly what Lee did. Really, if this was a deliberately crafted trap… it’s hard to argue it would have been done any differently. To Lee’s credit, it wasn’t awful… but it came very close. It was astoundingly mediocre. This is what you put in the finale? Really? Lee overcooked his performance, as it was. (A disclaimer: I particularly like the Corrs version of this song; I tend to be rather harsh on people who cover songs I like poorly.)
Of course, Crystal didn’t have such a great time with Black Velvet either. Now, frankly, I didn’t know it was an audition favorite, but even then it wasn’t such a great number. With the arrangement that Crystal was given, it just didn’t work. The arrangement needed a more aggressive, more edgy singer. Crystal is a fantastic artist, but she’s not particularly great in that area. She did her best, but this was a salvage job. Again. (Now, if this had been given last year to Allison Iraheta, we might have had something much better…)
It’s a good thing, really, that Simon Fuller didn’t appear on the screen to justify his choices. Otherwise I’d have broken my TV and computer throwing stuff at it.
And Round Three… yikes. Usually the finale has at least some pretense of equality to it. At least for the last song, though… yikes. Crystal absolutely leveled Lee in the last round. There’s no other way around it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the final song – their singles – were chosen by Lee and Crystal’s own choices. If so… yech. Lee made one of the classic mistakes: he chose a song he may have liked, but not necessarily one he could do. Bono is one of the best frontmen in the world, and Lee can’t do Bono. He’s not that good. He just got swallowed up and eaten by the material. It was also some of the worst singing, period, that we’ve seen from Lee in a while. It was nothing short of a disaster.
Lee was a disaster… but Crystal was far from it. Take Me to the Mountain was, indeed, aptly named. I’d go as far as saying it was Crystal’s best song of the entire season. It was perfect for her. She sang it well. She was emotional. Even the “props” – the backup singers – added to the performance, and did not distract from Crystal’s fantastic vocals. Really, everything came together for crystal. It was beyond incredible. Crystal has been dominant all season long – and really, could she really close the season any other way?
No matter how well the singing went, though, make no mistake: Tuesday night was completely irrelevant to Wednesday’s results. No Idol finale result has ever depended on the previous night’s singing. Who ultimately wins is the result of their performance all season long, not just one night.
That said… Crystal really put the icing on her cake with her performance this week. To my mind, she has been a frontrunner since the season began, but she’s slacked off of late. To a large degree, it’s because she hasn’t had someone to really push her artistically. For the finale, though, she rose to the occasion and closed the season out with the bang it’s lacked all season long.
There are some similarities, voting-wise, between this year and last. Crystal is the heir to Kris’s fanbase – probably broad, but not made up of power-voting fans that are willing to a relatively small number of votes. Lee owns the power-voting demographic that Adam owned, essentially, from the start. (Even online there’s a lot of similarity: the Lee bandwagon feels to me too similar to Adam’s last year.)
Fundamentally, the only factor I can think that’s in Lee’s favor is he has power voters in his corner. Crystal’s been the better singer all season long. As my friends at What Not to Sing pointed out, Crystal doesn’t have people voting against her as Lee is bound to have. (Of course, another point that’s sort of in Lee’s favor is he doesn’t have the… baggage that Adam had last year.)
Here’s another factor. There is the perception that Lee is The Chosen One of the judges of late. Certainly, the fact that he keeps getting the “grand” production numbers – bagpipers, gospel choirs – more frequently than the others did. You can also point to the relatively soft critiques Lee has received – including our personal favorite, that he has a “commercial” voice. (I translate that to mean “we can clean this up in the studio.”)
However, of late, TCO finalists have fared… poorly. David Cook was famously thrown under the bus by the judges. He won. Adam Lambert was pimped by the judges all season long. He lost. While Lee did not receive any favoritism that was anywhere as… blatant, it’s still not a good place to be in the finale.
The only wildcard in the calculations: the lower vote totals could, theoretically, shift power to the power voters. My gut, however, says no. even 30-odd million votes is a lot of votes for power-voters to change in their favor. It might be narrow enough for Ryan Seacrest to actually announce percentages, but I still think it won’t change the result. I’m going to call it…
The winner of American Idol is: Crystal Bowersox.