The judges are wrong. They’ve always been wrong. It’s not a singing competition. It’s never been a singing competition.
Need proof? Look to last night’s “American Idol” results, when Melinda Doolittle – by far the season’s best singer – went home, leaving the far less-gifted Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks as the final two.
Melinda was one of the best pure vocal talents “Idol” had ever found, up there with Kelly Clarkson, Tamyra Gray, Elliott Yamin and a few others. But as celebrity mentor Peter Noone helpfully explained earlier this season, “Idol” is a voting competition, not a singing competition. You can hit every note, sell every emotion, tackle every genre, and in the end what seems to matter more is whether you have nice hair, or a bubbly personality, or in some other way appeal to young girls or older women, the two largest “Idol” voting blocs.
Melinda seemed to recognize this going in. A former professional backup singer stepping into the spotlight for the first time, she sold the “Aw, shucks, you all love little ol’ me?” for all it was worth – until Simon Cowell told her to stop doing it and act like she knew she was so great.
Her personal hook gone, all Melinda had to rely on was her voice, and while it was brilliant, it was also consistently brilliant. This started to bore the audience and the judges, who both gravitate towards performers who make some sort of “journey” with their talent. Randy Jackson began referring to her weekly as “our resident pro” in a way that made it sound like an insult. Paula Abdul complained last week that Melinda was too consistently good, that she needed to show them something different.
Her only other real Achilles heel was a tendency to come across like a much older woman with older tastes; she would be a challenge to sell to contemporary CD buyers, where Blake (Timberlake-esque dance music) and Jordin (“High School Musical”-esque tween pop) are both practically ready to go in the studio tomorrow.
The producers have to be pleased by this outcome, since they’ve been grudging in their praise of Melinda and haven’t tried to hide the fact that Jordin’s their favorite. In a head-to-head match-up with Melinda in the finale, Jordin’s vocal shortcomings would have been much more obvious, but Blake’s an even more limited singer. Assuming the winner of this year’s songwriting competition delivers another treacly, glory note-filled ballad along the lines of “Inside Your Heaven” and “A Moment Like This,” Jordin’s going to look a lot better than Blake.
A finale without Melinda feels both besides the point and completely appropriate. In the Year of Sanjaya, what sense would it make for somebody with Melinda’s voice to have a shot at winning?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
My access to the NJ.com blog is down at the moment, so I'm just going to post my "Idol" thoughts here. Irritating spoilers to follow...