Thursday, April 30, 2009

American Idol: When the going gets Huff

As happens whenever "American Idol" is up against an original "Lost," I left last night's "Idol" recapping duties to Vicki Hyman, so you can read her take on what went down, who went home, etc. What I want to talk about, after the jump, is the Huff...

The Huff is a time-honored "Idol" tradition going back to the infamous night in season three when Jennifer Hudson went home and Fantasia and La Toya were in the bottom three with her. Basically, at top 7 elimination night -- and occasionally on top 5 night -- the contestants are divided into two groups, with one left alone, told they're safe, and asked to choose which group he or she belongs with. The Huff is named for the first victim of this maneuver, gospel-singing, dip-dancing George Huff, who looked terrified and confused for about 18 hours before finally walking over to the three R&B divas -- only to be told, as the studio audience gasped, that he was standing with the wrong group.

The Huff proved so memorable that the producers have brought it back in one form or another every year since. In season four, the Huff was Bo Bice, who wisely recognized that the only way to win that game is not to play, and stood immobile between the two groups. In season five, the Huff was Taylor (the only Huff to date to eventually win the contest), who went towards one group, shook Chris Daughtry's hand, then moved over to the other, correct group. (Fans who were in the studio audience that night allege that Nigel Lythgoe told Taylor to do all this, which is why he looked so miserable, and why he shook Daughtry's hand to apologize for being part of these shenanigans.)

The Huff of season six was Melinda Doolittle, who took a page from the Bo plan and sat cross-legged at center stage. Season seven's Huff was Young David Archuleta, who looked even more terrified and confused than George Huff himself, then sat down on the stage, and then was joined by surrogate big brother David Cook.

The Huff didn't turn up at Top 7 this year (perhaps because the producers knew the judges might use the Save?), but it did last night, with Adam Lambert as the designated Huff. That makes sense: whether he actually wins or not, at this point he's so obviously the frontrunner that making him part of one of the groups to choose from would take all the suspense out of the game. Only this time, there was a twist: the Huff was not safe! (Cue more gasping from studio audience.) While Ryan was very careful to never identify Adam as being in the bottom two, he was definitely in the bottom three, since Danny and Allison were identified as the top two.

Now, being bottom three when there are only five contestants left really isn't that big a deal. Adam is more polarizing than many previous frontrunners, and he didn't have one of his most memorable performances on Tuesday. Fanbases get complacent sometimes. If anything, this is a very good thing for Adam, because his fans will now be motivated to vote like crazy and make sure he makes it to the top 2 and doesn't get knocked out early like Daughtry or Tamyra or Melinda.

Meanwhile, Matt's exit proved the ultimate pointlessness of using the Save on him. He didn't get voted through by the public in the semis, wound up in the bottom group several times, had to get Saved, and then went home before any of the people who were clearly better than him. All the Save did was prevent one of Anoop or Lil from getting an extra week on the show. It feels like the judges and producers were looking at the vote totals, knew there was no real danger of any of the favorites going home through top 5, and felt they had to use the Save on someone to justify its existence.

What did you think of the results show?

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ryan DID tell Jamie Foxx that Adam and Matt were "the bottom two."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did he use the words "bottom two" or did he say that one of them was going home?

Ryan's always very careful with his semantics.

Theresa said...

Seacrest to Jamie Foxx: What do you think, did America get this right here tonight? This is the bottom two here.

I agree that he is very careful, but he has been saying "bottom three" and he did distinctly say "bottom two" last night. Weird. Thank goodness Matt went home.

JD said...

I'm also pretty sure he said bottom two when he brought Jamie Foxx over, but what does it matter really? Since Fox/Idol never releases the official vote numbers, whoever ends up in the bottom three or two will always feel a little fishy for me. I hate sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but Kris has allegedly been in the bottom 3 for weeks according to DialIdol.com (I'm a fan of Kris though). That website will never be able to detect text messaged votes of course, but I wish the show would release something official instead of saying 40 or 45 million votes were cast.

Dan said...

And even if he used "bottom 2", what does that even mean? Remember, Idol has never, in the history of the show, linked "bottom 2-3" to "lowest 2-3 vote getters."

Therefore, I'm still a firm believer in the theory that the bottom 3 is merely the lowest vote getter and 2 others the producers choose. Last night was a classic example of the "kick in the ass" theory - put Adam in the bottom 3 to give him a kick in the ass and fuel him to the finish line.

I was giving up Idol forever if Adam went home. He's about a country mile ahead of everyone else at this point in terms of talent. Probably the best and most original Idol contestant ever.

Steve said...

Alan,

If you are going to use the term "Huff" to describe the situation, then you should call Bo Bice's decision the "Joshua," because the only move is not to play.

amysusanne said...

You know, if you give up Idol you can't complain about it anymore and what's the fun in that?

I totally missed Ryan saying anything like that to Jamie, though to be fair, I tuned out most of that anyway. I did pay close attention to see how carefully he chose his words when he sent Chris back over and during that point he never did say anything about bottom two. It was pretty obvious at that point that he was intentionally *not* saying that Kris got more votes than Adam. Tbh, I'd be more willing to believe that Ryan just got caught up in the moment later and said "bottom two" without thinking than I would be willing to believe that Adam was bottom two. Although, to be fair to dialidol (which I still think has been wrong so much this year because Kris has the texters in his corner), it was looking pretty close among most of them, so the divide between the four that *weren't* Matt could have been very, very narrow.

Whatever the case, it was nice to see the right person go home and nicer to see Adam have face a moment of reality on this show.

wrt the story about Nigel setting up the Taylor Huff moment, I have no problem at all believing Nigel would do that, but unfortunately, because of the Daughtry apologists/conspiracy theorists, it's hard to take those things too seriously. Just like there are some people who can't wrap their heads around the idea that there are people who don't like Adam, there are a massive group out there who can't figure out why someone wouldn't see Daughtry as the second coming. The best thing he ever gave me was the look on his face when Ryan told him to take a hike.

amysusanne said...

To clarify, because that didn't make much sense by itself: I mean anything involving Daughtry gets dressed up in a prettier package in some circles. Therefore, Taylor's apologetic handshake was because he didn't want to disrespect Daughtry the Awesome.

Dan said...

I can't argue with anyone who doesn't care for Adam. The guy has a flare for the dramatic and that turns some people off.

However, I would give anyone $100 (fake) dollars if they could come up with a good argument for one of the remaining contestants being a better singer/performer than Adam. Maybe even $500 (fake) dollars!

Kathy said...

I have to agree with Dan that I was making promises to The Husband that if Adam was eliminated last night that I had no more interest in watching Idol this season! Let's face it...like him or not, Adam has provided the electricity that has kept this season going. I think Idol would have taken a huge hit in viewership if he had gone home.

I also agree that having Adam in the bottom two will inspire his fan base to vote enthusiastically, cause Adam to rethink some of the more negative aspects of his performances, and keep the viewership up since no one will be viewed as "safe" in the next few weeks.

Mark B said...

Remember, Idol has never, in the history of the show, linked "bottom 2-3" to "lowest 2-3 vote getters."

That's what "bottom" means. (Even in Palm Beach County, I think they understand that.)

I'd be more willing to believe that Ryan just got caught up in the moment later and said "bottom two" without thinking than I would be willing to believe that Adam was bottom two.
Considering how careful he was earlier, that seems more plausible.

Robin Sparkles said...

He absolutely said Adam was in the bottom two - right before the last commercial break.
I was convinced the producers were playing a mind trick on us (although they still could be) so I was paying attention to everything Ryan was saying.
Bottom two indeed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fair enough.

Regardless, bottom two out of five is still not a great humiliation, especially if there was a big gap between Adam and Matt.

Since he didn't go home, it's the best thing that could have happened to him.

Theresa said...

Since he didn't go home, it's the best thing that could have happened to him.And the worst thing that could've happened to Allison.

Bobman said...

Last night was a classic example of the "kick in the ass" theory - put Adam in the bottom 3 to give him a kick in the ass and fuel him to the finish line.

While I do not disagree that Adam is the best singer / performer left, claiming collusion on the part of Idol doesn't really make sense to me in his case. For Idol, they want the winner to be the most marketable contestant to the widest audience (since they own the contract of the winner). Adam, while technically proficient and hugely entertaining, has pretty much zero mass market appeal as an artist given the current state of popular music. Some wild guy singing over-stylized showtunes is gonna sell albums? Really?

Sonia said...

I just don't get Adam...And LOL Steve about the "Joshua" LOL

Castaway said...

I think Bobman is right...collusion wouldn't make sense from a marketing standpoint, and I think all of the people left have substantial fanbases, most of whom probably felt their favorites needed their votes more than Adam did. It's a surprise if Adam was legitimately in the bottom two vote-getters, but not impossible or anything that requires collusion by the producers.

amysusanne said...

I think there's a balance, though. Everybody talks about the pimp spot and the actual production value of each performance and the games they play (allegedly) with those in the bottom two or three and it's usual with regards to who they want to win. But, they're also about getting the votes and the viewers and drumming up the itunes sales and so on and so on. I tend to agree that Adam would be a hard sell as "your American Idol" but, he's got the fans and people are interested in him and while a lot of them probably won't buy his record, they enjoy watching The Adam Show. So, how they play around is one part "good tv" and one part "who do we want to spend the next year bleeding dry".

Mike F said...

Alan is pretty on point with his thoughts and speculation...this probably cements Adam's finalist spot...certainly, his top 3 spot

What's interesting with this top four is that Allison is the only female. My guess is, and somebody correct me if I'm wrong, that at the top 4 stage when its 3:1 male vs female (or vice versa) that the 1 of either sex has never been eliminated

Regarding conspiracy theories, I think we all realize that the show is very produced...that the judges comments are mostly based on the dress rehearsal and aren't always motivated by pure critiquing, and that results shows are presented in the most dramatic way possible given the results they have to work with....

But you're nuts if you think the AI people would commit a serious fraud on the public by manipulating vote totals...not only is this kinda thing a violation of federal laws (see: Quiz Show era precedent), but it would be the height of irrationality to risk every iota of your credibility and risk losing the hundreds of millions of dollars AI makes every year in order to try to drum up a few extra ratings points.

These guys care about putting on a very dramatic show, they care about the credibility of their winners, but most of all they care about not doing anything stupid enough to end the most rediculous gravy train in the history of television

The big picture obliterates the importance of any particular weekly result or how many albums the eventual idol might sell.

Mike F said...

I meant what was interesting about Allison being the only female left is that she's also seemingly the least popular based on her multiple bottom 3 appearances.

amysusanne said...

Hasn't it been determined that Idol doesn't fall under the umbrella of the quiz show rules and therefore doesn't have to play quite as "fair" as a legitimate game show does? AI fashions itself a competitive reality show. That said, no...I don't think the producers cheat the numbers. I don't think most people do. Manipulation is one thing, but just making things up as they go along is another.

Mark said...

Even if Idol could legally rig the results because it's not technically a game show, does it really matter? They'd win in the court of law, but not the court of public opinion. The show would lose a ton of viewers if there was a rigging scandal, legal or not. It's way too big a risk for the most popular show of the decade -- one that's still going strong after 8 years.

Dan said...

I don't think we are talking about rigging the vote totals or "cheating." At least that's not what I am talking about.

I just think they throw around the term "bottom 3" to imply "3 lowest vote getters" when in reality, they've never actually said that. And I'm not going to call that a "fraud"....but rather a ratings tactic. Throw someone like Adam into the bottom 3 because at this point he seems like an automatic winner. So get the public behind him while also giving him the "kick in the ass" that makes him change up his style a bit.

amysusanne said...

That's a bit silly, though. There isn't a lot of wiggle room on the term "bottom three". It's pretty cut and dry. If they are lying about the bottom three then they're lying about the total votes which, of course, you say you don't claim they are. Being a little sneaky about who the second and third lowest vote getters are is one thing, but unless they completely leave out the word "bottom" when they start dividing people up then we're really not going to see anyone *not* in that bottom percentile shoved down there. Danny and Allison were the top vote getters. Adam and Kris were in the middle. Matt was the lowest. What separated them or what order they were in is clearly not something that they want us to know, but it's probably not because they shoved Adam into the bottom two when it really should have been, say, Allison.

Plus, let's be fair: they frequently say that the bottom two or three or whatever the mix is that week were the lowest vote getters.

wjm said...

In one of his many exit interviews, Matt mentioned that Adam wasn't happy with his performance this week. That certainly tallies with what I saw as his demeanor on Tuesday night.

That, compared with the results, will lead us (methinks) to a veddy interesting performance from Mr. Lambert next week. He reads the net, has been doing this entertainment thing for a while, and clearly puts a lot of thought into what he does. I can't wait to see the results.

Dan said...

"Plus, let's be fair: they frequently say that the bottom two or three or whatever the mix is that week were the lowest vote getters."

I hate to keep harping on this, but I have watched AI for 6 out of the 8 seasons and they've never once used "bottom 3" and "lowest votes" in the same sentence. We all just assume. And technically, that isn't "lying" - bottom 3 doesn't have to mean lowest 3.

K J Gillenwater said...

I just have to laugh at the Adam fans who can't believe he'd be in the bottom 2. Get over it! He's not everyone's cup of tea. Just because he can sing, doesn't mean people have to like his musical choices or how he performs.

This happens every year. People are 'outraged' that the singer they think is best ends up in the bottom group. Sometimes you just don't have the taste of the majority.

No conspiracy here. Move on.

What I am going to find interesting is how Adam handles some negative criticism. All he has heard is glowing comments for almost every performance (with the exception of a couple of Simon dings), so I think he believed he was pretty awesome. Maybe this will take him down a peg or shake up his performance.