Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The E-train stops here

It wasn't quick. It wasn't easy. It took weeks of caterwauling, criticism, singing and oversinging - and, oh, apparently, 50 million votes Tuesday night. But we've got our "American Idol" top two, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks, and we got 'em in true "Idol" fashion: at the very end of an hourlong results show full of moments I loved...and moments that made me hate myself for loving this show.

Even right when Wednesday's show started, I got kind of excited. I mean, who does that? At the beginning of the show! But there was no fighting it. At the end, when Ryan Seacrest was standing onstage as the ohsoclose voting results flashed across the giant video screen in black and white - 33.68 percent of the vote was the top? 33.26 in the middle? 33.06 sends someone home? - my stomach was aflutter and my legs turned to jelly. And I was sitting down. As pretty much everyone's hearts pounded, the "Idol" studio fell silent, and then came the news: Elliott's hitting the road.

This week, at least, the booted contestant got the sendoff he deserved - a standing ovation and time to thank folks, express appreciation and sing one last time without getting unceremoniously cut off. "Elliott, this is not 'I'm sorry,'" Seacrest said. "This is 'Congratulations for doing what you have done on this show.'"

Though Elliott fought hard and performed admirably for his place in the top three, he did deserve to get the boot after Tuesday's performances. That said, I doubt he'd have been headed for the exits if they'd shown his hometown visit earlier (say, a night earlier), because his trip to Richmond was about as heart-warming as television gets. Or, as heart-warming as it gets as long as you try not to think about the broader concept, and implications, of entire states and cities and their elected officials going hog-wild over contestants on a TV talent show - admittedly, a pretty influential and popular TV talent show, and one that has the power to change its' participants lives. But still.

"Virginia is for Elliott lovers," a sign at the governor's mansion proclaimed, and sure enough it was. With his mom, Claudette, in tow most of the way, Elliott signed autographs at the drugstore where he used to work. He chatted up radio hosts with all the comfort of a guy who, well, used to be a DJ. While riding along in a massive white SUV limo, he stuck his head out the window and yelled, "Can ya smell it? Can y'all smell the sweet Virginia air?" People were practically - or was that literally? - hanging off of buildings to see the dude, for goodness' sake, not to mention losing it as they lined the roads Elliott traveled. And then, to top it all off, he threw out the first pitch at a Richmond Braves baseball game, wearing a custom jersey - and from the looks of it, the pitch was pretty good. After the clip reel ended, Elliott was, needless to say, in tears.

Now that he's gone, though, what happens next? Well, right now it's pretty clear the "Idol" crown is the wildly popular Taylor's to lose, especially after Katharine came off as weirdly cold on her "trip home," which encompassed visits to local media outlets, her old high school and her actual house, in an LA suburb. Of course, Kat couldn't help that she's from Los Angeles, which doesn't exactly provide the Norman Rockwell-style setting of typical "Idol" hometown welcomes. Not only is "Idol" taped in LA, which takes away from the whole carefully planned "Oh, you haven't been home in so long!" aspect of the visit "Idol" depends on, but the city of Angels is also pretty much as far removed as you can get from the small- to medium-sized cities usually shown warmly welcoming their potential Idols, with parades, cheering crowds and the like. Add to that Katharine's demeanor, which I'm convinced was more the result of awkwardness and nerves than her actual personality, and you've got a bit of a problem - one indicative of her failure to really connect with people during a lot of the season, unfortunately, despite her talent. If she wants to, uh, "Walk Away" with the title - to borrow the title of a Kelly Clarkson song - I suspect she's going to have to pull off something really special next week. (Not that second place is anything to scoff at, though, especially in the world of "Idol.")

Meanwhile, when Taylor went home to Alabama - where he was greeted with a parade, a giant crowd at a mall and several politicians - we learned the following things:
1) The Soul Patrol is, apparently, an actual patrol! Or, at least it was when police cars and motorcycles accompanied Taylor's black SUV limo through the streets of the Birmingham area, lights flashing. Aw, come on, did any of the contestants really need that?
2) Alabama is, according to a sign in the background at one point, Where Idols Are Born. Man, do you want to say that to North Carolina's face?
3) If this whole "singing" thing fails, Taylor could have a promising career as a TV weatherman, at least if that clip of him doing the weather was any indication.
4) Taylor needs to play guitar more often. Yay for him performing with his band!
5) What's worse than Taylor's constant cries of "Soul patrol"? Cheerleaders on parade shouting "Soul patrol! Soul patrol!"
6) Tom Petelos, the mayor of Hoover - where Taylor went to high school - is gonna have a hard time living down his stiff attempt to bop and clap along to one of Taylor's live performances, which was captured in a priceless camera cutaway. "You know what, you know what, he tried to do the sprinkler," Taylor said afterwards, after Seacrest told him to "get with the mayor of Hoover and teach him how to dance." The Sprinkler, eh? Is that the new term for "Well-Meaning Middle-Aged Guy With No Rhythm"? ;-)

At any rate...

Is it possible I'm still laughing at this mental image? "Will we have a boy-girl finale like Bo and Carrie?" Seacrest asked at the start of Wednesday's show. "Or will Elliott and Taylor slug it out Ruben-Clay style?" Slug it out Ruben-Clay style? Goodness gracious, just the thought of it is downright hilarious. Now, if only we could get that long-awaited "Idol" movie sequel, "From Ruben to Clay"...

AARP ain't ready for this: Here, uncensored and unedited, is my initial reaction to that insane commercial the top three did to the song "Young At Heart": OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS COMMERCIAL. ELLIOTT REALLY LOOKS LIKE AN OLD MAN, IN A BOW TIE, BALD. TAYLOR IS SOOOO SCARY in the hot tub with the other old ladies? WHAT DID THEY DO TO KAT'S BUTT? it is so large. ohhhhhhkay. (By the way, I don't usually write in all caps.) Seriously, though, Elliott with a walker? Taylor sporting a porkpie hat (and, surprise surprise, gray hair)? Kat wearing a white wig and a fake butt and belly? All of them wearing red tracksuits? Talk about a senior moment. I'm still recovering from the sight of it...

Score (a rare) one for Seacrest: "I didn't know Simon was having a party," Seacrest quipped after showing the senior citizen-themed Ford commercial.
"That was a good one, man," Randy said - to which Seacrest said something along the lines of, "I only get about one per season."

Ixnay on the Xay-enmay:
I know, lamenting the fact that last night's "Idol" featured a gratuitious commercial in the middle of the show is like complaining about McDonald's super-sizing things when you admittedly love Big Macs, but did we really need to see that big ol' plug for the new X-Men movie? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Soul (food) patrol: "It was like a Southern food tour for me," Taylor said, describing his trip home. "There were just loads of ribs, and turnip greens." "I heard you had ribs for breakfast," Seacrest said. Oh, yeah: "I did, I had ribs on pancakes," Taylor replied.

The spirit of (good) radio: Katharine's "trip home" left me with decidedly mixed feelings, but one part of it provided some hope - and yet, made me wonder - about her taste in music. Her favorite radio station, she said, is Los Angeles' influential alt-rock powerhouse KROQ. But if that's so, how can we explain all the Celine-style bombast Kat's given us? Chalk it up to mom? Weird.

Bad "Idol"! No singing to the judges! Dear "American Idol" producers, let me propose a new rule: No contestants are allowed to insert judges' names into the tunes they're singing, as Katharine did during her rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Think."* I believe it went something like, "You needed me, Simon, and I needed you." Why do we need this rule, you ask? Because, for one thing, the whole, "Ah, let me personalize the song for the judges" idea generally makes me want to retch. And isn't that reason enough? (Oh, it's not? Rats. Well, anyway...)
*On a related note, was I the only one who thought, "Damn, Kelly Clarkson would have done this so much better," as Kat took on Aretha?

Citizen Claudette: "And, you know, I voted for you, too," Elliott's adorable mom, Claudette, told Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a recently elected Democrat, as the "Idol" entourage visited the governor's mansion - prompting laughter all around.

Selective memory? Oh, yes: Toward the end of the show, when Clive Davis was rattling off a list of Idol winners' and runner-ups' successes, recognitions and record sales, he conspicuously failed to mention Diana DeGarmo and Justin Guarini, both of whose CDs flopped. At least the preceding clip montage, though, showed a photo of DeGarmo's CD cover, which is definitely more than could be said for Guarini's "wait, that actually happened?" solo album.

A refresher course in Yamin style: Wow, before watching last night's "Here's his journey" clip reel, I had totally forgotten how much Elliott's look had changed since he auditioned! For one thing, his current haircut was about 500 times better than the close-cropped, sorta squared-off one he arrived with...

Prescient lyrics, it seems? "One of these days, and it won't be long, you're gonna look for me and I'll be gone," Elliott sang as the show ended, and he reprised "I Believe to my Soul."

Somehow, I think I'm not the only one: I'm happy with a Kat-Taylor top two - to be fair, any of the top four was talented enough to be there, in my book - but watching this week, I still couldn't help but miss Chris and the intensity he brought to the stage. Ah well. It's not worth dwelling on, especially because at this point all of the finalists have earned plenty of attention and exposure, and, yeah, Chris should be just fine, whether he's The Idol or not, but the thought did come to mind.

Next week: The finals! Of course! BRING IT ON.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great blog. You've got a great eye for detail and a funny style. Maybe you have a future at