Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Finale insanity!

Oh goodness me, "American Idol" fans, I don't even know where to begin. Excuse me while I recover the pieces of my blown mind. See, it's not that I'm shocked Taylor Hicks bested Katharine McPhee for this year's title - you know the victory must have been lopsided because Ryan Seacrest mentioned nothing about how close the vote was. But it's just, how do you process a show as utterly, awesomely schizophrenic as the one we just witnessed, a rollercoaster hurtling towards the end of the line?

One minute, it was about serious singing, and the next, a reeeeeally bad contestant from the early rounds would gallop onto the stage for a 16th minute of fame. One minute, Elliott Yamin was delivering a lovely "A House is Still a Home," and the next Kevin Covais was warbling "What's New Pussycat?" Any more, and I would have started babbling as incoherently as Paula. And yet, it was all perfectly "Idol." No other show could have even conceived such a spectacle, let alone pulled it off. And the ending? Perfect! Of course, of course, that kind of night would end with Seacrest crowning the seemingly unlikeliest of Idols, a nearly 30-year-old, goofy, gray-haired dude with a talent for singing '70s music.

At first my opinion about the two-hour finale swung back and forth about as much as the show itself did, as I tried to decide whether the whole thing was awfully great or just plain awful. But once I finally stopped thinking about it and realized how thoroughly entertaining it was, the choice was clear. ("Great!" for the record.) Heck, this warm, fuzzy, crazy celebration of all things Season Five wasn't only an "Idol" finale like none other, it was two hours of TV unlike any I'd ever seen. Seriously, what other primetime show would bring you Carrie Underwood, Al Jarreau, the band Live, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, MEAT LOAF, Toni Braxton, Clay Aiken, Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick, and Prince - PRINCE?! And mix it in with a group of smiling teens and twentysomethings singing? Or perhaps more accurately, what other show would even think to do that, or want to? Yet there it was, the most popular program in America, throwing it all at us in bizarrely entertaining fashion! Even when it was bad - and oh, at times it surely was - it wasn't boring. But hey, I guess you can do whatever you want when you're on top.

The proceedings literally caused me to release blood-curdling screams twice (Note to my neighbors: No, really, everything's fine. I'm still alive), once when I saw Clay Aiken stroll on stage looking unrecognizably terrible, and the next time near the end, when, right after that trickster Seacrest informed us there would be no more special guests, Prince (?!?!?!?!?!) emerged from a fog of dry ice and performed two songs. Prince!!! On American Idol!!!! Ok, so he didn't sing "Purple Rain" or anything, but still, just the fact that he was there, randomly, well, I'm still trying to recover.

Also good: We got to enjoy all of the final 12 once more. (Ok, maybe I didn't quite "enjoy" Ace, even on this final, festive night, because he's so hopelessly lightweight. But still, he tried.) Yay, Mandisa! Paris! Chris! We got hilarious clip montages encapsulating each judge's personality - Paula breaking down and gesticulating as "So Emotional" played in the background, anyone? And, speaking of, apparently Finale Night's classy dress code led Paula to wear a tasteful white dress that actually covered her chest. Hurrah!

However, the night also gave us Seacrest handing out "The Golden Idols," "awards" that basically served as an excuse to show more of the season's worst of the worst - i.e., the overexposed-in-every-way Rhonetta (Charlotte's own!), the hyper-tan girl who screeched "Lady Marmalade," the crazy guy in the White Sox t-shirt who combined the Isley Brothers' "Shout" with XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel." In that regard, the whole awards thing was patently unnecessary, except perhaps as space-filler. After all, the crappy contestants already had their day - it's called "the whole first part of the season." And Seacrest? Not funny. Please, take your audition for awards-show host somewhere else. But even amid that there were unexpected bright spots: The "Golden Idols" provided another reason to spotlight Elliott's mom, Claudette; allowed "Crazy Dave Hoover" (who memorably, scarily leapt from the stage to the judges' table in the second round) to fling himself around the stage some more; and led to the previously hapless "Brokenote Cowboys" performing a surprisingly decent, tender-hearted version of "Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."

After that surreal moment was followed by, well, the even more surreal Prince performance, Kat and Taylor coming out to sing "I've Had the Time of My Life" seemed a relative return to sanity. They cracked me up singing to each other, and it looked like they amused each other, too, with Kat twirling and swirling around in a flowing silver dress even she seemed to think was a bit much - a dress that, crazily, matched Taylor's hair.

Then came the moment of truth, with Seacrest announcing that 63.4 million votes had been cast for the final - more than any president in history has received. Oh, good! Another reminder "American Idol" is making the world safe for democracy! (But hey, on the bright side, "Idol" isn't exactly all about "one man, one vote," and its vote total was still 58.6 million less than the total number cast in the last presidential election. Gotta grasp at straws when we can!) As Seacrest informed us Taylor had won, neither contestant looked terribly surprised, and both reacted graciously. Wait, was that David Hasselhoff in the audience? Oh, and here I was thinking the night couldn't get any weirder!

"What would you liked to say to your fans?" Seacrest asked Taylor, who hilariously, fittingly, exultantly replied "Sooooooul patroooool! Soul. Patrol!" Then, he once again belted out his "Idol" single, "Do I Make You Proud?" Seeing him up there, singing with such heart, shouting out "C'mon America! I'm living the American Dream!" in the middle of the song, as the gospel choir joined in and, later, fireworks rained onto the stage and confetti flew everywhere, it was hard not to get caught up - and easy to forget about all of the silliness that had led up to that point. As Taylor finished singing, his fellow contestants mobbed him to wish him well. What happens to them after this is anyone's guess, but here, at least, at Taylor's crowning moment, all was right with this very strange world of ours.

Contestant duets, ranked from first to worst:

The top five finalists each sang a duet with an established artists ... some better than others.

1) Chris Daughtry with his favorite band, '90s rockers Live: Maybe it's because he's so intense all the time, or maybe it's because he's that good, but Chris was the only person who didn't seem at least slightly ridiculous during his duet. He and Live lead singer Ed Kowalczyk stood next to each other like a couple of bald-headed, rock-singin' twins, their voices meshing admirably, with Kowalczyk hitting the high notes. (If Live's career hadn't peaked about a decade ago, I'd suggest they ask Chris to join the band.) Afterward Chris looked completely stoked, and the crowd applauded raucously, as if to send a not-too-cryptic message: We've missed you!

2) Elliott Yamin and Mary J. Blige doing U2's "One": In which an uplifting Elliott stands in for Bono, then hangs out off to the side bopping as Blige breaks it down, doing her passionate soul thing. Blige overpowerd Elliott as they sang together, but I suspect she'd have that effect on most anyone brave enough to duet with her. Still, quite nice.

3) Paris Bennett and Al Jarreau: Paris is so, so good, and she proves it once again with this. She even looks relatively normal tonight, or at least relatively normal for her, wearing what appears to be a, er, tweed bustier and matching capri pants.

Tied for last or, as we like to call it, "so preposterous it was hilarious" place: Katharine McPhee and Meat Loaf, "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," and Taylor Hicks and Toni Braxton, "In The Ghetto." Ridiculous, ridiculous, riiiiiiidiculous all around. Kat and Meat Loaf, both of whom are experienced in theatrical over-singing, looked like father and daughter belting out what's ostensibly a love song. A love song never intended as a duet. And Loaf's voice? Not quite what it used to be, it seemed. (Still, the choice of Meat Loaf as duet partner? Inspired!) And speaking of songs not intended as a duet, and people looking like father and daughter, Braxton looked entirely inappropriate strutting around to "In The Ghetto" wearing a short, skimpy white dress and heels, gyrating and being all seductive with Taylor. Ew! Poor taste! (I know, I used the words "seductive" and "Taylor" in the same sentence!)

Boys 1, Girls 0: Let's hear it for the boys, whose group performance rather wiped the floor with the girls'. They gave us "Takin' Care of Business," sang "Tobacco Road," with Tar Heels Chris and Bucky, appropriately, starting the whole thing off, and finished with a joyous "Don't Stop Thinkin' About Tomorrow." The girls sang well, too (how is it Kat can be so good and then, so...not?) but were stuck with a medley that attempted to include every pop hit with the word "woman" the title. Ok, we get it, these are empowered ladies, now give them more less predictable songs to sing.

I am quite possibly scarred for life: Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that I adore Clay Aiken. He's unquestionably my favorite "Idol" contestant of all time (although for somewhat different reasons, I think Kelly is the ideal and best winner), and whenever I see him onscreen or hear his wonderful voice, I can't help but grin. That said, could he have possibly looked more hideous last night? It was bad enough that the producers brought back the talent-free Clay wannabe from this year's early rounds, but then Clay himself strode onto the stage to surprise him, looking nearly unrecognizable with a dismal, Beatles-style haircut - and dark haircolor. I couldn't even believe it was him until he opened his mouth and started in on one of his standbys, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me." Meanwhile, FauxClay sang along feebly - that is, when his jaw wasn't hanging open - even after until the producers cut off his microphone. Seacrest then forcibly escorted him to a nearby stool, where he proceeded to freak out. Clay, dear, what ARE you doing? Didn't anyone ever tell you you're better than this? Fire your managers! It would have been one thing if they'd dressed him up to look like the guy that was trying to look like him, thus emphasizing the joke, and still another if he'd simply declined to take part in that and just wowed us with his singing. But this? This? Oh. My. God.

Live with Wolfgang and Kellie: Whoever thinks "Idol" is just about singing clearly didn't witness Kellie Pickler in action last night, as Wolfgang Puck sat her down at one of his restaurants for some lessons in pricey food. She's not a bad singer, but the hilarious Puck segments again made it clear her talents lie in her way with words. Kellie experiencing escargots...or, uh, hiding one in a napkin under her seat? Kellie trying on Puck's glasses ("Do I look smart? Maybe people will take me seriously?") Kellie instructing Puck on how to pronounce "Albemarle"? Priceless! Give that girl a talk show!

"Idol Thoughts," out! The season's end - what will we do with ourselves? - means it's curtains for me, too. But before I go, I wanted to thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate that you've taken the time to check it out, and I hope you've enjoyed what you've seen. I've had a blast sharing my musings about good ol' "Idol" with you, and it's been great hearing from folks throughout the show's run. So, thanks again! And who knows? If some interesting "Idol"-related events break - say, someone attempts to dye Taylor's hair - perhaps I shall return. :-)


Anonymous said...

Well, it's not actually 63 million people but 63 million votes. My adult friends may only vote once but I'm sure the tweens, teens, and twentysomethings vote multiple times.

Great show - thoroughly entertaining.

Anonymous said...

I thought the 2-hour show was amazingly entertaining. Way beyond my expectations, and in fact, probably the best TV I have seen all year.

American Idol has become the 'palace' of pop music and this show was flat out spectacular, with surprise superstars trotting out, Kellie cracking everyone up, Clay Aiken in a wacko hairdo. Wow!

The duets were great. However, I can now declare that Mary J. Blige is MY AMERICAN IDOL ... wooooo, what a voice. She drowned out Elliott and smashed him in charisma, too. However, Toni Braxton is just a pretty gal (she slept through her song) and Meatloaf was a beast next to the beauty Katharine.

It was mind-boggling good entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I have not been as big a fan of the show (and certainly not the winner) as many of your readers, but I think your blog has been fantastic - funny, chatty, and way better than any wit at the water cooler. I do think, too, that as TV goes, last night's show was continually surprising, fun, and entertaining to watch - the audacious mix of "talent" and "no talent" was endearing and lilting. That that much pro talent being on a show reminded me of the best of the variety shows I remember from my TV youth, back before attitude and videos and posing got in the way of a singer getting out before an audience and putting on a show. It was - eek, refreshing! - which, from a #1 show in its 5th season, says someone there knows what they are doing (well, other than in how they pick a winner LOL). Thanks again, Jen, for sharing the ride with us!

Anonymous said...

Hey there ... loved this blog. You pour it out every week. Today's was one of your best. Very funny, girl. As you said about Kellie, 'GIVE THIS GIRL A BLOG!'

Jus' Tressie said...

i didn't even intend to watch but then...there was MEATLOAF!!! and then there was Mary! and mandisa and paris and on and on.

it was awesome!

i was all done for the night when out of nowhere...PRINCE! Prince on AI is unbelievable. and he showed them how its done.

thought tobacco road was great. also thought they waaaay underutilized the girls. and the clay aiken bit cracked me up.

good, clean tv.

Anonymous said...

My wife asked me how in the world did they get someone like Dionne Warwick to come on the show. Fact is, what other venue in prime time TV does a performer have anymore? A singing judge on Law and Order? Perhaps some of Idols success has to do with America missing Ed Sullivan, or some of the classic variety shows of the past.

Jen Aronoff said...

Hey everyone, thanks for the great comments today! The finale sure hit the spot, eh? Indeed, I think the last commenter really got it right - one of the major reasons "American Idol" is so popular, I think, is because it's the closest thing we've got to the kind of TV that was widely popular years ago, that common, entertaining experience that can be enjoyed by all. It's not edgy. It's not hip. It's just a whole lot of fun. None of the sort-of similar talent and/or reality shows networks have trotted out since "Idol" debuted has that appeal - and not surprisingly, none have come close to replicating AI's success.

Anonymous said...

It was awesome. My wife and I, 50 and 62, have watched Idol for all 5 seasons. The show, talent and excitement has only gotten better.

One thing you failed to mention. Not one thing was said or even hinted in the advance promotions about the line up of guest appearances. Names like Jarrou, Warwick, Braxton, Prince, etc. etc... This combination could command a sizable audience at the drop of a hat. But apparently Idol opted not to leverage their appearances to build their viewership.... they obviously didn't need the extra push... in my mind, that proves Idol, as it is currently programmed, can be true to itself because it fills a huge entertainement void... all by itself.

Anonymous said...

Jen, Great blog. I really thought you captured the evening well. A cornucopia of postmodern delight! ;) (p.s. I saw the finale the same day as I screened The Da Vinci Code. Scheduling time with my therapist as soon as possible...)

Lisa K said...

I just want to congratulate Jen on a fantastic blog. You are hilarious! Hope to read more of your thoughts on the Observer site.

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