After all this talk of shocking eliminations from "American Idol's" final four - where, as conventional wisdom puts it, contestants who seemed a sure bet for the top two were unceremoniously, outrageously dismissed before their time - perhaps we should also consider the now-equal number of Final Four Non-Shockers.
I'm talking about the contestants who may have had a good run, perhaps even a better-than-expected run, but whose time it nonetheless was to go. For every Tamyra Gray (Season One), you have a Josh Gracin (Season Two); for every LaToya London (Season Three), you have an Anthony Fedorov (Season Four, and yeah, I totally had to look up the fact he'd finished fourth that year). After Wednesday's elimination show, you can also say that for every Chris Daughtry (Season Five), there's a LaKisha Jones. Which is not meant to take away anything from Kiki's Season Six run. Rather, it fits the pattern, and sure enough, it was her time to go, as plenty of us were able to predict. In a way, the predictable result was totally fitting, given the abysmal performance show it followed.
Ever humble and self-effacing (with, I think, more personality than she let on), LaKisha was totally prepared to leave, too, even fessing up during some Ryan Seacrest questioning that she'd been giving herself a bit of a pep talk during the break, hoping that she wouldn't forget the words to "Stayin' Alive," her "sing us out!" tune, and wouldn't cry. Ultimately, she batted .500, because the tears definitely began flowing the minute she learned she was headed home. As the clip of "her journey" played, I realized I'd forgotten just how ferocious her semi-finals performance of "I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" was, as if she was singing for her life. Though she also had some decent nights in the finals, nothing afterward compared. Though that in and of itself didn't spell the end for her, it was nonetheless a bit of a letdown to see her falter as the season wore on, picking lackluster songs and delivering some performances that were just kind of off, in spite of her tremendous voice. Nonetheless, the bank teller and single mother went out with dignity and a deserved sense of accomplishment. "You should be very proud of yourself," Seacrest said, without sarcasm, and he was absolutely right.
LaKisha's departure leaves us with what's probably most appropriate top three the show could have expected this year, not to mention a trio any avid "Idol"-watcher could have called weeks ago: Melinda, Jordin and Blake. Mind you, if contestants could be ejected for crimes of fashion, not just singing, we would now have just a top two, because the hideous tuxedo T-shirt Blake sported Wednesday would have gotten him bounced in record time. Not even cool in an ironic way, the grayish tee looked even more out of place amid the presentably-dressed ladies, further emphasizing the contrast between Blake, the remaining guy, and everyone else.
The "one of these things is not like the other" effect proved even more hilarious during the contestants' mostly-dead-on-arrival Barry Gibb medley, as they attempted to make their way through smooth '70s chestnuts such as "Emotion," then picked up the energy level toward the end. "The Lewis Sisters, ladies and gentlemen," Seacrest said afterward, presumably likening the Final Four to a '40s singing group of sorts. Despite the group performance's lack of a pulse, it was nice to hear Gibb's hard-to-sing tunes delivered with harmony. And the medley also delivered another lesson: Blake singing lead vocals is a non-starter. The guy obviously possesses musical ability, but his range is limited; in a way, it's to his credit he's made it as far as he has, particularly given AI's tendency to favor big belters. But at the same time, I'm not sure what it says about the show as a "singing competition" if he moves on.
Even with the flat medley and (argh!) yet another Seacrest foray into man-on-the-street territory, though, Wednesday's results show largely redeemed itself by finally, finally giving us some insight into the contestants' backgrounds. This, dear friends, is what "Idol" cheese is all about, and we've been deprived this year! Why, why has it taken us so long to get to this point? (Now, I'm hoping the show will continue to make up for it when the remaining contestants head home next week.) Anyway, the whole sort of "childhood nostalgia montage" provided plenty o' revealing nuggets, such as: LaKisha, Melinda and Blake are all only children. Younger Melinda favored a Minnie Mouse-type "afropuff" hairdo. Younger Jordin totally did look the same as she does now, just smaller.
Appearances weren't the only things that have remained constant: "I was one to never ruffle feathers," Melinda said in a statement sure to qualify for least shocking of the entire season. And, really, has anything all year summed up Blake better than his admission that he got kicked out of his choir class for being too rowdy? Paula can call him a rebel all she wants, but he's also the dude who would have been in choir class in the first place.
Dump that salt right in the wound, Seacrest: "Picture the eyes of the country watching your every move. Consider singing live for over 30 million people. Imagine being cut after getting this close. It's happening to someone tonight," the host intoned, introducing the show (as Blake smiled in an oh-so-nervous/fake way). Oh, Seacrest, your kindness and penchant for melodrama both know no bounds.
Modesty in action...from Simon? "It's not just about me," Simon said after Seacrest bizarrely complimented him for being brilliant the previous evening (and said something like "I really enjoyed watching you"). "These two little people have a little role as well," he continued, extending his arms toward Randy and Paula. Um, that aside, how was Simon any different Tuesday than in previous, oh, years? Seacrest, what gives!
Speaking of: Seacrest was in sardonic top (or lame, depending on how you feel about him) form Wednesday, dropping one-liners left and right. "Sanjaya, live on stage," he said after running a promo for the upcoming Idols Live tour. "Lock up your daughters."
Meanwhile, back at Seacrest's Wacky Farmers' Market: "Ah, you can tell we have an hour to fill tonight," Seacrest observed after another trip to Man-on-the-Street Land, albeit that same street that always seems to have no one on it on a Wednesday morning. (Seacrest, seriously, you're in the second-largest city in the country - I know it's L.A., where people love their cars, but surely there must be a more, uh, populated venue for your banter.) He's padded the show with the segment so many times, it might actually - unfortunately - qualify for inclusion in the "Results Show Staple" category by season's end. That said, Seacrest's "Oh gosh, can't you see how hard I'm trying at this!" exchanges did yield a few gems, such as:
- Seacrest, to woman on street, in an "um, this could be misinterpreted" question: "How deep is your love?" Woman: "It's very deep. It's very deep for 'American Idol.' "
- Seacrest, to women on the street: "These kids have come from small towns and next thing you know, they're famous and they're household names and now they've met Bono and Barry Gibb..."
- Seacrest, to a woman with long, blonde hair: "You kind of have a Blake look." Woman, staring at him with extreme skepticism, clearly aware that Blake has short, dark hair: "No." Seacrest: "You know, the, uh, the hair."
Was it just me, or... Was the Final Four's version of "You Really Got Me" (in this week's commercial) blander than the one Sanjaya unleashed earlier this season?
Maybe you just need to eat better? "Blake makes my knees shake," read one sign in the audience Wednesday.
Yeah, that'd make anyone nervous...especially that last part: After Seacrest suggested she seemed a little nervous the night before, LaKisha launched into a detailed explanation with a wry kick at the end. "I had a lotta things that happened earlier in the day, and I didn't have on what I was supposed to have on, and the key change, and I was thinking and overanalyzing everything and, I dunno, hoping that Simon would kiss me again," she said. "His girlfriend's in the audience tonight, so let's be careful," Seacrest responded.
Modesty not exactly in action here (although admittedly, she can sure sing): "I didn't get my singing talent from anybody in my family," Jordin said with a bit of awe. "It's just a gift."
The set-up, the pitch...and now, for more insightful commentary from Randy "Broken Record" Jackson: "Randy, I'm gonna put you on the spot," Seacrest said as Blake and LaKisha stood center stage, waiting to learn their fate. "How do you think this is gonna go?" Ever afraid of, oh, directly answering a question, Randy dithered. As usual. "God, I dunno, it was a tough night for both of them last night. I dunno, man, I don't know, Ry, I dunno, dude."
And yet he and Paula will criticize this: I guess Paula and Randy banding together to "criticize" Simon has, by this point, become just some kind innate, unthinking reflex...because how else can you explain how they took issue with his decision to guess who'd be going home? I mean, the votes had already been tallied; it's not like it'd sway the outcome anyway, nor is it really all that mean, so what's so wrong with having an actual opinion? "One of 'em's got to go," Simon noted. "There's only two people up there." (For the record, he correctly predicted LaKisha would exit.)
Next week: Who'll make it to the final night? It's pretty unclear, except that Jordin will probably be there unless she completely self-destructs next week, on a night when, thankfully, the contestants won't be hemmed in by a majorly constricting theme. Blake will likely still benefit from being the lone male finalist, but can he survive another week as truly awful as this one? Can he overcome his limited vocal range and prove he's not out of his depth? Can he sell Clive Davis on beatboxing? And Melinda presents the biggest dilemma of all. On a superficial level, that seems ridiculous; she's been wowing people with her vocal prowess all season long, and general sentiment has long pegged her as a sure bet for the finals. But her inability to really connect on a larger level has left her in a strange spot. It's easy to say she should have recognized her problem earlier, but on a weird level, it's kind of the judges' fault, too, because they could have begun tempering their praise of her with cautionary words weeks ago, but didn't until now. "Well, it was kind of a wake-up call for me," she told Seacrest Wednesday, "because my goal coming into this was to be consistent in the midst of all the different genres. But I realized last night that I have to bring more to it, so, I mean, I hope I get the chance to." Well, she's getting the chance, but she's been getting the chance all season, too, and hasn't ramped it up yet...so will she do so at the last minute? I know I'll be watching to find out...