Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"American Idol" S7 Finale: The Battle of the Davids

The title of this post should be "What the BLEEP do I know?"

So much for thinking I'd finally figured out the "Idol" agenda this year. Simon's abrupt about-face on David Cook has forced me back to the conclusion that after all, the show's Powers That Be still want Archuleta to win. Or do they? Interestingly, Randy "molten hot phonebook" Jackson was much more even-handed between the Davids this week than he has been lately - except at the very end, where he all but crowned Archie Idol - and Paula, of course, gave both Davids equal love. It was essentially Simon who declared Archie the runaway (or "knockout") winner. Why?

(Aside: I hope the show never, ever again does a boxing motif for its finale. That was just...beyond cheesy. Though it did give me a laugh to hear Archuleta announced as "100 lbs soaking wet," and then see him practically swimming in that blue robe. But I was more embarrassed for Cook, even though he made a more credible boxer than David A.)

I have three different theories for Simon's 180, and I can't decide which is the most likely:

1. He was told by the higher-ups to pull back on praise for Cook and prop up Archie - either to make a victory by Archie seem more valid, or to throw off those who have been complaining the show has been rigged for Cook.

2. He was, of his own volition, deliberately messing with us viewers - either to generate uncertainty about the outcome, or to motivate Cook's supporters to vote like crazy. (And if Dial Idol is at all accurate, he may have accomplished the latter.)

3. He was being honest, and was genuinely disappointed by Cook's performance.

Whichever it is, he certainly didn't seem happy about the role he had to play. He looked quite glum by the show's end. (though his expression was nothing to Cook's, which hurt my heart.) Ultimately, we can only hope that the voters didn't play "Simon says" but trusted their own instincts (and that their votes actually count). Because, contrary to Simon's verdict, there was no knockout. This contest came down, or should have come down, to subjective preferences regarding the type of vocal artist each individual voter would rather listen to - not some clear differential in ability. They both brought it tonight, and they both deserved to be there.

That said, I couldn't help thinking that tonight's show really encapsulated, over the course of the three songs, the respective arcs of the two Davids throughout this season. Every time someone referred to them as two "men," or when Paula chirped "May the best man win," my first reflexive thought was, "There's only one man left standing in this competition, and it isn't Archuleta." I mean no insult: Archie is a sweet, adorable boy and an undeniably talented singer gifted with a golden voice. He started out that way, and he finished that way, and to be fair, he finished at the top of his game. But something much more important happened with the other David over the last three months: As a performer, as a musician, he matured into a man. And this was in full evidence tonight. He seemed less concerned with winning than showing the audience the kind of artist he had become - and, in my book, he succeeded.


ROUND 1: Clive's Choice (Clive Davis's exact position in the "Idol" hierarchy has always been fuzzy to me, but my understanding is he's a bigwig at Sony/BMG who previously had a lead role in producing the "Idol" winners' albums)

DAVID C: U2, "Still Haven't Found What I"m Looking For"

This is my favorite song off The Joshua Tree, and I am unfortunately in the camp that believes only U2 can & should do U2 songs. DC's performance was perfectly respectable, serviceable, workmanlike...and didn't really do anything for me. Perhaps there was no way it could, but he also seemed to be holding back in some way instead of fully embracing the song's greatness. Your mileage may vary.

DAVID A: Elton John, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me"

Very good, though I don't know if this was, per judges, his best performance. Lots of energy, solid vocals, and a looser and more animated demeanor than Cook. I'll go with Simon on this: round 1 to Archuleta.

ROUND 2: Dreary Drivelly Dreck, aka songwriting contest winner...sort of. This year the contestants got to choose their songs from the top 10. I still think they need to get rid of this awful, awful institution.

DAVID C: "Dream Big" (with electric guitar)

Rocked out on the guitar, complete with raspy vocals. Amazingly, I sorta, kinda, almost liked this. He made it move. Simon was overly harsh, Randy actually fair. Have the stars realigned?

DAVID A: "In This Moment"

Pure treacle. My attention drifted less than halfway through - not a good sign. I guess it was a better showcase for Archie's vocal gymnastics, but a better song?! Hell's no. I don't know what Simon's been smoking - for my money, round 2 goes to Cook; he actually kept me awake and not wanting to skip this portion of the competition.

ROUND 3: Contestants' Choice

DAVID C: Collective Soul, "The World I Know" (with acoustic guitar)

Wow...just wow. This is a man singing. Subtle, understated, yet beautifully emotive and poignant. Of course, as such, not a "winner" for Simon. Whatever, Simon. This was the perfect note for DC to end on: not rocking, not glory noting, but simply reflecting on the vagaries of life with the hard-earned wisdom of someone who's been through more than most his age have experienced. The ending, in particular, was exquisite. Maybe I'm biased because the song rings all my '90s nostalgia bells, but let's put it this way: I liked the song when Collective Soul did it; David Cook made me love it. I think I might have a new favorite Cook performance, and I'm glad it was his last one in the competition. It proved his mettle as an artist.

DAVID A: John Lennon, "Imagine"

Through the first mellifluous phrase or two, I caught myself thinking, "Shit, Archie's going to win this." But then the song went on, and he loaded on the melisma and threw in waaaaaaay more runs than I remembered from the first time he performed it, and I got annoyed. After the delicacy of Cook's stripped-down interpretation of Collective Soul, all of Archie's embellishments on Lennon just seemed...vulgar. While I can understand why the casual viewer might be seduced by the sheer beauty of his voice into agreeing with Simon's declaration of KO, I'll have to respectfully disagree...and hope that I'm not in the minority.

Tomorrow night's results will be a real nail-biter, which I'm beginning to think was the true intention behind all the perplexing pimping and depimping of each David. I doubt tonight will have changed the minds of any fans of either David, so the outcome may in fact turn on the uncommitted and the viewers who just tuned in for the finale. I fear that David A's charms, bolstered by Simon's praise, may be more immediately accessible to the latter. But, to quote David C's last song, "hope still lingers on."


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