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Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
March 12 2010 11:02 AM

American Idol This Week

Why the show should stop mocking Broadway.

Crystal Bowersox.
Crystal Bowersox

Great music, it's said, can stop time. But our Idol time barreled forward headlong without a breath this week, with Ryan practically auctioneering his way through 16 90-second performances (OK, some of them did feel like 90 hours) so that Fox could continue flogging Human Target and reminding us that Glee still exists.

America made some messy choices in the rush, but that's not so surprising. Ryan had his hands full on Tuesday and Wednesday, trying and failing to make the exceptionally distractible judges focus for the entire duration of a song. They were all over the place with their comments and feelings and selves—even Simon worried that their advice had become confusing. Randy's attention wandered; maybe he was worried that Andrew was Single White Female-ing him with his sweater combos, or maybe, as per Simon's instructions to Alex, he was imagining himself in a bikini. Mike Lynche's "This Woman's Work" plunged Kara into an abyss of guilt over her nonmotherhood or something (her tearful "as a woman who doesn't have a child, I can relate to it so much" was honestly a bit heartbreaking), and Ellen couldn't even manage to stay in her seat after Tim Urban's pretty but in no way Buckley "Hallelujah." To be fair, that song is haunted, and Buckley's specter could never be exorcised in such a tiny pocket of time. Small wonder that Simon and Kara didn't find their elusive breakout "Moment" (Like This?) there, or in Didi's, Lee's, or even Siobhan's singing. You need more than a minute to have a Moment.

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Then, as if to counteract the performance-night haste, Thursday's big revelation made everything feel very hurry-up-and-wait, taking as long to let four contestants go as it had for twice that many to sing and hear the panel's responses. And as we waited for the results show to have actual results, we had to sit through an ill-timed–if-entertaining duet from Matt Giraud and Scott McIntyre, just because it was cut from last season's finale. Not even Giraud's energy, or the bouncy, group Bublé number, could make the show feel less like a lengthy, painful breakup. "It's over," America said to Alex, Lilly, Todrick, and Katelyn. "But," they sobbed—well, Lilly is too indie to cry, so she just shrugged—"I don't understand! I thought you loved me." (And then, like breakup sex—closure for some, prolonged awkwardness for others—there were the farewell performances.) I guess all I can say, echoing the deep wisdom/huge emotional cop out my college boyfriend learned from Patti Smyth and Don Henley, is, "Sometimes love just ain't enough."

The four we dumped all had potential and an enthusiastic fan base, but they might have suffered from a sort of Idol split vote syndrome, where crossover values and shared demographics become a disadvantage. Lilly and Crystal possibly divided the Lilith Fair vote (hey, Kelly Clarkson is slated to perform on the 2010 tour!), while Alex and Aaron were likely a tough choice for the tween set, as were Katie and the too-similarly named Katelyn. (Did anyone else have "Jack 2000" flashbacks when she sang "I Feel the Earth Move?") If there had been only Lilly, only Alex, and only Katelyn, I think each would have had a lock on his or her particular market. Also, Aaron chose a song with 9/11 associations, and it's still too soon for that not to matter. As for Todrick, his quirky new takes on old material were in competition with Andrew's, and Andrew had gotten there first.

Todrick was an early favorite of mine, and on his behalf, I have to take issue with Simon's use of "Broadway" as an epithet for his Wednesday performance. It's old news that Broadway isAmerican Idol these days, dominated by the show'spast cast members and, maybe most importantly, by its (at least former) preference for gospel vocality. And Broadway is still the young performer's quintessential dream—which Todrick knows, even if the mechanics of it got away from him—it's making a living singing, and that doesn't sound like failure to me. Maybe Idol should just accept this side effect of its pop efforts and work out a way to award a theatrical contract as an additional prize. Broadway helps to keep the show in the news, and there's money in it; I mean, Godspell makes me, like Kara, consider laughing, but even it had a song that charted. I suppose if musical theater is now off-limits, Idol will not be reinstating the Broadway night it dropped last year.

Instead, our first Top 12 theme will be the music of the Rolling Stones! A number of things are exciting about this. I am, for example, expecting certain contestants to rock our Sox with their electric axe chops, and I know that Crystal will, because her Facebook/Twitter/MySpace status on Tuesday—while everyone else's was all, "Watch, pray, vote"—declared, "All of my knobs go to eleven. Bloody Rock n' Roll!" While I kind of unrealistically want to hear "Sympathy for the Devil," I'm sure we can take it as a given that someone will, a la Susan Boyle, sing "Wild Horses," and that someone will go Gina Glocksen with "Paint It Black." It's usually a questionable decision to make a guitar band the premise for a singing competition, but this time I think, in a season with some genuine musicians, it might be viable.

So while the Top 12 are fighting over the Guitar Hero controls, we'll try our best to recover from the shock of the voting results, or at any rate use the interval to compose our perennial angry forum posts, Facebook updates, and letters to Fox accusing Idol producers of rigging the process. Maybe before the Internet implodes from the injustice of it all, we'd do well to remember—as I'm sure we'll be reminded on Tuesday—that you can't always get what you want. But now, at least, with cohesive themes and a more reasonable number of contestants to manage, time is on our side.

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Katherine Meizel is the author of Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol and a visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin Conservatory.

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