Idol Loves Idol

How Mawkish Were Those Dedications?
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
March 2 2007 5:22 PM

Idol Loves Idol

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I'd like to dedicate this blog entry to my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. He's always been there for me, he's always supported me. He's just the most incredible, kind-hearted, special person in the world. OK, we've never actually met. I think he died in the 18th century. I hear he was a real cut-up, the class clown at his beit midrash in Krakow. Everybody loved him. I love him. Oh my god, I think I'm going to cry … I told myself I wasn't going to do this! It's just that he always told me to follow my dreams and believe in my talent—I wouldn't have gotten this far without him!

The American Idol hopefuls were asked to dedicate their performances this week. In videotaped segments, contestants related tales of loving and generous spouses, boyfriends, siblings, parents, and grandparents, several of whom, we were led to understand, are following the Idol competition from heaven, where they presumably tune in to Fox on a totally sweet hi-def flat-screen. Needless to say, tears flowed. Jordin Sparks wept in her pretaped dedication to her brother ("I love him so much … I'm so glad he was there to support me") and barely made it through her performance of Christina Aguilera's "Reflection" without turning the stage into a wading pool of salty tears. Sundance Head got all choked up talking about his newborn son—but then, Sundance spent most of this week's broadcasts blubbering. Amazingly, no one dedicated a song to Jesus, but Phil Stacey did pay tribute to his naval command ("There's a lot of amazing people that are serving our country … that have dedicated their lives to making this country a safer place"), a move which more or less guaranteed his safe passage into the final 16. Brandon Rogers tried a kind of double heartstring tug, blaming his lackluster performance of "Time After Time" (dedicated to his late grandmother) on the fact that he was "trying to feel the song … put my heart into the song," and then invoking the birthday of his father, who was seated in the studio audience. This prompted a classic Simon Cowell rejoinder. "By the way, it's my mum's birthday in November," said Cowell, oozing acid. "And I like puppies."

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Thank god for Melinda Doolittle, who dispensed with the sentimentality, dedicating her song to her vocal coach and her stylist. Finally, a contestant who's talking like a star! Sure enough, Doolittle gave the best performance of anyone in the round of 20: a ridiculously virtuosic reading of "My Funny Valentine," navigating the song's dramatic harmonic surges with exquisite phrasing and a bold, bright vocal tone. In terms of chops, Doolittle is absurdly far ahead of the competition. Will she win Idol? Perhaps, but it doesn't really matter. She seems destined to be a star no matter what. One word of advice: Melinda, stop pretending to be shocked when the judges tell you you're great. Somehow, you've got Simon fooled—"What I like about you is you don't know how good you are"—but no one else is buying it. You compared yourself to Oprah Winfrey in the dedication segment, for crying out loud! You're a diva, honey, and you've got the voice for the job. So stop fronting.

There were a few other standout performances. As usual, I loved my boy Blake Lewis, despite his choice of "Virtual Insanity" by the execrable Jamiroquai. The judges went nuts for the other white R&B dude, hunky Chris Richardson. I liked his performance OK, but he's a far less nimble singer than Blake, and I'm getting tired of his one little herky-jerky dance move, accented by stabbing hip-hop hand gestures. (Richardson clearly wants to be Justin Timberlake, but it's Blake who's got the fluid, Timberlake-esque dance-floor style.) Chris Sligh sang decently. Jared Cotter did a passable "Let's Get It On," highlighted by a kind of spirit-fingers face-covering move. Over on the girls' side, Stephanie Edwards continues to impress—she's looking like Melinda's only serious competition. And, of course, there were miscarriages of justice. Sanjaya Malakar should, by rights, be long gone; instead, we lost poor AJ Tabaldo, one of the stronger male singers. Leslie Hunt was also kicked off. Hunt was never really a contender, but she's definitely better than Antonella Barba, whose inevitable career as a Stuff magazine cover girl has been forestalled by at least another week. Is Vote for the Worst to blame for these calamities?

But enough about the music. Let us turn to the vastly more important issue of depilation. I felt bad when nice guy Nick Pedro was sent home, especially because he set a new Idol standard for Art Deco eyebrow styling, with brows that taper to severe, saberlike tips. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Sundance Head, whose chest hair keeps spilling out of his shirt in great, billowing tufts, spreading across the Idol stage like kudzu, threatening to strangle Ryan Seacrest. Sure, it's refreshing, in an age of rampant waxing, to see a real man, boldly unplucked. But c'mon, there are limits. Some of us eat dinner while watching Idol—isn't there someone who can attack that overgrowth with a pair of pruning shears?

Alas, looks aren't everything, even on American Idol. I'll confess I had a small crush on pretty Alaina Alexander, but her incessant cry-baby antics, and let's face it, god-awful singing, totally snuffed out the flame. When she was rightly voted off on Thursday night, she couldn't even bring herself to do her valedictory number. The Idol convention of having the dismissed contestants sing one more time right after getting the bad news seems cruel, but it's great television and is probably good therapy for the rejects—a last moment in the spotlight, a shot at transcendence and redemption. So, it was just lame when Alexander gave up and sobbed in the arms of her fellow contestants. Buck up, girl! A far more dignified farewell came from Leslie Hunt, who Simon had roasted for her bad scat singing in Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." "Why did I decide to scat?" she sang, as the credits rolled. "America don't care for jazz!"

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.

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