Idol Loves Idol

It's Not Really a Singing Competition
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
May 23 2007 11:33 AM

Idol Loves Idol

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Kathy,

The first disappointment of the evening was Paula Abdul's nose. I'd read the press accounts of her Chihuahua mishap and tuned-in expecting to find her half-hidden behind a protective face mask, like Richard Hamilton or Jason. But Paula looked just fine; the only hint of the surreal at the judges table was Randy Jackson's garish marching-band conductor's jacket, from which we may infer that he is angling for a bass gig on Michael Jackson's comeback tour. For me, the whole show was plodding and pedestrian—it didn't have, as Simon would put it, that wow factor. The audience was subdued. No one made David Hasselhoff cry. And, by the way: Where were the celebs? If the best you can do is Kathy Griffin, it's probably wise to skip the audience reaction shots altogether. Simon Fuller may want to send a bus over to Promises to collect some A-listers for tonight's "results show spectacular."

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But I digress. American Idol, after all, is a singing competition. It's a singing competition. A singing competition. And as Paula pointed out, Jordin Sparks was in "great, great vocal voice." Actually, I didn't think Jordin was that hot: She shrieked a bit in her rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and sounded wobbly and flat at times during the Idol songwriting contest-winning ballad. But she did well on that Martina McBride song (a savvy choice—hello, country music fans) and hit the big, showy glory notes that send the judges into raptures.

As for Blake: I give him a solid B+—but then, I'm emotionally invested. I liked the "You Give Love a Bad Name" reprise, although I was less awed by his manic one-handed mic-stand-polka than the judges. For sure, the beatboxing was on point. (Randy, ever the muso, praised the "triplets" in Blake's vocal drum solo.) And I really liked Blake's croony-swoony version of Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved." By my lights, it was the best vocal performance of the evening: smooth and subtle and assured, with Blake hitting the falsetto notes spot-on. The judges are always yammering about how "contemporary" Blake is, but I get a pleasantly old-fashioned feeling from his ballads, with Blake all kicked back in the V-neck sweaters, looking like he's just sauntered off the 18th green. (I think we can all agree that Blake has done more for argyle than anyone since Archibald Campbell.)

Of course, that easeful insouciance is exactly the wrong vibe for an "inspirational" ballad like "This Is My Now," and Blake frankly looked lost singing it, flailing his arms and turning pirouettes in a hapless attempt to breathe a little life into the thing. As forecast, Jordin was right in her element on "This Is My Now," even managing to squeeze out a few tears over the final bars. Kitsch longa, ars brevis.

By the end of the night, it seemed clear that Jordin had won. Randy called the contest for her outright. Somewhere in Brooklyn, a music critic wandered dazed and bereft through darkened apartment corridors, tripped over a Chihuahua, and curled himself into the fetal position, weeping like Jordin Sparks. This was definitely not my now. Simon did leave the door open a crack, saying that Blake had delivered the night's best performance. But Jordin, he hastened to add, had "wiped the floor with Blake" vocally. And, lest we forget, this is a singing competition.

But is it, Kathy, is it? I'm not sure that Melinda Doolittle would agree. And is the pop-music business a singing competition, for that matter? Occasionally, yes, but not always or even often. The point is, I just can't see Jordin Sparks making an interesting record. I think she'll be the biggest dud of an Idol champ yet—a bigger dud than Ruben Studdard or Taylor Hicks. She's boring, and that's the deadliest of all pop music sins, far worse than imperfect pitch, or tacky, frosted hair, or fugly sweater vests.

So … one sits and one waits. By 10 tonight, we will have our American Idol. And then, at last, the world can turn its attention to more high-minded things. Like the new Sanjaya Malakar reality show.

Nervously,
Jody

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.