Idol Loves Idol

Sweater Vests and Presidential Candidates
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
May 23 2007 2:29 PM

Idol Loves Idol

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Jordin Sparks. Click image to expand.
American Idol finalist Jordin Sparks

Dear Jody,

I was also disappointed by Paula's nose, which I'd pictured as a dramatic Marcia Brady-like catastrophe. Well, hearing the angelic Ryan utter the word bitch did a lot to make up for the letdown.

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OK, so maybe Melinda's elimination last week was not America's best decision. But we have to talk about the grievous mistake it made in choosing "This Is My Now" as the winner's first single. Seriously, it took two people to write that song? The lyrics were standard fluffy Idol fare, not too removed from the mash-up model you put together in February, and actually far less irritating than the words to "Inside Your Heaven" or "Do I Make You Proud?" But as for the music, Blake's superbusy sweater vest (and did you check out his awesome matching shoes?) provided absolutely the only motion. He tried to liven things up with some misplaced dance moves and what I think was his firstmelisma ever, but it wasn't enough. Both Blake and Jordin sounded unsure and under-rehearsed, and I'm pretty sure Jordin was the only person in the world stirred to tears by the song—smart move, though. When she got choked up in the chorus, I wrote in my notes, "Jordin just won."

I actually had a somewhat violent reaction to "This Is My Now"—I felt massively disoriented while Blake was singing it, as if we had all been dropped into a Magritte painting where we were looking at, say,  a chair, but it had been labeled "le pop song." And the same thing can be said about that "it's a singing competition" spiel. Like " Ceci n'est pas une pipe," that line isn't convincing anyone. Just intoning "singing competition" over and over doesn't make the words match up with what we see. Remember what Peter Noone said.

Aside from the double shakiness of "This Is My Now," I thought both Blake and Jordin did very well, though I agree that Jordin's nerves or exhaustion or something held her "vocal voice" back a little. "Fighter" wasn't the Xtina song I would have picked for her, and it was a bit forced. But "A Broken Wing" was lovely. When Randy called it "better than the original," do you think he meant Jordin's first performance of the song in April, or Martina McBride's 1997 recording? Because if he meant the Evolution track, rude! Martina was just a guest coach on the show in April! "She Will Be Loved" was a good choice for Blake, nicely in tune with the Maroon 5 saturation happening on TV, and I once again loved his energy in "You Give Love a Bad Name." So, Jordin sang, Blake performed, and in a few hours we'll know.

Regardless of who wins, something very significant will happen tonight: For the first time in the show's history, the American Idol will not be Southern. (Blake is from Bothell, Wash., and Jordin is from Glendale, Ariz.) The South has always been a familiar, romantic ideal on Idol: a too-small place from which wholesome church-grown talents must move on to Hollywood to develop their dreams. And I don't think it's a coincidence that America has until now preferred both its Idols and its recent presidents with ties to the South, the direction we often turn to look for our national identity. On American Idol, we've seen Southern rock, Southern country singers, Southern accents, and Southern religion, and we've learned who we are. I'll admit that it might be reading a bit much into Idol matters (that's like my whole career, though), but this week I've been fantasizing about how the Season 6 lack-of-the-South upset might relate to the newly real potential of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. Like our Top 2, he's not Southern; like Jordin, his family background is multiracial; and I think that if he were an American Idol contestant, he would probably wear sweater vests. Maybe the rise of Blake and Jordin is connected to the recent barometric shift in our political climate, away from the status quo and toward something, like Blake's beatboxing, more "contemporary." Or maybe it's just a singing competition after all.

Hopefully,
Kathy

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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