Idol Loves Idol
First, let me dispense with the formality of a postgame wrap-up.
Jordin Sparks won. Shocker. Of course, I was pulling for Blake, especially after that blazing beatboxing duet with Doug E. Fresh. But in the end, with the confetti all aswirl and the tears tumbling, I had to admit that the right contestant took the prize. There's no way Blake could have delivered that final money-shot moment like Jordin, with her big voice and big credulity. "This Is My Now" may be the second-worst song in music history—second only to "Wind Beneath My Wings," about which there's more below—but Jordin felt every last lyric. "I can't believe the love I see," she sang, and she meant it. As for what I see: I see many a Disney animated-feature theme song in Ms. Sparks' future. Mulan 3, here she comes. Meanwhile, Kathy, if you're right that a Jordin victory in May '07 augurs an Obama victory in November '08, I can definitely live with it.
The business of crowning the Idol champ took all of five minutes. The other two-plus hours were devoted to a "spectacular" the likes of which has not been seen since vaudeville's heyday, or at least since the heyday of Match Game and TheGong Show. Seriously, am I the only one who got a sickly '70s variety-show vibe off the "Golden Idol Awards," when the Idol producers paraded out their favorite mentally challenged grotesques for one last bit? (I kept waiting for Wayland Flowers & Madame to storm the stage.) OK, so American Idol is hardly highbrow fare, but Margaret Fowler's Beulah-meets-Big Bird minstrel routine was so crude—it just seemed beneath the dignity of an event that Ryan Seacrest called "the biggest show in the world."
The show kept furiously segueing from the execrable to the sublime and back again. The "Bush Baby" accepted his Golden Idol. Tony Bennett belted a glorious "For Once in My Life," with a stormily melodramatic Italian tenor-style coda. Sanjaya Malakar screeched out "You Really Got Me," joined by a stone-faced Joe Perry on guitar. Gladys Knight did "Midnight Train to Georgia," with excellent vocal accompaniment by Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones. The male Idol finalists, dressed all in white, sang some very slick harmony parts behind Smokey Robinson, who was classy as always, but disturbingly over-Botoxed. Green Day performed a slow-boiling version of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero"—a song that is sort of like "This Is My Now," except for the lines that go "Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/ And you think you're so clever and classless and free/ But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." The old Idols were trotted out. Kelly Clarkson was in typically great voice, but I hate that shouty new single. (Paging Stockholm: Someone get Max Martin in for a song-doctoring session.) Ruben Studdard was relaxed and virtuosic, dueting with Jordin on "You're All I Need to Get By." He looked natty in that pinstriped suit, too.
And then there were the car crashes. Bette Midler was horrendous, staggering through a tone-deaf "Wind Beneath My Wings." Someone give her a Golden Idol. (A friend text messaged: "Midler was like a housewife drunk on white-wine spritzers.") Then came the inexplicable tribute to Sgt. Pepper's by this year's Idol finalists and past Idol champs. Why Sgt. Pepper's, why now? Because the record came out 40 years ago? Or just because the world needed to hear Taylor Hicks mangle "A Day in the Life"? The moment when Hicks mimed shooting himself in the head while singing, "He blew his mind out in a car" gets my vote for the tackiest in Idol history.
But the night's worst performance was by music mogul Clive Davis, who oozed onstage to deliver a self-congratulatory speech on the state of the "Idol franchise." Davis concluded by presenting an award to Carrie Underwood for her 6-million-selling album. I'm fuzzy on just what the prize was—Idol of Idols? Artist of the Millennium?—or why, for that matter, he didn't give one to Clarkson, who has sold many millions more albums than Underwood. (This wouldn't have anything to do with the alleged Davis-Clarkson feud, now would it?) The whole thing was confusing: I had tuned in to learn the outcome of the Jordin-Blake showdown, so why was I listening to the victor of Idol Season 4 ticking industry schmucks off her "thank you" list in a droning acceptance speech?
The subtext of this weird spectacle, I think, is anxiety. Kathy, I'm sure you're right that, ratings-drop notwithstanding, Idol is doing just fine. But the music business is in horrible shape, and no amount of peacocking or awards-presenting is going to change that. The Idol graduates are being sent into a snakepit—Clive Davis has no clue how he or his pop-star charges are going to make their money five years hence. Jordin Sparks had better make sure her album has some ringtone-worthy hooks on it, is all I can say.
So, Kathy, what does an Idol scholar do from May to January, in the long, empty stretch between seasons? Do you, like, switch straight over to Indonesian Idol? Me, I'm looking forward to getting a bit of my life back. It'll be nice to see my 2-and-a-half year-old son again. I left the little whipper-snapper five months ago with a hundred bucks cash and some take-out menus—I'm curious to see how he's getting on. They grow up so fast! Any day now, I'll be packing him off to Idol Camp.
I want to thank you, Kathy, for talking Idol with me this week, and for your pinch-blogging during the season. And I want to thank all the regular readers and "Fray"-posters for following along these last months. I'll see you all at the big Phil Stacey record-release party. Until then, I remain …
In it to win it,
Jody Rosen is Slate's music critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.