Idol Loves Idol

What Simon Learned From Imus
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
April 20 2007 12:14 PM

Idol Loves Idol

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Sanjaya Malakar. Click image to expand.
Sanjaya Malakar

Well, now what? Trickster-genius Sanjaya Malakar was finally voted off American Idol, ending a run that began inconspicuously, gathered steam when Antonella Barba was sent back to Jersey, and evolved into a festival of musical camp and fashion-forward hairstyling. Sanjaya played his role with such cheery, pitch-perfect irony, it was easy to forget that he was just a teenager, and a sensitive one at that. But when the results were announced Wednesday night, he collapsed sobbing into the arms of LaKisha. Reader, I cried with him. OK, I didn't—his performance of "Something To Talk About" really was a karaoke nightmare. But I did feel sorry for him, and I'm still mourning Idol's loss. The truth is, the show really needed Sanjaya—in a flat, monochrome season he was a splash of lurid magenta and orange. It'll be boring around here without him.

Simon will definitely be happy, though. He spent a good portion of the results broadcast licking his chops, sensing Sanjaya was about to get the ax. Of course, Simon's giddiness might also have been relief. The first minutes of Wednesday's program were devoted to defending Cowell against charges that he had rolled his eyes the previous evening during Chris Richardson's tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. In fact, Simon had been yammering irritably to Paula about Richardson's nasal singing style—a totally legitimate complaint, by the way. In any case, Idol assembled video evidence, which was displayed in a split-screen montage, to prove that while Simon "might not be the nicest guy," he's not, you know, a hateful sociopath indifferent to the fate of slaughtered American college students. It was an extraordinary moment, TV's first major post-Imus rapid-response incident: You could sense that Cowell and the Idol producers feared a huge snowballing backlash if the rumors were allowed to fester unanswered on the Internet for another news cycle.

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As for Tuesday's country-night performances, it was more of the same: ho hum. Melinda sang well (shocker). So did Jordin (ditto). Chris Richardson was shrill and nasally. The judges loved Phil Stacey, but I find myself cowering under the sofa pillows whenever he appears on screen. He must be stopped. We learned LaKisha is not the next Carrie Underwood. As for Blake Lewis singing Tim McGraw: Is there anyone on earth less like Tim McGraw than Blake Lewis? A big, rugged guy like McGraw can pull off soppy songs like "When the Stars Go Blue"; his sheer physical presence serves as a counterweight to the song's sentimentality. Little blond Blake in his little argyle Ben Sherman sweaters ain't quite cowboy, and he turned the song into yet another Anglophile emo ballad, a style that's paying diminishing returns for the greater Seattle metroplex's finest white beatboxer. He was in the bottom three this week, and he deserved it. Someone get that kid another Jamiroquai song, STAT.

With Sanjaya gone, our attention must turn to the dispiriting question of who is going to win this year's American Idol. I picked Blake way back when, but now I rate him a long shot. Phil, praise God, should go home next week. LaKisha, the week after. Chris Richardson will get sent packing in the Final Four round, freeing him up to begin dating Nicky, Lindsey, Hillary, et al., not necessarily in that order. Top Three week will be Blake's swan song. Which will leave us with a final of Jordin vs. Melinda: Dull vs. Duller. Jordin is talented and has been getting better every week; she's also very pretty and astonishingly poised, particularly for a girl of just 17. (I really dug her harmony vocals in the group singalong of "I'm Alright.") Melinda is obviously a technically flawless singer, but she has almost zero charisma. (Is there a Dinner Theater Idol?) Still, the smart money is on Doolittle, now as always. I can't help but wonder if Sanjaya would still be in the race if he'd gone with a different hair approach this week. I mean, the red kerchief? The stylists slip, the world weeps.

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.

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