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"American Idol": The torch is passed

February 22, 2008 |  8:25 am

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And so as winter must follow spring, after a brief interlude of basking in the spotlight, posturing on landing strips alongside private jets, walking the red carpet at the season opening party and taking their first steps onto the "Idol" stage before an audience in the tens of millions, the season of death comes once again to "Idol." 

The Top 24 they may be, drawn out of the masses to claim their place in history, but nonetheless, within the next three weeks, half of them must die, and as always in these early days, that news hits many of them very hard.

The boys and girls seemed to have sharply divergent attitudes to the Grim Reaper’s first dance on the "Idol" stage (with his henchman the diabolical Seacrest).  Last year, the contestants very quickly formed a tight-knit group of friends, sharing the fiction that they were all in this together. This year the boys, thus far at least, seem to be skipping that little coping mechanism. None other than the emotive Danny Noriega showed anything more than polite condolence for youngsters Colton Berry and Garrett Haley as they were dispatched to the great beyond.

On the girls’ side, however, the entire two-tiered couch seemed to come seriously unhinged by this glimpse of mortality.  Strangely, the eyes stayed dry for swimsuit model Amy Davis’ decapitation, but when plus-size model (the "Idol" electorate is never kind to models) Joanne Borgella was sent back to Hoboken, N.J., the waterworks opened up like they never have before.  Were Ramiele and Kady that distraught to see Joanne go, relieved to have dodged the scythe themselves or were they just making sure the cameras found their way back to them, knowing that tears are surefire bait for airtime?

But after their bronchitis-inspired iffy opening night, the ladies are remarkably looking, after Week One anyway, like also-rans to what is shaping up as a two-man race on the boys' side between a pair of remarkably divergent talents: the demonic (as Ann Powers aptly describes him) Duende from Down Under Michael Johns vs. the Chosen One, child prodigy David Archuleta.

The pairing is unprecedented on both sides, pitting the dark, sensual force of Johns against the first "Idol" contender with tween appeal and true talent.  And ultimately, I think it is the latter that has the power to absolutely dominate this competition.

The latent, unsatisfied demand of the tween audience for a cute boy to get behind has been the sleeping giant of "Idol" voting.  In seasons past, this yearning has catapulted very questionable talents — such as Kevin Covais, Anthony Federov and even Sanjaya Malakar — far into the upper ranks of the Top 12.  Now, given a young (and younger-looking) pretty boy with genuine vocal ability, there may be nothing in nature that can stop this force of millions upon millions of power-dialing 11-year-old girls.

But is this the moment come round at last that "Idol" has strived toward since it was born?  A fascinating video has surfaced on the Web in recent weeks:

The video shows a very young Chosen One singing a Dreamgirls number for the cast of "Idol" Season One, receiving props from Herself, Kelly Clarkson.  Like the film of a young Bill Clinton shaking hands with JFK at the White House, this incredible clip captures the moment when the torch is literally passed to a new generation, the fire of competitive singing kept alive for a few years more.

But more important, as this video proves, we are now seeing the Children created by "Idol" come of age and step up to join its ranks.  Like the Chosen One, this year’s teenage contestants (and Randy Jackson himself declared this the Year of the Young) grew up watching "Idol," were shaped in the image of Kelly and Clay, Fantasia and Justin.

Like a race bred to perfection, these "Idol" young may be more properly attuned to the desires and whims of the "Idol" audience then the pioneering generation of Seasons I – V ever were.  It is quite possible that David Archuleta, potential "Idol" goliath, may be a mere glimpse of the shape of things to come. 

-- Richard Rushfield
(photo courtesy of Fox)

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