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'Idol' Tracker: Facing the judges' Do's and Don'ts

February 27, 2008 |  8:15 am

Michaeljohns Only once before in "Idol" history has a candidate so totally dominated the race so early; only once previously has a singer come to the Idoldome and owned it so totally that the entire season eventually became one acceptance speech. And that candidate was Carrie Underwood.  And that season was Season 4 –- widely considered, despite a certain lack of suspense, the iconic "American Idol" season.

Once again, we stand at a place where so early on the competition is on the brink of collapsing in the face of a talent who lays waste to all before him.  Could The Chosen One, David Archuleta, in week two of the competition, be on the brink of wrapping it all up and turning Season 7 into a four-month coronation of America’s next superstar?

As detailed last week, The Chosen One has behind him his terrifying talents, reared on "Idol" and honed from his earliest years into the perfect weapon to fight the soul of fearful adversaries on the "Idol" stage.  But he also is the putative candidate of the sleeping giant of "Idol" voting blocs: tween girls.

However, before we declare the race over without a single top 12 vote, we cannot rule out the fact that the Duende from Down Under, Michael Johns, is going to be a ferocious contender all the way down the stretch here.  Never has the competition seen a serious male contender with such overwhelming star quality.  And when this winnows down to a two-man race, will The Chosen One’s charm and gifts wither under the mature, somewhat demonic statecraft of the D from D?

If there is one piece of evidence to suggest that this will in fact come down to a two-man race (on the boys side at least) it is that all 10 others seem to have been given the same faulty playbook about how to respond when facing the judges.  In the first two weeks, the boys have put on unthinkable displays of petulance, sulkiness and bad manners when coming up against Simon Cowell, dooming them to also-ran.  How a candidate behaves in those crucial moments of tension, when the audience’s attention is laser-focused on every inflection and gesture, is at least as important as their song performance. 

The winners have, to a singer, handled these moments like pros.  So before any more of them get up and destroy their careers with another little outburst, I offer them this brief to-do list on facing the judges:

+ Remember the H word.  There are three qualities the "Idol" audience wants to see in candidates: humility, humility and humility. Maybe with a little gratitude thrown in.  Want to be cocky and aloof and ride your juggernaut to sure victory? Check in with Constantine Maroulis to see how well that strategy works out.  I believe you can find him doing walk-ons on "The Bold and the Beautiful."   In the meantime repeat after me, “I'm just having so much fun, all I want to do is enjoy every minute here,”  “Thank you, that’s really good advice.  I’m going to work on that for next time,” and “I feel really blessed to be alongside such talented people.”  Taylor Hicks probably bested the competition on how he aww-shucked the judges alone, even in the face of total contempt from Cowell.

+ Do Not Argue. Every winner has had their bad night on the road to the Kodak.  Simon hated Kelly at first and ripped Carrie Underwood to shreds on a few occasions. Clay Aiken protests to still carry the wounds from Cowell’s taunts of his wardrobe.  As Cowell mentioned Tuesday night, the judges have the right to their opinion.  If you respond with grace and humility to their verdicts, the audiences will defend you and boo him down.  That is their job, don’t steal it from them.

+ Don’t be Defensive. Chikezie's bickering last week was inexcusable, and frankly I don’t know if his campaign can ever recover from it.  In 10 seconds, he went from seeming an extremely likable, low-key, upbeat young man, to an insecure, entitled brat.  Robbie Carrico turned in a similar performance Tuesday night, bickering about his right to be considered a rocker. And Jason Yeager give his forgettable singing a nice kicker with a fine note of self-pity when Ryan asked if it had been hard for him whining, that it hasn’t been easy the past couple weeks.

+ Always Be Smiling. Yes, it’s hard after you’ve put your heart into a performance to get sucker punched in the gut.  But you know what’s harder?  To spend the rest of your life working the overnight shift at a convenience store when you could have been an international pop icon.  Do you see any pictures of Carrie Underwood or Jordin Sparks looking deflated or bummed out?  Try a Google image search and see what you can come up with.  Tuesday night, after Simon told David Cook that he had no charm, the previously low-key but likable alterna-rocker went into a deep sulk, instantly proving Cowell right.  Michael Johns by contrast, on receiving a lukewarm notice, kept his cool and kept right on smiling.

+ Save the sass.  Danny Noriega’s smart-aleck routine makes him stand out of the pack, but ultimately it’s a ticket on the Sanjaya Malakar express to finishing solidly in the middle tier of the Top 12.

+ Know when to lose your cool.  Like when you receive a rave.  Overwhelmed, shocked, the greatest moment of your life –- those are the appropriate responses.  Consider the following quotation. “Thank you!  Thank you! I appreciate that so much!  That means soooo much to me.”  Those are the words of perhaps the most natural "Idol" performer ever to take the "Idol" stage, a young man by the name of David Archuleta.

-- Richard Rushfield

(Photo courtesy Fox)

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