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'Idol' Tracker: Stunner in the Idoldome


This day had long been promised. After the ups and downs of Season 6 and its mixed post-mortem; after the greatest minds in entertainment convened to regroup, retool and restock the most powerful franchise in television history, showing its first hints of wobbly mortality; after the back-to-basics audition tour and the no-nonsense Hollywood week; after meeting and saying goodbye to a dozen hopefuls in the Top 24 level; after the boy who lives in his car, Danny Noriega, Kady Malloy, the David Hernandez revelations -- at last we return to the Idoldome. 

And what looks to be the most exciting season in "American Idol" history, can finally begin. (Side note: If this is the most powerful season in "American Idol" history, and "American Idol" is the most powerful show in the history of television -- in terms of rating impact relative to the playing field it surely is -- and if television is the most powerful entertainment medium ever invented -- communicating simultaneously with more people than anything previously imagined -- then can not one empirically state that we are about to witness the most powerful 22 nights of entertainment since the dawn of civilization?)

In the Idoldome, the excitement among the crowd and crew alike was electrified to the point of spasticness. The site of the new set had the crowd abuzz.  In person, the corrugated, welded steel theme of the superstructure has a bit of a Mad Max look to it, but the two-tiered floor plan brought a new level of grandeur to the proceedings, while the mosh pit up front insured a constant buoyant energy that the comfortably-seated-with-their-families celebs, who owned the now-removed front rows, never have brought. (Nonetheless, we were joined on this night by superstars Taye Diggs, Camryn Manheim and the great Kim Kardashian.)

Executive Producer Overlord Nigel Lythgoe prowled the new stage, wandering the edges of the pit, greeting guests, whispering instructions to the crew, and ultimately, taking the stage to personally warm up the crowd, touting the Lennon/McCarthy night and leading a synchronized arm-waving practice session. 

Notably, there were comparatively few signs in the crowd tonight suggesting that the demographic blocks have yet to coalesce around their candidates. Significantly, but not unexpectedly, the majority of signs present on this opening seemed to be for The Chosen One, David Archuleta.

And it was for this clash of giants that the crowd tittered with nervous energy until show time. Only one question remained: Would The Chosen One run away this season and never look back? 

What the Idoldome saw could never have been predicted 24 hours ago -- suddenly Season 7 is a wide open race between any number of possible contenders. The season promised in "Idol" scriptures seems about to come to pass: the strongest, but by no means immortal, young front-runner in "Idol" history facing the strongest general field in "Idol" history, including a darkly charismatic sultry male star, a transcendent Valkyrie rising to battle and a B team that refuses to fail.

However, after the long buildup, each had to take his or her moment alone on the two-story stage, facing the crowd, the judges and the millions. It is impossible to be in the Idoldome and not gape in awe at the brazenness it takes these young people to mount the stage.  A TV studio, Idoldome though it is, is a very cold room. The stage itself is a giant titanium apparatus that dwarfs mere mortal singers; the studio beyond is a vast hangar with inexplicable pockets of light and activity, camera booms soaring past, sleepy crew members lurking at the edges. This is no intimate nightclub, and every pulse of nervousness from a singer allows them to be swallowed up by the room. Like the gladiators they are, the singers must fight at every moment on stage to break through to the audience. 

Sadly for Syesha, the first singer to take the stage, her nerves made her a case study of how the room can devour you. Better was to quickly follow, however, in a night which seemed largely to belong to the B team. In what had seemed at best a two-man race, Amanda Overmyer, Brooke White, David Cook and Jason Castro all gave performances good enough, if not to make any of them immediate favorites to win it all, then certainly good enough to show that they belonged on this stage. In contrast with last year, where many went through a long getting-comfortable process and few ever owned the room, all the above performances met fairly rapt crowds reaching the upper registers on the applause meter. 

But by far, the most stunning single moment of the night, sending shock waves through the Dome, came during Chikezie's rendition of “She's a Woman,” at the point where the song suddenly switched tempos. From nowhere, Chikezie, with a flawless pre-interview, video package and riotous performance, suddenly claimed his rightful place at the center of the universe.

Carlysmithson I enjoyed a brief glimpse into life at the center of the vortex when the Idoldome’s Angel of Death Ryan Seacrest ascended to my perch in the bleachers to introduce Michael Johns. Warming up for his intro during a commercial break, the Angel read twice very quickly through his brief bit, and then turned to work the crowd, greeting and joshing with a few seated nearby. Noting my notepad, he asked me whom I was reporting for. I told him and asked him if he cared to comment on the evening. Not missing a beat, he wryly responded: “So far, I’ve been very impressed with me.”

As exciting as the strong performances by the B team were, it was at the end of the night that the competition suddenly ascended to a new level with the shocking first failure by The Chosen One. In the coming days, pundits will pore over how much TCO is aware of the enormous expectation that has been placed on him. At 17, he is by far the youngest contestant in the competition. No less than this newspaper, not to mention every "Idol" prognosticator on Earth, declared the race a mere formality.  Could any 17-year-old not falter under such pressures?  Or will his off-night work in his favor, his downcast expression earning him sympathy votes from his adoring tween fan base? (If you believe Dial Idol’s predictive power, which I one-third do, tonight’s performance didn’t hurt him a bit.)  Would perfection have become boring and worked against him?  If he truly was genetically engineered and crafted in the gods’ workshop to fulfill the "Idol" prophecies, could tonight’s misstep have been part of the master plan?  Better to show you are human tonight than nine weeks from now, after all.

But suddenly, The Chosen One has something much bigger to fear then his own off-night’s reviews, potentially a fear much bigger than even the dark threat posed by the Duende From Down Under. Rising from the ashes of the dismissed women’s ranks, tonight there emerged a contender so strong, deep, complex and powerful that even the powers of The Chosen One may, in the long run, be no match for her. No one commanded the Idoldome tonight like Carly Smithson (pictured).  Her rendition of “Come Together” simply transformed the competition -- her early promise instantly realized and propelling her, a Valkyrie to avenge the maligned female talents -- to the very front ranks of the competition. 

As the show ended, the 12 returned to the stage to stand for a few extra shots. They chatted comfortably, seeming friendly and at ease with each other. In the darkness before a shot, The Chosen One and The Duende whispered to each other. Tonight, they stand stunned that their entire lives and careers have paid off bringing them to this stage. But tomorrow night, Angel of Death Seacrest will visit them all on the couches of doom to remind them that, for the lucky ones, there are a very long 11 weeks ahead to Armageddon.

-- Richard Rushfield

Photos courtesy of Fox

Comments () | Archives (24)

This group is much more diverse vocal-wise and technically better than the previous Idols.

Last night's Idol was a stunner but somehow answered the critics who put too much pressure on the chosen one. I was expecting The Chosen One and the Dwende to have a good performance but the occassion must have cause them to falter. Despite what happened last night I still think they belong up there with the favorties. I am a fan of , David and hope he can recover. For critics who mentioned he always sing ballads, I thought Shop around was'nt a ballad.For those who faulted him for being a "veteran" of Star Search, Now you know the difference between a veteran of kiddie stuff as compared to one who had a recording deal with $2m to boot for promotion aside from performing on stage as a member of Les Mis. I still think that Carly was given an unfair advantage for being interviewed live on the stage to get use to the audience. Oh yes they need good competition for the rating. And to beware the critics she mentioned that she made a slight change on her version afraid critic might charge her that she copped the song. And for those who wondered how the chosen one will react when he is not praised on stage, he took it with a smile, not with anger, did not cry, no desperation just like one critic woulld like to behave. I think there will be at least 5 contestants worthy of being 2007 Idol but I still vote for David and whoever will give the best performance of the night.

"My Love dont give me presents"? ? ? are you kidding me. The name of the song is "She's a Woman". What do you know about music or anything else for that matter. Go back to waiting tables

Hope this gets through.
Michael Johns did not rule the stage the way he's done before. I loved his song choice for so many reasons, but his rendition, though powerful, did not rock the house. That honor was bestowed on Chikieze, my homie from Inglewood. No one had as strong a vocal performance than he, Carly included. David A's weak performance was train wreck but he is buoyed by his fan base and is still assured of surviving into the top 4. If I had to rank them today, it would be: David A., Chikieze, Jason, Michael, David C., and David H.
For the women, Carly did a fantastic job, but her so-controlled voice was not suited to the tune. Aerosmith covered Come Together and really rocked; what we got with Carly was Celine Dion, in Vegas, rocking out. She lacks the grit to be a true rocker, tats notwithstanding. Brooke White, with her bare feet at the piano and her tears of jubilation at knowing she killed in front of that crowd, cemented for me that she is the one to beat today. The rest of the women were filler. Ranks: Brooke, Carly, Amanda, Syesha, Ramiele, and Kristy.

This blog is sickening today. I have been following the comments on Idol for the last couple of weeks and have mostly agreed but someone seems to have been caught up in the excitement of being at the show and lost their objectivity.

This was one of the worst nights in Idol history. Most of the singers were just plain bad and what was looking like a good season suddenly looks an awful lot like last year.

Outside of Carly there were no really good performances (singing anyway). Stop believing your own hype and watch it again on TIVO.

Hey, Richard...
The name of the song is "She's A Woman," not "My Love Don't Give Me Presents."

Not trying to be a smart-@$$ but the name of the song Chickezie performed is "She's a Woman".

This blog should have simplified writing.

William Zinsser "On Writing Well"

Can someone please edit Richard's blog before it's posted? It's too painful to read.

Chikezie's rendition of “My Love Don’t Give Me Presents”

The name of the song is "She's a Woman"

The bottom three were Syesha, The Chosen One, and the chick who did the horrendous version of "8 Days a Week." Chikezie blew me away, as did David Cook.

The blonde needs to get the boot tonight.

The song is called She's A Woman - not My Love Don't Give Me Presents.

And the winner in the category of 'most melodramatic interpretation of a talent contest', the winner is

Richard Rushfield

It's Lennon/McCartney (not McCarthy) and the song was "She's A Woman" - not "My Love Don't Give Me Presents."

"Chikezie's rendition of 'My Love Don’t Give Me Presents'" ...

Ahem, the song title is "She's A Woman."

Don't mess with Lennon-McCartney.

Fact checking is good ...

[Ryan Seacrest voice] This.....is a really poorly written article. [/Ryan Seacrest voice]

Many thanks to all who pointed out I initially mis-id'd "She's a Woman." The error corrected now and I promise I'll never do it again.

And thanks to Rocco for the prestigious Most Melodramatic award. Where can I pick up my trophy?

BTW, when did Macca change his last name to McCarthy?

How can an entertainment writer have so little knowledge of the Beatles?

"This blog should have simplified writing."

There's a plethora (sorry, translation: "a whole lot") of simplified Idol blogs on the Internet. I'm sure you can find them with Google's help. Let the rest of us enjoy the melodrama. I adore this blog. I love that it's half serious, half tongue-in-cheek. Don't change a thing.

The evil butler Cowell gave TCO bad advice last week which contributed to last night's mess. TCO's gift is the innocent heart he brings to a song, and of course the voice to convey it. Simon's admonishment to "lighten up" put him on the wrong track. TCO doesn't need to throw a party, "use the stage" or show us how fun he can be. All he needs is to pick a song with heart, then stand still and let his voice out. He never moved from his mark when he sang "Imagine;" like Sinatra or Bennett, he just let his voice, his ear and his heart do the work. It's a sign of TCO's unnecessary eagerness to please that he deigned to take advice from a man who thinks Lennon's dream of a better world is "sad." But now that TCO has survived a nightmare (if, in fact, he has survived it) and has single-handedly lowered his bar from the top of Olympus to a more mortal level, maybe the pressure will subside a bit and he'll feel free to just stand there and sing songs he has a feeling for. If he does that, no one else can match him.

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