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'Idol' Tracker: To the death!

Michael Johns

A hall of mirrors. The battle of all against all. Like wrestling with quicksand. This is how "Idol" punditry will no doubt describe the impossible task of making sense of this season; even trying to grope for the shape of the contest is infuriatingly slippery. 

After last week, we seemed to have a clear top tier (David Archuleta, Carly Smithson), a clear middle tier (David Cook, Jason Castro, Brooke White, Chikezie) and a clearly doomed group (Michael Johns, Kristy Lee Cook, Ramiele Maluby, Syesha Mercado). In this season, scientifically quantified by this column as the best year in "Idol" history, with an infuriating number of plausible contenders, finally it seemed we punditry could sit back and watch the dominoes collapse in a predictable order for the next nine weeks.

But on Tuesday night, once again all plans had to be thrown out with the bathwater. As has happened before, the doomed saved themselves, the giants faltered, the middle rank soared to greatness, and the ingredients to the race were poured back into a tumbler and vigorously shaken until badly bruised.  Now we can see that there will be no easy victory here. This will not be the invasion of Grenada or the 1972 Miami Dolphins. This will be the Democratic presidential primary, the Battle of Verdun, the "Shakespeare in Love"/"Saving Private Ryan" Oscar race, Krystle Carrington versus Alexis Colby, down to the final moments of the season.

In the Idoldome on Tuesday night, the mood was rife with a crowd worked to a near-frenzy over the excitement of this season, combined with a slightly dizzy nervous energy emanating from the contestants, now entering the hard-slog phase of the campaign. Onstage, the group was all team spirit and “we must hang together or surely we’ll hang apart,” as Stage Manager Debbie Williams summoned the Ten out at a break so Angel of Death Seacrest could hold a cake for contestant Jason Castro to blow out the candles while his fellow candidates and the audience sang "Happy Birthday."

But beneath the bonhomie and good tidings there was the certainly growing awareness that among this group stand just two people who will ultimately fight for the greatest honor in entertainment, and that all of those who are not destined to stand on that Nokia stage must now, talented as they are, indispensable as they may seem, fall one by one, so the true titans of ’08 can emerge.

In his poem “Convergence of the Twain” Thomas Hardy described how across a vast expanse of ocean, a great ship and an iceberg sought each other out, bound together by the still-invisible hand of destiny:

    Alien they seemed to be: 
    No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

    Or signs that they were bent
    By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

    Till the Spinner of the Years
    Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

So does a fate to be carved out of this unruly mob of ups and downs await two of these competitors.

Carly Smithson That said, here is what we know for certain:

+ Kristy Lee Cook, on the brink of extinction, pulled off possibly the most brilliant maneuver in the history of "American Idol," shamelessly choosing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA"  a nationally sacred anthem and guaranteeing there is no way on Earth she can be thrown off on that patriotic note.

+ Next week is country week, so she won’t be thrown off then either -- sliding her way from the bottom tiers of the top 24 to the dizzying heights of the top 8.

+ Although people often mess up when the theme is too close to their comfort zone.

+ Although the novelty of David Archuleta has worn off and he has now delivered more than one non-earth-shattering performance, the tween/teen girl hysteria for him is greater than ever. As I left the Idoldome I rode the adjacent parking garage escalator six floors up with some of the girls who had been standing in the front. An hour after the show, they were still shaking, sobbing and screeching about their encounter with the Chosen One.

+ As previously stated, no demographic can match the voting power of hysterically excited tween girls.

+ That said, for the first time this season, the Chosen One fell out of first place on the sporadically accurate DialIdol voting analysis, replaced at the top by David Cook.

+ David Cook seems to have crossover appeal drawing on teens and grown-up rock fans alike. He also has the ability to repeatedly surprise audiences.

+ However, if his reawakening lasts, Michael Johns, the Duende From Down Under, has charisma that gives him unlimited upside potential.

+ Carly Smithson remains, in the opinion of this column, the most electrifyingly talented performer perhaps in the history of "American Idol," with bottomless depths to her singing and the ability to perform brilliantly in almost any style -- the latter a quality that will serve her well in the coming theme weeks.

+ However, there are concerns that her style is too dark and intense for the cheery-centric "Idol" stage.

+ Despite an off-kilter persona and low-key singing style, Tweety Bird White has been consistently gaining buzz and fans.

+ So have Jason Castro and Chikezie.

+ And now Syesha is back in the race, possibly.

All of which implies that two weeks from now, Ramiele could have become the prohibitive front-runner, for all we know. But for these contestants, we ask them to enjoy Jason’s birthday cake while ye may. The road is going to get even rockier than you can imagine, starting just about now.

-- Richard Rushfield

Photos: Fox

 
Comments () | Archives (7)

Jeez, Rushfield, you pulled out all the stops on this recap! First you bounced to all corners of the media and history globe to characterize this Idol race. "The Battle of Verdun?" WTF? Anyway, I'm essentially on the same page as you with regard to your assessments of the various players. Archuleta's very vulnerable now, though, and might even be bottom 3 bound tonight or next week when country music presents its challenge to him. David Cook can rock it out and he's the one to beat now. Syesha, however, while she tore it up tonight, just seems a bit too plastic for me to make it much further. I see Brooke and her being the next ones to falter beyond help. Kristy and Ramiele are already there, but at least Kristy had the sense to play to the audience while Ramiele stretched too far. Chikezie did great, and he'll have his big smile to rely on. Country will prove to be a great medium for him, while I predict Michael Johns will struggle. Carly will do fine if she can brighten up the tone a bit, and Jason will slide once again because he's so damn adorable.

Come on Carly Smithson the best ever! She delivered a pedestrian, over sung, idolesque (what Simon calls kareokee) performance this week. I found myself wincing through much of the song. Yes, she has a fine instrument, as do several others this year. But where is the heart, the connection, the "this song means something to me and I have to get that over to you?" She's as hollow as Hillary to me.

I enjoyed Richard Rushfield's AI Blog much more last season than this season, and today's entry crystallizes this feeling. Many people, Rushfield included, have discussed the depth of talent in this year's show -- which is something to be celebrated! Instead, he refers to an "infuriating" number of plausible contenders and yearns to be able to watch the dominoes collapse in predictable order. What exactly is fun or entertaining about that scenario? Instead of being in such a rush to declare the winner in advance, why not enjoy watching the season play out?

For starters, can we dispense with referring to David Archuleta as "The Chosen One"?!? That nickname stems from an unfortunate comment of Simon's several weeks ago. Twice in the last three weeks Archuleta has put on a performance that *should* place him in the bottom three (yes, I understand he has legions of tween fans who won't let him slide that far; I'm merely giving my opinion of his performances). In any event, Archuleta is NOT head and shoulders above the crowd in talent or charisma. He IS talented and seems to be genuinely endearing, but it actually does him a disservice to lay such a title on his head, as it would make him a "failure" if he does not win.

And I wouldn't mind, Richard, if you would dispense with your other two pet nicknames -- "Duende From Down Under" is forced and hokey, and Ryan Seacrest is not necessarily the "Angel of Death" on the program. You are a good enough writer to not need to rely on such gimmicks.

I look forward to the rest of the season. I predict Ramiele or Carly will be eliminated tonight.

Michael B in Vegas

This blog is nearly the greatest thing on earth. What would make it greater is if we could have category-specific RSS feeds. I only read Idol posts and would love to have a feed for that.

Ann, Richard... I bow to you.

""Carly Smithson remains, in the opinion of this column, the most electrifyingly talented performer perhaps in the history of "AI".""

Are you seriously kidding? She's got a nice voice...she doesn't blow me away. Would I go see her in concert or do I see myself buying her albums!?! Yikes, no.

I don't think I've agreed with much of anything you've written in this column; I'm movin' on....

>>>the most brilliant maneuver in the history of "American Idol," shamelessly choosing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" a nationally sacred anthem <<<

Also known as "The Cheesiest Song Ever Written" ... yawn.

Really?? Carly?? Really?

She's ALRIGHT, and you may even like her, but really? Are you really going to buy her record? Remember last time? Also the screaming thing, it's a problem.

And Kristy Lee Cook-- just no. No, I cannot give her props. I cannot respect her using the American way to screw America into keeping her in the competition.

All of you people really want to go on the record calling Kristy Lee Cook SMART (or shrewd or whatever)?

Holden Caufield and I will be over here, calling her PHONY like she is.


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