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'Idol' Tracker: The Boys have their bar mitzvah

March 5, 2008 |  8:37 am

“Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus!
You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things -
all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing -
who were the captains of Achea? Who were the kings?”

-- The Iliad

Jasoncastro If when the exploits of Season 7 are at last recorded in the Book of Life, it may well be remembered by the ages that this was the year that the "Idol" men stepped forward and met in combat more ferocious than anything the nation had ever known.  And if, as seems possible, history remembers this as the great epic season long promised in "Idol" scriptures, then for the warriors of this winter, Tuesday night was their bar mitzvah -– the night they stepped forward after a shaky start and became, at last, men, and titans of competitive singing.

In her way, Paula made the point better than anyone last night.  When she repeatedly said Tuesday night something along the lines of  --  You are exactly what I love about this season.  You’re all so unique.  I’m so frickin’ proud of you –- what she was articulating was the feeling rife amongst the "Idol" punditry that what we have before us are at least six very strong avatars of very distinct demographic groups, each group having the ability to propel their champion close to the final stages of the competition.

At this point in the recent previous seasons, there was still plenty of chaff to sort out before the season got serious -- still the handful of oddballs, undefined talents and troublemakers who had somehow dodged the bullet.  This year, certainly among the men (and to a lesser but still true extent among the women) we are a cut or two away from hitting bone. 

Consider the ranks of guys before us –- sultry, ditsy Jason Castro (the only one with sense enough to use a dating story as his most embarrassing moment), charming impish Danny Noriega, alt rocker David Cook, surprisingly rich-voiced David Hernandez, and likable soul crooner Chikezie.  None of them seem wasted space on this stage. Only Luke Menard seems a sure-fire also-ran.  Any of the others are plausible contenders for the final four.   And standing astride them all, the two titans: David Archuleta, The Chosen One, and Michael Johns, The Duende From Down Under.

Praise must be given to the "Idol" team also for the mature and decent way they handled their first major scandal of the season (not counting Robbie Carrico’s hair talk, Amanda Overmyer's drunk driving arrest and Jason Yeager’s youthful child rearing).  After the Frenchie precedent, the question mark hung over the show –- how strict would the limits of their moral standards be?  Where would the line be drawn?

Last year, when controversy exploded over alleged nude pictures featuring contestant Antonella Barba, they managed to sidestep defining the moral line by declaring the pictures were not of young Barba, and thus the question was moot.  This year, however, presented with seemingly irrefutable proof of David Hernandez’s stripping past, after speculation shot across the "Idol" universe of whether the producers or Fox might force his removal, the show quickly declared the contestant would not be expelled. Co-executive producer Ken Warwick told TV Guide, “the truth is, we're never judgmental about what people do to earn a living. They've got to put food in people's mouths… If it were some sort of heavy porn, then maybe we'd have to take action. But certainly not on this… There are a lot of people I know who'd love to have the opportunity just to make a better living by taking their clothes off.”

Ultimately, Warwick declared, the decision would be left up to the electorate whether to hold Hernandez’s past against him (or in favor of him).   And that is why, for an age when the public demands a two-way relationship with their entertainment and information sources, "American Idol" retains seven seasons in the fanatical loyalty of viewers by the tens of millions.

That said, I was a bit let-down that they made no mention of the kerfuffle during the show.  One of "Idol’s" more endearing traits is its habit generally of -– from Paula’s contestant-tampering accusations to Simon’s eye-rolling -- airing, making light of and indeed turning into an asset its own scandals.  No other show in the public arena has shown "Idol’s" confidence in making lemonade out of its dirty laundry.  But whether the Hernandez rumors were too hot for foolery or the schedule was too tight on the one-hour show, the only reference to the outbreak was a barely perceptibly more empathetic-than-usual tone in Randy Jackson’s normally good-natured voice when he asked Hernandez, “What’s going on man?  You chillin’?”

Paula quote of the night -– (to The Chosen One) “In that imperfection, you are perfect.”

-- Richard Rushfield

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