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'Idol' Tracker: Lambs to triumph?

Davidarchuleta "Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?”
- William Blake

Science fiction writer William Gibson once said, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere in American society can we see glimpses into the brave, flawless face of our utopian tomorrow better than on the "American Idol" stage.

As previously noted in this column, the emergence of The Chosen One, David Archuleta marks not merely the arrival of a strong contender, but the fulfillment of Idol prophecies.  Reared on "Idol" from his earliest days, (as demonstrated in this historic video shot during Season 1, of the Great Clarkson passing the torch to the baby David), The Chosen One was shaped in his infancy in the model of the show.  Whereas in the B.T.C.O. era, contestants from Clarkson to Sparks flailed around attempting to discern the will of the electorate through a glass darkly and shape themselves according to its will (although young Jordin, who dropped by the Idoldome tonight, may be the John the Baptist of this parable, presaging the way for the savior of the tweens).

La_et_carlygallery_330 But in The Chosen One, as the crowd in the Idoldome Tuesday night once again shrieked to discover, we have a candidate who seemingly effortlessly, as naturally as donning a hoodie sweatshirt, can sing face to face to the hearts of "American Idol’s" sleeping giants –- the tween girls. For years, this speed dialing voting bloc has awaited its true champion, hurling third-rate contenders like Kevin Covais, Anthony Federov and Sanjaya Malakar to the upper reaches of Idoldom.

But now, as much as this may be getting old, the storyline remains The Chosen One’s ability to thrill his voters at a deeper level every week.  Live in the Idoldome, there simply is nothing to compare with the frenzy that erupts from the teen girls in the crowd every time The Chosen One’s name is spoken.  And while the others –- his seniors and thus more grounded in the B.T.C.O. era -- struggle to find themselves, choose the right songs, stay in pitch, etc., etc., The Chosen One effortlessly and flawlessly steps up time again and delivers perfectly to his devout.

Alongside him, in the person of Syesha Mercado, we can see just how far the politics of the past have fallen.  'Twas a time when the Whitney Houston model was the surest path to "Idol" glory. Season after season, serious contenders took a stab at their Whitney impersonations.  On some season the entire stage seemed filled with nothing but Whitney wannabes (or Celine clones).  But this season the only true candidate in that model hangs by the thinnest of threads. And Tuesday night, even with a passable rendition of Whitney’s signature song, Syesha was merely greeted by the "Idol" intelligentsia with shrugs of “too generic” and “forgettable.”

Some have complained that The Chosen One’s performances are robotic, too uncannily perfect for one so young, too programmed to have authentic excitement. But I fear these naysayers are viewing "Idol" through the old paradigm.  In former times, in days when the perfect Idol still had yet to appear, thrashing around was seen as a sign of authenticity.  In the new world, it will be seen as what it is, sloppiness and indecision, while perfection will be seen as perfect.

Why shouldn’t, I ask, "Idol" singing be viewed with the same critical glasses we use to judge Olympic ice skating or gymnastics: As shows of technical precision by people so dedicated to the craft that they devoted their entire lives to it from their earliest days?   Why shouldn’t future "Idol" notes be arms races of singing virtuosity which, performed by contestants trained from infancy, pushes the levels of high note accomplishment and perfection to heights we cannot begin to dream of now?  When we have an entire nation in year-round training for "American Idol" audition and a generation whose first conscious memories will be of Nikki McKibben, why should we settle for anything less?  Why should our standards for our singers be less than what we demand of our 14-year-old pommel horse twirlers in Beijing this summer?

However, while we still live in this season, it may not be quite time for the future yet.  In particular, when the non-tween candidates, in their own ways breaking out of the past’s mold, offer such serious challenge to The Chosen One.  Carly Smithson, as I’ve said before, may be the most electrifying talent ever to take the "Idol" stage, and in the Idoldome the depth and intensity of her talent grows every week.  This week no less, she lightened up her presence, making her perhaps acceptable if not the first choice of the critical under-14 demographic.  Further, she beautifully handled the outrageously cruel and undeserved attack on her wardrobe by Simon Cowell, resisting her impulses to talk back, saving her tears for the moment the show went to commercial break. David Cook has seemingly locked up a place in the final three. The newly resurgent Michael Johns, The Duende from Down Under, perhaps the most musically adventurous candidate, shows strong signs of living up to his early promise as the most charismatic male presence in "Idol" history. The Tiger, it seems, has just begun to roar and perhaps we’ll still get to ask, “Did He who made the lamb make thee?”

But most important, there are still seven weeks left to go, with the pressure steadily, exponentially increasing.  The future may be showing itself now, but whether it is ready to claim its throne is still a very open question.

SPECIAL NOTE: Please join me live for my first weekly chat on everything Idol today, Wednesday, April 2, 12 noon, PDT at www.chat.latimes.com

-- Richard Rushfield
(photos courtesy of Fox)

 
Comments () | Archives (25)

Your obsession with a 17-year old boy seems to have very little to do with his actual talent. It's kind of creepy.

So if Anthony Fedorov is a third-rate contender, how did he end up starring in the off-Broadway production of the Fantasticks ? I am pretty sure you have to be a good singer to accomplish that. And Kevin Covais ended up in the 11th place - hardly the "upper reaches of Idoldom".

Thanks for making me throw up again with the stupid nicknames you've attached to the contestants. Also, I don't think Carly's gonna win unless she starts wearing some long-sleeved shirts.


Ah, Richard, you give me hope! Finally you are back to the original L.A. Times snarkiness about Idol, as I remember it. I knew this sudden love wasn't for real. Now just bring back my TV Guide and all will be forgiven. We all know that season five can't be surpassed anyway.

That was awkward...

That was a very nice piece of writing. I loved the symetry of the Blake beginning and ending. Lovely to see a writer who cares about allusions. Also, I liked the rather mocking undertone, and the line -- "perfection will be seen as perfect." It made me think of Maxim Gorky: "when each shall listen to his fellow as to music."

I didn't expect to find beautiful writing when I clicked on this item.. So, thank you, very much indeed for your gift.

Dude, you may need some help from a 12 step program. You take this stuff way too seriously. I hope this is your pen name, so that when you go out in public, you are not ridiculed mercilessly. You are watching a talent contest, not some world altering event. Please take a breath.

The "obsession" with little David A. is an admiration of his precocious talents. You may not love him as much as Richard does but don't take this to the gutter. Try TV w/o Pity, that's where the gutter is.

And Lisa, the key word in your comment is "off-Broadway". Third-rate contender is being kind.

Does it bother anyone else that Paula can't finish a sentence? She can start sentences, but she interrupts herself to start a new one. She can't let Simon finish a sentence either. None of her comments are constructive or even intelligible. She throws gibberish praise at everyone no matter how bad their performance or how much they need constructive criticism. Last season, she was slurring her words repeatedly and obviously drunk or on drugs. I can't figure out if she is still medicating or if she's suffered some sort of stroke. I don't understand how or why she is kept on as a judge. If I showed up to my job like that, they would fire me in a second. I guess they powers that be must feel that if it ain't broke, why fix it, but she ruins Idol for me. I guess I have to start taping the show and fast forwarding through her babble. I just wish she would let Simon speak freely without jumping all over him or physically assaulting him.

After last nights performance, Michael Johns deserves more than three lines.

Thank you L.A. Times. You have picked my president for me (Obama) and my American Idol (Archuleta). I have no more free will. Oh wait... here it comes.... Hillary... David Cook... Hillary... David Cook.

Dear John and rocco,
The overwrought Mr. Rushfield is commenting on the triviality of the show by writing about it in portentous, mythic terms which are obviously intended as mockery. Or he's insane.
His verging-on-dangerous fixation on a certain 17-year-old Mormon boy, however, is perfectly appropriate, and is shared by every decent American.
As for you, Disgusted with the Times, the correct formulation is: Hillary...Archuleta...Hillary...Archuleta. In fact, stick an "08" on it and you have a dream ticket.

Hilarious. The perfect take and the perfect tone. And for my own comment: Though I usually agree with Simon, he really has a stick up hi a#@ this season. Obviously not getting enough...

Seriously, this "The Chosen One" garbage is getting ridiculous. Yes, the tweens scream. Yes, they speed dial for the max two hours. But that does not make David Archuleta the Season 7 winner by default. A year ago, Richard, you were writing about the impending showdown between LaKisha and Melinda -- but neither one of them even made it to the finals! Why do you feel so compelled to use this nickname in every reference???

In my opinion, David A's performance last night was not that good. He was singing through his nose, and I was shocked the judges didn't call him on it. Michael Johns was substantially better, as were David Cook and Jason Castro. I agreed with Randy that most of the girls were "pretty good to just all right."

It is difficult to predict who will be voted off tonight. If I had to guess I'd say Ramiele.

Michael in Vegas

Archuleta is cute and all, I suppose, but I don't think he will sell records. Just because he is attracting the young girls doesn't mean that he will go on to be a star. His vocal ability is undeniable, but his voice is not that pleasant to listen to compared to Jason Castro or Michael Johns. If this were a true search-for-a-future-music-star contest and not a popularity contest, Archuleta would not win. He would probably do well on Broadway though, maybe for a production of Peter Pan.

Carly Smithson seems to be the most talented; although, she is entirely unlikeable, and there is something very artificial about her. She seems pleasant enough for the cameras, but something tells me that she could turn very ugly very quickly if you push the wrong button. I am confused about why she was allowed on the show in the first place. Her previous attempt at stardom failed when her record company dumped her for lack of record sales. Her overt surprise and delight at all things music-related seems contrived, given that she has been in the music business for years and has seen it all before. What makes the powers that be think that people will want to buy her music now? Clyde Davis is probably hoping that she won't win so his money doesn't go down the drain.

The strongest American Idol performances at this stage are as much a result of song selection, song arrangement and phrasing as vocal ability. It's as important to create phenomenal new renditions of old songs in different genres each week as it is to sing them well. The contestants with the sharpest vocal coaches and producers are the ones who will consistently deliver what we've grown to expect from America's #1 TV show.

David is the winner of that there is no doubt that creeo if I sell many discs for me the best is the same as the dolly said: going to be a great great singer i lOVE! DAVIDDDDDDDD!!!

Jose, obviously you have no idea what "off-Broadway" means. So, let me explain. It is almost as prestigious as being on Broadway. In fact, the Fantasticks was played on Broadway (Snapple Theater), but was considered an off-Broadway show because it's played in a smaller venue than a Broadway show - that's the criteria for determining which show is "Broadway" and which is "off-Broadway". Here is a list of some of the stars who appeared in the Fantasicks - Liza Minnelli, F. Murray Abraham, Robert Goulet, Gregory Harrison, Jerry Orbach, Richard Chamberlain and Elliott Gould. Not too bad, huh ? And Anthony appeared in the same cast as the creator of the Fantasticks - Tom Jones. I would imagine Tom Jones would not want someone who is "third-rate" appearing in his play. Next time you are in NYC, Jose, maybe you should see an off-Broadway show. You would be quite surprised.

Am I the only one who hears Archuleta's speech impediment??? Can't they get someone to help him understand how to correctly pronounce the letter "s" without slurring it like Sylvester the Warner Bros cat??? And yes he sings thru his nose and last night wasn't the first time. He bores the life out of me. He doesn't even look his age! He looks like a seven year old and dances like one too. I just don't get it. The adulation is very creepy. Last night it seemed as though the judges had been forced to drink the ArchuletaKoolaid™.

However, no one holds a candle to the talent, presence and charisma of Michael J, or especially David Cook. Carly is the only female that doesn't put me to sleep, but if she doesn't get a stylist STAT, then there's no hope for her reaching the top 4. (Someone pleeeeeeease do something with her hair!)

So many experts, so many people in denial. Just watch the video again and what Dolly Parton said about David A.

 
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