'Idol' Tracker: Lambs to triumph?
"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).
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)