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'American Idol' Banter: It's one for the rockers

Cook
“WHAT does it look like when the No. 1 show reaches its critical mass?” said Ryan Seacrest as this year’s  “American Idol” finale began Wednesday night. “THIS!”

And there they stood, the oddest couple to grace a soundstage since David Bowie and Bing Crosby bonded beneath Christmas tinsel and sang “The Little Drummer Boy.” Though they share a given name, finalists Archuleta and Cook embody two strains of pop that could  be fairly compared only in a competition like this. For most of this century, in fact, scruffy rock dudes like Cook have considered sugar pop purveyors like Archuleta mortal enemies. But not on “Idol” — a Top 40 lovefest designed to heal such divides by touting universal qualities, like “originality” and “making it your own.”

With Cook crowned king, it would seem that “Idol” voters have embraced classic rock as this year’s universal language. But reality is not so simple. The problems “Idol” faced this season, which a very fine finale almost washed away for two energetic hours, reflect the dissolution of any kind of unifying force in pop, even one that can be maintained for the length of a television program.

“Idol” relies on a belief in what the venerable rock critic Robert Christgau has dubbed the “monoculture” — in pop, that means a sound and style most everybody hears and likes and thinks is important. This idea was always only part of pop’s reality, and in recent years it’s become very difficult to maintain: Blame identity politics, the Internet or niche marketing, but the era of blockbuster artists singing for all of us seems to be over. Panic over the monoculture’s death is aiding in the music industry’s slow collapse, making rock- and soul-bred parents fret over their seemingly superficial kids, and preventing even popular songs (like the huge hit OneRepublic performed Wednesday night with Archuleta) from seeming anything but ephemeral.

As a paradigm dies, the romantic side of human nature reaches for some last thread of it to love. “Idol” is that thread — 97.5 million votes were cast for Cook and Archuleta, Seacrest announced. They must be at the center of pop’s universe!! They deserve our passion, our faith.

What does it mean, though, that Archuleta’s and Cook’s own sensibilities are so disparate that they can’t sing a duet without discord? Their personal camaraderie can’t overcome the flat feeling that arose when their voices combined. Even splitting a power ballad by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger — a blandly ecumenical songwriter if there ever was one — their harmonies grated.

In fact, every group number the final 12  contestants performed in what was (in part) a long advertisement for their summer tour reflected this season’s mood of friendly friction. Chikezie’s soul man moments clashed with Kristy Lee Cook’s country twang. Ramiele Malubay’s  disco-flavored sensuality was buried by the big waves of rock belters Michael Johns and Carly Smithson. Even the Davids lost their footing in the group sings, unable to settle into their particular grooves.

The would-be Idols did fine when left to their own devices. Jason Castro again showed why Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is always deserving of another revival, and Brooke White made a sweet duet partner for her folk-pop elder, Graham Nash. Smithson and Johns brought the house down with a stomping take on the Box Tops’ soul-rock classic, “The Letter.” And both Davids seized their spotlight moments, the rocker comfortably hamming it up with ZZ Top and the pop boy crooning gorgeously as OneRepublic played that forgettable hit.

“Idol” has always celebrated the breadth of the Top 40, making room for soul queens — Syesha Mercado, standing up to Seal’s hip-shaking invitations, can count herself among them now — and beat-boxing white boys, treacly balladeers and country barn-burners. This finale’s star-studded guest list made the argument for such well-processed diversity. Bryan Adams, Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, guest of honor George Michael — all share one thing, the ability to translate a niche sound for the largest audience possible. (Up-and-comers the Jonas Brothers fit in there, no matter how Disney-fied their sound — teen pop is a niche too, just a very well-marketed one.)

It’s a welcoming definition of greatness that has room to call all of these performers legendary. Certain snobs abhor it, but many millions have found it captivating for seven seasons now. But the “Idol” model still turns on the ultimate belief in one star to rule us all — the final “Idol,” anointed and armed with the collective wishes of the show’s judges and mentors, ready to conquer an empire.

Such empires, if they ever really existed, are no more. We live in fractious times, in music as in religion, lifestyle and politics; we rarely sing the same songs, and the few we do share are the old ones. There is no real critical mass, no matter how many times frantic dialers hit their cellphone buttons Tuesday  night.

At least David Cook belongs to the rare special interest group that still considers itself an embodiment of the norm. Meat-and-potatoes rock, which Cook clearly loves and believes in, hasn’t ruled the zeitgeist for a while, although it can still move large quantities of product for a few hard-working Joes, like unofficial Idol champ Chris Daughtry and Nickelback. Yet its fans pride themselves on loving “real,” “meaningful” music — the kind you can pass down to your kids, or sing in a crowd at a state fair. So maybe Cook will dominate, after all — just in a smaller arena than he may have once imagined.

And what of “Idol” itself? Rumors are buzzing that the show will benefit from a major overhaul next season. It’s hard to know how to mend, or at least acknowledge, the deeper contradictions that afflict not only “Idol,” but the mass-culture oriented industry it supports. “For me, this whole thing has been a progression,” Cook said the night before he won everything, during a moment when it seemed like he’d lost. It seemed like such a healthy attitude. If only the producers of “American Idol” could embrace it.

--Ann Powers

Can't get enough of 'American Idol'? Join us for a chat at 11:30 a.m. PST.

(Photo courtesy AP Images for Fox)

 
Comments () | Archives (49)

I (and probably other readers) find it strange that Ann Powers is silent on the one thing that probably made a difference to this very close vote. David Cooks few extra years, his slightly taller body, his somewhat prettier looks and his more expressive face, all add up to a much more prepossessing stage presence. This is extremely important in an entertainer. It is never just the singing or material that counts. Basically all she talks about is different genres of music and its appeal which is really a seperate topic and not entirely pertinent. But then perhaps it was not her intention to state the obvious.

The best man won. Maybe it was revenge of the non-tweeners?

The writer named "Add A. Comment" has it right. For once in Pop music, if you're under 13 you can listen, but you can't participate!" Score one for Americans with body hair.

Who really cares!

Cook consistently stretched himself as a musician and singer and showed us his own interesting interpretations of the songs - even if he used others' arrangements, the songs never sounded less than his. Cook also looks like an attractive grownup MAN - as opposed to someone whose appeal is pretty much limited to pre-teens and grannies.

I actually thought the duet together sounded pretty good. Carly & Michael Johns really sounded good together, a fine choice of song for them.

I think this show needs to rely less on older artists in general. Get some contemporary songwriters and producers in there. And please, get rid of the treacly "winners song". I was embarassed for DC that he had to sing it, but he remained nonplussed, as usual and gave it his all. He seems ready for prime time. DA seems like he is still searching for his own style and voice, although he has a fine instrument.

Cook consistently stretched himself as a musician and singer and showed us his own interesting interpretations of the songs - even if he used others' arrangements, the songs never sounded less than his. Cook also looks like an attractive grownup MAN - as opposed to someone whose appeal is pretty much limited to pre-teens and grannies.

I actually thought the duet together sounded pretty good. Carly & Michael Johns really sounded good together, a fine choice of song for them.

I think this show needs to rely less on older artists in general. Get some contemporary songwriters and producers in there. And please, get rid of the treacly "winners song". I was embarassed for DC that he had to sing it, but he remained nonplussed, as usual and gave it his all. He seems ready for prime time. DA seems like he is still searching for his own style and voice, although he has a fine instrument.

Did anyone else find the grand closing of the idol 7 show(until george michael showed up) a lil childish.....

Mike Myers(Guru) added to the foolishness along with the clown singing some band song ...What was all that about?

If the producers din have anything worthwhile to show why not just have a 1 hr show.

Perhaps now the scruffy looking article is going to be in the money he will be able to afford a can of shaving soap and a razor.

Believe me the right guy won! I will admitt i was in shock! I thought for sure Archie would win. I believe the little bubble gum crowd all voted for him. I think the older crowd such as my self dont even vote. I dont know any one at my work place that votes , but we all watch! So I guess no vote, dont have much to say, but i will anyway. Thank God the voters voted on talent , because Cook is the most talented on there, besides Johns. I guess i am partial to the Rockers, i also loved Overmyer! I think Archie has a very nice voice for a nice Disney show :-) ROCKERS RULE

A dawn of a new era of music... "we rarely sing the same songs, and the few we do share are the old ones. There is no real critical mass..."

It is ironic that we live in an age of seemingly perpetual communication, yet in the sounds of music, "we rarely sing the same songs".

One of the best ways to improve AI is to replace Seacrest with a more personable Emcee. He is boring and rather effeminate.

"What does it mean, though, that Archuleta’s and Cook’s own sensibilities are so disparate that they can’t sing a duet without discord? Their personal camaraderie can’t overcome the flat feeling that arose when their voices combined. Even splitting a power ballad by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger — a blandly ecumenical songwriter if there ever was one — their harmonies grated."

Forgive me, Ms. Powers, but all I can ask is: What have you been smoking??? The Davids, for having such diverse and opposing styles, sounded surprisingly good together. I didn't expect them to, but they did.

The only time I noticed them struggling was when they got thrown into a mix that involved Kristy Lee and Brooke.

It was a hard choice, both Davids are great in their own style and both will do well I am sure. I agree that the show needs to mix up their selections. Lets not have so many older artists alone. David A. maybe had a disadvantage because at 17 he hadn't even heard the songs he had to sing let alone make it his own in one weeks time.

On another note it is starting to show that the producers aren't really there to help these singers but to just promote other artists. It has always been about the money for the shows producers I know but now it is getting way to obvious. I think they also know how to play an audience to get the votes they want. Place selection is one way. They seem to put their favorites on last knowing that is what the voters will remember more. Get the sympathy vote by knocking a performance is another way.

David C was able to take each genre and do a great job. From Andre Lloyd Weber to Beatles he pulled it off! David A has such a wonderful tone to his voice he is a great balladeer. Coming in second or third or tenth on American Idol will be good for all the contestants in the long run. They had a wonderful group of very talented artists this year and I wish them all well.

David Archuleta, you are a winner. I can hear you singing long after DC 's raspy rocky vocals are unable to belt out his style of music. Your records will all be Gold or Platinum.
God has truly blessed you with talent only heard once or twice in a lifetime. I can't wait for your first record, you were born to be a great voice to our generation and forever.
Luv Ya' MEME

heyy im sooo happy david cook one and if you ever see this i am your BIGGEST fan on earth and you rock and roll at singing and ur awsome


by your biggest fan

Pop Idols come and go...... Few, and very very few pop idols will garner the staying power of a George Michaels, Barbara S., Tom Jones, etc. Or for groups...... few will be relevant years from now.... The Pop idols of my youth were The Beatles. That is the stadard I get to judge today's pop starts and groups by. NO one measures up. But then, Iwas never interested in the latest sound..... ONLY the GREAT sounds, no matter from what age. And that's why "Idols" mean nothing to me.... they here for today, but not tomorrow. I was never so shallow. But Millions are.... the rocord companies are so thankful.....

David Archuleta, You are a winner. God has blessed you with a remarkable talent. I know all your records will go Gold Or Platium, and I can't wait to get your first record. Your songs will be heard long after DC's raspy rock vocals are exhausted. You are an incredible young man with an opportunity to be as great as you can "IMAGINE".

I"m a fan forever,
Margaret

Love, love, love David Cook! I am ecstatic that he won. So smart, sexy, and talented. Every word out of that guy's mouth is intelligent, thoughtful and classy and , my god, his charisma has me swooning every time I see him. Even though Tuesday wasn't his best night he had such a strong fan base. The judges thought it came down to how well they did on Tuesday but they were all wrong. They took the finale way to seriously- I believe the outcome was determined weeks before. There was no way he was going to lose with his army behind him. I was also pleasantly surprised when dialidol predicted his win after the vote. Guess dialidol rules.

The fallacy that anything that happens on American Idol has any effect on music culture as a whole is laughable.Idol stars sign away their originality in the contract that puts out their next few records if they win on,by the way,failing major record labels.

The pulse of music has never been on the television and hasn't revolved around pop culture since the 60s.The last unifier in music was the Beatles.Since then it's split into a thousand little scenes that won't sell themselves out to Idol.Rockers?Ha, Nickelback is a sad excuse for any sort of music,the thing a 13 year old guitarist could learn in a few minutes.

Music thrives in small clubs with bands that tour and take hardship and live poor for months at a time.The most dramatic sop on some television show will never capture that.

Funny some say fans "our age" don't vote. I have a few times - however - Tuesday night I sat with my cell phone in hand and voted over and over again. My cell space filled 4 times which equals around 900 votes. What my have pushed me into voting? I think it was the fact that DC deserved to win and Simon did the 180 and indorsed Archie at the last minute! Hmmm Simon is a very smart man! Thank you Simon and CONGRATS! David Cook!

 
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