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'American Idol': Showdown

May 22, 2007 | 10:02 pm

Human history is studded by moments, turning points, when but for a nail the empire might have been saved; a bit more exertion on one side, a glance the wrong way on the other and nations crumble.   Tonight at the Kodak theater was one of those moments.   In all of competitive singing, no night had held more uncertainty than this one.  And the eyes of a nation, weary from a season of twists and turns beyond our experience, turned to the Kodak stage in search of a sign.

If the Boy From Bothell is crowned tomorrow night, Idol will take a step into a new world from which it will be difficult to retreat – a world of Maroon Five covers, emo and faux-hawks.  A world of cool ironic detachment from the spectacle itself.

If teen queen Jordin Sparks becomes our new champion, the reign of intense, passionate vocalists will be reaffirmed – if youthfully updated – after the Taylor Hicks detour.

Blake500 Going into the night, although the advantage was slightly with tradition, it was anyone’s game.  Many plausible scenarios suggested Blake Lewis could steal the prize.   Not least was the suggestion that Jordin Sparks has yet to deliver that crucial “wow” performance the nation has come to expect before we are willing to bestow a crown on a singer.   Meanwhile, Blake Lewis had shown himself time and again of making audacious choices that brought the competition to a standstill.  Between the two, Lewis seemed to hold the potential to grab the next morning’s headlines.

Well, that was one scenario, but in the end, it was tradition which made a proud stand at the Kodak.  The crowd which at the beginning seemed evenly split between the competitors, rose as one by the hour’s end ready to bestow laurels upon young Sparks.

At the Idoldome, one could often say, without stretching the truth too far that the air overflowed with tension.  In the 4000 seat Kodak theater, packed to the rafters – where I sat with Idol fans -- the air overflowed to the point of near riot.  The scene was a strange one as Hollywood execs in power suits squeezed in through crowds of contest winners in sequined 'We Love Jordin' t-shirts.  While the Idoldome tapings are dominated by children, this very much seemed an adult affair.

The crowd’s shriek was honed to perfection as the show began – bringing us full circle to the irony that the worst audition in Idol history – this year’s Seattle day – produced both the finalists and the winners of the songwriting competition.   

Round One seemed to be setting up a Blake upset.  The Boy From Bothell had the crowd absolutely going bonkers with the reprise of his “You Give Love a Bad Name.”  While praised by the judges, Jordin’s Christina Aguilera cover fell choppy on the scene, eliciting only lukewarm response.  However in round two, the situation was reversed, with Blake delivering an okay but forgettable ballad while Jordin served a powerhouse vocal.  Then finally in the final round – the surprisingly not awful winner of the songwriting competition seemed crafted for Jordin, while Blake seemed to take a dive on the number entirely.

The lingers – did Blake’s irony about the competition – more in evidence of late – hold him back from going the extra mile while Jordin having no such distance from the proceedings was able to dig deep inside herself to bring off a victory?  Competitive singing, like war, demands nothing less than every bit of one’s soul.  Did Blake hold a bit of himself back now, finally that he has come so far?

Or perhaps it will not matter.  Blake has defied expectations by making it this far.  His fanbase of eight year old girls is deep and fanatical.  Perhaps as the sun sets on the Kodak tomorrow night his people will hand him that last surprise of this roller coaster season.

But as Jordin closed her final number – the crowd rose with a passion not seen since Caesar presided at the Roman Coliseum.  Jordin Sparks who just months ago stood in the Seattle rain with thousands of other hopefuls, could have declared herself champion, Emperor, God.  The crowd in its passion would have handed her it all.

(Photo courtesy Fox)