'Idol' Tracker: A stool too far
A poignant moment tonight in the Idoldome during the ritual execution of much-enjoyed-but-was-probably-his-time contestant Chikezie; however, this moment will take some setting up, so please bear with me.
On elimination night, the show pre-tapes one segment each week, filming about half an hour before the full episode shoots live –- they do this for the segment that includes the viewers' questions and the guest performer. This week, as we saw, one of the questions went to Chikezie, wherein he was asked if he was single, and abashedly answered that, yes, he was very single.
Half an hour later, the contestants sent back stage and then brought out again, the show proper began live to the East. Within moments, Chikezie was placed on an elimination stool awaiting his fate. The doomed contestant tried to put on a brave face and managed moments of mirth with fellow prospective oustee Syesha Mercado, joking at the break with Carly and Brooke, visiting from a land across the stage that he could only dream of. But despite his efforts, he seemed very serious and grim throughout most of the hour.
Finally, about halfway through the show, the lights went dark in the studio as they aired the pre-taped segment. At the beginning of the segment, preserving the pretense that this is entirely live in chronological order, Angel of Death Seacrest announces that they are bringing all the contestants back to the couches for the viewer calls. Thus, an hour later, sitting in the darkness alone with Syesha on the most dangerous stool in show business, Chikezie gazed across the stage at the giant monitor which showed him a mere hour before sitting on the couch with his comrades, laughing, joking, shyly fending off queries about his romantic life –- a way he would never be again, on a couch that he would never again call home. The segment had been taped but an hour earlier, but in that hour how different the world had become for the once mighty Chikezie.
However, the moment captured some important factors that ultimately determined the fate of Chikezie. An often captivating and original singer, there was always a serious quality to Chikezie, a commitment, dedication and honest effort that came across as very -- in a word -- adult. In his bashful but straightforward answer to the viewer question, in his grimness while awaiting his fate, in his choice in the first place of a very grown-up song, Chikezie projected the sense of a serious hardworking performer signing sophisticated grown-up songs.
In short, he gave nothing to "Idol’s" most important voting block -- the 15-and-under demographic.
This column has frequently addressed the importance of this group to any candidate’s success. It is possible that a singer can form a coalition not entirely made up of this group, but it is very difficult to see a road to victory that does not account for shaving off at least a slice of this demographic. When you see those 14-year-old girls standing in front of the stage screaming for their favorites, know that they will take that hysteria and channel it into dialing 500 times in the three-hour voting frame. No adult demographic can offer that kind of commitment.
As previously noted, at the beginning of Season Seven, the children in the audience were evenly divided between Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle -– the candidates who eventually finished in first, second and third places -- with that tie breaking when the youth vote moved massively to Jordin.
This year, the youth vote is united 100% behind one candidate –- The Chosen One, David Archuleta. Which is why the other remaining nine candidates better start playing to the people who pull the strings in this world, and quick.
Side note: I am continually in awe at how Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe -- seven seasons in, and by my calculations 68 results episodes -- is still able to stage these in new ways. Each week, the show takes a full hour to string out one very simple announcement, and each week the show still baffles expectations and manages to defy viewer attempts to predict who is going down. Even when the answer is entirely predictable, Lythgoe, who is a dancer by training, uses his choreographer’s instinct to create twists and surprises in the journey, whether with the order the contestants are seated on the couches, the groups they come to the center, or, now, the order in which they walk on stage to be sorted by the Angel of Death toward safety or torment.
No other show on television is so constantly aware of our expectations and willing to tease and play with those expectations as openly as "Idol" does in these elimination dances.
-- Richard Rushfield
(photos courtesy of Fox)