Music

'American Idol' Talking Points: Boredom, Judging, And Selling Your Organs

Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze

Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze will battle it out this week for the American Idol crown. Mark Davis/Fox hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Davis/Fox

Once again, I am joined by Stephen Thompson of NPR Music as we continue what is now a years-long discussion of American Idol in all its ... well, "glory." The final performance show is tonight; tomorrow night, they crown a winner.

Oh, but first, we have to talk a tiny bit about Dancing With The Stars.

Stephen: You've been watching Dancing With The Stars more closely than I have. Steve-O's winning this thing, right?

Linda: Yes. Yes, he is.

Stephen: I had so longed for a Kate Gosselin-Buzz Aldrin final. Alas, my dreams have been dashed!

Linda: I'm still holding out hope that they'll samba together during the finale.

Stephen: That's basically all I ask of the universe at this point. Help me out, universe!

Linda: Well, believe me: there will be plenty of time. If Gulliver had a couch, his couch would have less stuffing than the finale of Dancing With The Stars.

Stephen: Is it two hours long? If so, that has to violate some sort of human-rights treaty somewhere. Because, no, I'm not going to wait around while collegiate ballroom dancers twirl around in front of a special guest performance by Jon Secada.

Linda: It is two hours long, yes. I'm just hoping there will be some sort of tango demonstration. Because heaven knows, I don't get enough tango demonstrations.

Stephen: Well, seriously. Teach me something I don't know, Dancing With The Stars!

Okay, no, I don't know how to tango.

OR DO I?

Linda: That would REALLY surprise me.

Stephen: Me, too! Okay, so who's winning American Idol tonight?

Linda: Well, tomorrow.

Stephen: Okay, Ms. Picky Pants. Who will, TONIGHT, give the performance of a lifetime, thus securing his or her place in American Idol history and subsequently embarking on a rocket ride to superstardom?

Linda: I wish it weren't so, but I am predicting Lee DeWyze.

Stephen: I, too, am predicting Lee DeWyze, but only because he's so innovative. I haven't seen a talent so groundbreaking since the rise of The Calling!

Linda: As demonstrated in his performance of "Hallelujah" last week, which I know you very much enjoyed.

Stephen: Oh my god, I hated that more than I hate people who have done me actual harm. If there's one thing "Hallelujah" needed, it was an angelic choir, the Texas A&M marching band, a fleet of elephants astride tricycles, a backdrop of frolicking kittens, and subliminal messages flickering "LEE IS YOUR AMERICAN IDOL."

Linda: Yeah, I have already been heard on that point, but I did not understand why he didn't take the opportunity to do something different from what he'd been doing, and instead performed it exactly like he performs everything else. Except more on-pitch this time.

Stephen: I'm not exaggerating when I say that I preferred Tim Urban's version of the song. Tim Urban is a worse singer than Lee DeWyze, but he didn't turn it into this blustery classic-rock pantload.

And I'm not a "Hallelujah" purist, either. It's one of my all-time favorite songs, but I've liked other covers of that song. I just didn't like THAT cover of it, and only partly because it seemed so much like the show was loading the dice in Lee DeWyze's favor. Poor, doomed Casey James might as well have been given "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" and a ukulele with one string.

Linda: I think "classic-rock pantload" belongs in the lexicon forever.

Stephen: You're welcome, lexicon!

Linda:I feel like maybe Crystal Bowersox peaked too early or something. She was too much better than everyone else too soon, and they started sort of trying to find ways to bring her down, and they almost entirely stopped praising her, ever, for anything.

Stephen: I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist where American Idol is concerned; I'm really not. But I do think... okay, everyone talks about how mean Simon Cowell is, but he's not *that* mean so much as he's greedy. If he can't make money off of you, or if he's already maximized how much money he can make off of you, he gets bored and sort of surly, like you're wasting his time. I think he feels like Crystal has already made her case for stardom, but now he can build Lee DeWyze into some sort of Voltron made of loose Chris Daughtry and Kris Allen parts.

Linda: Well, I don't hate Lee DeWyze or anything. He seems like a perfectly good guy. I just don't understand why he's necessary if you have a bar anywhere near your house where sometimes guys come and play in bands.

Stephen: There are billions of that guy, and I agree that he seems immensely likable. I would, as they say, have a beer with that guy. But it's sort of fascinating to hear Simon Cowell, in interviews, gush endlessly about this AMAZING story Lee DeWyze has, because he worked in a paint store. Lots and lots and lots of aspiring musicians have day jobs, you know?

Linda: Well, and ... it's a paint store. It's not like he was selling his organs.

Stephen: Maybe Simon knows something we don't. Maybe Lee was dipping his organs in paint and THEN selling them.

Linda: The thing is, his organs will be much more valuable on eBay after this week, so I hope he still has all of them.

Stephen: Yeah, he got lowballed on that kidney he sold last year. That was a pretty sweet investment for whoever snagged that thing.

Linda: "I was buying Lee DeWyze's appendix before anybody ever heard of him, back when he was playing in his old band."

Stephen: That's like buying Google stock in '98!

Linda: So here's the question: WHY NOT TODRICK HALL?

Stephen: My prediction of America's looming Tyler Gradyfication did not come to pass.

Linda: What's amazing is how quickly I forget them, or how quickly they seem to have been on the show DECADES ago. Didi Benami! I think she was on Idol when I was in junior high.

Stephen: I was just thinking much the same thing — that it was much easier for me to remember who they were before I heard them sing. Now, I'm like, "I feel like there was a Lacey and a Paige and a Lilly, but those may be figments of my imagination, or maybe my daughter's friends from aftercare."

Janell Wheeler! There was totally a Janell Wheeler.

Linda: There was! And she even seemed promising. But even Siobhan, who JUST LEFT, feels like someone I long ago attended camp with. Clearly, my attachments are very fleeting.

Stephen: This probably has something to do with the fact that most of these folks sell, like, 200 records the year after they're on the show. I read the other day that Anoop Desai was trying and failing to land a record deal, and I was like, "Anoooooop! I vaguely remember having an opinion on that guy!"

Linda: Oh, Anoop. Yeah ... Alas, poor Anoop. I knew him. (I am holding up Anoop Desai's skull, figuratively speaking.)

Stephen: You know, I don't have many strong opinions vis a vis Anoop, but I genuinely hope that you are indeed speaking figuratively.

Linda: I do not actually have Anoop Desai's skull. I do have Lee DeWyze's thyroid, if you'd like to make an offer.

Stephen: LEE HAS PAID HIS DUES! Okay, so here's one of those big-picture questions we always forget to ask ourselves because we're so busy remembering who Katelyn Epperley is. Does American Idol have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel? Is the show, you know, kinda over?

Linda: You know, I think it's definitely in trouble. This is the first season where I have felt that it's really, truly the case that they've just gotten no traction, with anybody. Other seasons have had sagging ratings, but there was always something that let them argue there were still things happening — last year, it was Adam Lambert, for instance. But this year, there's just nobody who's really broken through beyond the people who watch the show faithfully. In which category I am admittedly included.

Stephen: Me, too, thanks largely to our pal Joe's American Idol pool. I agree that the show is in trouble, for a couple of reasons. I'm the absolute last person to overstate the importance of the judges — and the first person to tell you that they serve little purpose besides making the show run long — but the departure of Simon feeds an unavoidable narrative about shark-jumping and whatnot. That, and American Idol is only as good as its contestants, and the contestants just aren't that interesting this year. Honestly, they haven't even seemed terribly invested in their own success or failure.

Linda: Well, for one thing, it's becoming increasingly clear that winning is not the be-all and end-all of success coming out of the show, and any savvy contestant knows that, so their stakes in winning are ... you know, not what they were when it seemed like winning was really, really critical.

Stephen: I've said this before, but the strongest contestants this season have seemed more concerned than most with hanging on to a dangling thread of credibility and authenticity: Crystal Bowersox, while a terrific vocal talent, seems ambivalent at best about her involvement in the show; people like Lee DeWyze and Casey James don't look at all comfortable taking their guitar-wielding barroom act to a pop stage. And who else is there? That's your Top 3, and they all seem... along for the ride, a little bit.

Linda: Yeah, you can definitely drop a share of the blame at the feet of the selection process where we wound up with these particular contestants. There was a high level of mellowness in the top group. Not perfect mellowness, but these two, and Casey, and wee Aaron Kelly, and amiable Big Mike ... it's just a really laid-back group, and while that's not a bad thing, it's not necessarily riveting television.

Stephen: I think that's right. If they're not emotionally invested, I'm not emotionally invested.

Linda: You know this makes it sound like we were emotionally invested in Taylor Hicks vs. Katharine McPhee.

Stephen: I WAS! McPheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Linda: She has really managed to hang around, for a person who didn't win and wasn't all that special of a deal, in my opinion.

Stephen: Agreed. And you do touch on a very valid point, which is that American Idol has never exactly been a paragon of spectacular entertainment. The fact that it feels like a slog this season isn't exclusive to this season.

So... how would you address the American Idol judging situation? Simon is leaving; what would you do to address his absence? I would wipe the ol' slate clean and replace all of them, preferably with sass-talking robots.

Linda: I would definitely agree that a clean slate of judges is the best bet.

Stephen: You think that's what they're going to do, or what you would do? I know it's what I would do; as it is, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen DeGeneres add virtually (or, in Randy's case, actually) nothing.

Linda: I think it's what I would do. I'm almost sure it's not what they will do. I have rarely known TV executives to be like, "Okay, out with the old, in with the new!" They're more like, "In with the closest thing we can get to the old."

Stephen: I honestly feel, as loopy and ridiculous and insight-free as Paula Abdul was a judge, that her absence is a big reason this season has fallen flat. You said before that there's been nothing for anyone to latch onto; I think one thing you used to be able to latch onto was the high-wire act that was Paula Abdul attempting to form sentences and/or remain upright. I at least listened to Paula Abdul speak, whereas to me, Randy, Kara, and Ellen sound like the grownups in Peanuts cartoons.

Linda: That is a great point. Whereas Paula Abdul was ... Snoopy. Sort of lovably desperate for attention and affirmation.

Stephen: Snoopy! Aw, Paula Abdul. COME BACK!

Linda: Okay, I think that's about all I have.

Stephen: Noooooooooooooo! What of John Park? What of Andrew Garcia? WHAT OF KATIE STEVENS? What of them, Linda? Have you already forgotten Ashley Rodriguez?

Linda: I actually have.

Stephen: I think she sang a song.

Linda: That will be her epitaph in the graveyard of my heart.

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