NPR logo Why The Shocking And Wrong 'Idol' Top Twelve Isn't All That Shocking Or Wrong


Why The Shocking And Wrong 'Idol' Top Twelve Isn't All That Shocking Or Wrong

These are your Idol top twelve. Why they look like they're zombies looking for brains, I do not know. Frank Micelotta/Fox hide caption

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Frank Micelotta/Fox

The four eliminations last night on American Idol seem to have my fellow critics in much more shock than I was in myself.

Most of the uproar is not about Todrick Hall, who opened two weeks ago with an uninspired version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" that obscured what makes the song good — an error from which he never recovered — or about Katelyn Epperly, who delivered a wedding-reception-ish rendition of "I Feel The Earth Move" this week. It's true that Paige Miles was worse on Tuesday night than anyone else and she managed to stay, but the disastrous bossa nova arrangement of "Smile" seemed to me like the bigger culprit in that horror than her performance.

More of the frustration seems to be about Alex Lambert and Lilly Scott, the latter in particular. And I failed to be shocked — by the latter in particular.

Affectations and their risks, after the jump.

Finding Alex Lambert's elimination shocking is, to me, shocking. I think we have to posit that the best singers have never been the ones to advance the farthest on this show, so whether or not he can sing is really beside the point, in terms of the incomprehensibility of the event. The kid has — and I say this affectionately, because it's not a personal failing — absolutely no stage presence. Maybe less than anyone who's ever made it to a semifinal. The first week, he looked completely terrified. The second week, he looked about ten percent less terrified. This week, he less like he was terrified and more like he was trying not to look terrified.

It may not be morally just that people who cannot translate on television do badly on this show, but it's certainly not surprising. And everybody who beat him, everybody who stayed instead of Alex Lambert, has had at least one moment or has one quality where you can understand how it translated on this show. Andrew Garcia has his acoustic gender-switching "Straight Up" and "Genie In A Bottle" covers; Casey James has several good performances and looks like a model; Aaron Kelly is the Wee Country Singer who always, always overachieves in the Idol-verse; Michael Lynche was excellent on Wednesday night singing "This Woman's Work"; Lee DeWyze is a so-so singer who somehow always looks like he thinks he's a great singer.

And Tim Urban — the much-maligned Tim Urban who made a terrible choice to perform a falsetto-dependent song the first week despite having no discernible falsetto — has been steady, if boring, ever since. He's the weakest, but his beating out Alex Lambert doesn't surprise me a bit. Voters can smell fear, and unless they decide they want to adopt you, it can make them not care about you.

But the outrage I really don't get is the outrage about Lilly Scott. Lilly Scott has always been, to me, a talented but overrated ball of affectations, going all the way back to "Lullaby Of Birdland" in the Hollywood rounds. Good, but doing a heavily stylized thing that never seemed organic to me at all.

You're going to tell me it's shocking that her performance of Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces" this week turned off as many people as it turned on? With the baby-voice and the bad low notes and weak high notes?

Lilly's progression of song choices — a Beatles song ("Fixing A Hole"), then a Sam Cooke song ("A Change Is Gonna Come"), then a Patsy Cline song ("I Fall To Pieces") — always felt sort of presumptuous and snobby to me, and I never understood what kind of pop singer she intended to be in any kind of current pop-music environment.

Compare that to Crystal Bowersox, who may think she's too good for American Idol too, but who has sung a Tracy Chapman song and an Alanis Morissette song in addition to her CCR cover. Combined with her over-fondness for her own tics, Lilly's "I only deal in iconic songs strongly identified with iconic singers" thing struck me as promising wildly more than she could deliver. She seems to be trying to impress people who would never watch American Idol in the first place, and while that may be artistically sound, it's tactically bound to backfire.

Lilly is very talented, but it's a overworked style, and it doesn't surprise me a bit that she went. To me, it's a Tyler Grady elimination — he of the Jim Morrison stylings. When you decide to have a really grandiose, gimmicky persona, you risk that it will turn people off unless your performances are musically flawless, which, particularly this week, Lilly's performance emphatically was not. Lilly, to me, is Adam Lambert without the technical ability — I perceive that she has talent, but I don't care about anything she's doing with it. I wasn't a fan of Adam Lambert, but I don't think I ever heard him blow a note or be clearly beyond his range all season, and that's what it takes to go far in spite of the fact that the Thing You Do is polarizing.

It's not a terribly impressive Top Twelve, I agree, but I fail to see how keeping any combination of these four would have made it much stronger.