1. It doesn’t matter who wins American Idol. America is going to cast a vote over this week and the next, and it’s going to seem like it’s a vote for singing, for cheery, sparkly pageantry or for lazy, languid, laughing bros, but the vote is hollow. Final Idol rankings haven’t mattered for years. Leah LaBelle just went from an Idol punchline to Pharrell protegee that critics fawn over (granted, maturing several years had a lot to do with that.) Second-placers regularly outshine their winners, and people like Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen and Taylor Hicks can market music almost entirely to stannish fanbases that largely coalesced before the final two, their victories mostly amounting to scratch money and Wikipedia trivia. At this point on the show–well before it, in fact–Jessica, Phillip and Joshua could revolt and stage a three-part arrangement of Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu for the show’s two hours, and the vote count would be roughly the same as it was for tonight’s.

    Winning, in other words, is irrelevant. The key to doing well on Idol is not to outdo anybody else but to carefully cultivate a fanbase, like Twitter agar, and to persuade label folks that your particular mix of oldies covers can be transmogrified into a modern career. It’s less like a singing competition than a gaudy, sponsored, slapdash Victorian debutante ball. It’s the music industry, in other words, and if you’d like to know how the top three will fare in music society, best look to an artist doing the same for himself. To Justin Bieber, perhaps. They have so much in common! Like Justin Bieber, they resemble scrubbed-clean Madame Alexander dolls. Like Justin Bieber, they “[exist] inside what amounts to a series of interconnected skyways“: Idol mansion, Idoldome, Idol-funded and Idol-edited visits to hometowns who momentarily care about nothing but Idol. Like Justin Bieber, they may or may not be allowed to drink a beer while on this show. Like Justin Bieber, entire battalions of songwriters are scouring the world like oyster hunters in search of suitable album tracks.

    Unlike Bieber, though, nobody remaining on the show could ever be called a “swaggy adult.” Even just “adult” is pushing it, and “swaggy” is right out. (As it should be.) The upper echelons of Idol contain are three children and zero swag. And yes, the exact rankings are pointless, but it still seems somehow meaningful that as its appointed top three aspiring artists, America has chosen a hydroponically-grown talent-show lifer, an ailing, apathetic male pinup and… well, and quite possibly the most talented singer the show’s seen this season. Because for all Idols’ infinite, colorful streamers of bullshit, every terrible decision and mean-spirited joke and ratings grab and imagination failure and act of producer sabotage and sluice channel of gossip sludge the show’s dragged us through, last night it finally succeeded in what it claims is its purpose: to find one person, and allow one moment, where we felt like we were watching the birth of a star. Sure, it’s entirely possible Fox will zap that star from the Idol cosmos tonight, but let’s not be bitter about that just yet. We have other targets for our cynicism.

    — Not about Donna Summer, I realize, but me, on Idol again.
  2. It’s about Idol, sure, but still.

  3. I don’t know how either.

  4. They… got rid of the annoying gimmick contestants? They actually put the female rockers through? What is this show, anyway? Something worthwhile?

    A bunch of superlatives at the link, incidentally.

  5. If I had to suffer through a lounge “Moves Like Jagger” (#trollgaze), so must you. But Idol was otherwise… comparatively OK! Today’s recap, of the guys, in which I really hope I’m not the only one who read Replica.

  6. Why it’s a little late will be posted in a bit. But yes: singers!

  7. And fail, and just go off:

    Vegas Round is one of the worst “innovations” <i>American Idol</i> has ever introduced. There is only one reason ever to go to Las Vegas on a reality TV show: pure, inky evil, the sort of junket that encourages singers to ply each other with diamond-infused vodka and go on poker-table crawls and whittle away whichever savings give them other life options than <i>American Idol</i>, then announce the SHOCKING TWIST that said whittling wasn’t ever on Fox’s tab, then turn the cameras on. Let us re-iterate that this is despicable—though not <i>that</i> unprecedented—and nothing Fox should ever consider, now or during any meeting where the words “<i>Idol</i> mansion” could be uttered. But what’s the alternative? Trot contestants out in cruise-ship attire on musty stages that host mustier singers, then tell them to marvel about “Vegas, baby!” and choreograph themselves just short of Rockettes while pretending that any current radio format wants anything to do with any of this. 

    And let’s go back to the nightmare editing. There are two things you’ve got to balance: giving every contestant screen-time, face-time, voice-time and name-time, and making sure you can nudge the standouts to get the most of each. You’ve also got to balance singing with offstage dramatics. This is part of why people like the <i>Idol</i> audition episodes: you <i>can’t</i> introduce contestants without striking that balance by default. (Some people probably also like watching buffoonery and various unfortunate -isms, but let’s pretend they don’t exist. But by splitting Hollywood Week into drama episodes and singing episodes, you get two results, neither good: you get episodes where nothing happens, and you get episodes with a lot of good singers (who got here by being good) blending into one pretty-good vocal supercut. In a sky full of stars, no star stands out; the best you can do is a constellation, or maybe a meteor or two.

    I promise I’ll write about you-know-what after this goes up.

  8. Two things about today’s Idol recap:

    - The cake story is a true story, except it actually happened with brownies, DESPITE the oven. I’m not the best baker sometimes.

    - I guess now I’ve achieved my life goal of referencing “Cold and Fugue Season.”

  9. This is my life.