As my estimable colleagues Claire Zulkey and Emily Yoshida have outlined in some depth, this 11th season of American Idol has been unusually stupefying. It is, basically, a stupid show. That alone doesn’t make it any less watchable than every other stupid show on TV. What’s been so enraging about these past few years of Idol is its lack of consistency. Outside of Randy Jackson, who’s eminently more worried about dressing like a sixth man on the Oklahoma City Thunder than evaluating this competition, the judges’ chairs have become hot seats. And when a talent-assessor du jour actually does stick around, their prevailing critical m.o. seems to be either, “I’m soft in my old, sober age, and everything kind of sounds nice to me,” or, “I’m not really qualified to offer an opinion unless it fits into this one specific thing that I know really well.”
For J. Lo, that singular area of expertise is typified by Jessica Sanchez’s cold composure and stagey delivery. Like Sanchez, J. Lo is a multi-talented, intuitive musical gymnast without any real independent vision outside of eying popular success on a conventional global scale. As Emily observed during last night’s performances, Lopez’s unfamiliarity with entire genres of music makes Phillip Phillips seem like more of a raconteur than he really is. And it’s a shame that her hysterical admiration for Joshua Ledet’s sweeping, broader tendencies probably discouraged naysayers from appreciating his nuance.
But it’s only fair to concede that the finalists themselves have been erratic at best from week to week. Lopez, Steven Tyler, and Jimmy Iovine can’t go on stage and do the singing (not that Iovine’s volunteering). At some point, these contestants have to deliver, and whether they’re too immature, at the mercy of contemporary music-biz trends or the show is simply trying to siphon blood from stone, it feels like waning demand is stubbornly outlasting depleted supply.
People are burnt out on Idol and its spotty track record, and the voting reflects that, as does the backlash from longtime viewers who’ve sworn to disembark from the franchise if they haven’t already. It’s been impossible not to watch this finale and think about how compelling a Phillip and Joshua face-off might have been. It’s also frustrating to reflect on the shady precedent set when J.Lo, Randy, and Steven spared Jessica weeks ago from having to growl for her life, and in doing so, undermined the show’s democratic process and disrespected the audience. The same audience, mind you, that’s expected to download the winner’s single on iTunes immediately after his coronation.
And at this point, it’s mostly a shame for Phillip Phillips, who’s by no means always been exceptional or self-assured, but is the closest thing to a viable artist we’ve seen in the final two since—dare I utter the behemoth’s name—Adam Lambert. But it’s Lambert who set the bar and inspires Randy to yearn for his “moment moment moment,” all while he fails to realize that lightning doesn’t always strike twice, let alone 11 times.
Phillip hasn’t always answered the call, but he has done something even more endearing by not transforming into the trendsetter this series desperately needs or an easy pinup for its devoted teenage girls (who’ve voted for him anyway). Most impressively, he’s refused to be an apologist or scapegoat for Idol’s recent tendency toward “white guys with guitars.” Phillip went about the past four months on his own terms and has nothing to regret, and for once, a nice guy actually won.
So rather than pore over the relative cringe factor of tonight’s cross-promo segments, snore through the judges’ endless parting words, or continue bemoaning the finale’s lack of suspense or even basic entertainment value, let’s recap the 30 things (plus one) we learned from tonight’s ultimate episode, and then divorce ourselves (especially our courageous Claire) from this stupid, idiotic, annoying, stupid show. Or at least divorce ourselves until it returns in January.
- 132 million votes were tallied, a world record. Records are stupid.
- Colton doesn’t exactly ooze rhythm and blues.
- Josh was so excited during that opener he nearly split his pants!
- Phil’s just a good sleeper. Jessica is a “wonderful" one.
- We were just at the Phil Phillips concert!
- If this show actually let people like Magic Cyclops through to Hollywood, it might be as fun as America’s Got Talent.
- Fantasia might be a little weird. Assuming that wasn’t actually Cee-Lo.
- Jane Lynch loves the classics.
- Oh, I get it, they actually are every woman.
- Jessica’s friend realllllly wanted an Escape.
- Most of these finalists have shitty idols. That explains a lot.
- Sloths are the new cats.
- This. Show. Is. So. Old. Fashioned.
- Steven doesn’t know his horse’s ass from his zebra’s elbow.
- Jessica will seriously, really, always, always love us. Don’t you believe her?
- Before "I Will Always Love You," J. Lo basically said, “Fuck you Jessica, I’ve gotta go put a sequined running suit on. And maybe pee.”
- Watching Colton, aka “The Messenger,” singing Neil Diamond made me reach for my mezuzah.
- Yay, Adam! Or rather, Adam Lambert secured a hard-earned spot atop the Billboard 200.
- We’ll always have the evidence of Randy’s muttonchops.
- Erika, aka Mobile DJ, finally solved the mystery of where Justin Bieber’s haircut went.
- Josh is so funny.
- If Young And The Restless doesn’t work out, Diana DeGarmo can always take her and Ace Young’s Shannon Elizabeth/Russell Brand impersonation show on the road.
- Oh, and she said yes to Ace's proposal! And then gave Reba McEntire her face back.
- Jennifer Holliday’s performance showed America just what an Idol Josh could have been.
- Also, Jennifer Holliday—WTF.
- Steven and J. Lo’s performances underscored the problem with this show now: It’s about the judges promoting themselves, and not about a showcase for talent yet undiscovered. That and the Ford Escape.
- Aerosmith’s drummer Joey Kramer's going for the midlife-crisis cut.
- Phillip is pretty smoky when he wants to be, but man what an odd couple he and Jessica are on stage.
- Well if Telescope says it, it must be true.
- Phillip is now the proud owner of a microphone!
- Claire truly is a trooper for recapping nearly 40 of these previous episodes. She is our real American idol.