'American Idol': Pay No Mind to the Demons

Last night was American Idol's sneak attack Tuesday night Finale Part One, a brisk and efficient hour that wasted very little time.

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Last night was American Idol's sneak attack Tuesday night Finale Part One, a brisk and efficient hour that wasted very little time.

Well, ha, it wasted time in that who really cares who wins between Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez? Sure it'll be mildly interesting I suppose, just because the answer to a question that spent five months getting asked will of course always be interesting, but this could have been a better finale had the pair been different. As it stands, it's just an incongruous duo of talented but uninspiring singers. It's hard to tell who the show favors, but I suspect it's Jessica, just so they can break the great no-girl curse that has plagued them since they made the mistake of eating from that witch's vegetable garden. ("Especially the beans!") To that end, Ryan introduced the competition last night as "a 21-year-old pawn shop worker vs. a 16-year-old powerhouse." Jessica got "powerhouse" while dumpy old Phil Phillips got "pawn shop worker." Nothing else they could say about him. That is the acme of descriptors for Phil Phillips. Oh well.

The truly beautiful thing about this episode was that they were in it to freaking win it. Not the contestants, they were whatever, but rather the producers were in it to win it. Or at least they were in it to get the hell outta there and get home, because they got this thing done in one hour with only moderate breaks for judging and no other frills. Nothing. It was just boom boom boom, and then the show was done. Guys, this is how you should do it always! You could get home as early as you did last night every night! Think of all the time you could spend with your kids or your wives or boyfriends or cats or Fleshlights or whatever you like to do when you get home. Next season make American Idol a lean, mean aerodynamic hour. And make the elimination episode a half hour. To fill the empty timeslot you could air a show that's just Tim Urban making omelets for a half hour. Everyone would watch and during sweeps he wouldn't wear clothes. Problem solved, where's my parking space at Fox HQ?

Anyway, in the spirit of the show's efficiency, let's get to the meat of this thing.


Ooof. I know I said up above that it seemed like the show is in the tank for Jessica, but actually maybe they are not. If they were, why would they have let her sing three lugubrious ballads last night instead of at least one uptempo thing? I guess the problem was that their hands were a bit tied, in that one of the songs was producer Simon Fuller's choice, another was J. Sanch's choice, and the third was, of course, the Winner's Song, the song that will become Jessica's first single if she wins this thing. (If she does not win this thing, trusty Idol janitor Sven comes along and picks the song up with some tongs and drops it in the toxic waste dump out back where they keep Kristy Lee Cook.) So really it was up to Fuller to guarantee that Jessica sing something a little exciting, but instead he gave her a Whitney song. No, not a song from NBC's Whitney — what would that song even be? "I Have Bones and a Face, Here Are My Bones and My Face"? — a song recorded by Whitney Houston, the biggest baddest balladeeress this modern world has known. Obviously sentiment around Whitney songs is at a current high, so while maybe it was an understandable choice from a heartstrings-tugging standpoint, otherwise, I dunno. It seemed indulgent or something. Anyway, the song was "I Have Nothing" and of course Jessica sang it competently but without any sauce. Y'know? Just no sauce with her. There's never any sauce. Sure there's meat and potatoes, but where's the sauce? (You guys all put sauce on your meat and potatoes, right? So much sauce.) She's a bland one, this Jessica. Talented as all get-out, but no flair. I suppose she's young, is the problem. She doesn't really have any meaning to throw behind the song, it's all just sort of empty sentiment that she's aping from other people. It's understandable, but it's also dull.

Then, ugh, Jessica picked her second song, which had to be something they sang during the season (always a telling little thing — oh, is that what you think was your best one? Interesting...), and it was something called "The Prayer" by Celine Dion. Woof, Jessica, woof. The song is about how we are all god's children or some such hooey and Jessica smeared this thing with goo (not sauce, goo) and sent it slicking up into the night sky and it squished around up there for a while and goo rained down on the audience and it burned a little like alien blood but they accepted it anyway and, gosh, I just don't know. Obviously a certain contingent of Idol voters will love a big belted song about being god's children sung by a pretty girl in a nice dress with hot acid goo shooting out of her mouth, but I think others were like "Snoooooooze." And I'm sure some producers were like "the fuck?" because Jessica is supposed to be selling herself as a contempo artist, not some old lady who sings on Christian cruises to Nova Scotia. (Not a bad gig, but still.) I don't know. I think it was a bad choice. Prove me wrong, America.

Lastly Sanchy unveiled her Winner's Song and it was strangely not about rising against mountains to reach the golden eagle of your dreams in a storm when it rains if you believe you will succeed. It wasn't about that at all, in fact! It was a relationship song called "Change Nothing" about how, y'know, a relaysh might have been bad but still Jessica Sanchez would change nothing. The song was dumb on its own merits but was rendered completely stupid when performed by a 16-year-old girl. Because she knows from this how, exactly? Even if she's had a relationship, it seems doubtful that she'd have any sort of feelings on it of that level. "Looking back all weary now, I realize I wouldn't change a thing." Oh do you realize that? About the relationship that lasted from December to April of last year, when you broke up on the freshman field trip to the science museum? Amazing. Amazing feelings, Jessica. Amazing insight. Yikes did whoever picked this song screw the pooch. Just give her an overcoming adversity song like always and have that be that. Make her sing "When You Dream of Achievement" or something and just kick back and relax. I know those songs are ultimately never that marketable, but it's how the show works. You gotta respect the process, guys. Don't tell some 16-year-old to wistfully remember some nonexistent relationship for her first single. It's just amplifying her emptiness. And there is already a lot of emptiness in one Jessica Sanchez.


Meanwhile in Scratchington Acres, dreamboy next door Phil Phillips was wailing away on his geetar with middling success. Phil's first jam was, again, the Simon Fuller pick and Simon, who is apparently some kind of sap monster from the planet Saptasia, picked "Stand By Me" for Phil to grumble out. I mean, I guess it made sense as a sentimental but still soft-spoken, Phil-style kinda standard, but come on. It's also "Stand By Me." It's just a bit overdone at this point. And Phil did it in one of his weird arrangements that only sometimes work and this was not one of those times. He gnarled and tangled this thing up until it hung in a sad ball like a jumble of electrical cords. (Electrical chords?) It wasn't a success.

Try number two went better. Phil chose "Movin' Out," which he sang during Twyla Tharp Billy Joel week, and is one of his weird arrangements that, despite itself, succeeds. He does it all be-boppin' jam band style and something about it fits. It makes sense. Another good thing about the song is that Phil makes the craziest faces when he sings it! He is always making crazy faces, that Phil Phillips, but especially on "Movin' Out." Oh man his eyes start bugging and he smiles these creepy kiddie smiles and his whole face starts to stretch into strange shapes. Honestly it looks like his face is coming and is a little embarrassed about it, hence the weird giggle-smile. It's just a very funny series of facial spasms that he has while coughing up his musical sandpaper. If nothing else, I will miss Phil Phillips' face. Which, duh.

Lastly Phil sang his Winner's Song and boyyy did he get lucky. He got crazy lucky, didn't he? The song they had for him, "Home," (which was presumably what they had for other male contestants too?) was this plinky, plucky, Coldplay/Death Cab/Gabe Dixon mashup that was actually really pretty and suited Phil to a T. It was a very nice melody and well-arranged with strong percussion and, yeah, it worked. It really did. Well done, Idol team! I would listen to that again. Though, erm, you might want to reconsider the lyrics, which are a hilariously remedial string of rhyming dictionary couplets and then a bunch of "Ahh Ahh Ahhhh"s for the rest of the song. Guess they ran out of rhyming dictionary. Seriously there were like two verses and the rest was just noise. That said, among those verses was maybe the most perfect, beautiful summation of this season that there could be. I should just give up and stop writing about this season now that Phil Phillips has prettily whined out: "Don't pay no mind to the demons." Ha. Ha! Ha. OK. I won't. Goodbye, demons! Goodbye, Colton! Evil demon, goodbye. And to you too, Idol!! Adios, everyone! See ya, Heejun! Lates, Erika! PEACE, Elise! G'bye, demons. Phil told me to pay you no mind, so I won't. Never again.

Until tonight and then tomorrow when I write a recap. But other than that, goodbye. Who will win? I'm throwing it to Phil because his Winner's Song was so much better. That's what I'm saying. What about you?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.