'American Idol': Remember the Titans

Last night America's top ten sang their goopy guts out on American Idol, the last place in America where cheesy is champion. Sure, Nicki Minaj was late, but who's really looking good in the race to who will probably, maybe, definitely win?

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Well here we are, ladies and germs. Finally at the big show. Last night America's picks for the top ten absolute best singers in the country, no question — this is legally binding — sang their goopy guts out and tried their damnedest to put on a show that we'd want to see again next week. It was such a big deal that Nicki Minaj decided to show up fifteen minutes late. Yeah, the gossip blogs were making a big ol' stink about that this morning, but I dunno. She said it was traffic, and it is Los Angeles at 5 p.m. I mean, duhhh, it probably wasn't traffic, she was probably just being a diva, but whatever. Who really cares. It's live television, things happen. I know that people really want to make there be some big judge drama on the show this season, but it's not really happening. (And by "people" I mean Fox. This was probably a thing orchestrated by Fox. "Nicki, why not show up thirteen minutes late. Maybe that will get people talking!" It's gotten pretty desperate over there.) Nicki was late. So what. Let's build a big beautiful bridge and get the heck over it.

The theme of the evening was to sing a tune that a previous winner on the show sang. Naturally everyone wanted to sing a Lee DeWyze song. Who doesn't remember every single one of ol' Phil Dweezy's performances? There was his classic rendition of "Shoes For My Road Man" and "Open Country Heart Man" and all kinds of other great songs that Phil Dweezy sang. But not everyone could sing a Phil Dweezy tune — "Hey, only one person can sing 'Love Me Rough Man,' guys!" the producers had to yell when there was a scramble — so other people sang Scotty McCreery jams, some horn-blasted out some Fantasia, others wound it all the way up and went for Kelly. They didn't have to sing the singer's winning song, you know "Mountains Achieve Us" or whatever the songs are called, just something they did on the show. So they had some options. Did they choose wisely? Only a small few.

The Good

One must begin with Candice Glover, right? She decided to sing "I (Who Have Nothing)," like what Jordin Sparks wailed out some thirty years ago, and it was quite good. Big and confident and pure of tone, it was the most competent, credible performance of the evening. The judges appropriately flipped their various lids when she was done, and Candice beamed proudly but not goofily. Y'know? She's sure of her competence and graciously takes compliments but maintains professional composure. She's a class act, this Candice. She seems much more mature than a lot of the other trembling dopes on this season, doesn't she? I like her. I'm not sure she's that fresh or innovative or even commercial, but as a contestant on this show, I think she's quite good. And she has the support of my favorite Idol contestant ever, so who's to argue with that? Ten points for Ravenclaw. (She'd totally be Ravenclaw, right?)

Guys, please don't kill me or burn me for being a heathen or something, but Paul Jolley once again squeaks in to the good category. Not because he is actually good good, he's not good in the same way Candice is good, but for the purposes of the show, yes, he did the thing right. He sang Lonestar's "Amazed," previously performed by the baseball boy of Paul's lonely daydreams, Scotty McCreery, which is a real cheese ball of a song. I mean if you tilted up Wisconsin and took a pebble and rolled it all the way down the state, from Bark Bay to Beloit, at the end you'd end up with a ball of cheese the size of Lonestar's "Amazed." It is really the cheesiest. But that's OK, because this is American Idol, the last place in America where cheesy is champion. In that regard, Paul did well. He was wearing a smart blazer and his hair was in good shape it was just a nice, clean-cut, gay-as-grandma's-girlfriend performance. Nicki said it was the first time she'd felt "sexually stimulated" by Paul Jolley, a statement that was met with lots of awkward chuckling by pretty much everyone in the room because Paul Jolley is about as sexual as a souvenir key chain, but whatever. I kinda know what she meant. He's ridiculous, but he works. Sue me. At least he's interesting, compared to the rest of the guys, who are pretty much all snoozers.

The Bad

All the other guys picked terrible songs. Terrible songs! Devin picked some funereal Carrie Underwood dirge because he feels that ballads are his wheelhouse, to which I say poppycock. I'm sorry, but it is 2013, young man. No young male singer who's trying to have an actual pop career should make slow cruise ship ballads his main thing. Sorry to say it, but that is not going to work my friend. I know they're fun and maybe easy for you to sing, but stop it. You gotta live in the now. Be one with the world as it is, not as you want it to be. Sure, sure, there's Josh Groban, someone Devin says he admires, but that's about it. And Josh Groban has been around for years. Oh and Josh Groban is a much better singer. All told I'm just not sure Devin is guiding himself in the right direction. He's handsome and young and has a big shiny platform! He should be using it for exciting things, not mewling out sad dumpy ballads. It's no good.

Same for you, Curtis Finch. The guy sang yet another Big Inspirational Song, this time Fantasia's winning thing "I Believe." Yeah, that one. It's a real ham-slammer and you'd better believe that Curtis Finch slammed that ham as hard as he could. There was ham everywhere he slammed it so hard. Ham all over the judges' faces, ham in Keith's weird prickly hair, ham blending in seamlessly with Mariah's cleavage. It was hammy last night, lemme tell ya. A couple of the judges actually did say something about it to him, advising him to change it up and not feel like he needs to hork up these heavenly hairballs every week, which was appreciated. I agree. Let's see him try something else, something you might actually, I dunno, hear on the radio here in this modern age. I know that's a crazy concept. And I know that the show is obviously trying to sink the guys this season and that they're doing a remarkably competent job of it, but still. It might be nice to hear Curtis doing something remotely relevant. Just once.

Janelle, huh? I mean that. Huh. What else is there to say. Her? I think that's the reaction. A small, Bluth-style "Her?" Janelle wanted to sing a Scotty "The Body" McCreery song so she chose Montgomery Gentry's "Gone." And it was sleepy, man. Janelle's not a bad singer by any means, but of all the country lasses in this competition, of all the gals with a little dust in their voices, they picked her? I know she's pretty and blonde and whatnot, but man she is as bland as Melba toast. Not even Melba toast. Wonder bread. Janelle is every mid-morning drive to a doctor's appointment, every supermarket just before closing, every drop-ceilinged office with fluorescent lights fuzzing. She is the banal terrors of America, the dull strains of a life lived drifting through the middle of things. And I don't like it.

All the Rest

Lazaro continues to bother me. All he gets are warmed-over, halfhearted compliments from the judges, even though his performances are sometimes empirically not good. Like last night's. He sang Kelly Clarkson's "Break Away" and it was just... Soupy. The kid's soupy. Everything is a dreary muddle and nothing he sings sounds actually felt. It's all synthesized meaning and import, like something he saw on TV. And he probably did see it on TV. On American Idol. We've created Lazaro and now we have to deal with him. What have we done.

The same is true for Angie Mills. (She's calling herself Angie Miller now. Halfway there, kiddo!) Though she started out on the show as an interesting entity, singing an original song at the piano smoothly and confidently, she's rather quickly devolved into a pretty boring belter. My beloved Jimmy Iodine called her pageant-y last night, which was very true. That Jimmy knows. He's shrewd and sharp. Paul Jolley says he ain't never sang no showtune before? Jimmy Iodine knows the truth. Showtunes is in Paul's blood. And Iodine the old wiggle-worm knew the truth about Angie Mills too. She's kind of a hoax, posing as someone dynamic and different, a diamond in the rough, when really she's just a rhinestone, glittering chintzly under the hot stage lights. Oh well. Didn't we almost have it all. She'll probably win.

I have friends who think Paul Jolley will win. I don't see that happening. I actually don't see anyone winning. When I close my eyes real real tight and think of the future, trying to squeeze a picture of it into my mind, all I see is an empty stage. Lights turned off save for the lonely ghost light. Silence except for the shuffle of two pairs of feet. A silhouette of two people on the stage, whispering. One saying, "I'm sorry the show had to end when it did. I think you coulda been big." The other replying, "Baby I am big." A giggle. "I can feel that," the first saying, voice breathy and excited. Then a third voice, somewhere offstage. "Ryan? Paul? Are you guys coming? We gotta meet everyone at the wrap party." And so the moment is broken. The two shadows move off and all that's left is the light they once lived in.

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