Friday, March 9, 2007

Reflections on the Winners ... And Losers

Well, the finalists have been selected, and for the most part the choices were logical. We would have replaced Haley Scarnato with Sabrina Sloane and Sanjaya Malakar with Sundance Head, but none of the four had a snowball's chance of winning the competition anyway. The only thing we would have been spared was a few more weeks of Sanjaya's wailing and Haley's mediocrity, but they'll both be gone soon enough.

Even though there are a few excellent singers in the contest, overall this year's group seems lackluster. We're feeling that derisive term American Idull more and more. Even the group song "Stuck in the Middle With You" lived up to its title, we felt stuck in the middle with a dull group in a dull rendition of the song. Oh, well, maybe things will begin to pick up when the show goes back to only two nights a week and a half-hour results show. We'll see.

As to the eliminations: The first four "winners" were no-brainers. Did anyone actually think Blake Lewis, LaKisha Jones, Chris Sligh or Jordin Sparks was going home? However, Phil Stacey seemed even more surprised than we were that he made it to the finals. The poor guy looked as if he was going to break down in tears. Generally, we like Phil, but he has been an inconsistent contender. Some nights his voice soars, others it's sore. Tuesday's LeAnn Rimes number "I Need You" was a disaster and John Waite's "Missing You" the previous week should have started later in the song. With such a long intro, by the time Phil began to pick up steam with the chorus, his 90 seconds were up. Week 1 of the semis, he barely pulled Out Edwin McCain's "I Could Not Ask for More" because it started in the low part of Phil's register, otherwise known as the danger zone. So if Phil is going to make it through the next weeks and months, he needs to seriously rethink his song selection strategy.

When Ryan called Jared Cotter up right after Phil we knew it was the end. But surprisingly, Cotter didn't. He seemed genuinely shocked (and maybe even a little pissed) that he had been booted. But he shouldn't have been. He'd been holding on by the skin of his teeth since the beginning of the semis and had done nothing to make himself stand out. He demonstrated a pleasant voice but never injected himself into any of the songs he sang, and dressed as if he were in prep school instead of pop school. Even worse was his lack of personality. He comes across as sweet and charming and, well, as dull as dishwater. In fact, every time he's been on, it felt as if he had sucked the personality out of the room.

Melinda Doolittle and Brandon Rogers were called up together. Melinda, obviously was safe. But what about Brandon? We thought he had done enough to redeem himself this week with "I Just Want to Celebrate," and we like his voice and looks, but friends of ours were sure he was doomed. So we just weren't sure of his fate. But he made it through and we're glad. Brandon had as much right as Phil to be in the finals and about a million times more than (ugh!) Sanjaya.

Up next, Gina Glocksen and Chris Richardson. We were hoping one made it and the other didn't. Gina has finally come to life and promises to deliver some good rock in the finals. She's about the only candidate capable of rocking the joint -- of course, not near the level that Chris Daughtry did last season, but at this point we'll take any rock. We were really happy she got through. Richardson, on the other hand, we just don't get. Worse yet, we don't get why the judges rave about him every week. He has a weak voice and no personality. He looks (and sounds) more like Kevin Federline than Justin Timberlake (maybe he should date Britney Spears next), plus he's the original bobble-headed boy. Yuk, yuk, yuk. But we'll just have to tolerate more of him. Too bad.

Hmmm, Ryan calls for Antonella Barba and Stephanie Edwards. You just know one is going and one is staying, but who? Antonella looks nervous, but then Stephanie doesn't look all that confident, either. Antonella can't sing but has been getting votes because of those Internet photos and because, well, she's one hot babe. Stephanie has a dynamite voice, but hasn't connected that well with the public. In fact, placed her dead last this week. She even scored worse than the lowest male contestant. But DialIdol predictions have been worth crap. They've basically been saying almost anyone could be first or last. Hey, you don't need to be a psychic to figure that out. So who's in, who's out? We want Antonella out in the worst way, but don't really believe it's a possibility. But then ... Yes! Antonella gets cut. Omigod, America came to its senses? Yea! Stephanie, compassionately tries to comfort Antonella, who's trying hard not to cry, but Ryan finally commands Stephanie to take a seat. We grit our teeth as we are forced to endure Antonella's swan song, and man, even she winced at some of the notes she (can't) hit. Sayonara Antonella. (But don't cry for Antonella. With all the sex-related offers -- Playboy, Girls Gone Wild, SugarDVD -- she has already received, she'll be richer than the winner. Yesterday SugarDVD offered Barba $500,000 to just host a launch party for their new video-on-demand service!)

Then it's Haley Scarnato's and Sabrina Sloan's turn. This is a difficult one to call. Both women share a demonstrated lack of personality. Haley has an OK voice, while Sabrina has a dynamite voice. But Haley has a few things going for her over Sabrina: She's prettier, she comes from Texas and she sang country (Faith Hill's "If My Heart Had Wings") on Wednesday. Not a great rendition, but a smart vote choice. By the look on Sabrina's face (she almost starts crying from the second Ryan calls the two onstage) she seems to know she's the loser. And she's right. We liked her, but we hear that others find her personality so cold they put on a sweater and scarf when she performs. Brrrr.

Finally, we're down to Sundance Head and Sanjaya Malakar. Now any logical person would tell you this is a no-brainer. Yes, Sundance mucked up Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" on Tuesday, but he totally rocked "Mustang Sally" last week (and, yes, let's not even talk about the "Nights in White Satin" disaster in Week 1). But Sanjaya has totally sucked throughout the entire semi-finals. The judges can't even find nice words for him. And we're not even going to get into his masculinity problems. Yet, America has kept him in the competition. But then, they got smart this week. They voted out Antonella. So? So America didn't get that smart this week. Sundance is out. Stupid, stupid, stupid. When Ryan asks him to sing one final time, he says sure, then makes a humorous on-camera appeal: "Somebody give me a job; I need a job." He should have been kept on for that alone. Meanwhile, Sanjaya, who should have seemed more surprised to have made it, skulks over to the winner's area, where nobody congratulates him. The camera pans to a standing, stunned Paula Abdul, who says, "I'm speechless. I am. This is a singing competition, and Sundance you've been one of our finest." When Ryan Seacrest asked Simon Cowell how this could have happened, Cowell replied "The volume was turned down" and shrugged his shoulders in disbelief.


... Ryan announced that the 12 finalists will be mentored by Diana Ross next week.

... Carrie Underwood sang her latest release, "Wasted." She looked gorgeous, as usual, but a bit disconnected. Whenever she returns to "Idol" she seems so emotionless, almost as if she is there totally out of obligation. There's never any banter. She comes on, sings her song, hugs Ryan, leaves. Though she has smartly made sure to thank the producers of the show every time she wins an award.

... Ryan announced a new major initiative, that Fox, "American Idol" and the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund have partnered on "Idol Gives Back," a two-night TV special to raise awareness and funds for organizations that provide relief programs to help children and young people in extreme poverty in America and Africa.

On the Tuesday, April 24 performance show, the Top 6 finalists will sing "inspirational" songs about compassion and hope. That night "Idol" and a range of sponsor partners will donate money to the charity for every viewer vote that is cast.

Gwen Stefani, Josh Groban, Pink, Michael Bublé, Annie Lennox, Il Divo and Sacha Baron Cohen, among others will appear on a special two-hour results show on Wednesday, April 25. During the Wednesday event, viewers will be able to make donations via toll-free lines and the Internet.

The money raised by the two shows will equally benefit the U.S. and Africa. In the U.S. , the money will be distributed to Save the Children and other U.S. organizations. In Africa , the money will be dedicated to delivering health and education programs and will be distributed to a number of organizations, including U.S. Fund for UNICEF, The Global Fund, Save the Children, Nothing but Nets and Malaria No More.

Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest have already traveled to Africa and personally witnessed the poverty and disease there, as well as the extensive programs that are underway to fight them.

"Having witnessed some of the appalling conditions in Africa firsthand, I'm especially proud that our show is offering Americans the chance to help those most in need," said Cowell. "Ensuring that American charities will equally benefit from these efforts was one of my priorities, and I'd like to thank our sponsors for their support and generosity in making this possible." (Funny aside, in one of the photos of Simon with some African kids, the kids on the right of Simon offered up, ahem, the Antonella Barba one-finger salute. Are they just saying "Idol" is No. 1?)

Seacrest added: "I thought I was prepared for what I would see in Africa , but the level of poverty was beyond anything I could have imagined. You see it, you smell it, you taste it. However, despite the extreme conditions, you feel an incredible sense of hope from the people ... especially the children."

Additionally, Cowell and Seacrest will be joined by Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, visiting areas such as Kentucky and parts of Mississippi and Louisiana devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Although it has been over a year since the hurricane hit, many people's lives are still in turmoil despite the efforts being made.

"Children and children’s charities have always played such an important part of my life and career," said Abdul. "I am extremely excited to be a part of this new project, which I believe can truly make a difference. Visiting the sites of these tragedies will certainly bring a renewed awareness to these children's plight and I look forward to meeting so many of them in the coming weeks."

Jackson added: "I'm so happy and proud that we are part of trying to get all of America back on its feet and tend to the problems here at home, in addition to those abroad. I grew up in the proud state of Louisiana and it breaks my heart every time I think about the devastation to both Mississippi and Louisiana . I'm looking forward to taking part in making a difference and helping to create awareness for the devastated areas."

These trips will be highlighted in the specials, demonstrating what can be achieved by communities working together and how even small donations can make a life-changing difference.

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