Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Cowell Threatens to Quit, (Sigh) Again

This is an "American Idol" blog, and, as everybody knows, just hours before the pronouncement of America's newest idol, it should be leading with news about Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis. So, in case you slept through last night's competition here it is: She'll win, he'll lose. Game over. (Call us when they force both contestants to do anything but a treacly ballad as the coronation song, then we'll call it a fair matchup). See more below ...

Far more interesting yesterday was Simon Cowell reopening his contract negotiations three years early by announcing that when his current Idol obligation ends he's quitting. Do we believe him? Is Blake gonna win?

Leave it to Cowell to try to steal the thunder from the Idol finale with his timing. On yesterday's edition of "Extra," he dropped this "exclusive bombshell confession" to correspondent Terri Seymour, who, oops, also just happens to be his girlfriend:

Cowell told Seymour that the clock on "Idol" is ticking for him, and that in a few years he'll be gone! What Cowell might quit? Why, he hasn't threatened to quit in, oh, 4 weeks, since Sanjaya Malakar was still a finalist.

"There comes a point where you've got to move on," Simon explained. "You've got to say when your time's up. This is the year I decided that on 'American Idol,' once I've done 10 series, your time's up. It's time to do something new," he told Seymour.

Then what? "I think it's time to bring in new people, because I think you know, 10 years is a long time." Hey, this season alone was a long time, sez us.

"And we've just got to make the next three great." Hopefully greater than this year ... yawnnnnnn.

Of course, Cowell doesn't plan to just kick back on some golf course in three years, telling Seymour, "I think I'd rather drop dead than retire."

So what will he do? Well, his "big plans" might include working with none other than Michael Jackson. (Talk about a career-killing move.)

"We were planning something with the record label maybe for 'Thriller,' but we'll see what happens," Cowell divulged. "I can't tell you more than that. A big, big tribute, but we'll see."

Hmmm, let's see, Simon. "Thriller" was released, um, 17 years ago. So, in three years ... could it be. Wait it is! A 20-year tribute! Holy Sherlock Holmes!

And Cowell said he already has an idea of who he wants to replace him on Idol ... Donald Trump. Oh yeah, we're ready for that. Check, please!


Last night might have been the strangest finale for Idol ever. It was The Balladeer vs. The Beat-Boxer, two wonderful entertainers who together formed a great bill, but who separately were incapable of performing each other's style of music. She soars on ballads, he rocks out beat-box, and never the twain shall meet. If she attempts anything fast, she fails. If he goes for the super sweet power songs, he stinks. And so it went last night.

The show was pretty much a neck-and-neck race until the final song, otherwise known as the deadly coronation killer. Unfortunately for Blake Lewis, it was, typically, the cheesy, smaltzy ballad that the producers love. It's hard to believe that "This Is My Now," an incredibly stupid title BTW, was the result of a nationwide contest. But, then again, the folks picking it were the same morons who always pick ballads so sickeningly and cloyingly sweet that you need an immediate insulin injection to recover from them.

A song worse than Taylor Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud"? We wouldn't have believed it. But "This Is My Now" will live on in the Idol Hall of Shame alongside "Proud" and "Inside Your Heaven," Carrie Underwood's unfortunate coronation song.

The evening started out with Ryan Seacrest introducing the judges, Randy Jackson, dressed in his version of the Sgt. Pepper's jacket, Paula Abdul and her unbandaged but swollen broken nose and Simon Cleavage, er Cowell. Ryan broached the subject of Abdul's broken nose, wanting to know if this is the new one (it did look slightly different, but it could be the swelling). Paula explained that she had tripped over her sleeping Chihuahua, Tulip, but then assured the awwwwwwing audience that the dog was unhurt. "So, the bitch is OK, we got it," offered Ryan. Depending on your opinion of Abdul, things went up- or downhill from there.

Watch Ryan Seacrest opening the show, including banter with judges and clips from the Seattle auditions, where both Blake and Jordin were put through to Hollywood:

Although Blake Lewis had won the coin toss for possession of performance order, he had let Jordin Sparks have her choice, and, as it turned out, she brilliantly chose to go last (although she would have won anyway). If you could chart the evening, it would look like an X, with Blake on the upper left and Jordin on the lower left. He started strong, with his best song and continually weakened. She started with her weakest selection and gradually rose to great strength. Strategically, from grabbing the second singing spot, to the way she placed her song choices, it was a brilliant plan. But, then, her father is a former pro football player. He knows all about the importance of game planning (as well as X's and O's, heh).

But you know what? Blake had a great time. We've never seen a contestant so relaxed on the finale performance show. To be sure, he took the challenge seriously and was well-prepared, but it was a lark for him -- he never expected to be there. Jordin on the other hand, also vigorously and seriously prepared, has wanted this crown badly for years. Now to feel it just within her grasp, well, you can almost she her frothing at the mouth for it. Ultimately, she'll get it and be thrilled, and he'll be thrilled for her. So it's all OK in the end. And they'll both land recording contracts anyway.

Blake's best number, was his opening, a reprise of "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi. He used his beat-boxing and performance style to great advantage, making it at least the equal to, if not better than his original go at it. Randy said, "I give you a 10 out of 10 on the beat-boxing, dawg. The beatboxing was hot, you had the triplets going on with the drum thing. The singing for me was just aight." Paula said she wanted to clean out Randy's ears and added, "I wish I could give you more than a 10," while Simon Cowell offered, "You're not the best singer in the competition, but you are the best performer I think we've had."

Watch video of Blake Lewis singing "You Give Love a Bad Name":

Probably because she has been accused by Simon of choosing material that is too old for her 17 years (really? Is she only 17?) and also because she hears Simon always complimenting Blake for not being afraid of taking risks, Jordin ventured outside her comfort zone for her first number, Christina Aguilera's "Fighter." And she carried it off with some success. But Sparks voice does not have the strength or power of Aguilera's growling vocals, and somehow her My Little Pony demeanor made it really hard for us to believe her singing lyrics such as:

After all of the fights and the lies
Yes you wanted to harm me but that won't work anymore
Uh, no more, oh no, it's over
'Cause if it wasn't for all of your torture
I wouldn't know how to be this way now, and never back down
So I wanna say thank you

But we knew the possibility of a train wreck existed and Sparks easily sidestepped that, so we give her extra credit for trying, but Blake easily won this round, even according to Cowell. Randy said "It wasn't your greatest entertainment thing, but your voice, you were stellar." Paula, unable to come up with her own compliment, said "You were stellar, awesome." Uh-huh. Simon, in contrast "thought the vocals actually were a bit shrieky in the middle," then called round one for Blake. But Lewis wouldn't be reveling in the glow of victory for long.

Watch video of Jordin Sparks singing Christina Aguilera's "Fighter":

Round 2 the contestants met somewhere in the middle before her ascent and his descent. First up, Blake sang a new song, "She Will Be Loved," one of our favorites by Maroon 5, a group that Blake also obviously favors. He handled it ably with smooth relaxed vocals that were occasionally off pitch, but overall it was a nice, if somewhat dull, performance. Surprisingly, Randy raved, "Great song and a very nice vocal" and Paula added, "You sounded great." Simon, much more on the money, said "It was good, it was safe, it wasn't as good as the first performance, and I actually wouldn't have chosen that song in the final, because I don't think it makes that much of an impact." We hated to hear it, but knew he was right.

Watch video of Blake Lewis singing Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved":

For her encore performance, Jordin chose Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing." We thought she should have sung this one last week and saved her true series powerhouse, "I Who Have Nothing" for the finale. The performance was good, but, in spite of the tongue bath Randy Jackson gave her, not nearly as good as her original performance of it. Wanting to not build the song too fast, she played the beginning low with her head held down, causing the words to sound mumbled and unintelligible. She untimately built to a satisfying climax, but it could have been a much stronger rendition had she started out better. Randy, incorrectly, called it flawless, adding "That was unbelievable, I think better than the original." Uh-uh, you better clean out those ears like Paula suggested, though even she told Jordin, "You are in great, great vocal voice tonight." Simon kept it simple with, "Now that was good," but didn't award Round 2 to anyone. We'd call it a tie.

Watch video of Jordin Sparks singing "A Broken Wing":

We knew the final round would be crucial for Blake, not only because he was going first, but because he would be competing in a genre so alien to him that he might as well be singing the song on Pluto. Ballads ain't his thing, especially Scott Krippayne and Jeff Peabody horrible "This Is My Now." Blake made a game attempt at it, starting the song out sitting inside the lower curve of the large monitor, looking small and childlike and reminding us of the Dreamworks logo of the boy sitting with a fishing pole in the curve of a new moon. but it was the train wreck that Jordin didn't have. Pitchy and pitiful. The judges bent over backwards to be charitable, knowing that Blake was stuck with a song he couldn't sing well. "You did a pretty good job with it. It was alright, you don't have to feel that bad about it," Randy said. Paula said "Even if it's not the genre of music that you like or enjoy, I think you were in great voice." Well, he tried, but ... Simon, who we thought would really trash Lewis said "I thought it was all a little odd to be honest with you, Blake," then very charitably added, that Blake needs to be judged on his first two songs.

Watch video of Blake Lewis singing "This Is My Now:

By contrast, and what a contrast it was -- Blake couldn't have faced a worse one -- Jordin got up there and belted that song out with emotion and feeling. How much emotion? Well she teared up, then choked up, barely able to finish, guaranteeing that every grandma and little girl in America ran to their phone to speed dial and text message her numbers until their digits were raw. As far as Sparks was concerned, THIS WAS HER NOW and she was going to milk it for everything it was worth. Was it real emotion? Possibly. But you'll see in the video comparison below that she didn't get nearly as choked up during the dress rehearsal. She saved it all for the voters. But the judges, rightly, couldn't pay her enough compliments. Randy enthused, "You were the best singer tonight. You deserve it all, baby," and Paula added, "You're an angel." Simon cut right to it with, "You just wiped the floor with Blake on that song." And well, she did.

Watch full video of Jordin Sparks singing "This Is My Now" live:

Now watch video of comparison of the end of song. Jordin Sparks turns on the waterworks and chokes up for the live finale performance of "This Is My Now." Strangely, she wasn't nearly as emotional during the dress rehearsal. Could it be because we weren't voting on that performance?

Undoubtedly, though, the best part of the evening was the return of Chris Daughtry to Idol's band, accompanied by his band. He's become such a hot rock property, fulfilling all the potential that Bo Bice never did, that it's hard to believe it's only been a year since he competed. He flawlessly and beautifully performed "Home," this year's "video journey" song. And he reminded us that as cheesy as this show can be, it does occasionally find real greatness and gives those performers the showcase they've been waiting for to rocket into stardom. But, YIKES, wassup with his massive makeup job? Mascara, shadow and guy liner?

Watch video of Chris Daughtry singing "Home" on "American Idol" Finale:

Simon, who after the Seattle auditions, declared that the city had "the worst bunch of miserable singers that I've ever met in my life. It was two days of total misery," closed the show humorously by saying, "I always said there was talent in Seattle, and I was right."

Tonight, Jordin gets crowned winner (c'mon, it's gonna happen) and Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks, among others entertain us for the two hour finale.

More tonight after the show, with the full recap with videos in the morning.

Bookmark us for after the season ends. We'll continue to report news and tour info throughout the year on all of your Idol favorites!

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