American Idol – Week 19: The Final Two

It's been an awful week for TV finales, from the "that's what all the hype was about?" closer for "Heroes" to the sputtering, pregnant pause-packed two-hour snoozefest that ended the maddeningly lame sixth season of the heretofore nearly flawless "24."

It’s been an awful week for TV finales, from the “that’s what all the hype was about?” closer for “Heroes” to the sputtering, pregnant pause-packed two-hour snoozefest that ended the maddeningly lame sixth season of the heretofore nearly flawless “24.” So it somehow seems appropriate that the final performance episode of “American Idol” would underwhelm, with neither of the two finalists hitting anything close to a home run. Not unlike most recent Oscarcasts, watching felt more a chore than a joy; thankfully, like “24,” everything will start anew six months from now.

For many viewers, the sixth season finale of “American Idol” actually came last week, with the shocking elimination of Melinda Doolittle. Exit of the competition’s best singer no doubt caused millions of viewers to emotionally check out, even if most no doubt returned this week so as to not feel completely out of the pop culture loop.

With Doolittle dumped, the contest came down to a battle between the Beatboxer (Blake) and the Beauty (Jordin). Headed into the night, Jordin was a clear favorite, if only because her vocal abilities are clearly superior to Blake’s. When the hour was over, judge Simon Cowell accurately noted that Jordin had, indeed, “wiped the floor” with Blake vocally.

While her rendition of X-tina hit “Fighter” didn’t produce a “wow” moment, it at least showcased Jordin’s strength as a young, dynamic and pop-friendly personality who seems more than willing to be molded however Clive Davis and Co. see fit. Often criticized (justifiably) for a bland stage presence, Jordin showed some, er, spark on this number, and it set the tone for her night.

Jordin then nicely reprised her pretty take on Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing,” injecting the lyrics with just the right amount of melancholy (or as much melancholy as a 17-year-old about-to-be superstar could possibly muster).

Key moment of any “Idol” finale is how the two contestants perform on the feel-good coronation song, and here, Jordin very likely won the night — and the crown. Despite promises that a national songwriting contest would produce something less treacly than past efforts, “This Is My Now” was every bit as trite and sappy as the tunes that have preceded it. But that was good news for Jordin, who knows exactly how to hit those big notes that are a hallmark of such songs.

What’s more, “This is My Now” revealed that Jordin has been closely studying the Kelly Clarkson playbook, right down to the smallest details. If Jordin’s choking up at the end of the song seemed familiar, that’s because Kelly got emotional singing “A Moment Like This” (albeit only after she had won the first “Idol”). And that cute little diamond nose ring? Yup, vintage Kelly. Let’s pray the producers don’t decide to mount “From Blake to Jordin”.

As for the Blakester, well, he bombed big time on “This Is My Now.” At times, his thin voice was actually overpowered by the backup singers. The judges tried to excuse his collapse by saying this wasn’t his kind of song. But really: Shouldn’t the American Idol be able to make the phone book sound at least mildly interesting?

Blake’s other two perfs — a carbon copy reprise of his wacky “You Give Love a Bad Name” and a yawn-inducing cover of “She Will Be Loved” — barely merit comment. There was nothing offensive about them, but they’ve already been forgotten.

As has often been the case this season, “Idol’s” supporting circus, er, cast of players provided some of the night’s best moments of entertainment. Randy Jackson seemed to have raided Michael Jackson’s closet (or maybe Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” wardrobe). And Paula Abdul’s “accident” (breaking her nose in order to avoid hurting her dog) seemed to have revived the loopy Paula the nation treasures. (Painkillers can be a good thing.) Even the normally unflappable Ryan Seacrest stumbled slightly with an ill-advised use of the word “bitch” during the Super Bowl of pre-teen television.

Two of the three judges ended the night by basically declaring Jordin the winner, an assessment that seems safe given the night’s performances. But is this thing as in the bag as it might seem? Or will the same giggling girls who crowned Taylor Hicks champ last year allow the cuter candidate to prevail?

KATHY LYFORD: Each season has produced an anti-climactic finale with the result a foregone conclusion long before Seacrest announces the winner — with the possible exception of season 2’s Ruben/Clay showdown. Going into tonight I thought we might have a bit of suspense and a close race. However, it was hardly a fair fight. While the original song was right in Jordin’s wheelhouse, it was as foreign to Blake as if they had asked him to sing it in Martian. Jordin probably sealed the deal on the merit of that performance. It’s sad that the forgettable “This is My Moment Like This Flying Without Wings Inside Your Heaven, I Believe and Do I Make You Proud Now” or whatever the hell it was called will decide the whole thing. The songwriting portion of “Idol” isn’t likely to produce a superstar; the tune was every bit as ghastly as the previous five songs that have been foisted on the finalists… and America.

PHIL GALLO: Never thought you’d be longing for Clay singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” eh? “Idol” refuses to acknowledge how much music has changed since they went on the air. The show arrived at the beginning of the end of the boy band phenomenon when the pros were trying to get their treacly pop drivel into the hands of the Backstreet Boys. The producers must fear the placement of the types of rock songs Kelly Clarkson is recording these days. If they continue the song competish, they need to spread out beyond pseudo-inspirational ballads. As they say on “Big Brother,” you get bonus points for playing the game well. And Jordin has played the “Idol” game extraordinarily well as she has come into her own.

Since I think we all agree Melinda should’ve made it to the finale, is it time for a rules change on “Idol”? Should the judges be allowed to veto one result each year? Or should producers switch to a negative vote count — i.e., America votes for the person they most want eliminated from the race? I think the latter idea makes a lot of sense.

LYFORD: I don’t think they should mess with the format too much. Why introduce negativity into it? America pretty much gets what they want and deserve with this show. A few tweaks are in order though. I wouldn’t mind seeing a return of the wildcard round from season 2, where each judge gets to bring back a booted contestant for a second chance. As you may recall, Clay was a wildcard contestant. It they do decide to make wholesale changes, those should come in the Hollywood round so that we are presented with a more palatable top 24 from which to choose the top 12.

GALLO: Let’s see. Since last season’s finale, Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington have released albums with major label distribution. And we all know whose albums have staggered and which one was the hit. It appears that in a season with a lot of personalities and different styles of music, the show just whets the public’s appetite. In a year like this, in which the contestants all seem to be working the pop-soul playground, the loss of the best contestant — Melinda — makes you want to call for a do-over. But in our homogenized society filled with people who like what they know, the votes will come in for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with singing.

There have been plenty of infuriating “American Idol” votes over the years. Melinda is just the latest victim. It makes you wonder: Should there be a second chance “Idol” at some point — a special season (or maybe an off-season miniseries) in which contestants who were “robbed” get the chance to redeem themselves by competing against other “victims”? Would it be fun to see Tamyra face off against Frenchie? Or would it end up as disappointing as, say, the all-star edition of “The Amazing Race”?

LYFORD: I thought it was telling that last season’s third place finisher Chris Daughtry closed out Tuesday’s show. He’s achieved more success than either of last year’s finalists (unless you count Katharine McPhee posing on any available red carpet as success). And this season’s second runner-up, Melinda, should follow in his footsteps. An all-star edition is an intriguing idea but any reality all-star edition is disappointing. Furthermore, most of the people who would come back are seasoned professionals by now and I feel as if it would suck the charm out of the show. The beauty of “Idol” is exposing undiscovered talent and watching the contestants blossom as the weeks go on.

GALLO: “American Idol All-Stars.” Ten singers. Twenty-city tour. Capped with a Thanksgiving special on Fox. I would think Kimberley Locke, who performs Sunday at Raging Waters in San Dimas, Calif., would leap at the chance. Turn it into a competition show and “Idol’ jumps the shark.

Since it’s never too soon to start thinking about next season, any advice to the “Idol” producers about changes you’d like to see to the show? Any singers you think would make perfrect mentors?

LYFORD: How about bringing back previous “Idol” winners to serve as mentors? Who knows better what these kids are going through? But I’d prefer that they do away with the mentors altogether and go back to broader theme nights — disco, songs from the year you were born, standards, etc. The time wasted on the shameless plugs for the mentors could be spent letting us get to know the contestants a little better.

GALLO: Gee Joe, do you have a crystal ball and know who will have albums coming out? That’s the problem: Every coach is there to plug a disc with the exception of the few who live on the summer oldies circuit. Personally, I’d like to see them go for great pop, rock and R&B acts who know what they are doing in the studio and onstage. If I’m booking the show, invites go out to Paul McCartney, Prince, Mary J. Blige, George Michael, Chicago, John Pizzarelli, Tom Petty, Carole King, Vince Gill and Lamont Dozier.

Final question of the season: There was finally a little bit of ratings erosion for “Idol” this year. Predict how long the show will remain a national phenom.

LYFORD: The show will be around for years to come but I think its days as a Nielsen steamroller are waning. Two consecutive years of a top two that does not include the season’s best singer can’t help. Next season will need compelling top 12 to avoid further erosion.

GALLO: As Daughtry has proved, when you have the material, the aud responds. Tryout section was padded this year; they should trim that back by about four hours. They are not leaving this year with the audience wanting more. I think it’s a top 10 show for three more years.

Check this space beginning June 5 when Gallo, Lyford and Adalian will be reviewing “Hell’s Kitchen.”And tonight, look for Adalian and Lyford reporting from backstage at the “Idol” finale.

American Idol - Week 19: The Final Two

Fox, Tue., May 22, 8 p.m.

Production: Taped in Los Angeles by 19 Prods. Executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller; director, Bruce Gowers.

Crew: Running time: 1 HOUR

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