UPDATE: Phillip Phillips crowned the season 11 winner of American Idol. After a WORLD RECORD 132 million votes Ryan dutifully repeated on the hour, every hour, the results came in. America got it right. P2 wins, sings half of his proposed single, Home, and breaks into tears and shares a moment with his family. Nice ending. The 21-year-old indie-minded guitarist grew and peaked at the right time last week. Though he sings off-key at times, he is among the most genuine of contestants. The warmth that shone through the visit to his home in Georgia last week sealed the deal.
And how nicely ironic: after an often unbearable 127 minutes of screeching performances from Idols and has-beens like Chaka Khan and Jennifer Holiday, the nadir of which was Joshua Ledet and Fantasia in a hysterical self-parodying moment, the quietest of the Idol finalists wins the whole thing.
No Donna Summer tribute, as rumoured, but the awww moment is delivered by former finalists Ace Young and season 3 runnerup Diana DeGarmo when Ace proposes marriage on live TV to a teary DeGarmo. Luckily for Ace, she said yes. All that was missing was a choir of angels floating above them.
American Idol closes its 11th season with the usual fanfare tonight. Ryan Seacrest will tease out the results to the bleeding last second -- 7 minutes after the two hour mark because it is just impossible for Idol to not overstay its welcome or endless need of self-promotion in a season crying for any good news. A record 100 million votes...Seacrest will gush, as if a fraction of that number equates to actual viewers.
The wrong winner will be crowned according to at least half of the people on the Twitterverse. Jennifer Lopez will take her leave from the judge's panel most accounts say. Idol will be back in January for a 12th season. And for a 13th and for however long it keeps beating shows in its time slot. The whole machine will grind back to business. But does anyone really care?
As an Idol loyalist who has covered the show since its inception, I've never been more bored during a season and approached each episode as if it were homework in a subject I hated. Even during Idol's all-time worst year, the 9th that gave us finalists Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox after previous years gave us boring whitebread winners like Kris Allen and David Cook, I didn't feel so disinterested in blogging the show.
Even label head Jimmy Iovine's honest, no nonsense reactions and advice, the only sign of intelligence in the whole enterprise, couldn't help me maintain a healthy interest or remove the brain tartar that formed every time Steven Tyler mentioned the word "beautiful" after a performance that wasn't, or Randy Jackson called a female contestant "dude," or JLo rudely interrupted Jackson who didn't fawn over her pointless, uh, insight every week.
Were it not for feeding a growing Twitter following that keeps me engaged (and awake) every week (thanks everyone) it's likely I'd have bailed months ago. Still, I'm ready for the entire TV singing competition thing to come to a merciful end. I won't be watching the Britney X Factor. I won't be joining in on Duets. I'd rather a weekly dental cleaning than to hear dim bulb Blake Shelton give an opinion on anything on the silly The Voice. In fact, unless Idol replaces its judge's panel, I don't foresee returning regularly for a 12th helping next year.
Sure, I believe the creative artist Phillip Phillips is superior to the bland, wind-up mimic Jessica Sanchez for the win on tonight's finale. If there's any justice in the vote, P2 will stand under the confetti shower tonight and Jessica will return to posting YouTube videos of herself oversinging outdated Whitney Houston and Dreamgirls ballads after the cheesy Idols Live Tour ends in September. Took nearly an entire season, but P2's low-key, guitar strumming style and quirky, sometimes out of tune Dave Matthews-Lindsey Buckingham-inspired vocals finally won me over last week with his striking covers of the Four Seasons' obscure Beggin' and Bob Seger's We've Got Tonight. Dare I admit I downloaded the former?
But Idol, and its league of imitators, has run its course. The ratings have been at an all-time low this season because we have seen this stuff all before for 10 years.
The judges are paid millions to not judge. The producers come up with the same overplayed theme weeks and force Billy Joel Week or Queen Week on contestants who have never heard of these yesteryear artists. (Joel hasn't even written a new song since retiring to the nostalgia touring circuit in 1993, years before Sanchez, 16, was born.) The contestant's stories are all the same, year-in, year-out: the ingenue plucked from their stage parent's camcorders to your living room, the persistent aspirant returning for another go at JLo, the hard luck kid with some sob story living his or her Dream. These cliched storylines have become as exhausted as any daytime soap's script.
And the song remains the same. I Have Nothing. Fallin'. Motown. Fat Bottomed Girls.
Of course, it's not just Idol that has tanked this season. Interest in singing competition shows across the board is waning. Simon Cowell's overhyped and overproduced X Factor delivered half the audience the huckster promised and crowned an uninspiring, uninspired Made in Miami victor no one is talking about. The Voice landed its cast on the cover of Rolling Stone and made its judges household names but its ratings, too, tumbled this season and the show has yet to find a remotely marketable pop star. America's Got Talent spent millions to lure shock jock Howard Stern to its judges' table and no one cared. The show's less popular with Stern than it was before he joined. Lip-syncing sham Britney Spears gets $15 million to replace Paula Abdul and a Pussycat Doll on X Factor in the fall? That money would be better spent on cancer research. I'm sure the families of two real pop stars we lost this week, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, would appreciate the gesture.
(In what could be a highlight tonight, word has it Broadway/Glee costar Kristen Chenoweth will join with Jessica Sanchez on a Donna Summer tribute. Likely song: No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) as the pair get their Babs/Donna duel on.)
Even Dancing With the Stars, which had its most impressive lineup of talent yet and its most entertaining season out of 14, saw its ratings fall to its lowest point. And DWTS did everything right this season. Unlike Idol, producers on DWTS keep the show fresh every season by introducing new themes, new challenges (threesome dances, judge's saves) and keeps the focus on the talent and pro dancers rather than endlessly plugging its host and judges the way tired Idol does with every week's overheated intro. "... And your host, RYAN SEACREST!"
Though Idol and DWTS still fight it out with the crime drama NCIS for Neilsen's No. 1 slot, could it be people want a return to scripted television?
And now comes Duets, a contrived singing competition in which the most successful pop Idol, Kelly Clarkson, will sing in tandem with wannabe pop stars no one will remember come September. The resurgent Lionel Richie, announced as one of the mentors, bailed before the series even began, citing scheduling conflicts. More likely, he came to his senses.
The era of Idol and its lesser rip-off shows, Nashville Star, Sing-Off, X Factor, The Voice, et al., really ended when Justin Bieber exploded off YouTube and became a pop sensation without the endorsement of Simon, Randy, Paula, Steven, Ellen, Kara or JLo.
Idol served its purpose well through its fifth, and best, season and became an important pop culture smash, capable of creating stars for the pop stage as well as on movie screens and the Broadway stage. Jennifer Hudson, who wasn't even that special on Idol, won an Oscar. Constantine Maroulis, an Idol also-ran, scored a Tony nomination for originating the lead role in Rock of Ages. More than any other talent show, Idol infiltrated every aspect of popular culture and once mattered. The show has left a major mark and counted as a qualified, legit source and rapid training ground for potential pop stars who could all sing live.
But the music business is cyclical and comes a time when the show biz axiom -- leave them wanting more -- should apply. Marc Cherry understood this when he pulled the plug on Desperate Housewives in its eighth season on a creative high point, a season earlier than planned, this month. He did so before ABC and the public eventually asked him to leave Wisteria Lane before an eviction notice hit his door.
In an unexpected last gasp of relevancy, Idol was fortunate to find country star Scotty McCreery last season, its most viable winner since Carrie Underwood in season 4. In an era in which platinum albums are few and far between, Scotty scored one with his post-Idol debut and seems set for a healthy run on country radio. Producers could have ended Idol's run after its 10th season while on a relative high.
Instead, we get likely winner Phillip Phillips tonight and even he doesn't care what the Idol judges or producers say. He's going to do things his own way, to the point he's already saying he's not going to put the Idol single he sang Tuesday night on his album. (This, despite the fact that song was the first halfway decent Idol single ever given to a finalist.) Naturally, this is why P2 deserves to win over banal Jessica. He's at least interesting.
But the real winners will be TV fans when this trend of TV singing competitions ends for awhile.
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