Tuesday, May 17, 2005

''Idol'' Down to the Wire

Do you think the ''American Idol'' producers went more than a little berserk tonight when Ryan briefly muffed the phone numbers for Vonzell?
When he did, the cynic in me had already begun calculating where they might fit in a do-over show and still keep next week's big finish inside the May sweeps. But they did such a thorough on-air clarification after a commercial that they probably eased any concerns about voter confusion.
As for the show overall, my scorecard had it Carrie, Bo and then Vonzell, with not a lot of room between them.
Where Carrie was in first place on my card in two of the three rounds and Bo was in third on two, it was a very close competition. And I have to give Bo credit for the craftiest move of the night -- doing ''In a Dream'' by Badlands without accompaniment.
The decision was certainly good for Bo, showing the audience that he doesn't need the backing vocals and heavy instrumental backing that all too often obscures the actual singing on the show. It helped maintain his image as a guy outside the expected ''Idol'' mold, and he sang pretty well. Bo's move was also bad for Carrie, who followed Bo with a performance that was just about everything the show would have wanted from an ''Idol'' winner -- but which looked overproduced and even a little artificial after Bo's stripped-down performance.
To be sure, the ''Idol'' machine is pushing Bo. (Paula, who in the early going refused to say one singer is better than another, is so on the Bo bandwagon that she basically said that Vonzell and Carrie are fighting it out for the other spot in the final two.)
They're pushing so hard that I hope Bo realizes it's not good news for him that Simon is talking up Bo as a big-ballad, Elton John-type singer instead of as a rocker.
With that comment you can imagine the marketers figuring out how to tweak Bo's image. How to allow him one song per album in the forgettable manner of his cover of ''Satisfaction'' tonight. How to push him ever more toward those Diane Warren-y inspirational songs that the show can mass-market. Next up in that scenario: Vegas and one of those outlandish late-period Elvis suits.
Anyway, the show had three rounds. In the first, Clive Davis, already calculating how he's going to sell each of these singers, picked the songs.
Vonzell got Dionne Warwick's ''I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again.'' Bo had Elton's ''Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.'' Carrie got the Roy Orbison/k.d. lang ''Crying.'' Vonzell was good, Bo serviceable (while getting raves from the judges) and Carrie offering the closest I've had to a goosebumps moment on this series of ''Idol.'' (I admit to an irrational fondness for the song.) Rank: Carrie, Vonzell, Bo.
Next, the contestants picked their own songs. Vonzell's ''Chain of Fools'' and Carrie's cover of Air Supply's ''Making Love Out of Nothing At All'' bookended Bo's acappella work. Vonzell is certainly not going away, and Carrie was good, but I had to give the round to Bo if only for his strategy; Carrie and Vonzell were pretty much a tie for second behind him.
Then the judges' picks. Simon gave Vonzell the Donna Summer chestnut ''On the Radio.'' Good job, lots of verve. Paula gave Bo the Stones' ''Satisfaction.'' He's probably sung it a thousand times in bars, and it felt like a professional but utterly uninspired bar-band rendition. Randy gave Carrie a bit of Shania Twain -- ''Man, I Feel Like a Woman'' -- and she was good enough to top my card, followed by Vonzell and then Bo.
All this makes it feel like a Bo and Carrie final, but I'm not predicting anything. This is still ''Idol,'' where weird things can happen. And any way the vote goes, both of the final two will be pretty good -- and will be ready to leave nothing out when they go for the championship.


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