Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crystal Bowersox and the Goblet of Fire

The most heartbreaking moment of American Idol this week so far has been when brave Lacey Brown, sent home last year just before the Final 24 were chosen, sang dreadfully, and had to keep from bursting into tears while all four judges defecated on her performance. Is it not for such moments of rare courage that a lot of people watch the program, rather than for the mostly very boring singing?

How not to hope that someone named Crystal Bowersox, with dreadlocks, won’t win? Well, it’s actually much easier than I’d have imagined. She’s aloof and unsmiling, our Crystal, and exudes a sense of imagining herself too hip for the show, and it isn’t endearing. I’m reminded of the great discomfort Paul Simon used to affect at awards shows at which he knew he was going to be given armfuls of awards; sure, he’d accept the damn things, but only with the most palpable reluctance. If you’re going to play the game, play it with grace. When La Bowersox performed a song by the unspeakable Alanis Morisette, it contained a lame harmonica passage apparently intended to demonstrate that she may be in American Idol, but is not of it; no way!

Lily Scott, who looks like my wife, is quirkily jazzy, very distinct, altogether terrific, and surely doomed by having nothing to do with the WhitneyMariahLeona tradition of technique-based divastry. Haeley Vaughan, with the biggest mouth I’ve ever seen — she could swallow Ryan Seacrest’s head, whole — might make the Final 12 on the basis of being an oddity: a black girl country singer. But the record shows clearly that anatomically quirky contestants can go only so far, as witness neckless Melinda Doolittle from Season 17, or whenever it was.

Several years ago, while I was living in the UK, the BBC tried to challenge Pop Idol (later to metamorphose into The X Factor) with a show called Fame Academy. The second season was won by a little lesbian from the hinterlands called Alex Park, who seemed, whenever she opened her mouth, to be singing to save the life of someone she loved; she broke your heart with every song. American Idol contestant Siobhan Magnus has that same quality, and breathtaking range, and will of course get nowhere near the final because America, far more skittish than the UK, will find her frightening, just as it found Adam Lambert last year. We as a people would much sooner read John Grisham than Scott Turow, though the former isn’t fit to install updates of the latter’s text processing software.

This year’s male crop is pretty undistinguished, lacking a single jaw-dropper in the Adam Lambert class, and I’m speaking solely of singing ability, rather than panache. The human mountain Michael Lynche phrases engagingly. Casey James, who will spend the rest of his career trying to live down having eagerly exposed his pigeon-chestedness for Victoria Beckham and the leering Kara at his first audition, is a reasonable rock dude in the tradition of Bo Bice, over whom America ultimately chose Carrie Underwood back in Season 18, or whenever it was. I’d like to see the very ethnic Andrew Garcia make it into the last couple of weeks, but I suspect his gang-tattooed neck will ultimately terrify America, which, presented last year with a choice between the incandescent Lambert and the soporifically bland What’s-His-Name, chose the latter. The smart money’s on Jermaine Sellers, whose own neck tattoo is offset by his self-identification as a church singer.

You read it here first: this year’s winner will be the blandly gorgeous, unmemorably virtuosic Michelle Delamor, who is everything Lily Scott is not, and the rest of the world will snicker at us anew.

My own album, containing supremely unvirtuosic singing, wonders why you haven't yet read all about it here. Subscribe, my hearties!

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