May 23, 2006

"American Idol" -- The Finale!

It's the big finale tonight kids. Let's let Slate's music critic Jody Rosen set things up:
[Katharine] McPhee would seem to be a record executive's dream candidate: a classy, pretty girl from Los Angeles who can really sing. But there's only a few record executives out there, and many millions of Idol voters, and I suspect that they, with guidance from Simon, Randy, and Paula, will choose Hicks, the prematurely gray-haired doofus who has spent the past several weeks jerking across the Idol stage like a spaz while belting out classic R&B covers. There's something vaguely unsettling about his shtick: Although he's not black, he calls his fans "The Soul Patrol," and although he's neither black nor blind, he insists on lurching backward when he sings like his idol Ray Charles.

Still, I'll be rooting hard for Hicks. I wager he'll win in a walk, as well he should: He's just a more interesting singer. A Hicks victory would be the ultimate answer to critics who've slammed Idol for its plastic pop-music values. (Bar Band Singer Bests Pop Princess!) And it would continue the Idol voters' streak of choosing talent over beauty—think of pretty boy Justin Guarini falling to Kelly Clarkson, who despite the best efforts of a battery of stylists still looks more like a Dutch mastiff than Jessica Simpson.
Ooh, that's mean to say about Kelly!

In the first few minutes of the show, we see clips of Taylor and Katharine from the early stages of the competition. Seeing Katharine's original audition, I'm reminded why I liked her so much then and lost my feeling for her. She seemed fresh and youthful before they slathered her in makeup like the kind Heather Graham had on in "Boogie Nights" in that scene where she kicks that guy in the head with her skate.

Katharine goes first (because she lost a coin toss). She does "Black Horse in a Cherry Tree." She's got the guys with the box drums again, but -- I'm glad to see -- she doesn't sprawl on the floor. She doesn't overdo it, and she's not over-made-up. The judges give her a lukewarm response.

Taylor does "Living for the City." He's got a magenta velvet jacket on. He tippy-toes up and down the stairs. The audience goes wild. He's obviously more loved than Kat. Randy calls him "a hot one." Paula goes wild. Simon: "Round 1 to you."

Now Katharine's on the floor singing. It's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Well, it makes her dad cry. Randy: "It was hot." Apparently, she worked it out. And he thought it was going to be anticlimactic, whatever, whatever. Paula effuses: "It's no mistake that it's God-given talent that you are possessed with." Possessed? Are you sure that's not devil-given talent? "...or possessive of" is Paula's revision. Simon: "Back in the game."

Ah! Taylor's singing "Levon." Leave on the TV. I want to hear this. Here's what I said about that the first time he sang it:
He's singing "Levon." Beautiful! "He calls his child Jesus, because he likes the name." Paula: "Everything just exudes from you." Paula's all passionate, professing her love. Randy chimes in: "There's never been anyone on the show in five years like you." Simon: "I said in the beginning... that I didn't think you should make the finals. I was wrong." Can I go back to the lyrics? "Alvin Tostig has a son today." What's with that name? Tostig? My grandmother's maiden name was Tausig, so I always heard Tausig. But Tausig/Tostig -- it's such a specific name, in a song where Jesus is highlighted as a good name. What's with that? I've been wondering for decades!
Oh, yeah. I always get caught up in that name. Not Levon. Not Jesus. Alvin Tostig. Was that the first time I liked Taylor? No. Here's what I wrote about the original audition:
They save Taylor Hicks for last. He's got prematurely gray hair. "A Change Is Gonna Come," one of the best songs ever. He sings with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes closed. He does a second song, clapping and contorting almost like Joe Cocker. Simon says personality is important, which Paula takes as a cue to praise him for his nice personality, but that's the opposite of what Simon had in mind.
Funny, I liked him for the first couple weeks, then turned against him. I was for Chris through most of the competition. But I came back to Taylor after Chris got the boot. I'm for Taylor tonight, but I'll admit it if Katharine deserves it.

Let's see what the judges say about "Levon."

Randy: "A little pitchy for me." Paula: "Maybe a little pitchy for you." Simon: "Katharine has taken the second round." They set up the third round as the tiebreaker. It doesn't work like that, but they've just got to play us.

We see Kat's parents. She's been singing ever since she could open her mouth, Kat-Dad says. I think it's what she was born to do, Kat-Mom says. Kat, on tape, recounts singing endless scales for years. Oh, yeah, I'm sure that part just came naturally.

Kat sings her first single, "My Destiny." Oh, crap. It's some damn song the show had written. "I have always dreamed of this." Blah. Could you just once leave out "dream"? It's dreary and limp. She's wearing a gray dress that even makes her look flat-chested. Oh, no! Are they trying to destroy her? How can they say this is crap when it's the single they're putting out? This is so sadly lackluster. Suddenly, a gospel choir comes out. Kat gets all screetchy in the end, then closes in a phony-sweet soft tone.

Randy? Tell the truth! "You sounded good. I did not love the song." They sandbagged her! And you know her earpiece didn't work on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and, as she said, she begins a cappella and that made it hard to start on key. Conspiracy!! Paula: "You are brilliant." Simon: "I'm sorry. You went from brilliant to quite good within one song. And you are a great, great potential artist."

Taylor's song begins "I've never been the one to raise my hand..." Hey, I know your kind. His sly smile seems to say I know Kat screwed up. I've got it made. "This is what we dream about..." Again, with the dream. Always a damned dream. And the gospel choir is out already. He ends in spasms of joy, knowing he's won.

Randy: "No matter what the song is, you know how to make it into a Taylor Hicks vehicle." (And Randy finally thinks of another way to say "You made it your own.") Paula: "You are better than the song" -- again, disrespecting the show's own song -- "but because you know who you are ... all the nuances of Taylor Hicks exist in that song...." Simon: "Assuming I was right that the show was tied, then you just won 'American Idol.'" Taylor screams "Woo!" Everyone knows the answer.

Randy and Paula exult that they were the ones who voted for Taylor at the audition stage, and Simon would have let him go.

Hey, congratulations to Taylor Hicks. He thoroughly won this, the clearest win ever on "American Idol."


Larry said...

Dog, Ditz, and Simon.

"It's all even now", says Simon. It must be some kind of ballgame!

vnjagvet said...

Katherine has now sung her third song, and for one of the few times this season, I agree with Simon. She was quite good in the soft parts and very ordinary in the loud parts during the latter part of the song. Volume created bad intonation and bad pitch. Not a pleasant situation.

Taylor's last song is a nice rocky ballad in which he shows some vocal sensitivity. His voice is clearly not the "instrument" Katherine has, but he uses his much better IMHO.

Katherine wins only if the male vote is more cohesive than the female vote, and the men base their vote on looks alone.

I suspect the female vote will split about 60 40 for Taylor. Just a guess, though.

Irene Done said...

Is this the first year that they have not made the two finalists sing the same "specially written" song? Is that so both can have different debut singles?

katiebakes said...

vnjagvet, I would think that the women would more strongly favor Taylor.

Katharine's not likeable enough for a lot of women her age to vote for her, and older women, I would think, would get a kick out of Taylor or find him "funny" or "cute".

I'm not sure who Katherine's strong female base would really be, other than young girls.

Ann Althouse said...

Irene: Yeah, there are always two songs. They're also always both bad.

vnjagvet said...


I hope you are right 'cause I agree with Prof. Ann.

It is 6-0 Taylor in my all female household (wife and five daughters). One of the daughters has met Taylor (before Idol) and likes him, so that has had some influence here.

I think Taylor deserves the victory, but I was afraid she might get a sizeable female following because she was the last female in the bunch.

I was also afraid guys might not be as discerning about the fine points of the respective vocal talents as they would about other aspects of "talent", if you get my drift.

I was not moved by the "father" thing. She was too self-satisfied for my taste. That and the screechy high register and the phony melismatic effects turned me off.

Dawn said...

After Chris and Elliot's departures, our family lost all interest in AI. Plus we figured that Taylor had it pretty much in the bag. He is fun to watch, but I keep seeing "Taylor - Live at Caeser's Palace" in neon lights in my mindseye.

Good luck to Taylor; I'm sure Simon's group will groom Kat into, well, something.

Tom said...

I'm not sure the producers were sabotaging Kat with that horrible song in the third round. I think the idea behind those songs was "let's give each of them a piece of crap and see who can do better with it." Obviously, Taylor did less bad than Kat.

tiggeril said...

My poor Katharine. :(

I hated Taylor from the beginning. Feh.

Jim H said...

Agree, neither single was very good and Katharine's was particularly unflattering. I can foresee hearing Taylor's single on the radio. Of course I would change the station, but it's still airplay.

SteveR said...

Everyone's crowned Taylor all week so its a done deal, right? Since I acknowledge this is just a big popularity contest at this point I won't be disapointed. What kind of record will he make, an album full of the crap they made them sing tonight, an album of covers from the 60s? I'm sure it will sell because he's popular but he seems more like a stage act that a recording artist.

Jacques Cuze said...

Are there any fiddle contests on American Idol?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Didn't Diana DiGarmo have a similar equipment malfunction at a critical juncture?

I see the word "melismatic" and all I can think of is a very bad lung disease.

Jim H said...

It was a little odd that Ryan introduced Chris, hugged him, then curtly dismissed him: "Big show tonight. Got a good seat there. Take it. Enjoy it."

Did anyone else notice Elliott in the audience? Maybe it was a tough week, but exactly what bizarre military unit did he join after being voted off?

SteveR said...

"And it would continue the Idol voters' streak of choosing talent over beauty—think of pretty boy Justin Guarini falling to Kelly Clarkson, who despite the best efforts of a battery of stylists still looks more like a Dutch mastiff than Jessica Simpson."

Wow I never realized how good looking Bo Bice and Clay Aiken were! Doh!

tiggeril said...

Justin Guarini is pretty?

I need new glasses.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I think Kelly Clarkson is interesting-looking in a not unpretty way.

Hellatiously talented, too.

Tiggeril: For Justin, think "Sideshow Bob with Botox."

chuck b. said...

As I sit here not watching American Idol, I can hear it emanating from the television downstairs. McPhee just screeched/wailed/oversang her way through "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". And my ears are bleeding.

Please, ban that overdetermined, maudlin song from public performance for the next 50 years, 'kay? (Yes, that goes for all you vicious drag queen Althouse readers too!)

I only watched Idol once this season, and I dismissed Taylor Hicks as "Home Depot dad idol". Now I'm hoping he'll work it out.

Work it out, bro!

Conservative_D said...

Did I see Fantasia in the choir? (first person on the right of the Idols) Hehe :)

PatCA said...

Yeah, Taylor's got it. He's a hot reactor; Kat is a cool customer. Those last two Idol songs were horrid, all the cheesy references to dreams, God, destiny, loners... Who writes these things? I guess they don't want to pay for rights to any good songs, but if they want a choir and a big finish, I would have loved to see them do some Neville/Ronstadt duets with the Oakland Choir.

Medopine said...

Just to clarify, in season one both contestants sang the same (horrible) song: "A Moment Like This." Since then it's been two different songs for the finalists, I'm pretty sure.

chuck b. said...

Patca, please explain "Neville/Ronstadt duets with the Oakland Choir". I'm intrigued.

Is that Linda Ronstadt? I love her music. I wish more people sang "When Will I Be Loved?" because that's a fabulous song. I've never even heard the Everly Brothers version. Another fabulous song from that era that I like but never hear anymore is Nicolette Larson's "Lotta Love". Both sound great in the car on hot days with the windows rolled down.

Michael Farris said...

After Dear Sweet Elliott left, I really have almost no interest, but I did listen to the mp3's of the original songs.

Neither made much impression positive or negative.

Katharine was kind of pitchy and uncertain in big moments and it seems like a poorly chosen song for her.

Taylor was the same as he always is, the beginning was pretty awful (for me) and showed off just how unremarkable his voice and musical instincts are. Later he threw in the usual bag of gimmicks he uses instead of vocal technique, leaning especially heavily on the Growl working toward the synthetic climax.
Not my kind of thing at all, but I guess there's an audience for it.

I think that many Chris and Elliott voters will mostly sit this round out.

I think Taylor will win comfortably, but I really can't imagine what kind of recording career he'll have. I foresee Vegas in his future.

knoxgirl said...

(Nicolette Larson's "Lotta Love" was written by Neil Young, they dated for a while. I had a K-tel album in the 70s called "Rainbow" that song was on. Just thought I'd throw that in there.)

I remember Fantasia and poor old Diana DeGarmo both singing the same song. After the show, Diana said she knew she'd lost because they had her sing it first.

Taylor easily came out ahead last night.

Tom T. said...

"Alvin Tostig has a son today."

I always heard that line as "How many times did you hear the song today?"

But here's the Straight Dope on that line.

Ann Althouse said...

Justin and Kelly did not sing the same song. He sang "Before Your Love."

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, but that is the worst attempt at a answer by Straight Dope I've ever read. Apparently, Alvin Tostig is a completely made up name, though Tostig is actually a last name. But the question the person wrote in was left unanswered. If "Alvin Tostig had a son today" and the son is Levon, then how does Levon already have a son (Jesus)? The time line is screwy.

Timothy said...

Kelly Clarkson, who despite the best efforts of a battery of stylists still looks more like a Dutch mastiff than Jessica Simpson.

I think Ms. Rosen is a wee tad bit envious. Kelly is fairly charming, and rather attractive if I do say.

I figure Taylor will take it this year, and be washed up by the summer of 2007.

Jen. said...

Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood each sang the same song -- "Inside Your Heaven" -- at their finale competition.,1,16635,00.html has a reference.

There might have been only one song last year, but it was still bad.

HaloJonesFan said...

Ann: I don't think the song implies that Levon is Alvin Tostig's son; it just says that the New York Times said...

Jesus, why am I discussing the lyrics of 'Levon'? It's meaningless babble that was chosen because it rhymed well and it fit the meter. The song, like pretty much every Elton John song, is more of a chance for Elton John to show off his chops than it is anything else. That doesn't mean that it isn't fun to listen to, but there's really no point in discussing the lyrics.

Paula: "Everything just exudes from you."

That's coz he forgot to use his Oxy-10 pads last night.

PatCA said...

This album album, chuck, especially the title track.

SteveR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SteveR said...

Ok this is my final AI comment for this season. I'm just disconnected from Taylor when he goes Soul Patrol and grins and dances while singing:

Her brothers smart hes got more sense than many
His patiences long but soon he wont have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they dont use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city...

People criticize Katharine for many things and some rightfully so, but this is so much BS.

Richard Dolan said...

I tuned into Idol last night for a short bit, not having seen it before but with all the attention Ann gives it, I thought it might be interesting. The two finalists were both singing, neither very well as far as I could tell. The woman had a really shrieky, unpleasant tone at the top of her range, and all that breathy intonation lower down in her range was beyond cliche. As for the guy, he had a colorless baritone at best, and no real notion of how to control it. Both of them had major problems with hitting and holding the note.

When I was watching, an old documentary about Elizabeth Schwartzkopf giving master lessons to a group of American signers who had won a competition here came to mind. After one of them had finished singing some aria, Schwartzkopf said to him: "How interesting. What do you call whatever it is you think you are doing?" (Her answer, at least, definitely did not include singing.) If what I saw last night is anyone's idea of how an Idol should sing, I think they need to break out of whatever musical cocoon they've gotten stuck in. It just wasn't very good.

SO I don't understand all the fuss. Perhaps the two finalists have interesting personalities or a compelling life story. But as for their vocal technique and musicianship, even by the standards of pop music, you've got to be kidding.

Brent said...

Taylor Hicks Fans:

Two words:

Reuben Stoddard

. . . already on E's "Where are they Today?"

Michael Farris said...

"When I was watching, an old documentary about Elizabeth Schwartzkopf giving master lessons to a group of American signers who had won a competition here came to mind."

Yikes! I always jump a little when I see her name and I'm not prepared. Next to her, Simon at his worst is a little friendly bunny wabbit.

I read an account of a young lieder singer who had the distinction of being part of a master class by Ms. Schwartzkopf (nickname among her fans: Evil Incarnate). He compared it to major surgery with no anesthesia. But, on the other hand, he learned a lot.

I fully agree with your assessment of the two AI finalists.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Since that "Nevaeh" article the other day, I'm looking at many names backwards now.

"Levon" is "novel" spelled backwards.