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American Idolatry II

by Neena Louise

American Idol once again succeeded with entertaining us with auditions of the delightfully dreadful and the idols-in-the-making. Again, I found myself sucked in. That was, at least, until the final few shows.

Unfortunately, we were once again tortured with very bad group numbers (I am shocked to find myself never wanting to hear "God Bless the U.S.A." ever again), shlocky skits (that racing car skit was the most stupid piece of crap...), and shrieking audience members (I couldn't help whining "shuuuuut-uuuuuup!"). Like millions of others, however, I endured the torture to watch the process, but found myself quite disinterested once the final three were chosen (Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Kimberley Locke). Unlike the first American Idol, all three were talented and worthy of the title and it didn't really matter which one won. All three will no doubt go on to stardom.

Now that it's over and Ruben Studdard has been crowned American Idol, time once again to make some objective observations:

The Host

Ryan Seacrest
It's amazing how much better a host Seacrest is without that dork Brian Dunkleman as a co-host. Though he still wouldn't be my first choice, Seacrest came across as more professional, polished and not nearly as cheesy as in Idol's first installment.

The Audience

They started off enthusiastic, though polite (much to my relief), but it didn't take long before this bunch of sign-waving shrieking morons became the worst thing about the show. The last few shows reminded me of a drunken college football game with all the card waving, screaming and...what the hell were those ridiculous noodle stick thingies?!?! It's one thing to show your enthusiasm, but it's quite another thing to make such a racket that no one can hear the performances - it's rude.

The Judges

Simon Cowell
Though I agreed with most of Cowell's assessments of the contestants' performances, he became such a caricature that it became increasingly difficult to take him seriously. His repetitive "I don't mean to be rude" (then being just that) and "sorry" (sounding anything but) accompanied by his jerky bird-like head movements just became so silly and predictable, his judgments gave rise to a bout of eye-rolling.

Paula Abdul
Somewhat improved from last season and all her non-judgmental judgments, judge Abdul still has a way to go. She's not helping anyone by not being critical. Isn't giving criticisms what a judge is supposed to do? Her gushing and raving and incessant "good job!" of sub-par performances started making me ill.

Randy Jackson
Much to my relief, gone was the shameless name-dropping. Unfortunately, that left him with a seriously diminished vocabulary, dominated by: "yo", "man", "whassup", and "dawg". He is in desperate need of a thesaurus.

The Guest Judges
I was quite skeptical when I heard there would be guest judges, fully expecting B-listers that took their cues from Abdul and just gushed about everybody and everything. I was pleasantly surprised by the superstars (nay, legends) that showed up who could teach Simon Cowell lessons on "How to give criticisms without looking like an asshole."

The Finalists
(in alphabetical order)

Clay Aiken
There was something just plain adorable about him. Despite the fact that I became familiar with his voice, like the judges, I was always surprised to hear that strong voice come out of that person.

Kimberly Caldwell
I'm not sure what it was, but there was something I just didn't like about her. Her voice was good, her look was good, her stage presence was adequate, but there was just something offensive about her. I strongly suspect my dislike was due to the broadcast of an argument she had with Julia DeMato before the contest even began, which made her come across as snotty. Or maybe it was the big hair. Whatever. I didn't like her.

Julia DeMato
She was very good during the entire audition phase, but totally tanked once the competition started. It would be interesting to know if it was just nerves or that she needs a lot of rehearsal time in order to sound good.

Joshua Gracin
I didn't think Gracin was all that talented and was wildly inconsistent in his performances (not to mention that quivering chin and heavy-lidded eyes started to get annoying). I suspect he got as far as he did because he is a marine at a time we were all (understandably) feeling patriotic.

Charles Grigsby
I struggled to recall Grigsby's performances and couldn't, leading me to conclude they were average at best. I do recall, however, that he was cute and quite charming. Perhaps he could put those qualities to a different use.

Kimberley Locke
Though she had a rocky start and I started expecting her elimination, Locke stepped it up and wowed everyone with her powerful, smoky voice. Add to that her poise, good looks and stage presence and I'm sure she'll be able to make it in the music biz.

Vanessa Olivarez
More style and personality than talent, the quirky Olivarez was fun to watch. Just not fun to listen to. Perhaps acting would be more to her talents.

Carmen Rasmusen
Fresh-faced and cute, Rasmusen just wasn't a very good singer. I was shocked that Simon Cowell chose her as his "wild card" spot. I'm curious as to what he saw in her that made him pick her.

Rickey Smith
Rickey "Hercules, Hercules" Smith was another contestant that was more personality than talent, though he was actually a fairly decent singer. I suspect if he had been on last season, he would have gone a lot farther.

Ruben Studdard
Not only was he the only contestant that didn't turn out one single terrible performance, his stage presence was among the very best. Add in that million-dollar face and he is, indeed, an American Idol.

Her voice was adequate, but nothing special (changing her name didn't help). She tended to over-sing everything and didn't have much stage presence. Never really finding her own style, her performances were akin to karaoke night at the local bar.

Honorable mentions:

Corey Clark
Clark was disqualified for not informing the producers about an arrest, claiming he didn't think it necessary because "I'm innocent" (a claim made by jailed convicts everywhere). Innocent or not, he wouldn't have won anyway. His falsetto just wasn't interesting enough and those stupid hats made him look like a fool.

Frenchie Davis
Don't feel too sorry for Davis, who was ousted for modeling underwear on a porn site (though there's some disagreement as to whether it was actually a porn site at all). She got more mileage and publicity for being kicked off than she would have if she'd continued.

It will be interesting to see the next installment of American Idol and I find myself actually looking forward to it (blush). Will Abdul get a backbone? Will Jackson get a vocabulary? Will Cowell get a life? Will the audience shut the hell up for a change? Stay tuned...  
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