American Idol's theme, in theory, was songs from the year you were born. In practice, this meant songs that drippy adult-contemporary punchlines recorded during the year you were born while exciting music surged and swelled off Fox's cleared-song list. It was the revenge of Jeremy Rosado, perhaps: deprived of the warm bath of balladeering and angel ambrosia he provided the competition, the judges compensated by making everyone bland and edgeless. It's little wonder Deandre Brackensick was dreading this theme all season; when everybody is beige, nobody can be bold. It's even less wonder, then, that most of our top-ranked singers were the ones who actually went uptempo, or at least midtempo, whose arrangements weren't pureed into baby food before they could scratch human ears--the ones who were interesting. Well, interesting and good. Because "interesting" could be a word one might use for...
THE HOPELESS: 36-31
35. Jermaine Jones: This scandal is karmic payback for mentioning the phrase "gentle giant" so often. If "swaggernaut" becomes its replacement, expect hell from Commander Dan C. Burbank.
Ryan’s Signature Intro: Like Steven Tyler’s hair, the pause between “This” and “is American Idol” grows longer with each passing week.
34. This Ew Ryan Quote: “If there’s a population boost December 14th, I’m blaming you,” says Ryan to Elise. This response was eerily quick, which means Ryan always has due date math at the ready should the opportunity to be creepy arise.
33. This Ew Ryan Exchange: Deandre: “I was dreading it.” Ryan: “Pun unintended. HAHA. See what I did there? Because I think you have dreads, and you said dreading! Betcha Carson Daly wouldn’ta seen that one! Seacrest OUT!” OK, we may have embellished some stuff after “pun intended,” but the rest was implied.
32. Jimmy Iovine: Telling Skylar to do rockless Sheryl Crow? Delivering a time bomb of a tempo change to Erika Van Pelt, who isn't exactly in proper condition to withstand time bombs? Jimmy Jail again. Bring back Mary J.
31. Shannon Magrane: The four things you need to know about Shannon's segment: 1. Jimmy product-placed his JimmyPhone all over it. 2. Shannon Magrane's life goal is this; "Everywhere I go, I'm gonna prove #william wrong." If only she saw more ambition in this than breathing. 2. Shannon Magrane sang "Thumbelina" a lot, which is fitting, because Steven Tyler is either the frog or the mole. 3. We were teased with No Doubt and got No Excitement instead. Bring back Hallie Day. Or Jen.
For a SHOCKING Richard Marx pick, a horrifying quote and some regrettable signage, click NEXT.
THE HAPLESS: 30-21
30. Heejun Han: This is some actual hype that was actually uttered: "Don't miss his Richard Marx pick. (two seconds of silence)" If any onlooker wondered why Idol is leaking ratings, she'd only need to switch on the TV and see Heejun wheedling and swaying his way through a copy of "Right Here Waiting" that nobody's really listening to. She'd miss the irritating bit where Jimmy Iovine crowed about "fixing" Heejun's accent, but she'd get the gist anyway. To be fair, there was some real (but undetectable) emotion in Heejun's song: 20% devoted to J. Lo, 10% to Fergie and some unknown percentage to his girlfriend. Hopefully he's got headspace left to devise better patter.
29. The Audience: Applauded during critiques, which was a first! Took up half of the screen arm swaying during ballads, which was the worst.
28. Steven Tyler: Idol's Janet Jackson bobblehead that fell off the truck wore a hat and did almost nothing else.
27. Steven’s Hat: What are the Vegas odds that he bought it at a Vegas sundries store that caters specifically to gambling addicted grannies who enjoy rhinestoned black sunhats?
26. This Repeated Quote: “Mariah sang the ‘I don’t know what’ outta that song.” -Randy. I guess this obnoxious namedrop bears repeating? I guess this obnoxious namedrop bears repeating?
25. This Quote Taken Out Of Context: “Lay down and don’t breathe.” -Randy. Sweet dreams, reader!
24. The Graphic Designer: In this economy, it’s so hard to find employment as an 11-year-old graphic designer. Very generous of Idol to hire one to cut and paste Coolio’s hair onto Skylar’s head!
23. Signage: Most visible player: "Punch Josh, J. Lo!" This is probably not the time to invite another violent crime scandal.
22. Jennifer Lopez: A distressing development, in quote form: “I’m sorry we’re being mean, but I’ve got to keep it real.... You killed it.” This is the Idol linguistic bug. There is no treatment.
21. Jessica Sanchez: Her parents say her "lungs got started" because she almost fainted as a kid, and thousands of stage parents got horrific plans. Even more horrific is Jessica's choice of "Turn the Beat Around," a woodchipper of a song that takes strong voices and shreds them to rat-tat-tat-tat-tatters. It defeated Jessica, because it defeats everyone. Diana DeGarmo. Haley Scarnato and Carmen Rasmussen, although those two defeated themselves whenever they started to sing. Then came two final blows: Steven's non-critique that she should stick to ballads (possibly the worst advice anyone has given this year), and Jessica's faltering defense that 1995 didn't have enough songs to choose from. In Idol's Bolton-and-Marx gulag, sure, but in the real world? 1995 was fantastic for music.
For flutists, pseudonyms and "Shipoopi", click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 20-1
20. Deandre Brackensick: "Endless Love" was nothing but a drippy, puffy delivery vessel for Deandre's one falsetto bit, sung earnestly at a piano, and despite J. Lo's comments, it doesn't actually say anything about you as an artist that you can "sing that well without it really being you." It says you need better karaoke picks. Or a theme you're not dreading, or Idol clearing songs that aren't made of goo.
19. #william: Mr. Peanut's doppelganger makes the word “dope” sound fresh and the word “fresh” sound dope. Take a note, Randy. He also nailed the internal monologue of a key change: “You like that? Well you’re gonna love THIS. BAM!” His biggest contribution, however, was probably "swaggernaut." Incidentally, there's a Swaggernaut website which posts pictures and labels them either “Swagger” or “Not Swagger.” For instance...
18. The Flute Player: Strolled in for a quick “Flute player, play your flute” solo in “Turn the Beat Around.” Swagger.
17. Shannon Magrane's Dad: The former MLB pitcher would hear the title song from the Thumbelina animated movie in his head during games because Shannon was constantly singing it. If he had made it his walk-up song? Swagger.
16. Kareem Watkins: One of Jermaine Jones’ criminal aliases. Swagger? ...Naught?
15. Ryan Seacrest: Aside from the previously mentioned ick, Ryan came off... rather entertaining! This is a positive trend and one that should continue.
14. Deandre Brackensick’s Mom: Played Music Man for Deandre growing up! My dream of an Idol contestant singing “Shipoopi” wasn't dashed with Reed Grimm's loss!
13. Randy Jackson: Pro: Whether by his own volition or product placement, he gave useful critique! Almost every time! Con: His red-and-white shirt and corsage might actually be product placement.
12. Phillip Phillips’ Dad: Tells the story of Phillip’s tough premature birth, and gets choked up while talking about his son’s poorly functioning “bowels.” If that’s not love...
11. Phillip Phillips: His much-bandied surgery was indeed for kidney stones, an operation that Phillip mumbled was "not going to be pretty." I am sure Phillip has absolutely sumptuous kidney stones. I'm less sure that I'm ready for weeks and weeks of Phillip Phillips st-st-stammering and growling his way through R&B, because this gimmick is getting almost as old as Otis Redding's original song. (1968.) But I can't exactly call this a strike, because Phillip didn't do anything wrong. Let's call this a bunt.
For a lot of wondering how so many singers ended up on the next page despite the theme, click NEXT.
THE FLAWLESS: 10-1
10. Joshua Ledet: Idol's vision of the '90s is the vision of the dentist's office playlist, not about grunge and R&B but about Michael Bolton. Joshua Ledet, to his immense credit, sang "When a Man Loves Like a Woman" like nobody told him until halfway, through the monitors. That'd be the point right after he doffed his jacket, realized he was semi-successfully sexing up a Michael Bolton song, then awkwardly let it dangle from his hand like a used towel for three seconds before dropping it limply to the floor. It is the most awkward striptease ever televised. It's also the best thing you've ever seen on American Idol, if you are Jennifer Lopez.
9. Hollie Cavanagh: Now we know why Hollie is actually Dr. Hollie and Accents Hyde: her parents! And with Hollie, we completed the adult contemporary square with Celine Dion, performed like Celine Dion: spangly dress, stage with candles strewn across the floor and spinning chandeliers projected on every screen, hand motions Adele would find obvious, a backing track chintzier than all this. I'd be remiss if I didn't say it was near-flawlessly sung and beyond Hollie's years. I'd be equally remiss not to point out that this isn't America's Next Top Hayley Westenra.
8. Colton Dixon: Colton Dixon's silhouette, hair and suit, was constructed entirely by geometry classes, there are even odds that more went down between him and Daughtry than just dinner, and he sang White Lion, which was both perfect for him and one of the few rock songs that doesn't require fifty album-oriented/soft/adult-contemporary modifiers. Is his voice maybe a third as good as any remaining guy? Probably, yeah. Do I care? No. Does that give Steven the right to piss all over his performance ("I've heard you sing other songs... raspberries"?) Not after his last try at rock.
7. Barack Obama: “Let’s Stay Together” sing-off against Elise. This is our dream Pop-Off.
6. Erika Van Pelt: I'm outing myself as a total dork when I say I can't hear "Heaven" without the trance remix butting and blooping its way in. Thankfully, Erika didn't do that version. She did, however, take Jimmy Iovine's advice to stutter and stop it up, which would've worked had the drummer also taken that advice. It was pretty great, but Erika still needs to do a real rock track; Bryan Adams doesn't count. It probably speaks volumes for her chances that J. Lo compared her to Janis Joplin, someone Erika sounds nothing like. Idol doesn't understand female rockers.
5. Heejun’s Mom: She laughs (“Heejun gets his sense of humor from mama!”). She cries (“He would always wake up with a smile.”). She dances. We love.
4. Chris Daughtry: Chris contacted Colton via Twitter to meet up for a little mentor/mentee dinner. And to think, it was technologically impossible season 5 for poor Chris to get a DM from Scott Stapp.
3. Skylar Laine: As a child, she was a headbanger, by which her parents meant she slammed her head against the sidewalk. This is probably the ideal way to prepare for Idol, honestly. Anyway, Jimmy Iovine was an idiot who said she should do "All I Wanna Do," and #william was trolling and said she should do Coolio, and the sound department was one or the other and liberally deployed SFX while Skylar told Jimmy and Will to shove it and let her sass her way through Bonnie Raitt. I'm rooting for Skylar. There's a youth and a spark to her that nobody else in the competition's really got, but more importantly, she said no to Jimmy Iovine. That's worth a top two spot on its own.
2. Hollie’s Parents: Have no recollection of what they were saying about Hollie because I was so entranced by their accents. Something about her being “untidy.” Who cares. Just keep talking.
1. Elise Testone: Remember all those people whining about Elise's attitude and being wrong? They've made poor Elise resort to posting daily smiley pictures on Twitter, declaring how positive her attitude is today and filling every rest of "Let's Stay Together" with a big ol' grin. This is either really sad or the most awesomely passive-aggressive move ever. I choose the latter, because I like Elise and I want to believe that's the sort of thing she'd do. And her "Let's Stay Together" is almost totally likable; it's a little breathy at first, a little pitchy at last, but interesting throughout a night that was not. Sadly, though, she capped all that singing about staying together with "this is for you, America," which means she's lost the secessionist vote.