Well, I've got to give Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis some credit: They actually got me to care about "American Idol." No, there were no Grammy-winning performances in the finale, but I legitimately enjoyed watching both of them. It's a battle of the performer vs. the entertainer, and I'm really not sure which one of them will end up the winner tonight.
I'll get to the singing in a second, but first, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the things we learned from the "Idol" finale:
- Seattle rocks. Not only did Blake and Jordin both audition there but the winners of the first "Idol" songwriting competition also hail from the Emerald City.
- Don't break your nose before appearing on "Idol." Paula didn't just sound drugged but probably actually was drugged after tripping over her dog and smashing her face.
- Don't bother doing a nationwide search for songwriters if all you're going to end up with for your big single is "This is My Now." Uh, was that a self-awareness movement in the '70s? It was exactly the kind of cheesy fare that we've come to expect from "Idol," with lines like "I settled for less/now I'm ready for more." Might as well have done "Inside Your Heaven."
Besides "This is My Now," Blake and Jordin also had to break out one favorite song from the competition and one they hadn't performed on the show, all the while braving Paula's truly unhinged comments and Randy's odd Sgt. Pepper-style jacket. The competition seemed pretty evenly matched to me — until the end, that is — so don't forget to tell me who you think will win, and to hear my take,
First song: "You Give Love a Bad Name" (Bon Jovi), his favorite. Um, I liked it better the first time. I still say this is the best use of beatboxing he's had in the whole competition, but he sounded out of tune, and I thought he seemed fairly low-energy (despite some ill-advised microphone-stand dancing). Randy gave him a 10 on the beatboxing but said the singing was off, Paula babbled something about giving him "a 10 plus 10 plus 10," and Simon said Blake was certainly the better performer.
Second song: "She Will Be Loved" (Maroon 5), his new song. I know I'm going to hear it from all you Maroon 5 fans, but I really don't like this song, mainly because every time I hear it it gets wedged in my head for days. Still, Maroon 5's performance last week proved to me that their songs are a good fit for Blake; he and their singer have almost identical ranges. That said, the falsetto on this song did not work for me at all. Randy said it was a great vocal; Paula said Blake sounded more relaxed on this one; Simon said it was good, safe and yet worse than the first song.
Third song: "This is My Now." I was dreading this from Blake, because I figured he wouldn't get to jazz up the arrangement and would have to sell it with just his voice. Sadly, it might have been the best pure singing he's done on the show, and it still wasn't very good. It wasn't embarrassing, though, and I'm not sure I could ask for much more from him on a song like this. Randy said it was OK, Paula said he sounded great, and Simon said it was odd to watch him attempt that kind of song.
First song: "Fighter" (Christina Aguilera), her new song. I'm so glad she picked something modern and uptempo and fun, because it showed the young, tough side of her we didn't really see through the rest of the competition. I know I slammed Blake for doing the microphone dancing, but I actually wish she'd moved around the stage a little more. Randy said she didn't give a great performance but the singing was wonderful; Paula said she was fantastic; Simon said she was shrieky and called round one for Blake, which I was not expecting.
Second song: "A Broken Wing" (Martina McBride), her favorite. Ah, here's the one I thought she should have used last week; maybe I'm glad she reserved it for the finale. This song is just made for her voice, and the simple, straightforward performance style suited her perfectly too. Randy said she's the most talented 17-year-old singer he's ever seen; Paula said her voice sounded great; Simon simply said "now, that was good."
Third song: "This is My Now." Well, of course she sounded great on this song; I think the advantage of her youth was that she could sing this treacly thing without any sense of irony. I honestly thought she'd break down crying before the end, though (though again, that vulnerability worked for the song). Randy said she was certainly the best singer of the night; Paula said she had a lot to be proud of; Simon said he was wrong for thinking she wasn't good enough to make the finals, because she wiped the floor with Blake on this one.
The judges then issued their final verdict: Randy said Jordin should win based on the singing; Paula blabbered that they're all winners, referring to fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry, who was about to take the stage (which was not immediately clear to me, causing me to chalk the whole thing up to Paula being drugged); and Simon said Blake had the best individual performance of the night with his first song, but Jordin should take it overall. And with that, the next-to-last "Idol" episode of the year came to a close with Daughtry performing that "Home" song, which seemed like a mighty depressing way to wrap things up.
Who should win? Based on the singing? Jordin, easily. She has a soaring voice with a lot of potential; she connects with her songs on an almost frightening level; and she could easily be packaged into a serious superstar.
Who will win? My gut still says Blake; I think the has the fan base, and he didn't fall flat on his face this week. On the other hand, if the finale got a lot of first-time viewers (or first-time voters) who want the better singer to win, Jordin could walk away with the title.
Photos courtesy of Fox