American Idol set to crown weakest-ever champion

We’re nearing the end of American Idol‘s tenth season, and in the previous nine years, we’ve seen a broad range of performers reach this stage of the competition. The Top Three has seen the highs of Kelly Clarkson and the lows of Nikki McKibben. It’s seen the underrated (Melinda Doolittle) and the overrated (Lee DeWyze). This season, it’s seen perhaps the greatest comeback in the show’s history in Haley Reinhart.

And it’s about to get its hands-down weakest champion ever.

No, it’s not the aforementioned Miss Reinhart. The dubious honor rests squarely on the shoulders of Scotty McCreery, who enters the finale with the second-weakest numbers of any finalist in the show’s 10 seasons. Yes, I realized I said he’s entering the finale prior to tonight’s results being revealed. Make no mistake — Scotty is not only going to advance to the finale; he’s going to win the entire competition next week. His fans have polished off the Kool-Aid and are fixing a fresh batch. They’re so ravenous for something “wholesome” that they’re willing to throw quality on the fire. Let me amend that — they’re ravenous for a wholesome male. If wholesome was the only standard, Lauren Alaina is standing on deck and is twice the performer that Scotty is. (The judges killed any semblance of wholesome for Haley by assigning her Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know.” More on that later.)

According to WhatNottoSing.com, Scotty will enter the finale averaging about five points lower than any previous champion. (Without taking the entire column to explain those scorings, they’re basically a numerical representation of what critics say about each performance. The site takes hundreds of reviews and boils them down into an average rating.) At 54.5, Scotty is far behind Carrie Underwood’s 59.7 that she carried into her showdown with Bo Bice. You might point out that Carrie was ranked so low and became an amazing recording artist. You’d be right. But while Scotty’s song selections have catered almost exclusively to his country background, Carrie’s choices were often relegated to artists like Pat Benetar, Air Supply, Tiffany and Donna Summer. Had Carrie sung almost exclusively from a country catalog, she undoubtedly would have been an even more convincing winner.

Idol‘s total embrace of Scotty’s mediocrity is setting up the show for it’s last stand. Even as ratings are continuing to be strong, it’s questionable that the show can continue to maintain a shred of credibility if its champion once again ends up as a joke on the sales charts. Lee DeWyze has sold perhaps 130,000 copies of his debut CD. If he has a follow-up album, it will most surely be on another label, and most likely an independent one. Scotty’s appeal will be to a completely country audience with no crossover into the pop or rock realm whatsoever. And as a very average country artist, he stands to give Idol its second straight sales disappointment. It will be hard to continue to call these kids “idols” if they’re not doing anything idyllic.

Last night only served to cement Scotty’s chances. Even singing in the lead-off slot (which has sent seven of its previous nine Top Three performers), he appears to be the runaway favorite to clear this week and then win Season 10. The judges continued to shower heaps of praise on Scotty even after some very sleepy and unremarkable performances. For a change, they didn’t really criticize anyone last night — including Haley Reinhart. But they didn’t do anything to slow down the Scotty train. In one week, they’ll get their chosen champion. Perhaps as a reward, he’ll be the one to deliver them their pink slips.

Scotty McCreery
Round 1/ Contestant’s Choice: “Amazed” by Lonestar
Round 2/ Jimmy Iovine’s Choice: “Are You Going to Kiss Me or Not” by Thompson Square
Round 3/ Judges’ Choice: “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers
If there was any doubt that this season is in the bag for Scotty, that should have been erased last night after the judges bent over frontwards, backwards and sideways to applaud Scotty after one decent performance and two very average ones. On his choice, Scotty made a good choice of Lonestar’s “Amazed” and then proceeded to deliver a note-for-note karaoke performance of the tune. The judges applauded his “high range,” but even for a baritone, it was still fairly low. The biggest reason to give any praise to the song was his good expression and delivery. (And why should we be impressed with Scotty using vibratto, as J Lo suggested. Aren’t good singers supposed to come to this show with a command of such things?)

Jimmy Iovine chose a very good song for Scotty with Thompson Square’s “Are You Going to Kiss Me or Not.” Scotty’s fans will certainly tout how wonderful he was on the guitar, but a closer look will reveal he played maybe five chords during the entire number. Still, he did pick up an instrument, which took the sideways mike-flute out of his hands. For that reason, this performance ended up being his best of the night. Amazing, it was even a little fun, with only one flash of Scotty’s trademark creepy eyes.

For his final number, the judges teed up Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes in Me” for Scotty. Anyone wonder if J Lo was behind that choice? Midway through the song, the cameras caught her locked in a dreamy, far-off stare at Scotty while mouthing the lyrics to the song. Gag. Once again, it was a straightforward, karaoke performance that had little, if anything, new to offer. It wasn’t bad, but it was boring, and in this industry, that’s fatal.

(Round 1: 7.5/10; Round 2: 8/10; Round 3: 7.5/10; Total: 23)

Lauren Alaina
Round 1/ Contestant’s Choice: “Wild One ” by Faith Hill
Round 2/ Jimmy Iovine’s Choice: “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry
Round 3/ Judges’ Choice: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack
Country-fest 2011 continued with Lauren’s three performances, which kept her firmly in her country lane. Unlike Scotty, however, Lauren really tested her vocal limits on all three, generally with positive results. On her choice, Lauren sang Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” and in spite of her outfit too closely resembling a picnic blanket, she was able to make this a fun performance. It was definitely a step up from Scotty’s opening sleeper-hold on the audience. While watching this number, two things became clear: first, Lauren’s tone is really crystal-clear; and second, this girl is absolutely radiant when she smiles.

Jimmy Iovine made another good choice in selecting The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” for Lauren. While Scotty often seems to be mimicking someone else’s country routine, Lauren’s performance came across as genuine country in the vein of so many country divas who have come before her. She worked the highs and lows of the song, was gentle in the quiet moments and strong in the more powerful ones. Had it not been for a missed key change and some blown notes, she would have easily won this round.

For her final choice, the judges once again teed up an easy one, Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Wearing her best blue sequined prom gown, Lauren gave a very straightforward, karaoke-plus rendition for most of the song. Late in the number, she began to change up some of the notes and put her own spin on it, and for that reason, probably dominated the third round. She was definitely good enough to advance to the finale, but Scotty’s outrageous popularity may relegate her to the cutting room floor.

(Round 1: 8.5/10; Round 2: 8/10; Round 3: 8.5/10; Total: 25)

Haley Reinhart
Round 1/ Contestant’s Choice: “What Is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin
Round 2/ Jimmy Iovine’s Choice: “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac
Round 3/ Judges’ Choice: “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette
Extra points for the coolest song choice of the season to to Haley, who went way, way, way off the board for Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” My notes for that choice read, “Why, why, why?” The answer is, “Because Haley can absolutely shred it.” With her father playing as the lead guitarist on stage, Haley started at the top of the steps, didn’t miss a note as she walked down them and then gave one of the best mini-concerts in Idol history. That included a brief tumble as she walked up the steps to the stage toward the end of the song, which was followed by a complete recovery.

For her second choice, she got a solid (if a bit sleepy) selection from Jimmy Iovine, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” The opening was a cool change-up from the original which left open the opportunity for a good build-up. The producers’ made the performance look much like a music video with mood lighting and wind machines blowing Haley’s hair. Even so, something was missing for much of the song, which Haley seemed to remedy at the end with some solid runs. It wasn’t her best, but it was still very good.

Haley’s last number was a very curious selection from the judges: Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know.” A conspiracy theorist might say it was sabotage, given that the lyrics say such things as “Would she go down on you in a theatre” and “Are you thinking of me when you f*** her?” The song is very edgy — probably moreso than most Idol viewers would like. For her part, Haley gets kudos for even going through with this song. Vocally, it was well below the standards she’s been meeting in recent weeks. But overall, it was a good attempt at a song that never should have seen the light of day on this show.

(Round 1: 9.5/10; Round 2: 8/10; Round 3: 7.5/10; Total: 25)

Tonight’s Rankings

1) Haley Reinhart #1 (9.5)

2) Lauren Alaina #1 (8.5)
3) Lauren Alaina #2 (8.5)

4) Lauren Alaina #3 (8)
5) Haley Reinhart #2 (8)
6) Scotty McCreery #2 (8)

7) Scotty McCreery #1 (7.5)
8) Haley Reinhart #3 (7.5)
9) Scotty McCreery #3 (7.5)

Top 3 (Odds to Win)
1. Scotty McCreery (1/1)
2. Haley Reinhart (5/2)
3. Lauren Alaina (3/1)

Top 3 (Odds to Go)
1. Lauren Alaina (3/2)
2. Haley Reinhart (2/1)
3. Scotty McCreery (11/4)

Bottom Two:
If there even is a Bottom Two, it won’t include Scotty McCreery unless the producers decide to screw with his fans. That leaves only two choices for the two slots: the ladies.

Elimination:
Scotty’s fan base ensures his advancement. Haley’s performance in the pimp spot likely ensures hers. That leaves Lauren Alaina holding the undeserved elimination bag.

Let me know what you think about last night’s performances? Do you agree? Who was the best? Who was the worst? And who should hit the bricks in tonight’s elimination show? Remember to follow this blog on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/capnpen. Also be sure to follow our Facebook group, American Idol Update.

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About Doug DeBolt

Capnpen is a writer who was a newspaper and magazine journalist in a previous life. A college journalism major, he now works as an administrator, but gets his writing fix by blogging about a variety of topics, including politics, religion, movies and television. When he's not working or blogging, Capnpen spends time with his family, plays a little golf (badly) and loves to learn about virtually anything.
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