"Taylor Hicks is my favorite by a longshot ... the other contestants are not even close at this point."
"I've been a Taylor fan since he ambled into the room playing a harmonica in one of the early shows, and I think he should win running away."
So, what was new about the all-new Season Six of American Idol? Other than the contestants, a big, fat nothing. Same logo, same theme music, same bickering judges, same doofus host, same shattered dreams and, I'm guessing here, same blockbuster ratings.
We open appropriately with The Who's "Baba O'Riley," (teenage wasteland, indeed), a timeless anthem even after 35 years. After some typical promotional blathering recap from Dick Clark willneverbe Ryan Seacrest, we meet our first contestant, a nice, Midwestern girl who loves and idolizes singer-songwriter Jewel, who, what a surprise, happens to be a celebrity judge this week (I don't know how much they paid her, but for me, this would be a long negotiation at the very least). This girl's got everything it takes except talent. According to form, AI VI allows her to express her deepest dreams and goals and then, on national television, it rips them from heart, and mercilessly shreds them to a bloody, still-pulsing, pulp. Great fun for the whole family.
After a half-hour of lackluster talent and entertaining oddballs, we meet our first Hollywood-bound hopeful. We know she'll make it even before she auditions because she gets the swelling string music behind her as she talks about growing up in a foster home. Our next golden ticket winner is a Navy crewman on the USS Ronald Reagan, who performs in his dress whites. In today's political climate, pretty easy to predict that FOX wouldn't show us this guy unless he advanced. The final first-hour winner is a pretty Latina girl named Perla, who by the end of today will be known in the blogosphere as La Perla or some riff on Charo, thanks to her little celebratory trill. Navy boy gets one-upped in hour two by the Army reservist (singing in her camos) whose husband is serving in Iraq, and she disarms the panel with her personality and her voice. There's this year's cute blonde Kellie/Carrie clone. And another guy gets through because he can actually hit and hold a note, rather than strangling it through three different octaves. I didn't think he would make it, but I guess the judges heard or saw something I didn't.
Maybe it was the Midwestern setting or maybe the producers are getting soft, but last night's show was not quite as harsh as the early episodes of last season. Very few of the dejected rejects had to have their responses bleeped, and, at times, the judges sounded sincere when they encouraged the failed singers to pursue other talents. To be fair, they appeared to go easier on the more attractive contestants, such as the boy rocker who growled his way through "Dancing Queen," but both Randy and Simon got out the sharp knives for the ugly, the overweight, or the obnoxious.
Then there were the weirdos. Last night, I was torn between the guy in the Apollo Creed/James Brown getup and the girl who thought her Cowardly Lion impression would be "unique" enough to get it done. Urban Amish Guy and Bad Juggler Boy came in just behind them along with Psychofan, who showed the judges her Ace Young-designed tattoo. The producers threw us a curveball with the long intro for the singing cowboy, echoing one of last year's early favorites, but he turned out to be a pretender.
What never ceases to amaze me, and what I guess is a large part of the appeal of this show, is the genuine conviction in the minds of all of them, that they are destined for fame, that they truly believe they can make it. When Bad Juggler Boy wept and said something about wanting to be famous right away at 16, you didn't know whether to slap him or hug him. My heart goes out to them, and maybe even moreso to the parents, who are walking that fine line between supporting their dreams and deluding their reality.
We close with another song written before the contestants were born, ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All." So touching, so profound, so very meaningful. Like the bad poker player that I am, I guess I am all in for another season of American Idol, but before I forget, by the way, the contest is already over. The winner of Season Six, your new American Idol, is Sarah Krueger of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Easily the most polished performer of the night, she's Katharine McPhee with a perm and more confidence. Hey, don't take it from a guy who picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl, take it from the guy who put Taylor at the top of the chart more than two month before the finale.