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American Idol: 2 Finalists Compete

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In general I find it tedious when people say of any TV show "This season sucks compared to season X,"  because generally I think previous seasons always seem deceptively warm,  genuine and sepia-toned in hindsight while the current one always seems played. But I mean it when I saw I think this season of Idol sucks compared to last season. It's not like last season was so fantastic but I recall the pleasant surprise of actually caring what came out of the top four prospects. Adam vs. Kris was especially fun because they were each so different and yet so likable (and talented too I guess).  I thought maybe there was a chance that this season's Idol finale would pick back up a bit of that finale magic, but tonight I was left feeling pretty cold.  I cast my lot with Crystal because she's better and, well, because I'm a girl, but really? I don't care. You can blame it on Paula being gone or you can blame it it being Simon's last season but the show really went through the motions this season and the producers have a lot of work to do next season if they want to convince everyone there's a reason to watch without Simon.

In that vein I found tonight's finale oddly rushed and cold. Neither contestant seemed especially moved by the experience of being there, but it's not as if the show really gave them a lot of opportunities to savor the moment. I'm not saying that I think the episode should have been longer but a good way to let the contestants linger a bit would have been to cut out the live performance at the end. 

Anyway, in terms of performance I think tonight was for Lee what last Tuesday was for Casey: showing us that he's definitely not the winner. There are some camps who think that Crystal has had this whole thing sewn up since week one and it's merely hype on the behalf of the producers that give us the impression that Lee is anywhere close to Crystal in terms of votes.  If Lee does win after tonight I'll be legitimately surprised. 

The show got off to a sort of weird start as Ryan acknowledged that it's Simon's last week on the show, and Crystal and Lee came up through the theater aisles to the stage, Crystal holding up the show by dropping her mic, lingering with her Dad and generally seeming like she didn't know what was going on.  Then we got to enjoy the weird shot of a coin featuring her face on the floor of the theater (she won the coin toss and opted to go second). 

For their song choices both singers opted to reprise songs they've already done, which was sort of a boring bummer. Before each of them sang we got to enjoy some baby pictures of them, brought to us by Coca-Cola.  Lee covered "The Boxer" again, bringing more than just a pocketful of mumbles. I hated the arrangement on the tune, way too full of chimes and the old soft touch.  I thought Lee sang it OK but I couldn't imagine who would be inspired in any way by his performance. The judges by and large agreed with me, saying that it was OK but needed a lot more energy.

Crystal then sang "Me and Bobby McGee" which was a better choice in terms of reminding the audience who she is as a performer but her cover never picked up the get-up-and-go that Joplin's version gradually acquires.  Her performance was better than Lee's but it was still a bit of a letdown. The judges liked it a little bit more than I did although Randy acknowledged that while it was "dope" it started slow. 

The next round featured songs chosen by Simon Fuller, and his choices made me wish he picked more songs throughout the season. He chose "Everybody Hurts" for Lee, and when he launched into it I realized that it's a harder song to sing than I think might seem evident.  However I just don't think Lee brought anything new to the song.  The backup choir, raised hands and all, had more energy and soul than he did. I wonder what Michael Stipe thought of the performance.  The judges liked it better than the first performance but still didn't think it was so great and here's what kills me: Kara said, "It's not a perfect vocal but I love that about you." Well excuse me but if we're looking for people who can perform but not necessarily sing I'd rather have old Norman Gentle on the show. At least he was kind of funny.  Simon warned Lee that after this he had one last chance to deliver 10 out of 10.

Fuller picked "Black Velvet" for Crystal which was a great choice both for her voice and her attitude. She went all-out with the belting and basically made me forget Lee existed. I know this is a minor quibble but I did have an issue with her styling during this performance. I think she should have maybe had the guitar for this song, but more than that she just looked uncomfortable in the unflattering old-fashioned black gown they had her in.  This would have been the performance for the tall kick-ass boots, but again that's not really relevant to her singing.  Simon admitted that he sort of hates that song after hearing it slaughtered so many times during auditions but told Crystal she totally nailed it.

For their final performances the contestants sang the song they would release as their single if they won and I was surprised that we didn't hear an original Idol song.  I wouldn't go so far as to say I missed it: we don't need another goddamn song about dreams coming true and hope and being proud of Taylor Hicks.  But there was something sort of perversely interesting about seeing how the singers took on songs that so obviously didn't fit them. Not this time, though; they chose their own singles. Lee chose poorly, in my opinion. "Beautiful Day" is an uplifting song and all but why buy his kinda-U2-esque version when you can just buy the real thing?  He would have been better off rearranging the song so it at least sounded a little different.  A person who walked into my living room while Lee was singing remarked, "This is someone competing?"  I don't think it was a good sign that the judges in general praised Lee for his personality and his time on the show but not the performance.  I might be wrong but I thought Lee looked somewhat abashed after the performance, like he knew the whole thing was too big for him.

Crystal picked a savvier tune, Patty Griffin's "Up To the Mountain," a song not as many people probably know, which hence wouldn't seem as redundant a purchase choice. Plus it was uplifiting and matched Crystal's style of singing better than Lee's choice did. In addition, it was a quieter song, letting her voice show itself off rather than fight a big arrangement.  Crystal even got choked up/pretended to be choked up at the end.  I might be wrong but I thought Randy even seemed a little emotional there too, giving Crystal her props and bidding adieu to Simon.  The judges praised Crystal's performance (and not just her time on the show) and Simon also complimented her, making a point of his last comment as a judge being a positive one.  There was so much love between Simon and Ryan tonight I counted at least three winks. 

So, yes, I predict Crystal should have this, pretty easy. Tomorrow night join Leonard, Todd, Donna and me in a livechat to discuss the season and the finale. Ryan promised us that a few surprises will be in store. I wonder if that means whether anyone from past season/s of the show will be back?!!?!?!!!?!111!?!?

—Ryan's introduction of Lee's "The Boxer" was way too energetic.

—This is a shallow critique but since it's the finale I will finally say it: when Lee sings he gets these weird spit ribbons in the back of his mouth that remind me of the rubber bands I used to wear on my braces.