American Idol Finale Preview

There will be a riot if Taylor Hicks does not win tonight.

I’ve been reading the reviews of yesterday’s final American Idol competition between Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee, and I am sure of only one thing. There will be a riot if Taylor Hicks does not win tonight. Usually, there is some drama, some disagreement amongst the pundits. Not this time. Nearly everybody is predicting that Taylor Hicks will be the next American Idol. Does this mean that Carrie Underwood will be there to hand over her crown? And does Taylor have to wear it? It would go well with his purple blazer from last night.

So I’ve got a summary of my past musings about Taylor and Katharine in a table below. What story does it tell? That there were nights in which Katharine out-sang Taylor, but last night was not one of those nights. Taylor was never in the bottom three (or two), he was never controversial (unless I missed it), and he only had to be consistently above average to win. (See my “do the math” commentary below.)

American Idol Blog-O-Rama

Here are some entertaining tidbits from other bloggers. Because after tonight, we all go on American Idol hiatus for six months or so.

In a surprising moment of lucidity, VFTW wrote this nice analysis of the various singing styles of the finalists (http://community.livejournal.com/votefortheworst/26308.html):

“Katherine – Oh God, where do I begin. First off, I think she’s a soprano in denial. Her voice just isn’t belty–dark, rich and low, like an alto’s would be–it’s high and light. I remember this week she sang something in her upper register and it sounded absolutely lovely. Also, most sopranos just can’t sustain belting like that, which would explain why Katherine strains so much and misses notes. But, that’s just a theory of mine, which others may not agree with. Anyway, she has bad placement: she’s singing from the back of her throat and thus lacking the forward placement which would make her tone brighter. I am not sure if this is on purpose or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were because she wants to sing jazz so badly. She often sings songs that are too low for her, as well.

Taylor – He can very pitchy. It’s hard to judge his technique because usually he’s more concentrated on dancing around instead of singing, hehe. Another theory of mine is that he sings songs that are too low for him. Barry Manilow said that he’s a tenor leggiero (really high tenor) and that would be backed up by the fact that last Wednesday he was able to sing some pretty high notes without going into falsetto.”

Entertainment Weekly reviews the Idol Season 5 Encores CD and includes this nugget (although YMMV) (http://popwatch.ew.com/popwatch/2006/05/snap_judgment_t.html):

Kevin Covais, “When I Fall In Love”: If Simon Cowell went to hell, guess what would be on his iPod?

The Heart On A Stick blogger has some interesting analysis of how he was initially rooting for Taylor Hicks to win and then became indifferent (http://heartonastick.blog-city.com/taylorhicks2.htm):

“[Taylor] loved music too much to care about anything else, too much to not show it. He seemed to have a personality – musically, at least — too big to be co-opted. He didn’t seem to know better, and couldn’t be bothered to learn. Taylor Hicks and American Idol were destined to be either/or propositions. The more an outing embarrassed Simon, the better it must have been.”

The title of this tongue-in-cheek piece from Defamer almost says it all: “Spelling Picks Up Work as ‘American Idol’ Background Player” (http://www.defamer.com/):

“Tori Spelling was one of the first to answer the open Idol casting call seeking ‘upper middle class, Sherman Oaks types’ who could adequately ‘feign genuine affection for Katharine McPhee.'”

James Hudnall wrote a very entertaining summary of last night’s show, including this gem about Taylor’s last song (http://jameshudnall.com/blog.php?/weblog/the_superbowl_of_songs/):

“[Taylor] had to sing the song that the Idol producers chose as his first single. And when he started my headache came back. But then something happened. It’s what I call Taylor’s super power. You see, I have this theory that everyone has a super-power of some kind. Most people have a useless one, that they often don’t even know they have. Like causing elevators to show up quickly or traffic lights to favor them. Taylor has an ability to take any song and find an emotional connection, which he then projects out to the audience. He works the song, molds it in his hands, and creates a thing of beauty.”

Finally, Reality TV Magazine, in a piece entitled “Simon Cowell Was Wrong About Taylor Hicks!” has this to say (http://www.realitytvmagazine.com/blog/2006/05/american_idol_s_3.html):

“America doesn’t need another cookie-cutter pop artist. America needs a Taylor Hicks in all his crazy dancing, purple jacket wearing, harmonica playing, soul singing glory.”

Was the writing on the wall?

Here is a summary of my past musings.

Erik’s American Idol 20-20 Hindsight
Article Taylor Katharine
American Idol Top 9 Preview (4/4/2006) I expect that Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks will have no trouble adopting their singing styles (rock and soul, respectively) to the country genre…. FWIW, here is the order I predict the top 9 will finish overall.
1. Taylor Hicks
2. Chris Daughtry
3. Kellie Pickler
4. Mandisa Hundley
5. Paris Bennett
6. Katharine McPhee
7. Bucky Covington
8. Elliott Yamin
9. Ace Young
Similarly, I expect Katharine McPhee to sing well but to perform in a forgettable manner…. FWIW, here is the order I predict the top 9 will finish overall.
1. Taylor Hicks
2. Chris Daughtry
3. Kellie Pickler
4. Mandisa Hundley
5. Paris Bennett
6. Katharine McPhee
7. Bucky Covington
8. Elliott Yamin
9. Ace Young
American Idol Top 9 Recap (4/4/2006) 6. Taylor Hicks (16/25). Taylor sang a ballad (“Take Me Home”?) and just stood there. The band seemed much too loud and it was hard to hear his voice. He was on key but it just was not too fun. 2. Katharine McPhee (19/25). Katharine sang an upbeat song (“Elvis In Me”?) and looked like she was having fun. It was a strong performance. When Simon started to complain (again presumably about the song, not the performance), Katherine (smartly) jumped in and said, “It’s OK, you just don’t like country music.” It doesn’t matter who likes what kind of music. American votes based on the quality of the vocal performance, and this was a good performance.
American Idol Top 8 Preview (4/10/2006) The others all have unique styles that should allow them to perform in a memorable manner. I think that Ace, Elliott, and Katherine will have the hardest time tomorrow trying to sound unique and non-Queen-like.
American Idol Top 8 Recap (4/11/2006) 1. Taylor Hicks (23.5/25). Taylor sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It was a fun, relaxed, upbeat, rockin’, memorable, soulful performance. It was, in short, everything an American Idol performance should be. And the crowd loved it. Simon called it “ridiculous,” but he got this one wrong, one of two he got wrong for the night. I’m beginning to think he does not like soul singers. 4. Katharine McPhee (18.5/25). Katharine sang Who Wants to Live Forever?, which was the only real ballad of the night. (I don’t think you can call Bohemian Rhapsody a ballad.) It was a good song to show off her vocal range, and she wore non-maternity-looking clothes for a change. But Katharine seemed tentative on some of the big notes and did not have the best stage presence.
American Idol Top 7 Preview (4/17/2006) I have already purchased Taylor’s second CD, and I’ve never purchased any Idol merchandise previously. Taylor and Katherine are the most talented singers, and they should sail through easily to the next round. If you have gray hair, you should be voting for Taylor, who, in addition to being the strongest male singer, is the strongest performer in the bunch. Taylor and Katherine are the most talented singers, and they should sail through easily to the next round.
American Idol Top 7 Recap (4/18/2006) 3. Taylor Hicks (19.5/25). Ryan chats with Taylor about the parody of Taylor Hicks from this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live (without mentioning SNL by name) and Taylor takes the ribbing well. When you are parodied on SNL, you know that you have arrived. Rod Stewart disagrees with Simon about the value of dancing and performing on stage and tells Taylor that you have to “grab the audience by the balls,” which earns him a bleep from the censors. Taylor sang You Send Me, which started off a bit slow but ended very strong. Another strong showing for Taylor. 1. Katharine McPhee (20.5/25). Katharine sang Someone to Watch Over Me, and it was vocally flawless. Definitely a MOMENT for Katharine. She showed vocal range and control while working the camera skillfully despite a plethora of extreme close-ups like you’d see in a Spanish soap opera. (It says something about standards night when my highest score is only 20.5.)
American Idol Top 6 Recap (4/25/2006) 2. Taylor Hicks (18/25). Taylor sang “Just Once,” which is a Quincy Jones song, and I could swear that Michael Bolton has covered it. My wife and I joked about Taylor singing Michael Bolton, and even if he didn’t sing a Bolton song, it’s never a good thing to be thinking about Michael Bolton when you’re trying to judge a singing competition. The quote from the movie “Office Space” (http://www.imdb.com/) comes to mind: “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.” So Taylor’s performance was good, not great. The first half was OK, the second half more spirited and soulful. David Foster said Taylor had the “most charisma,” this from the man who appears to have none (at least not on camera). Michael Bolton cried. 3. Katharine McPhee (18/25). Katharine sang “I Have Nothing,” perhaps in an attempt to suck up to David Foster. It’s a Whitney Houston song, and I had never heard it. Katharine sounded too breathy and was simultaneously lacking breath support (if that is possible). Her dress was distracting but her fans will love it. The performance was good, not great. I have nothing to compare it to. I watched her performance last (taped), which colors your perception. If you watch it last instead of first, you’ll see that Simon’s criticisms were too harsh. Katharine’s dad cried.
American Idol Top 6 Results (4/26/2006) Now, why grizzly bears are relevant to the outcome of American Idol. There is a saying that if you are running away from a grizzly bear, then you do not have to be the fastest runner. You only have to be faster than at least one other person (the person behind you). So it is with American Idol. You do not ever have to give a standout performance. If you sing above average every week, then you will win the American Idol competition. (Do the math. With two left, only the winner is above average.) Which leads me to some more observations about season 4 vs. season 5. Last year, I remember outstanding performances from Nadia Turner, Anthony Federov, Constantine Maroulis, Vonzelle Solomon, and Bo Bice. But I do not remember any outstanding performances from Carrie Underwood, the eventual season 5 winner. Carrie always sang above average and was never in the bottom three. That’s all it takes to win. The only remaining idol candidate with anything close to those same attributes is Taylor Hicks. Taylor Hicks has always sung above average and has never been in the bottom three. Taylor has arguably had more memorable performances in season 5 than Carrie had in season 4, but otherwise the fact pattern matches up. So could Taylor Hicks win American Idol? It’s worth noting that Simon admitted he was wrong about Katharine’s performance. Based on what I wrote yesterday, I’m guessing he’s reading my blog now. Thanks for the support, Simon!
American Idol Top 5 Recap (5/2/2006) 1. Taylor Hicks (19.5 + 20 = 39.5/50). Taylor sang “Play That Funky Music” in the first round, which is not really a singing song. And he sang the heck out of it. He was laying down and singing on his back (taking Bocelli’s advise to Chris from last week’s show?), which was odd. So was his outfit. And the band was too loud.

In the second round, Taylor sang “Something,” a Beatles song that, through the accounting magic of the music industry, is on the charts this week. The song is older than Taylor, but he did it justice and put his own spin on it. He was a little sharp at the beginning, and I didn’t like the humming at the end. It was good but not great.

4. Katharine McPhee (18 + 20 = 38/50). Katharine sang “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” and it was a dreadful arrangement. She sang off key at the start and the modulation was awkward. There isn’t any bad song that can’t be made worse by adding a modulation, and this song is no exception. It was exceedingly, painfully boring.

In the second round, Katharine sang “Black Horse And A Cherry Tree,” which was too low for her at the start of the song (a common problem with songs this season). This is a fun song with a Bo Diddley beat to it that I’ve been enjoying on UK radio for a long time. Katharine did a nice job singing it and, oddly, sat or kneeled on the stage for the entire song. She had a strong finish to the song.

American Idol Top 4 Recap (5/9/2006) 1. Taylor Hicks (23.5 + 21 = 44.5/50). Taylor sang “Jail House Rock” in the first round. Tommy Mottola was cool and gave good advice to Taylor, who even looked like Elvis in this song. Taylor gave the type of performance that his fans – and music fans in general – love. It was full of energy, hot, and flawless. An Idol moment for Taylor. Simon, who made reference to the “real world,” is clearly not living there himself, and his criticism of Taylor was totally off base, prompting Paula Abdul to yell at him and him to snap “shut up” in reply. America, thankfully, is no longer listening to Simon, who is increasingly becoming a parody of himself.

In the second round, Taylor sang “In The Ghetto.” While I thought this was great, I actually preferred Taylor’s first song. But this performance looked even better following a tepid performance by Katharine. Tommy Mottola said (twice) that Taylor’s rendition was very impressive, and he got that right. Rich and interesting, with nice high notes, higher and smoother than we’ve heard from Taylor all season. Simon said that Taylor sung his way into the semis.

4. Katharine McPhee (17 + 18.5 = 35.5/50). Katharine sang a medley of “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up” in the first round. A medley. Like they do in high school. Hundreds of great Elvis songs and Kat sings a medley. Yuck. I thought it was karaoke. Simon called it manic, like a bad audition. Plus she forgot her lyrics and turned her back to the camera to try to cover up. This was as close to a train wreck as there was tonight.

In the second round, Katharine sang “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” This was a signature ballad for Elvis and Kat did not do it justice. Tommy Mottola encouraged her to emote but not to yell, and she did not take his advice. At the start, she sang in a whiny style and the song was way too slow. Then she looked nervous and rushed after the modulation. I thought it was really rough. Simon said it was like apple pie plus a gallon of cream, which is his way of saying that it was over the top.

American Idol Top 4 Results (5/10/2006) American Idol is not a singing competition. American Idol is a performing competition. Which is why we end up with a celebrity in the audience, Rebecca Romijn, gushing over Taylor and asking him to reprise last night’s version of “Jail House Rock.” Of course, Taylor brought down the house, all along probably wondering why he was singing on elimination night. All of the final four are great singers. Only Taylor is a great performer. After being told that she was in the bottom two, Katharine looked shocked not to be going home.
American Idol Top 3 Preview (5/10/2006) I have said all along that Taylor Hicks is the best performer of this year’s American Idol contestants, and I also believe that he is the best singer…. Simon Cowell said that he didn’t think that Taylor could be commercial…. After I saw Taylor perform “Levon” (American Idol S05E12), I purchased his second CD (his first CD is out of print) entitled “Under The Radar” (http://www.lasersedgecd.com/). Once you listen to “Under The Radar,” you will understand why Taylor Hicks will be commercially successful. This is some seriously fun, smooth, tight, grooving music. Taylor’s voice mixes seamlessly with keyboard runs and sax solos. Good stuff. And all I can remember from Katharine McPhee is boring ballads.
American Idol Top 3 Recap (5/16/2006) 1. Taylor Hicks (21.5 + 21.5 + 24 = 67/75). Clive Davis chose “Dancing In The Dark” for Taylor’s first song, and it was apparently the first time that a Bruce Springsteen song has been performed on American Idol. Taylor sung the song strongly, even squeezing in some (spontaneous?) dancing with judge Paula Abdul. Notice I said “squeezing in,” because this performance felt truncated and rushed (kind of like the “round of 5” night). I thought it was a very good performance but it didn’t give Taylor a chance to show off his vocal range.

Judge Randy Jackson chose “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker for Taylor’s second song. You know, because Taylor reminds Randy of Joe Cocker. I don’t know. I do not like the sappy ballads. Maybe it’s just me. The song started off slow, and I was wondering how (or whether) Taylor would pull off the falsetto portion, assuming he sticks to a Cocker-like performance, but he pulled it off nicely. In fact, this style of singing is very much like what you’ll find on Taylor’s second CD, which I blogged about yesterday. Simon called it Taylor’s best performance yet. Simon should also listen to Taylor’s CD.

Taylor chose “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding for this third song. And he said he was doing this one for the Soul Patrol. The song starts out as a slow ballad and then transitions to a more soulful upbeat song, and the longer the song went, the more fun it was. Taylor gives the kind of performance which, at least in this household (of five people), can make you simultaneously smile, laugh, and cheer. It was magic, awesome, a home run. Simon didn’t like the ending but said he’d see Taylor next week in the finals.

Taylor was solid on his first two songs and knocked the third out of the park, so I expect him to move to the finals.

2. Katharine McPhee (18.5 + 21 + 19.5 = 59/75). Clive Davis chose “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly for Katharine’s first song. Katharine’s voice sounded hoarse in her video clip with Clive Davis. She got a little ahead of the music and then inexplicably dropped out before the chorus. I can’t believe that was the arrangement, to have the backup singers sing the first chorus. If it was, it was a horrible arrangement. It was a bit rough after the modulation but nothing major. Randy said that with a song like this, you should concentrate on singing the melody, and I agree.

Judge Simon Cowell chose “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” for Katharine’s second song. She started a cappella, and I was wondering if she would do the who song without the band (like Bo Bice did last year), but the band joined in soon after the song started. Katharine sounded like Karen Carpenter during this song. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether or not that is a good thing. It was much better than her first song. But why was she sitting down? Does any popular artist perform a song this way? In any event, she sang the song extremely well (even though it is a dreadful song). Someone forgot to tell Kat that she was supposed to crash and burn in the round of three. She had a couple of saccharine moments mixed in there. And is it my imagination or was that song a lot longer than the other songs tonight? Simon called it the best performance of the season by any contestant. Of course he did, he chose the song. It was very good, even great, but it was not the best of the season, not by a long shot. Why do judges love the sappy ballads?

Katharine chose “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues” for her third song. I had never heard the song before. The style of the song, surprisingly, suited Kat just fine. Surprisingly, because I don’t recall her doing this sort of piece previously. It was, however, more suitable for Broadway than for Hollywood. And it ended rather suddenly. Perhaps because her second song was so long. Overall, it was a solid performance of an obscure song. My oldest son counted four gratuitous lip licks (the “tongue thing”) during the post-song chat with Ryan Seacrest. This is the sort of thing that I miss when I’m taking notes.

Katharine was up and down. Her second song was her best. I think that Katharine will connect with first-time viewers more than Elliott will, so I give Kat a slight edge over Elliot.

American Idol Top 2 Preview (Or Why Taylor Hicks Is The 2004 Red Sox) (5/22/2006) I personally think that Taylor would be wise to pick a funky fast song (like “Living For The City”) and follow it up with a ballad (like “Something”). Frankly, I’d enjoy anything that Taylor sings. It would be totally cool if he did one of his original songs from his “Under The Radar” CD. Taylor has always sung – and performed – well and memorably. So I give the edge to Taylor. As for Katharine, I can only remember two of her songs: “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Over The Rainbow.” Katharine has always sung (more or less) well but not memorably.
American Idol Top 2 Recap (5/23/2006) Taylor Hicks (23/25). For his first song, Taylor reprised “Living For The City.” The first thing we did in our house was turn up the volume. Grab the remote and turn up the volume, because Taylor is in the house! Taylor worked the crowd and the camera with an energetic big performance, definitely big enough for the Kodak Theatre. This was a slightly longer arrangement than when he first sang it. I counted a nearly 20 second ovation from the audience. Simon said that round one goes to Taylor.

Taylor Hicks (21/25). For his second song, Taylor reprised “Levon.” I jumped on the Taylor bandwagon for real after Taylor’s first performance of “Levon” early in the season. Back then, it was the first we’d seen of the passion of his performances, the emotional connection he makes with a song. This time, it was not quite as good as the first time. The first time, his performance was such a contrast to the other performances of the night. Now that we’re used to Taylor, this performance didn’t stand out as much. Simon said that after two rounds, we’re tied. I actually have Taylor slightly ahead 44 to 43.

Taylor Hicks (24/25). For his third and final song, Taylor sang “Do I Make You Proud,” which will be his first single. Taylor was smooth and powerful, building to a great climax. The song got bigger and better as it progressed. And Taylor nailed the modulation. Unbelievable. You gotta love the gospel backup singers. Taylor can even make the bogus original song sound good! I thought it was, by far, the best of the night. Simon said, “Taylor, you have just won American Idol.”

It occurs to me that the Kodak seats about 3000 and that Taylor sang to much bigger crowds back home in Alabama.

Katharine McPhee (20/25). For her first song, Katharine reprised “Black Horse And The Cherry Tree.” She wandered around the melody a bit and did more dancing and prancing than sitting like the first time. I don’t think this is the best song for a venue like the Kodak Theatre. The song isn’t big enough. It’s a fun pop song, and Kat sang it well, about as well as the first time she sang it this season. But, overall, I’d say that it was a song and she sang it. Simon said it was good with a small “g” and that it was a good warm-up for her. Ouch. Because it’s the final competition night, I don’t think anyone should score below 20, so that’s where Kat set the bar with this performance.

Katharine McPhee (23/25). For her second song, Katharine reprised “Over The Rainbow.” She sang it slower and breathier than the first time she sang it (last week). She hit a clunker of a note on the second to last “birds fly” but otherwise sang it about as well as she did last week. But again I ask, why is she sitting? This has to look awkward to the home viewer. Simon said it was Kat’s best performance of the competition. Which means, unfortunately, that there is nowhere to go but down from here. See how song performance order matters?

Katharine McPhee (19/25). For her third and final song, Katharine sang “My Destiny,” which will be her first single. The key seemed too low for her at the start, and she stumbled her way through the opening. She was very pitchy after the modulation. This sounded like the perfect song for Kermit The Frog to sing, but not for Katharine. Then again, she was wearing a green dress. This is the problem with having the AI original song sung last. Simon said she went from great with her second song to very good with this song. I had to change my rule about not giving a score below 20 tonight, as I thought this was, by far, the worst of the night.

[P]erhaps [Katharine] was intimidated by the large stage.

Who is the most accurate American Idol blogger/pundit?

Erik’s Chart of American Idol Pundits
Pundit Bottom 2-3 Accuracy Bottom One Accuracy Weighted Total Accuracy
Power Dialers @ DialIdol.com 87% (13 for 15) 71% (5 for 7) 82% (18 for 22)
Augie De Blieck Jr. @ Various and Sundry American Idol 73% (11 for 15) 57% (4 for 7) 68% (15 for 22)
Erik @ Erik J. Heels 80% (12 for 15) 43% (3 for 7) 68% (15 for 22)
Joe Reality @ Reality TV Magazine 80% (12 for 15) 43% (3 for 7) 68% (15 for 22)
Jennifer @ The Woes and the Prose of an American Idol Junkie 87% (13 for 15) 29% (2 for 7) 68% (15 for 22)
Dave @ High Lord Dave’s Blog 67% (10 for 15) 57% (4 for 7) 64% (14 for 22)
Ken Barnes @ USATODAY 67% (10 for 15) 57% (4 for 7) 64% (14 for 22)
DJSlim (Brent Natzle) @ American Idol Season 5 Blog 60% (9 for 15) 29% (2 for 7) 50% (11 for 22)
Flipping A Coin 50% 50% 50%
Simon Cowell @ American Idol NA 29% (2 for 7) 29% (2 for 7)
Web Searchers @ Zabasearch.com – Most Searched American Idol Contestants no historical data no historical data no historical data
Web Searchers @ Google Trends no historical data no historical data no historical data

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