‘American Idol’ Celebrates the Losers

Blake Lewis Photo: Courtesy of FOX

Every week on American Idol, contestants perform songs based on a specific theme … then we ignore that theme and create our own. Last night's stated focus? The final showdown between Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks. The real issue? Failure.

Failure: It's the New Success!
What's America's dirty little secret? We think coming in second (or, heck, third or fourth) is a-okay. American Idol "loser" Clay Aiken has outsold victor Ruben Studdard. President Bush moved into the White House. And last night's show seemed designed to accentuate loserdom, from Paula Abdul's wishy-washy yet oddly appropriate concluding statement ("You know how it goes, they all end up winners, as you will see") to Chris Daughtry's live performance of the pack-your-bags-bro-you're-outta-here song "Home." Failures, stand proud: You run this country.

Scratch That: Failure Means You Suck
A glance back at the entire season during a montage set to Daughtry's song served as an apt reminder that most Idol cast-offs were completely unfit for stardom. In fact, season six was stocked with some of the worst contenders the show has ever seen, including pageant queen Haley Scarnato, whose discovery that sex sells was about as subtle as Joan Rivers's face, and Sanjaya Malakar, who failed in flamboyant fashion for four weeks straight before voters finally acknowledged defeat. Failures, sit back down.

Actually, We're All Losers Here
When true talent Melinda Doolittle got booted from the show last week, she left two quasi-qualified contestants behind to duke it out: Lewis, who thinks outside the box only by Tony Bennett–tame Idol standards, and Sparks, who has been groomed for stardom since birth like a Westminster poodle. Lewis's retread of his beat-boxerific "You Give Love a Bad Name" was stronger on theatrics than vocals, and his take on Maroon 5 ballad "She Will Be Loved" was dull at best. Sparks made it through Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" relatively unscathed and remembered to bust out the crowd-pleasing high notes for Martina McBride's "Broken Wing." Lewis struggled with "This Is My Now," an insipid, syrupy ballad that won the inaugural Idol songwriting competition, while Sparks found a way to make the song's schmaltzy sentiments soar. Chances are she'll walk away with victory tonight. —Caryn Ganz