Last night American Idol revealed which contestants voters have placed in the final top twelve, and once again the Idol audience proved that perhaps speed-dialers would be better left in the care of people who can discern musical talent. When Ryan Seacrest stood one-trick pony Andrew Garcia next to the mullet-crowned Alex Lambert, it seemed a foregone conclusion who would be going home: Andrew, the guy who hadn’t delivered a great performance in a month, was going to lose to the best male vocalist this season. But it seems Andrew’s dopey “I love my fans — you have the power” plea from last night actually worked, because America sent Alex packing. Yep, the guy who exudes melodic, gritty authenticity with minimal effort is going home. Apparently it’s not enough to have a better voice than literally every other male you’re competing against, you have to pull tricks like Andrew’s hammy, acoustic version of “Genie in a Bottle” to impress.
Alex’s departure was painful to watch. When asked for his thoughts on what went wrong, he fought back tears and choked out something about how he couldn't get out of his own head and tamp down his nerves. One can just picture him moping around for the next few weeks, hitting himself in the head and muttering, "Stupid stupid stupid!" but there’s no reason the season's most consistent male performer should blame himself. Barely holding back his tears while singing, Alex was rushed by the other singers as the show went to commercial break. When Idol came back three minutes later, the crushed losing contestant was still in the middle of an intense group hug, his face red and tear-streaked. It was hard to watch, like seeing the losing team after the Little League World Series.
(Side note: Further horrifying was the Billy Joel duet between Scott MacIntyre and Matt Giraud. Combining two former Idol contestants who no one cares about does not equal one Alison Iraheta or even a Danny Gokey. And when Scott sings, his face makes the surly, uncomfortable face you find on many a driver's license head shot.)
Todrick Hall was the other guy cut, which was hardly surprising but still a shame; at least he’s aware of the absurd theatrics he brings to his music, unlike Michael Lynche, who takes his bombastic vocal delivery and “I just became a daddy” melodrama entirely too seriously. Katelyn Epperly was the first female to go of the evening, which was unfortunate but expected. While her slow take on Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was aching and moving, most of her performances were simply competent: nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing to incite one to pick up the phone and vote for her.
But the night's second punch to the gut was seeing Lilly Scott get axed. Admittedly, not every one of Lilly’s musical experiments was a rousing success, but she was the only female performer this season who consistently and believably reinvented each song she covered. More than that, it’s clear to see Lilly has a very defined artistic style, so when she's good, she’s amazing, because she knows what kind of artist she is (and “artist” isn’t even a word applicable to most of the remaining singers this season).
This spoke to one of the larger problems with the talent retained on this show: Idol viewers often choose to support bland, easily replaceable singers like Katie Stevens and Aaron Kelly simply because they like to see a kid-next-door type on their tube. They don’t vote for artists they could imagine buying albums from, they vote for people with likable story arcs and pretty faces. Sad to say, even Lilly’s Urban Outfitters version of indie is probably too much for most couch potatoes to get behind. Instead of rooting for burgeoning talent, parents eagerly digest Aaron’s “Yes, sir, thank you ma’am” Precious Moments nonsense, tweens swoon over Tim Urban’s plastic smile and Abercrombie abs, and a variety of goofballs (Seacrest included) can’t get enough of Big Mike, the bear-size man with a heart of gold trying to provide a better life for his newborn whose birth he missed to sing on a reality show.
The highlight of the night was when Lilly testily shoved her elimination back in America’s face like it was our loss (which it is, when you think of having to hear Paige, Lacey, or Katie sing instead of her next week). With detached vitriol, Lilly coolly noted her surprise that the show was sending a lot of talented people home and told Ryan “I don’t know what America wants to hear but there’s an audience out there for me.” Then she treated us to a full-spirited take on Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” that was even better than Tuesday’s. Crystal Bowersox looked on grimly, probably realizing that being the most talented performer remaining still might not be enough to win this season.
The AV Club's Claire Zulkey informed Ms. Scott what America wants: "It wants to hear crap, Lilly."
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak would rather "spend a couple extra weeks with the guy [Todrick] who takes his coloring book and turns it into a papier-mäché sculpture than someone like Tim Urban, who's going to bore you to tears filling in the outlines of better artists with his pale, insipid colors."
Television Without Pity's Jacob hopes the shock of talented performers leaving will "guilt [Paige, Katie and Tim] into becoming people, but I wouldn't count on it."