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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

American Jesus--er, Idol (Revisited)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So last night Carly got the boot from American Idol. I was indignant and appalled for about two seconds, because the night before, whilst she was wailing her way through Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar," I said to Meredith, "She's not scoring herself any points with middle America with this."

Indeed, though there were at least two performers who's performances were notably inferior to hers, Carly inexplicably ended up in the bottom two, and then even more inexplicably was sent packing. The judges stammered out half-explanations about "pockets of voters" for different contestants, but I think it's obvious what killed Carly: she messed with Jesus.

Seriously, during a season in which as woeful a performer as Christy Lee Cook can extend her stay on the show three full weeks by bleating out "God Bless The U.S.A.," is it really smart to stomp around the stage and demand, "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, who are you, what have you sacrificed?" In a season which boasts as its most memorable performance to date a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" that completely omitted the hostile-to-religion first verse, is a controversial shot to the heart of Christian doctrine the best choice? Clearly not.

Here's when I knew Carly was done for: when Seacrest reviewed her previous night's performance, saying, "Last night you sang 'Superstar.'" Jesus Christ got entirely dropped from the song title. Dollars to doughnuts that wasn't Seacrest's call.

This show is a fascinating peek into the soul of the American soul. With 30 million-plus votes received every week, American Idol has won the participation of more of the American citizenry than most political elections and more than all the country's churches, taken together. And last night the message was clear: you can forget the words and start over, and you can butcher a classic while baldly admitting your ignorance of it; but don't you ever, ever, mess with Jesus.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:16 AM


Rocky, I completely agree. I was actually telling my wife before the show even started that Carly might be in the bottom because of her song choice, particularly with the way this season has gone.
commented by Blogger Michael, 9:13 AM  
Great minds think alike, obviously. I also saw the point made in a comment left on Lisa Moraes' Washington Post TV blog.

Were Azusa students outraged? Was there a protest? Did they burn Carly in effigy?
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 9:43 AM  
Okay... let me say first that Carly did not deserve to go home. She was/is a better singer than a number of people who are still in the competition.

But am I surprised? No. Is it a manifestation of her inability to fit into what the white-bread middle states expect in their idol? I doubt it, and I actually think that is a rather self-satisfied hypothesis coming out of a corner that considers themselves more "enlightened" than others. I'm sort of disappointed to hear it here.

Take a look at the track record. Historically, a weaker singers has always outlasted stronger ones:
Season 1 - Nikki McKibben over Tamyra Gray
Season 2 - Carmen Rasmussen over Rickey Smith
Season 3 - John Stephens over Jennifer Hudson
Season 4 - Anthony Federov over Constantine Maroulis (the former had 5 bottom 3s, the latter only 1 - his one and only)
Season 5 - Kellie Pickler over Mandisa
Season 6 - Sanjaya over everyone eliminated before him.
I don't see Carly's ouster as unusual or unexpected. Perhaps "undeserved" at this point... but not wholly unexpected. She was an older, good singer, who everyone enjoyed hearing... but never really connected with a niche of music fans (i.e. "rockers" and Nikki McKibben, country fans and Pickler), and she was too good for people to give her sympathy votes or votes just to keep her on to see what happens (i.e. Sanjaya or John Stevens).

The thing is, there is a like-ability factor here, as you know. Just because someone's a great singer doesn't mean people will vote for them.
I think it might be more interesting (and more indicative of actual talent) if people voted to eliminate someone rather than the current system.
The way it works now, if a contestant is polarizing, they tend to last a bit longer than someone who is solid week to week, but not evocative of a "love them or hate them vibe" (see Sanjaya... or even Jason Castro or Brooke White this year). These folks have huge appeal to a certain loyal fan base, and that fan base mobilizes when they think their favorite is in danger. If we counted up the people who think Brooke (or even Jason) should be the one voted out, I'm sure they would outnumber those voting for Carly to leave. However, there were more folks claiming these two as their favorite. That's how it works; and thus, the prevalence of "upsets." Someone who is pleasing to listen to, but not an inspirer of loyalty, is doomed to the middle of the pack on Idol.

On your other points, when David Archuleta was asked directly (by Randy Jackson) why he didn't sing the first verse of "Imagine," his response was that he sang the third for two reasons. One, it was his favorite verse (having performed it before)... and two, he had to cut the song for time, and wanted to focus on the end for what (ultimately) made the performance so memorable.

Also, had Syesha gone and not Carly, Carly would have still had the highest number of "bottom 3" performances of any contestant remaining. It's not as is she has been a favorite and "messing with Jesus" suddenly cost her the title. I can't buy that.

As for the comment about there being more votes than the election returns and church attendance... well... you can't exactly vote twice in the same election or attend 15 different church services on the same day, so that's not a fair comparison. I'm sick of people using this one like it isn't comparing apples to oranges. The fact is that American Idol's ratings are actually down this year, and it has barely beaten out "Deal or No Deal" from NBC in the same time slot. There might be more significance in the fact that millions watch someone playing "pick a number" rather than a legitimate talent show (however flawed).

Finally, much of your argument hinges on what you said here: "Here's when I knew Carly was done for:" and referenced Seacrest saying she had sung "Superstar," omitting JC in the song name.
I don't know if I win dollars or donuts, but the name of the song *IS* "Superstar." see http://www.amazon.com/Christ-Superstar-Original-Concept-Recording/dp/B000002P4H
Thus, I believe that Ryan would be legally obligated to refer to it by its name...

All this to say... dude... Carly wasn't going to win. While you or I might have enjoyed listening to her sing and wanted to hear her again...she wasn't my favorite, and I didn't vote for her (but I haven't voted for anyone this year). There are probably millions of people who are saying the same thing today. She wasn't the worst, but she wasn't the best necessarily either. There's only one winner. If she has lasting appeal, the record that she will inevitably make will do well. Here's hoping. But, along the same lines, I like to hear her sing, but I'm not going to buy her album either.

Calm down with the unresearched conspiracy theories. It is what it is.
commented by Anonymous matt, 6:06 PM  
"...but don't you ever, ever mess with Jesus" - do I detect a little finger waggling in there??
commented by Blogger Jerilyn, 9:31 PM  
Oh my.

I will humbly cede all of the above points to an obviously superior Idol scholar.

But I will defend my assertion on a couple of points.

Everyone knows Idol is a popularity contest; you can't win on superior singing talent. But I don't recall this ever happening before, where two performers out of six--a full third of the bill--were historically woeful, I mean jaw-droppingly, hide-in-the-corner-of-your-closet bad, and neither of them get voted in the bottom. That's the thing that gets me. And I don't think it's all to do with Jesus; Jesus just makes the scenario more interesting.

Look, Carly is un-American--literally. Her arm is covered with tattoos, which may be the only part of the body her dark-clad husband doesn't have tattooed. She's hardly Kelly Clarkson or Taylor Hicks as far as popular appeal in the US of A. But all that got her further than an odds-on favorite like Michael Johns. Why was this the week that got her whacked? I have to think it's Jesus.

And don't be disappointed at the "enlightened" tone; you know that's why you love me.

And finally, the title of the song may be "Superstar," but that didn't stop the song's composer from praising its fit-ness for this particular singer as he said, "I saw your second choice was 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'" Copyright obligations aside, Ryan's omission the following night struck my ear as significant.

And this is NOT unresearched conspiracy theory fodder. I'm offended at the suggestion. It's very obviously unresearched religious sociology, thank you very much.

Long live David Cook!
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 9:49 PM  
At least we agree on David Cook!

Remember, Michael Johns was "un-American" as well; and, for some reason, thought the fact that he played *tennis* would make voters identify with him. That was a bonehead move.

About the two inferior performances... hmm... can't say I can dispute that, because it's not like I can recall every episode ever. But, through the magic of Wiki, I cite April 21st, 2004, when Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson, and LaToya London were the bottom 3(!) and each outperformed remaining contestants like John Stephens, George Huff, and Jasmine Trias. If you remember anything about John Stephens or Jasmine Trias, I think you will remember that "historically woeful" might fit quite well.

At any rate... go David Cook!
commented by Anonymous matt, 8:12 AM  
I was hoping you'd cite Jennifer Hudson/Fantasia Barrino/Latoya London example, because it's not at all pertinent. That is the classic example of vote-splitting on Idol, where performers who all draw from a similar demographic dilute one another's totals. Ultimately, Fantasia won that season.

But Brooke and Jason came away unscathed from performances that were garbage. That's not an idol first, but I'm instill intrigued by the role Jesus played in their . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . salvation.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 4:43 PM  

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