May 22, 2012

MUSIC: American Idol 2012: The Finale!

And so it comes down to Phillip and Jessica, neither of whom deserves to win the season (that would be Joshua). I'd go so far as to argue that neither of them deserves to be in the finals at all (I'd happily take Skylar as a more deserving runner-up).

But Phillip and Jessica are what we've got, and as we head into the final night, it seems likely that Phillip is going to complete his march to the title, because Idol voters can't bring themselves to vote for anyone other than a nonthreateningly cute white guy with a guitar. (Not to mention that Phillip is from the south, and southerners have an even better Idol track record than WGWGs.)

Let's see if there are any surprises waiting for us. Perhaps Jessica will discover an emotional core. Perhaps Phillip will complete his slow journey to finding a voice of his own. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all will happen, and an Idol coronation anthem will be a decent song!

The rundown:

Round One: Simon Fuller's choice

Jessica, "I Have Nothing" -- It's a very good Jessica performance -- technically flawless, but lacking in emotional life. It's a smart choice on Fuller's part, because the song itself is well enough written and structured -- big notes in the right spots, crescendos at the right moments -- that any skillful performance is going to carry a certain emotional force whether the singer provides it or not. But in the hands of a great singer, it's a heartbreaker, and as Jessica delivers it, it's not. (And "a great singer" doesn't have to mean Whitney. Chris Colfer gave a more moving performance of the song on Glee a few weeks back.)

Phillip, "Stand By Me" -- It's pleasant enough, but there's something lazy about it -- the sliding in and out of notes instead of hitting pitches square on and sustaining them; phrasing that seems entirely unconcerned with where the beat actually is; the energy level that's so far beyond laid-back it borders on narcolepsy. The song isn't as simple as it looks, and for me, it works best when it's more precise and less sloppy.

Round One goes to Jessica, but not by an overwhelming margin.

Round Two: Singer's favorite performance

Jessica, "The Prayer" -- Especially in the lower register at the beginning of the song, Jessica's enunciation is unusually weak here, which makes it even harder than usual to hear the performance as anything more than a series of very pretty notes. And some of them, to be honest, aren't that pretty; there are a couple of high notes at the very end (on "place" and "grace") that are rather shrill. Not one of her stronger moments.

Phillip, "Movin' Out" -- I didn't care for this version of the song the first time we heard it, and it hasn't grown on me any. Even by Phillip's standards, the melodic and rhythmic liberties he's taking are so extreme that it's barely recognizable as the same song; it's as if he's just borrowed the Billy Joel lyrics and set them to music of his own. (If it weren't for the lady playing the soprano sax riff, it would be entirely unrecognizable.)

Round Two goes to Jessica, but she doesn't win it so much as Phillip hands it to her on a silver platter.

Round Three: Coronation anthem

Jessica, "Change Nothing" -- Not much of a song, but the performance is very nice, for the most part, though a few of the lyrics are lost in the first few lines. It shows off the other challenge of being a 16-year-old with a huge voice, though. When Jessica tries to sing songs that are as mature as her voice, she doesn't have the experience or the skill to pull them off emotionally, but when she's given a younger-feeling teen love song like this, her voice feels too big for it. The song would be more suited to a diva with a smaller voice -- Taylor Swift, maybe. It's an awkward period in the development of certain singers (and one more reason that Idol really should bump the minimum age back up to at least 18).

Phillip, "Home" -- That may have been the best song any Idol finalist has ever been handed on finale night, and it's perfectly suited to Phillip's style. His weird little tics are almost entirely gone, and he's just singing. It's simple, clean, quiet singing, and it's absolutely lovely. It is, by a mile, the best performance he's given this season, and if there were any doubt that he's going to win, that wiped it out.

Round Three to Phillip by a landslide.

Which means the night goes to Phillip. And since Jessica was going to overcome the structural disadvantage of being a girl from California going up against a cute southern boy only by smashing his face into the ground (musically speaking), that means Phillip is going to win tomorrow night, and it's not even going to be close. 

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