2011 in Review: Special honors for the deserving and undeserving few

Haley Reinhart performed Blondie's "Call Me" on American Idol Wednesday night. (FOX Photo)Over the past five days, I’ve taken a look back at the highlights and lowlights of Idol and its imitators during 2011.

You’ll find a top 5 moments blog, a worst 5 moments blog, my picks for top 10 Idol songs, top 5 Idol albums and top 5 Idol videos.

Now, the final blog in the series, a host of special awards as we close out 2011.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Another season of Idol is right around the corner, and I’ll be blogging live during every episode.

Now, the aforementioned awards:

Best Contestant: She was accused of stealing a spot in the Season 10 finals that should have gone to Kendra Chantelle.  She looked like sure fire cannon fodder, finishing in the bottom three in the first two weeks once the finals began. But the lovely gal with the growl turned out to be a contender for the Idol crown, finishing third behind Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. I’ll always believe she should have finished at least one spot higher.  Haley Reinhart also turned in the finest performance of Season 10, a soulful rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.”

Most Underrated Contestants: I’ll always wonder what would have happened if Ashthon Jones had stuck around a little longer on Idol.  She had the look, the stage presence and the voice of a potential standout.  Instead, she was the first finalist eliminated on a show that’s not exactly female-friendly.  Among the vocally challenged finalists on The X Factor, LeRoy Bell was an exception, a seasoned performer who sounded great in almost every performance. But the show never embraced him as a serious contender for its $5 million prize.

Most Overrated Contestant: This pick was remarkably easy — Chris Rene from The X Factor.  The judges wanted us to believe he was the real deal.  Truth is, he lasted longer with less singing talent than any contestant I can remember since at least season three of American Idol.  The constant posing on stage got incredibly irritating, too.

Most Memorable Moment: Casey Abrams’ reaction when the judges stopped his save-me performance mid-song and announced that they would, indeed, use their only judges’ save to keep him around. First, Casey slumped to the stage.  Then he approached the judges’ table to make sure he’d heard correctly.  Then he embraced his mom.  A great reminder to Nigel Lythgoe that the best Idol moments just happen, they aren’t manufactured.

Silliest moment: It’s Idol’s performance finale. Everyone is set for the Teen vs. Teen, Twang vs. Twang showdown between Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. But wait a minute. There’s something wrong with Lauren’s voice. To emphasize the severity, Ryan Seacrest summons the Idol doc to the stage. He reports that Lauren blew out a vocal chord. And he shows up wearing hospital scrubs. Hospital scrubs! For crying out loud, what was he going to do, rush her into surgery because she lost her voice.  Then Lauren shows up on stage and spoils all the drama, saying it’s nothing to worry about.

Phoniest moment: Simon Cowell admits he has made a serious mistake. The X Factor finals must include Melanie Amaro (the eventual winner of course), whom he just eliminated. So he heads off to her Florida home, camera crew in tow, assuring us that Melanie has no idea he’s about to knock on her door.  He knocks.  Presto, there sits Melanie, who had gone back to her pre-X job, but just happens to be home at the moment. Presto, it looks like her entire extended family is conveniently on hand, too.  All the more people to tell Simon how wonderful he is for reconsidering.  Melanie might not have known Simon would come knocking that day. But someone in the Amaro household knew something special was about to happen.

Best exit: Call this a three-way tie between James Durbin, Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams. They turned their eliminations into celebrations of their accomplishments, mingling with the Idol crowd and pretty much telling everyone watching that we just might hear more from them in the future. A refreshing change of pace from the tear-filled exits we typically see.  OK, James shed a few tears.  But he also flung his jacket into the audience in true rock star fashion at the end of his farewell song.

Most annoying contestants: I just couldn’t choose so I’ll have to name two — Nick Nittoli from Platinum Hit and Astro from The X Factor. For those who didn’t see Platinum Hit, Nittoli was a world-class jerk. He showed up proclaiming himself the King of Pop and other cast members as the rest of The Jackson Five. He finished fourth. Best of all, he got booted on Platinum Hit’s Pop Night.  More of you are likely familiar with the ego known as Astro. He should have been eliminated when he threw a tantrum because he landed in the bottom two. He thought the show was playing games, that he couldn’t possibly have finished that low. Two weeks later, he finished dead last and got an overdue boot from the show.

Best duet: Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams, hands-down. Their “Moanin’” duet should go down as one of the classic Idol performances, even though it came during a results show. In my book, it matched the Adam Lambert-Allison Iraheta rendition of “Slow Ride” for sheer brilliance, and that’s quite a feat.

Worst duo: Here’s why I’m not a fan of duets during performance shows — there’s no way it’s going to wind up being fair. That was the case on Season 10 of Idol, when Idol paired off Haley with Casey, Lauren with Scotty and — get this — rocker James Durbin and gospel singer Jacob Lusk for its top 6 show.  On their own, James and Jacob are fine vocalists.  Together … well, let’s just say they’re not peanut butter and jelly.

Best Idol change: I’ll name two. Changing to  broader themes so singers aren’t forced out of their comfort zones week after week might have been a key to Season 10′s success.  If Idol had made Scotty McCreery sing disco or Gloria Estefan songs, I doubt the result would have been as ear-pleasing. On the resuls show, breaking the Idols up into duets or smaller groups was a refreshing change from those silly group numbers where you can pretty much guarantee nothing special is going to happen.

Most needed change on Idol: Limits on the number of votes a single crazed fan can cast.  Something needs to be done to even out the show’s gender problem. The first five singers to depart in Season 10 were females.  A female hasn’t won the show since Season 6.  And I truly doubt Kelly Clarkson would beat Justin Guarini if they squared off in the finals as relative unknowns today.

American Idol Contestant Scotty McCreery visits a radio station on his trip home from American Idol. (FOX Photo)Best quote from an Idol: Lady Gaga’s advice to Scotty McCreery.  Sing like he’s making love to the microphone, like he’s shoving his tongue down the throat of a girl who has threatened to leave him. Asked to reflect on the meeting, Scotty kissed the cross he wears around his neck. “Lord,” he said, “this is not my doing.”

Best pre-Idol song from a finalist: “Dreamin’ Alone” by Paul McDonald’s old band, the Hightide Blues.  Great example of why contestants should be permitted to perform originals on the show.  Coming in a not-so-distant second, “Salsa, Salsa” by Ashthon Jones.

Best judge: I just flat-out like Blake Shelton. He’s funny. He comes off as very sincere. And he seemed to have great chemistry with his fellow celebrity musicians on The Voice. I’d just like him to be a wee bit more critical when The Voice reaches its finals in 2012.  And having him around means we might get more guest appearances from his supremely talented wife, Miranda Lambert.

Worst judge: Let’s see, Steven Tyler watched more than 110 performances during the Idol finals and liked every one. Then, in the finals, he awarded rounds one and two to Lauren Alaina because she’s prettier than Scotty McCreery. Randy Jackson was supposed to take charge of the Idol panel in the presence of two newcomers. Instead, he turned into an “in-it-to-win-it” joke. So let’s declare it a tie for greatest ineptitude at the judges’ table. And that’s pretty pathetic because Nicole Scherzinger didn’t even enter my mind as a contender.

Hidden Gems

OK, time for three special awards, doled out to contestants who released music in 2011 but somehow missed out on the finals when they appeared on Idol.  All made it to at least the Hollywood round.  Based on what I’ve heard since, all would have made fine finalists.

Hidden gem single:  “Icing” by Charity Vance.  An adorable song that makes me smile every time I hear it.  And Charity gets extra credit points for fitting “metaphorically” into the lyrics of a pop song.

Hidden gem EP: “Strictly Business,” Katelyn Clampett.  A five-song set that ranges from pop to rock and shows versatility Idol certainly could have used back in Season 9, when she made it to Hollywood.  The title track and “He’s No You” are particularly good.

Hidden gem CD: “Pirate” by KMAC (Kristen McNamara). She wrote or co-wrote every song except a pop cover of “If I Die Young.” She engineered the vocals. And the result is an album better than some we’ve gotten from recent Idol finalists. I’ll never understand why she didn’t make the finals in Season 8.

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One Response to “2011 in Review: Special honors for the deserving and undeserving few”

  1. Prytania says:

    This article was DEAD ON.

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