Time to look back on the best and worst of American Idol Season 11.
This is one in a series of blogs leading up to Tuesday’s finale.
I already posted my picks for the top 10 Idol performances of 2012.
Check back tomorrow for a comprehensive look at the finale matchup between Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips.
Now, the best and worst of Idol …
Best duet: With two hours to kill every performance night, Idol trotted out more trios and duets than ever. My favorites were when Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips took the stage together. “Somebody That I Used to Know” was excellent. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was better. Both shined on the end of that number. If only Idol hadn’t identified it as a Tom Petty song. Tom wrote it; Stevie Nicks made it a hit.
Worst theme: Billy Joel on Top 10 week. Later, at least three of the final four — Jessica Sanchez, Hollie Cavanagh and Joshua Ledet — voiced their concers over that theme. Hollie had never heard “Honestly” before she sang it that week; Jessica admitted she never listened to Billy Joel music. And why would they be familiar? Most of Billy Joel’s hits were released before they were born. My favorite part: Idol brought in P. Diddy to help mentor the Idols on how to sing Billy Joel.
Best theme: Anything that allowed the Idol cast to sing current music, because that’s when they seemed to come into their own. Perhaps the best was hit songs from this decade, meaning 2010-2012 because some contestants (read Elise Testone) seemed to struggle when they had an extremely broad selection from which to choose. Seven performers tackled that theme; I gave every one a B- or better in my song-by-song blog that night.
Best critique: They all came from Jimmy Iovine, on results night. Judges from The X Factor and The Voice should take note. You can mentor a contestant and still deliver a brutally honest critique. But, Nigel, why were we hearing the best critiques on results night, after all the votes had been cast? That needs to change.
Worst critique: Or at least the most hypocritical, came when Heejun Han was criticized for disrespecting Idol with his rendition of Billy Joel’s “My Life.” Now let’s see. Idol makes Heejun Han a comedic star. Let’s face it, he made the finals based as much on his dead-pan humor as his singing voice. Then, when he proclaims “I Wanna Dance,” rips off a tux and launches into a fun-filled, crowd-pleasing performance that might have been a tad short of serious, he’s disrespecting the process? Unbelieveable.
Best Internet sensation: Blonde beauty Brittany Kerr showed up on Idol’s Savannah audition, sending male Idol watchers scurrying for more of the NBA dancer. They found more at Jim Merrill photography, which couldn’t handle the traffic. The Charlotte Bobcats website saw a huge surge in popularity too. After Idol, Brittany went back to dancing with the Bobcats, where the dance team was likely a highlight (7-59 record, 23 straight losses, ouch!), and starred in a halftime show with fellow Idol contestants David Leathers Jr. and Ariel Sprague. Now she’s dyed her hair dark and just performed a duet with country star Billy Currington during his Friday night show in Charlotte. Go, Brittany.
Best in-show commercial: When Tommy Hilfiger fashion clips showed up on Top 10 week, I let out of a groan that could probably be heard in L.A. (for perspective, I write from Pa.) . But it turned into a hilarious delight when Idol after Idol after Idol simply ignored what Tommy had to say and wore what they wanted anyway. Best of all: Tommy told Phillip Phillips to stop wearing gray. So he showed up on stage in two shades of gray, telling Ryan: “I’m not a guy about the image. I want the music to be first. If people don’t like it, it’s cool. If people do like it, that’s cool, too.” The one contestant who bought into Tommy: Erika Van Pelt. What happened to her? She went home, that very week. And Tommy soon disappeared from Idol. Good riddance.
Worst in-show commercial: Remember when the Idols used to get a text message during their visit home revealing what song they’d sing on the Top 3 show. This year, they got a box delivered to their home instead. A box way too big to reveal just a single song. Hold it, it’s an in-show commercial for some music gadget that I still refuse to name because it’s gotten too much air time on the show. Anyway, Idol turned the song reveal into a commercial. Now that’s disrespecting the process!
Most contrived moment: The save of Jessica Sanchez. I’m sure Nigel and company were hoping for high drama. It turned out to be a whole lot less dramatic than last year’s save of Casey. Steven Tyler spoiled any suspense by announcing that the judges would use their save even before Jessica started singing her save-me song. That made Jennifer Lopez’s dash onto the stage to take the mike from Jessica seem rehearsed. Knowing that the judges had to use their save at some point after Jermaine Jones’ disqualification didn’t help. And I still can’t help but wonder if that week’s results weren’t the figment of someone’s imagination.
Best mentor: I’ll let the contestants help out with this one, because we all know the mentors don’t get to spend that much time with them. When the field had been whittled to six, Idol asked the cast who had offered the best advice. Five of the six remaining said Stevie Nicks, who had mentored them three weeks earlier. Way to go, Stevie.
Best return to the Idol stage: I had hoped every results show performance would go to a former Idol. Well, at least half of them did. And many were very good. Kris Allen and David Cook spring instantly to mind. But Idol saved the best for last when Adam Lambert showed up Thursday night to perform his new single, “Never Close Our Eyes.” That vocal made me wonder all over again how he could have possibly missed out on the Season 8 crown. Simply brilliant.
Best fake-out: We’ve just seen one of those groan-worthy in-show commercials for The Rock of Ages film when Ryan Seacrest approached girlfriend Julianne Hough, who was sitting in the audience, to ask a question. It looked for all the world like a proposal might be coming. Why not propose on air in front of 20-some million people on the show that made you famous? But when he reached into his pocket, Ryan pulled out a note for Tom Cruise instead of an engagement ring. Hopefully, Julianne was in on the joke.
Worst episode: This one is easy. It was the second show from Hollywood. Contestants were preparing for Group Night. The Betties argued. Alisha Bernhardt had trouble finding a group. Tent girl got sick, then made lots of other people sick. There was lots of barfing. Heejun Han cracked some jokes about the “crazy cowboy” (aka Richie Lawson), then kept cracking jokes about Richie. And those were the highlights of an episode that didn’t include a single performance. And by the time it came time to vote, everyone but Heejun had disappeared. One of the most worthless hours of television in Idol history.
Best sing-off: I’m not sure anyone matched Casey Abrams’ farewell celebration or James Durbin’s vest-flinging, teary-eyed goodbye from Season 10, but Skylar Laine and Joshua Ledet came close, so I’m calling this a draw between those two. Skylar shed no tears; she stomped across the stage delivering a kick-butt version of “Gunpowder and Lead,” one of her idol’s biggest hits (that would be Miranda Lambert). Joshua just delivered a brilliant reminder of what Idol was losing with his elimination, reprising “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” and pulling his mom onto the stage for the second half of the performance. One of my favorite tweets that night came from former Idol contestant Kimberley Locke: “Make em love you, Joshua,” she wrote, as he ripped into that song.
The outcome: For the third time in four seasons, the best singer lost. Look, Phillip Phillips is a tough guy to root against. But no way he was better than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. And the fact that a deserving female lost for the second time in three years — Crystal Bowersox should have mopped up the Idol stage with Lee DeWyze in Season 9 — will renew the debate over <strong><a href=”http://ydtalk.com/chatter/2012/05/why-idol-needs-a-gal-named-zuri-zirka-for-season-12/>”whether a girl can ever again win American Idol.</a></b>
Now, Phillip and Elise rip into “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’