She'd never tasted calamari, or pronounced the word "salmon," or seen the bright lights of Hollywood before appearing on "American Idol." And until Wednesday night, Kellie Pickler had never been told she was among the worst singers on the show.
But two bad weeks was one too many for the North Carolina teenager, who became the seventh "Idol" finalist to be shown the door. She hadn't even been one of the three bottom vote-getters before, but her brutally boring version of "Unchained Melody" on Tuesday was bad enough that her fans apparently fell asleep before they could text in their votes.
It was a quick hook for one of the early favorites.
Pickler charmed the judges and the viewers from her first audition in Greensboro, and her backstory gave her a more poignant air onstage than most of the other competitors. She was the girl with a father in jail and a mother who left, raised by her grandfather in small-town America. Had she won it all, the only question would have been whether Lifetime would have let her play herself in "The Kellie Pickler Story," or if they would have called Jessica Simpson's people to see if she was available.
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But charm and a pleasant personality stopped being good enough once the competition got tougher, and she never showed that her voice was anything extraordinary. While others got better each week, she stayed the same ol' Kellie, the judges lost their patience after the 450th malapropism of the season, and the Pick Pickler brigade just didn't grow fast enough.
Video: Why are 'Idol' winners Southerners? That probably saved the show from itself. A year after a country girl won the "Idol" title, it looked for awhile like Carrie Underwood Lite was the favorite to make it two in a row. While that would be great if the show was called "Nashville Star" and aired on cable, the show's producers were probably hoping for a little more variety this time around. Now they'll get it: each of the remaining five finalists has a sound that's unlike any of the previous four "Idol" winners.
Paris survives to sing another week
Pickler's bad fortune was good luck for Paris Bennett, who once again danced with danger and lived to tell the tale. Bennett's been among the lowest trio of vote-getters in three of the past four weeks, and has dodged more bullets than Jack Bauer. That doesn't mean she won't have a long and productive career in music, but it does indicate that she's not getting the traction among the show's voters that the others are, and she's running out of chances.
It wasn't all bad news, though. It was a great week for phone companies, as 47.5 million votes were cast, a number that host Ryan Seacrest took great pains to announce in the opening seconds of Wednesday's show.
That could be explained by the additional phone number each of the six finalists got this week (giving them two apiece), or it could be that America just got tired of Seacrest's nagging and decided that a few minutes on the phone was a small price to pay for getting him to shut his yap about it being their fault for not voting each week. It sure wasn't because of the performances themselves, which were forgettable at best.
It could also have been the friends and family of Chris Daughtry and Katharine McPhee stepping it up.
Oh, the drama
Seacrest divided the six finalists into three groups of two, and announced that they were segregated based on votes: top two, middle two, bottom two. Taylor Hicks and Elliott Yamin were the first pair sent to safety, apparently because it's just mean to make the old people stay up there any longer than necessary, but Daughtry and McPhee actually were the two leading vote-getters last week.
For Daughtry, that's good news after his dismal showing in the vote tally the previous time out. It's also a minor miracle that he managed to do so well singing a song with lyrics that go "tell me if you ever really, really, really ever loved a woman." Not many alt-rockers could make that sound even remotely cool — only in Canada do singers worry about whether they love their women with two "reallys" or three. While not even Daughtry actually made that seem cool, he did apparently do well enough to get his mojo back.
McPhee got an additional affirmation — a Simon Cowell apology. He and the rest of the judges trashed her decision to sing Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," part of their traditional efforts to totally confuse the competitors by telling them to challenge themselves more and then ripping them for picking songs that are too difficult. In hindsight, he said, "I thought we were unfair — it was a good performance."
Since the apology happened at the beginning of the show, McPhee reacted with an expression that indicated that it might not be accepted unless it came with a couple of million votes as well. Though she ultimately didn't need the judges' help, it would have been hilarious had McPhee wound up being the one voted off the show, just to see the acerbic Brit stammer out the "Uh, yeah. Our bad."
But in this case, the voters apparently saw something that the judges did not. Unfortunately for Pickler, the viewers were less willing to ignore what the trio of terror had to say. Don’t feel too bad for her, though. Bubble-headed blondes have a way of bouncing back. Just ask Nick Lachey.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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