For the first time in a long time, Ace Young got unqualified praise from the guest artist and a complimentary review from Simon Cowell. That should have been enough to let him know he was in grave danger.
Young became the sixth finalist eliminated on “American Idol.” Neither he nor anyone else looked all that surprised, since he’s spent most of the season in more trouble than Barry Bonds.
More notable than that was the person standing next to him at the finish. Chris Daughtry, who hadn’t sniffed the bottom three yet all season and is often called the singer to beat, received the second-lowest number of votes, proving once again that singing first among the finalists is always bad news and that listening to the judges isn’t always a good idea.
Simon had praised the rocker Tuesday night after his rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” taking the credit for being the first to tell Daughtry he needed to diversify his musical styles. Right now, that looks like it’s sitting right next to “The Titanic is unsinkable” and “The tech bubble will never burst” in the annals of bad advice.
Of course, Simon backed away from taking the blame on Wednesday, saying that he wasn’t responsible for Daughtry’s singing. Clearly, Simon’s not the guy to be counting on as a wingman in a bar fight —at the first sign of trouble, he vanishes quicker than William Hung's 15 minutes of fame.
He also probably doesn’t need to worry about Daughtry following his tips any more. Next week’s theme is love songs, which means Daughtry will be hard at work searching the alt-rock genre for a power ballad to get his mojo back. Don’t expect him to be looking through the song book of operatic guest star Andrea Bocelli for material. (Does Linkin Park has a love-song compilation?)
Paris Bennett was third among the lower tier. The 17-year-old is in the holding pattern of doom — perennially among the bottom three finalists, and good enough to hang around without having a real shot at winning (otherwise known as the Anthony Fedorov zone).
In a normal year, Bennett would be among the more fascinating of the show’s personalities. She talks like a cartoon character but sings like a 40-year-old, is the calmest person in the world when she’s in trouble onstage and a crying mess when anyone else is voted off the show. Put simply, she's a bundle of contradictions, otherwise known as the average American teenager. This year, the likes of Daughtry, countryified Kellie Pickler and jumpy Taylor Hicks make her seem bland by comparison.
Pickler can do no wrongIt’s becoming an “American Idol” tradition, when the list of finalists dwindles to seven, to split six of the candidates into two groups of three and let the seventh person try and pick which of the groups is safe. This time it was Hicks who got the honors, and had to stand with either Bennett, Daughtry, and Young, or Pickler, Katharine McPhee and Elliott Yamin.
Hicks stood with the wrong trio at first, because that's the rule on "Idol" — the obvious guess is rarely right. While Young and Bennett weren’t sure things, it was a justifiable call to assume that anyone standing with Daughtry had to be safe. Meanwhile, Yamin has spent enough time in the danger zone that he keeps a spare set of clothes there, and McPhee had at least been in the bottom three once before.
That left Pickler, whom America must really love. On Tuesday, she sang “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” like she’d never heard the song before. She was clearly the worst of the seven contestants, and seemed to know it, but still managed to avoid danger.
Maybe it was the apology. Every time she sings poorly and the judges pick on her, she pouts, says she’s sorry, and everyone coos “awww” and races to be the first to call her number. She can apparently do no wrong. If Pickler was still popular after that performance, what will she have to do to get voted off the show — sing in a Brooklyn accent? Make out with Howard Stern onstage?
It looks as if she’s found the top-secret pamphlet “How to become the ‘American Idol,’ by Carrie Underwood.” She’s not nearly as good a vocalist as last year’s winner, but she has the rest of the mannerisms down pat — the country girl in the big city who's forced to adjust to salmon and strange ways. If last year’s winner from Checotah, Oklahoma, does pass the microphone to the girl from Albemarle, NC, there won’t be any high-school girls in small-town America by autumn. They’ll all have left for whatever audition cities the show sets up for Season 6.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.