David Cook has been crowned the new American Idol, and it's time for this year's kickass rocker to start his kickass rock career.
First stop? A sappy little ditty called "Time Of My Life." This year's coronation song came once again from the "American Idol" songwriting contest, which proved so successful last year that Jordin Sparks's "This Is My Now" was the only debut single from an "Idol" winner to miss the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
But it's really no surprise that "Idol" chose to revisit a song-selection process that was, on the face of it, clearly a failure the last time. In fact, it's totally in fitting with the rest of the season's insistence on keeping things that don't work and fixing what ain't broke.
And so, in opposition to all good sense, the songwriting contest returned for another year. That's not to say that the folks behind "Idol" didn't mess a bit with the formula. For instance, instead of one forgettable, clichéd anthem about achieving your dreams (or achieving a perfect solipsistic state, as the case may be), this year's audience was lucky enough to get three of them.
That is, to speak in terms that "Idol" is so fond of, a new record. With the winning song itself reserved for whoever took the crown, Cook and rival David Archuleta each performed another contest entry from among the runners-up on Tuesday. The actual coronation song remained under wraps until after the winner was declared on Wednesday, which means that the audience had to pick a winner before it knew what it was going to get for its trouble.
Then again, it's pretty much a given after seven seasons of "Idol" that the coronation song is never good. What typically works in its favor is repetition, and lots of it. The public hears it during the performance episode (possibly twice, if there's no major stylistic incompatibility between both finalists), and by the time the confetti falls, there's hopefully some small portion of the song already lodged in their brains. The coronation song isn't about wowing people with excellence so much as placating them with familiarity.
Heck, as the judges' criticism about unfamiliar songs shows, that's the case with every song performed on "Idol." And so by the show's own standards, Cook's fans were robbed of their moment. Where previous seasons' winners got to take a victory lap, Cook had to sell his fans a new song from scratch.
If they got to hear it at all, that is. Thanks to the casual disregard that "Idol" has for such trifling matters as bringing a show in on time, "Time Of My Life" didn't even start until after 10 p.m.. And that means that a lot of folks whose DVRs stopped recording when the show was supposed to end never got to hear it at all. (Some have complained, in fact, that their DVRs cut off before the winner was even announced.) Many Cook fans would probably buy the song regardless, but they have to remember it first.
As for the song itself, it adds credence to the argument that "Idol" viewed Cook as a way to make amends for Chris Daughtry's early ouster in season five. Which is to say that it sounds like a candy-coated version of Daughtry's "Home" crossed with Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," its 6/8 time signature giving it an arm-waving sway as one last gift to the annoying pit girls in front of the stage.
Then again, Daughtry never had to sing about a magic rainbow. Cook barely flinched, which seems about right for a guy who may have chuckled at the cheese that "Idol" served up twice weekly but who always embraced it with "what the hey!" enthusiasm. Sure, the lyrics to the single that introduces him to the world is a jumble of mixed metaphors (one of which, running along a river's edge and failing to fly, is a little more literally earthbound than the typical coronation song), but Cook certainly knew what he was getting himself into, and he was ready for it.
As coronation songs go, "Time Of My Life" is a middling entry. Cook would have actually been better served by his Tuesday selection, "Dream Big." Emily Shackelton's original is a moderately sparky (if generic) country-pop number that has the unprecedented advantage of not being mind-numbingly dumb, but the word "stars" in the chorus seems to have inspired Cook to rearrange it as a Switchfoot knockoff. Making it sound like the quietly Christian band not only fit the singer, it suited the second verse's veiled religious references, though Cook was smart enough to edit out the part with the line "I loosed the reins, then let them go." One "Jesus Take The Wheel," it seems, is plenty.
Both songs were certainly better than Archuleta's choice, "In This Moment" by Ryan Gilmore. Musically, it's the standard bland-pop anthemic ballad, right down the middle of Archuleta's strike zone. Lyrically, it's a mess, starting with the line, "Mother, can you hear me?" (cut from the show, as Archie began with the second verse) before mixing concrete imagery (driving through a city, exiting a subway) with what seem to be random epiphanies on the state of the world.
Plus, there's the part where the driver keeps staring at how awesome his own reflection is, suggesting an impending collision. But there was still plenty of room for a bunch of coronation-song buzzwords: "in this moment," "beautiful world," "eyes of a child," "give me a chance."
All that's missing is rainbows and a dream. Don't worry, though: Cook's got it covered. But thanks to the show's promotion of its own product as an afterthought, it remains to be seen whether "Time Of My Life" will even be remembered enough to be an albatross around Cook's career in the grand coronation song tradition.
Marc Hirsh is a writer in Somerville, Mass.