Ryan Seacrest began this week's "American Idol" results show by saying that 35 million people voted this week. Apparently, the people who read Web sites asking people to "vote for the worst" contestant weren't among them.
Kevin Covais, the popular choice of at least one campaign to help an undeserving singer win, became the second finalist eliminated when he got the boot Wednesday night. The result was only surprising because Covais wasn't among the three lowest vote-getters last week, and because he seemed a strong candidate to fill the role of this year's contestant who stays around a lot longer than they should because they just seem so darned likeable (hey, it worked for John Stevens a couple of seasons ago).
Among the contestants themselves, Covais looked like he was one of the more popular figures, probably in part because of the massive age distance between him and the rest of the men. Covais is 16; the next youngest of the six male finalists is Ace Young at 25.
That made him the obligatory younger brother — old enough to want to tag along with the big kids, but too young to steal any of their girlfriends. A nice guy, but no threat at all. And from day one, that's the persona that he played with the audience.
Simon Cowell said from the beginning that his fan base was 80-year-old women and 11-year-old girls, and he would have to depend on doting grandparents and schoolgirl crushes to keep him in the competition. Seacrest compared Covais to Chicken Little and jokingly said he was becoming a sex symbol.
Of course Covais played along, because hey, whatever works. It got him out of the auditions and past the Hollywood round. Five teenage men were among the 24 to make the semifinals; Covais was the only one to reach the final 12. He figured out from early in the competition that for him, being the dork with the nice voice was the way to go to survive a voting public that wasn't showing the teenage males a lot of love.
Besides, how many 16-year-olds are going to pass on being declared a sex symbol, particularly when they're surrounded by women whom any teen would be proud to take to their senior prom?
The problem was that this really wasn't a good year to be the teenage boy crooning songs everyone can hear in high-school talent shows around the country. Covais already looked a lot younger than his age. The distance seemed to grow throughout the semifinals and carried over into the final round.
Boy among menHe was truly a boy among men — Barry Manilow called him a boy twice last week, and Ryan Seacrest said after this week's obligatory product placement Ford video that featured Covais, "We have transformed that boy's life." But boys win talent shows and college scholarships; men and women win record deals.
The shame of it is that Covais exited after his best performance in weeks. He took advantage of the theme and picked a song that it made sense to have a 16-year-old-boy singing. "When I Fall in Love" was right in his wheelhouse and he sounded genuine singing it, but the voters didn't care that Barry Manilow approved of the performance. He came and he sang without faking — but they sent him away.
That saved Bucky Covington and Lisa Tucker, the next lowest vote-getters, for at least another week.
Tucker actually improved her position slightly; she had the second-lowest number of votes a week ago, and was the third-lowest this time around. But she's also just 16 years old, and has the same problem among the women that Covais had among the men; she's the youngest of the five remaining in the competition, and always winds up looking like someone's little sister who wandered onstage and grabbed a microphone.
She came into "Idol" with a lot of experience performing onstage, but it hasn't made her seem like a star. It's easy to see her performing onstage in front of a crowd — heck, she's been in "The Lion King" — but harder to see her headlining a concert tour.
It's even harder to see Covington in that role, and he can't use age as an excuse since he's 28. He's had trouble standing out from the beginning, and every week has been a struggle for him to build a niche as something besides the goofy-looking guy with the Jessica Simpson hair who sings a little bit of country rock.
He looked to be in more trouble than Covais this week after struggling with Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy", but apparently his veteran guile and a late surge of votes from North Carolina was enough for him to skate by.
It's no big deal. Even Covais didn't think he was going to win, and the whole experience gives him a great topic for those college application essays.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.