Every good TV show needs comic relief, and for “American Idol,” that story line this season is the continued survival of Lazaro Arbos ... and how much that exasperates mentor Jimmy Iovine.
It’s fair to say Lazaro hasn’t been the best of the men, at least not since the finals began. As an individual, at best he was behind Burnell Taylor, though Burnell was the singer shown the door last week. But that understates the problems Lazaro’s had on the live shows.
As a member of a duet or group, Lazaro has made history as arguably the worst team player ever, dropping lyrics two weeks in a row and counting on his partners to pick up the slack. Angie Miller was able to smooth things over in their duet last week, but the Burnell-Lazaro-Devin Velez fiasco two weeks ago was legendary in its awfulness. When he’s onstage with others, the show reverts back to those dreaded Hollywood group performances where the only reason to watch is the trainwreck potential.
One reader noted that the issue may be Lazaro’s Latin roots, and the possibility that his background makes him less familiar with the songs he’s assigned to sing. That’s fine, but based on the post-performance interviews, it seems like nobody really knows these artists, which says a lot for the state of music education. Everyone else has to sing genres they’re uncomfortable with, but they're at least professional enough to learn the words.
He’s certainly not the first to overstay his welcome (witness Sanjaya Malakar), and given that he’s the last man standing, he could continue to frustrate Jimmy by showing up for mentoring for the foreseeable future. But he finished among the top three vote-getters a week ago, an unjustifiable vote of confidence from the audience that defies logic.
The question is why. What about Lazaro is causing viewers to ignore their ears and keep him in the game? Here are some possibilities:
- He’s inspirational: There’s a reason Lazaro has gotten more face time than anyone else this season – the fact that he’s overcoming his speech impediment to succeed in a competition like this one is something special. Every week, we see him struggle to talk onstage, but when the music starts, it’s like he’s using a different set of vocal cords. You’d have to be made of stone not to want him to succeed, which generates fan support even when it’s undeserved based on his actual talent and performance.
- He’s an underdog: Has Jimmy ever wanted a singer to succeed less than he does Lazaro? Every week, the record-label boss talks about what Lazaro isn’t doing – either he isn’t working hard enough or he isn’t singing well enough. Being too negative toward a contestant can backfire, and Lazaro would hardly be the first to ride the pity train late into the competition.
- He’s been coddled: Jimmy has no problems saying exactly what he thinks about Lazaro’s shortcomings, but the judges have been nicer. When they’ve been critical (and to be fair, they have been), they’ve been gentle in their comments rather than channeling the old Simon Cowell Evil Metaphor That Stings. They clearly like the guy personally and want him to do well, but it also offers wavering fans an excuse to keep voting.
- He looks the part: Nicki Minaj keeps calling Lazaro “Ricky Ricardo,” and he does have the Teen Beat vibe going. When he’s singing with confidence, he looks like a 1950s teen idol throwback. Indeed, a reader on Twitter speculated that his fan base was teenage girls who watch the show with the mute button pressed.
- He’s male: Guys have won each of the past five seasons, and though Lazaro is not another "white guy with a guitar," he is the favored gender among recent “Idol” voters. Anyone determined to extend that winning streak now doesn’t have any other options. Maybe there are a lot of “Idol” fans who just really don’t want a girl to win. That would certainly explain season nine champ Lee DeWyze.
- He’s not terrible: When Lazaro sings with confidence, his vocals are fine. Not spectacular, and not as good as the women, but not as bad as Jimmy sometimes makes it sound.
- VoteForTheWorst.com: Maybe viewers (and "Idol" haters) aren't ignoring their ears. Each season, the website picks a singer to support that the folks behind the site believe producers would hate to see win. Lazaro has been their guy this season, so anyone who dislikes the show for any reason or just wants to throw a wrench into the process could be voting for him. Of course, for this to have much of an impact on the final numbers would require a sizable group to participate each week.
Where the Vote For the Worst folks have been most interesting is documenting the apparent lack of love for Lazaro even among his fellow contestants. Many of the highlighted tweets have been deleted, but even after some edits, Angie still has favorited tweets that aren’t exactly pro-Lazaro. For example, "Lazaro???? Really??? Above Amber????” from @cclervois on April 4. Maybe she really does hold a grudge for that botched duet.
None of these seven reasons is going to be enough to allow him to actually win. This is nothing but good for the “Idol” execs. The women are the talent this season, but Lazaro is, no pun intended, the talker. He’s the guy who everyone is focused on after the show, and the biggest buzz centers around him.
And if he does win, that’s not necessarily a disaster either. Who wouldn’t watch a reality show where he and Jimmy make that debut album together?
Do any of you hold a similar grudge, or think he’s being treated unfairly? Here’s your chance to let us know what you think on our Facebook page.
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