It’s officially open season on the “American Idol” men.
Up until this week, the guys on “American Idol” have been protected by a quota system that ensured six of them would make the final 12. But now all bets are off, which means picking any of them to advance much further in the competition may be as much of a losing proposition as picking a No. 16 seed to make the Final Four in a March Madness pool.
The bottom three vote-getters this week were all male: Phil Stacey, Sanjaya Malakar and Brandon Rogers. Rogers was the unlucky one sent packing, but the other two can’t take much comfort in that. Nor can the men who were not in the bottom three.
To put things in perspective, two women forgot their lyrics on Tuesday, and both received more votes than at least three of the guys. According to the voters, Stacey and Malakar couldn’t outsing Stephanie Edwards or Haley Scarnato on a night when neither woman could remember 90 seconds worth of vocals. What chance do they have when none of the six women screw up?
Back to backup singingUnfortunately for Rogers, the women weren’t the only ones with bad memories. He started off Tuesday’s show with a lyric botch, and that combined with another bland performance left him with too big of a hurdle to overcome.
It marked an early end to a disappointing time on the show for the former backup vocalist, who was so good in the auditions but never found his rhythm after that. After all the years of staying in the background, he didn’t seem ready to let his voice power through as a lead performer. But he’s a professional, and he knew the drill. He was unsurprised to be in the bottom three, and ultimately exited the show with grace and composure.
Contrast Rogers to Melinda Doolittle, and it’s easy to see where the men have faltered.
Like Rogers, Doolittle is a former backup singer taking the opportunity to be the star of the show. But unlike Rogers, she’s taking full advantage of her turn in the spotlight, ripping through her vocals week after week to the point where she’s probably the favorite to win it all. She’s confident enough that she didn’t even look nervous when Ryan Seacrest teased her with his trademark “You are NOT … going home this week” line.
If she doesn’t win it all, it’s because other women aren’t letting her break away from the pack. LaKisha Jones is right alongside Doolittle in the pecking order, and the judges told Jordin Sparks that she’s gaining ground as well. Edwards and Gina Glocksen both have their fan bases, and Scarnato won Simon over on a night when she was so depressed after her performance that she could barely hold it together onstage.
In fact, most of the women outsang Diana Ross, this week’s guest coach, who performed on Wednesday’s show. It wasn’t much of a sales pitch for her upcoming tour, especially when Ryan had to prod her to elicit any information at all, and ultimately had to show some mercy and say all the relevant data for her.
“This show is so inspirational to all young American kids out there watching,” she said. Millions of parents likely responded by using their parental controls to block the show.
Mediocre menThe women shone in the first week of the finals. The men? They’re treading water at best.
Some of them are at least trying. Chris Sligh’s Coldplay-esque cover of his Diana Ross selection didn’t thrill Simon or Randy, and neither did Blake Lewis’ attempt to update an older song. But how were they supposed to know the unwritten rule that Diana Ross songs are not to be messed with, for they are perfection incarnate? After all, the judges all loved it when Chris Daughtry covered Live’s cover of Johnny Cash last season.
Chris Richardson moves like a pop star and looks like a pop star, but didn’t sound like a pop star this week. Stacey seems like he’s still searching for a vocal identity that will win friends and influence people to call his 1-866 number, and he doesn’t have much time to find it.
As for Malakar, Simon gave him the only compliment possible on Tuesday: he’s very brave. He’s 17 and way out of his league, and doesn’t have the vocals or the unique style that wins this competition. But he’s not giving up, and as long as people keep voting for him, he’ll stick around. At least, he’ll last as long as any of the men, which may not be very long at all.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.