Of the final three "Idol" competitors, Vonzell Solomon had clearly come the longest way since her first audition.
Carrie Underwood was a presence from the moment the cameras spotted her, and even in the auditions she got almost as much airtime as the great Ryan Seacrest himself. She was one of the favorites even before she was officially given a spot in the semifinals, and made it through the whole season without having to stand among the bottom tier of vote-getters.
Bo Bice wasn’t that fortunate, but once the competition started it was pretty clear that he was going to stick around an awfully long time. He outrocked his male rivals and outvamped the women, and even his obsession with $8 sunglasses didn’t hurt. It’s a miracle that on a show where product placement is king, the show’s producers haven’t gotten that guy an endorsement deal with Oakley in order to get him some shades that don’t look like they came from the dollar store.
Solomon? She had a great personality, and seemed to be having a lot more fun onstage than most of the women out there, but what chance did she have of winning? Heck, she was in the bottom three less than a month into the final round, and that’s usually a recipe for a swift trip home.
Moreover, with most of the women making early exits — six women made the final 12, but three of them were the first eliminated — Solomon learned quickly than any false steps would probably seal her fate. When Nadia Turner was voted off soon after, that left just Solomon and Underwood surrounded by a sea of guys, in a season that had a much stronger group of male hopefuls than it did women.
Vonzell raised her gameBut Solomon persevered, thriving in her role as the underdog. She outlasted talents like Turner and Constantine Maroulis, judges’ favorites like Anwar Robinson and Nikko Smith, and singer-who-everyone-loved-to-hate-but-evidently-voted-for-anyway Scott Savol.
She did so because she played to her strengths, picking songs that gave her the chance to race across the stage and get the audience involved. She did it by flashing that winning smile, and letting everyone know that she was having a ball out there. Solomon was always fun to watch and it was hard not to hope that she’d stick around for a few more weeks.
She even picked up a nickname in the process, "Baby V."
Mostly, though, she did it by getting better each week. As the competition got tougher, she raised her game accordingly. That held true to the end; her performance on Tuesday night was one of her best efforts.
The judges did her no favors at all. Clive Davis anointed Bo the winner and was effusive in his praise for Carrie as well. Simon Cowell told Carrie it was close, but she had done enough to advance. It had to be grating for Solomon’s fans to see her rivals lauded while she was given much fainter praise, particularly on a night where Underwood didn’t sing up to her usual standards.
But it was a fair assessment of the trio’s abilities. Solomon may be the best pure performer, but her voice isn’t quite as strong as Bice’s or Underwood’s. She’ll almost assuredly get a record deal, and definitely won’t need to get back on a mail truck again anytime soon, but she isn’t in their league just yet.
Solomon wasn’t the worst of the three singers on Tuesday night. But she wasn’t good enough to pass one of the two favorites either, and her journey ended in third place.
Hometown visitsSolomon leaves the show with some lovely parting gifts, some of which the audience got to see on Wednesday.
On her trip back to Fort Myers last week, the mayor gave her the key to the city. She then took a limo to the post office, presumably to hand in her resignation, and signed a whole lot of autographs at the local Wal-Mart.
Clearly, Solomon wasn’t voted off because a lack of support from the hometown crowd.
Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood had similarly eventful visits home. Bice got a surprise visit, and later a jam session, with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke and Ean Evans. The duo may have been scouting for younger talent for the band, given that they each looked to be about 80 years old.
That overwhelmed him, but not as much as getting the key to Helena. "Wow.
That really is the best thing I can say to you guys," he said at city hall.
Hopefully, he’ll come up with a better sound bite for next week, in case he wins.
Underwood also got the key to the city, though Checotah, Oklahoma is a smaller city than the others. Really, it looked like more of a town.
She also got inducted in the Oklahoma music hall of fame. Who knows what the state will do if she wins, but a nomination for sainthood has not been ruled out.
Bice and Underwood will meet next week in the final everyone has been anticipating since Nadia Turner and Constantine Maroulis made unexpectedly early exits. The season may have had its share of twists and turns, but in the end the best two prospects for stardom are facing off for all the marbles — or at least the right to release an album a few weeks before the runner-up.
But for Solomon, it was a great ride while it lasted.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.