The danger with depending on the American public to vote for the best candidate for a specific task is that sometimes, given the power of free will and a series of 1-866 numbers, people will do dumb things.
That thought was going through the judges’ minds on Wednesday night, as Constantine Maroulis’ off-night at the mic made him the seventh finalist eliminated on "American Idol." It left the Simon-Paula-Randy trio speechless, and Paula in tears. In fact, Paula looked a whole lot sadder than Maroulis’ mother, and comforted her in the show’s final moments.
Of course, if anything is predictable on this show, it’s the unpredictability. Last year it was LaToya London who was stunningly sent home early; the season before it was Trenyce. Voters clearly focus on factors besides talent, and why not — the alternative is to just let Simon pick the winner, and given his oft-stated allusions to Portuguese nightclubs and karaoke bars it’s doubtful as to whether the record label would get a better option with that approach anyway.
But the fact remains that the past few weeks have seen two finalists that have displayed real star quality, Maroulis and Nadia Turner, sent packing.
Granted, neither was the most consistent of performers, but there’s no question that each of them has a better chance at being a genuine star in the music industry than the likes of Anthony Fedorov or Scott Savol.
Maroulis made that perfectly clear with his final number – if he’d sang Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” as well on Tuesday night as he did once the results were announced, he’d probably still be on the show.
That having been said, the most telling soundbite of the night came from Randy Jackson, who uttered the illuminating “I’m actually really shocked … but nothing surprises me at this point in the season.”
Reverend Jim in the houseThe Constantine decision was notable because he had been coming on strong in recent weeks, but not much about ‘American Idol’ tends to be all that shocking. As if to emphasize that, everything else Fox broadcast Wednesday night highlighted the most annoying aspects of the half-hour results show that is always at least 20 minutes too long.
First came the obligatory Ryan Seacrest this-is-where-it-gets-really-serious-so-VOTE! introduction. Rumor has it that Seacrest just runs the same clip every Wednesday. Whether it’s February or May, he’s as dedicated to getting out the vote as Bruce Springsteen was on the John Kerry tour last year.
To give Seacrest some credit, at least he appears to be having more success at it.
Then, there was the obligatory promo for another Fox show, Pamela Anderson’s “Stacked.” The network may want to rethink its strategy of dragging the entire cast into the audience.
Christopher Lloyd could not possibly have looked less interested if he’d been watching the Yule Log channel — although viewers of a certain age may have gotten through the awkwardness by imagining his Reverend Jim Ignatowski character from “Taxi” auditioning for the show. It would make William Hung look like Mark Anthony.
Skipping over the group sing — because really, the Bee Gees have already gotten enough air time to last several lifetimes — and the atrociously bad video promoting Ford, Seacrest once again split the remaining contestants into two groups. Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice were paired up, as were Anthony Fedorov and Vonzell Solomon. Seacrest asked the remaining two finalists, Savol and Maroulis, to join the group they felt they belonged in.
Faced with a similar choice last week, Bice sneakily stayed in between the two groups and refused to make a selection. Clearly, Seacrest laid the hammer down after that, because both Maroulis and Savol quickly joined the Underwood-Bice duo.
It would have been tough for them to face the other two if they'd guessed wrong ("No really, Vonzell, you were great ... don't take it personally that I scurried over to join the more popular crowd.") But no worries — Seacrest let everyone know that Bice and Underwood were indeed safe — drawing an exaggerated "No!" from Simon in the funniest moment of the night. Most probably thought Maroulis would join them.
Scott Savol, American Idol?But Savol is too easily underestimated. Whatever his voting block is, it clearly comes out in force every week. Despite being routinely panned and showing the performing ability of a robot without rhythm, he seems to mesmerize people into sending in those text-messages every week.
That having been said, Savol looked more shocked than anyone to see Maroulis voted off. Well, except for Fedorov, who wound up staying onstage with the second-fewest number of votes. He looked like he was expecting Seacrest to add a “just kidding!” after giving Maroulis the bad news.
It’s probably not bad news for Maroulis in the greater scheme of things — his old band has a record deal in place, and he’ll almost assuredly land on his feet as well given his experience and the exposure garnered by the show.
It may, however, prove to be bad news for Simon, who has to worry that he may be four weeks away from having to promote Savol or Fedorov as a pop idol while the more talented finalists have to wait their turn.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.