On Wednesday night, FOX's "American Idol" crowned Fantasia Barrino as its new champion. But even now, the show is far from over. A few short months from now, auditions will begin for the next season, set to begin airing in January 2005.
Even now, we assume, multitudes of wannabe singers are gearing up for their chance at fame and fortune. Luckily for them, the performances of the third season's competitors offer up many lessons to potential participants in the fourth season. Wannabe Idols, get your notebooks ready: Here are the Do's and Don'ts we've gleaned from the third season of "American Idol"
1) DO fit into a category. This season, the women were either divas or pop princesses, and the men fell into the single category of Not Women But Men. Many viewers wondered what was so bad about Martha Krabill, the first person to audition this season. She wore her army uniform and sang "Dancing in the Streets", sounding at least as talented as any of the people who ultimately made it to the final 12, but she was not asked back. Why not? She wasn't a diva or a pop princess! She didn't fit into a category, which means that she couldn't be pigeonholed, and then scolded by the judges when she tried to show versatility or range, and the judges love nothing more than a good scolding. Especially that Simon.
2) DON'T be the worst in your category. Jennifer Hudson had a great voice, but she couldn't measure up, diva-wise, to La Toya London and Fantasia Barrino. Similarly, Leah LaBelle wanted to be a Pop Princess, so much so that she Americanized her last name before showing up for the finals. But Leah didn't have the voting support that Camille Velasco or Diana DeGarmo had. Fantasia was the most dynamic diva, and Diana was the perkiest pop princess. Look who made it to the finals. That's no accident.
Smile, hold the cheese
3) DO have a smile and a positive attitude. This season, the men just couldn't win. As far back as the auditions, the judges were sure that the winner of this year's competition would be female. But one male contestant outlasted his comrades, and that was George Huff. Sure, he has a good voice. But he also has an infectious enthusiasm and a huge smile, and that helped him to survive during the weeks when his performances were not quite up to par, or the theme of the week wasn't one that fit his personal style. On the women's side, Diana is always happy. Even when Simon makes a particularly cutting remark, she chirps in response, "Okay! I'll take that!" and it's actually quite endearing. Your mother was right: nobody likes a sourpuss.
4) DON'T be overly cheesy. People like cheese, but not Velveeta. "American Idol" is a cheesy show: the singing and dancing medleys, the farewell video montages, Ryan Seacrest in general.
It's difficult to sing a ballad without being somewhat cheesy. But there's good cheese, and then there's Matt Rogers singing "Amazed," the performance that led to his dismissal. Voters are trying to find the next pop star, not the next Vegas lounge act. Watch out for overly sincere facial expressions and gestures, especially when the lyrics are also exceedingly heartfelt, because that's just a recipe for fromage.
Jay Leno need not apply
5) DO be quirky. Jon Peter Lewis was a mediocre singer at best, and early on, it looked like he wouldn't be sticking around for long. And then came his performance of "A Little Less Conversation" in the Wild Card round. JPL unleashed a herky-jerky dancing style combining something like a seizure with a facial expression that seemed to ask, "What are my legs doing right now?" People who watch the show ironically thought it was all a big goof, and wanted to support JPL as a means of sticking it to The Man. Others just thought he was cute. JPL was able to hang on for weeks longer than his singing talent indicated, mostly because he stuck out in a field of rather bland males. Potential contestants might consider buying giant glasses, or only wearing the color orange in order to stand out in the crowd.
6) DON'T resemble a celebrity of the opposite sex. When Simon Cowell told Amy Adams that she looked like Jay Leno, it was the beginning of the end for her. Despite the endurance of other, less talented performers (Camille was still in the competition at that point), Amy was dismissed in the third week. Was it her allegedly oversized chin that failed to attract the necessary number of voters? We'll never know, but it couldn't have helped. On the other hand, it seems to be acceptable to resemble a same-sex celebrity, as John Stevens survived being compared to Stan Laurel by Cowell.
Fans...good! Hawaii fans...better!
7) DO cultivate a psychotically devoted fan base. Any group of people can make up this fan base. Like Clay Aiken before him, John Stevens managed to appeal to tweens, a typical nonthreatening teen idol. But his throwback singing style and clean-cut appearance also created fans among grandmothers, who enjoyed hearing someone who sounded like musical idols from their younger days. He also appealed to viewers looking for something different, and who were excited to see a male singer who dressed nicely and loved his family. Despite his shortcomings in other areas, John Stevens definitely brought a unique retro style to the competition, and that earned him devoted fans.
8) DON'T cultivate a psychotically devoted fan base based on geography unless it's in Hawaii. Fan devotion may also be based on geography, as Jasmine Trias showed by somehow convincing the entire state of Hawaii to spend hours each Tuesday night calling in their votes over, and over, and over again. There has been speculation, though, that the Hawaii part of that equation is more important than anything else, because the Aloha State is in its own time zone, which resulted in its residents having unfettered access to the telephone lines. While supporters from other states got busy signals all night, people in Hawaii were able to register votes with far fewer problems, and people in Hawaii were largely voting for Jasmine. Potential contestants might want to think about establishing Hawaiian residency now to get a jumpstart on the competition.
Kim Reed is a writer in upstate New York