Less than a month ago, Simon Cowell told Nadia Turner, "in a competition of hamburgers, you are a steak." By Tuesday night, he was warning her that she sounded like "musical wallpaper" and could be on her way out the door.
Simon was a prophet, and the 29-year-old became the latest "American Idol" finalist voted off the show on Wednesday. She seemed to have a good inkling of her fate beforehand, holding her microphone and tensing in preparation for being called onstage to sing as one of the bottom three.
On the one hand, her relatively early exit is a surprise. She has more experience playing before a live audience than several of her rivals, and has a lot more star power than most.
When Turner was at her best, it wasn't hard to see her as having superstar potential, something it's difficult to say about Scott Savol or Vonzell Solomon. Even when she made tactical blunders, like the triple tragedy that was the Mohawk, Mario Vazquez reference and Cyndi Lauper song a few weeks back, she blundered with flair.
Turner's eclectic song and wardrobe choices won her a loyal fan base, but her problem was a lack of effort to meet the masses halfway.
Turner decided from her first days in the competition that she was going to be true to herself regardless of how it impacted her chances to win the competition. She picked songs that she liked, and that had meaning for her, but didn't connect with the audience.
Belatedly, while on stage with Scott Savol and Bo Bice among the bottom three, she sadly told host Ryan Seacrest "maybe that just isn't working any more." But the insight came a little too late.
An hour of fillerFor whatever reason, Fox decided to stretch this week's results show to a full hour, instead of the already-15-minutes-longer-than-needed half-hour slot. The added time was filled by a group singalong, lots of commercials, and a look at the "Idol" work week, the Cliffs Notes version of which is:
- Thursday-Saturday: 'Idol' prep work, bowling.
- Sunday: Record promo, try to pretend that the Ford Focus is the car each of them will immediately run out and buy if they win.
- Monday-Wednesday: Singing.
Whether or not that was more popular than "Life on a Stick" or a "Simple Life" rerun is up in the air, but all it did was delay the inevitable and give each of the bottom three a chance to sing before learning their ultimate fate.
Scott and Nadia both seemed to know that they'd be in the bottom three — not unduly pessimistic, since both have been there before. The only surprise was Bo Bice's inclusion in the lower tier, and it probably shouldn't have been.
Turner and Savol were the early favorites to be sent home, but Bice has been heading down the Turner path in recent weeks, picking the songs he likes and counting on enough people to appreciate it to make it pay off. He's a rocker, he'll sing his rock songs, and simply hope that he can convince more and more voters that a return to 1970s Southern rock is what America is looking for in a pop Idol.
It was more surprising that he wasn't the first of the three sent back to safety. Savol, who somehow skates from week to week despite the fact that he doesn't come across as very likeable, isn't a strong stage performer, and hasn't even had great vocals in recent weeks, was the first to get the reprieve.
Savol stays hungry
In a way, however, that's poetic justice. Each of the remaining finalists is probably more talented than Savol, but nobody wants it more than he does — and in reality, nobody needs it more than he does to have a chance at success in the music business.
Bice's approach is totally different. On the one hand, it's hard not to like his attitude. When Ryan asked him how it felt being in the bottom three, he said "What's the worst that's gonna happen? I go home, I play my gigs, and I have a blast doing what I've been doing."
That's because Bice is arguably the contestant who needs this competition the least; having already had some success in the music industry, he'll undoubtedly be fine no matter where he finishes.
On the other hand, Bice's attitude could wind up being his fatal flaw in the competition. He has his persona already in place, and acts very similar to Nadia — every week he picks songs from the era and the genre that he's comfortable with. If voters like it that's great; if they don't, no regrets. The difference thus far has been that Bice's songs have been less obscure, and his act more appealing.
All the judges warned the bottom two contestants that they needed to step it up and pay attention to what they were saying. Paula essentially threw down the gauntlet to Bice, asking him if he thought he had what it took to win, and then said he needed to sing with that kind of force each week in order to win. If Bice can recapture that energy that he showed in the early stages of the finals, he could join Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino as those who have gone from bottom three to "Idol" champion.
If he can't, he only needed to look at the woman standing next to him on stage to see how quickly contestants can go from favored status to elimination.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.