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Staying power

How does Scott Savol keep his spot each week on ‘American Idol’? By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

There are two inexplicable events that have occurred to people involved in "American Idol" this season. The first is Ryan Seacrest's getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The second is the staying power of Scott Savol, who has more lives than Wile E. Coyote.

Seacrest, at least, earned his star through his radio work and not his gig as the "Idol" host — his honor is due to work not associated with the show. Savol's success is even tougher to figure. Every week he's in serious trouble on Tuesday night, every Wednesday he's in the bottom three … and every week he manages to survive.

This week was no exception. Once again, Savol was among the lower trio, along with Anthony Fedorov and Anwar Robinson. And once again, Savol got to make the hurried walk back to safety as Robinson became the sixth finalist to be sent packing.

Robinson's ouster wasn't too much of a shock. He's consistently won praise for his vocals, and Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson have called him "technically" the best singer in the competition. But for some reason he never really connected with the audience, and it's seemed for weeks like it was only a matter of time before he faded away.

He was arguably the most composed of the singers eliminated thus far, accepting his fate with his trademark smile and a final Earth, Wind & Fire tune. Savol gets to continue his personal rendition of Flirting With Disaster for another week.

The new John Stevens?Every year, it seems like there's a contestant who lasts a lot longer than talent or personality would seem to indicate.

Last year's beneficiary was John Stevens, the teenage crooner who brought the Rat Pack sound to an audience that tends to be aware of that musical era only when they're forced to listen to their parents' or grandparents' old record collection. Though he was certainly something different from the usual "Idol" finalist, it was obvious from the get-go that he had no chance to actually win the competition, and his detractors assumed every week would be his last. But Stevens kept on chugging along, finally becoming the seventh of the 12 finalists to fall.

But at least the reasons for Stevens’ extended stay made sense — he was young and earnest, and looked like he knew he was in way over his head but was gamely trying his best anyway. Some voters liked his effort, some teenagers liked his looks, and some Sinatra fans might have asked themselves that time-honored question: WWOBED (What Would Ol' Blue Eyes Do?) and voted accordingly. The point is, Stevens was likeable, and even when the judges criticized him, it was hard not to want to vote for him out of commiseration.

John Stevens was the boy next door, but Scott Savol's more like the guy two doors down who's always a lot of fun to have at the neighborhood barbecue, but not the person you want your kid hanging around with by the grill. For starters, that arrest on domestic violence charges — a 2001 count against the mother of his son that was pleaded down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct — would likely scare people away. Many thought that the release of that bit of news nearly a month ago would erode his support enough to force his exit.

Nope. He's still here.

That's particularly puzzling given his personality, which can charitably be called insular. He's not the type of guy who will easily glad hand people for the purpose of aimless conversation, and he stands out among the remaining contestants for his complete lack of star-quality exuberance. It's easy to imagine, say, Vonzell Solomon or Anthony Fedorov exchanging witty banter with the folks at "Access Hollywood," but far more difficult picturing Savol in the same role.

America's everyman?While all the other contestants seem to at least make a pretense of team togetherness, Savol usually appears totally focused on his week-to-week survival. He's not doing this for kicks, like Bo Bice appears to be, or to gain exposure for what's sure to be a record deal win or lose, like Carrie Underwood. This week was one of the rare times he's really seemed to interact with anyone, exchanging a long and involved fist-tapping ritual with Fedorov in the we-all-knew-we'd-be-in-the-bottom-three handshake.

Simon probably hit the nail on the head Tuesday night when he said Savol's appeal stemmed from his position as the Ordinary Guy among the seven finalists. Savol definitely comes across as the closest thing to an Everyman candidate. Even looking at the already-eliminated finalists, he stands out as the one person on the show who would have never gotten a second look from a music producer if not for the opportunity presented by this show.

But even that's hard to figure. One of the first times Savol got extended camera time was in the group sing during the Hollywood auditions, where he at first petulantly refused to participate with the rest of the group. Of course, he eventually came through, but that's not exactly the stereotypical American can-do spirit in action.

In addition, after being criticized by Simon a couple of weeks ago, Savol pointed out that at least he was on stage while millions of others lacked even the courage to try out. Doesn't most of the audience at least believe that if they were onstage, they would have the common sense not to call out the voters?

Wanting it counts for somethingWhat Savol has is two assets; his voice and his determination. To give him credit, he has known since day one that he can't afford a single awful performance, and he hasn't given one. He's never great, but he never gives any of his core fans a reason to skip a week's vote because of his performance.

And the one part of his personality that he puts on display every week is his sheer, raw, unadulterated hunger for a career in music. From the first time he met the judges in Cleveland, when he revealed that his father had told him he was never going to be anything, Savol has laid it all on the table.

He needs this competition badly. Nadia Turner, last week's victim, has enough talent and spark to be heard from again. If Carrie Underwood or Constantine Maroulis gets kicked off next week, they'll still get future shots at stardom. On Tuesday, Maroulis even responded to a Simon barb comparing his performance to a Vegas act with a quick "I'd take that gig."

Given Savol's personality and dour nature, it's easy to see that he doesn't feel like that option is going to be presented to him should he be the next to go. For Savol, it may well be a choice between a record deal and a descent to obscurity that would make Justin Guarini seem incandescent by comparison.

Savol kept that from happening once again this time around. He'll again be one of the favorites to be sent home next week, and each time out it becomes tougher to see a scenario where he hangs around much longer. Then again, if Ryan Seacrest can get his own Walk of Fame star, anything can happen.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.