Pop Culture

Time runs out for Bucky on ‘American Idol’

Ryan Seacrest has done everything he can all season long to encourage everyone with access to a telephone to vote for their favorite “American Idol” hopeful. Apparently, the usual threats and promises haven’t been paying off, because this week the producers broke out the big guns: the guilt trip.

The first hour-long results show of the “American Idol” finals was family night, with each of the eight remaining hopefuls watching video clips of their loved ones telling them how great they were and how much everyone was voting and praying nonstop in order to help them win. Now that there’s a smaller group of contenders to focus on, the producers are doing their best to make sure all the compelling human interest angles shine through. That way, the theory goes, people will be more likely to pick up the phone and vote even after subpar performances.

Unfortunately for Bucky Covington, who became the fifth of the original 12 finalists voted off the show, any effects from the heartstring tugs of family night won’t be felt until next week — one week too late for him.

The 28-year-old from North Carolina fit no known “Idol” audience demographic and was hard to understand on stage even on his best night, but managed to make it through week after week while early favorites like Mandisa and Lisa Tucker fell by the wayside. His success was inexplicable; he was never among the best vocalists, never the most compelling personality, never the top stage presence, never the best looking, never really anything that ordinarily spells “Idol” success. Still, he stuck around.

That was a tribute to the people of Rockingham, N.C., Covington’s hometown, who clearly mobilized the people at the local telephone switchboard to program in thousands of votes a second. They certainly had the motivation.

Checkered flag dropsAs the viewers found out on Wednesday’s show, it’s been a brutal couple of years for the city. NASCAR took its signature race away from its legendary North Carolina Speedway and shipped it off to California. Covington’s father said since the loss of that event, nothing has brought the area together like his son’s success on “American Idol.” With the auto racing industry gone all that the city has going for it is Covington . 

Uh, make that “had.”

Ace Young and Elliott Yamin joined Covington among the bottom three, and are locks to quickly follow him out the door barring a major upset.

Young toys with the camera every week like its some girl at the local bar, but he’s also flirting with disaster and disaster’s getting more jealous by the minute. He sticks around because he’s a pretty face, but at some point all the soulful looks in the world won’t be able to help him.

Yamin is so earnest and likeable that it’s hard to root against him. But if he’s among the also-rans after a night where his vocals may have been the best of anyone’s, what are the odds he sticks around after an off-night? The judges and producers have done all they can to make him appeal to the voting public, but they can’t physically force viewers pick up the phone to keep him alive.

For the rest of the contestants, the best part of the show — besides finding out that Rod Stewart, in his effort to stay forever young, will appear next week — was the chance to get their family and friends some airtime.

Each of the finalists got to see a brief clip of their loved ones saying nice things about them, then were given a whole three seconds to compose themselves before Ryan Seacrest told them if they were in the bottom three or not.

While it’s not like this is “Survivor” — many of those featured in the clips have made it to Hollywood to watch the performances, and at any rate the telephone and Internet mean that nobody’s out of touch for long. Still, it had to be a joy for the contestants to get TV footage of judges that were far less likely to be mean (or realistic) than the likes of Simon of Randy.

Voting for Chris Daughtry would help him to become a role model, according to his mom. Of course, not a lot of mothers dream of their sons growing up to be just like the members of bands like Creed and Fuel, so that strategy may backfire. Elliott Yamin’s mother said her son has suffered through hearing loss, diabetes, and severe allergies; anyone who doesn’t vote for him must have a heart made of stone! Paris Bennett was ready to quit singing entirely if she didn’t advance in the show’s auditions. Taylor Hicks has two pet fish. And so on.

One thing's for sure. If the "Idol" producers are going to insist on hour-long results shows, they'll need a lot more gimmicks like Family Night. Tune in next week stories of how "Idol" finalists could cure cancer, bring peace to the Middle East and feed all the world's hungry for just 17 cents a day, if only they get enough votes.

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