‘Idol’ Tracker: To the death!

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A hall of mirrors. The battle of all against all. Like wrestling with quicksand. This is how ‘Idol’ punditry will no doubt describe the impossible task of making sense of this season; even trying to grope for the shape of the contest is infuriatingly slippery.

After last week, we seemed to have a clear top tier (David Archuleta, Carly Smithson), a clear middle tier (David Cook, Jason Castro, Brooke White, Chikezie) and a clearly doomed group (Michael Johns, Kristy Lee Cook, Ramiele Maluby, Syesha Mercado). In this season, scientifically quantified by this column as the best year in ‘Idol’ history, with an infuriating number of plausible contenders, finally it seemed we punditry could sit back and watch the dominoes collapse in a predictable order for the next nine weeks.


But on Tuesday night, once again all plans had to be thrown out with the bathwater. As has happened before, the doomed saved themselves, the giants faltered, the middle rank soared to greatness, and the ingredients to the race were poured back into a tumbler and vigorously shaken until badly bruised. Now we can see that there will be no easy victory here. This will not be the invasion of Grenada or the 1972 Miami Dolphins. This will be the Democratic presidential primary, the Battle of Verdun, the ‘Shakespeare in Love’/’Saving Private Ryan’ Oscar race, Krystle Carrington versus Alexis Colby, down to the final moments of the season.

In the Idoldome on Tuesday night, the mood was rife with a crowd worked to a near-frenzy over the excitement of this season, combined with a slightly dizzy nervous energy emanating from the contestants, now entering the hard-slog phase of the campaign. Onstage, the group was all team spirit and “we must hang together or surely we’ll hang apart,” as Stage Manager Debbie Williams summoned the Ten out at a break so Angel of Death Seacrest could hold a cake for contestant Jason Castro to blow out the candles while his fellow candidates and the audience sang ‘Happy Birthday.’

But beneath the bonhomie and good tidings there was the certainly growing awareness that among this group stand just two people who will ultimately fight for the greatest honor in entertainment, and that all of those who are not destined to stand on that Nokia stage must now, talented as they are, indispensable as they may seem, fall one by one, so the true titans of ’08 can emerge.

In his poem “Convergence of the Twain” Thomas Hardy described how across a vast expanse of ocean, a great ship and an iceberg sought each other out, bound together by the still-invisible hand of destiny:

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

Or signs that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,


Till the Spinner of the Years
Said ‘Now!’ And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

So does a fate to be carved out of this unruly mob of ups and downs await two of these competitors.

That said, here is what we know for certain:

+ Kristy Lee Cook, on the brink of extinction, pulled off possibly the most brilliant maneuver in the history of ‘American Idol,’ shamelessly choosing Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ a nationally sacred anthem and guaranteeing there is no way on Earth she can be thrown off on that patriotic note.

+ Next week is country week, so she won’t be thrown off then either -- sliding her way from the bottom tiers of the top 24 to the dizzying heights of the top 8.

+ Although people often mess up when the theme is too close to their comfort zone.

+ Although the novelty of David Archuleta has worn off and he has now delivered more than one non-earth-shattering performance, the tween/teen girl hysteria for him is greater than ever. As I left the Idoldome I rode the adjacent parking garage escalator six floors up with some of the girls who had been standing in the front. An hour after the show, they were still shaking, sobbing and screeching about their encounter with the Chosen One.

+ As previously stated, no demographic can match the voting power of hysterically excited tween girls.


+ That said, for the first time this season, the Chosen One fell out of first place on the sporadically accurate DialIdol voting analysis, replaced at the top by David Cook.

+ David Cook seems to have crossover appeal drawing on teens and grown-up rock fans alike. He also has the ability to repeatedly surprise audiences.

+ However, if his reawakening lasts, Michael Johns, the Duende From Down Under, has charisma that gives him unlimited upside potential.

+ Carly Smithson remains, in the opinion of this column, the most electrifyingly talented performer perhaps in the history of ‘American Idol,’ with bottomless depths to her singing and the ability to perform brilliantly in almost any style -- the latter a quality that will serve her well in the coming theme weeks.

+ However, there are concerns that her style is too dark and intense for the cheery-centric ‘Idol’ stage.

+ Despite an off-kilter persona and low-key singing style, Tweety Bird White has been consistently gaining buzz and fans.


+ So have Jason Castro and Chikezie.

+ And now Syesha is back in the race, possibly.

All of which implies that two weeks from now, Ramiele could have become the prohibitive front-runner, for all we know. But for these contestants, we ask them to enjoy Jason’s birthday cake while ye may. The road is going to get even rockier than you can imagine, starting just about now.

-- Richard Rushfield