‘American Idol’: Johns but not forgotten


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We knew this could happen. When each new 12 is introduced, we meet our new champions knowing that for all but one, their lives on this stage will be short, and one day very soon, the end will come; without warning, Angel of Death Seacrest will take each in his icy embrace.

But somehow, even knowing the day must come doesn’t make it any easier.


Tonight, in the Idoldome, America said goodbye to Michael Johns, the Duende From Down Under, one-time favorite to win it all. Perhaps the most charismatic male candidate ever to step foot in the Idoldome, the most musically adventurous of any remaining candidate met a premature end this evening; the journey ending at the number eight slot for the soulful Australian crooner.

The Duende’s early departure was the first major unexpected cut of a season that has been quantitatively proven by this column to be the highest average season in ‘American Idol’ history.

This is traditionally the point in the ‘Idol’ season where early favorites begin to falter. At roughly here in previous years, the Idoldome has been shocked to see Angel of Death Seacrest swoop down without warning on sensations Chris Daughtry, Mandisa and Jennifer Hudson. But the dismissal of Johns, the oldest of the remaining candidates who often seemed to be operating on another plane entirely, seems particularly cruel while perpetual denizens of the bottom three Syesha Mercado and Kristy Lee Cook linger on.

Ultimately however, Johns dismissal proves, once again, that you cannot ignore the youth vote on ‘American Idol.’ The smoldering performer offered a very grown-up appeal that did little to play to the 10-year-old set, and, like Daughtry, Mandisa and Hudson before, the neglect of that critical demographic may be what ultimately cost him his place in the Idoldome.

Further, The Duende’s mere presence in the bottom three, standing alongside another early favorite and the most electrifying performer in ‘Idol’ history Carly Smithson, shows that in this greatest of all seasons, no one –- except of course The Chosen One -- can afford to have a bad night. After every single non-amazing performance they give, the contestants are forced to play Russian roulette with their survival. This week sadly, the Duende turned in a performance that was merely OK, and that failure cost him everything.

And in the coming weeks, the stakes will only rise and rise, as will the expectations.

But now, we bid farewell to The Duende with these words from A.E. Housman, which remind us that having created them and brought them this far, even ‘American Idol’ can no longer truly kill its children for whom the arms of show business await outside the Idoldome gates.

And thus:

“Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.”

All the same, it was far too soon to say goodbye.

-- Richard Rushfield