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‘American Idol’ Tracker: Brooke White’s long good-bye comes to an end

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And so on a trail of tears, she left us. Perhaps the most emotionally demonstrative contestant in ‘American Idol’ history, Brooke White at last had a reason for her tears, exiting at the close of a topsy-turvy Neil Diamond week.

In most seasons, Oscar or ‘Idol,’ ‘it’s an honor just to be nominated’ is not even a string of empty words but a phrase that can only be used ironically. But White’s trajectory proves that, this season, a slot in the Top 12 did, in fact, mean something. While White was never a likely contender for the finals, no one can say she did not bring something distinctive to the show: a compelling, husky voice; competent performing skills; largely good taste in song picks; and a breakthrough for the singer/songwriter category that has never previously had much luck on ‘Idol.’ And in the Idoldome on Wednesday night, while there seemed to be a general sense that this was about the right time for her to go, there was also genuine affection and appreciation for what she brought to the stage.

Contrast White’s story with those of previous-year contestants, the 12 of just last year, for instance, most of whom have faded from memory, and it is inescapable how much stronger this group has been. When we reflect back upon Chikezie, Michael Johns, Carly Smithson, Amanda Overmyer and David Hernandez, there is no one who you can say has been mere wallpaper. Even much maligned country singer Kristy Lee Cook, back in the Idoldome tonight, carved out a pleasant niche within her genre. Compared to this, when one looks back upon the names of last season’s mid-list, it is hard to remember how in the world most of them made it to the Top 12 in the first place.

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The ephemeral nature of ‘Idol’ fame was on display in rich contrast Wednesday night. As Kristy Lee watched her friend’s denouement, her own white-hot moment now passed, what did she think as she glanced just over her shoulder, a dozen feet away at Constantine Maroulis and Gina Glocksen, both now inhabiting the Idol demimonde as the second-string hosts of ‘Idol Extra,’ the Fox Reality Channel’s ‘Idol’ tie-in (which, I must say, with its immediate post-elimination interviews is almost better dramatic viewing than the flagship show itself). Worse still for Kristy Lee looking on would be the specter of Season 5 also-ran Ace Young, sitting just in front of Maroulis, Glocksen and eventually Seacrest, and not even getting the tie-in screen time. Did this assemblage present Kristy Lee a cautionary tale? Or was she just impressed that they are still in the spotlight at all? It is more after all than Chris Sligh or Haley Scarnato can claim at the moment.

And then there are the names that seem to turn to dust on exposure to the white-hot Idol glare. Just two months ago, not 12 but 24 emerged triumphant from Hollywood week. And where now are the names of Robbie Carrico, Joanne Borgella, Kady Malloy and Colton Berry even heard? There is a fascinating backstage video on the ‘Idol’ site, shot at just about this time last season, wherein the top six remaining contestants are asked to name their entire original class of 24, and they can just barely do it. Jordin has to write the names down; LaKisha doesn’t even try. And many would be hard-pressed to name several of that Top 6.

Coming forth from this stage, there are some, such as Chris Daughtry and, coming soon, Carly Smithson, who seem to explode into a bigger world, but for others moving on and moving forward has been a more complicated affair. Brooke White has made many fans in her stay here, and now the crossroads that await all at the end of the ‘Idol’ journey lie before her.

In any event, we seem to have arrived at something of a lull in the season. Barring the most shocking upset entertainment has ever known, we are headed for a David vs. David finale. The other contestants who might have edged their way into the finals (Carly Smithson, Michael Johns) are now gone, so presumably we will spend these three weeks in preliminary skirmishes, defining the final battlefield before the two goliaths step on stage at the Nokia.

We should also pause to note that it is somewhat shocking that Syesha Mercado has outlived all her fellow female contestants. Perpetual denizen of the Bottom 3, Syesha has still never had a career-making night, but nor has she ever had a terrible night, and that apparently is enough to allow her to skate over the cracks and all the way to the Top 4.

Taking that further, it is interesting in general that there has not yet been one single blockbuster show –- like last year’s Bon Jovi night –- wherein everyone excelled. Instead, the contestants seemingly have worked at their own paces, choosing their own nights to be great and their own nights to fall on their faces.

In the Idoldome, the sense of lull before the final showdown pervaded the room. First there seemed a bit of walking on eggshells around judge Paula Abdul. For once, and highly out of character, the show did not poke fun at its own misstep, seeming to take a rare delicate approach to reassuring Paula. The Judge Herself seemed to require a fair bit of reassurance, spending unprecedented amounts of time during the breaks in the crowd signing autographs and hugging children. The show also seemed constructed with numerous opportunities to demonstrate Paula’s completely functional side, which she did admirably under the strain.

But leading up to Angel of Death Seacrest’s coup de grace, there was not a sense of the harrowing tension that tormented the room on previous elimination nights, but a quiet sense of duty. It was respectful and appreciative of those endangered and to the ultimate departing one, but still with a certain grim sense of it ‘twere best done quickly. Stars aplenty we have created this season, but the battle of the ages awaits.

-- Richard Rushfield


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