Despite perhaps all evidence to the contrary thus far in this season of the Chosen One, David Archuleta, I believe that the next American Idol must be female. In fact, to put it more plainly, I believe all "American Idol" winners should be female. The job of the men in the competition should be to serve as gracious sidekicks/also-rans (Justin Guarini, Bo Bice, Blake Lewis) or as comic relief (Sanjaya Malakar, Constantine Maroulis, Scott "The Body" Savol, Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais).
The "American Idol" competition is no place for irony, at least at its upper ranks. This is a singing competition, and what we mean by "singing" is raw, bleeding displays of wide-open emotion that tear the audience's heart inside out. Humility, joy, pain, jubilation and tears are what the public demands of its champion.
The problem is that for men, there is no credible model of masculinity with broad appeal that allows for such naked, unhinged displays of emotional intensity. The various rocker candidates all ultimately fail because, in the end, being a rocker is about maintaining one's cool.
The two men who have won the crown have been, in their own ways, giant non-threatening clowns, not true masculine presences. Mr. Soul Patrol and the Velvet Teddybear both had their talents, but in the end they were both giant, blurry, non-threatening, buffoonish figures, like real-life Barneys the 4-to-7 demographic could picture jumping onstage and dancing around with. They guffawed their way to the top and, not surprisingly, they have had the least impressive post-show careers.
The only models in my mind for "Idol" champions are Celine Dion, Whitney Houston or Faith Hill. Or perhaps now their second-generation incarnations: Kelly, Fantasia, Carrie and Jordin. And most of all, in my mind the ultimate "Idol" contestant of the pre-lapsarian era, the one who most perfectly combined the demands for relentless emotive singing and the wow factor -- Katharine McPhee (even though she was ultimately denied the prize by the closest vote in "Idol" history).
In contrast to the surly, completely inappropriate manner in which most of the guys received their judgments, the girls, to a woman, received their verdicts Wednesday night with dignity, grace and no whining (with the exception of Kady Malloy who seemed on the brink of a tantrum when she got her second straight pan).
In the face of the biblical forces behind the Chosen One, and the opposing dark forces arrayed behind Michael Johns, the girls' group is in danger of looking like a sideshow to the main event. But I believe that, in fact, this may be the strongest group of female talents ever assembled for an "Idol" Top 20. Which is to say, although there still is not one who leaps forward as an obvious contender, the median is very, very high.
At this point, where usually we are cheerily machete-ing our way through the pack to dig out a handful of decent candidates, there is no one we can easily afford to lose in the solid group of A-minus/B-plus+ personalities. Wednesday night, after the decent comeback of Kristy Lee Cook, there was no obvious dead weight in the group. Even Malloy, who has underperformed consistently, retains a glow and enough star quality to merit a place in the Top 12. It is too soon to say goodbye to Alaina Whitaker or Amanda Overmyer; too early in our journey to go on without Ramiele Maluby or Carly Smithson; Asia'h Epperson, Syesha Mercado, Alexandrea Lushington and Brooke White, we hardly knew ye! But by the time this is printed, two of you will have disappeared from our lives likely forever, never to follow in the brave pioneering footsteps of the great McPhee.
But perhaps after six seasons it is time for a change. Perhaps, hard as it is to think it, "Idol" is due for a new role model. And just maybe, in the epic battle of Archuleta and Johns, out of the carnage to come, we may find just that.