Don't cry for the ousted

Times Staff Writer

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 be used only ironically. But Brooke's trajectory proves that this season a slot in the Top 12 did, in fact, mean something. Though never a likely contender for the finals, no one can say Brooke 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, though there seemed to be a general sense that this was about the right time for her, there was also affection and appreciation for what she brought to the stage.

Contrast the Brooke White story with that of previous years' contestants. The Top 12 of last year, for instance, have mostly faded from memory. It is inescapable how much stronger this year's contestants have been than their predecessors. When we reflect back upon Chikezie, Michael Johns, Carly Smithson, Amanda Overmyer and David Hernandez, there is no one who has been mere wallpaper. Even much maligned country singer Kristy Lee Cook, back in the Idoldome on Wednesday, carved out a pleasant niche. Compared with this, it is hard to remember how most of last season's midlist made it to the Top 12 in the first place.

The ephemeral nature of "Idol" fame was on display in rich contrast Wednesday night. As Kristy Lee looked on at her friend's denouement, her own white hot moment now passed, what did she think as she glanced over her shoulder at Constantine Maroulis and Gina Glocksen? They're both inhabiting the Idol demimonde as the second-string hosts of "American Idol Extra," Fox Reality Channel's "Idol" tie-in. Worse still for Kristy Lee, looking on was the specter of Season 5 also-ran Ace Young who's 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?

And then there are the names that seem to turn to dust on exposure to the white hot "Idol" glare. Where 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 about this time last season, wherein the Top Six are asked to name their original class of 24, and they can just barely do it. Jordin Sparks has to write the names down; LaKisha Jones doesn't even try.

Coming forth from this stage, there are some like Chris Daughtry and, coming soon, Carly who seem to explode into a bigger world, but for others moving on and moving forward has been a more complicated affair. Brooke has made many fans in her stay here, and now the crossroads 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, Michael) 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 note that it is somewhat shocking that Syesha Mercado has outlived all her fellow female contestants. Perpetual denizen of the bottom three, 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 to the Top Four.

Taking that further, it is interesting that there has not yet been one blockbuster show -- like last year's Bon Jovi night -- wherein everyone excelled. Instead, every contestant seemingly has chosen 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 Abdul. For once, the show did not poke fun at its own misstep, seeming to take a rare, delicate approach to reassuring Paula, who seemed to require a fair bit of reassurance, spending 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 to Angel of Death Ryan Seacrest's coup de grace, there was no sense of the harrowing tension that tormented the room on previous elimination nights but rather a quiet sense of duty -- respectful and appreciative of those endangered and to the ultimate departing one but with a certain grim sense of it best 'twere done, 'twere best done quickly. Stars aplenty we have created this season, but the battle of the ages awaits.


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