Don't believe the ''American Idol'' hype: Most of what people are saying about the prospective finalists is wrong

By Michael Slezak
July 04, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”American Idol”: Don’t believe the hype

In the early rounds of last season’s American Idol finals, Camile Velasco, Matthew Rogers and John Stevens were considered legitimate contenders to the crown. They’d all breezed into the finals with relative ease — not even needing the wild-card round to make the cut — and at the time, the judges were comparing Velasco to a young Lauryn Hill. Seriously.

Of course, we all eventually got wise to the fact that the terrible troika wasn’t really in the same league as Fantasia Barrino (or even Diana DeGarmo, for that matter), but the early success of such middling-to-abysmal contestants serves as a sobering reminder that, to paraphrase Karen Carpenter, we’ve only just begun this competition.

That’s why it’s just a little funny to me when I hear Idol fans declaring with total certainty that Bo Bice will be this year’s winner. Or that the men are way more talented than the women. Or that Carrie Underwood is the new Kelly Clarkson. C’mon people, I know opinionatedness is a trait shared by every AI addict (Trenyce wuz robbed!), but why the rush to judgment? I’m not talking about the things we can all agree on, like, say, Travis Tucker’s being the worst singer left among the men, but rather, about premature predictions that aren’t really based in reality. Herein, my guide to this season’s early myths, and why they just don’t hold up:

1. Bo Bice already has this thing wrapped up Not so fast, Kemosabe. Everybody’s favorite Southern-fried rocker was a revelation last week with his cover of the Allman Brothers’ ”Whipping Post,” but this week, Bo’s lethargic, often off-key rendition of ”I’ll Be,” was a bad song choice, tepidly sung. I’m not sure why the judges were afraid to give Bo an honest critique, but they’re not doing him any favors. He’s facing stiff competition in the weeks ahead from Anwar Robinson and Mario Vazquez, and when it comes to Idol, not even a flawless singer can afford to let his or her guard down. Just ask Tamyra Gray!

As for Anwar (by the by, is he sharing a stylist with Mikalah?), he comes across more like a smooth-jazz idol than a genuine pop star, but he’s got a silky tone — and he’s Least Likely to Go Off-Key. Mario, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have Anwar’s vocal control, but his surplus of charisma and natty fashion sense almost make up for it. Plus, by singing ”How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” this week, Mario showed he knows how to move people’s souls, not just his dancing feet.

2. Carrie Underwood is the best woman in the competition I was willing to forgive the clean-scrubbed blonde her grinning, automatonic rendition of ”Piece of My Heart” last week (heck, nobody’s Janis), but Underwood’s lackluster Tuesday-night reading of ”Because You Love Me” proved a cold triumph of technical precision over raw emotion. Bottom line: When Paula Abdul tells you your spark is missing, it’s time to light a fire under your ass.

That said, it’s pretty clear to me that Nadia Turner is now the woman to beat. There may have been a few rough moments early on in her deeply soulful ”Try a Little Tenderness,” but I defy you to tell me Nadia doesn’t know how to work the stage like a seasoned pro — and rework an arrangement to make any song her own. In a word: Fierce!

3. Anthony Fedorov is a cheap imitation of Clay Aiken Be fair. Anthony is far more fluid than season 2’s ginger-haired runner-up, in terms of both dance moves and personality. Simon was way, way off-base when he blasted Anthony’s take on ”I’ve Got You” by saying the skinny blond kid is about as Latin as a polar bear. Dude, he was singing an English-language hit by J. Lo’s husband, not a selection from the Buena Vista Social Club. I thought Anthony handled the song’s tricky pacing with panache, and he scores extra points for a daring embroidered blue jacket.

4. Mikalah Gordon’s only hope of winning is to project a calm, mature persona That distant roar you heard coming from backstage during Tuesday night’s show was Mikalah’s personality, rabidly trying to claw its way out of a steel-barred cage in her dressing room. That’s sad, since Idol needs this 17-year-old sensation not for her vocal prowess (her nerve-wracked ”Somewhere” was a study in pitch problems) but for the wacky outbursts that make her this season’s watercooler contestant. Somebody, turn Mikalah’s inner Drescher loose, and while you’re at it, let her hair run free as well!

5. The men are way better than the women Are Constantine Maroulis and Travis Tucker included in this tally? Their notes were spilling all over the stage Monday night, because neither was capable of holding a single one during painful covers of hits by the Police and Bobby Brown. Add Scott Savol’s tragicomic ”hands in the air” choreography (gah!) on ”I Can’t Help Myself,” and I’d say the women are holding their own, thanks.

6. Janay Castine is finished Here’s one myth I’m hoping turns out to be a reality. As a colleague of mine said, making Janay suffer through another round is akin to child abuse. But despite a rendition of Selena’s ”Dreaming of You” that was the vocal equivalent of pushing hamburger meat through a vegetable colander, I have a bad feeling the sympathy vote will carry Janay to the final 12. That’s bad news for Amanda Avila, Vonzell Solomon, and Lindsey Cardinale. After all, when your performances are forgettable, people forget to vote for you.

What do you think? Do you believe the conventional wisdom? Who do you think is overrated on this year’s Idol? And who’s not getting the credit he or she deserves? Can just-below-the-radar players like Jessica Sierra and Nikko Smith move forward? And not counting Ryan Seacrest, who deserves to go home next?

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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