The final four on past seasons of ''American Idol'' have produced some surprising results, so Carrie or Vonzell may be most at risk

By Michael Slezak
July 03, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”American Idol”: The tricky final four

You know the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Well, folks, I have a confession to make. I’ve been fooled for three consecutive seasons of American Idol, and so, to break this ugly streak, I’m going out on a limb and predicting Anthony Fedorov will eke out a spot on this year’s final three. And since Bo Bice won this week’s immunity necklace in the Philly soul challenge, I’m guessing either Carrie Underwood or Vonzell Solomon will be voted off Idol island during the Wednesday-night results show.

Call me crazy, it’s okay. After all, Anthony’s been in the bottom three for the last two weeks, and by most accounts, he lacks the fan support to keep his torch lit. Not to mention that Anthony’s been the least consistent — by far — of the quartet left in the competition. But luckily for A-Fed, he’s got history on his side.

Indeed, think back to season 1’s final four, when barely competent karaoke-ist Nikki McKibbin outlasted gifted vocal interpreter Tamyra Gray. Or how about season 3, when pitch-perfect La Toya London got the boot instead of tone-deaf Jasmine Trias. Heck, at the risk of enraging country music fans, I’d even suggest that season 2’s final five went totally awry when Joshua Gracin survived his wretched rendition of ”Bad Blood” at the expense of sassy, classy Trenyce and her flawless one-two punch of ”Proud Mary” and ”Love Will Keep Us Together” (perhaps because Simon compared the uni-monikered diva to a drag queen). Hmph!

(Yes, Gracinites, I’m well aware that your man has since become a Big Deal in Nashville and blah blah blah blah blah, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t consistently unlistenable during his Idol days.)

But getting back to the idea of using the past as a predictive tool, it’s hard to guess which of the two remaining women is most likely to go home following rocky performances on a night with two disparate themes: Nashville hits and the songbook of Philly soul songwriters Gamble and Huff.

Carrie clearly fits the Tamyra-La Toya mold: She’s a consistently strong vocalist with girl-next-door moxie and a lot of love from the judges who took a hard stumble during the round of four. Sure, Carrie looked right at home covering the Dixie Chicks for her Nashville number, but she was overpowered by the band during the opening verse and at times sounded short of breath trying to keep up with the song’s tricky pacing (further evidence that she has serious trouble walking and singing simultaneously). And while Carrie’s fembot persona seemed a little more human this week — somewhere in the vicinity of Jude Law in A.I. — her serviceable ”Sin Wagon” was no more than a smidge better than the version by Amy Adams in season 3. That was still better than Carrie’s attempt at Philly soul: As an artist and genre, they go together about as well as cats and swimming pools. I’m not sure I disliked her glacially paced ”If You Don’t Know Me by Now” as much as the judges, but she sure picked a bad time to trot out her weakest vocal of the season. Heck, even the suddenly lucid Paula couldn’t think of anything nice to say.

Vonzell, meanwhile, also harked back to La Toya by choosing ”Don’t Leave Me This Way” as her Gamble and Huff tribute; is it a coincidence that La Toya performed the same song the week she got the old heave-ho? Perhaps not. Because while the judges praised Baby V’s version of one of the most evocative (and funky) declarations of desperation ever put to record, I thought she failed to mine the emotional depths discovered by Thelma Houston in her disco-era cover of the song. On the flip side, I actually enjoyed the Vonz’s take on Trisha Yearwood’s ”How Do I Live.” Her vocals took more than a few bars to get warmed up, and she noticeably flubbed the lyrics at one point, but she finished explosively, taking the played-out song in a new and unexpected direction. Why then, didn’t Baby V get any credit for going beyond mere karaoke? Because the judges are on total autopilot? It’s a complete mystery to me, though not as much as what happened after Vonzell finished singing — and mimicked Jasmine by bursting into tears.

In my opinion, the audience deserved a fuller explanation for the waterworks display than that Vonzell was having a tough day, especially since cagey Paula clearly hinted at some behind-the-scenes drama. But no matter the reason, you can bet Vonzell’s copious tears will earn her a week’s worth of sympathy votes, which could be bad news for Carrie; I mean, if Simon was moved enough to hold back on his critique, imagine the speed-dialing reaction of a sympathetic teen in Duluth. (Let’s just hope Vonzell doesn’t join Bo and Scott Savol with a SmokingGun.com revelation this week!)

Anyhow, maybe all this Idol archive diving has me mixed up, and the final three will be based completely on the strength of the contestants’ performances. Yet if that’s the case, Carrie and Vonzell still remain vulnerable, since both women got outsung by A-Fed. Yes, his self-conscious phrasing made Lonestar’s ”I’m Already There” even more saccharine than it should’ve been, but in his denim ”country costume,” the Eastern European wonder boy hit darn near every note. As for Anthony’s second number, he couldn’t have taken a bigger gamble than singing the same song (”If You Don’t Know Me by Now”) just minutes after the popular Carrie, but his chutzpah paid off: Nattily attired in a silver pinstripe jacket, Anthony not only nailed every note that Carrie missed; he also clearly connected with the lyrics in a way the fembot could only dream about. (And don’t forget, English isn’t even Anthony’s native tongue!)

That said, the best any of these singers can hope for is the runner-up prize, as long as Bo keeps cranking out performances like his rendition of the O’Jays’ ”For the Love of Money.” The guy was so effortless and funky, I can barely recall his first number, a ”so what?” take on Travis Tritt’s boring ”It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.” Not only did Bo take risks with the vocals, making me feel as if I were hearing ”For the Love of Money” for the first time, the guy also took a fashion risk, replacing his shirt with a vest (!) and a massive dollar-sign necklace (!!). (Usher, watch your back!) Seriously, folks, when Bo’s in his zone, isn’t it darn near impossible to envision Carrie, Vonzell, or Anthony coming out on top? Maybe that’s because if the Idol history textbook has taught us anything, it’s that the best singer (Kelly, Fantasia, and I’d argue Ruben, too) pretty much always wins.

What do you think? Will the votes reflect this week’s performances alone, or will viewers take into consideration past highs and lows as well? Who should go? And who will go?

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