So. How do they top last week's threesome? They don't. It was a night of spastic versus plastic, and yet, charming as that sounds, the penultimate episode of this season was just --
Nevertheless. Everyone tried to do it up right. Randy was looking Minty Fresh, Paula had the ladies on display, and Simon even bothered to put on a jacket for the big night. Ryan, for his part, was barely showing his scars from his tumble earlier this week.
This was a good season of Idol. The judges snarked on contestants and each other, except for Randy who was usually odd-man-out in the festivities, trying to appear too-cool to get sucked into the mire but ultimately coming off as just not game or witty enough to participate. But Paula had plenty of pill-induced breakdowns to keep us watching and Simon let loose with his usual barrage of demeaning comments. As a bonus, thanks to Ryan, there was enough of a homoerotic charge to make Jack Kerouac proud. (<--last writerly reference of the season.)
As for the contestants, as much as I'd hoped they were flipping the script this year, it ended up playing out in a similar manner to most seasons of Idol. There was a shocking elimination, a charming underdog, a couple of pretty, vapid girls, and a freak. But did anyone, at any point along the way, ever really expect the freak wouldn't reach the finals? And has any other freak from other seasons ever come close to making it so far? Nope.
Once again, the producers played the audience like a fiddle. Once again, I loved it.
But tonight, all the fun was gone. Tonight, Ryan assured us, was serious business. What a shame. They tried to up the ante by stocking the audience with actual B-listers instead of D-listers, so we got Mandy Moore, Ben Stiller and Taye Diggs in the audience.
And yet, the highlight for me was seeing Constantine in all his skeevy glory right up front. How does this guy manage to attend so many Idol shows? Does he even have a fucking job? Or is that his job -- professional seat filler for Idol shows?
I've said before that this season the producers stacked the deck with the performers. Of the top four, three of them had extensive experience performing. The producers thought they'd found their rocking King of Diamonds in Chris Daughtry. He should've been able to fuse the fangirly, cream-the-jeans crowd with the wannabe cool sensibilities of the male vote. But his crown got knocked off early when an undercard stole the show for a brief time and Elliott cemented his status as the season's Jack of Hearts with his soulful voice and ability to make even cynics say "Aw."
So that left two cards to be played. Katharine, she's more than ready to leave her princess position in the dust and ascend to Queen of American Idol 5. But with her weeks of screechy performances combined with the way she reveals her inner-ugly when under pressure she's proven herself to be a Queen alright -- the Queen of Spades. In gambler parlance, this trump card is simply known as The Bitch. Or, in Kat's case, The McBitch.
As far as entertainment purposes go, I'll give Kat her due. She did give us some of the most stunningly bold and, ahem, revealing moments of the season. Between her button-popped beaver shot during "I Have Nothing" and her stage-humping antics of "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," Kat really came from behind, overtaking Kellie Pickler in dramatic fashion to proudly wear the Miss McPhuck-Toy sash across her expensive tits this season. It's too bad that vocally "I Have Nothing" was one of her worst moments, and that "Black Horse" was mediocre. And those performances were nestled amongst the forgettable "Bringing Out The Elvis," the over-divaed and under-delivered "Who Wants to Live Forever," the painfully bad "Against All Odds," the confused "All Shook Up/Hound Dog" medley, the horribly out of tune "I Believe I Can Fly," the boring "I Ain't Got Nothing But The Blues," and the insipidly craptastic "Can't Help Falling In Love."
So basically, other than out-of-tune katerwauling and gratuitous McPhlashes of skin and sex, Kat was able to turn in exactly ONE good performance for the entire second half of the season: "Over The Rainbow." She sounded good, she looked lovely and she apparently hadn't used up the last of her nine lives or her pretty girl entitlement dowry yet because that one song alone pushed her into the finals. (Or, more likely, Nigel gave her a helping hand. Because I don't care how many phones they have, that one, half-filled gymnasium of pre-teen girls can't possibly text that many votes, and I refuse to believe there are that many horny men out there willing to give up a Tuesday night to vote her into the finals. Or are there really that many horny men out there?)
Tonight she had to reprise a couple of performances, along with singing her shockingly bad new single, "My Destiny." She chose to resurrect "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," but there were some changes. After seeing her charming audition footage again, I was reminded that once upon a time a short while ago, this girl actually was cute as a box of puppies.
But she's grown up on the show. She's lost some weight and picked up some attitude. She's matured. She left the stage-humping behind for tonight's rendition of "Black Horse" but she still blithely missed the mark when it comes to connecting. She shook and smiled and took this song about abortion and made it into a jiggly, giggly seduction. Very mature, yes.
But you can't keep a good, slutty girl like Kat up for long, so for her second number she reprised "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and sang it in a note-for-note and choreographed movement-for-choreographed movement replay of last week.
The judges were cool about "Black Horse" and again enthusiastic about "Rainbow." The best part of it was that it gave us one final trademark Paula incoherent moment as she tried to babble some feedback about possessing and being possessed by talent and fathers everywhere and some other useless, meaningless shit that I'm sure confused the hell out of Kat.
But I applauded Paula. Rarely is someone so thoroughly possessed by alcohol and mood enhancers and yet so publicly accepted in their all-possessing inebriation.
Anyhow, with one winner and one loser of a performance, that meant Kat had to deliver on her new song if she wanted to claim victory on the stage. These are the cringe-worthy moments of Idol, when the unadulterated bullshit of these "winner's songs" gets unveiled for the first time. Kat's song, "My Destiny" was no exception. Out in the audience, Chris Daughtry sat in his seat and said to himself, "Thank you God for booting me out at number four," as Kat sang this song. Meanwhile I sat at home and realized that for as satisfying a moment as the Daughtry ejection was, he sorely deserved to be there instead of Kat. Maybe he was an asshole, but he wasn't a tone-deaf asshole. I think I owe him an apology at some point. But, you know, McPhuck that.
Honestly, the lyrics, for Katharine, weren't too badly mismatched. It was all about her, after all. But if I hadn't seen her suck out so thoroughly on so many other songs, and in such a similar manner, I'd have sworn she was throwing the competition. It started off rough, and by the time she was done that song had been brutalized worse than Vito Spatafore just was on The Sopranos. Not even the full choir could help her out. But the ultimate disaster for her, due to all the weight she's lost, and the dress she was poured into, was that her tits looked small. Her creepy McPhather wept more than Elliott. I'm not sure it was out of pride after that mess.
So that left Taylor. When they first put him through to the final 24, I think the producers expected him to do well, but they probably also assumed his act would grow wearisome to the viewers. I don't think they ever truly expected him to become the ultimate trump card, they just sort of shuffled him in as The Joker.
I assume once they started seeing the vote totals coming in, and how the numbers kept increasing on a weekly basis for Taylor, is when they really got the shit scared out of them. I know a lot of Elliott fans read this blog, and a lot of people think Elliott took a raw deal this year. I'm not disputing that, but I think it's worth at least a mention that Taylor got toyed with more than Tickle me Elmos during the Christmas shopping season of 1996. Once the producers saw the flop come down and realized that Taylor was holding the monster hand, they tried to fuck with the turn card on Country Night and then the river card with Queen night.
On Country night, when Taylor was forced to switch his song at the last minute to "Take Me Home Country Roads," it nearly resulted in a breakdown as disastrous as Barbaro's. But it didn't. If the producers did see Taylor as The Joker -- the court jester -- they truly underestimated how devoted his audience and oft-name checked "Soul Patrol" really was. Because not only did Taylor survive, he didn't even hit the seal. Their Queen night shenanigans backfired sorely on them when they slapped "We Are The Champions" out of his hands because Taylor turned around and torched the place with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Even their crappy editing of trying to make him look like the asshole for switching his song at the last minute didn't blip on anyone's radar.
He had another bad night in there when it came to love songs when he dogged "Just Once." But it was at that point that it was clear that Taylor had stronger survival instincts and better luck than Rasputin.
I guess what the producers underestimated wasn't Taylor's talent so much as his likability factor -- you know, the IT, the X, the star potential. I don't think it's crazy to surmise that he's standing at the final two not only because he sings good and is an entertaining performer, but also because he's avoided the pitfall of pissing anyone off.
I, for one, have a seemingly endless supply of venom, but Taylor was able to effectively de-fang me early in the process. (I admit it, I'm rotten. Mr. Daughtry, I'm sorry. Let's hug it out, bitch!)
Sure, some people dislike his style and his schtick, and I've heard plenty of mentions of how he comes across as weird when not performing. I've said I think he seems tightly wound, and the reason he seems so natural onstage is because performing is a conduit for all that energy to escape. But when he's standing still that manic edge sort of collapses inward and he gets a little twitchy. But isn't that just all the more reason why he should be on a stage performing for people? He's not designed for interviews, he's designed to sing and entertain. I don't see why he wouldn't be syncopated from "normal" people. Besides, normalcy is so fucking overrated. Chris Daughtry, he was a normal, average guy. (Well. As normal and average as an eggheaded, wallet-chain wearing, groomed eyebrow, not-rocking fame-whore can be. Maybe I'm not that sorry.)
There was some backlash about the sudden Taylor pimping that started on the night of The Daughtry Execution. Other fans thought it was uncalled for and gave Taylor an advantage. Probably, it did. But really, after the way they tried to fuck Taylor up the ass all season long, it was the least the producers could do to finally extend him the courtesy of a reach around.
At certain points along the way this season, Taylor was savvy enough to lay The Joker card face down on the table. At those times, not only did Simon better tolerate him, but he proved he's got pipes and subdued charisma with moments like "You Send Me" and "Something" and "In The Ghetto." And that's how he was able to beat the dealer. The AI machine had already played their cards with the stacked deck. And suddenly, when Taylor sat back down and picked up his hand again, he wasn't holding The Joker anymore, he had all the Aces.
Taylor, more than anyone else this season, has earned the crown. He went All In when he had to and actually managed to beat the house. And I say this even though I love Elliott. Truly, Elliott's my cupcake -- he's our cupcake -- and I'd have loved to have seen him battling Taylor for this. But Elliott, he's not there -- though he did get the biggest audience reaction when they showed him during the Powter "Bad Day" montage. But it can't be helped that America voted and they voted against cuteness, humility and raw talent. (still bitter, in case you didn't catch that.)
Taylor, he came out ready to win. Unlike Katharine, he picked songs he'd done earlier in the season, and his first choice was Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." He started from the audience and his clothes were totally money -- a purple velvet blazer and snakeskin boots.
Good for Taylor. Jack Nicholson as The Joker couldn't have picked better. Beyond that, he blazed it. He did some singing, he did some dancing, and the spark of mischief was in his eye and when he was done, the place blew out for him.
For his second song, Taylor did "Levon" and I have to admit I like that song. Randy said he was pitchy, but I thought he was just kind of flat after the whoosh of "Living in the City." It even took him a while to get some volume behind his manic "Soul Patrol" mantra-chant once he'd finished. But Paula utilized once last chance to showcase her incredible dexterity even when loaded by doing her trademark drunktard clap for him and saying something so mind-blowing silly that Simon just had to calmly reply, "That didn't make any sense, what you were just saying, Pauler." Yeah. Like that statement's not five seasons in the making.
I didn't realize how much I liked Taylor until he started singing his new song and I started considering not voting for him to win the thing. It's purely a protectionary mechanism I felt for someone I've grown fond of -- not wanting to see him chained to the seven year contract that could eventually suck the last drop of Soul out of his Patrol. What 19E could do to him artistically could fade the paisley off his fugly, ill-fitting shirts and knock the jiggy dance out of his shiny pants. But since he's at least runner-up, he's in that situation now no matter what, so he might as well have the title and the accompanying glory (and extra cash and promotion).
Besides, I think if Taylor really wanted out, he'd have found a way out. I think he does want this title. I think he wants it from his toes all the way to the grayed ends of his famous hair. Which is not to say that Kat doesn't want it. But there's a vast difference between the "wanting it" of a 29 year old, poor Alabama musician and the "wanting" of a 21 year old, Sherman Oaks, privileged girl. Kat's willing to flash her trash for it. But Taylor was willing to get down and dirty and work for it.
If rumors are to be believed, Taylor did something this week to ease any niggling worries about his future. Word spread like wildfire about dissent with Taylor about the song he's been given as his single. In he said/she said scenarios worthy of a Jerry Springer episode, stories leaked about Taylor tossing a hissy fit and refusing one of the songs! No, wait! A songwriter threw a hiss fit when Taylor asked for a different arrangement and the writer quit! No, wait! They both threw hissy fits and Taylor changed the song! No, wait! Taylor is actually the father of Brangelina's baby! (Okay, that last one's not true at all. Is it? If it is, you heard it here first!) I don't know the specifics of the kerfuffle, but something went down. Bitter people will say that Taylor's an ingrate who oughta shut up and sing what he's given.
That's not what I say.
Look. I doubt we'll ever get such a downright, delightfully pornographic treat as we got last year when runner-up Bo Bice sang "Inside Your Heaven." But even if Taylor's not going to be proud of "Do I Make You Proud," he won't have to be destroyed by it.
It's a bad fucking song, don't get me wrong there. And my question is this: Every year, the judges make a big point to state that songs aren't very good. So why in the fuck don't they get someone better to write something decent? When Taylor first started singing this thing, it was cringe-worthy alright. And no, Taylor couldn't completely redeem it. But he didn't trash it the way Katharine did hers. He actually sang it well and hit some difficult key changes and by the end, when he started semi-wailing, it wasn't half-bad. Oh. Hey Now. I'll never buy the thing. And I still feel a little sorry for Taylor. But it's not as tragic as it could've been. The song is more like a war wound than a badge of honor for him, and it won't ever make him proud. But he doesn't have to be ashamed either.
Taylor got this far by being Taylor. He took more harsh, and often unnecessary and sometimes incendiary, barbs from the judges than anyone else. And yes, I did think he looked a little lost at times during the competition. He did adjust, but he didn't throw in the towel in disgust and he didn't change who he is. Taylor, he just went to the 'fridge, chowed down on some ribs, picked out another fugly shirt, practiced cocking his gun, and then went onstage as Taylor. He missed the mic stand a couple of times, but he still got the job done. And now, he's standing up for himself and staying Taylor. I don't know if they'll actually allow him to put some of his original songs on his debut CD or not. But I do feel confident that he'll at least fight the good fight for his own peace of mind and artistic integrity.
At this point, it doesn't matter what the votes say. (Or what Nigel says the votes say.)
Taylor is the Idol this year. He got everyone's attention when he Cockered his audition, he kept us rapt when he fellated a harmonica as he was passed up to the top 24, he kept our eyes glued with his spastic arm-wind on the small stage, he literally threw himself on the big stage in a convulsive fit and laid next to Ryan in a desperate plea for our approval, he Wooo!ed and SOUL PATROLed his way through interviews, and yes, goddamnit, he did finally get that pesky mic stand knocked the fuck over!
The stakes have peaked, the bluffs have been called, some hands have folded, and now, finally the game is played. With all the chips on the table, Taylor Hicks has successfully busted everyone else out. The winner's pot is his.