Culture

American Idol: Alien Conspiracy Edition

Possible explanation of disconnect between what American Idol judges hear and what the TV audience hears.

So I have this theory: Every time Phillip Phillips performs something happens between what the judges hear in the auditorium and what gets broadcast to the rest of the world. They hear genius. I hear crap. Maybe aliens intercept the signal as it’s broadcast and distort it, perhaps a test of our broadcast capabilities presaging an intergalactic invasion. Maybe the signal gets sucked into a rift in the space-time continuum and comes out completely distorted by the time it reaches my TV set.

Even Phillip says his band mates at home criticize his performances, calling his rendition of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” pretty rough. Yet there were the judges, praising it high and low. This week, after Phillip tortured CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” in a way that would make even a Spanish Inquisitor retch, Steven Tyler reached into his book of “Sayings That Seem Kinda Profound Until You Think About It” and said that Phillip “is living proof that the road to success is always under construction.” In Phillip’s case they’re tearing up a perfectly good road to put in sewer lines. The only explanation of Tyler’s judgment is imminent alien invasion or a universe coming apart at the seams.

Hollie Cavanagh sings her swan song.

But there’s a problem with my theory. It doesn’t account for the millions of Phillip votes from teenybopper girls. They must hear something that I don’t. But then I reassure myself that, no, they hear crap, too, but their sense of hearing is overridden by their infatuation with a safe, scruffy-looking white guy with cute eyes. Those same girls cheered wildly when Season Seven winner David Cook sang an utterly banal song in an utterly banal way. Yeah, theory intact.

But my theory got a further test. Phillip’s second performance last week, Damien Rice’s “Volcano,” sounded great. He nailed it. Great performance. Hmm, maybe the aliens were caught off guard while on their zergtz break. That would also explain my recent visions of aerium porci. Maybe the universe is reaching equilibrium and that nasty space-time rift is healing itself. It could happen.

But what really happened was Hollie Cavanagh picked a bad week to have a bad week. They were down to the final four. Every performance had to be perfect. With Hollie’s trajectory over the past few weeks, I had high hopes for her. But she chose to sing Journey’s “Faithfully.” A few weeks back I warned of singers not to cover if you don’t have the goods. I should have included Steve Perry. While the Journey canon is for the most part overflowing with extreme bogosity, there’s no doubt Perry has a big voice. Hollie just didn’t quite have the chops for it, starting out in too low a register to be able to really belt out the big parts. Close, but not quite.

And then she chose Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and completely misfired. You can’t sing the blues if you haven’t lived the blues (cf. early Jonny Lang, who had the licks and voice of a grizzled bluesman but not the soul), and you can’t sing heartache either unless you’ve truly had your heart broken. Disappointments on American Idol don’t count. All these weeks Hollie’s been told not to think too hard about the song and just sing it. Last Wednesday, you could almost see her inner thoughts, thinking about not thinking, working way too hard to capture Raitt’s forlorn melancholy born of years and hard experience. Hollie wasn’t even close.

She was up against two stellar performances each from Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet, too. (Did anyone else find 16-year-old Jessica’s vamping on Etta James’ “Steal Away” just a bit creepy?) Joshua did James Brown one better on “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.” It’s now “It’s a Man’s Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” and Joshua is da man. Jimmy Iovine, mentor-in-chief and chairman of Interscope Records, has made it no secret that Joshua has a record contract no matter what happens to him on the show. I, for one, can’t wait to buy it.

So when the votes were counted and Hollie was out, I was disappointed but not surprised. With her talent, great attitude and utter unpretentiousness, she should have a great career ahead of her.

That is, if the aliens don’t first blast us into space gravel.