Culture

American Idol: Accidentally Telling the Truth

Joshua Ledet, Jessica Sanchez, and Phillip Phillips

It’s not about whether you hit the notes or not, if the passion is there. —Steven Tyler, giving away the game in a rare (semi-) honest review of Phillip Phillips’ singing.

In a moment of perhaps unintentional candor, American Idol judge Steven Tyler committed a gaffe, defined as accidentally telling the truth. Phillip Phillips’ performance of an overblown 1970s power ballad, Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” proved, as usual, that he can’t sing. He sat, inert, on his stool, straining and struggling to hit even the limited high notes in this song. The performance was so boring that, at one point, I thought he was going to fall into a deep sleep and topple off the stool. On the final note, he grimaced and strained as his voice wandered around like a drunk trying to hit the urinal, finally settling on more or less the right spot but not before leaving a mess all over the floor. He’d been assigned the song by mentor-in-chief Jimmy Iovine, and at first I though that he’d been sabotaged, given a song that was sure to sink him.

And then what happened? The judges gave him a standing ovation. What!? Did they hear the same performance I did? They lauded him for his passion. Passion? He slept-walked through it. They said he’d had a “moment”—whatever that is. (I’ve had similar “moments” after a night of heavy drinking.) And then came Tyler’s bit of truth-telling. Yeah, you didn’t hit the notes. You rarely do. But, hey, this is only a singing competition. Let’s make up some bogus excuse about “passion” to make sure this year’s American Idol ends like so many others, with a mediocre WGWG (White Guy With Guitar) beating out some truly talented singers. On results night, the only suspense was whether Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet would be the sacrificial lamb. Alas, it was Joshua.

Joshua Ledet goes out classy.

On Wednesday night, each contestant sang three songs: one picked by the judges, one of their own choosing, and one chosen by Iovine. For his own pick, Joshua had one of his rare off moments. He chose John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the song that wins the tough competition for the most fatuous song ever written by the walking definition of fatuous pomposity. (Yeah? So sue me.) Yes, the song is beautiful musically, but it’s ruined by its insipid philosophizing. The judges fawned all over it, as one is required to do in politically correct circles when that song is performed. Randy Jackson asked why he chose it, and Joshua said he found it meaningful. Really? Joshua’s dad is a country preacher, and Joshua grew up in church. Just what did he find “meaningful” in these lyrics: “Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try”? Or Lennon’s imagining no religion, a typically trite sentiment sandwiched in among all the other twaddle? What have you been learning in church, Joshua?

Jessica wowed with her three songs, although there was a tinge of teacher’s pet with her choice of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” And Phillip? He was his usual atonal self. He put in a barely adequate performance for his cover of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’.” (No, it’s not a Madcon song, Ryan Seacrest. You must end your annoying habit of referring to songs by the most recent lame cover artist and not by the original performer. What’s next, “Hard Day’s Night” by Jimmy the Piano Player at the Exit 13 Holiday Inn?) Phillip’s version of Matchbox 20’s “Disease” proved that some songs are aptly named.

When the end came Joshua was classy, as always. He took his fate with equanimity and, with his final performance of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” showed he has more talent in his little finger than Phillip has in his entire body.

Next week’s conclusion is foregone: if Phillip could survive the week he had last week—and the week before, and the week before that, etc. and so on—then he will survive anything. He’s the cockroach of TV talent shows, able to survive thermonuclearly bad performances that would kill off all other life forms. Jessica will, as always, out-sing him in a way that should be embarrassing, the musical equivalent of the Oakland Raiders stomping all over a peewee league team. But she won’t win.

Joshua already has a deal with Interscope Records. He’ll do well. I think he’d also do well on Broadway, as will Jessica. Hollie has a great career ahead of her, perhaps on par with Adele. And Phillip? He should suffer the same fate as Lee DeWyze, David Cook, Kris Allen, and all the other WGWGs.