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Idol Watch: Health Scare

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Crystal Bowersox—and American Idol—dodged a bullet last night as the singer, who had been hospitalized earlier in the day, showed up to perform on a women’s night that had been rescheduled to accommodate her. Had she not made it back, I’m not sure whether it would have been a bigger blow for her or for the show.

Certainly, Idol producers had to be sweating over Bowersox’s condition, since, judging by the quality of the male singers so far, it can use all the strong female singers in the final that it can get. As it is, Bowersox looks like the early favorite, and while we could always see a dark horse emerge, it’s not looking like there’s a guy who can credibly challenge her.

Of course, with or without Crystal, there would be competition: if you have twelve people in the final, one of them is going to win. But to the extent Idol also considers itself a star-making machine, it also needs to produce winners who are plausible music stars. If Bowersox hadn’t been able to compete last night, I have to wonder whether the producers—despite Nigel Lythgoe’s statement that she would have been eliminated—wouldn’t have introduced a twist that allowed them to bring her back.

It shows how much Idol had changed over the years that it would even be in this situation. This year, the show seems to be placing much more emphasis on singer-songwriters and instrumentalists like Bowersox and Lilly Scott (another strong contender for the final). When the show began, though, it was all about finding pliable pop singers who could be molded by producers and songwriters. Last night, Simon Cowell flattered Crystal by saying she’d had a Kelly Clarkson moment, which is ironic because, had Crystal been auditioning in Kelly Clarkson’s year, I would bet you that Simon would have told her that however talented she was, this is not the show for her.

Apparently it is now, and given the state of things, the show needs her pretty badly. Can anyone stop her?