Tuned In

Idol Watch: Lost for Life

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Spoilers for last night’s elimination round of American Idol:

A few thoughts about last night’s promised “shocking” American Idol results episode, which turned out, shockingly, actually to be shocking. But first: is it possible that Iggy Pop’s performance was the most weird/incongruous/awesome thing ever to happen on Idol’s stage? Granted Pop is the guy’s last name (in reality, of course, he is Michigan’s own James Osterberg), but it was still amazing to see the 2010 Hall of Fame inductee get up and deliver an unadulterated Iggy Pop performance, complete with bleeping, hip-swaying and proud sexagenarian shirtlessness.

In fact, I have to give it to Idol, which has made the results shows repeatedly worth watching this season without Tivo-skipping through. As for the actual result, I have a quarrel, but is it with America or is it with Idol itself?

Pia went home last night, and look, it’s not as if her style of power-balladeering was a personal favorite, but I’d have to put her on sheer talent above at least half the remaining singers, and I thought she credibly had a chance to make the final. (I had to feel bad for Stefano, because implicit in the crowd’s booing Pia’s ejection was booing the fact that he wasn’t ejected—no one was even pretending that he did not deserve to go before her, crowd, judges or, at least as suggested by their stunned reaction, fellow contestants.)

Alan Sepinwall has a pretty good summary of the factors that may have led to Pia’s ejection: the lack of direction from the judges, who have decided to pretend that everyone is great, all the time; and the Idol voting audience, which from demographics, technology or both have favored an electorate largely of girls who want to vote for boys.

The only question on top of that is, which is the bigger factor? I’d say the latter: that is, Idol’s current pro-boy trend determined that Pia would be leaving soon, and the judging simply contributed to the order in which she left. I know I’m not the only one who has sat at home flabbergasted to watch a mediocre performance, then watch Steven go into verbal contortions praising it, J-Lo get moved to tears and Randy, well, refuse to be the bad guy. The flip side of that is that interpreting their comments have practically become Kremlinology. So when the judges dropped the merest of caveats on their praise of Pia—that she needed to be more confident in her movement on stage, etc.—it was magnified.

And to be fair, it’s not like that criticism was wrong. This week probably was one of Pia’s weakest, for that reason, and there’s no one else to blame for that. But it seems that the reason the judges made the remarks about her was that they’re easier criticisms to make. When a singer goes outside her usual comfort zone like Pia, you can say that she seems awkward or needs to work on this or that, without seeming to malign her in general. Whereas there is no one on the panel who will tell Stefano—or anyone else—that he or she is simply boring, or lacks star quality; those are far more egregious faults, and valid ones to judge, but pointing them out makes you sound mean, and post-Simon Idol doesn’t do mean.

So the takeaway to voters was that on a night when everyone was awesome, Pia was a little less awesome than everyone else, and she goes home. But as I said, it’s a fair bet that if she hadn’t, she would have within a few weeks, because the audience is just primed to choose a dude over a diva.

I used to TiVo Idol results shows, skip the performances and watch the elimination. Maybe soon I’ll need to start skipping the elimination and just watching the performances.