Tuned In

Idol Watch: Two for the Road

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Spoilers for American Idol’s results show coming up:

Having expended its judges’ save on Casey Abrams last week, American Idol had to eject two contestants this time out. And I am happy/sad to say that my guess was right, as we said goodbye to…

…Thia and Naima. Thia, I think, was a case of a singer who had nothing wrong with her, but simply not enough right with her. She had a sweetness and a lovely tone of voice, but she performed an a pretty familiar Idol genre—girl ballads, to be blunt—and there was nothing much to distinguish her from all the Jasmine Triases, et al., who’ve gone that route before. What’s more, that slot is more or less occupied this season—but with more power and hotness—by Pia Toscano, so I think there just wasn’t much room for Thia.

You can’t say there was anyone else this season, or many other seasons, like Naima, and so she ended up ousted by the opposite problem. She was always arresting on stage, sonically, dynamically and visually—the reggae, the dancing, the colorful outfits—but very different means very polarizing, and to succeed at something like that on Idol, you need to be near flawless. Naima wasn’t, and this week she fell outside her tight margin of error. She got past her early pitch problems in recent weeks, but I think song choice killed her this week; I’m just not sure “I’m Still Standing” was the right choice to reggae up, as it left her with a kind of singsongy arrangement that she couldn’t shine on. I don’t think Naima was ever going to win Idol, but I hope she showed off enough to help her launch a career.

Speaking of launching a career, last night Fantasia Barrino came back on the show, looking more zaftig than in her contestant years (a little Aretha-y, actually, and reportedly Ms. Franklin has endorsed the idea of Fantasia playing her in a biopic), but as fiery, raw and vocally thrilling as ever. I still think she’s the best out-and-out singer Idol has ever produced (“Hood Boy” is one of the few post-Idol singles I listen to by choice). She’s not the most successful, though, and while she hasn’t exactly disappeared, her personal problems since Idol have been well-documented. So it was a little bittersweet to see Ryan Seacrest hit her up for advice to the finalists, and hear her tell them to be careful of the people they place around them.

I hope Fantasia has more success ahead of her, and let’s hope the finalists remember that winning (or losing) Idol is just the first step in a long race.

As for this season’s race, I was a little surprised—but not, I’ll be honest, unhappy—to see Paul has some vulnerability. But I also think that Casey needs to get back to wowing us if he doesn’t want to return to the bottom three without a save to back him up. Who looks vulnerable to you now?