I was fully prepared to write an largely angry, largely critical post this week looking back at the season of “American Idol” that was. I was ready to further elaborate on how the viewing public that watches the show now isn’t a good barometer of what music and what artists are popular and marketable and how they’ll never produce a true superstar again if they don’t try to expand that audience. And to be fair, much of that is still true and will be things that the show has to grapple with as it enters its second season on ABC sometime next year. But then I watched the finale, which reminded me what makes this show great and unendingly watchable, no matter how much it can infuriate me.
The show’s outcome seemed to be set in stone: the charming and talented (but lacking pizzazz) Maddie would be eliminated halfway through the show, leaving us with Caleb and Gabby, the inexplicable front-runners from early in the voting rounds, to duke it out for the big prize. It would mirror season 10’s Scotty McCreary and Lauren Alaina, a finale that almost convinced me to stop watching the show entirely. It’s not that Gabby and Caleb aren’t talented, it’s just that they felt so inevitable that the show lost all its fun. Why bother watching and rooting for your favorites when you can see the numbers dwindling and know that at least two people are almost guaranteed a spot in the next round, knocking out chances for your pick? It feels like “Idol” has tried to curb the crazy people who vote hundreds of times in a night (like me circa 2005-2010) by placing limits on how many times you can vote for a single contestant and limiting the voting to the episode itself, but that can only go so far when a certain sect of the audience chooses to put all their might behind two people. And yet, that’s not what happened at all.
In a move that certainly shocked me back to life, Gabby did not make it into the final two. The country queen was eliminated, leaving Caleb and Maddie as the last ones standing. If we’re all being honest, Gabby never needed this show. All she needed to do was step one foot into Nashville and the record deals would have come pouring in. She was a fully formed performer the minute she stepped into her audition, which is fine, but I think it’s what made her so unpalatable to me.
My favorite “Idol” stories are when someone unassuming comes along and blows us out of the water with their voice. They might not be the full package yet, but by the time the season has ended and they’re walking away with the title, they’ve learned and grown and have become a full-fledged entertainer. Kelly Clarkson certainly fit that bill. Carrie Underwood, too. And Maddie, despite the seeming odds stacked against her, will join those ranks as the winner of the first season of the rebooted “American Idol.” Do I think that she’ll reach the level of fame that Kelly and Carrie have? Probably not. Her style of music, while lovely, is a little too niche and I can’t see it fitting in on mainstream radio amongst the Ariana Grande’s and Dua Lipa’s that are currently ruling the charts. But did her win make for a great story arc? Absolutely.
As for the rest of the two-hour finale, it provided everything that makes “Idol” entertaining. Electrifying performances (more electrifying than those of the final three, if you ask me) that paired other “Idol” finalists, like Jurnee, Michael, Ada, Cade and Dennis (aka the top five of my heart) with already established performers. There were montages and call-backs to jokes and moments from earlier in the season. There was even the truly surprising reveal that our final two, Caleb and Maddie, were actually a couple in real life! It was a highly enjoyable season finale of television.
Which brings me to what I think “American Idol” needs to do in its second season on ABC. What I realized this season is that “American Idol” isn’t really about the competition, at least not anymore. Yes, someone is crowned victorious over everyone else and gets a prize, but the outcome is not what we’re really there for. As corny as it sounds, we’re there for the journey. We’re there to meet these singing strangers, to see them grow and develop as the season goes on. We’re there to get invested in story lines, created or otherwise. People with backstories, with drama, with something to prove. It felt like ABC didn’t recognize that. They rushed through the whole thing so quickly it felt like we barely had any time to get to know the people we were supposed to be rooting for before they were gone.
So I would encourage ABC and the powers that be to focus more on the journey than the destination. If you’re going to spend weeks and weeks on auditions and on the trials of Hollywood week, give us an equal amount of time with the people that survived all of that to become the top 24! Get rid of the nonsense showcase weeks, or at least allow the viewing public to start voting during them, like it used to be. Stop eliminating multiple people a week and bring back the judges save. Maybe give one to each judge that they can use up until the final four, that way you can potentially get a few of those double eliminations that you seem to love so much down the line. Ultimately, don’t rush through it! People watch this show because they like the contestants and want to get to know them and see them perform a variety of songs. Let them do that at a normal pace! And please, for the love of god, don’t do another Disney week. That was horrible.
What did you think of the “American Idol” finale? Do you have any suggestions for what they can do differently next season? Did you cry at little bit over the cuteness of the “Christopher Robin” movie trailer? Winnie the Pooh and Paddington in one year is a lot, but I think we all deserve it for what we’re putting up with. Share your thoughts in the comments. And, of course…