So last night's show was not about the results so much as a way to encapsulate what has been an odd year under new management. New judges, new format, new record label, new-old producers...how did it all play out? Well, by not having rigid theme nights where singers were forced out of their comfort zones and into new genres, you were able to have consistently good, safe performances by the top two finishers. Had Scotty been forced to sing something jazzy or bluesy or Broadway, perhaps the limitations of his voice would have been highlighted. Conversely, maybe Lauren would have shone brighter (as she did with Candle in the Wind) when she wasn't staying on the safe path.
With label head and producer extraordinaire Jimmy Iovine running the show, it was less about the contestants showing us who they were and more about the show presenting us who they wanted them to be. In years past, it was interesting to see the development of artists (think of the metamorphoses of shy Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood during their triumphant runs). This year, we were instead privy to the behind the scenes machinations that produce the final product we see on the stage. The magic and discovery of an artist's growth was gone, instead we got to watch How to Make a Star 101.
The instructions to the judges to observe the 11th Commandment -- thou shalt not speak ill of any performance -- left us alternately mystified and frustrated. When every performance was "beautiful," when no errant note or poor vocal choice was ever criticized, the show moved from competition to coronation. We were brainwashed into believing this was the best season ever, the most talented group ever, the best top whatever ever. Jacob Lusk, who would be kicked out of show choir, and perhaps even an audition for La Cage Aux Folles or RuPaul's Drag Race, for being too over-the-top, was praised as the next Luther. Paul McDonald, whose only clear attributes are his shockingly white choppers and the fact that his poor choice of outfits momentarily distracted us from Lauren's similar sartorial missteps, was the new Rod Stewart. Casey Abrams, the band camp geek who was in way over his head, was treated like a musical genius for grunting and gesticulating wildly.
Last night's show was a mish mosh of musical genres from the virginal gospel stylings of Lusk (punctuated with incongruous groin grabs) with Kirk Franklin to the raunchy mock-sex/suicide of Lady Gaga. We had 85-year-old Tony Bennett more than hold his own against the super sex kitten Haley Rinehart, back to her seductively purring ways, and seemingly ageless Tom Jones showing more sex appeal than a group of singers decades younger. James Durbin asked us to give metal a chance and, while it's still not my favorite genre, his enthusiasm and raw talent was enough for me briefly to wish for a hair band revival. Naima Adedapo showed more personality than the rest of the girl contestants put together, and Stefano Langone demonstrated an ability to command a stage beyond what I had seen before.
While the much-anticipated duet between Casey A. and Jack Black fizzled (and not just because of the lack of the eponymous Fat Bottomed Girls), the comedic highlight of the show was the duel pitting Casey and James over whose ouster was most shocking...a debate that came to a quick end when the dearly early-departed Pia Toscano checkmated the two of them.
Other take-aways from last night -- Beyonce is gorgeous, Marc Anthony and J. Lo can sure ignite a stage, the U2 Spiderman song was a snoozer, I prefer Carrie's voice to Lauren's but choose Scotty's over Tim's, and Steven Tyler can still rock. Oh, and Randy Jackson is one lucky SOB since he contributes nothing and yet has had this cushy, steady gig for ten years now.
So the winner is Scotty McCreery, the cute kid from North Carolina with the deep voice and occasionally goofy stage mannerisms. If anyone say they saw that coming from the first episode, I'd ask them for their lottery picks and the name of the next IPO I should get in on. I sure could not have predicted that back in January. But, though originally unexpected, it's a satisfying win, much more so than the last two years, if not the most electric. Congrats to Scotty and to runner-up Lauren. I'm just sorry you're coming up in an age where your fellow teens rather steal music than pay for it. I hope there's still a music industry for you to work in five years from now. But if there isn't, at least you'll be young enough to do something else. Like finish high school.