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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

'Idol' final follies: A history of mysteries

By Ken Barnes, USA TODAY
Antonella Barba and Sanjaya Malakar have no business remaining on American Idol (Fox, tonight, 8 ET/PT) —that's the cry of outraged fans and bloggers who contend that Barba and Malakar have established their lack of vocal ability compared with other contestants, including some who left before them.
The gap is between fans who (perhaps idealistically) think Idol is a singing contest and vocal talent is all that should matter, and the voters who clearly take other factors — looks, back story, tabloid notoriety— into consideration.

'IDOL' CHATTER: Who do you consider the biggest 'Idol' enigma?

But it's nothing new. Every year since Idol premiered in 2002, the finals have had singers whose presence outraged purists. Here's a not-so-fond season-by-season look back:

Season 1

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Idol | American Idol | American Idol: The Search For A Superstar | Scott Savol | Jasmine Trias | Antonella Barba | Jessica Sierra | Sanjaya Malakar | Kevin Covais
Idol's first season established the template for moderately talented and forgettable finalists (anyone remember A.J. Gil? EJay Day?), but two stood out.

Nikki McKibbin (third place, behind Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini) was the original poster girl for underqualified overachiever, defeating talented Tamyra Gray thanks to an unconvincing "rock chick" image and single motherhood.

Seventh-place Ryan Starr sang poorly, but her brassy persona and eye-candy appeal led to a subsequent appearance on The Surreal Life. A possible Antonella career path?

Season 2

The sophomore season was less offensive to vocal purists. Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, both good singers, dominated, and finalists such as Trenyce, Rickey Smith and Corey Clark were irritating because of personality traits rather than vocal deficiencies. Still, Kimberly Caldwell (7th) was the year's Ryan Starr — all attitude, no voice, perfect qualifications for her subsequentcareer as a TV Guide Channel host.

Carmen Rasmusen (6th)was a dry run for Carrie Underwood's country success, except without the good singing part, and Julia DeMato (10th) owed her presence to the ton of airtime she got for her squabbles with audition groupmates.

Season 3

The third season is generally regarded by aficionados as Idol's worst year, as symbolized by the third-place finish of Jasmine Trias, Hawaii's sweetheart. Never has anyone gotten so far on such fragile vocal underpinnings. The 50th state's other sweetheart, Camile Velasco (9th), had even less ability to stay on pitch.

Added detractions: John Stevens (6th), the "teenage lounge swinger" who foundered woefully outside his musical comfort zone, yet finished one place ahead of Jennifer Hudson; Jon Peter Lewis (8th), who survived mainly on puppy-dog cuteness; and Matthew Rogers (11th), who projected a sunny likability unaccompanied by discernible vocal ability.

Season 4

The fourth year boasted improved quality overall, but the exceptions were truly exceptional.

Scott Savol (5th) made up for wavering pitch with a sullen demeanor, inexplicable overconfidence and a less-than-descriptive nickname ("Scotty the Body"), yet he achieved one of Idol's most baffling high finishes. Mikalah Gordon (11th) cackled like a mini-Fran Drescher (on whose short-lived TV series Living With Fran Gordon also guested) and pretty much sang like one, too. And then there was blond, bland Jessica Sierra (10th), whom voters may have confused with Jessica Simpson.

Season 5

Last year, voters seemed to finally get their act together. Although you could argue (and many did) the vocal merits of Kellie Pickler, Ace Young or Bucky Covington, the only blatantly marginal talent to make the finals was Kevin Covais (11th). And although "Chicken Little" ruffled many feathers by making the finals, he failed to win the top 10 placing that would have put him on the annual summer tour.

So if Antonella and Sanjaya manage to make the top 12, it's an injustice to more talented singers who fell by the wayside first, but look on the bright side: Things have been a lot worse.

Posted 28d ago

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