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This week, American Idol began the actual business of finding its 15th winner.
The departing reality competition kicked off its final Hollywood Week, the post-audition boot camp where contestants are deprived of sleep and forced to work with each other and generally subjected to other horrible conditions.
Sure, the paint salesman from Illinois was marketable in the sense that he appealed directly to the Idol demographic of aging ladies. Sanjaya Malakar (Season 6, Placed 7th)Idol first became dangerously self-aware when this Seattle-born 17-year-old garnered the attention of talent-show-obsessive Howard Stern, as well as Vote for the Worst, whose gleeful trolling of the Idol voting apparatus was as overblown as it was sorta funny.
But there was something off about his rise to the top, especially when that final showdown came to pass. Sanjaya, a Stevie Wonder devotee, debuted on the show with a sweet rendition of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” but over the coming weeks he would run straight off the rails, debuting a hairstyle dubbed the “ponyhawk” (note the camera’s focus on it at the ten-second mark of that clip) and turning in increasingly manic performances.
Carrie Underwood’s season-four victory allowed Idol to mark some territory in Nashville, while Chris Daughtry’s fifth-season deployment of Shinedown and Live helped nudge open the door to performers bearing instruments, who were finally allowed inside the Idol sanctum in season seven.During the series’ second half, the hegemony of white guys with guitars — WGWGs — held on to the top, with one key exception; those artists who played a little more fast and loose with the show’s themes were dispatched after adding sizzle to the finals’ early weeks. He was lying, but he meant well, and anyway, the audience knew what he meant: “You can’t win if you sound like that.” (An important note: As in the Idol world, sometimes the terrible can actually be the best for the purposes of each individual season’s dramatic arc. Which they did, setting the stage for a finale with two singers (Lambert and Kris Allen) who had honed their talent on-air — and become nail-polish-matching friends in the process. Lee De Wyze (Season 9, Winner)The suspicion that Idol’s voting mechanisms were fundamentally broken kicked into overdrive at the end of season nine, when one of the two finalists put the opening line of “With a Little Help From My Friends” to the test.But even with the vagaries of genre and style, certain aspects of being a pop star — an idol — remain intact and heavily informed our rankings, which only focuses on the work these singers offered up during their Idol runs. Think of the contestants near the list’s very bottom as the most likely contestants for an All-Idol rebirth of Vote for the Worst, the now-mothballed site that encouraged chicanery through democracy and buoyed the Idol stays of more than a few less-than-deserving individuals. The singer who sang that line out of tune — who just happened to be a white guy bearing a guitar — wound up winning the competition over earth-mother (and better singer) Crystal Bowersox.(The more, uh, limited vocal ranges of this era’s pop stars have suited Rodriguez much better, it seems.) 148.
Thia Megia (Season 10, Placed 10th–11th)This America’s Got Talent castoff was mostly notable for her incredibly tone-deaf interpretations of old songs, among them a version of “Smile,” during which she couldn’t stop grinning.
He capped his run off with a tweak of Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About,” replacing the chorus’s “How about love” with a sly “Other than hair.” 165.