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America, You Ain't Right, Dawg

Some weeks ago I congratulated America on indulging its rebellious spirit by voting John Stevens and Jon Peter Lewis into the final round of American Idol. It seemed to me that the viewers of this great nation were sending a clear message that they are not content to accept the recording industry’s pre-defined image of a pop icon. Either that, or they just thought it would be kinda funny.

Well, cut it out, America. Seriously, people, it’s not funny anymore. Somebody’s going to get hurt, and if this competition results in John Stevens’ nasal, off-pitch crooning getting heavy airplay, that somebody is going to be everyone with one or more functioning eardrums.

After JPL was retired last Wednesday, I had assumed that the voters had decided their little joke had gone on long enough. Then they turned around this week and lined up arguably the group’s three most talented vocalists for the firing squad. Look, I’m sick to death of the baroque, key-roving howls of R&B “divas” too, but does anybody seriously think Jennifer Hudson was the least worthwhile performer among these contestants?

Musical taste is highly subjective, so I’m willing to make some allowances for that. Though she’s not really my cup of tea, I can see how others might enjoy the vocal stylings of vase-with-a-larynx Jasmine Trias. I can even understand how some find some perky appeal in Mouseketeer-for-the-McDonald’s-generation Diana DeGarmo.

But for John Stevens — basically a Bizarro Conan O’Brien with the voice of Frank Sinatra two weeks after they buried him — to outlast Jennifer Hudson makes me wonder if the Idol votes aren’t being tallied up in Broward County.

Hey, I don’t mean to pick on the guy. He seems like a sweet enough young pup, loves his grandparents, wouldn’t hurt a fly and all that. I can even forgive the fact that over the course of the seven weeks’ national prime time exposure he’s been given to make an impression, he has so far displayed less charisma than my hairy left nut; yeah, that’s right, the one that hangs low. And y’know, when given exactly the right song, one that complements an intimate, quiet croon and doesn’t stray outside of Stevens’ limited range, the kid can actually sing pretty okay.

But as soon as his voice wanders outside of that quarter octave it can reproduce, he ends up sounding like a muffled trumpet with a tiny, wounded screech owl trapped inside of it. Not to mention the fact that when Stevens performs, he carries all the dynamic intensity of a telephone pole with some kind of novelty snapping finger attached to it.

It’s even become evident in recent weeks that Stevens actually wants to be whacked. Each show, he looks a little more embarrassed and depressed — at least insofar as an expressionless piece of bleached driftwood can display those emotions. It’s as though he too is convinced that his continued presence on the American Idol stage is a travesty. And yet he persists, while Jennifer Hudson and her powerful, gospel-blasting lungs are kicked to the curb.

The American Idol producers are evidently not all that amused, either. Already irritated by their inadvertent conversion of William Hung into an unlikely star, they seem greatly annoyed by the mockery the voters are making of their little sing-off. They actually sent their lapdog Ryan Seacrest to admonish the audience for giving Hudson the axe, a particularly crass move even by Idol standards, considering the surviving contestants were standing about ten feet from him.

The only explanation I can come up with for Stevens’ continued popularity is that, of the 30-kajillion viewers that watch Idol every week, a goodly chunk of them must be old people. Stevens is clearly the preferred contestant of the Hometown Buffet set; he chooses old songs, sings in an old style, and holds old people’s hands. Then there’s the fact that old people don’t hear too well, and are also prone to forgetting that they already voted several dozen times that evening. Fortunately, if my theory is actually true, I can take some solace in knowing that the size of Stevens’ audience decreases by a little bit each day.

Then again, as my good friend Phil has already pointed out, maybe the order the contestants leave the show doesn’t much matter. After all, Jennifer Hudson will no doubt be signed to a recording contract by the time you read this, presumably a much more lucrative one than the Idol folk would have indentured her to if she had won. And wherever he ends up finally placing in this competition, this time next year you’ll likely be able to hear John Stevens’ silky one-note croon drifting out of the Starlite Ballroom at Foxwoods Indian Casino and Bingo Parlor, to the accompaniment of a hundred elderly widowers yanking feebly at the handles of their slot machines and wetting themselves.

In any event, the way the voting’s gone down in recent weeks makes me and my fellow viewers seem at best terminally tone deaf, and at worst, heinously superficial. I beg of you, America, think carefully before you text the word “vote.” If you don’t, the “hanging Stevens” may soon join Chad in our shared lexicon of American embarrassments.


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