Last night was eliminations night on American Idol, determining the final two contestants.
Would the producers get the Adam-Danny finale they'd be clearly hoping for?
In a surprise cold open, Ben Stiller and fellow Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian cast members Bill Hader, Hank Azaria and Jonah Hill, announced that host Ryan Seacrest had been injured in a tragic bikini waxing incident. Then they spoke about the fact that the American Idol desk is supposedly headed for the Smithsonian. And oh, they just happen to have a movie coming out that's set in the Smithsonian. Quel coincidence.
Upon taking the stage for the real opening of the show, Ryan joked that "Simon's baby T-shirt collection" will be donated, as well. Simon just looked confused.
Last night's votes were based on a record 88 million votes. And, Ryan said, "If you think you know how the competition's going to stack up, think again." The results, he said, reflected a very narrow margin. Immediately, my stomach sunk. Was Adam Lambert the one going home?
This week's Ford video was done to the music "Break My Stride." In it, the top three face various problems as they try to get on the road, each time dealing with them as animated characters. First, dogs threaten them, and Adam becomes animated, pushes a wall, and grabs a steak to distract the dogs. (This is the second time they've paired Adam with dogs, dawg.) Then a storm rolls in, and animated Kris blows it away. Lame. Finally, they roll up on the prettiest traffic jam I've ever seen (everyone's driving new Fords!). An animated Danny grows long arms and moves them aside. I knew it; he's Plasticman! He's even got the specs.
Then, Alicia Keys talked more about Idol Gives Back. I couldn't find a video of her appearance, but if you'd like to find out more about the program, there's information at the official American Idol site.
Next up was a young performer, Noah from Rwanda, singing "I'm the World's Greatest," for which he had just learned the words in English. He had a great spirit and seemed very comfortable on-stage, dancing around and kicking his feet. Background singers joined him on the stage, for a fuller sound. Near the end, he did some dance moves which seemed influenced by African dance, and made his way up to the judges' table, while singing, to shake all their hands. Certainly, this kid seems to have a future. He was more comfortable on the stage than some of the finalists were!
One by one, Ryan called the three finalists out to talk to them and show videos of their returns home. Top three backstage. First, we viewed video of Danny Gokey's trip home to Milwaukee, where he got to see his friend Jamar again. I'm not sure why the official video on the site only has the background music and not the natural sound. If they're going to take down any unofficial video that appears on teh Internets, they could at least put decent video on their own site. Sorry about that.
Then was video of Kris Allen's visit to Conway, Arkansas. Amusingly, when he was riding in a car with his wife during a parade, I thought at first that he was riding with a local homecoming queen. She really does look young.
Then, Jordin Sparks performed her new single, "Battlefield" along with the co-writer of the song, Ryan Tedder from One Republic. She came down the stairs, wearing a black mini dress with sequins. It sounded like her voice is recovered from the problems she was having that had messed up her first tour, causing her to cancel dates. One comment about the lyric, though: "Why does love always feel like a battlefield?" Ask Pat Benatar.
Then we saw video of Adam's trip to San Diego. He returned to the theater where he spent a lot of time, meeting with children there and helping to inspire them to work hard and practice every day.
Next, Katy Perry performed live. As Ryan was announcing it, he remarked that Danny had said to him during commercial break that he just wanted the results. Adam interjected, "I want to hear Katy Perry." Don't worry, Adam. She's a fan of yours, too.
She performed her single "Waking Up in Vegas." She strutted out in a pseudo Elvis costume with the name "Adam Lambert" on the cape. Cool. A few observations: she has big eyes! And I loved the background dancers dressed like show girls, with big headdresses and feathers.
Was that Kevin Bacon in the audience?
Finally, all three took center stage. Ryan said, "I can now reveal, after the nationwide vote, the first person competing in next week's finale is Kris." The theater erupted with cheering. The camera cut to Simon, clapping with really wide eyes. Kris got a hug from Danny, then a bigger hug from Adam. Ryan told him, "You made it, buddy."
Then, as he read the final results, Ryan reminded the viewers that Danny has never been in the bottom three and that some thought he would be the finale. Cut to a shot of Kara looking nervous. Then Ryan announced, "The person competing with Kris Allen in the finale next week is... Adam Lambert."
You could see Kara mouthing "Oh, my God." The judges stood and clapped, and the audience erupted in even louder cheering. Kara, however, didn't look happy.
The good-bye video, started of course, with the story of Danny losing his wife. As he watched the video, he alternated between smiling and looking thoughtful. I got the impression he was thinking about the fact that a camera was on him the whole time, so he probably didn't want to look angry or disappointed.
Then, taking the mike one last time to sing "You Are So Beautiful," he didn't seem at all upset. Which just goes to show that, whatever else you might think of Danny, he is a professional Paula had tears in her eyes watching him, and Adam also looked sad. About halfway through the song, Kara looked enchanted. While he started out weak, getting a little ahead of the accompaniment, I thought the end was much better than last night. By then, Paula looked about the cry. As he finished, Ryan said, "We're going to miss you, brother." Here's the official vid of the results (again with that sappy music instead of what aired on the show. I wonder if they couldn't get the rights to use those songs on the Internet?).
Then, before the end credits, Ryan asked Simon to "tee up next week." Simon ad libbed, "None of us would have predicted this. Danny, no offense, because you did great. Kris, your second song made you a contender." He concluded, "This could be a big ding-dong coming up next week."
As always, with the British-isms, Ryan seemed confused and laughed. Then he announced, quickly, that there will be a two-part season finale next Tuesday and Wednesday. Mark your calendars and, American viewers, get your dialing fingers ready! The finale that lots of fans wanted is coming.
Why was it Danny's turn to go? He had a lot of things going for him: vocal ability, showmanship, and an interesting back story. He almost never talked back to the judges and, instead, make self-deprecating jokes. From week to week, he was consistent, sticking primarily to his comfort zone of pop ballads but occasionally taking risks. He also had a consistent look, with many people identifying him by his ever-changing hip spectacles.
And yet, there was a lot of backlash against him, particularly amongst certain Internet fan communities. In part, this was because of the sense that the producers were jamming him down the viewers' throats. From the beginning, Danny got more screen time than many of the other finalists, with emphasis on the tragic loss of his wife. He often got prime placement in the show's lineup, almost ensuring him votes. The judges, for the most part, praised him even when he had a weaker week. And frankly, many viewers began to resent it.
Now I'm going to use a term that Kara DioGuardi has used frequently this season. And as much fun as it is to make fun of the judges for repeating their favorite words over and over, she's right about this one: connection. The viewers might have come around to Danny's side if they had felt a genuine connection with him. Yet, from the beginning, something about Danny whether it was his transparent "aw shucks" demeanor or his characteristic confidence made many viewers feel as if Danny was, at best, cocky and, at worst, fake.
Personally, I believe that Danny got a bad rap in this area. I'm pretty astute when it comes to body language. Yes, Danny did, from the very beginning, have the confidence and swagger that other finalists had to sweat to obtain. Yes, he did seem, at all times, to be highly aware of the camera's presence and to be modifying his reactions accordingly. But there were plenty of moments where the camera caught him reacting naturally. He seemed genuinely moved by some of the surprises on the show, as they impacted other finalists with whom he had become friends. I don't think he's as conniving as some other fans believe.
That said, we get to Danny's biggest weakness. He started at a high point and didn't grow. While other finalists took chances, sometimes risking failure, he usually stayed in his comfort zone, sailing along from week to week. His vocals, and his tone, were strong enough to convince people to vote for him, even though some of them would probably never buy his album. He became too predictable, too boring.
And then, there was The Scream during his performance in Rock Week of Aerosmith's "Dream On." We don't need to go into this in depth, except to say that it reminded viewers that even Danny of the Perfect Pitch was fallible. Perhaps it also made them wonder, did they really see themselves wanting to attend a concert by this guy? Buy one of his albums? Hmm. Maybe not.
Given that the ending margin was so tight, Danny's failure to grow as a performer, to attract new fans, was his undoing. Adam and Kris were both building fan bases by taking risks and exciting the audience with their performances. As their fan bases grew, Danny's stayed the same. Yes, it was a strong fan base, but without that audience connection, without growth, he could only rise so far.
And that is why it was Danny's time to go.
You're got to keep on moving and growing.