And so, the ninth season of American Idol comes to a lumbering and terrible end. The show is frequently boring and often aggressive in its desire to force viewers to sit through bad guest performances, but even by the show's own standards, last night's season finale was a brutal exercise in torment. It was sloppily executed and horribly planned, and worst of all, the wrong person won.
The show's production values are often iffy, but last night was packed with technical errors: Missed cues, bad cuts, microphone errors, and other problems kept cropping up. This isn't some live special that only happens once a year, like the Oscars; this is a show that airs its main event episodes live every week and has for nine seasons. To be making so many mistakes this far in shows a total lack of skill, and worse, an attitude of disdain for the viewers. It's as if the producers are openly acknowledging that they don't have to try hard because they've got the biggest show on the air, and they'll get the viewers anyway. The whole episode was shamelessly amateur.
The line-up of guest stars was somehow impressive and depressing at once. Every time one of the top 12 contestants -- who were all back for plenty of atrocious performances -- started a song, the original artist would come out to take over. We got the two remaining Bee Gees, Alanis Morissette, Hall & Oates, Janet Jackson, Michael McDonald, Christina Aguilera, Bret Michaels (who is apparently not sick enough to turn down a paying gig), Chicago, and Joe Cocker, because this is 1982. (Lamest moment: The line in "You Oughta Know" was changed to "Would she go down with you to a theater." Like we're not gonna notice?) Every time one of those acts performed, I felt like I was watching an ad for one of those oldies tours that plays on PBS. No one could hit the high notes in any of their songs. None. I wondered if this was a high-concept nod to Lee DeWyze's singing style, but I realized it was really just a bunch of performers sliding past their prime.
"Tonight is about Crystal and Lee," Ryan said at one point, but that was the biggest lie of the night. The evening was really about Simon Cowell, and what started out as a fun and, dare I hope, tasteful tribute to the man turned into a parade of gag videos with "behind the scenes" footage joking about his personality. Dane Cook, who is to comedy what John Wayne Gacy was to children's entertainment, aped Adam Sandler by performing a hokey song on his guitar about Simon's famous insults. The bit ended with a parade of past losers trotted out to be mocked one last time by a curious public, and one of the guys decided to grab his chance at some kind of pathetic stardom by grabbing Cook's mic and announcing his "Kanye moment" and intentions to take over Simon's chair next season. Not sure why he thought that was the best approach to take, job interview-wise, but whatever.
The bombast reached a fever pitch when every previous winner and a host of contestants reappeared to fete Simon in song and let him give a farewell speech. I honestly have no way to re-create for you the utter boredom of watching this all unfold over a very long two hours and seven minutes. At 9:01, Ryan finally got the eliminations under way, and after the final drawn-out pause of the season, he announced that -- wait for it -- Lee DeWyze was the winner. Yes, Lee, the earnest screamer who seems like a very nice guy but is nowhere near as good at this as Crystal. A friend of mine who hadn't watched an episode until last night was able to grasp right away how much better Crystal is, but the voters and producers still sided with Lee.
In a way, I knew it would happen. Crystal had more grit and a better sense of self, but Lee's, well, cute and marketable. A Gavin DeGraw wannabe with a crooked smile is easier to sell to young girls than a single mom who likes Patti Griffin, period. My only consolation is that the level of publicity Crystal received this year leads to more work for her. She deserves it.
And with that, American Idol draws to a close for a year. This was my first time to watch an entire season of the show, and I can see why people watch (the packaging and manipulation are top-notch) and why they don't (the artists being packaged are mostly pretty bland). It's been educational, to say the least. Here's hoping Crystal and the good singers find a path home.