If there was any question about whether Fox was doing the right thing in pulling the plug on "American Idol" after next season, this lackluster finale should certainly answer it.
"Idol" was surpassed by other platforms long ago in terms of creating new music stars. No one needs to go through the ridiculous "Idol" gauntlet of singing unfamiliar songs and being judged any more to try to launch a career. Justin Bieber got noticed by millions on YouTube. Shawn Mendes did it on Vine. And the idea that having a network TV audience, who judging from industry sales rarely buys music any more, vote on who should be the next pop star is hopelessly outdated.
"Idol" voters, especially this season, tend to reward blandness, coached on the most palatable choices by judges Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban. The way they championed the likable but artistically blank Nick Fradiani over so many more singers with more star power has sealed the show's fate. Do they really believe that somehow music fans were embracing Miley Cyrus or Kanye West or Taylor Swift or Adele because there weren't enough nice young men who can sing available? Come on. Jax was the most relevant of the Top 3 and the judges ripped her apart last week. Their disdain for Clark Beckham, once seen as a shoo-in to win, grew once he started to battle with mentor Scott Borchetta over song choices. (Borchetta was right, generally, but the judges seemingly began holding Clark to a way higher standard.)
On iTunes Wednesday morning, Nick's coronation song "Beautiful Life" was at No. 35, while Clark's "Champion" was at No. 48. In contrast, "The Voicea"phenom Sawyer Fredericks, whose songs went on sale Monday night, had two songs in the Top 5. That old "Idol" defense that "The Voice" doesn't launch stars may have to be retired along with the show.
In any case, here's how the night shook out:
ROUND ONE: REPRISE
Clark Beckham's "Georgia on My Mind" was big and bold, as he reached for even wilder notes than he did when he originally performed it and nailed them. Urban called it amazing. "From a performance point of view, you're always stretching and pushing," Connick said. Nick Fradiani's version of "Bright Lights" sounds so much like Matchbox Twenty's original that it's hard to hear what he has changed. Nevertheless, J.Lo flips out over it, saying that he is what Simon Fuller envisioned as "a true American Idol." Urban says, "I can relate to you, Nick." Lopez calls it a tie.
WINNER ROUND ONE: Clark
ROUND TWO: SIMON FULLER PICK
Clark gets Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," which he tackles solo on an acoustic guitar. His version is passionate, but it lacks heart. It seems more about his talent than his connection. Connick says it was gutsy to sing two slow songs in a row. "It was awesome," Lopez said. "Beautiful. Heartfelt." Nick's version of Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" is pretty much the opposite, struggling with the low notes, closing some of them out too quickly and going off-key on others. But his connection is undeniable. "Your heart is so good Nick," Urban said. Lopez said it was a strong performance. Connick called it heartfelt and emotional. He called the competition a tie, saying Nick won the first round and Clark won the second.
WINNER ROUND TWO: Clark
ROUND THREE: CORONATION SONG
Clark's coronation song is called "Champion" and it's not very good. It sounds like a OneRepublic castoff. He seems uncomfortable singing the ridiculous chorus of "We are the sons of a promised dream, daughters of hope, we will not give up." "You sounded great on it," Lopez said. "It's gonna be a tough night." Nick's coronation song "Beautiful Life" is slightly better. He calls it "fun. meets Goo Goo Dolls meets me." Um, OK. He oversells it, but that's his style. "That song really sounds like it was tailored, written for you," Connick said. Lopez said it was him "in the moment." Urban said that's the kind of song people buy. He calls the contest for Nick. By a narrow margin.
WINNER ROUND THREE: Nick
Clark is the better singer, but he may not be the better "Idol" personality. Nick must be a super-nice guy in real life (or Clark must be truly awful) to sway the judges so intensely to his side. What the judges feel, their audience will likely feel as well.
SHOULD WIN: Clark
WILL WIN: Nick
ACTUALLY WINS: ???