For its final season, “American Idol” pulled out all the stops to show how important it has been to music and television and pop culture at large.
By and large, that was true for most of the show’s 15 seasons. It’s not true now, though.
“Idol,” which signs off Tuesday through Thursday at 8 on Fox/5, leaves in the wake of falling ratings and a rising tide of disinterest for its winners. Not only has last year’s winner Nick Fradiani not even put out an album yet, this year there won’t even be an “Idol” tour.
That’s too bad, especially considering this season’s Top 3 — Trent Harmon, Dalton Rapattoni and La’Porsha Renae — is probably the most talented bunch of performers in years. However, if there’s any real question about why the show is ending, it will likely be answered this week when the best singer does not win.
Renae, the 22-year-old call center representative from McComb, Mississippi, has been the standout singer all season. Way back on Feb. 10 after Renae’s potent version of “Proud Mary,” Kelly Clarkson, the original “American Idol,” tweeted, “Okay if @laporsharenae doesn’t win Idol there’s something seriously wrong w/America!” It’s a sentiment Clarkson echoed two weeks later when she was a guest judge on the show, telling Renae, “You’re gonna win. If you don’t win, I don’t understand.”
Oh sweet Kelly, there is a big difference between America and “American Idol” voters and Renae’s chances have always been slim — not because her powerful, soulful voice is lacking, but because “Idol” voters for nearly the past decade have overwhelmingly preferred white male singers over minority female ones.
And in case the deck wasn’t stacked against Renae enough, “Idol” mentor Scott Borchetta made her sing Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me” even though the lyrical content bothered her. Renae handled the issue well enough, explaining her struggle with the song, “I didn’t like the message. . . . The only person I’d beg to stay with me is God.” But the question should be raised as to why she was put into that situation.
Renae really is the best of the Top 3, but it is conceivable that she won’t even be in the finale.
Harmon, the 25-year-old waiter from Amory, Mississippi, seems to be in the driver’s seat now. He has a likable mix of soul and pop in his distinctive voice and a wide range that lets him shine on strong low notes or his fluttering falsetto. His emotional reworking of “Tennessee Whiskey” wowed the judges, along with a strong version of Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away” that shows what kind of star he aspires to be. However, Harmon does have to watch out for Rapattoni, the charismatic 20-year-old vocal coach from Dallas, whose spiky blond hair and use of guyliner has made him a favorite of tween girls almost as much as heartfelt, emo twist on songs. He seemed to have a spot in the finale locked up, but then he stumbled on his version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by lowering the key.
That leaves the door open for a potential finale berth for Renae and a chance, with a possible influx of new voters checking out the final “Idol” finale, to pull off an upset. Just don’t count on it.
WHEN | WHERE Final performances Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox/5. An “Idol” retrospective special airs Tuesday at 8 p.m.