''Idol''

Week 19: Fantasia Fantastic

Our girl Bobo won! Though Diana's Wednesday-night performance was better than Tuesday's, the crown goes to Fantasia -- and 65 mil voters can't be wrong, says Nicholas Fonseca

Fantasia Barrino | WE BELIEVE That the right person won -- that would be Fantasia Barrino
WE BELIEVE That the right person won -- that would be Fantasia Barrino

She won! Our take on the finale -- and the outcome

Sometimes -- oh, wait, make that most of the time -- I make a sport of questioning America's judgment. I mean, this is a country that willingly chooses to put a McDonald's on every other street corner, that willingly chose to bring rayon back into style back in the early '90s, and that willingly allows a movie like ''Scooby-Doo'' to make enough money to warrant a sequel. But sometimes, America? Sometimes you make me very, very happy -- for instance, when you rightfully chose Fantasia ''Bobo'' Barrino as your third American Idol.

That you managed to cast 65 million votes within the course of a single night doesn't surprise me; ''Idol'' is a national phenom because it manages to tap right into the essence of what's come to be known as the American dream. Not to get too Lee Greenwood on y'all, but it's safe to say that most of us take pride in a country that happily lets you work towards achieving your dreams -- no matter how lofty they may be. Bobo and her competitor, the ever-perky Diana DeGarmo, are living proof that with the right support system and the right set of pipes, any young, charismatic lady can take herself to the limit on a nationally televised talent show.

''American Idol'' is also a national phenomenon because, oh, well because of many things. Me? I'm always up for gauging just how off her rocker Paula seems to be on any given night, and I'm also a fan of the random celebrity cameos that infest the show. (And wasn't the celeb quotient at the finale bizarre? No surprise to see publicity junkies like Nicole Richie, Sharon Osbourne, and -- ewwwww! -- Jennifer Love Hewitt traipsing about, but who bribed Andy Richter, Henry Winkler, and Ray Romano into attending?) It's also a hugely popular show because, hey, who among us hasn't rolled up the windows on a long drive, blasted a little Mariah Carey, and just gone to town?

I'm not above confessing that most of the songs performed on the show -- despite their collective status as pop classics -- aren't really my cup of tea; I could go the rest of my life without hearing another lofty ballad in the vein of ''I Believe'' and probably never even notice that it was gone. But they're still a blast to hear -- when I got home from the office on Tuesday night, I went back to the TiVo and rewatched Bobo's performance of that same song and was floored. Not only did she put every ounce of her heart and soul into that number, but the sheer level of emotion she displayed at the end was downright thrilling. I'll dare say that the final few moments of Tuesday night's ''Idol'' were electric.

Otherwise, I wouldn't say ''electric'' is really the right word for a bloated, two-hour ''finale'' that was really just an excuse to remind us all why we've been nursing ''Idol'' addictions for three seasons. There were the old standbys: Christina Christian (girl, keep your day job, because you cannot conduct a red-carpet interview to save your life), Tamyra Gray, Ruben Studdard (get a rag!), Kelly Clarkson, and pretty much anybody else who felt like dropping by the Kodak Theater lended a little, um, historical weight to the spectacle.

Producers also trotted out this year's 12 finalists for a fabulous-slash-horrifying ''tribute'' (if you can call it that) to this year's collection of guest judges. At first, I assumed that Tony Orlando & Dawn were staging a live reunion, what with all of that yellow and white flashing before my eyes… but then I realized that the producers were just teasin' us, as if to say, ''One last chance to hear the off-key stylings of Leah Labelle and Camile Velasco!''

I lapped up this number like a hungry dog, and I was especially enamored of poor, poor Jennifer Hudson's endless attempts to stay in step with her brethren. I don't think it happened once. Also, note to George Huff: Don't you ever, ever, ever wear a kerchief around your neck again. It is just far too creepy for words. Oh, and ooh! Oooh! Wait! Did anybody else notice the very last shot of the performance? Why, could it have been? Fantasia, LaToya, and J. Hud? The women I so wrongly predicted would be in the final three? Can I get a witness? Was this finally proof that the Three Divas (as I liked to call them) were and remain this season's biggest, brightest stars? I mean… I'm just askin', yo.

It seems pointless to sit here and critique Diana and Fantasia's final-night performances; after all, the votes were already in and at this point, they could have come onstage wearing garbage bags and burping out ''99 Bottles of Beer (on the Wall)'' and it wouldn't have made much difference. Still, Diana gave a far superior performance last night -- in both her duet with Fantasia (''To Dream the Impossible Dream'') and her second go at ''I Believe.'' (I'm willing to bet that if THAT had been her Tuesday-night performance, Bobo's victory may not have been so assured.)

But no matter: Fantasia Barrino was eventually crowned America's third Idol, and in this case, America, you have made me one very happy man. You made the right decision. For all of Diana DeGarmo's drive, for all of her lovable spunkiness, she was just a little too plasticine, a smidge too practiced for the tastes of many. She just couldn't compete with the wonderfully flawed, awesomely genuine soul that lay at the heart of Fantasia's appeal. To Bobo!

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Originally posted May 27, 2004
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