Michael Slezak
May 23, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”American Idol”: Whose ”Now” is it?

Blake was kicked around by the judges tonight, but on the other hand, he underperformed. Jordin got overhyped, but a year or two from now, she’s probably going to be giving Kelly and Carrie a run for their record sales. And I still kind of miss Melinda — but not nearly as much as I do Elliott.

If all that sounds a little conflicted and contradictory, well, that’s because those two words sum up exactly how I’m feeling at the end of a final performance night — and, indeed, an entire Idol season — that’s continuously tested my allegiances, alternately enraged me, bored me, and thrilled me, and left me never quite certain where I stood. On most matters, that is.

Thankfully, there are at least three subjects where I’m willing to throw down a definitive opinion:

For starters, this wasn’t (as some media pundits have suggested) the worst group of Idol finalists ever; it’s just that they suffered by comparison with the extraordinary folks of season 5, and from the producers’ decision to devote way too much airtime to guest mentors, man-on-the-street interviews, and so much other hooey that had nothing to do with the actual contestants. I’d argue that every one of this season’s top six was a stronger performer than at least one corresponding finisher from season 4 (Scott Savol and Constantine Maroulis), season 3 (Jasmine Trias and John Stevens), season 2 (Carmen Rasmusen), and season 1 (Nikki McKibbin).

Second, and with all due respect to Simon and Randy, if Idol really and truly is a singing competition, then the winner went home last week.

And finally, if the best song that America’s aspiring tunesmiths can come up with is ”This Is My Now,” then bring back the people who gave us ”Do I Make You Proud.”

I mean, if the goal here is to produce a viable hit single, then why not let Blake release ”Time of the Season” and Jordin go with ”I (Who Have Nothing).” Because no radio station I know (or want to know, anyway) is going to play a record with a chorus that goes, ”My fears behind me/Gone are the shadows and doubt/That was then/This is my now,” especially when it’s paired with a melody that tastes like a fondue made of melted Smarties, Skittles, and Jujyfruits.

Why not just drop the last ”w” in the song title and call it ”This Is My No”?


As far as I’m concerned, it would be prudent to toss both Blake and Jordin’s renditions of this so-called song directly into the same musical landfill where Katharine McPhee’s ”My Destiny,” Bo Bice’s ”Long Long Road,” and Clay Aiken’s ”This Is the Night” are quietly decomposing.

But since I imagine most voters are considering all six of tonight’s performances, I’d have to give the ”This Is My Now” round to Jordin. Granted, the opening three or four lines of Jordin’s performance were almost as rocky as Ryan’s failed attempt to score a laugh with that awful ”So the bitch is okay” joke about Paula’s Chihuahua. And of course, none of the judges seemed to feel it was their duty to call Jordin on it. But the last two-thirds of the performance was strong and sure — especially that massive, victory-sealing glory note. Oh, how I wish the kid had ended it there, instead of attempting the ”I’m overcome with emotion” voice crack on her final two lines. Seriously, I might buy Jordin’s first album come the holidays, but I am in no way buying her sob-sister act. On the plus side, though, Jordin’s limited acting skills will probably dissuade Nigel Lythgoe from greenlighting From Blake to Jordin.

On the same note, Blake’s not much of a thespian, either, seeing that he could barely hide his ennui while wobbling his way through ”This Is My Now.” Yeah, the song was about as well suited to his style as Jordin’s lacy black dress with organza overlay, but I still subscribe to the principle that if you’re gonna bring it, you better sing it. Instead, as Blake opened the number seated at the back of the stage, his urge to lean all the way back and welcome a visit from the Lunesta butterfly was palpable, at least until he started that spastic bouncing fit. My guess is that Blake’s inner hipster was overcome with the desire to infuse the moribund track with some of that beatboxing all the kids are talking about, while his inner nerd lobbied for a respectful line reading. The result was musical turmoil; it occasionally seemed that Blake was singing in a different key than the backing vocalists, and compared with Jordin’s oil tanker of a big note, the spiky-haired underdog’s was more of a dinghy.

Lucky for Blake, he defeated his rival in the ”greatest hits” portion of tonight’s battle — which was no small feat considering that Jordin’s encore of ”A Broken Wing” was every bit as strong as her stellar country-night performance of the track. I’d have to dispute Randy’s claim that it was ”better than the original,” but Jordin’s emotional connection to the material (not to mention her ability to hit every note) was so impressive that I quickly stopped paying attention to the distracting eagle decal on her navy blue blouse, as well as the lighting and camera angles, which seemed to be signaling that the 17-year-old contestant was a glorious gift from above.

Blake got no such love from the camera crew on ”You Give Love a Bad Name,” most of which seemed to be shot either through the crook of the drummer’s elbow or from somewhere on the left side of row 37 in the Kodak Theater. But who cares? Simon was right that the beatboxer’s nifty twist on the creaky Bon Jovi anthem was the performance of the night; I’d say of the entire season. I was worried that a second helping (on only three weeks’ rest) would be less invigorating, but boy, was I wrong. Blake’s beatboxing was faster and funkier, he seemed more confident and connected with the crowd, and, without the ”Wha?” factor in play, it was even more obvious how Blake’s ”Bad Name” stands on its own as a modern, chart-worthy pop track, and not just as a gimmicky performance in the confines of a reality TV competition. (And Randy’s ”just aiight” critique merely proved that he’s vastly less relevant than Paula — even on her loopiest night.

Speaking of She Who Tripped Over Her Yipper, I’m going to do something really shameful (but honest) and, with the score tied at one-one, declare a dead heat between Jordin and Blake in the last category we’re discussing tonight, the ”contestants’ choice.” Because, really, while both were perfectly good, neither performance was so definitively awesome that it’s likely to sway voters from their predetermined candidates.

Jordin’s choice of Christina Aguilera’s ”Fighter” was certainly the gutsier of the two. All season long, the perky teenager has struggled with up-tempo numbers, and syncopation has not been her strong suit. Indeed, Jordin was just a smidge behind the beat from the very start of ”Fighter,” fell even further back on the bridge, then missed the words ”so cruel” and found herself ahead of the music. But all that aside, the kid proved willing to return to the rock-tinged genre where she failed so absolutely on Bon Jovi night. And while she was really just coloring inside Xtina’s lines, she did it well enough that it didn’t quite smell like karaoke, either.

And, hey, her rival’s cover of Maroon 5’s ”She Will Be Loved” wasn’t his most innovative performance, either. Granted, Blake’s vocal was slightly more laid-back than Adam Levine’s original, and I loved the falsetto twist he put on that final ”broken smile,” but as Simon said, it wasn’t exactly the showstopper you’d expect for the finals — especially considering Blake had just covered the same artist exactly seven days ago. I mean, is this a man who dreams of, say, winning a Grammy someday or of fronting a Maroon 5 cover band? I know, I know, a lot of Blake fans have been saying their guy doesn’t actually want to win the whole thing, but riddle me this: Four out of the five previous Idol runners-up (Justin, Diana, Bo, and Katharine) have all failed to go platinum, so how will second place benefit Blake? Given the fact that Jordin had a more sizable fan base heading into tonight’s show, and seeing that Blake didn’t do nearly enough to sway the Sparks-pluggers in his direction, I’m guessing we’ll find out. Here’s hoping Paula’s ”we’re all winners!” mantra extends to the top two or, better still, the top four.

What did you think of tonight’s show, and who’s going to take home the big prize on Wednesday? What was more of a shock — Blake winning the coin toss and choosing to go first, Randy appearing on national television in that hideous gray jacket with the gold chains, or Paula’s un-be-weavable hair? And who was your favorite bizarre celebrity sighting for the night? (My vote goes to Kathy Griffin!)

(Starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time, on Wednesday, May 23, check out ew.com’s PopWatch for Mandi Bierly’s live blog of the season finale.)

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