It's over. It's all really over. So we locked ourselves in the Grantland podcasting studio to discuss American Idol's Two-Part Finale Not-So-Spectacular, reflect on the Emotional Journey we've been on since late January, and muse about where the show might be headed in the future. (Short version: If they don't fire some judges and figure out a way to restrict the 132 million votes cast by females under the age of 17, we'll probably be in for another rough season next year.) We also apologize to Phillip Phillips for some of the things we said about him. We're sure he's about to take over the world with his chill vibes.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Wait, this can't actually be ending, can it? They're going to tack on 17 more weeks, right? Right?
Let’s start off with an easy one: Who do you think was better last night?
Kang: If I had put money on Jessica Sanchez and if I were some sort of head of state or governor, I would be filing all sorts of paperwork right now to start a point-shaving investigation. Nothing about Jessica’s performances made any sense — why start with a predictable Whitney song, follow it up with another song that nobody’s ever heard, then end the night with a born-again-y anthem that’s so soft and bland that it makes "A Moment Like This" sound like The Coup? On a night when she was supposed to form into a monster robot and avenge the deaths of Etta, Whitney, and Donna Summer by hacking at Phillip Phillips with that giant electric sword, Diva Voltron just kind of flounced around, looked real constipated, and arguably put out her worst three performances of the season.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Soon they shall toss a ring into a magic volcano and their journey will be complete.
What did you think of last night's "One for the judges, one for themselves, and one for Jimmy" format, mixed in with the hometown concerts? Did it momentarily breathe life into the show, or was it just a different kind of two-hour trudge through the karaoke killing fields?
Lisanti: Do I dare say I enjoyed it overall? If you're going to make us sit through two hours of this thing — and they've never taken the two-hour boot off our throats all season — it was nice to get three actual performances in there. Even the hometown concerts seemed to have a little more energy than those of recent years. Maybe that had something to do with the high quality of two of the three finalists, or maybe Chula Vista doesn't usually see that much action, or maybe the Idol producers gave every kid in attendance a Four Loko the size of an oil barrel on the way into the arena while whispering, "Phillip just broke up with his girlfriend and he says he likes you the most" in their ears.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Welcome to Week 485,891! Only infinity times google to go!
Last week, Kang said that he had realized that Joshua Ledet couldn’t "stank out an already stanky song" like “Change Gonna Come” or “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” but he could stank the hell out of a thoroughly unstanky song. After Joshua’s performance of “It’s a Man's Man's Man’s World” last night, does he want to reconsider that statement?
Kang: Well, he’s certainly not shy. Joshua has taken on David Ruffin, Sam Cooke, and James Brown. All he’s missing is some Teddy Pendergrass (probably won’t happen because nobody under the age of 40 knows any of his songs), Brian McKnight (impossible, given developments), Luther (probably coming), and Kells (PLEASE!) and he’ll have taken on the Mount Rushmore of male R&B.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. They will then sit silently in a dark room for an hour, contemplating the poor life choices that got them to this point.
It's almost laughable how much better J-Chez and Joshua are than the other three contestants. It's a sick joke on music, on television, on America. So who was better last night?
Lisanti: I'm a Joshua fan. I am. But as good as he is, we've seen that one thing he does exceedingly well over and over again, and there's no more possibility of surprise. Really, there have been no surprises from him since about the third week. He turns on the blasters, lets it rip, and three minutes later the judges are picking up the table he blew over. We know this. We're OK with this. But he's taken his thing as far it can go here.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. The end is so near they can taste it, and it tastes like a puppy's tears.
Good lord. Mega-SMH. What did you think of Queen Night?
Kang: Just when I was starting to get into Skylar, Jessica, and Joshua, just when I was starting to enjoy hate-watching Phillip Phillips, just when I had gathered up enough mana to play my “Circle of Protection: White” Magic: The Gathering card to ward off the evil witchery of Elise Testone, the show had to go and defile the greatest rock singer of all time. We’ve been talking all season about singers you shouldn’t cover — Chaka Khan, Sam Cooke, Whitney Houston, 4 Non Blondes, The Cranberries, etc. Let’s please add Freddie Mercury to that list. There was no reason to listen to Phil Squared sing “Fat Bottomed Girls,” there was no reason to have Hollie Cavanagh sing “Save Me” (from what? A spoonful of medicine?) and there was certainly no reason to project four Jessica Sanchez heads onto the screen and have her sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Usually there’s something funny about watching a teenager try to karaoke his or her way through great songs sung by great singers. Last night was just kind of sad.
All season long, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance show. This week, they tackle the Top 7. Wait, the Top 7 was last week? And it's Top 7 again? They really are in hell.
What the hell was going on with Colton Dixon’s hair last night?
Kang: For those who didn’t watch, Colton dyed a pinkish-red streak into his famous hair, which, prior to last night, looked like it had been sheared from the mane of a very Aryan Nation lion. I didn’t think much of the streak at first and assumed that Colty had lost his virginity, was feeling a bit vulnerable, and needed to express himself in his usual post-Avril, post–Hot Topic way. But then I got to wondering about his blood feud with Philip Phillips and his abusive relationship with Hollie Cavanagh. Was the streak some sort of blood trophy? Had he done something terrible to his less talented yet more singularly driven sister? Is there a body somewhere in Los Angeles with Colton’s DNA all over it?
All season long, Grantland Idol ultramarathoners Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance show. Welcome to Week 380! They haven't quite broken yet, but they will. They will.
I’m going to restate my question from last week. Don’t you think Skylar Laine is going to win?
Kang: Before I answer this fantastic question, I wanted to share something I noticed about Skylar. She looks like a Bush. Like if George W. put on a big red Judd wig and put on some eyeliner.
All season, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Jay is on assignment, and, unfortunately, he took usual standby replacement Fake Jay Kang with him as a body double for safety reasons. On such short notice, we could only book Bizarro Jay Kang for today's pinch-hitting duty. Please welcome him to Five Questions on Idol.
Now that we're down to the Top 8, we pretty much know what we're going to get from each of the contestants from week to week. So who was the best on '80s Night?
All season, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Though there are only nine contestants left, there is no explicit guarantee this cycle will ever end; it will probably stretch on well into 2015, just to destroy them.
It felt like there was a seismic shift in the Idol hierarchy last night. Did you feel it?
Kang: Yes! Skylar Laine rocketed past Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, and that kid who sings like Dave Matthews and always looks like he has a cattle prod shoved up in an uncomfortable place. Skylar’s now the clear favorite to win the whole durn thing. Yes, I tend to endorse any sort of conspiracy that involves Walmart and droves of teenage girls (still believe the Walton family fixed the Carrie Underwood Idol finale), but Skylar’s upward swing isn’t just some red state/blue state, flyover-whatever business. Of all the singers left in the competition, she’s the only one who doesn’t just sound like a very talented karaoke pro. Her personality and voice alone can sell albums. That’s pretty rare in Idol land and should carry her past the pubescent singing machines to victory.
In today's special all-American Idol edition of the Hollywood Prospectus podcast, Grantland experts Jay Caspian Kang and Mark Lisanti discuss Jermaine Jones's abrupt on-air dismissal from the competition, how old it makes them feel that Shannon Magrane was born the same year No Doubt's "Don't Speak" was released, and attempt to project Hollie Cavanagh's eventual career path. There is also a discussion about how Joshua Ledet can fully exorcise the musical demons that so clearly possess him onstage, as well as a rumination on Will.I.Am's mostly useless, but amusingly Brian Fellowsian, guest mentorship. And: Jay gets weirdly hung up on some performers' recent tendency to pronounce their words like Adele, while Mark does a truly horrifying imitation of Ryan Seacrest. Plus: The names Teddy Pendergrass and Al Jarreau are mentioned. See you after the results show!
All season, Grantland Idol experts Jay Caspian Kang and Mark Lisanti will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. They can hardly believe the show's been on for seven straight months, 10 hours per week; it's really flown by.
OK, we're finally at the Main Event. Thirteen left. Who was amazing?
Lisanti: I hate to come out of the gate so strong, but we've got to cut straight to J-Chez. Yesterday she was Mariah Chezzy. Today she's Whitney Chezton. Season after season, "I Will Always Love You" is always held up by the panel of inevitably underwhelmed judges as The One You Don't Dare Sing, the High-Grade Weaponized Whitney you just can't let the kids fuck around with.
Before the Final 13 perform tonight, we wanted to handicap each contestant’s odds to win and compare it to Vegas’s predictions. No need to wait any further, let’s just get right into it. [Ed. note: All wagering analysis is for entertainment purposes only. If you actually put money on this, you have a serious problem. That being said, mortgage your future on Shannon Magrane.]
Kang: Ms. Irrelevant — the sixth girl they let in because they needed to let in a sixth girl and for no other reason. The whole blond girl from Texas thing might have worked, but Hollie’s got an unidentifiable, vaguely British accent going on that should alienate her from the always-vital tween-xenophobe (tweenophobe?) population. As for her singing, if you can’t bust out the song from Mulan with more power than that, you’ve got no business on the Idol stage. The judges gave her credit for not singing any notes out of tune, but isn’t that kind of like congratulating a pitcher who gave up five home runs but didn’t walk anyone? We should call her the Kevin Slowey of American Idol.
After seven mind-numbing weeks of cattle-call auditions, interminable group numbers, and the sudden, shocking onset of a still-unidentified, organ-liquefying plague that left at least 15 unlucky pop-star hopefuls dead and scores more voiding the churning contents of their virus-wracked stomachs into the nearest potted plant, last night American Idol finally made its first round of audience-voted eliminations, thinning the Top 24 to a Top 13. (If you've already forgotten the new mechanics of this season, "America" decided the Top 10, and our esteemed panel of judges selected three additional "wild cards" via a Sing For Your Life performance borrowed from Cowellian upstart The X Factor.) And so, after a two-hour results show so bloated Fox had to cut away its bedroom wall and deliver its piano-sized Craftmatic directly into our DVRs with a construction crane, here are your Top 13:
All season, Grantland Idol experts Mark Lisanti and Jay Caspian Kang will answer five very important questions about each performance episode. This is their journey, their struggle, and, quite honestly, all they've really got going on.
OK, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. How did you feel about the judge’s decision to let the Pubescent Castrato Singing Machine (Eben Frankewicz) into the competition over David “Mr. Steal Yo Girl” Leathers?
Lisanti: I feel nothing. Who can feel anymore in a world where the next Michael Jackson (insane hyperbole alert!) is passed over in favor of the next David Archuleta (uncomfortable accuracy alert!)? I don't see a path to stardom for Frankewicz. Once his voice changes, he'll be panhandling in front of the Hollywood and Highland Center as "Near Bieber," taking $5 Polaroids and $7 "Baby, Baby" requests from tourists who don't even realize he's been vomited out half-digested by the Idol Machine. Leathers will be back, hopefully after having spent a year workshopping a new nickname.