Still gonna keep trotting out that tired old trope about how it’s a singing competition and not a popularity contest? For the second year in a row—and possibly the third, but, in truth, the Davids were a toss-up in most ways—the contestant with the better voice lost to the contestant that was more likable. First it was the sweet, tween- and mom-friendly Kris Allen using a $2.50 voice and a million dollar smile to take down the far more talented but ostensibly dangerous and challenging (gay) Adam Lambert. And now we get Lee Dewyze, the impossibly unassuming midwesterner (who the producers loved to remind us was working at a paint shop before coming on Idol, as if all the other contestants were high-powered lawyers or something) whose vocal capacities are solid but limited and whose genre of choice has remained vague—something between David Cook-style alt-rock and dorm-room troubadour stuff—taking down the most fully developed performer that show’s ever seen, in Crystal Bowersox. Her voice is superior and her style is more carefully honed, but as I said yesterday, it worked against her, making it seem like she didn’t really need the show. Eventually this, (along with some dialed-in performances toward the end of the season, rubbed people the wrong way.
And I’m perfectly fine with the idea of American Idol as a popularity contest. That’s what it’s always been, really, and that’s what all pop music has always been—there’s a reason technical virtuosity doesn’t always equal success: we like a good story, we like obvious shortcomings, we like over-the-top humility and a generally pleasant demeanor. Lee had all those things, Crystal only the first two. It wasn’t enough, and it never should have been.