American Idol 7: Making Sense of the Season
Over the course of the season, I've written a novels' worth of content on American Idol.  Really.  Becoming fully immersed in anything to that degree, you can lose some perspective.  Remaining objective amidst an ever-increasing amount of history and baggage and your own previously published opinions is nearly impossible.  American Idol toys with your expectations, conditions you to believe one thing when the opposite may be true, and generally wears you down over the course of five months and 6,000 episodes.  This is all, of course, an important part of American Idol's appeal: it is an epic event, a methodical and winding journey, a one-of-a-kind phenomenon.  American Idol is an endurance competition – the winning contestants have to stay on the viewers' good side for the better part of four months.  Re-reading some of the things I wrote earlier in the season, I realize that this endurance/viewer fatigue aspect of American Idol is more important that I'd realized.

If the American Idol competition was a month shorter, David Archuleta probably would have won.  He had the momentum up to that point, the backlash had yet to begin in full force, and he was the darling of the competition.  What happened?  Simple: the viewers grew tired of him.  He was perceived as a one-trick pony, only able to sing the same type of slow ballad over and over again.  In a shorter competition, this ultimately fatal flaw would have been somewhat masked.  On American Idol, if you advance far enough, your flaws will be exposed.  It's hard to blame Archuleta – trying to impress millions of Americans for four straight months is no easy task. 

David Cook, we can see now, greatly benefited from the length of the season.  He proved to be a solid, creative performer who had just enough diversity in his repertoire to avoid any fan backlash.  His steadiness made the Archuleta backlash possible, and it was what won him the competition.  However, it's not like David Cook wasn't exposed over the long competition.  He too showed some repetitiveness in his performances, a predilection towards plodding rock ballads with similar slow building structures.  Cook, had he been paired with a more dynamic performer down the stretch (Blake Lewis, perhaps) may have instead taken the Archuleta role, and been seen as the one-trick pony.  It's all about perception relative to the field, and this year David Cook (as talented as he may be) got a little bit lucky.

I stated above that one loses some perspective when inundated with something as overwhelming as American Idol.  I realized this last night, after I finished my finale coverage for the night, and thought back on the season.  The whole “epic length of the season” thing works in one other important way, I realized, in that it can bring about  false nostalgia for eliminated contestants.  I've been praising Carly Smithson and Michael Johns constantly in the past week, even going as far as to say that they were the two best singers in the top 12.  While, technically, this could be true, it's unimportant.  Johns and Smithson, despite a couple of stand-outs, consistently underperformed. 

I rarely had nice things to say about Carly throughout the season and, even though I was a fan of Johns, I had to admit that he only reached his full potential on the show once or twice.  But, seeing them again on the finale, I immediately felt that they were deserving members of the top two.  I've since realized that these feelings only bubbled up because of the inevitable David/David fatigue. 

Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose.  The best of Brooke White, Jason Castro and Michael Johns were better than the best of either David.  Yet, the Davids earned their spot in the finale due to their reliability and consistency – the audience knew what they were going to get.  And, in this last week, we saw that one kind of consistency (David Cook's humble rocker) beats another kind (David Archuleta's focused balladeer).

Also Read
Finale Recap
Finale Live Thoughts
Best Performances of Season 7
Worst Performances of Season 7

-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of FOX)