Well, after all that preseason hype about this season of ‘American Idol‘ being all about the ladies, the show is exactly where it was a year ago at this time — namely, with a Top Five that’s 80% male, and the probability of a guy taking the title for the third straight year probably even higher than that.
Siobhan Magnus’ elimination tonight was pretty surprising, even with my personally cold feelings toward her performance of “Any Man Of Mine” last night. She was beloved by the judges; she was in the last slot of the night, and thus well-positioned to be fresh in voters’ memories; she had passionate fans, if the comment section of my recap last night was any indication; and she was even championed by the pranksters at Vote For The Worst, who turned to her after last week’s dispatching of the always-grinning heartthrob Tim Urban.
But she couldn’t overcome the men, even though their performances often didn’t match up to hers — and in the case of some (hello, Aaron Kelly) were consistently weaker than the rest of the field, period. What’s going on here?
There are quite a few theories floating around the ‘Idol’ punditsphere, but most of them focus on one thing: There’s a greater amount of motivation on the part of fans who vote for male contestants. That five-sixths of the male half of the Top 12 remains at this point, and did last year as well, has to be explained by more than a statistical anomaly, or even by relative contestant quality. And even a few events that occurred before the Top 12 becoming cemented can help bear out this vague hypothesis — in particular, it’s hard to believe that cherub-faced Alex Lambert (or even the flamboyant Todrick Hall) got more votes than Paige Miles or Lacey Brown, but the gender parity demanded by the producers resulted in him getting voted off.
Is it a shift in the ‘Idol’ demographics that’s leading to this male dominance? Are people just not as into voting this year? (That probably isn’t the case; Ryan Seacrest told the audience that some 33 million ballots were transferred via phone and text this week.) More evidence as far as this season’s utter oddness will probably pile up over the coming weeks, what with the lone remaining lady also being the singer who’s been the front-runner pretty much since she first showed up to audition. Surely I’m not the only person who, upon Siobhan’s dispatching, wondered briefly if Crystal Bowersox was going to be the next one on the chopping block? But that can’t happen yet. Or can it?
In addition to the elimination, a long promo for the next installment of the Shrek licensing brigade, and a vampire-themed Ford video, tonight’s episode had no less than four musical performances. (Missing from the stage: Mentor Shania Twain, who I could have sworn was on the docket for tonight at some point.) Lady Antebellum played their sleepy ode to late-night phone calls “Need You Now” and sounded fine, if a bit dry; Rascal Flatts, meanwhile, strutted their newer, slightly glossier sound, with lead singer Gary LeVox trying to ape Adam Levine’s bad-boy falsetto. Call it Maroon 2.5?
And then there was the shimmy-happy Colombian singer Shakira, who performed “Gypsy” from her totally overlooked 2009 album She Wolf. The album was a polyglot collection of dance songs that pulled its influences from all over the globe — it was one of my favorites from last year, a super-mature dance album by a woman in control of her self, and it was slept on pretty unfairly. Unfortunately for some reason the producers figured it would be a good idea to have LeVox provide the sort of awkward backing vocals that are provided by a person who decides he’s going to “help” a friend with a karaoke song, only to realize — after he’s jumped on stage and grabbed a mic and started singing — that he has no idea what’s happening. Sigh. Check out the Shakira record, though! It’s really good!
Also performing tonight were Sons Of Sylvia, a family outfit that was known as The Clark Brothers when they won the first (and only) season of the not-very-watched ‘Idol’ spinoff ‘The Next Great American Band.’ (If the ‘Idol’ producers have any sense, they’ll have two of the quite-astute judges from that show — drumming powerhouse Sheila E. and Goo Goo Dolls leader Johnny Rzeznik — on the short list for Simon Cowell’s soon-to-be-vacated seat behind the Coca-Cola cups.) They’re currently touring with Carrie Underwood; the song they played tonight, “Love Left To Lose,” is from their just-released album. It’s a big arena-style ballad — something of a departure from the brooding, smoky bluegrass that was their specialty during the course of the competition, and for some reason horribly amplified for its first half.
NEXT WEEK: Harry Connick, Jr., mentors the hopefuls through the catalog of another male idol who made the ladies swoon en masse back in the day — Frank Sinatra. I guess the producers figured that Crystal needed an even bigger challenge next week!