ANALYSIS: With the departure of James Durbin, “Idol” viewers will be forced to vote between “milk” and “toast.” And they have only themselves to blame
With last week's shocking ouster of James Durbin on "American Idol," it's logical to ask, "Will anybody care about the May 25 season finale?"
After all, with Durbin, the last bit of flair among this season's candidates walked off the stage. The remaining three contestants — Scotty McCreery, Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina — are all perfectly talented, and all equally bland.
But, while logic — let alone, the thunderous choruses of "I'm done with 'Idol'!" that have rung across the Internet in the days since Durbin's departure — would seem to indicate that America is finally ready to deliver a great big "meh" to its former singing show, the series' history indicates that such probably won't be the case.
While the "Idol" audience — or a particularly vocal faction of it, anyway — has been engaged in mass foot-stomping over Durbin's elimination, in the end, they'll likely dig in their heels and put up with it all.
In fact, looking back at "Idol" seasons past, they'll not only put up with blah finalists — they might actually prefer it. (Ed. note: And the numbers from May 18's episode — the first since Durbin's elimination — would seem to bear thiat out; the show actually posted a 4 percent ratings gain in the adults 18-49 demographic, and generated a record number of votes for a non-finale episode.)
The trend actually goes back to the show's first season. Think back to 2002, when audiences were shocked that fan favorite and vocal spitfire Tamyra Gray failed to progress to the final three. Instead, America got Kelly Clarkson — who, as musically adept as she might be, will never be accused of being overly dynamic.
Fast-forward to season eight, when a clear fan favorite emerged in the form of Adam Lambert, who boasted not just an incendiary vocal style but a consummate, if flamboyant, sense of showmanship.
Finally, a contestant a emerged who stirred the cobwebs and injected some excitement into the competition.
But when push came to shove, who did the public choose? Kris Allen — who, as fine a vocal talent as he might be, is about as exciting as a crumpled gum wrapper. Tellingly, that season was the first that failed to produce an Idol who achieved gold-record status.
Last season? Even worse, as the contestant pool was stacked with drab singer-songwriter types who might be better suited for their local coffee houses, culminating in a win for nap-inducing folkie Lee DeWyze.
Remember him? You're in an exclusive group. His post-"Idol" album, "Live it Up," had sold a mere 133,000 copies more than four months after its November 2010 release.
Even last season's "loser," Crystal Bowersox, outsold him with her "Farmer's Daughter" LP.
What does it say about an "Idol" season when the most riveting performer is Larry "Pants on the Ground" Platt?
With the public's waning attention becoming ever more palpable, the "Idol" honchos finally shook things up for season 10. Along with a mostly-new judges' panel and revamped format came a deeper, more compelling talent pool.
But with the departure of Durbin, that pool has been sucked dry, leaving the current top three wallowing feebly in a rapidly evaporating puddle.
One might not have agreed with Durbin's crusade to bring heavy metal back to the musical forefront, but his talent, charisma, passion and showmanship were undeniable.
Undeniable, that is, to everyone but the "American Idol" viewers who eliminated him. This season, "Idol" gave the country a perfect opportunity to embrace dynamism, and the nation once again shrugged and picked the safe-but-unsatisfying route.
This time out, with the options the public had available to them, they have only themselves to blame.