‘American Idol’ Climax Arrives Without Enough Foreplay

Tuesday’s show came down to two competitors who don’t really fit in the land of the Big Note

If I were to point out how dismaying I find it that the new paradigm for choosing our music stars is to have them sing other people’s songs on TV, I would probably just sound like a cranky old guy.

So forget about that that, and let me just ask: isn’t it odd that after lots of weeks and thousands of hopefuls and all that, this season of “American Idol” will come down, on Wednesday night, to two performers who seem thoroughly out of place on “American Idol?”

Some people are born for this glorified, glammed-up karaoke contest, where the Big Note is the currency of the realm. Others aren’t.

Crystal BowersoxJudging from Tuesday’s penultimate episode, Lee DeWyze isn’t. And Crystal Bowersox isn’t really, though if you insist she’ll give it a shot.

I mean, when they kicked off the show by performing their personal choices of songs drawn from throughout the season, they both opted for numbers from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s folk-oriented singer-songwriter boom – a time that’s about as far from the shiny, over-the-top “Idol” model as possible.

Let’s face it, neither Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” nor Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” really work when the meat of each song is reduced to something to get through quickly on your way to the Big Chorus.

Hey, Lee: Randy Jackson may have been complaining when he said that your “Boxer” wasn’t “a really energetic, exciting kind of thing,” but that comment shouldn’t be a negative. If you make "The Boxer" energetic, you’re doing it wrong. 

And hey, Crystal: Janis Joplin earned that hysteria at the end of her “Bobby McGee,” the model for your performance, with the three minutes of restraint that preceded it. A big orgasmic ending always works better when you don’t rush through the foreplay.

But that’s the model that “Idol” loves, and often as not insists on: all climax, no foreplay.

(Of course, when it comes to the show itself, in which we’ve had four months of foreplay leading up to Wednesday night’s climax.)

Lee DeWyzeLike good little soldiers trying to fit into a mold that doesn’t really accommodate them, DeWyze and Bowersox took their established “Idol” personas (indie rocker, tough mama) and did their best to somehow deliver what the show demands.

So DeWyze tried to pretend that R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” is about crescendos, not moods; Bowersox ignored the slinkiness of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet” in order to exaggerate its swagger.

And then they got to try out what would be their first singles if they win – and yeah, just like everybody says, it wasn’t much of a contest.  DeWyze did a serviceable but entirely unnecessary version of U2’s “Beautiful Day”; Bowersox pulled out a song that could actually use some more exposure, Patty Griffin’s folk-gospel tune “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song),” and actually resisted the urge to make it all big and brassy.

(I won’t blame her for all those background singers, so beloved by “Idol” in what it sees as Big Inspirational Moments.)

At the end, Bowersox even backed off instead of going over the top.

How very unlike “American Idol.” And how very refreshing.