Thursday, May 22, 2008

Welcome to the Coronation: David Cook is Crowned the New "American Idol"

Last night, David Cook upset David Archuleta by 1,200 votes to become the new American Idol for Season 7. And Archuleta didn't lose by a bunch of hanging chads.

But what might have clinched the pedestal for Cook was his willingness to deconstruct pop chestnuts and give them a fresh interpretitive take on them. As Louis Baynard notes in

The only goose bumps "American Idol" afforded me this past season came when Cook mangled a piece of pop confectionery into something bitter and scalding and virtually unrecognizable. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," Lionel Richie's "Hello," Mariah Carey's "You'll Always Be My Baby" ... who would have guessed these songs could ever sound dangerous? And yet that's exactly the transformation Cook pulled off, thanks to his deconstructive sensibilities and his innate musical intelligence (and the example of rock iconoclasts like Chris Cornell)...The only time Cook foundered artistically was when he did "the right thing": a Bono-channeling "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" from Tuesday night's episode; a perfectly nice and perfectly dreary rendition of "The Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera." Cook understood early on that danger, true danger, does not win "American Idol." Not when the season's "mentors" are the likes of Dolly Parton, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Neil fucking Diamond. Not when the guy choosing the songs for the climactic showdown is cryptkeeper Clive Davis, looking more and more like something that stands between Indiana Jones and his treasure. Not when the singer's "prize" for reaching the last round is a generic piece of musical tripe that can be reduced to "If you have the dream, then take this moment because it's the time of your life." (I still remember the tragic gaze of last year's runner-up, beat-boxer Blake Lewis, as he squirmed into his ballad-hairshirt.)"

And Stephen Holden concurs in the New York Times:

" Because Mr. Cook refused to follow the unspoken guidelines for the competition, he emerged as the most original and savvy male finalist in the show’s history. The cornerstone of his victory was his iconoclastic rock version earlier in the season of “Billie Jean,” the magic song that catapulted Michael Jackson to new heights of popularity 25 years ago...Mr. Cook has a strong, flexible voice; when he sings rock, its scuffed edges echo Sam Cooke filtered through Steve Perry. Stylistically he occupies the same broad pop-to-rock territory as Bryan Adams, one of several star guests at Wednesday’s finale, but Mr. Cook is a better singer."

There were many things that pissed me off as I watched the finale: the indignity of watching Gladys Knight perform her classic "Midnight Train to Georgia" with a trio of faux Pips (Ben Stiller, Jack Black, et al) that degraded the whole experience, not to mention the Idolettes' humiliating experience performing on stage. And there was the Los Angeles Times sending me an e-mail alert announcing that David Cook won -- effectively killing the element of surprise for me. But what really pissed my roommate Joe off was when they selected David Cook as the winner -- and Joe thought David Archuleta (whose pubescent appeal makes him a candidate for a Proactiv commercial) out-sang David Cook the night before. Given that the public had their say via voting with their text messages and cell phones, it's easy to understand why Edward R. Murrow called television "Democracy at its ugliest."

Still, as Mr. Holden concludes, "What’s right about “American Idol” is the way it holds up a mirror to American mass culture. Not since the heyday of Ed Sullivan has a variety show cast such a wide net. If pop music as reflected in “American Idol” resembles flavors of ice cream melting into a sweet, milky soup, the show’s vision of a mass culture in which rock, pop, country, rhythm and blues and the conservative fringes of hip-hop and jazz blur is profoundly reassuring. The television pundits who thrive on conflict may wish otherwise, but the show’s performers and audiences demonstrate that the American people are not at one another’s throats 24 hours a day. The show reveals the same deep-seated longing for agreement and consensus that can be felt in electoral politics nowadays, underneath that cynical talking-head level...Because each show ends with a national election in which the audience can override the judges’ opinions, it gives power to the people. It may all be bread and circuses, but it is still democracy in action."

Until next January, when the whole damned thing starts all over again, enjoy the coronation ceremony in all its overblown, kitschy splendor while you can. In the meantime, I'll be listening to vintage Kim Weston and Brenda Holloway on my iPod.

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