What Happened to “Diversity” on Idol (the Musical Kind)?

Funny, but in the previous thread, when someone posted a version of Eva Cassidy’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the comments section, it reminded me of her version of “Imagine,” which had inspired David’s memorable rendition of “Imagine” when he performed during Top 20 week on Idol. Of course, I got nostalgic and revisited that magical moment:

And just like that, watching this beautiful rendition, everything just clicked.  It’s that incessant question both TV viewers and critics have been pondering in the past few seasons on American Idol: Why do we no longer get “moments” on the show? It’s not for lack of competent singers, and this year alone, we’ve got some fine powerhouse contenders (Hollie, Jessica, Skylar, Joshua), but here’s the clincher:

Not since Season 8 has any contestant been challenged to sing outside of their “box.”  For it is moving beyond that “box” that we get the moments to happen.

Season 1, it happened when Kelly Clarkson took on the “big band” song, “Stuff Like That There.”

Why was this a “moment”? Because, up until that point, she’d been singing the power-belting adult contemporary/R&B tunes. She stepped outside her box.

Season 2, it happened when Kimberly Locke sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”:

Why was this a “moment”? Because, she stepped out of her “box” of usual contemporary staples and took on a classic standard and wowed with her vocals.

Season 3, again, it happened when Fantasia sang “Summer Time”:

Why was this a “moment”? Because, like Kim Locke, she took on a classic standard, stepped away from her staple of gospel and R&B, and sang the song! (IMO, she did the same when she took on Willy Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”.)

Season 4, it happened when Carrie Underwood stepped out of her “country” box and sang “Alone”:

I’m going to fast forward to Season 6, when one of my favorite “moments” happened with Melinda Doolittle singing “My Funny Valentine” with such perfection:

All of these fine moments of great Idol performances. Something that we don’t get, and I blame the producers for forcing contestants into boxes.  After David wowed us with “Imagine,” the next logical step was to give a diverse range of songs for him to continue having “moments” with, not just sticking to the “inspirational” kind. That’s what got him labeled “boring” by some.

And ever since David Cook changed up songs to “fit” his rock guitar style, other contestants in later seasons started doing this too.  Hence, we get audiences oohing-and-aahing that Kris Allen acoustified Kanye West’s “Heartless,” or just recently, Phillip Phillips slowed down Usher’s “You Got It Bad.”

Obviously, there are limits to fitting songs into one’s style, and I’m positively certain Colton got voted off this week for 1)ruining Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” through that atrocious rockified version and 2)rendering Earth, Wind, and Fire completely unrecognizable through his emo version of “September” (Get outta here with that mess! America obviously agreed with me.)

After awhile, I’m going to get bored with Skylar countrifying every song. I was impressed with her version of Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” but why in God’s name couldn’t she have sung Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” straight? Why are producers forcing these contestants into their neat little boxes?

Because you know what? Sklyar could have a moment doing a big band song a la Kelly Clarkson without the country change.  In fact, if she had such a “moment” she could easily win.

Hollie could also have a “moment” if she took on a Barbra Streisand song. Imagine if she had to dig deep and do “The Way We Were” or “Papa, Can You Hear Me,” or a Broadway song like “Memories” or “On My Own.”

Imagine Jessica taking on Gershwin or Ella Fitzgerald? (And no, Jimmy, she doesn’t need to sing age-appropriate songs, she needs to feel her songs, whatever the age.)

Imagine Elise singing “Over the Rainbow,” or Joshua letting loose on “Unchained Melody” or singing a Broadway tune like “Impossible Dream.”

All could have genuine “moments” with standards.

Imagine (gasp!) Phillip Phillips getting rid of his guitar and singing a capella, like Bo Bice did back in Season 4:

And if PP can’t impress us by doing this, then he needs to get voted off like Colton. Cause yes, here is where I agree with Randy: This is a singing competition!

Diversity.  Musical diversity. That’s what the show is lacking, and that’s why I was not impressed with last year’s winner Scotty McCreery, who never once sang outside his country genre.  Would it have killed him to sing Barry White or Lou Rawls for example, other famous baritones? Previous contestants constantly proved their merit by changing and singing in different styles and genres. Worry about the “box” after the show, is what I say.

And push them out of their boxes, Idol producers! Have you forgotten how this works? Have you forgotten what makes for compelling TV viewing?

The remaining Top 6 contestants definitely have potential, but everyone’s playing it safe, and I for one will always appreciate David for taking the risks that he did, at so young an age, when others can’t seem to find their “soul.”

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Posted on April 21, 2012, in American Idol. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Great Post, hg. Some good points. I really enjoyed the videos of all the “moments” constestants had on AI. I was not impressed either with Scotty because he could not sing outside his country genre. Yet somehow he won. The top 6 do need to do something or else the show will get dull and boring. I think it does have that potential at this point IMO. I am not that interested right now except for a few remaining constestants. Of course, David had the biggest water cooler moment on AI with Imagine. I don’t know if that will ever be beat.

  2. Wow, great post Hg. IMO, David will always be the king of the “biggest water cooler moment” as said by Marie.

  3. Great post HG. I forgot how amazing Melinda Doolittle did MFV, (one of my loved old standards). She is one of my fav past AI contestants, after David of course, but then everyone is after David…lol.

    I would love an evening of standards as well, and we don’t get that anymore. But you can’t only blame the producers, it’s not what their demographic wants, (even their so called Cougar viewers). I remember hearing complaints around the blogosphere when the current group was asked to sings songs that are more than 10 years old, let alone 50. Idol likes their contestants very young, and their music current. I don’t think that Elyse being 28 years old is helping her cause either, and I believe she’s very talented.

    As I said before, get the instrument playing out of Idol and you will get the “real singers,” the ones who can sing anything. And they might even be female!!

  4. I really agree with you on this HG! I loved when the contestants all had to sing different genres. IMHO it made for a more interesting contest. Because of the production of pop songs these days there aren’t a lot of current pop songs that are vocally good songs to sing.

    What I love about David’s singing is that he always makes a song “his own”. He has the vocal ability to do what the judges are always telling the contestants to do – to put feeling in the song and make it their own. I read in the missionary blogs that before he left for Chile, David sang a hymn at a fireside service at the MTC. Everyone who wrote about David’s performance (over 10 different blogs) was moved by David’s singing and said that David was in tears at the end of the song. He feels the songs that he sings.

  5. HG, Great Post!! Nice Trip down Memory Lane. I’m rooting for somebody to have that Moment but for me David’s Imagine will always stand above the Rest. Melinda definitely had some moments too and MFV is a favorite. (bought the single) and her album. Have everything of David’s and a drawer full of extra’s as I wore a few out.
    Thanks for taking the time to bring out the songs of former years. Hadn’t heard them all before.

  6. Great article. Someone should send it to American Idol. (really) Also, I will never forget Fantasia curled up onstage singing Summertime, and her tears afterward. “I was just feeling my song” Btw, every performance you chose was memorable to me. And that was the moment I really noticed Kelly.

  7. hg, it’s been a pleasure going thru the clips you provided… thanks! i don’t know what else to say about david. in the words of comedian wanda sykes, there’s something “magical” about him. wannabe contestants can’t learn it by attending “how to audition for idol and xfactor” seminars.

    re. jackryan4da, she has oodles of goodies to browse thru on TDC and also on her youtube channel. much of it i had never seen because i didn’t get the chance to view it when it originally came out.

    • You’re right, desertrat, when David sings it’s magical and that’s why we are ODD fans. Yes, I don’t think what David does can be learned. He has a special gift.

  8. I’m missing someone here. Where’s Adam Lambert?

    Anyway, I agree with this. American Idol to me now is not a singing competition but rather a who-looks-cute competition. There are so many contestants more worthy than the winner of their seasons.

    • Well, David could easily win the “who looks cute” competition, too. Who’s cuter than David? No one!

      • Yeah, I know. Those 2 Davids have good looks. David C. won because he had more supporters that time.

        They had a good fight back then. :))

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