Last night, big-voiced Queens girl Pia Toscano was sent home from American Idol, an elimination that resulted in quite a bit of shock emanating from quarters that seem to still believe this show is a singing competition. (I guess they all missed Lee DeWyze’s win last year?) And yet, the reasons for Pia getting shown the door relatively early in the season are pretty obvious!
1. She’s a throwback. Pia’s big balladeer style is more Celine than it was Rihanna; one of those singers is playing Vegas right now, and the other’s on the radio. And yes, the Idol aesthetic is pretty confused right now as far as its idea of “current” pop—on the one hand, they’re bringing in Darkchild and will.i.am to shepherd these kids, while on the other, they’re saddling them with material that’s older than some of their parents—but singers operating in the style of Celine, pre-Emancipation Mariah, and other belty divas have absolutely been on the decline from Idol‘s upper ranks since the semi-belty Jordin Sparks took home the crown in Season Six. Look at the last women standing from the years following Jordin’s win (we’ll go out to ninth place, since that was the trophy shoved at Pia last night):
3. Syesha Mercado
5. Brooke White
6. Carly Smithson
7. Kristy Lee Cook
9. Ramiele Malubay
3. Allison Iraheta
6/7. Lil Rounds
9. Megan Joy
2. Crystal Bowersox
6. Siobhan Magnus
8/9. Katie Stevens
Notice how it’s the rock and country-leaning singers who have mostly stuck it out—and let’s not even get into the Happy Feet incident from the Top 3 episode of Season Seven, in which poor Syesha got ambushed by the producers, who wanted to set up a Battle Of The Davids for maximum ratings. The feisty pop-punker Allison Iraheta, the soul mama Crystal Bowersox, and the Carole King idolator Brooke White are the sorts of contestants who just do better on Idol these days, and the persistence of the sorta-rocker Haley Reinhart and the goofily twangy Lauren Alaina bear out that hypothesis.
(You could probably argue that Haley’s confused sex-kitten act, despite having the increasing rock bent of Idol on its side, is almost as anachronistic as Pia’s Celine impersonation; her antics not only bring to mind the miserably go-go dancing Rhonda Volmer from Big Love, they also recall any overcompensating actor who was trying to play a “badass” lead singer on an old episode of Law & Order. She probably won’t get eliminated until after Jacob and Stefano, but for another reason that’s enumerated below, I wouldn’t be too surprised if she’s singing herself out the door next week.)
2. She said that Russell Brand was effective at teaching the contestants about charisma. Oh, honey. No.
3. She’s an OK technical performer, but she didn’t have enough charisma to light up the voting lines. While reading the very long reaction thread on MJ’s Big Blog, I noticed one sentiment that kept popping up: “I’m surprised because she was pretty talented, but I didn’t vote for her.” Sure, Idol loves to brand itself as a singing competition, but it’s a popularity contest above all, and if your semi-wooden ways, somewhat icy pageant-girl persona, and refusal to sing anything that isn’t super-serious don’t encourage people to pick up the phone or open up their Facebook accounts, you’re not going to get extra credit for hitting every note semi-competently.
4. She’s a woman. Look at the list above and you’ll see another trend: The creeping extinction of female contestants from the top nine. This year there are two left from seven originally being in the final 13, while all six male contestants have remained, despite performances that have at times been super-weird and just flat-out wrong. Maybe the judges shouldn’t have used their save on Casey Abrams a few weeks back in anticipation of a double-exed hopeful going home “too soon,” but Casey is at least giving the show something resembling buzz. What’s Pia giving it? The chance to include “My Heart Will Go On” on Songs From The Movies Night? (Which just so happens to be next week’s theme!)
On the bright side, perhaps the timing of last night’s elimination and the performance that immediately preceded it could result in Pia having the brilliant idea to reinvent herself in the mold of Iggy Pop!
With, you know, a shirt.