OK, American Idol fans, this one’s for you. I’m one of you, have been since the beginning. And I’ve gotta say a few words about my favorite contestant this year, the one who — as usual — stands no chance of winning.
We all pick our favorites each year, of course. And I have a near-perfect track record of choosing the folks with no realistic shot at winning. I think the last time I picked a winner was Year 1, when Kelly Clarkson blew away the rest of the field right from the start.
Trouble is, I’m not a part of the largest Idol voter demographic, which, by most measures, is teenagers with cell phones. Lotsa good singers do well with that group, as is evident by this year’s Top Ten. But the young singers to whom the voting audience members relate are seldom, in my not-so-humble opinion, the BEST singers.
This season’s group of contestants is the most talented the show has had in several years, no question. But for my money, the best singer, hands down, is Elise Testone.
At 28, Elise is the oldest, most experienced singer on the show this year, and it’s apparent in everything she does. She’s been around long enough to have real, gritty capital-s Soul in her voice, and she doesn’t act like a giggly teenager. She sings real rock, soul and blues music, not watered-down imitations, because she CAN.
But Elise has been a regular in the bottom 3 contestant group, in danger of being eliminated from the show. Why? Because the aforementioned teen voters can’t relate to her. She doesn’t pander to the fans, and the fact that she’s a woman, not a girl, likely turns some voters off. When she sings Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” you know exactly what she’s talking about, and it’s not holding hands at the malt shop.
The only thing that’s kept her on the show this long (she’s in the top 6 as this is written) is raw talent. And as AI has proved many times over the years, that’s just not enough Anyone remember where Jennifer Hudson — you know, Oscar AND Grammy winner — finished on the show? Try seventh place.
Granted, Elise hasn’t done a lot to endear herself to fans. She doesn’t really take criticism from the judges well, and as noted, doesn’t pander to younger voters the way some contestants do. And yes, she did have a point last night that the judges have been harder on her than they have on some others.
But I have a feeling she’s destined for great things. And I’ll wager that at least some of those voters who aren’t crazy about her now will appreciate her music more when they’re older.
So rock on, Elise. You won’t win Idol this year. You’ll lose to someone safe and saccharine and nonthreatening. But even if you’re eliminated next week, know that lots of us out here are listening, and will buy your music.