For today’s installment of Between the Lines, our feature exploring the hidden aspects of popular culture, I will address the judges’ always-glowing endorsement of Lee DeWyze on American Idol despite Lee’s lack of stage presence, vocal power and potential to win the ninth season. Add to that his predilection for bad ’90s alterna-rock (Chris Daughtry also had this issue, but his ridiculous talent trumped his bad taste). Call me a cynic, but I don’t see a Daughtry-like future in the cards for Lee).
In fact, I’d rather watch Wednesday night’s castoff Tim Urban make his inevitable small-screen debut on Wizards of Waverly Place than see Lee DeWyze in concert.And yes, if I heard Lee’s gravelly emo-whine on the radio, I would switch the dial. Anyone with me?
So why, oh why, does Simon Cowell and company keep endorsing this doughy, furry, fratty guy over Tim (better looking), Casey James (even better looking than Tim) and Michael Lynche (more talented)? Over Siobhan Magnus, the most interesting hopeful in an otherwise tame, nonthreatening contestant lineup? (I mean, seriously, Ryan Seacrest should not be counted on to stir up drama all by his lonesome. We saw how that worked! Not good.)
Here’s why Lee is judges’ pet: He is the only contestant this season who truly stands a chance of competing against Crystal Bowersox in the upcoming season-nine finale, just weeks away. Make no mistake, Crystal WILL win, but Lee is a good foil to fool us into thinking that he just might pull a dramatic upset over the Mama Bowersox. Yes, the odds are significantly stacked in favor of Crystal, but when the emotional stakes are high, the Idol title becomes a toss-up (see: Adam Lambert vs. Kris Allen, Ruben Studdard vs. Clay Aiken, David Cook vs. David Archuleta, Taylor Hicks vs. Katherine McPhee).
And Simon’s favoritism toward Lee suggests that producers believe the 24-year-old suburban Chicago native to be an equal opponent to Crystal, who they love to pimp out as much as possible (good lighting, that end-of-show money slot!). The judges know the drill: pushing certain contestants who producers like increases said contestants’ chances of making it to the finals. And annoyingly, they are pushing Lee hardcore (ostensibly, for the runner-up prize).
The show’s producers value Lee because America does. Lee is a man — mildly attractive, like a David Cook – and Idol viewers skew female; as such, they are more likely to vote for a cute guy of mediocre talent (achem, David Cook, achem) over a cute girl who can sing really well (see: season seven’s Carly Smithson). Lee is a better singer and performer than Casey; but if the sexy Texan loved by Kara DioGuardi were matched up against Crystal in the final two, then viewers would tune out assuming Crystal’s victory. Casey might be hot, but looks alone don’t drive ratings. Lack of suspense equals BO-RING!!! And Michael, the sweet-natured hybrid rock-soul singer recently rescued by the judges’ save, cannot swing as many lady votes as Lee, who for some odd reason, appeals to mainstream American viewers and moms (including mine). Siobhan will be ruled out by Crystal, since there’s only room for one woman in the finals — and that woman is Crystal, who is also wildly popular with the female Idol viewership (and my mom). Unlike season-seven powerhouse Carly, who was controversial for her failed pre-Idol recording career, Crystal has a likability that wins over both sexes. This is key, denoting mass appeal. DeWyze has the same thing going on, and I hate it!
Idol is all about voting blocs and who scores a bigger piece of the pie. And while Simon might secretly prefer a dynamic singer like Siobhan over a commercial-corporate rock Joe Average like Lee, he knows that Idol’s ratings — which are being eclipsed by ABC’s Dancing With the Stars – depend first and foremost on giving viewers what they want. So he will endorse Lee for the greater Idol good — because this bland season demands a suspenseful finale. And a Siobhan-Crystal competition won’t hack it, especially after the Nielsen ratings report is delivered the next morning.
Infuriatingly, America wants more Lee DeWyze. This is why he’ll be the last man standing on May 26.