As a loyal viewer of the Fox competition since day one, I stand by that statement. Lee has some talent but no stage presence, no real of selling out stadiums like Carrie Underwood or even doing Broadway like Taylor Hicks. Tellingly, he’s the third unassuming guitar guy in a row to win the Idol title after Kris Allen and David Cook. This is because being an average brown-haired dude with a good voice and Everyman appeal offers an edge over other more interesting contestants who are more wild cards than safe bets; everyone agreed that Adam Lambert was a better performer than Kris Allen, but Kris Allen had mainstream voters locked down (even though slinky, sparkly Adam Lambert had viewers on the edge of their seats to see just what he’d do next).
Since American Idol is more of a popularity contest than a singing competition, of course Lee DeWyze emerged victorious: He’s someone viewers want to grab a beer with, someone they might have known in high school or in the house next door to where they grew up. His gender helped him, too. Idol voters are largely female, and there’s no doubt that millions wanted to get with Lee. (Rule of Reality TV: Cute bland boys become cuter each week as they become more familiar to viewers).
Crystal Bowersox, who lost out to Lee on Wednesday’s bittersweet finale, is an Adam Lambert. She’s also a Clay Aiken, a Chris Daughtry and a Jennifer Hudson. As an student of Idol history can attest, runners-up and als0-rans stand to surpass the commercial and critical success of the show’s big winners if they make all the right moves. While several of the show’s past champs– David, Kris, Taylor, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino – have seen their careers plateau, if not plummet, a handful of nonwinners like Chris and Jennifer have gone on to dominate the charts, win Oscars and establish credibility on both the radio and in the music industry. And that’s all they can ask for — that’s the endgame of American Idol.
Unless you’re Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, sometimes it’s better NOT to win American Idol. If you’re Lee DeWyze — otherwise known as Lee DeWHYze — the pressure is on. Lee has one bag of tricks (the boring singer-songwriter Nickelback thing), and without the TV show to fall back on, he’ll lose momentum as fans lose interest in his celebrity as well as his music.
Crystal, however, is the real deal: She is an artist with a lot of soul and an appealing earthy sensibility, not unlike Bonnie Raitt. She will have a long-lasting music career because there is a need for someone like her who’s a bit more adult contemporary than Top 40: She’s got more life experience than Taylor Swift and less slick pop-production than Lady Gaga. She lacks Adam’s gift for controversy, but stirring up drama is not her thing: All she needs is a hit song shows off her warm, bluesy voice, a “Something To Talk About” or “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She’s better off than Lee because, frankly, she’s better than him. She just is.
Back to Lee: How will he make fans continue to love him? What can he do, if anything, to milk his big win and deliver on his promise?