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Reflections on American Idol Season 4

Or, Plug It Up, Carrie!

By Julie Wiskirchen

For some reason, American Idol's Carrie is more disturbing to me than Stephen King's Carrie. I don't know why I'm depressed, since I knew from the beginning that Carrie Underwood would win. After all, Simon said so, and he's yet to make a mistake. But I kept hoping against hope that there would be a rock revolution and that personality would count for more than looks for a change.

I watched every episode. I even attended a results show in person this year (the one where chubby sexpot Jessica Sierra got the boot). And by the finale, I still felt I knew as much about Carrie Underwhelming as I did when she first walked into the audition room - she's a cute, blond farm girl with a great voice. Is that enough? Apparently so.

To be fair, I have to admit I don't really care for country music. I like Dolly, Kenny, and Johnny, and I did enjoy watching Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and Hee Haw when I was a kid, but that's where it ends for me. So I will admit this initial bias, but this is about more than genre. And it's not that I'm opposed to "girl next door" types with great voices - I was a huge Kelly fan during Season 1. But Kelly had personality, likeability, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Carrie may in fact possess these things but I have yet to see evidence.

There were some real cringe-worthy Carrie moments this year. Remember her rendition of Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield", with her feeble attempts at dancing and "rocking out"? She looked like a deer in the headlights - a look she displayed most of the year. While Constantine kicked at the camera and Bo and Nadia jumped and stalked along the catwalk, Carrie's stage movements consisted of slightly swaying from side to side, like the Titanic before it finally sank. Her expressions were limited to plastic smiles during heart-wrenching ballads that proved she didn't understand the lyrics of the songs she chose. I'll never forget her refusal to even attempt to explicate "Macarthur Park", one of the more intriguingly obtuse and poetic pop songs. She was all "it's something about a cake in the rain and I don't know, I'm just singin' it, I didn't get a private consultation with Donna Summer." I've always believed it was about a wedding in a park where the bride was stood up. That's my theory, and it may not be accurate, but one only needs to listen to the words like "I don't think that I can take it...cuz it took so long to bake it...and I'll never have that recipe again...oh no" to know that it's not a happy song that Barney might sing and you shouldn't smile through it. Then there was her rendition of "Sin Wagon," which had slightly more oomph but lacked the panache punkette Amy Adams exhibited when she delivered it in Season 3. I doubt Carrie would recognize a sin wagon if she was run over by one.

Even on the occasions when she forgot her words or when Simon told her she was robotic, Carrie kept her teflon coating. She never once appeared in the Idol ghetto - the bottom 3. Meanwhile, the unique but not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Mikalah was tossed aside in an early round. Mikalah might have been annoying because she talked too much, but Carrie barely said a word. She couldn't even completely fill out her questionnaire on the official Idol website. When asked what the proudest moment of her life had been thus far, she replied "N/A."

Another oddball, Nadia, got penalized for wearing her hair in a mohawk. And, in a stunning upset, early favorite Constantine got booted. I don't think it was a coincidence that Constantine got bounced the day after his family was shown to be "extremely Greek" in home video footage. He was in the bottom 2 that week with Anthony, whose family was shown to be "extremely Russian." Although America is a land of immigrants, we don't seem ready to crown anyone too ethnic our American Idol. Look back on Kelly, Clay, Diana - they won or made the top 2 by being very white. Sure, we've had some talented African-American winners - Fantasia and Ruben - but nobody Latino and nobody obviously "ethnic."

I was a big Constantine fan. I never claimed that he had the best voice, but he had a great sense of self-confidence, a polished performance, interesting song choices (from the Partridge Family to the Bee Gees to Queen), and he was damn sexy. Does anyone fantasize about Carrie? She's pretty, but she's not sexy. When she sang "Trouble", I was motivated to pull my tape of Elvis' Comeback Special off the shelf and watch the King in his leather suit purr those lyrics. Elvis got that song and he knew how to work it. But it seems America doesn't want sex appeal either - Kelly, Clay, Ruben, Diana, and Fantasia can't have starred in too many wet dreams. To me, sex appeal is an important quality I look for in an idol. I'll take Elvis, thankyouverymuch.

I wasn't crazy about Bo in the beginning. I felt I had to side with one of the rockers, and Constantine was my man. But Bo impressed me as the weeks wore on. I would pay to see him in concert and look forward to hearing his original songs. He picked challenging songs, varied his look and developed his own sense of style. Carrie coasted on country tunes and wore outfits that were often tacky and unflattering. Bo may have had too much facial hair at times, but at least he never resorted to using a crimping iron.

Lest you think I'm freakier than one of those nutty bad auditioners and the only Idol fan dissin' on Carrie, here are some quotes from other loyal viewers.

  • "The anti-christ is among us and has seduced the masses. I'm moving to Aruba." - Terry Breeding, St. Louis, Mo
  • " I suspect voter fraud and will soon be laying out plans for the launch of a Bo recount movement (with buttons and a fan club membership included for every signature)." - Mary Ladd, Los Angeles, CA
  • "Country singers are a dime a dozen. Bo was different. He had a great voice and gave a nice performance. Poor Bo." - Barbara Horace, St. Louis, MO
  • "Carrie rarely seemed to have any emotional connection to what she was singing. Truly good singing is linked to an understanding of what one is singing about on an authentic emotional level. To access this you need to either be bright or have had a lot of life experience. Carrie comes up short in both areas. She has an awesome voice, but that is not enough. For instance, Nadia clearly does not have the technical skill of Carrie, and yet when she sang part of the immense pleasure in listening to her was that she was connected to the music in an emotionally honest way. Think of Billie Holliday--weird voice, limited range, but totally astounding. A great singer." - Christopher Brisson, Los Angeles, CA

If only America had told Carrie Underwood to "plug it up" instead of Carrie White! But I guess America's choice of Carrie mirrors America's choice of a President - both live on farms, like country music, don't seem very bright, are wooden, and deliver words they didn't write and don't understand.


Check out haikus on Season 1, Simon Cowell, and Constantine Maroulis

Ride the American Idol Audition simulator and see if you have what it takes to be the next Lindsay Cardinale

Bo fans, come here and commiserate. Carrie fans, hit me with your best shot.

May 26, 2005


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