THE BEST AMERICAN IDOL SEASON — A EUROVISION-STYLE COUNTDOWN (6TH PLACE)

The 6th place group features a couple of contenders who many fans believed way outlived their welcome, a couple of just-“aight” (a Randy Jackson-ism) solid contenders, and seven stellar talents, many of whom were earlier picked to be front-runners at some moments during their Idol journeys.  As a result, I’ll deviate from the usual format and present my top seven 6th placers in-depth.

I have major issues trying to break Season 6’s 5th place tie between Phil Stacey and Chris Richardson, as I felt quality-wise they are evenly matched.  But Phil Stacey has seen more action in the bottom “stools of doom” so I’ll place him here.  But whatever the case I realize that the points I’ll grant either person would’ve been the same.

Let me now trot out the ones taking the rear of the rankings for this group:

Trois (3) pwah(n)t – Christina Christian (Season 1)

Deux (2) pwah(n)t –Phil Stacey (Season 6)

Un (1) pwah(n)t – John Stevens (Season 3)

It felt bad only awarding a small amount of points for some of the contenders in this group as I felt in actuality these seven contenders were actually tightly packed and all would be given high grades.  But I have to trust this system I set up a little bit, and this is how it all looks.  So let me begin with…

Quartre Pwah(n)t – Casey Abrams (Season 10).  This fellow was an early front-running favorite going into this season, making a major impact with his inventive jazzy stylings on classics like Hoagy Carmichael (but popularized by Ray Charles)’s “Georgia on My Mind” (with bass accompaniment) during Hollywood Week that made an indelible impact to the audience.  His subsequent performances remained of a generally high standard though may not have reached the impact of those initial Hollywood-round performances.  Some might be annoyed by the growls and pained facial expressions he gave in several performances, but then again, it was because of those growls and pained expressions that made Phillip Phillips possible for the following season (they also shared another thing–lingering pre-existing medical conditions; Casey has the nasty ulcerative colitis, while Phillip Phillips has his kidney stones).

I’ll highlight three of his greatest performances:  “Georgia on My Mind”, his atypically gentle and sensitive cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” (complete with flattering haircut makeover, but he decided to grow it back out to even look wilder and scruffier), and his duet with Haley Reinhart on Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin'”.

Cinq Pwah(n)t – Kellie Pickler (Season 5).  Her body of Idol work actually pales in comparison to Casey Abrams, and she often had pitchy moments.  But there are two factors that gave her the edge over him:  first, she subsequently went on to have a successful country music recording career; and second, she has such an unforgettable comedic personality, the way her ditzy country bumpkin persona clashes when introduced to things of high culture.  An analogy would be to fuse Season 11 finalists Heejun Han and Skylar Laine into one person.

For me two of her best Idol performances were Bobbie Gentry (and further popularized by Reba McEntire)’s “Fancy” and the classic “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (originated Vivienne Segal), which I will showcase below, plus a couple of cultural lessons with Wolfgang Puck on French cuisine.

Six Pwah(n)t – Siobhan Magnus (Season 9).  She of the funky, semi-punky fashion sense, loopy but chilled out demeanor, and incredible earth-shattering vocal range generated a few of the most astounding performances of her season during the earlier parts of the live rounds.  She then faltered on a few bad song choices during her latter weeks, but the astounding vocal talent still remains one to marvel.  Like Mandisa, she was knocked out of the running when she sang Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine”.  But I’d rather highlight her most amazing performances, so below are her piercing take on Aretha Franklin’s “Think”, her haunting rendition of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, and her combining haunting and piercing with the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black”.

Sept Pwah(n)t – Anoop Desai (Season 8).  He shattered stereotypes about Indian singers (and made us forget the hot mess that was Sanjaya Malakar two seasons back) as he showcased a buttery R&B vocal tone and an atypical accent (he’s raised in North Carolina).  I discovered after his successful Idol audition YouTube videos of his stint with college a cappella group University of North Carolina (UNC) Clef Hangers, and was blown away by his awesome solos.  I would recommend checking out their renditions of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You”, Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”, and Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” as a sampler of his incredible work with that group (and hunt down a whole bunch of their other great numbers by going to the Clefhangerfan channel on YouTube).

Those YouTube videos made me mistake Anoop’s height as 5’6″ to 5’8″.  It turns out because UNC is known for its basketball program, a whole bunch of those Clef Hangers are towers of about 6’3″ and above.  Outside of the context of the Clef Hangers, Anoop is actually a strapping 6’0″ tall, one of the (if not the) tallest finalists in Season 8.

Anoop has not been given his proper due during his Idol stint, and after it.  His weakest performances (e.g., the misguided rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) still have their merits as he is often on-key, but he would get vitriolic comments like Simon Cowell expressing regret having listed him as a wildcard choice, plus host Ryan Seacrest would play mindgames with him during results show telecasts.  Then, he gets overshadowed by British-Indian R&B singer Jay Sean who got a major No. 1 hit with “Down”, that it’s difficult for him to get the much-needed mainstream inroads.  What does it take so he could become the star that he ought to be?

While we ponder that question, let us relish three of my favorite Idol performances of his, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” , and Donna Summer’s “Dim All The Lights” (for the latter two, for some reason I couldn’t get footage of his televised live performances so the iTunes studio version would have to do).

Huit Pwah(n)t – Elise Testone (Season 11).  I’m torn about granting this ranking between this rock goddess and Anoop, but in the end, I felt Elise had the edge as her best moments should probably be considered as some of the best Idol performances of all time.  Sure, she had some dud moments like her take on Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”, but when she’s in her element, she’s transcendentally riveting and ferocious.

Let’s all bow down to this rock goddess as she delivered gems like Billy Joel’s “Vienna”, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Queen’s “I Want It All”.

Dix Pwah(n)t – Carly Smithson (Season 7).  She stirred up controversy as several years before (when she went by her maiden name of Carly Hennessey), this Irish lass was signed to a major label, although her album was notorious for moving a mere 300 copies despite a USD2M promotional effort.  But she didn’t breach the rules and so was not disqualified as she was not signed to any label at the time she decided to pursue Idol.  She delivered a relatively consistent strong body of work showcasing powerhouse vocals.

Well, she has some kind of stronger relative success post-Idol, recently performing in Cirque du Soleil’sViva Las Vegas and is now a member of the band We Are the Fallen (composed of former members of Evanescence, with Carly obviously taking the Amy Lee role).  But like Anoop, she deserves more success that what she’s currently getting, in my opinion.

Anyway, let’s relish her most awesome performances.  I’ll highlight her takes on the Beatles’ “Come Together”, Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again”, and my most favorite performance of hers (even if she got eliminated during that week), Murray Head’s “Superstar”.

Douze Pwah(n)t – Constantine Maroulis (Season 4).  Actually, I’m not as into him as a whole legion of (predominantly female) fans were.  Where his fans would classify his looks as appealingly and sexily scruffy, I simply found him disheveled and unkempt.  And the way he makes goo-goo eyes to the camera, I tend to be in the camp of his detractors and call him “Constantpreen”.  But there are a few compelling reasons why I had to grant him the top slot even if I personally preferred Anoop, Elise, and Carly.  First, his body of work is of a consistently high quality–he barely faltered in his performances on the Idol stage.  Second, he was deemed a major favorite and was expected to go head to head with Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, and he never was in the bottom three prior to his shocking 6th place elimination.  Third: his theatrical rock stylings paved the way for the glory that was Adam Lambert four seasons later.

I have to say “Constantpreen” did very well for himself after Idol, as he got a steady slew of gigs doing solo records, performing on Broadway (he was nominated for a lead performance Tony award for Rock of Ages, which is now being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise), appearing and hosting on some reality shows on TV, among other things.

His finest performance is his rendition of Queen’s daunting “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  Other worthwhile performances I’ll also highlight are his take on Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (just avoid the “hypnotic” goo-goo eyes), and the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”.

Getting the dubious nul (0) pwah(n)t is Season 2’s Carmen Rasmussen, notorious for her vibrato that many fans and pundits compared to a goat bleating.  Her path to the finals was an odd one–she was not chosen to be among the 30 semifinalists, yet she was asked back for the wildcard round and was selected by Simon Cowell as his wildcard pick.

Constantine’s 12 points had caused a major shake-up in the overall standings.  Here are the rankings of the 11 seasons:

1. Season 11 – 44 points

2. Season 10 – 42 points

3. Season 4 – 38 points

4. Season 5 – 35 points

5. Season 7 – 30 points

6. Season 3 – 23 points

7 (TIE).  Season 8 – 22 points

8 (TIE). Season 9 – 22 points

9. Season 6 – 16 points

10. Season 1 – 10 points

11. Season 2 – 8 points

Thanks to the incredible Elise Testone, Season 11 is back on the lead again!  “Constantpreen” helped propel Season 4 up to 3rd place, overtaking highly heralded Season 5.  Can Season 4 hold up, or will other seasons overtake them?  Let’s see when the 5th placers are accounted for.

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