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While The Audience Turned Away, 'American Idol' Found Some Great Singers

Candice Glover competes Thursday night for the <em>American Idol</em> win.
Ray Mickshaw
Candice Glover competes Thursday night for the American Idol win.

This has not been a good season, ratings-wise, for American Idol. Despite new faces on the judging panel including Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Mariah Carey, there's been a great big yawn from the crowd. On a recent Thursday night, it lost not only lost to The Big Bang Theory, but over the course of the evening, got fewer viewers than Scandal and Grey's Anatomy as well.

Yesterday at Vulture, writer Dave Holmes gave Idol10 pieces of advice, all of which are excellent. None of them, you'll notice, are that they need better singers. At certain moments in Idol history, that absolutely would have been part of the advice. There have been times when the show has spent way too much time on the untalented, they unreliable, or the just plain uninteresting.

But this season, whatever is ailing the show, it's not the talent level of the contestants. I give you Candice Glover.

Candice not only had the most natural talent on the show this season; she might have had the most natural talent on the show ever. That doesn't necessarily mean she's going to win, of course. She might lose to this lady right here, Kree Harrison.

Kree has been pigeonholed by the judges as a country singer, but really, she's sort of a ballad-y country-pop type, very much in the vein of Carrie Underwood — one of the few genuine superstars the show has produced. She doesn't have the wattage that Candice does, but she's a good, good singer. There have been many seasons when Kree would have been the head-and-shoulders most talented person there.

As you can see if you check out these clips, these are both specialists in the diva ballad, which has been a theme since the beginning of the season. In what sure looked like an effort to keep another white guy with a guitar (WGWG) from winning, Idol stacked the lineup with strong women and threw in a bunch of guys who were pretty clearly overmatched from the beginning.

But there was a sameness to the performances after a while. Even though everyone involved was talented, by the time you were down to the top four — Candice and Kree, plus Amber Holcomb and Angie Miller — you had a bunch of women whose focus was on the biggest performance possible. The biggest notes, the most open throat, the most impressive climb. It's not a bad thing, but what I would have given to see something fun, like Kelly Clarkson was.

Or like Chikezie Eze was on Beatles night, one of the best-ever upbeat Idol showings.

But these are small complaints compared to the main point: great singers. For once, legitimately great singing has been going on on this show all season, and fewer people than ever are watching it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.