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The "Idol" Win: Five Theories

By admin Published: May 21, 2008

(Photo from E!Online)

Well, by now you know this guy won. Let's talk about how ...

It's not that David Cook is the better singer. Lesser singers often advance past their vocal superiors on "Idol." (Hello, Jason Castro.) And David Archuleta and David Cook both proved to be fine singers, albeit of different types. This win was so lopsided, something big had to have happened. So here are some other possibilities:

1. "Idol" voters were ready for something different. Archuleta had a good voice, and one that was very much in the vein of previous "Idol" champs. That's why early on he looked like the favorite. But then Archuleta sang exactly the same way week after week, while Cook offered variety -- and a variety that included an ability to sing sweetly at times. So he wasn't a threat to viewers who preferred traditional sounds. This scenario says that Blake Lewis's ascent a year ago was a bigger watershed than it seemed once Jordin Sparks won. Lewis's finishing second said there were still a lot of voters looking for ... something. And Cook provided it.

2. DC was a brilliant competitor. I don't really buy this in the Master Tactician sense -- even though I'm on record that DC was a really smart contender -- but I feel as if I should mention it. The guy made some extraordinary moves over the course of the show, ones that often went against conventional "Idol"-winning wisdom, including on the performance finale. And it all worked for him.
Well, it worked if you consider winning "Idol" better than losing. To be sure, being stuck with that "This Is My Time" song is no win. On the other hand, as easy as it is to point to Chris Daughtry as proof that you can succeed without winning, he's still something of a rarity in the "Idol" universe (and even Jennifer Hudson's success was as an actress as much as a singer). Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood haven't exactly suffered from "Idol" wins.
But the reason I don't buy this theory is that it calls for a lot of calculation on DC's part. And while he was smarrt, some of his moves were so counterintuitive that they had to come from something in him instead of a tactical decision. More about that in item 4.

3. The fix was in for Cook. MSNBC had a report that the producers decided they wanted DC because he would be more manageable than DA and his dad. (See item 4 for more about dad.) I'm not convinced that DC will be all that manageable. But in a season that has been criticized much, especially after all the ultimately-loose talk about the best top 12 "ever," the dramatic shift at the end sure makes it seem more interesting for the future. And if the show decided to lean toward DC, consider this:
a. The final two didn't have to sing that "This Is My Time" song before people voted, unlike last season -- when the official "Idol" song killed Lewis. Given tonight's performance, Cook could have done fine with it on the last show, but why take a chance?Letting the finalists choose from 10 songs gave them each a chance to find something that fit their style.
b. The judges methodically killed Archuleta with kindness. They were so thoroughly in Archie's camp -- especially Simon Cowell -- that they both mobilized Cook fans and made some Archuleta fans overconfident. I know it's a matter of opinion, but in my Tuesday night notes I didn't think Archie beat Cookie as thoroughly as the judges claimed. (That said, I still thought Archie won the night -- because, again, he seemed like the model "Idol" winner.)

4. Character matters. While DC didn't come across as very personable in the early going, he repeatedly demonstrated an integrity that may be unique in "Idol" history. He obviously refused to let the show exploit his sick brother; I remember the occasional shot of the brother in the audience, but even when Seacrest gave DC an opening to talk about it, DC kept quiet.
Then, on the performance finale, DC said upfront that the competition was over and it was time to have fun. And instead of going with the obvious, crowd-pleasing song, he tried something different, staying true to himself even as DA took the obvious route.
And, as DC was proving a solid citizen, Archie was dogged by news reports about his controlling, interfering father. That could have won him some votes -- I remember reading one post that people would vote for Archie just so he wouldn't have to face his dad if he lost -- but it also gave an unpleasant subtext to DA's frequent nervousness onstage. While he sang well on Tuesday, he looked terrified as the show began.

5. The voters were smarter than the judges and the pundits. This is kind of the same as item 1, but focused more on the people -- myself among them -- who assumed there was an "Idol" type and rode the most obvious one all the way to the finish, even when personal taste leaned toward other singers.

So does any one of these, or some combination of them, explain what happened? Beats me. I'm just amazed that it did.

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