All season long, it's seemed like American Idol was pulling for Lee DeWyze to win — then producers permitted the 24-year-old former paint salesman to sing U2's "Beautiful Day" on the final competition episode. It's a song Bono — one of the greatest rock frontmen ever — has performed with tear-jerking, inspiring flair at the post-9/11 Super Bowl and Live 8. It's one of the most passionate songs in the band's catalog. And it was a misstep that may have cost DeWyze the victory, especially since Crystal Bowersox stepped up and nailed her pick, Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain."
DeWyze and Bowersox each performed three songs last night: a track they'd previously sung during the season, a song selected by the show's executive producer Simon Fuller, and the single they'd release upon winning the competition. This is the first year Idol has dispensed with the "coronation song" — traditionally a schmaltzy ballad that seeks to capture the majesty of the Idol victory — that becomes the winner's first single. Last year's official song, "No Boundaries," was co-written by judge Kara DioGuardi and widely panned. Skeptics also theorized that the tune was better suited to Kris Allen's vocals than Adam Lambert's, helping Allen seize the win in one of the most controversial finishes in the show's history.
There will likely be less pomp and drama after the winner is declared tomorrow night: both Bowersox and DeWyze are low-key singer-songwriter types who seem uncomfortable with the idea of glitz. But Idol still needs to amp up the tension: the judges usually couch the final sing-off in terms of a fight, going so far as to dress up David Archuleta and David Cook as boxers the night they faced off for the Season Seven crown. Typically, the judges also declare a victor for each round — a tradition they curiously skipped this year, though their comments seemed to indicate Bowersox was pulling ahead.
In the first face-off, DeWyze reprised Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" from the Inspirational Songs week, and his gentle, somewhat sleepy take had DioGuardi urging him to "punch harder." Simon Cowell complained, "I would expect a lot more passion, excitement — that was a kiss on the cheek when I want a kiss on the lips." He quickly added, "Not from you." Bowersox brought back "Me and Bobby McGee" (made famous by Janis Joplin) from Number Ones week and emerged with her scuffed up acoustic guitar and personalized mike stand. The result was far more authentic, and the judges gushed. Ellen DeGeneres proclaimed, "You are so compelling onstage, you and that guitar filling up this entire room and drawing us in like this — stunning"
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