Kelly Clarkson. Justin Guarini. Remember these names, because one of them will soon be a bona fide star. Despite its often-annoying hosts, Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest, “American Idol” has managed to conquer this summer’s ratings on not only Tuesday nights, but Wednesdays as well, a rare feat for the ratings-plagued Fox Network.

Paul Wong
(Courtesy of Fox)
Paul Wong
(Courtesy of Fox)

“American Idol” and its hunt for the next American pop sensation started with 10,000 contestants. The three judges (Producer Randy Jackson, Pop wash-up Paula Abdul and the quick-witted Simon Cowell) pared the hopeful field down to 30, and then finally 10. The contestants (between 18 and 24-years-old), attempted to land a recording contract by singing songs from various avenues of pop music (songwriter Burt Bacharach and his songs were featured on one episode). Week by week the contestants dwindled as viewers voted “Survivor” style for their favorite singer. Now the search is down to its final pairing, who will face-off tonight on a live broadcast.

Twenty-year-old Texas native Kelly has sung, among other songs, “Natural Woman,” “Respect” and “Raining Men.” She has survived numerous other hopefuls (28 to be exact), including punkish Nikki McKibbin, critical favorite Tamyra Gray and Ryan Starr.

Clarkson and Guarini are left to compete on tonight’s final showdown, the winner to be announced on Wednesday’s episode at 8 PM. The two-hour Wednesday show, like the “Survivor” and “The Mole” finales, will feature the eight previously booted finalists. The winner is set to receive a $1 million recording contract, not to mention the requisite 15 minutes of fame for appearing on an American reality television program.

Twenty-three-year-old Justin Guarini, a Pennsylvania native, enjoys Michael Jackson, hence his homage to the gloved one on “P.Y.T.” He may best be known for his wild hair and soft eyes. His latest performances have been his strongest (including “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” last week) although anything may happen in the final episode with the singers forced to perform two songs (the same for both) from the upcoming “American Idol” CD. The winner will release his or her first single on Sept. 17 in music stores nationwide.

As usual, each will perform the songs, and viewers can vote by phone for their favorite. Some overzealous people, perhaps with little else to do, have resorted to mass calling – often thousands of calls at a time. Fortunately, there has not been a significant statistical alteration in the voting based on phone slamming. The twist of each performing the same songs may favor one or the other, since clearly Justin and Kelly do not share the same singing styles. Justin’s seduce-the-audience stare and love of R&B could benefit him, while Kelly’s soul and voice capable of belting out power ballads by Aretha Franklin is also likely to make an impact. The difference between a teenybopper-style song and a more rocking beat could sway the voting, even after weeks of audiences falling in love with one singer or the other.

Judges Simon Cowell (AKA the British guy who wants to be Anne Robinson), Paula Abdul – who tells everyone they did a great job no matter how they perform – and music producer Randy Jackson (who namedrops as much as physically possible) have apparently convinced viewers to tune in on Tuesdays, since insipid hosts Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman clearly cannot be attracting anyone with their amazingly stupid commentary. While Cowell has toned down the caustic criticism that earned him the ire of his fellow co-hosts as well as the viewers, Seacrest and Dunkleman were clear mistakes for their task. The only positive thing to come from them thus far was Jimmy Fallon’s delicious parody of them at the MTV Video Music Awards. Their jokes are often so flat and unfunny that even a wild screaming audience of teenaged girls remains silent at their hideous commentary.

Which singer will prevail and join Dorothy from “The Mole 2” as the summer’s big reality winners? One thing is for sure, there will be countless plugs for Coca-Cola and Ford Focus. Our prediction is Kelly, but the contest is wide open and one bad song or emotionless delivery could change everything. Either way, both have already achieved enough fame to last for a while. Anyone in the top 10 has a legitimate chance, including breakthrough stars Ryan Starr and RJ Helton. Like the stars of the British “Pop Idol,” and similar American programs, finalists have already succeeded to an extent in getting name and facial recognition, something that will go a long way toward helping their budding careers.

In a curious twist of events, recently booted idol-er Tamyra Gray signed a management deal with 19 Entertainment. Simon Fuller, the show’s creator started the company, his previous credits include the direction of Annie Lennox’s solo career. Gray has not started recording a debut, but expects it to hit shelves in 2003.

For the fanatics of the show, the 10 finalists of “American Idol” are coming to a town near you with a full fleged six-week U.S. arena tour. The group will play songs from their upcoming album, American Idol: Greatest Hits, hitting shelves on Oct. 15. They will land at the Fox Theater in Detroit on Oct. 17. And the cream on the “American Idol” marketing machine cake is the grand prize winner’s album which will drop on Nov. 26.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *