I’ll say this about the “American Idol” audience: Its taste in music never changes.
That’s what I’m getting from the finale, which saw Lee DeWyze win the season nine crown over Crystal Bowersox. Bowersox was the better performer for most of the season, is more polished on stage and is a much better artist. But DeWyze emerged as a contender early and was at his strongest in the weeks leading up to the finale, staying in his comfort zone and looking more confident each week.
Though he struggled to match Bowersox on Tuesday, he had developed enough of a fan base that it didn’t make a difference. He looked overwhelmed when host Ryan Seacrest informed him that he’d won. DeWyze appeared as if he finally grasped how much his life has changed from the days when as a paint salesman, he helped suburbanites pick out the right neutral color for their living rooms.
This continues a tough stretch for women on the show, who seemingly can win only by arranging it so that Blake Lewis is their competition. Since Jordin Sparks became the season six champ by outsinging Lewis, “Idol” has been all guys, all the time, with Bowersox the only woman to crack the final two in the last three years.
Last season saw Kris Allen defeat Adam Lambert, while season seven featured David Cook shocking Simon Cowell by knocking off David Archuleta. For all the talk in January about this being the season where the girls would make a comeback, the voters apparently want to hear the same kind of voices on Top 40 radio that they did a year ago.
What makes the result striking is that DeWyze didn’t save his best for last. Bowersox outshone him on Tuesday, and he struggled mightily in his duet with Chicago on Wednesday. It might have been the worst performance by the eventual winner in the history of the “Idol” finale, but it’s tough to place all the blame on him. Memo to the “Idol” producers: Just because DeWyze is a native of the Windy City doesn’t mean he should have to try and hit notes two octaves above his range. Give the guy a break.
Bowersox, meanwhile, got to sing “You Oughta Know” with Alanis Morissette. Of course, with all apologies to the hilarious Ricky Gervais and the “Pants on the Ground” crew (and slightly fewer apologies to Dane Cook), it also featured the funniest moment of the night.
In a nod to the censors, the duo changed a key lyric to “does she go down with you to the theater.” The original song uses that passage to depict a sex act, while the revised copy creates the visual of a well-dressed duo heading to Broadway to see “Wicked.” That was just ... weird.
The big story wasn’t just the winner, but all the Simon tributes, which included appearances by seven of the eight former champions (David Cook was apparently at a charity event) and many of the prominent finalists from recent years. More important, Paula Abdul came back for a ramble-y but touching tribute. And apart from offering Ryan a breath mint when the event began, Simon was nothing but nice.
As for the judge who replaced Paula, Ellen DeGeneres sat around with nothing to do. Ryan and Kara at least got some extended run in the videos, but Ellen’s participation was much more limited. Paula’s return reinforced that Ellen still isn’t really part of the club, which hopefully will change if she returns next year.
Like all the previous finales, the “Idol” stage was filled with big names. In this case, it was the musical equivalent of an Old-Timer’s Game: the Bee Gees, Hall and Oates, Michael McDonald, Alice Cooper, Joe Cocker ... all singers who were music veterans when the current “Idols’” parents were in school.
After spending most of the season chasing the younger viewers, “Idol” went way in the other direction here. Forget Ryan — even Dick Clark thought these guys were ancient.
The showstopper here wasn’t Morissette or Christina Aguilera or Janet Mrs. Jackson If You’re Nasty. It wasn’t even Carrie Underwood, who came back to remind both finalists that no matter which one of them won, neither would ever be as good as she is.
Instead, it was medical miracle Bret Michaels. He continued his remarkable recovery by sharing the stage with Casey James for “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” The duet wasn’t the greatest, but nobody cared because it was just nice to see that Michaels was healthy enough to perform at all.
Of course, there were some disappointments. After hearing all season about how Andrew Garcia peaked when he covered “Straight Up” in Hollywood, it would have been nice to see him get the chance for a duet with Paula. And Dane Cook’s comedy bit ended early when one of the “Idol” rejects sharing the stage with him was having too much fun heckling Simon to let go of the mic.
But for Dewyze, who will release a U2 cover as his first single, it was a “Beautiful Day” indeed.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.