It took me until the ninth season of American Idol to give a damn. And now, it’s down to two contestants — Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Both are 24 and couldn’t be bigger underdogs. After last night’s final performances, it’s clear Bowersox is the bigger talent.
But, for the love of everything holy, I implore you to vote for Lee DeWyze. A vote for Crystal Bowersox is a vote for terrorism, and here’s why:
She’s a modern day Janis Joplin. That’s a high compliment, I realize, and I say it not because of Bowersox’s physical appearance. (You can about imagine the awful makeover she’d be given if she wins — veneers, no more dreadlocks, a summer with Jillian Michaels.) The point is she’s raw and achingly talented, but that won’t make her a commercial success, necessarily. No one doubts Joplin’s brilliance, but she put more into her live performance (and drinking) than churning out chart-topping singles. That’s what the Idol machine demands of its winners, though.
She’s already playing to the wrong audience. Isn’t it strange seeing Bowersox on stage performing before hundreds of the same teenage girls who would’ve made fun of her in high school? Her style is too mature for the iTunes set. Idol winners don’t so much win a record deal as they win a role. If she wins, she’ll be lucky to pen a single lyric. Her future image and sound is being constructed by a think tank right now. The problem? The brainiacs at Idol will try and dress her as another Joss Stone — someone no artist aspires to be. Bowersox doesn’t want to be popular. Not to the demographic Idol will try and sell her to, anyway.
Lee DeWyze has huge upside. Bowersox has been a star since her first audition, while DeWyze has made huge strides throughout the season. He seems like a nice enough guy and maintains that deer-in-the-headlights look we want in our winners. (Think of a David Cook, who looked like he’d been performing on Idol his whole life.) DeWyze, like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson before him, appears to be someone America could know and love on a personal level, which, in the music industry, translates to “Cha-ching.” DeWyze shouldn’t win because he’s better, but because he stands to benefit more. Bowersox would get to keep her freedom.
This is the most important vote in Idol history. Don’t screw it up. With Simon Cowell leaving and the few winners — Kris Allen and David Cook — already wandering into musical obscurity, Idol needs someone who can be a No. 1 artist. That ain’t Bowersox. Talent doesn’t always win when it comes to female recording artists. (See: Jenny Lewis, Norah Jones, Feist, Tori Amos.) This is a world where Katy Perrys and Ke$has win because they’ll sing ridiculous things, look sexy and make it all really catchy. Bowersox is kitschy, not catchy. DeWyze, on the other hand, benefits from other brooding soft rockers like Lifehouse, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows and — to a lesser extent — Pearl Jam. (DeWyze reminds me of another Chicago-native — Eddie Vedder. The difference? All that goofy smiling.)
It’s not about you. You might get the warm-and-fuzzies voting on longshots like Ruben Studdard, Fantasia or Taylor Hicks, but enough with the charity already. Don’t vote for Bowersox if you don’t plan on buying her debut album.
Rant complete, I’m looking at tonight’s finale like a divorce settlement. Bowersox and DeWyze will finally split, and while one may get full custody (a record deal), the other can relish their newfound freedom (no record deal but a buttload of fame). Here’s hoping, for the sake of both, DeWyze wins while Bowersox is graceful in defeat. Best bet is your loser will be the winner a year from now.