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Well, friends, that's it. The Idol kids have belted their last. Long ago in January we began a journey that has brought us here, to the humid frayed edges of May. Congratulations, everyone!
The night began as all finale shows do. The two remaining tributes were brought out dressed all in white. This is a strange tradition, isn't it? I suppose the all white outfits are meant to project a bit of divinity, of pure bright specialness. Does it work? Like so many fashion things on this show, oh mercy no it does not. The girls never look too bad, but the boys in their white jeans and white denim jackets tend to look like the boy band's reunion concert after they all died in a bus accident. "Yo dude, is this heaven?" "I dunno, man. Let's sing a song about it." It's very silly. But it's the kind of nice, familiar silly that we, or at least I, have come to love. The blinding white clothes of finality.
After that there was a sad shuffle of zombie feet and out lurched the Top 13 of this raggedy old season. There were all of our beloved friends, like her, and whatsits, and whosiemabob, and Thia. You know. All of... them. Oof, kind of a dumpy crowd this year, huh? Enjoy the Idols Live! concert this year, whoever fools bought tickets. Bet you can't wait to see your favorite live and in person, you know... that one. The one you like. Who sang the songs. I don't know.
As always the finale was a musical orgy of delight and sadness, with a slew of famous acts being brought triumphantly out on stage, usually only after the Idol kids had spent a few minutes mangling their most popular songs. Tom Jones, bizarrely, got this treatment. As did Beyonce, the girls all dancing with her and hugging her afterward with a kind of elated, desperate frenzy, as if they knew, and I'm sure they know, that doing backup for Beyonce Knowles one night in May back in 2011 is the biggest thing they'll ever do, the biggest story they'll ever have. Like the high school football player who, grown and fattened now, talks mistily and a bit angrily about winning state, thinks of all the cheers and bleacher lights, the beer-hazed nights that followed, the girls, the music, that feeling of lifting off the Earth.
Some folks got to sing special duets with special guests. Old Jimbo Durbin did a very self-satisfied collaboration with Judas Priest, that old metal band that I'm sure most of the show's younger viewers had never heard of and after last night probably wished they'd hadn't. Fatso looked very impressed with himself, and after the song was done he held his hands in the air as victory, but so did lead singer Rob Halford, and the camera didn't know who to focus on (it ultimately chose James) and it was then that I realized that James didn't care about Judas Priest at all, he barely even acknowledged the dudes. He was in it for him, in it for the arm-raised glory. He stood there, pleased with himself, grinning inanely, and, well, I hope he enjoyed it. Because, like many of the girls hoofing it with Beyonce, this is it, kiddo. The biggest and brightest this star's ever gonna burn. I hope he took it all in. I hope he'll remember the sound and smell of it forever.
Speaking of sad things, TLC performed. Yeah, except, obviously, without the L. They have replaced the dearly departed Left Eye with some new lady and it was just so... I mean it felt wrong. They even sang "Waterfalls" and there was just this big gaping hole where Left Eye's rap should have been. It was very strange and I did not like it and do not do that to us again, Idol! Do not do it. Also do not put poor Tony Bennett on the stage to duet with Haley if he can't remember his lyrics. He's a nice old man, but for his own good just gently don't ask him to come on these big overwhelming shows. I don't know. I was uncomfortable.
Who else, who else. Oh, Casey James did a stupid duet with Jack Black, I mean who really cares. The boys, as briefly mentioned above, did a Tom Jones medley and, strangely, they chose to sing a snippet of "Delilah," a song about a man murdering a woman in a jealous rage. Oh terrific! Sad eternal virgins like Kathryn Jean Lopez are all upset about gross sex implications on the show, and yet let songs about murdering women slide on by. Remember, sex is always worse than murder. Or so Kathryn Jean Lopez thinks. She wouldn't know. She's never had sex. Or murdered anyone, I'm sure. But the important thing is that Kathryn Jean Lopez, a 36-year-old woman who moralizes constantly about sex, has never, in fact, had sex. Oh well!
Speaking of sex, and what got Ms. Lopez all upset, there was a Lady Giggles performance in which she, near as I could tell, became intimate with a man on top of Pride Rock, and then they both jumped off like at the end of Swan Lake. Was that the homage? I really don't know. But it was a little sexy and whatnot. But not as sexy as Beyonce, singing a second time and blessedly without sad backup Idol dancers this go around, bellowing, many many times, "Make love to meeeee! Make love to meeeee!" Awwwwkard. In some ways it would have been less intense for her to sing "Fuck me! Do me! Screw me!" I mean, "make love" is the grossest expression in human English, probably, especially when there are a bunch of tweenagers in the room. It was just really unpleasant. I like you, Boncee, but I don't like you that much.
Eventually the action circled back around to our two top kids. There was a funny segment where they both got to invite a beloved teacher to the finale and then surprise them with the keys to a new Ford Focus. Aw, sweet. Lauren picked her principal, a middle-aged lady who looked exactly like a principal. And Scotty picked... well, Scotty picked a very attractive young blonde teacher. Haha, Of course you did, you crooning motherfucker. I'll bet his baseball buddies back home got a big laugh out of that. "Ohhhh shitttt!!!" He probably doesn't even know that teacher that well. "Oh, Scotty, why, you want me to come to California? What about your coach or Mr. Turner, you two seem to get a long really well?" "Oh, sure, yeah, but they... Uh, they're busy. So, uh, I thought of you." "Oh how sweet." "Yeah, I think, uh, you'll be staying in the same hotel as me..." Smoothly done, Baby Lockthemdoors. Smoothly done indeed.
Well, I'm sure I'm forgetting big parts here, but what can you do. All told it was a night of silliness (Marc Anthony's performance, clearly stipulated in J.Lo's contract, was weird, with his wife jiggling around on stage next to him and all; Scotty jammed with Tim McGraw's leather daddy twin brother) but it was also pleasant in the way these dumb American things can be pleasant. All the lights swirling and crowds roaring, moments all fleeting away. Moments all leading up to this, Scotty and Lauren standing in the center of the stage, clasping on to each other, the whine of Idol tension music blaring on the speakers, Ryan standing there, a bit weary, ready to end this thing.
The audience sat in perfect silence, gulping, breathing hard. Ryan held the results in his hand, looked down at the letters. Just a teenager! So young! Ten down, who knows how many more to go, and he'd been keeping them on hold long enough now, so he opened his mouth and with his best professional yell, said:
And, really, of course. A foregone conclusion, was it not? They gave us a little bauble and scare on Tuesday with all of the Lauren piling on, but it didn't work. Or it did work and people scare-voted for Scotty in droves. Whatever it was, the longtime suspected favorite was indeed the favorite. Lauren seemed to take it in stride while Scotty was bowled over with emotion. During his victory song he managed to stave off the tears by barely singing at all, most of the performance was spent going to his family and giving them big soppy hugs. I'm sure the songwriters were a bit disappointed about that, that they didn't get one more chance to hear their song. I'm sure the producers would have liked it if Scotty had sang the song they're going to release as a single one more time too. But oh well, there was huggin' and there was cryin' to be done and when Scotty made it back up to the stage he really let loose with his emotions and sat on the ground, all the other Idol kids standing around him, and weirdly looked up and opened his mouth and put out his tongue. Um. I know he was trying to catch confetti or whatever, but... let's just say this. If he hadn't displayed so much emotion I would have thought him arrogant and said boo, cocky! But, somehow, with him sitting on the ground, agog with emotion, a sea of legs around him, looking up with his tongue out, well.. Boo cocky. Ya get me? Ya dig? I hope ya dig.
And that's it! We're done! American Idol 2011 is over and I thank you, dear readers, for taking this silly journey with me. I know it's tough, I know it's a long haul, but goddamn it if we didn't do it together. We deserve a round of applause. We deserve a party.
Speaking of parties, this year instead of doing it at a restaurant or event hall or wherever, Ryan decided to have the finale party at his house. Everyone got out of their silly Idol costumes and put on their real clothes and took cars high up into the HIlls to Ryan's house. It was a nicely appointed affair. There was tinkling piano music and fun fizzy drinks passed around by attractive waiters in simple dark jeans and collared shirts, a photo booth, a tasteful one, set up for the capturing of memories. And it was a grand time, a nice old party. All the kids filed in and gawped at Ryan's house, raised eyebrows and exchanged furtive giggles at how strangely familiar Stefano seemed with the layout of the place.
The drinks flowed and the piano music was replaced with something loud and danceable. Naima taught Jacob how to do a little two-step and they laughed together. Pia stood in a corner, having a hushed, intimate conversation with some dark, striking music mogul type guy who had his hand resting ever so gently on her shoulder. She couldn't decide if she should pull away or fall into it, so she just stood there like that, in the somewhere between. She took another gulp of her drink and figured she'd make up her mind in a minute.
Willy Whispers roamed the party, guests hurrying away from him as he approached, the clacking of his bones a rattling, eerie sound. James Durbin came bounding up to him and said "Hey, do you want to go smoke this joint out there in those trees," pointing to a stand of trees at the far end of Ryan's sprawling yard. Willy looked at him with a strange, cold smile. "You mean those dark, dark trees, far over there, far away from all the people?" He cocked his head at James, like an owl. "Yeah, exactly," poor oblivious James said, and so they set off for the dark grove and, dear readers, neither was ever seen again.
And there were our two teens, baby Scotty and baby Lauren. Scotty walked up to Lauren and whispered in her ear, "C'mere, c'mere," motioning to the balcony. Lauren followed him and when they were out there, away from the crowds, Scotty reached into his coat and produced a bottle of something brown he'd nicked from the bar. "Scotty!!!" Lauren hissed, "We could get in trouble!!" But she was smiling. That night, what the hell. What the hell just this one night. So they stood there, looking out over the tinny, orange sparkle of Los Angeles, taking pulls from the bottle. Lauren, feeling warm and brave now with booze, turned to Scotty and said "Scotty, do think anything's ever going to be the same again?" Scotty kept his eyes fixed forward as he thought about her question. Finally he turned to Lauren, looked at her all expectant and done up with her hair and long dangly earrings, and he leaned in and kissed her softly, resting a hand on her cheek. He pulled back and smiled at her. "No, I don't reckon it will be." He took her hand in his and they stood there, two kids on the edge of everything, and enjoyed the view.
Ryan had been blustering around all night, making sure everything was going smoothly, everyone was happy, drinks were freshened, bathroom lines not too long. When he'd finally found a brief moment to himself to stop and take a breath, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and there was Stefano. "Hey," he said. They hadn't seen each other all week, as all the kids had been holed up at the theater rehearsing. "Hey. How are you?" Stefano smiled a shy smile. "I'm good, I guess. I... I miss you." "Yeah," Ryan said. "Yeah buddy, me too." Stefano looked at Ryan, a hint of expectation in his eyes, and said "So... what now?" Ryan stared back. Who was this even? Some spell had broken. What was he doing? Why did he need this? Ryan shook his head. He put his hands on Stefano's shoulders, friendly not aggressive, and said "I think you're going to have a great summer. I think that's what's next." He gave Stefano's shoulders a squeeze and walked away, off to find Tim. He needed to tell him something, or do something. Something.
No one noticed, they were all too busy drunkenly singing or flirting and chatting or doing whatever else people do at parties, no one noticed as Ryan and Tim — whom Ryan had found upstairs hiding out in the bedroom, Tim hated parties and crowds more and more these days — sneaking out the front door together. "Quick, pack a bag," Ryan said to Tim when he found him. "Let's go away somewhere." Wordlessly Tim obliged and then there they were, walking downstairs and out the door and into Ryan's car.
Ryan started the engine and turned to Tim and said "Where to?" Tim thought about this for a moment. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter. As long as I'm with you." Ryan smiled at this sweet, corny sentiment. "Ha, OK, Romeo. I'm sure we'll think of something." He put the car into drive and they zoomed away, turned down the road and then they were just a pair of red taillights, they were just two small people in a sea of cars. They were just Ryan and Tim, together alone again at last, the whole summer laid out before them like uncharted land, like a map to be drawn.
They held hands in the car and did not listen to any music, they'd had enough of that for the time being, and they were going so fast and looking only ahead so they did not notice up in the sky, they did not see what so many of us did last night. Up there a bright glowing "X," searing the night sky. Pointing us onward into the loud, unknowable future.
[Thanks to Matt Toder for editing the video above]