American Idol Top 20 Recap: How "Original" Does The Next American Idol Need To Be?

This past week in "American Idol," we said goodbye to Top 20 contestants Jermaine Sellers, John Park, Michelle Delamor and Haeley Vaughn. While these eliminations (generally speaking) came as no huge surprise, the performance show for this round, along with the judges' feedback, still begs the vital question: how "original" does an artist need to be to make it big this season?

For season 9, "American Idol" has decided to switch things up this year in its selection of the Top 12. Instead of performing in small groups from which only 3 top vote-earners are selected to move on each week, all 24 contestants perform every week and all move on with the exception of the lowest 4 vote-earners (2 guys, 2 girls) from the week at hand. While one might assume this particular system would allow contestants a greater chance to improve and grow from week to week, as opposed to their fate in the competition relying on one week's make-it-or-break-it performance as it has in years past, this process has instead seemed to provide for a generally lackluster competition thus far. Instead of being pressured to sing like it's their last time on the stage, contestants simply need to perform "well enough" to skate by and avoid the chopping block. And with the exception of solid performers Crystal Bowersox and Lilly Scott, they barely have.

So what's the key to a show-stopping winner-worthy performance? According to the judges, it's all about being "original." Ever since Adam Lambert started arranging his own music to fit his Broadway-gone-glamrock persona, the panel has apparently been spoiled to expect exceptional "artistry" in addition to powerhouse vocals. But how original does one need to be? Case in point: Andrew Garcia. Last week he turned a Fall Out Boy song acoustic while simultaneously annunciating the words that Pete Wentz normally slurs. Amazing! But not original enough. And on the other hand, when Todrick Hall completely revamps Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" beyond recognition, it verges on blasphemy. What happened to just being an ol' fashioned amazing singer?

So what's the perfect formula? Does a guy have to sing a Paula Abdul song and strip it of its pop flavor to be considered "original" enough? You push contestants too hard to pick the most random song possible and find a way to flip it and you're left with Michael Bubles singing Britney Spears (& vice versa - yikes) & then you have disasters like what Michelle Delamor did to the Creed song (though I guess it was sort of an improvement from the original). If a contestant has a knack for flipping unexpected songs to suit their musical stylings and can actually pull it off, more power to them -- that's their edge -- but is it necessary to expect that from everyone? Let's not forget that it is a singing competition -- not all great singers with record deals today have the know-how to completely rearrange any song and make it relevant and marketable on their own. Can't we just go back to the old American Idol Golden Rule of just picking the right song for your voice?

While this point in the competition is usually the time where the initially impressive singers reveal themselves as disappointing on-camera performers, this season has yet to show a solid group of stellar performers, aside from a select few. Will these final 16 find a way to ignite some kind of creative spark before the Top 12 is selected, or is this season destined to be an epic letdown?

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Mar 8, 2010 1:15AM EST

I absolutely agree with you and am glad someone actually is saying something about the blah season this year. And the possible reasons for my boredom when watching it. I mean, I'm no fan of Karoke but the need for everyone to be a carbon copy of Adam Lambert this year is a joke. It's a singing competition not a songwriting competition.

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