Underdog Lee DeWyze won the season 9 finale of American Idol last night. Many critics were left puzzled, as Crystal had been acknowledged by many to be the vocal superstar this year from the beginning.
Retiring judge Simon Cowell made a strong case for Lee on the final performance show, pointing out that this was the type of performer the show was all about – someone who needed a break, going from shy paint salesman to singing superstar. However, the judges seemed far more enthusiastic when praising his adversary, Janis Joplin-esque rocker Crystal Bowersox.
There have been a variety of explanations going around for Lee's win. Perhaps it was the power of teenage girls voting for the last cute boy left.
Richard Rushfield at the Daily Beast pointed out two changes in the history of Idol that have shifted the competition in the direction that puts a Lee over a Crystal. First, they began allowing singers to use musical instruments at the beginning of season 7. The show became less about vocal gymnastics and more about overall musicality, with arrangements becoming more important than ever and contestants expected to be able to come up with striking new arrangements of classic pop songs. The winners the past three years have all played guitar; this season in particular seemed to be the most guitar-heavy season to date, with almost all the contestants strumming guitars in most of their performances.
Rushfield also points to the growth of text messaging. With the ability to quickly text message, those who are into texting can vote repeatedly for their favorites along with calling in. The texts can also come more quickly than dialing in and not necessarily getting through each time. There's speculation that this leads to the younger demographic who's more enthusiastic and more tech savvy to dominate the voting. As Rushfield puts it, "On one level, with its one man/unlimited votes structure, Idol is a test not just of pure numbers but of enthusiasm."
With Simon leaving the show and the show moving into its 10th season, will fans of the program still have the same enthusiasm? There will be a variety of changes next year. So far, they've announced longer performance shows and shorter results shows. Ellen DeGeneres is yet to announce whether she'll be returning for another year behind the judges' table, and the show also hasn't announced whether they'll try to add a fourth judge to the mix to replace Simon.
A couple other Idol notes as the season wraps up:
• A great "You are there"-style perspective on the Idol tapings, including discussion of the finale audience being largely filled with the employees of Idol's sponsors.
• Adam Lambert was supposed to return for the season finale, but when he didn't show up for rehearsals, he got the boot from the finale. Producers weren't sure if Lambert was "sick, being a diva, or worse, planning something that he does not want people to see."