Listening In: American Idol Smackdown

Setoodeh: Of all the wonder that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.

Alston: Umm ... what?

Setoodeh: It's Shakespeare! No words, I think, are more appropriate to begin our debate on this season's "American Idol" finale. Like "Julius Caesar," "Idol" has been full of tragedy this season: the early elimination of Melinda Doolittle; the bald man with the shiny head who wouldn't go home; the Sanjaya parade of train recklessness.

Alston: Oh, so we're going high brow, huh? I think we can agree that this is, by far, the worst season of "American Idol" yet. That said, I'm more invested in the outcome this year than I was in last year's Hicks/McPhee showdown.

Setoodeh: Nonsense! This has been a perfectly watchable season, with I think one of the best finales ever. Which gets me to my next question. Are you voting, Josh??? Because I have been for the last hour. I voted all the way through my Whole Foods shopping trip with my cell phone—though I nearly bumped into the exotic cheese display. (More on who I'm voting for in a second, of course.)

Alston: I didn't vote. I never do. I've only voted once, last year for Elliott Yamin in the semifinals. But if I were to vote this year, I would have voted for Jordin. I know you're partial to Blake, but he came up way short in this finale.

Setoodeh: Whenever I hear the seasoned voters of our country lament the fact that today's youth doesn't rock the vote (for president), I think of "Idol." It's like the reverse effect: the kids are voting while the adults go to bed. You and you and you (sort of paraphrasing Jennifer Hudson here) all need to vote—or else craziness happens: Melinda Doolittle goes home. I do think that Blake should be the next "American Idol" and I think Tuesday night's performances were a perfect illustration of why. Let's start with the first song, ok?

Alston: I'd love to start with the first song. It's a perfect example of the problem with Blake Lewis: all style and no substance. Simon was right in his assessment of Blake's "You Give Love a Bad Name" the first time he performed it. It's a polarizing performance, people will love it or hate it, and I fall into the latter group. I find that performance to be over the top, indulgent and not very entertaining. He uses the beat-boxing to distract the audience so we don't notice how weak his vocals are.

Setoodeh: I so disagree! In fact, I think Blake is just as good a singer as Maroon 5's Adam Levine. Jordin, too, sounded fine singing Christina Aguilera's "Fighter." But ONLY if you had your eyes closed during the performance. She spent a good majority of the song brushing her hair out of her face. It was like class-picture day. Completely distracting! I keep thinking—to be honest with you, dawg (paraphrasing Randy)—that she did really look 17. She lacks stage presence.

Alston: I actually thought Jordin's song choice was a mistake when she did X-tina's "Fighter." Her dismal performance of "Livin' On a Prayer" during Bon Jovi week should have taught her to stay away from that kind of song. She has a tendency to shout when she should be singing, and that happened to her on the bigger notes. I totally disagree that she lacks stage presence though. She totally exudes pop star. It's her stage presence—the smile, the sass—which has her in the finale instead of Melinda.

Setoodeh: But she can't groove on stage like Blake, who's always comfortable, and I wonder if she'll ever sell out concerts in the way that an "American Idol" should. Even her cover of Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing" didn't win me over Tuesday night, because she was slumped over and wearing an outfit that looked like it was pulled from the Urban Outfitters discount rack.

Alston: Need I remind you that it's a singing competition? Besides, considering Blake's tuxedo shirt a couple weeks back, I doubt you want to start debating sartorial choices.

Setoodeh: Yes, it's a singing competition. But why on Earth did it need to be a song writing competition?! I think we can both agree that the final song, written by those two dudes from the hometown of "Grey's Anatomy," sounded like a commercial jingle.

Alston: Yeah, it wasn't a great song. But it's pretty standard that the final song is a poor man's Diane Warren composition, and it's no worse than Taylor Hicks's "Do I Make You Proud." What I did love is that they made both Jordin and Blake sing the same song. They didn't do that last year, or the year before, they let them sing different songs, and that's a big mistake. Having them sing the same song lets you compare apples to apples, and when you saw Blake's take on "This Is My Now" versus Jordin's, it was clear who is the better singer. Blake couldn't rely on his beat-boxing crutch, so he landed flat on his face.

Setoodeh: OK, OK—I can't convince you that Blake should win. But I'll make one final attempt at trying to explain why I think he should. Jordin is like (paraphrasing "My Best Friend's Wedding" here) crème brulée. She's beautiful. She's sweet. She's irritatingly perfect. But when it comes to my music, I don't want a cavity. I'd rather have someone original. That's Blake. He's a damn good artist and much more interesting than you (and all the Blake haters) give him credit for.

Alston: Well, if being the second-best singer in the singing competition is your thing, Blake is definitely your guy. But beyond who you want to win, do you think Blake can win?

Setoodeh: No, sadly. I think it's Jordin's crown. (Although I have been dutifully voting throughout our entire "debate.") I do wish that Melinda had made it into the final two—it would've made a more interesting showdown. Any other thoughts? How about suggestions for making the show better next year?

Alston: It could make things more interesting to give the judges more to do than offer opinions that don't ultimately mean anything. I'm not suggesting giving them a vote, but they could have a more active role in the process. For example, the producers could bring back the wild-card process in which someone who was snuffed too early could be brought back by the judges. That would have really improved this season. Also, they should abandon the restriction of having the same number of guys and girls in the semifinals. The male semifinals were painful this year because those guys weren't up to snuff, and they were in slots that could have gone to far more talented girls.

Setoodeh: I do hope they put better contestants through next year. Let's end on this note. Best performance of the night? (This feels very Ryan Seacrest of me.)

Alston: Jordin's take on "This Is My Now." That performance was pop music. The way she sniffled her way through the last few notes? Pure brilliance. Brilliant if it wasn't planned, superbrilliant if it was. You know how people say "That's so punk rock"? Jordin choking up on her final performance ... that was so pop.

Setoodeh: My vote goes to Chris Daughtry. His closing song was all rock star (and I'm sure much better than Taylor's performance will be Wednesday night). In a way, it was a perfect ending, reminding us that the winner of "Idol" isn't always the REAL winner on "Idol." I predict that while Jordin gets the most votes Wednesday, both Blake and Melinda will outsell her in record stores.

Alston: Blake outsells Jordin? In what alternate universe? I'm totally making the Chris Daughtry generic rocker face right now. (It's a look of vacant bafflement.) I guess you plan on buying one Blake record for every time you voted for him this season. Good luck voting, you have a few more hours left.

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