By Robin Givhan
Friday, May 12, 2006
The departure of rocker Chris Daughtry from "American Idol" means that the squishy middle has won once again. Daughtry was voted off the show this week, leaving behind three uninspired performers who may appeal to the masses but lack any distinctive personal style.
After weeks of patiently watching, obsessing and praying for Elliott Yamin, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks to reveal some sense of personal aesthetics, there has been nothing but disappointment. McPhee lacks zest and stage presence and the capacity to distinguish style from an assemblage of unedited trends. Yamin and Hicks lack Daughtry's supremely fine bald head and ability to wear a thick, macho wallet chain and not look as though he should be bicycling across K Street making a super-rush delivery.
Daughtry glared. He glowered. He did the rock-star growl during which he looked to be at risk of popping his jugular. He wore cool shades. Oh sure, he was cocky. But he should have been. He was the best. America, have you no soul?
Yamin seems like a nice guy. He has a nice voice and he wears a lot of tasteful blazers, which should serve him well should he ever find himself sitting in the human resources office of an insurance agency. McPhee seems like a pleasant girl. She has a pleasant voice. She's a brunette beauty with long legs and nice cleavage -- that she has amiably displayed -- which should all serve her well . . . no matter what. Last month, when Hicks wore that ice-blue Costume National suit, it seemed he had style possibilities. He refused to dye his gray hair and he has an interesting gravelly voice. But then he wore a paisley shirt, sang Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and writhed on the floor like a Joe Cocker impersonator. He wore paisley, people. He cannot win and he will be discussed no further.
In Daughtry, America had the opportunity to choose distinctiveness, confidence and cool. Instead, it chose bland and boring. Blech and blech.
All one can do now is savor the memories of Daughtry. There was the week that he embraced the cleaned-up-rocker look with his black trousers and matching vest. He wore one of those short-sleeve shirts with the cuffs that cut tightly across the biceps. Their sole purpose is to make a man's upper arms look Paul Bunyan big, as though he has spent his entire adult life chopping wood, hunting and gathering just for you. That was a very good week for Mr. Daughtry and his fans.
He sometimes wore a blazer, usually when he was planning to stand calmly behind the microphone -- rather than prowl the stage -- while yelling his lungs out. Typically Daughtry wore those blazers with a pair of jeans that were loose, but not baggy. He wore expertly faded T-shirts and macho silver jewelry. And he always looked like the same guy from one week to the next. He looked as though he had been groomed, but not dressed.
Daughtry had a cocksure style that might have irritated some voters. But he was the only contestant who seemed to understand that a pop idol needs an indelible image, swagger and self-confidence. While successful pop singers often have imperfect voices, they have something else that makes up the difference: a look, a sensibility, a point of view. They know who they are and they know how to communicate that in songs and through their stage images.
It may be that Daughtry was done in by the system. To attract voters, the contestants must be desperately humble. Aw shucks, pick me! Love me! They must display a freeze-frame grin for the camera and then flail their fingers around like they're practicing Chisanbop to remind viewers of which number to call to cast their vote. Winning "American Idol" requires the perfect balance of mediocrity and humility. The better the voice, the style, the package, the more self-effacing the performer must be. Whoever heard of a humble rocker? Daughtry was doomed.
Now that he's gone, there is a choice of nice Elliott, pleasant Katharine and the paisley karaoke king who shall not be named. As so often is the case, the quality of the candidates makes it hard to go to the polls.