Michael Becker / FOX.
Michael Becker / FOX.
It's the news that doesn't feel like news: First-week digital sales of Lee DeWyze's American Idol walk-off-win single were down about 30 percent from Kris Allen's victory spin last year.
But what if the problem weren't the show or the singer. What if the problem was the song?
But as a statement, it's a white flag. It's American Idol taking cover in a cover track.
Granted, DeWyze is not the first Idol champ to be asked to celebrate his win with someone else's hit. Going back to season two, Ruben Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" was a Westlife song. But if you need us to tell you Westlife is a Euro boyband, then you've proved our point: Studdard's cover wasn't a cover if you'd never heard the song before.
DeWyze should have been so lucky to get a Take That assignment. Instead, the poor guy got saddled with a song the whole world knows by a band the whole galaxy knows. He got dealt an arrangement that's more tweak than reinvention. And he got flat-out miscast—somehow we find the globetrotting Bono a more credible witness to fires stoked by the Bedouins than an Illinois paint salesman.
Would a cover-dedicated Idol have been wiser to release DeWyze's version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" as his championship single? Maybe. It fits him better than "Beautiful Day." But the franchise may not have been any wealthier. Runner-up Crystal Bowersox's on-the-money "Up to the Mountain," also a cover, sold about half as many copies as DeWyze's. The statement from we, the consumers, seems to be, if Idol isn't going to care, then neither are we.
Now, you could argue that we, the listeners, got the better end of the DeWyze and Bowersox deals, that it's better to have redos of great songs than more lousy, if new, Idol victory anthems. You could argue that. But you'd be wrong.
Lousy, if new, Idol victory anthems are fun! What is a 21st century spring without a "magic rainbow" (David Cook's "The Time of My Life"), a "soothing wind" (Carrie Underwoods "Inside Your Heaven") and a "pot of gold" (Fantasia's "I Believe")? A dreary spring, that's what—a dreary spring with nary a reference to mountain-climbing (Kris Allen's "No Boundaries").
We can imagine why Idol messed with the formula this year. Maybe the powers-that-be read the reviews of "No Boundaries." (Maybe they should've listened to it instead—it's not half-bad, meaning, yes, really, it's half-good.) Maybe they saw declining TV ratings as a reason to go with the pre-sold safe rather than the new. Maybe, in the name of embarrassingly full disclosure, they listened to the two truly lousy numbers we submitted during its song-contest years, and lost hope. (If that's the case, we're sorry, America.)
What we can't imagine is Idol giving up on the formula. It needs to find its next "A Moment Like This" (Kelly Clarkson). Even its next "Do I Make You Proud?" (Taylor Hicks). It needs to prove it can take a karaoke singer and, over the course of a season, turn him or her into an artist.
The DeWyze and Bowersox remakes only prove the show can turn singers into afterthoughts. At least until the performers are allowed to come out from under the covers.