A few weeks ago, after Normund Gentle (or, if you prefer, Nick Mitchell) inexplicably slipped into the “American Idol” top 36, we published a piece in which we called him “either the most annoying contestant in the show’s illustrious eight-year history, or the most brilliant.” At the time, we weren’t really sure which was appropriate.
Now, after Wednesday night’s vampy, campy performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” we’ve made up our minds: Gentle is the greatest contestant in “American Idol” history.
Here’s why: For starters, he’s infinitely more interesting than anyone else in the “Idol” annals, despite the fact that he isn’t even real — or, more specifically, because he isn’t real. In Normund Gentle (who has been identified on the show as “Norman Gentle” but, according to his Web site, is actually “Normund”), Mitchell has created a cabaret caricature that pokes fun at everything the show is about: the over-the-top emoting, the cheesy numbers, the fact that this is basically a beauty contest.
Gentle is definitely not beautiful: He’s gawky, his short shorts ride uncomfortably high, he wears a headband, and yet, he survives. He is cheesiness personified, his performances so overly emotional that they border on being terrible (like, during last night’s performance, when he literally got on his knees and begged the audience — and the judges — to let him stay on the show). He is, if one is being generous, an incredible slab of performance art … either you get him or you don’t. He is multifaceted. Complex.
Having said all that, you cannot merely write Gentle off as a “joke,” despite all evidence to the contrary. This is because Gentle — or Mitchell — can actually sing. For proof of this, check out his version of “Amazing Grace” during the “Idol” auditions, or the extended, lung-sapping “Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” he capped his performance with last night. Sure, he did this after chucking his glasses into the audience, pawing at the “American Idol” sign and wading into the studio audience like a lost puppy, but still, you cannot deny that he has pipes (and at least he doesn’t use them to shatter eardrums like theater-trained emo kid Adam Lambert). He is not merely a one-trick pony.
Finally, as if everything he’s done up to this point is not proof enough, Wednesday night’s performance only proved that Gentle (and, by default, Mitchell) has absolutely no pretenses about actually winning “Idol.” In fact, he seems hell-bent on single-handedly destroying it. His routine brought last night’s show to a screeching halt, it left the judges agape, and it had the audience in complete hysterics. It’s as if, in one moment, everyone watching, judging or producing “Idol” realized, “Wow, this thing really is ridiculous.” He blew holes through the show’s entire premise. As opposed to going out there and singing for his very life (which everyone else did, with underwhelming results), Gentle took the stage in a white tuxedo jacket and decided to screw around. It was either the work of a madman, a mastermind or both.
And here’s the thing: Gentle’s act could continue. Despite Simon Cowell’s urging that he be voted off (or, probably, because of it), Gentle may survive. He’s already being championed by the Vote for the Worst folks, and he seems like a shoo-in to receive the votes of every single person in this country who hates “American Idol” and wants to see it brought to its knees. And Gentle could be the person who does just that. Or he may just be sent packing Thursday night (February 26) — who knows?
Either way, he’s already attained greatness. It just depends on your definition of the word.
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