‘American Idol’: Why Is Lazaro Arbos The Last Man Standing?

'I can definitely say he's getting a sympathy vote," says Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin of the last male contestant.

The headline on VoteForTheWorst.com says it all: “Vote for Lazaro Arbos — Everyone thinks he’s a terrible singer, but they vote for him anyway because he is inspirational. This reverse prejudice is kind of interesting to watch.”

That bid by the “American Idol” spoiler site — which is hanging it up after this season — encapsulates the unlikely rise of the 22-year-old Cuban-born singer. He’s captured America’s heart with a throwback style, determination to overcome his stutter and, well, incredible luck in surviving as the last male contestant standing, 
 but how?

“I can definitely say he’s getting a sympathy vote,” said Hollywood Reporter music editor Shirley Halperin. “I find them [this season's male singers] all to be unexciting, [but] in the litter of mediocre singers, I don’t put Devin Velez above him.”

The thing that’s really baffled Halperin about Arbos’ run is that he’s committed the one inexcusable sin in the “Idol” final rounds: forgetting his lyrics. “That never happens at this point in the show,” she said. She’s not that surprised, though, since the one thing she’s noticed in speaking to this year’s top 10 is that they have a shallow well of knowledge when it comes to the history of popular music beyond the top 40. And that can definitely hurt when it comes to remembering lyrics to older songs.

In addition to sympathy clicks, Halperin said VFTW has upped its reach thanks to Twitter, which has had an obvious impact on Lazaro’s hang time as well. “There are definitely some girls out there who find him kind of cute, which he is,” she said. “And he doesn’t know much about music, but he knows how to work the camera and strut, so there’s something there.”

Longtime “Idol” blogger MJ Santilli is a fan of Arbos’ and agreed that he’s definitely getting a lot of empathy votes from fans who feel like they want to mother him and help him get as far as possible on the show.

But commenters on her site have also noted that he appears to be getting a major boost from his Cuban compatriots in Florida and will probably hang around a bit longer because he’s the last guy left. “He was really the most interesting of all the guys, and not for good reasons,” she said. “Even though they were all better singers, they were all boring.”

Despite his seeming naiveté, Halperin said Arbos is more calculating than we might give him credit for. While he and his fellow finalists might not know “Hey Jude” from “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” she’s noticed that they’ve studied the “Idol” system for 11 seasons and they know how to work it.

As for whether Lazaro has a chance to win, or even advance past this week, well, chances are slim. “Producers have made it pretty obvious that they’ve stacked the deck because they want a girl to win,” Halperin said. “He could make it through this week only because the odds of having a guy go home a fifth week in a row is slim, but he won’t make it past the top five. He can’t compare to any of those girls.”

Santilli agreed Arbos doesn’t really have a chance of standing under the confetti shower in May, but thought he might have a shot at knocking off a few strong female contestants along the way. “That will get the watercoolers buzzing, which is good for the [suddenly ratings-challenged] show, because [at this point] what else does it have?”

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