Being a contestant on American Idol can be an overwhelming emotional experience, but even by those standards Michael Lynche had himself quite a time on the program.
While in Hollywood in January for the final stages of top 24 selection, his wife gave birth to their first child, an event chronicled by Idol cameras in full obstetric detail. A few months later, America voted him off the show in ninth place, but the judges used their one save of 2010 on him, giving Michael five additional weeks to make his case. But the run finally came to an end on Wednesday, after he received the fewest number of votes during the final four "movie night." Michael thus becomes one of the few contestants to get voted off Idol despite never having given a truly bad performance on the show.
Michael and Casey James, the only two contestants remaining who had ever been in the bottom two, were widely seen as each being 50-50 to leave this week, so when Casey was the first declared safe in the first half of Wednesday's broadcast, the suspense went out of the hour for most viewers. But by leaving Michael and Crystal Bowersox as the last two who had not been told their fate, Idol at least left open the tiny possibility of a true final four shocker to rank with Chris Daughtry (who performed on Wednesday's show) departing. Ryan Seacrest never said Crystal was bottom two and noted more than once that he was going in no particular order, but those who don't watch the show carefully may assume she was at risk anyway.
As a very large black man, Big Mike often drew superficial comparisons to Season Two champ Ruben Studdard. But this wasn't quite on the mark. For starters, Michael had a much more outgoing personality, to the point where one of his gimmicks became the way he would randomly lift contestants off the ground (and even one mentor in Alicia Keys). And he showed signs of having an eclectic musical sensibility. He frequently performed with a guitar (though he was not an adept player) and treated audiences to unexpected selections like Maroon Five's "This Love" and Chad Kroeger's "Hero." His Top 16 week performance of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" was certainly the male highlight of the semifinal weeks, if not the whole season.
But Michael lost momentum little by little, though it's not easy to say why. Viewers eventually became more invested in other contestants, particularly Lee DeWyze, who had almost no exposure prior to the semifinals. And he learned the same lesson as Andrew Garcia and Siobhan Magnus: if you hit a huge early peak, viewers and judges tend to hold that against you more than if you never peaked to begin with. Kara DioGuardi even referenced Michael's inability to match "This Woman's Work" when discussing his performance this week. And some found Michael to be a bit too full of himself, and too prone to go over the top onstage. Using the save on him during Top Nine week postponed the inevitable, because had he been connecting with the audience, he would not have been in that kind of trouble to begin with. But unless Casey or Lee really step it up these next two weeks, it is likely Big Mike will finish the season with a track record of fine performances that no other male in this season will match.
By the time his ouster was announced, Michael had had time to process what was going to happen, and he left with his head held high, saying that he had tried to take advantage of the extra time afforded by the save to just have fun. So now the Idol crown will go to either Casey, Crystal, or Lee, three young people who a year ago at this time were trying to scrape by in music and now are two weeks away from seeing their lives change forever. Lee isn't going to be selling any more paint anytime soon, that's for sure. Casey goes into next week as the presumed big underdog, but while those contestants typically don't make it through to the last week, Kris Allen's experience last year is proof that it can happen.
Wednesday's show featured two former contestants who have proven that what happens on Idol in May doesn't necessarily forecast one's fate forever. Season Three champ Fantasia remains a phenomenal live performer and is beloved in the R&B community, but has never been able to recapture the wider public imagination as she did on the show. The new single she debuted Wednesday probably won't help in that regard. And Daughtry, fronting his eponymous and anonymous band, was hopefully able to show Lee and Casey a little something about how to command a stage. His latest single is another in his series of midtempo sort-of ballads, but he made it a good deal more interesting than any of Lee's attempts to rock out have been. As for the appearance of Bon Jovi, I'm old enough to remember when these guys were your little sister's idea of "rock" and used enough hairspray to destroy the ozone layer over small countries, so forgive me if I don't totally buy their new image as heartland heroes.
Next week, we see highlights of Casey's, Crystal's and Lee's hometown visits to Texas, northwest Ohio, and Chicago respectively. And we'll see if the end of the theme weeks (typically, top three week means one song picked by a judge and one song the contestant picks) will make for a better Idol.