First, the good news for Casey Abrams. Even if voters are on the fence about the emotional bass player, the judges clearly love him and were unequivocal in deploying their once-a-season save on Thursday night's "American Idol."
Now, the bad news: It's probably still not enough to carry him to the winner's circle. If "Idol" history is any indication, the save is mostly a postponement of the inevitable. It helped season eight's Matt Giraud (a wild-card pick to begin with) when he faced elimination in the top seven, but did him no good when he was booted just two weeks later in the top five. Fast-forward to last season, when Michael Lynche faced the chopping block in week nine. The judges busted out the save again, which kept Big Mike around for four more weeks, when he went down in the #4 slot.
Which begged the Friday morning quarterback question: Can a saved contestant win "Idol"?
"The save tends to be a sentimental favorite who possibly doesn't have the breadth of talent ... or a favorite with a fatal flaw, like Giraud's range issue, in which he could do one thing well, but could not present the 'whole package' as Steven Tyler [called it]," said National Public Radio music critic Ann Powers. "Casey is a super-underdog that has a following for his story and his personality, but soon enough, that gives way in an 'Idol' season to performance, and he's too out-of-control, performance-wise. He's too similar to Paul McDonald, who is cuter and more polished."
Powers said it's clear Abrams appeals to producers, possibly because he represents the last vestige of what "Idol" used to be: a competition for real amateur singers who have not been preparing their whole lives for a shot at stardom. "He's really not together, very emotional, he messes up a lot and he wears weird clothes," she said of Abrams' offbeat style, which contrasts with the dreaming-of-stardom-since-childhood packages viewers have seen on many of the other finalists over the past few weeks. "All the others this season set a high bar for professionalism, even the teens, so maybe they want him around because he contributes an unpredictability, which is good TV."
In the end, though, Powers said Abrams doesn't really have a shot at winning the whole thing, though he could survive a bit longer if he takes the judges' advice and calms down next week, perhaps taking a seat and singing a sensual ballad that would show off his less flagrant side.
MTV News "Idol" expert Jim Cantiello was actually charmed by nervous-stomached Abrams' near on-air cookie toss after Thursday's news that he would get another chance. And he thought the save was well-placed. "Third time's a charm for the judges' save," Cantiello suggested. "For the first time, it didn't feel like an arbitrary 'we better use this because it's the last week we can' moment. Unlike Matt Giraud and Michael Lynche, I can see Casey Abrams lasting more than a couple of weeks post-save. It feels less like the judges are delaying the inevitable, even though I can't imagine Casey taking the 'Idol' crown, let alone making the top four, unless his near-elimination instantly shakes the growl out of his voice and the [creepiness] out of his game face."
"Idol" blogger MJ Santilli of MJ's Big Blog doesn't see how a contestant who has been saved can ever win it all. "Amongst the top nine winners of 'Idol,' some, like Fantasia Barrino for instance, hit the bottom three once as a little wakeup call. Others, like Taylor Hicks and David Cook, never hit bottom at all," she noted. "A contestant that is out-and-out eliminated does not have the fanbase and staying power to make it to the very end. I think Casey will be lucky to make it to the top five now. He's got the 'loser' stink on him."
If nothing else, Cantiello and Santilli were excited that the save guaranteed that Abrams would be on the summer "Idol" tour, where he's likely to provide some fireworks on what might otherwise be a pretty tame affair.
Do you think a saved contestant can ever win "Idol"? Let us know in comments below!
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