It made for great television, but American Idol early favorite Casey Abrams’ near elimination on Thursday, March 24 was a shock to his fans and to Idyllwild. How did a guy pegged to go the distance by many in the blogosphere and the media, celebrated for his originality and musicianship, wind up with the fewest viewer votes? Where were his fans and why didn’t they vote? Has something diminished the “Casey” fan infatuation factor from the headiness of the early weeks of the contest or have fans, including locals, grown complacent, convinced he would sail safely through?
Had it not been for a once-a-season “save,” when judges can override the wisdom or digital dexterity of voters, Abrams would have exited and been denied the post-season national tour.
On Thursday’s show, Abrams, with the fewest votes of the bottom three of eleven finalists, had to “sing for his life” for a possible judges’ reprieve. Abrams had only sung a few bars of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” when judge Randy Jackson stopped him. “We know who you are,” said Jackson. “You deserve to be here,” said Jennifer Lopez. “This is crazy wrong,” said judge Steven Tyler. “We made the decision to keep you on.” And with that unanimous decision, a shocked Abrams survived. But as host Ryan Seacrest darkly noted, two finalists will be eliminated next week.
In the end, those who win do so because of viewer votes, and only if the viewers vote. Talent plays a role, but it is not necessarily determinative. Think Jennifer Hudson, the only Idol contestant to win an Oscar who didn’t even make it to the top three in season three. Left standing after her elimination were six more finalists: Fantasia Barrino (who went on to win), Diana Degarmo (runner up), and George Huff, La Toya London, John Sevens and Jasmine Trias. Only Barrino went on to some measure of sustained career success.
According to Idol lore, Idol producers created the once-a-season judges’ save in season eight, partly because of Hudson’s early elimination and subsequent successes. How many times in the first nine seasons did viewers choose those most likely to have successful recording careers? Judged by subsequent career success, not many. Which of the first nine winners (Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze) became household names? Again, not many.
Does Casey have a chance from this point on? Have finalists in the bottom three ever gone on to become the American Idol? For the most part, they have not, with two exceptions. Check out this headline from tampabay.com and the St. Petersburg Times: “American Idol shocker: [name deleted] hits bottom three.” That was Adam Lambert, season eight’s leader throughout the entire competition until a close and controversial final vote in which Kris Allen won the competition. In the week of season eight’s Top Five elimination, both Allen and Lambert landed in the bottom three.
In season three, eventual Idol winner Fantasia Barrino was in the bottom two in the Top Seven telecast when Jennifer Hudson was eliminated, and was again in the bottom two in the Top Four elimination round.
Sam Miller, a Hill resident for over 30 years and proud lady of the Red Hats said she wants the town to know they have to support this talented and fine young man. “He’s one of our own and we need to take care of him,” she urged. “This town needs to push itself a little bit more and vote to support Casey.” Miller said she spent a half hour on Thursday casting votes by telephone. “Let Casey know [by voting] that he has a town that backs him, that loves him, and that’s proud of him."
And, as an “Only in Idyllwild” aside, Miller said that because we’re a small town, where many know Casey, his schoolmates, his parents and friends, we have to work harder to compete against finalists from large metropolitan areas with potentially larger home town fan bases.