LOS ANGELES (MCT) -- If that was the best that "American Idol" could do when Simon Cowell was still around, the next season of the Fox talent contest doesn't bear thinking about.
Most of Wednesday's "Idol" finale, in which Lee DeWyze was crowned the winner, was a sludgy, sleepy trip though a graying boomer's middle-of-the-road record collection, and the return visits from the ninth season's ejected contestants only served to remind us of why they were eliminated. There were also the expected tributes to departing judge Simon Cowell, but even those seemed to go on forever.
The arrival of rocker Bret Michaels, who has been hospitalized in recent weeks but turned up to duet with Casey James on "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," was one of the most lively moments of the evening. But that's more a statement about "Idol's" blah ninth season than about Michaels (who, it should be said, is a trouper for appearing).
DeWyze, of course, was suitably elated about his win. When asked by Ryan Seacrest how he felt, the stunned 24-year-old said, "I'm just happy, man. I'm so happy right now. I've never been happier in my life. I appreciate everything everybody here has done."
The clip compilations of Cowell's most acerbic moments went on a little too long, and Paula Abdul naturally didn't want to let go of the microphone when she turned up to pay tribute to the "laughter" they shared together before she left "Idol." (Earlier, there was a weird moment when a group of eccentric "Idol" auditioners from years past were brought out and one somehow managed to upstage comic Dane Cook _ not that that's so challenging these days.)
There was even a class reunion in honor of Cowell: All the previous "Idol" winners (except David Cook) assembled on the stage for a group sing that eventually included a host of "Idol" also-rans. Though it was nice to see all the winners at once, their presence was also somehow appropriate, given that "Where Are They Now" could have been the finale's theme.
Michael McDonald, Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Joe Cocker, the band Chicago, Alanis Morissette and Hall & Oates and Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees were among the musical guests in the predictable and occasionally painful musical numbers. Established musical artists singing duets with the talent show's lesser also-rans is an unfortunate annual "Idol" tradition, as are those awkward group numbers with the "Idol" Top 10 singers of the season. Can't the "Glee" choreographer come over and help out? Sheesh.
The opening group sing-along set the tone, with the Top 10 contestants dressed in school-boy and -girl outfits. Alice Cooper arrived to join the assembled singers on "School's Out," and maybe that was supposed to inject the proceedings with a sliver of danger. It was about as edgy as a grilled-cheese sandwich. Sorry, Alice. The lowest of a several low points was William Hung, who was part of a "Pants on the Ground" dance extravaganza.
Late in the finale, when Cocker came out to sing with runner-up Crystal Bowersox and DeWyze, it was a genuinely interesting moment, but most of the other performances weren't anything special. (Actually one of the few delightful moments of the evening came courtesy of indie singer Sufjan Stevens, whose song "Chicago" was the backdrop for a Bowersox-DeWyze retrospective).
DeWyze's impassioned final performance of U2's "Beautiful Day" was one of his best vocals of the season, and that at least allowed the finale to end on a high note. But what had come before was seriously lacking in excitement, and that doesn't bode well for the Cowell-free 10th season of "Idol."
If the show keeps running over its allotted time slot, giving the show's four judges too much time to speak (even when they have little of value to say) and showcasing sub-par singers, well, that's when the wheels might start to come off this television juggernaut. The show's ratings have been sinking for years, and now I'm very curious to see if it will remain dominant each spring _ or if Cowell's new fall show, "The X Factor," will bring in the kind of audience "Idol" has gotten (and Fox has relied on) for the past nine years.
Seacrest repeatedly mentioned that viewers could get discount tickets for the summer tour of "Idol" contestants. DeWyze and Bowersox are obviously talented, and a couple of the other Top 10 singers at least have big personalities. But maybe someone in the "Idol" brain trust has figured out that getting people to pay money to listen to the rest of this year's "Idol" crop will be a tricky proposition.
Well, once in a while "Idol" does evolve in the right direction. The good news is, DeWyze's first post-"Idol" single will be "Beautiful Day," not some treacly, horrific ballad commissioned by the show's producers.