Just got back from being out and about on the NYC subways and busses where AI was everywhere. I was on one bus during the "school's out" rush, so we're packed like proverbial sardines. These busses are always very chatty but today some guy yelled out "Fantasia or Diana?!" And I'm tellin' ya, from the kids who rap to the ladies who lunch, everybody yelled out one name or the other. Pretty hilarious. Then the discussions started, ie, "Diana? You crazy! That dog don't hunt!" or "Well, Fantasia is good, but I don't know about having a single mother as the American Idol" or "I didn't like Diana at first, but she got better as time went on. But she's still no Fantasia. I think [Diana] needs a few years to mature. My goodness, sometimes she just screams so loud I have to cover my ears!" (that came from a Lady Who Lunches).
Then on the subway, I was sitting next to a butch looking guy. At first I couldn't tell if he was butch het or butch gay, but he was reading THE NEW YORK POST, which had as its top headline 'IDOL' FINALE: EXPERTS' VERDICT. Of course I had to ask what the gist of it was. Turned out the guy was really into it, had a big bet on Diana even though he thought Fantasia was better, because the odds on Diana were longer and if Diana won, he'd win $250 bucks. He said he was in a pool with five of his buddies (that was, I think, the clue to butch gay) who all had bets on it. I asked what the general consensus of his buddies was. The guy said they all thought Fantasia had the "it" factor; that although none of them like Diana at first, three of them got to like her over time; they all agreed Diana yelled too much, but thought that was an easy fix; and when it came to betting, three of them went with Diana even though they liked Fantasia better (he said one guy bet on Diana who couldn't stand her, lol) because, as he put it, they thought, "No way is most of America going to vote for a teenage single mother with lips like that. Fantasia is the kind of girl who can get down and really boogie, and that scares most of America s***less. But win or lose, I'm buying Fantasia's CD, not Diana's."
At the newstand I bought the POST and the DAILY NEWS and since they're not online, I'll quote some of the highlights.
NEW YORK POST
'IDOL' FINAL: EXPERTS' VERDICT
"FANTASIA FANTASTIC AS DIANA'S A DUD"
EXCERPTS from critic Dan Aquilante in his review "NO STOPPING BARRINO AFTER COMEBACK": "If Fantasia Barrino isn't voted the 2004 'American Idol' after last night's battle of the divas, then Sir Elton John might have been right when he accused the competition of being 'incredibly racist.'
"In the very first round...rival...DeGarmo outclassed Barrino with a ballad written by a former 'Idol' runner-up, Tamyra Gray.
"DeGarmo sang with open-arm gestures, and the vocal force that belied her age. She sang not with passion for the sappy song but with open lust for the brass ring of winning. [Love this description.]
"Barrino, on the other hand, stumbled through her opening son 'All My Life.' That song required this challenger, with the grit-and gravel pipes, to sing sweetly in her upper register.
"While she never hit a foul note, the song was so obviously wrong for Barrino that you couldn't help but wonder if it was chosen as a ploy, the trategy being to come on weak and get stronger with each subsequent tune.
"Which, in fact, is what she did.
"One of her two next songs was Gershwin's 'Summertime.' She'd already road-tested that one on the competition earlier in the year, with fantastic results.
"Barrino reprised that performance, adding even more punch to the pastoral classic. After that, there was no stopping her.
"She also sang the Gray song...and used a gospel force to find higher ground. Still, while it was better than DeGarmo's version, it didn't cinch her win.
"What opened the door for Barrino to snatch the 'Idol' title wasn't how well she sang--and she did sing very well--and she did sing very well--but rather, how badly DeGarmo finished.
"On DeGarmo's final tune, 'Don't Cry Out Loud,' she rushed the lyrics and then, in the fat section of the chorus, her voice went flat. [ITA.]
"It was as if she couldn't hear herself over the band and she was belting out notes and just hoping for the best."
EXCERPTS from critic Mary Huhn's review: "SCORE THIS A VICTORY FOR THE FAVORITE":
"American Idol finalists Diana DeGarmo and Fantasia Barrino will both likely end up with record contracts, but only one was clearly set to walk off with the show's crow after last night's final vocal duel: Fantasia.
"Diana opened well with her stirring rendition of a soul-pop tune [Tamyra Gray's] 'I Believe.' The baby-faced, 16-year-old blonde, looking elegant in black lace, was backed by a gospel choir, and the emotion of the song rang out as she belted, 'I've waited all my life for this moment to arrive.' She's a teenager, sure, but we've seen this determined Georgian grow into this moment, and she owned it...
"Meanwhile, Fantasia, the 19-year-old favorite going into the night, chose a cover of the R&B tune, 'All My Life.' The odds were against her due to a schmaltzy chorus: Judge Randy Johnson rightly called the arrangements out of whack and the band lackluster...
"In the second round, Diana picked 'No More Tears,' which she first sang during the Donna Summer disco show. Her voice is good enough, but isn't disco dead?
"Fantasia gets points just for attempting the 'Porgy and Bess' classic 'Summertime,' which is steeped in operatic history. [The reviewer gets points from me for noting this.] She kept her body language subtle and let her voice carry it.
"In the third round, Diana's choice, 'Don't Cry Out Loud,' should have demonstrated her vocal range, but when she sang the chorus, there were ear-piercing moments. Still, she saved herself, hitting the final notes of the final line, 'You almost had it all.' That was chilling.
"Fantasia's finale, 'I Believe' was her best of the night. She had the same backup singers as Diana had, but this was now her song. She believed, and that came across in her dynamic vocals and impassioned delivery....
"Overall, Fantasia was clearly the performer of the night and deserves the 'American Idol' crown."
THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
2 DIVAS MAKE PITCH
"PEOPLE'S 'IDOL' CHOICE TO BE REVEALED TONIGHT"
EXCERPTS from critic Davd Bianculli's review: "DIANA'S DIVINE BU FANTASIA'S FINER":
...."FIRST ROUND: Diana: She approched her opening song, 'I Believe,' quietly but not tentatively--finding an obvious connection with such lyrics as 'I've waited all my life for this moment to arrive.' [BTW, wasn't this pretty much the same lyric in Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This"?] When the full gospel choir kicked in, she kicked to a higher and louder gear. Very solid.
Fantasia: Her first choice of songs was 'All My Life,' the middle part of which had her screaming above and against the bland arrangement. As the judges said, it was a mess.
My vote: First round, easily, went to DeGarmo.
Diana: She started her second number, 'No More Tears' seated on the lep of the stage. As with her first song, a quiet start led to a loud finish. Unexceptional, but confident.
Fantasia: For her second song, she risked being marked down for repetitiveness by going back to 'Summertime,' her best vocal performance of the competition to that point. She sang it again, just as soulfully but more defiantly.
My vote: The second round went to Barrino, and evened the card.
Diana: 'Don't Cry Out Loud' was her final song. Though she finished by holding a big last note, she lost her way near the end.
Fantasia: She sang 'I Believe' and made it sound like a different song from the one DeGarmo sang--deeper, richer, fuller, and more touching. This last moment on stage belonged to her.
If I were anointing the winner, Fantasia would be handed the win tonight--coutesy of a third-round knockout. But it's the votes from viewers and fans that count, and because of their fervor and loyalty, DeGarmo can't be counted out."
WATCHING E!'s COVERAGE OF THE AI PRE-SHOW
According to E! Entertainment, 50 to 60 million people called in after the final, and the difference between the winner and loser is less than 1%.
Diana's fave judge: Paula.
Fantasia's: Simon, "because he keeps it real."
Clive Davis, who was the guest judge for the final three (and a great judge at that) is the producer for the AI finalists who get contracts.
E! reports that Diana has been the lead vote-getter during six out of the last seven weeks.
HIGHS AND LOWS OF AI SEASON 3
NEW AMERICAN BANDSTAND PLANNED WITH IDOL FLAVOUR
Believe in Fantasia
If the last song proves the key to American Idol victory, then Diana DeGarmo lost hers. Her pronounced tendency toward tuneless shouting came back to bite her on her final song, a reprise of Melissa Manchester's Don't Cry Out Loud.
This link also links to the rest of this article and links to USA TODAY's reviews of each week of AI-3 starting with last year's final and this year's first "cattle call" auditions.
That's all folks. No secret that I'm all for Fantasia, although I do think Diana made some good progress. But I think Diana is going to win for reasons that have been much covered on these AI threads and in the media, which I don't think will affect Fantasia's career one iota. My only regret is that if Diana wins, she will be releasing "I Believe." Not that it's a great song by itself, but IMO Fantasia made it great. At least Clive Davis will be producing both of them, and Clive clearly got what makes Fantasia a real artist and also seemed to understand Diana's strengths, weaknesses, and potential to be ga great artist. I think win or lose, he and his people will push them both in the right direction very hard.
Just to reiterate: Fantasia moved me deeply twice and last night made Never-Cry-I bawl like a baby. She made me remember what live singing by a true artist is all about.