Tom Ross: Fox redefines musical realities with 'Idol'

Fallen 'American Idol's dominate television for three consecutive weeknights

Help me comprehend all of this reality TV ruckus. Do I understand correctly that Boston Rob is the sole "Survivor" and now he's going to marry Paula Abdul on a desert island, and they hope to make beautiful music together. What's that? You say I'm confusing two distinctly different TV shows? Good heavens!

Here's the straight skinny you guys. Tonight begins three of the most memorable nights in boob tube history. "American Idol" will go back-to-back-to-back as the TV program that is turning the music industry upside down and will attempt to go from the final three to the final two and finally get it right.

Beginning tonight at 7 on Fox, "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest will sit down with the three judges and have a heartfelt conversation with Simon Cowell, Ms. Abdul and Randy "Yo Dawg" Jackson about how they think this season's show has gone. Then, each of the three finalists will sing a single song. The show gets down to some serious "reality" at 7 p.m. Tuesday night when Diana DeGarmo, Fantasia Barrino and Jasmine Trias are all required to sing three songs for their supper. I know I'll be eating my TV dinner off the coffee table in front of the set.

The producers at "Idol," who love to make the contestants squirm, will allow each of the singers to choose one song of their own liking Tuesday night. But they also will require them to sing a song chosen by the judges. If I know Simon Cowell, and I don't, he'll ask them to sing the Canadian or French national anthems. Finally, the contestants will have to sing a song selected for them by recording industry mogul Clive Davis. I'm thinking Clive will demand the contestants perform songs from the catalogue of Barbra Streisand (Memories, from the corners of my mind, misty watercolored memories, of the way television used to were ...).

Finally, beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Fox will take an hour to kick another diva off the show.

America was stunned last week when LaToya London was voted off the show. London was by many standards the best vocalist among the remaining competitors and easily the most poised. So why was she shown the door? I think I've figured it out. At the ripe old age of 25, Ms. London is far too ancient to be America's next idol.

What do the three finalists have in common? They are all teenagers. DeGarmo, who is from Snellville , Ga., is just 16. Trias, from Mililani, Hawaii, is 17, and Fantasia Barrino, of High Point, N.C., is the eldest at 19. We live in a youth culture, and to gain some perspective on this subject I spoke this weekend to several Steamboat teenagers, who like future "American Idol" contestants, are hoping to make a trip to Southern California to exercise their vocal chords.

The Steamboat teens were standing outside True Value on Sunday afternoon, selling wieners and sodas for a buck apiece to raise money for their trip. They are members of the Steamboat Springs High School choir.

You've got to think they are hanging on every moment of "American Idol" this week, trying to put themselves in DeGarmo's situation. Well, maybe not. "I don't know, it would be strange putting yourself out there," sophomore Shannon Moore said. "It would be nerve wracking."

Justin Andres said he thinks "American Idol" is slipping. "I'm not too thrilled about this season," he said. Andres thinks Barrino is the competitor with star quality.

"Fantasia is the one who seems like she could make it," Andres said. But he expressed some indifference.

Sophomore Adele Dombrowski confessed she doesn't have much time for "American Idol." She watches only the very first episode to catch all the really hopeless singers, and the final broadcast to learn who wins. "I don't like all the drama in between," Dombrowski said.

Gosh, and I thought the drama was what made the show so compelling. It certainly isn't watching Donna Summer reprise her "greatest" disco hits as she did last week.

For what it's worth, I'm betting Wednesday night will be the "Last Dance" for Jasmine Trias. However, before her career is over, she'll sell more records and make more music videos than DeGarmo and Barrino combined. Remember, we live in a youth dominated culture, and Trias -- she's only 16.

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