OK, let’s look at this a little more seriously.
Yes, Fantasia is today a better singing entertainer than Diana.
Fantasia has a more mature voice. It sounds easier coming out of her. Diana sounds like she’s straining at times, and I always have a slightly nervous feeling when she’s singing that she could louse something up. (That might be because I’m rooting for her, though, and have something to lose if she does.) Diana also has a tendency to lose notes in the lower register, but so has just about everyone else on the show at times, including Fantasia.
Diana has that all-too-perky cute girl next door look going for her, despite a couple of poor costume choices. She gets a bad rap on the Jon Benet comparisons. She’s become a better singer in the course of the competition. She had momentum going into the final week. She can, indeed, hit the high notes and hold them. Say what you will about that, but it’s become an American Idol necessity. The audience reacts to it. They demand it. It surely didn’t hurt Jennifer and LaToya.
Fantasia screams too much. She warbles and riffs instead of singing. In the times when she can control that — “Greatest Love Of All” and the original “Summertime” — she sounds great. The rest of the time, though, she’s relying on her showmanship to overcome the simple basic fact that she’s not a great singer. She changes songs up to suit her not out of some amazing technical gift, but because the audience responds to that level of surface riffing, and probably because it just makes the song easier. (“yeah yeah yeah” is easier to finish than one long syllable held for just as long.)
But that’s popular music today. Look at how Cristina Aguilera, for example, can have a relatively beautiful voice and yet still screw up a tender ballad. That “Beautiful” song could be really good if she weren’t stomping all over it with her voice. I get dizzy listening to her voice warble on every other note. But if that’s the way popular music is today, and AMERICAN IDOL is a popularity contest for pop music, then Fantasia surely deserves to be the queen.
The problem is, I didn’t see the strong Fantasia that I like on the show last night. I saw more of the screecher. And I thought Diana did a far better job on the Idol song, singing it truer to the music. Some want to call that “soulless” and “unoriginal.” I don’t think it is. I think it’s actually more disciplined to work on hitting the notes on the sheet music than dancing all around it, avoiding it in the name of “personal style” and “taking risks.” You can reinterpret the song as a Mozart concerto next year, for all I care. Right now, I want to hear a version that goes along with the music. I don’t care if that means you dance around and spin in circles or not. Diana did it better last night.
There’s another thing: Both Fantasia and Diana have a tendency to lose their voice when they concentrate on dancing. I don’t know if it’s just because they’re not keeping the microphone steady, or because they lose their breath. But I saw it with both of them last night.
In the end, the entire debate over who is “better” and who “deserves” to win was trumped for me by the godawful treatment Diana received on the show last night. Never has there been a more concerted effort by the judges to make sure a certain person got voted for or against. (OK, maybe the week after Jennifer Hudson lost this year and Ryan scolded the audience.)
I know I can’t vote for LaToya anymore, just as many of you can’t vote for Jennifer or George or (heaven help us all) Leah and JPL. So it’s down to the last two. Yes, Fantasia’s voice is more ready to be recorded. It’ll hold up better and longer. And she can take a piece of crap song and make it something her dedicated fans will swoon over. We saw that with the first song last night. Blame it on the arrangement, if you like, but it was crap, pure and simple.
If I had my choice, I’d take Diana over Fantasia in an instant. She’s good enough to record right now, plus there’s a greater upside there. As she continues training and working at it, she’ll command the stage, the song, and the audience.
The only people on the show this year that I might buy CDs from would be La Toya London and John Stevens. Yes, John Stevens. I think with the pressure of a live audience off of him, some time in the recording studio, and a couple of computer tweaks, he could put out a pretty cool album.
After last night’s treatment, Diana’s CD might be up on my shelf next to those two. I want to see her overcome that crap. And good for her for not breaking down in the middle of it and for taking it like a champ. She certainly deserves better than that.