Canadian Idol Sings Into the Sunset

Do you have Canadian Idol fever? A sixth karaoke champ from the Canadian wilderness is being crowned tonight. The two-hour finale begins at 8 p.m. on CTV.
Once Canada’s hottest show, Idol seems a bit off the radar this September. Gone are the full page ads CTV used to buy up in all the Toronto dailies. Instead, there’s a half page ad for Bones on Global in today’s Toronto Star, complete with the world’s stinkiest cut line: “Who blew up the outhouse?”
CTV quickly hustled out a release yesterday crowing about how Monday’s Idol performance finale beat up on an earlier edition of Bones. Monday’s Idol scored close to 1.5 million viewers across Canada, enough to win the night but more than 25% off last year’s second last show.
The truth is the mainstream press gave up on Canadian Idol a few years ago, especially in the major markets, where Idol has been less successful in the ratings for years. The Toronto Star bumped my Idol finale set up piece, scheduled to run Monday in time for the performance finale, to today’s paper. The reason? It was squeezed out by all their TIFF coverage. Hard to get any TV action when that circus is in town, but it wouldn’t have been bumped in 2005.
Had a fun time on the phone this weekend with Idol judge Jake Gold, who tried to talk me into coming down to the John Bassett Theatre for tonight’s finale. The Star has asked me to overnight the finale, so I’m not sure that’s going to work. From what I’ve always heard (including from Gold), nobody–not even cynical press hounds–has ever come away disappointed from a live Idol taping.
Tonight’s should be fun, with Mariah Carey and Jully Black performing. Gold has lost none of his enthusiasm for the show and hopes it will be back for a seventh season in 2009. He says that when he is judging a performance, he always keeps a close eye on the monitor under his desk to see what Canadians at home see when they watch the show. He’ll also watch every single show later that night at home. His concern is that you can get fooled if you just base impressions on what you see live. The camera just loves some singers more than others.
“To use a sports analogy, if I was a professional athlete, I’d watch the tape,” says Gold.
Alberta’s Theo Tams (left) faces off against Nova Scotia’s Mitch McDonald (below) in tonight’s final. Both are clean cut Canadian lads, very self effacing and polite on the phone, the kind of young men any mom would be proud of. There were no rock star, Diva-ish behaviour, no trash talk. Sweet, but a little colourless, a bit like an election between two Stephane Dions. There has to be a good guy and a bad guy in any showdown, and Canadian Idol seems to lack the heavy this season.
When I suggested that there was a lot of pressure on these two dudes, aged 22 and 23, Gold said that’s the nature of the deal. “Lookit, how old is Michael Phelps?” said Gold (the Olympic swim champ is 23, same age as Tams). Most of the young men and women competing in the U.S. Open tennis championships were younger than the two Idol finalists, he pointed out.
Asked if the singers were getting any easier to judge after six season, Gold came to a full stop. “Nobody’s asked that before,” he said.
What he has noticed is that he finds himself having to allow for individual voices to do their own thing, which has forced him to not judge solely based on technical ability. “There was a point in the Top 10 where I was going, ‘What am I going to say to this guy?'” he says, referring to Alberta backhoe operator Earl Stevenson, who eventually placed fourth. “He was so unique in his own style. It would be like saying to Neil Young, ‘You know, that note was off.'”
Who ever wins, both finalists seem to be taking all the hoopla in stride. Despite all the hype, not every Canadian Idol winner goes on to become a successful recording star (which is true also for American Idol winners); most Canadians could not name even last year’s winner. (Brian Melo.)
McDonald, who is a carpenter, says he can always go back to his day job. “I’d be happy just hammering nails five days a week and singing tunes Friday and Saturday nights the rest of my life,” he says. How Canadian is that.

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