I just ran up on this article.. thought some people would like to read...

Finalists’ voices alone are no ticket to stardom

By Robin Givhan

Now that the group of 12 performers on Fox’s “American Idol” has been narrowed to the final three, the level of scrutiny will rise dramatically. Perfect pitch and delivery will be essential, but the issue of visual aesthetics will become even more pressing. From the beginning, the appearance of the contestants was a factor.

It’s gratifying that although looks matter, the voting audience was not duped by the pop-tart style of the recently departed Kimberly Caldwell.

THIS IS, after all, a television show in which the audience chooses a pop music idol — rather than, say, the world’s best classical trombonist. And that means the winner must have the glossy good looks commonly found in music videos, on magazine covers and along the red carpet. They need a public persona that can make their fans swoon.

The remaining threesome — Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke — all have fine voices. Studdard, in particular, has a Luther Vandross/Barry White voice that is perfectly equipped to croon a between-the-sheets soundtrack.
Kimberly Caldwell

It has been gratifying to note that although looks matter, the voting audience was not duped by the pop-tart style of the recently departed Kimberly Caldwell. With her blond hair extensions and navel-baring ensembles, she tried hard to dress the part of a Top 10 hitmaker but always sounded as if she should follow up her performance by slipping on a Miss Junior Texas sash, slathering on the body glue and preparing for the swimsuit competition.

Trenyce also did not fool the home audience, even though judge Paula Abdul consistently turned dreamy-eyed over her made-for-VH-1 costumes. Trenyce — a rail-thin junior diva who used only one name — typically styled herself after such big-ballad belters as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and often selected showstopping songs that allowed her to gesticulate broadly. She punctuated her notes with the earsplitting finesse of a sledgehammer. Trenyce’s dismissal last week was reasonable, although one could argue that it came a week too soon.

Gracin wore cowboy hats and favored a necklace so crowded with jangling charms it looked as if he were wearing a janitor’s key ring around his neck.

In a righteous world, Joshua Gracin would have been the one sent packing last week, when proper pitch seemed to elude him. In a fair world, he would already have been voted off the show for consistently wearing farmer Joe bluejeans that made his legs look like stumps. He would have been sent home weeks ago because, even though he is a Marine and he is patriotic and he might have been called to duty at any moment, he still couldn’t sing. Instead, the Earth wobbled on its axis, the planets slipped out of alignment, the gods went crazy, and Gracin survived so that this week he could march out into the audience and belt out a chicken-fried version of the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’.”

Gracin was, perhaps, the most earnest of the performers. He had positioned himself as a Clint Black/Garth Brooks kind of country singer. He wore cowboy hats and favored a necklace so crowded with big, jangling charms that it looked as though he were wearing a janitor’s key ring around his neck.

Still, Gracin could not find a compelling stage persona. The bronze highlights — applied on air — didn’t flatter his military buzz cut, which never grew out on the sides. Gracin couldn’t develop a stage style that said anything other than “I mow my own lawn.”

But finally he is gone, with a flurry of thank-yous to the judges, his wife, the Marines and America. Now there are three. Judge Simon Cowell was right — he always is — when he said that ever since Kimberley Locke got rid of “that weird hair,” she has never sounded better. Several weeks ago, she jettisoned the big, curly hairdo that made her look like one of disco’s Weather Girls and took to the flatiron. With her new, sleeker hair, she has elevated the level of confidence and sophistication in her performances. A good hair day, it seems, can work wonders.

Locke is a conservative dresser, which has won her the affection of a certain parental contingent that can do without the constant televised display of pierced navels. But Locke is also a voluptuous girl. And, truth be told, getting a chubby girl — even one with a splendid voice — into popdom is as difficult as squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.

The remaining boys of “American Idol” also have fashion challenges. Clay Aiken — a beanpole — has yet to wear a jacket that does not look as though it belongs to his father or a tie that doesn’t look as though it came with its own disco ball.

The cut-with-a-hacksaw hairstyle works well on Aiken, and he looks the part of a pop prince with his blond highlights, more mousse and less gel. Aiken has a charming, elfin look. He doesn’t just blink; his eyes close in slow motion, his long, thick lashes flutter down over his big, astonished peepers. He’s a pretty boy. But pretty boys who wear red leather jackets and twitch their hips while singing “Grease” get beaten up on the playground. They do not make anyone swoon.

Ruben Studdard — Ruuuuuuuuuben! — represents Birmingham, Ala., with his 205 sports jerseys. He has a neo-soul voice, a closet full of newsboy caps, a big cubic zirconium in his ear and the body to fill out his XXXL Sean John coordinated separates.

Studdard has a style of the sort that one might see in the subway, the mall, the college campus. It’s not special, but it’s also not offensive.

Studdard is a big man with rhythm and a voice like honey. It would be nice to see him in more tailored clothes, but because of his size, he runs the risk of looking older than his 25 years. And even more important than having the chops, the rhythm and the style, a pop idol must always have the dewy look of youth.