"Idol" watch: The season's saddest moment

Phil Stacey's goodbye reminds us why "American Idol" is compelling television.

Published May 3, 2007 3:38PM (EDT)

The Wednesday night episode of "American Idol" is typically a drag -- a bunch of filler, then someone gets voted off. And for the most part, last night stayed true to form. Blue-eyed soulster Robin Thicke sang his tepid R&B hit, "Lost Without U." Bon Jovi -- whose music was the theme for the week -- sang a slow, boring ballad. A few past "Idol" winners showed up in the wake of last week's charity show to solicit more donations. Yawn. But then, a little more than halfway through the hourlong telecast, host Ryan Seacrest asked contestants Phil Stacey, Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones to come to the stage. One of them would soon be sent packing.

Seacrest first addressed Melinda, the seasoned pro and most consistently stellar performer. Summoning all the gravitas in his finely etched stubble, he said, "Melinda, you are safe."

That meant either LaKisha, who'd faltered in recent weeks but came up big on Tuesday night, or Phil, whose glacial stage presence had been thawing nicely for a month, would be going home. LaKisha Jones, a fiery soul shouter and single mother from Flint, Mich. Phil Stacey, a Kentucky boy with a country twang and the daddy to two young daughters. Who would it be?

I used to look down my nose at "American Idol." It's predictable; the music is middle-of-the-road; its definition of "good" singing is painfully slim; huge chunks of it are little more than excuses to run ads. But now, I'm hooked.

Stacey has been a big reason for my change of heart. His transformation from a rigid, disconnected performer to a self-assured dude who'd given some of the strongest performances of late has been heartwarming. I liked Jones, but I'd become invested in Stacey.

Seacrest looked somberly at Stacey and Jones fidgeting in front of him. He opened his mouth to speak. "LaKisha, you are safe."

Phil Stacey's run was over. He hugged LaKisha Jones. A video montage of his best moments started to play. When it was done, Stacey took a mike from Seacrest, strode to center stage and, for the last time, started to sing on "American Idol."

Stacey is a 29-year-old pastor's son and an active-duty U.S. Navy sailor. On his "Idol" Web page, he lists the proudest moments of his life as "marrying the most amazing woman on the planet" and "meeting his babies." Earlier in the season, he said he'd tried out for "Idol" in the hopes of providing a better life for his daughters. He's a normal guy. A nice guy. And seeing that nice, normal guy strutting through the crowd, belting out Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory," extending his rock-star dream for just a few more moments, was one of the most touching things I've seen on TV in a good long while.

Oh yeah, Virginian Chris Richardson got voted off too. I never really liked that guy.

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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