A highly amusing storyline that played out on numerous websites after the Year You Were Born episode goes something like this. After David Cook finished his unusual performance of Billie Jean, earning mostly rave reviews from Idol fans, an agitator would jump in to scream "Fraud! Thievery! I just searched YouTube.com, and I discovered Cook stole that arrangement from Chris Cornell of Soundgarden!" (On one blog we sample regularly, the agitator was so outraged he posted his expose no fewer than 30 times in succession to ensure no one could miss it.)
After perhaps a few random replies, ranging from "I'm disappointed to learn that" to "So what?", someone would calmly point out a relevant fact: during Ryan's introduction of the performance, as he stood amidst the audience, he stated explicitly that Cook would be doing Cornell's version. There would follow general laughter and merriment all around, and the humiliated agitator would slink off with his tail between his legs.
Ever since the notorious Chris Daughtry-Live controversy on I Walk The Line, many fans have been hypersensitive to matters of arrangement originality and plagiarism. We happen to be sticklers for attribution, so we mostly applaud that sentiment, but with the caveat that it's easy to go overboard with it. In Cook's case, a few folks were annoyed that Incubus was not cited when he did his post-grunge Hello, though in fairness to him, his arrangement was different enough that crediting them was at best a marginal call. This has predictably led to a horde of would-be Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews trying to catch contestants in the act of musical larceny. To highlight the "overboard" danger: two weeks ago, a handful of forumists expressed outrage – Lord, do some Idol devotees outrage easily – that Syesha Mercado tried to "sneak" the Earth Wind And Fire arrangement of Got To Get You Into My Life past America, except that Randy called her on it. We hate to break it to them, but EWF's version of that song is arguably the better known, as evidenced by the numerous other people that night who wrote, "Wow, I never knew The Beatles wrote that!"
Still, we think someone deserves a shout-out for the shout-out to Cornell. No, not Cook; we think contestants get too much blame when these arrangement controversies flare up, because they likely have little control over how their performance is introduced. Consequently, they shouldn't get too much credit when proper attribution, a routine courtesy in the music industry, is given. Instead, we have to tip our hats to the producers, something we don't do terribly often around here. Maybe...just maybe...Ken and Nigel and the chaps are finally starting to understand the importance of doing the right thing, and of keeping American Idol an above-board and honorable competition. At least, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt until the next time they dip into their familiar bag of tricks.
- The WNTS.com Team