"A bold move for Bo," announced Ryan Seacrest as American Idol returned from commercial. "He's chosen to sing without the band. With 'In A Dream' by Badlands, here is Bo Bice!"
What's this? The first a cappella performance in a competition round? And of an obscure song by a little-known, long defunct band, no less? Bold was not the word. Foolish was more like it. Bice came into the Final 3 episode with a large, loyal fanbase and a near-spotless record in the competition. The conventional wisdom was that, barring a total meltdown, he was a shoo-in to advance to the Finale. Three safe performances were all it would take, yet here was Bice taking arguably the biggest risk of the season with little to gain and everything to lose.
The house lights went down and a single spotlight illuminated Bice from above. Hmm, this "Dream" song was a ballad...no, more like a spiritual. A plea of some sort, from a pained and weary man asking for comfort. Bice gazed directly into the camera for most of the performance, never blinking, never allowing the audience to look away, compelling them to do nothing but listen. Every note was pure and strong, every transition seamless. A sustained glory note towards the end brought a scattering of cheers, but otherwise the audience remained dead silent throughout - indeed, their applause didn't begin until the echoes of Bice's final note faded away. Which is probably also an AI first.
The judges were as awed as the audience at what they'd just heard, with Simon Cowell summing it up pithily by observing that Bice "may have just put 34 musicians out of work."
There have, we think, been better-sung performances on Idol, but there's been no better-presented one. "In A Dream" rated out to a 96, one of the highest marks ever. Its ratio of positive to negative reviews remains among the most lopsided we've ever encountered, at just under 39 to 1.
No one has attempted an a cappela performance since "Dream", and we think that's wise. Even if your song was of a completely different style, it will naturally be compared to this one. The takeaway lesson here is instead this: if you're going to risk choosing an obscure song, you have to do more than just sing it well. You need to sell it to America. When Bice finished his number, viewers understood why he admired this song so much, and why he kept it in his back pocket all season waiting for just the right moment. That, moreso than the singing itself, is "In A Dream"'s true legacy to future contestants.