The reality show gods bestowed a gift upon American Idol this season, and his name was Lazaro Arbos. A chronic stutterer who grew up a bullied loner because of his speech pattern, but whose voice is smooth as butter when he sings, the handsome 21-year-old's backstory is the type of reality producers' dreams. But now, with the competition getting stiffer and the Idol Top 10 dwindling, it's time to put Lazaro out of his misery.
Misery, you say? But this is his lifelong dream — to sing in front of millions of viewers and spread a positive message of acceptance and inclusion. Well, yes, that may have been true when Lazaro showed up to his audition in Chicago last year. But for the past few weeks, Lazaro's looked like he'd rather be anywhere than up on that Idol stage. And let's face it, folks, it's no longer his singing chops that are keeping him there every week.
Lazaro encompasses the best and worst of shows like American Idol. Yes, it's uplifting to see someone who's been put down their entire life overcome adversity and use their raw talent to rise above it all. And yes, he's a sweet kid with a heart of gold who deserves only good things in life, including the opportunity to pursue his passion. But at what point does America's "sympathy vote" hinder a contestant more than it helps him?
Lazaro's downward spiral started way back on March 13 when, in his first performance as a Top 10 finalist, he made the twofold mistake of a) tackling "Breakaway" by original Idol Kelly Clarkson, thus reminding the audience of the type of talent this show is capable of fostering and b) butchering it. The audience ate it up, however, and gave Lazaro enough votes to land him in fourth place (behind power trio Candice Glover, Kree Harrison and Angie Miller) when the results were revealed the following night, Lazaro was visibly stunned by the ranking.
The next week didn't help matters, with an abysmal take on The Beatles' "In My Life" that judge Randy Jackson called Lazaro's "worst performance ever." This episode was an emotional turning point for Lazaro, who fought back tears during the judges' critique and looked as though he was praying for a giant hole to open up in the middle of the stage to swallow him whole. Even Nicki Minaj commented on his fragile demeanor.
Lazaro may have taken Minaj's feedback a little too much to heart, because the following week, after an improved-but-still-not-great offering (Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life"), he was almost dismissive of the feedback offered by Jackson and the other judges. "No problem," he repeated almost robotically, in response to comments about his pitch, and even called Jackson "boo"(!!) at one point. And while we're on the subject of canned responses, Mariah Carey has at this point resorted to praising Lazaro's "bravery and courage" after every performance and sidestepping the technical merits entirely.
And then came the group performance. At the end of last week's show, Lazaro took the stage with Devin Velez and Burnell Taylor to sing The Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)." The number was a train wreck from the opening line, with the guys failing to harmonize even once and Lazaro struggling to follow the most minimal choreography, forgetting lines left and right, and even lip-syncing at one point after Devin swooped in to rescue him from a missed cue. Minaj lambasted the trio afterwards, saying she wanted to forget she had ever seen or heard the performance and telling them to "get off the stage."
But before they did so, host Ryan Seacrest gave the guys a chance to respond. "We didn't know the words that well," Lazaro conceded (but only after Burnell and Devin both mumbled that they had memorized their parts). It's worth noting that lack of preparation was also the excuse Lazaro fell back on during Beatles week — and the show called him out on it. Lazaro told Seacrest after his performance that he had learned "In My Life" "the night before" (New theory! Was he undecided about which Beatles song to perform? Eh, unlikely.) But during the next night's results show, Jimmy Iovine pointed out that he had started working with Lazaro on the song five days prior to the performance. Oops.
Still, it was Devin who was sent down the plank last Thursday over Lazaro. Sure, Devin didn't have the most sparkling personality on the show, and can anyone even remember his backstory? Probably not. But there's no way anyone can make the argument that his vocal talents earned him a spot behind Lazaro.
And so, with the finalists down to seven, the competition is getting to the point where it's very possible that someone who has a very legitimate shot at winning American Idol — i.e. Amber Holcomb or Janelle Arthur — will get sent home because voters don't want to be mean to the kid who gets picked on all the time. But it seems like Lazaro doesn't even want to be there anymore. The deer-in-headlights Lazaro of late doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to the Lazaro who stunned the judges when he shyly but confidently belted out Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" during his audition. Perhaps the most sympathetic thing for viewers to do at this point would be to send him home.