American Idol must be carrying a torch for the Tampa Bay area.
How else to explain the show's decision to put two singers with local ties into the blockbuster singing competition's top 24 semifinalists this week: Tampa resident Janell Wheeler and St. Petersburg native Michael Lynche?
In both cases, the show kicked off episodes with our local heroes, showing Lynche getting the good news at the start of Tuesday's episode and Wheeler learning her fate at the start of Wednesday's show. Viewers had already bonded with Lynche — thanks to footage showing his wife bearing their first child back in New York during his earlier auditions in the show's infamous Hollywood Round — and the prominent placement of both singers fanned rumors producers liked them from the start.
As is typical for Idol at this point in the competition, this week's results shows veered between the giddy excitement of those who are about to embark of a whole new level of show business and the bitter disappointment of those left behind. This time, instead of the traditional ride up an elevator to face the judges, the show's remaining singers walked the length of the Kodak Theater, plopping into chairs on the stage to learn their fate.
At times, particularly when a rejected contestant got unusually upset, the whole proceeding felt like a clip from the tabloid TV show TMZ — with a small swarm of cameras dogging the jilted singer to drink in every tear and cry of frustration.
Still, the selection of Lynche, 26, marked the second time someone from his family did well on the show; his older brother Marque Lynche Jr. was cut from the 2004 edition just before the top 12 were chosen. It also helped quash rumors that the personal trainer, now living in New York, was eliminated from the show for violating a confidentiality agreement after the St. Petersburg Times reported rumors he was among the semifinalists.
A standout football player from Gibbs High School who also played defensive tackle for the University of Central Florida, Lynche is also the son for former community columnist Michele Lynch, who died in 2004.
Wheeler, 24, who told Idol judges she'd be calling the wine distributor where she worked to tell it she had another commitment, was already sparking stories online for a rumored on-again, off-again relationship with famed ex-Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. The show also echoed Wheeler's nickname for herself, the Sunshine Cowgirl.
Meanwhile, the show needs to prove itself more than ever. Buckle up guys, because the ride only gets bumpier from here.
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. Follow him online at the Feed, blogs.tampabay.com/media.