Here’s the thing you should know right from the beginning: Lee DeWyze’s performance of Leonard Cohen’s immortal “Hallelujah” was totally acceptable. It probably didn’t need the choir and the smoke machine and the histrionics (it’s a pretty epic tune on its own), but it wasn’t the most offensive thing in the universe. It was perfectly fine. But it really drove home a key point that needs to be taken into consideration as the show moves forward: “Hallelujah” needs to be retired, and fast.
It’s not that it isn’t a lovely song. In fact, it’s totally gorgeous and sounds really good in a lot of different registers. As songwriting goes, it’s pretty close to perfect. But that’s just the problem, as too many people are able to make it sound too good. Think about it: Even before “American Idol” first premiered, there had already been three iconic versions of the song: Cohen’s original, the Jeff Buckley cover and the Rufus Wainwright version that appears in the first “Shrek.” Most songs have only a single version that can be called definitive, and only occasionally is there a second. As a song, “Hallelujah” is versatile.
Of course, it also has a history on “American Idol.” The tune has appeared a total of three times on the show (and twice this season). The definitive “Idol” version belongs to Jason Castro, who absolutely killed it back in season seven and delivered one of the best “Idol” performances of all time. Earlier this season, Tim Urban tried his hand at the song (acquitting himself relatively well) and DeWyze brought it back last night (at the behest of judge Simon Cowell). No performance moving forward will top Castro’s, but there will also never be a bad version of it. Singing “Hallelujah” proves absolutely nothing, which is why it should be permanently banned from competition.
Here’s the thing: If contestants really want to deliver a touching tune by a singer-songwriter, both Cohen and Buckley have other songs available (though Cohen, of course, has a lot more than Buckley). Cohen’s “Suzanne” has a lovely melody and plenty of pathos, while his “Famous Blue Raincoat” contains the same gentle sweeps as “Hallelujah.” Want to pay tribute to Buckley? Strap on “Love, You Should Have Come Over” or “Forget Her.” You know what else is available? Songs from every other singer-songwriter. Explore some Tom Waits or Pete Yorn, kids.
Do you think “Hallelujah” should be retired? What other songs on “American Idol” should be put to bed? Let us know in the comments!