Then along came Alejandro Aranda.
I happened this season’s runner-up completely by accident.
The show was still in the audition portion — and I was actually searching for a contestant on “The Voice” — when Aranda’s audition for “Idol” popped up.
The 24-year-old dishwasher from Pomona, California was almost adorably awkward, holding his guitar and clearly nervous, even as he greeted judges Lionel Richie, Katie Perry and Luke Bryan with a good-natured, “What up homies?”
After sharing that he had been homeschooled and came to music later in life, Aranda began to play his original song, “Out Loud.”
It was so mesmerizing that I watched it at least a dozen times while sitting at my desk at work (sorry CNN, but it is my job to stay up on this stuff).
Bryan seemed awestruck as Aranda’s fingers flew on his guitar.
Richie shook his head in disbelief and hugged Aranda while Perry, after the contestant performed another original song on the piano, proclaimed him “a genius” who had a great shot at becoming the next “American Idol.”
I, for one, am thrilled he did not.
Let’s be honest: reality singing competitions can often feel like glorified karaoke shows.
Contestants are urged to make cover songs “their own,” while at the same time frequently penalized for straying too far from an original.
From “Idol” to “The Voice” — and the more recent entrant “The Four” — these shows are about finding compelling contestants who can sing their tails off and keep audiences glued to their screens.
“Idol” struck gold in Aranda, with a singer-songwriter whose original compositions already sound like hits (I’ve been singing “Out Loud” more than anything on my Spotify playlist lately).
Rather than seeking out contestants that can do justice to songs that are already hits, Aranda brought his own artistry and vulnerability to the competition.
He’s a man who burst into tears during his hometown visit on “Idol” after a children’s choir performed one of his songs.
“I never had a lot of support,” he said, as he wiped away tears.
Aranda’s refreshing authenticity in an industry of highly curated artists resonated with audiences, even if he didn’t end up winning “American Idol.”
By coming in second, he is actually freed from the pressure that comes along with the title.
As far as I’m concerned, Aranda is the future of reality singing competitions if they are smart.
NBC appears to get it.
The network has a new show, “Songland,” that aims to “find the next generation of hit songwriters.”
With any luck, they’ll find us more like Aranda.