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May 25, 2004

AP

As its third season draws to a close, "American Idol" has taken on a distinctly Southern-fried flavor. When North Carolina's Fantasia Barrino and Georgia's Diana DeGarmo perform Tuesday and Wednesday in the TV talent show's season finale, they'll be following footsteps that have most often walked south of the Mason-Dixon line. Past winners of the Fox contest include Texas's Kelly Clarkson and Alabama's Ruben Studdard. Last year's runner-up, Clay Aiken, is from North Carolina. Even season one's second-place finisher, Justin Guarini of Pennsylvania, actually grew up in Georgia.

Asked to respond to the theory that the South is rising again -- this time, on the wings of its crooners -- Robert Thompson of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television chuckled, then conceded "there may be some things happening." He cited the Grand Ole Opry and Southern churches as reasons why Southern singers may have an advantage. "Right up to the final 32, contestants are singing a cappella that goes maybe 30 seconds," Thompson said. "Certain types of singers when backed up by loud bands can sound good, but make no impression when singing a cappella. ...The tradition of modern church gospel singing is great training for a cappella." Southern humorist and frequent National Public Radio commentator Roy Blount Jr. agrees, noting that most popular music -- blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll -- has Southern roots. "Southerners can sing the way they talk," he said. "They don't have to force it."

Posted by acapnews at May 25, 2004 10:09 PM

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