The nine finalists on American Idol showed their ignorance of Elvis Presley last night.

Each got to pick an Elvis song to perform. Each is fighting for their professional lives. Each is in jeopardy of seeing the public turn on them, give them the thumbs down, and send them home.

Believe it or not, Elvis himself was in this same position in 1968.

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Bad movies and lame records in the 1960s were making him a joke among rock fans that had moved on to the harder sounds of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc.

So in 1968 a comeback TV special was planned to show fans that Elvis was still king. He donned black leather and prowled a small stage like a caged panther. He jammed on an electric guitar and let everybody know that, yes, he really could play. And he bucked advice from domineering manager Colonel Tom Parker and did something he’d never done before –he sat in an informal circle with his bandmates and performed live and unplugged. And he kicked ass doing it.


But Elvis wanted more. He wanted to end the hour-long special with a statement. He wanted a gigantic, climactic, slap you upside the head kind of a song that would let everybody know his feelings on the world and, most importantly, let ’em know he was back and badder than ever.

Walter Earl Brown was commissioned to pen this seminal piece of work. The songwriter worked Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of love and salvation into the lyrics. He wrote a gorgeous melody that simmers slowly, builds, and finally erupts into sheer power and jubilation.

And yet not a single Idol contestant was savvy enough to pull that song from Elvis’ discography during last night’s competition.

Instead we got horrid renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.”

On the hometown front, Duncanville’s Tim Urban took a decent, low-key stab at “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” and Fort Worth’s Casey James did a funky but not particularly satisfying take on “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

James, particularly, could have killed “If I Can Dream.”