The American Idol fandom is all a-buzz about last night’s Mariah Carey episode. Granted, the American Idol fandom is always a-buzz about something, but this time, they might be justified. Last night was pretty intense.
The two female vocal powerhouses (if one can really call them that), Carly and Syesha, both fell kind of flat on a night that should have been in their comfort zone, mostly because neither of them are Mariah Carey; Brooke White had a rough time of trying to sing a very difficult song and play the piano at the same time (sidebar: I always found it hard enough just to play the piano, much less sing at the same time, which is why I have so much respect for Tori Amos, Elton John, and Billy Joel… and not so much for Brooke White… yet); David Archuleta was sincere, and cute, and inspirational, and also boring (although the leather pants were a step in the right direction); Jason Castro was very endearing with Mariah but not all that memorable on stage; Kristy Lee Cook bought herself another week with passable vocals and a beautiful outfit; and David Cook brought the house down with a menacing, creepy, altogether unexpected twist on one of Mariah’s biggest pop hits.
Clearly, the only Idol worth talking about this week is David Cook.
I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t super-impressed by his interpretation of Always Be My Baby. To me, it’s one of those pop songs that is perfectly constructed… like it came out of a factory, boxed up, sealed in plastic, and ready for consumption. Every element of that song has been worked out to every possible end, and I don’t see any reason to fiddle with it. I don’t blame or accuse David Cook of any shenanigans, necessarily - after all, the light-hearted, flirty, bounciness of the original arrangement would not suit him, but I can’t immediately say I’m comfortable with the final product, either. I mean, anyone, and I’m being serious here… anyone can transform a happy song into a sad song. Often, the lyrics take care of themselves… the happy lyrics take on a sense of irony and despair when combined with minor keys and darker orchestrations.
You know how a bratty kid whose way too smart for his/her own good will dismantle a toaster just for the sake of putting it back together again? That’s what this felt like to me. It was David Cook tearing apart a perfectly good song just for the sake of rearranging it into something different. Sometimes, but only sometimes, a truly magical thing can happen when you rearrange a song or piece of music – sometimes you can expose a facet of meaning and shed light on it until it gleams just as strongly as the first impression – but other times, you’ve just rearranged a song and that’s it. There has to be a purpose… a motivation… there has to be an obvious search for new meaning. To me, David Cook’s take on Always Be My Baby wasn’t about finding new meaning in an otherwise simple, sunny pop song, but about putting the song in a box that he felt comfortable in… a spiky-haired, raspy-voiced, alterna-emo box just like the one he lives in everyday. It was all about the song doing favors for him instead of the other way around, which was the way it should have been. What it said to me was, “Hello, my name is David Cook, and I’m too dark and edgy for these silly pop songs, which is the same thing as saying that I think I’m better than these silly pop songs, which means I think I’m better than Mariah Carey.” It’s smug, self-indulgent, and not a little arrogant, if you ask me. I would have been much more impressed if David had found a song that he could actually perform without changing the entire mood and tone of it, and still be David. Does such a song exist in the Mariah Carey oeuvre? Hmmmm….
All that said, credit where credit is due, yes? David Cook deserves the paper-plate award for best performance of the night, if only because he was the one contestant out of the whole bunch who took a risk. Just because I don’t think it was particularly successful doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. And I can’t argue with his mastery of Advanced American Idol Strategy and Voter Manipulation. I am, however, reluctant to jump on the crazy train with the words DAVID COOK IS SOME SORT OF GENIUS painted on the side in blood, because it just isn’t that deep and he isn’t all that good, and we must all, as a people, learn to show restraint when it comes to falling over ourselves praising reality T.V. contestants.
And honestly, I still don’t think he’s even all that great a singer. True, this competition has become less about vocals and more about song choice and personality (and that’s fine because that’s the world of music right now), but I can’t even listen to him sing for long periods of times because his voice has weird affectations, like he thinks he’s the guy from Nickelback or Creed or whatever, or he’s literally impersonating the singer from Our Lady Peace, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that kind of singing, other than that I HATE it, but that’s just me.
I think I’m just bitter because I’m not feeling either of the front-runners this season, which is making the show a lot less fun to watch, thus hurting my feelings.
The asterix party above is supposed to indicate a significant passage of time since I wrote the first part.
I’ve listened to Always Be My Baby as interpreted by David Cook a few more times today, and I suppose I don’t hate it anymore. Actually, I never hated it, I just didn’t like it as much as everyone else. I still think David is over-rated… to the point of Shame-On-You-Simon-Cowell… but at least I’m over my initial anger. I’m now in a place where I can admit, albeit reluctantly, that the new arrangement is more than just a self-congratulatory hug from David Cook to himself. It’s actually pretty clever. I still say all the credit goes to the song-writer, but you know… whatever.