Monday, March 16, 2009

...reacts to American Idol Top 13

You know, even though this is only the first week of the finals, I feel like this season has already gone on too long. Maybe next season I’ll start acting like everyone else I know and tune in only after the finals start. I think it might save me a lot of grief. For one thing, had I not watched from the beginning, I might be fully on board with Danny Gokey, except, no, I have been watching, and I’m still as disgusted with him as ever, which puts me at odds with the rest of America. I’m having flashbacks of last season – I really hated David Cook for most of the first half, and it kind of ruined the whole thing for me, because everyone else and their moms were lifting up their skirts every time he came on stage. And now Danny Gokey is getting similar treatment, and I kind of can’t stand it. One of two things must happen for me to stay on good terms with this season: Gokey gets himself eliminated OR he does something so completely awesome that I’m forced to forget everything I thought about him and re-position him in my brain. David Cook almost did that (I said almost), so it IS possible, but I didn’t hate him nearly as much as I hate Danny Gokey. All I’m saying is I probably won’t ever like Danny Gokey, but I’m opening up the doors for negotiation, but only a smidge, and he will have to work very hard to squeeze through them.

Aaaanyway – here I am, making this whole season about Danny Gokey, which is EXACTLY what the producers want, so I’m part of the problem, I guess.

On to logistics: if you did the smart thing and are just now tuning in, you’ll notice that there are 13 finalists, as opposed to the usual 12. That’s because the judges saved Anoop at the end of last week’s results show. I believe that Anoop was always going to make it, though, so really… someone else got saved and they have Anoop to thank for it. That’s my theory, anyway. Also of note, a new layer to the competition has been added, called the judges’ save. At any point prior to the Top 5, the judges can save an eliminated contestant, thus trumping America’s vote. The next week, all the contestants will compete again, and the two lowest vote totals will get the boot. The judges’ save can only be used ONCE. There has been much bally-hoo about this new development across the interwebs, most of it bad, but I think it’s actually a neat trick. First, the judges aren’t really trumping America’s vote, really, because America is supposed to be voting for their favorite. If that is truly happening, and the person with the least fans is going home at the end of every week, then there wouldn’t be any issue. But on this show, every now and then, an obvious favorite gets screwed over by the fates – sometimes their votes get split, or they have a good but unmemorable performance, or another contestant is suddenly diagnosed with a disease… or whatever. It’s happened before (JHud, Daughtry, Tamyra, etc.) so the judges simply want an insurance policy against irresponsible voting.

Really, they’re trying to save us from ourselves. It might seem like outright manipulation and interference, but really it’s just another way the producers control the outcome. If we’ve managed to get over the transparent way the show pimps certain contestants over others every week of every season thus far, I think we can get over this.

Enough of that. It’s Michael Jackson night, so please hide the children. Recap of performances after the jump…

This is the first week in which the contestants have access to Idol’s cracker-jack glamour squad, and for some reason, they’ve chosen to outfit Lil Rounds in Carrie Bradshaw’s leftovers. The pants don’t fit and there’s a huge floral tumor growing out of her left shoulder. The good news is she is singing The Way You Make Me Feel, which is one of my favorites. I’m a fan of Lil because she manages to inflect her own swagger and style on every song she sings without being ostentatious about it. On this night, her riffs are tasteful, her improvisations are subtle – there’s really nothing to complain about. I think Lil is probably going to tread water like this for the next 6 weeks, which is smart. There’s no need to take any big risks until she has to, and unless she just bombs one night, I think she’s a lock for Top 6. And seriously, if the only thing Simon can think to critique is her outfit, than she’s doing just fine.

There’s more to Scott MacIntyre than being blind and having a hot brother. He also has a blind sister. Tonight, he will sing Keep the Faith (a song I’ve never heard) and play the piano. You know, I have to give him his props because I think it is hard enough to play the piano and sing at the same time, even with SIGHT, so I’m impressed. I just wish the singing was better. He has a nice tone most of the time, but whenever things get out of his natural register, it all goes up his nose. I keep expecting him to honk or something. The judges are complimentary, except for Simon who blasts him for choosing an unknown song (Amen, Simon), but all in all, a good night for Scott. I have to say, though, I found it hard to watch him again… and I’m starting NOT to feel bad about it. I think I would be less creeped out if he wore some sunglasses, but I also don’t expect him to change anything for my own comfort. This is just the way it’s probably going to be… I’m going to continue being uncomfortable and he’s going to keep making me uncomfortable until we get used to one another and the problem is solved on its own. Seriously, though, I haircut would really help. He looks like Richard Simmons.

Damn my eyes and ears, Danny Gokey does not suck. Now his family, on the other hand, with their housework sing-a-longs… they suck. But his performance of P.Y.T. most certainly does not, and it’s killing me a little bit. Even the dancing, which was terrible, came across as cutely self-deprecating and endearing and how the hell am I supposed to hate him for that? And I have to give him credit for picking an upbeat, fun number instead of the “hopeful” and “inspiring” garbage I might have expected. His vocals were a tad screechy and out of control, but even that didn’t bother me as much as it might have under other circumstances. The judges slather on the praise because that’s what they have been programmed to do, and I’m left to wonder what I’m going to do with all of my rage.

Michael Sarver picked You Are Not Alone, which everyone knows, so I’m curious to see what he does with it. It’s got a little country twang to it, not a lot but enough, and he changes the melodies up only slightly, perhaps because he knows that too much change will infuriate the purists. I thought his rendition was a pleasure to listen to, but he needs to work on his facial expressions – sometimes he looks deranged and they mess up his vowels. And can I just say that I’m glad he chose this song, as opposed to Gokey or Scott, because from him I don’t get the sense that he has ulterior motives. The judges rave about his vocals, and both Simon and Kara mention how well he connects to the song emotionally. It’s a good performance, but once it’s over I forget about it immediately.

Out of all the Wildcard contestants, I think Jasmine Murray has the least backing from the populace, probably because she is the weakest vocalist out of the Top 13. I understand why the judges picked her (even if she took a spot that should have gone to Jesse Langseth) – she’s young and poised and cute – but none of that matters if the vocals are bad. Tonight, she takes on I’ll Be There, another song that everyone knows. She looks cute, so there’s that, but again… the vocals are lacking. She’s flat on every high note, which Paula, who is having some kind of night, points out in her critique. I think with Jasmine, the performances have been very blah – decent singing with no personality. If she can’t draw us in her with attitude, then we have nothing to attach to. There are worse singers in the world who make it very far on personality alone, so Jasmine Murray proves that in order to make it, you kind of need both.

Kris Allen is fine as hell, and even though I don’t normally go for his type, I have no issue liking him based purely on looks. Hey… I don’t make the rules – good looking people are just better! He has chosen Remember the Time, another one of my favorites, and he has strapped on his guitar for accompaniment. Strangely, or not really, I don’t remember much about his performance. I do, however, remember his bright smile, tight ass, and cute facial ticks (he licks his lips a lot). I have to count on the judges to fill me in on how the singing went, and apparently it went pretty well. Randy thinks he has a Jason Mraz quality (why? Because he sings out of the side of his mouth? You’ll have to do better than that, Randy…), and Kara and Paula feel the need to make him aware of how sexy he is, which… DUH!! Simon knows how these things work, though, and warns Kris that it might have been too early to introduce the world to his wife, who is in the audience looking quite pissed, actually. Look, Mrs. Allen… this is the world we live in. It isn’t easy having a gorgeous husband at the best of times, so it’s even harder to have a famous, gorgeous husband. Just ask Hugh Jackman’s wife, she knows all about it.

Is it weird that I had no idea that Allison Iraheta was Latina? How did I miss that? Her parents are from El Salvador, and I will say that I can definitely see the Latina in her tonight. Maybe her make-up was different last time I saw her… or something. Anyway, tonight she will perform Give In To Me, another song I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter because it is awesome. There are so many things going for Allison: she has the most authentic rock vocals I’ve ever heard from a female on this show (and I include Kelly Clarkson and Gina Glocksen), plus she is the only one of her kind this season, which should help her. Also, she’s so young; she probably won’t balk at changing things about herself, which is an absolute must in the industry. She does need to work on her off-stage personality a little bit – her interviews are the only times when I can tell she’s kind of awkward and immature. But even then, she’s off-beat and strange, which is never a bad thing.

Ya’ll know Anoop is the annopple of my eye, so this performance of Beat It was like a nightmare for me, and not just because it was terrible. The girls in the typing pool have been giving me a hard time for loving him (they’re all about Kris and Danny, which I don’t begrudge them), so I’ve found myself on the defensive. And this is how Anoop repays me. I thought the performance was pitchy, corny, and amateur. He says he was going for high-energy – all I saw was a guy sapping all the energy right out of the room. Simon nails it, as usual: the song needs to be performed aggressively, and Anoop’s popped collar and new haircut is about as far from aggressive as… well, an upper-middle-class Indian kid performing Michael Jackson. In other words, this was a doomed venture from the very start. I did, however, enjoy the new haircut.

Jorge Nunez’s entire family is crowded around the TV down in Puerto Rico as he takes the stage to perform Never Can Say Goodbye, yet another tune I’ve never heard of. I don’t know what it is, but I really like this guy’s voice… I could listen to him all day. I’m not sure he performs particularly well, because I catch myself looking away pretty often, like to look at a magazine or write out my grocery list. But his singing is excellent. The judges, for some reason, basically throw their drinks at him with criticisms ranging from old-fashioned to unemotional to corny. I don’t understand where all this coming from, because I thought it was fine. I wonder what Jorge did to piss them off… and then I wonder if I really care… and then I think, no I don’t, so I must not care for Jorge too much either. Well played, judges… well played.

Megan Joy is next with her rendition of Rockin’ Robin, which I do know. And I love it. I can’t explain it – I know a lot of people thought it was the pinnacle of suck – but there’s just something about her that works for me. Vocally, I thought her performance was interesting – I loved the quirky little touches here and there. I mean, at least she thought about making the song her own. I think Megan’s biggest challenge is going to be song choice, because frankly, I’m not sure there’s anything in the Michael Jackson songbook that fits her personality. This issue is only going to get worse. What the hell is she going to sing on Latin night? Well, in this instance I don’t really care what the judges think. I enjoyed her performance; I even downloaded it (there’s a first time for everything).

I can’t wait for Adam Lambert to perform in drag. I mean, I don’t think he will (Show will not allow it), but wouldn’t that be something? He has chosen to sing Black or White (FANTASTIC song), but rather than sing it, he runs around the stage like he’s being chased by homophobes. WHY IS HE SCREAMING EVERY WORD!!? I’m a big fan, seriously… I think he’s an amazing vocalist with incredible presence on stage, and I’m excited about his place in Gay/American Idol relations, but I did not enjoy this performance. I want him to sing something along the lines of what he did in Hollywood (Cher’s Believe), because I enjoy hearing actual singing! Anyway, the judges fall over themselves, kissing his ass and otherwise acting ecstatically, which I’m happy about, because that means he’ll stick around for awhile and maybe he can sing something I’ll like.

Matt Giraud has the honor of following Adam Lambert, and I can’t help but sense that the audience hasn’t quite calmed down yet. There’s an intensity in the room that has nothing to do with him. He sings Human Nature at the piano, and honestly, I don’t remember a damn thing about it. I think my ears were still ringing from all of Adam’s carrying on. And since the clock is running out, the judges don’t really have time to critique him. They seem to like him, though, but that might just be because they don’t have time to complain.

The final spot of the night goes to Alexis Grace, and she’s wearing black formal shorts – actually, it might be a onesie. It’s gross, whatever it is. She sings Dirty Diana, which I haven’t heard, but I like and will download immediately after the show. Her vocals are predictably very good – she has good dynamics and the song builds nicely. I dig it. Again, the judges fly through some pointless comments which fall mostly positive, so Alexis can sleep easily, I think.

I had forgotten how exhausting these two hour performance shows can be. I’m seriously tuckered out. At the same time, I’m excited about how many singers I actually like this season. It’s been so long since I’ve cared… I’m feeling things and I’m not sure I appreciate it. My favorites right now are probably Allison, Alexis, Kris and Adam, with the understanding that Kris is only up there because I like to look at him and Adam is kind of on notice after tonight’s performance. The ones in trouble are probably Jasmine (for being the weakest vocalist and kind of boring), Micheal (for disappearing into the background), Anoop (for a truly heinous performance), and Jorge (for not connecting to the audience in any way).


No point beating around the bush: Jasmine and Jorge go home. And I have the feeling this will be the only elimination episode that doesn’t break my heart. I pretty much like everyone left – some more than others - but it’s safe to say I’ll miss any who leaves. If I try to be objective, though, I’m pulling for early eliminations for Matt G, Scott, Megan, and Michael, but only because I find them the least interesting. I would put Gokey in the same category, but I’m not retarded… I know he’ll be around for awhile whether I like it or not. Anoop needs to turn things around, that’s for sure. And Lil needs to have a breakout performance soon as well, because she is close to being taken for granted as the best singer, which might be true, but she is certainly NOT the most interesting contestant. We might as well rename this season Operation Take Down Danny Gokey, because that’s what it is… already.

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