Thursday, March 31, 2011

American Idol Season 10 -- Top 11 Perform, Again.

So continuing to ignore their own press releases, American Idol will again force a theme night onto the remaining contestants -- exactly the same number as last week, as we'll all remember.  Tonight they will be singing the songs of Elton John.  On the plus side, his catalog is not that narrow and Sir Elton has certainly explored a number of different musical genres over his many decades writing songs.  On the other hand, he wrote Philadelphia Freedom and The Bitch is Back

Scotty McCreery raised pandering for votes to an art form this week.  A shout out to Grandma?  Check. Introduce the new guitar which he calls his baby?  Check.  Sing a song with the words old-fashioned, home and truck in it?  Oh heck yeah.  I don't know how he managed to miss the chance to bring in the American flag and apple pie during the song that had the word "Country" so prominently in its title (talk about your obscure Elton John song!).  It was a smart move putting the guitar in his hands as it kept him from ending up in some awkward, borderline risque poses with the microphone as he has done the last few weeks.  He sounds good, but it's getting a little predictable and predictable is just a short trip over to boring which could spell trouble for him.  He needs to take a risk and not just be the country ballad guy.

Naima Adedapo is apparently done competing on American Idol.  That's the only rational explanation for why she would sabotage her chances with this silly reggae version of an originally silly song -- I'm Still Standing.  She adopted a "pass me the ganja" accent and parodied a Jamaican wedding singer as she jumped around on stage in what she continues to think is dancing. This is the leading contender for ironic song choice of the night, because after this failed attempt to channel any of the Marleys (except, perhaps, the dog in that sad movie), Naima will not be standing tomorrow night.

Paul McDonald is doing Rocket Man and he tells us that his band covered it once before and it was a disaster.  Well, that won't happen tonight, right!  Oh wait, it's Paul singing.  So, grab your life preserver, this ship is going down.  Paul tells us he's going to approach this song like he's singing his encore. Oh, it's good to dream, Paul, but for you to get an encore the audience has to first sit through your whole set and then beg for more.  Two of those things will never happen because you...can't...sing. 

He starts out cheesily, with an awkward shout out to the crowd which is not something you would do during an encore unless you were stoned and had no idea where you were in the set.  Hmm, this is starting to make sense.  Maybe rather than a sounding like a creepy, breathy sexual predator whispering menacingly into the phone in a horror movie, the better description of his voice is someone who has smoked too many low quality doobies and is so fried he can't find his voice.  Paul ignores the melody, singing whatever he can manage to squeak out raspily through his throat, randomly assigning notes as he sputters through the song.

For once, the judges seem less than enthralled and hint that maybe this wasn't the best performance ever.  Maybe last week gave them a wake up call that unending, unwarranted praise is not the answer.

Pia Toscano is anathema to bloggers.  She's pretty, she sings well, she's consistent.  There is nothing you can do with her except heap praise.  Boring.  She sings Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, and I wonder if the lyricist really intended the title to be as open to various funny, and a little dirty, permutations as run through my head every time I hear it.  Probably -- those British guys do have a subtle, sneaky sense of humor.  Regardless, Pia nailed it and looked great doing it and I'm bored.

The first time I heard Stefano Langone sing Tiny Dancer I was totally blown away.  The second time, less so.  There's just something a little forced about his performance and a little too Broadway.  He has moments, don't get me wrong.  Though the first couple of notes were clunkers, the way he sang "ballerina" gave me goosebumps.  It's just that over a two minute song, the voice just doesn't hold up.  And, note to his Italian father in the audience, it's pronounced kvelling, kuhvell, blurred together.  Not felling which is what one would do to a tree.  Kvelling is that feeling Casey Abrams' parents get every time they look at his cherubic punim, which is why his ego is as big as his head.

So country girl Lauren Alaina is tackling Candle in the Wind and it seems like a risky choice, especially when she starts out in a key that seems too high for her.  But she pulls it out on sheer determination alone.  She can belt like nobody's business and, even if she comes off like the love child of Stevie Nicks and Kellie Pickler, that girl is all business on stage.  I love the little country "cry" in her voice and her tone and the Patsy Cline-ish breaks when she goes for the high notes.  She looked great and sounded great and I'm inching ever closer to saying country music is not so bad.

James Durbin had a vision for how he wanted to do Saturday Night's Alright and though Jimmy Iovine seemed a bit dubious, Durbin was not to be deterred. And you know what?  The kid was right.  It was a fun, entertaining performance that showed poise and confidence beyond his years.  Durbin is comfortable in the audience and up on stage (and even up on a piano that's about to burst into flames).  He gave a thrill to some middle aged guy in the audience and recovered nicely from his Pepsi faux pas (a Coke moment is a good thing, he offered as an explanation, setting yourself on fire, not so much).   He rocked the song, the hair, the scarf and the stage.  He got my votes.

Daniel is one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written.  The lyrics and the melody just tug at your heart.  It is hard not to be moved by someone singing this and Steven Hawking's computerized voice could not  dampen the emotional power of the song.  Having said that, Thia Megia did not convey the feeling of the song as well as she could have.  In fact, not until the very end did I feel any sincere emotion. Thia looks great, sounds great -- she has the best, purest voice in the competition -- but the emotional connection just wasn't there for me, for her, for you, for Randy, for whoever.  It's a shame, because it's like all the parts are there but one and that one missing piece is crucial.

Look!  It's Casey Abrams, brought back to life last week by the judges' save and fully aware that if he shows up, there is no way he is not getting enough votes this week to survive this week.  Finally, Jimmy Iovine says what I and many others outside of the judges have been saying for weeks.  Casey needs to tone it down, try to remember that this is a singing competition and not a carnival sideshow and, for crying out loud, show a little humility.  You don't have this in the bag and if you keep acting like you do, you will manage to unite all of America on one idea -- this kid has to go.  So, if Casey wants to last in this competition beyond the next two weeks worth of sympathy votes, he has to start behaving like the teenage band camp nerd he is and not like Justin Bieber. 

Casey made the first step towards redemption by singing -- for the most part -- the tender ballad, Your Song.  He cut way back on the antics and only brought out the growl a couple times.  The plus was that this was less of a freakshow than what we've seen the past few weeks and his occasional bum notes were less off-putting than his screeches and shouting.  But, on the negative side, it showed that even when he tries his hardest, Casey is not a great singer.  He may be in an interesting musician, but his voice. unadorned with shtick, is just average.  Liked the last note, though.  Wow, I thought I'd be struck by lightening if I said anything nice about Casey, but no, I'm just fi

Got you for a second there.  I barely had time to recover from Casey when Jacob Lusk comes on my screen.  What I love about Jacob is he's so unpredictable.  I mean, you never know if he's going to over-sing or sing like he's giving birth to a VW bus without anesthetics.  Will he make extreme facial expressions of pure agony or contort his face like the tragedy theatrical mask?   Will he channel Liza or Judy?  Jacob, as if singing just to me, chooses Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.

It's all I ask for.  A simple, repeated apology for making me have to sit through another of his bombastic, overwrought performances.  He starts in a key that seems to excite all the neighborhood dogs (didn't Mary J. Blige sing in a lower register?) and then he just lets go, crying about how it's sad, so sad.  Yes it is Jacob, because you have the spot that Robbie or Jovanny or Brett should have had.  When Jacob sings "what do I have to do to make you love me?" I yell at my TV screen, stop singing.  That would be a great first step!  But he doesn't hear me and he continues till he finishes with the money note that makes Randy all gooey inside.

The last performance of the night is by Haley Reinhart.  Rumor has it that she and Casey Abrams are getting a little more than chummy and, aside from needing to add "eww" here, I wonder -- after hearing her feral cat take on Bennie and the Jets -- if the need to growl randomly during a song is a sexually transmittable disease.  Haley, after turning that cute, retro pop song into some soft porn number, all I could think of was ba-ba-ba-bye Haley.

My bottom three of the night: Naima, Jacob, Paul
My top three: Lauren, James and...  Okay, make it top two.
The voter's bottom three: Naima, Stefano and Thia
Going home:  Naima and Stefano

Let me have it!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why So Nasty?

I've been getting two categories of responses to my American Idol posts this season -- "I agree with you, love the snark," and "Why are you so mean."  In effect, we all are in agreement that this season's posts are heavy on the negative and that the only question is a personal preference for or against sarcasm and mean-spirited humor.

So let me explain what has motivated the fangs to come out this year.  Last year was the nastiest in American Idol history.  I will not rehash here all the offenses committed by the judges' last year.  I don't know what motivated their assassinations of some of the girl contestants early on, nor their mad love for Lee DeWyze, but as a viewer, it was nearly impossible to watch without wanting to come to many of the mistreated contestants' defense.

This year, we have the exact opposite situation.  The judges seem almost incapable of saying anything if it might hint as negative.  They are heaping praise on contestants like a Pre-Kindergarten teacher judging students' artwork.  Every scribble, every blot, every wrinkled up piece of paper is treated like the Mona Lisa.  That's fine if the goal is to develop early self-esteem and to keep from obstructing the kids' burgeoning creativity.  But this is a voluntarily entered-into reality TV game show for a million dollars.  They are competing for a huge record contract and dependent on viewers' votes to win that prize.

As dishonest as the judges were last year in their unwarranted critiques of some of the contestants, that is how dishonest their virtually unqualified praise is this year.  Jennifer Lopez admitted as much in Thursday night's results show when she for the first time told Casey Abrams that there was something about his performances that -- gasp -- might need to change.  Had she or the other judges said anything like this to him over the past few weeks, perhaps I might not have felt such a deep loathing for his every moment on stage.   Had they just once told him to tone it down, reel it in, pull it back, perhaps I wouldn't have felt the need to spend my Wednesday nights pointing out just how bad his performances actually were.

The same goes for Jacob Lusk and Paul McDonald.  The judges need to tell Jacob, just once, that his Liza Minelli shtick is off-putting, that he has got to stop over-singing, that he treats songs as well as Chris Brown treated Rihanna.   They need to let Paul know that his voice, that may be quirky cool on old YouTube videos, comes off as croaky and strained and really unpleasant to listen to on the show.  But they don't.  So I do.

Meanwhile, I have supported Scotty and Lauren, despite the fact that they sing that country music I've heard so much about but have never actually bought, and Naima, even though she's leaning in the R&B/Pop direction which is also not a favorite of mine.  I think Pia and Thia have beautiful, pristine, crystal clear voices and can appreciate Stefano's nice tone, even if I'm less appreciative of his DUI.  I love James, even if he does occasionally channel Adam Lambert.  My support of these underappreciated contestants has, apparently, gone unnoticed because I've spent so much time going after the holy trinity of this year -- Casey, Jacob and Paul.

If the goal of this show is to sign someone to a contract, then whether the contestant would be a successful, viable recording artists should be the only criterion that is used to judge.  While I might joke about not liking country music, I really don't hate it all and recognize that it is a very successful genre.  But Casey Abrams sings jazz and, Esperanza Spalding not withstanding, jazz is not current or popular and for this show to spend its efforts promoting a winner in such an antiquated and moribund musical style is a waste of its time and mine.  It's cute that he loves this type of music, but to my ears it is worse than nails on a chalkboard.  That ten seconds of his "I Don't Need No Doctor" was, to me, like a bad SNL skit.

I have six or seven contestants who I enjoy on the show and three who I think are terribly overrated (I'm neutral on Haley).   I hope you don't just focus on the my negative comments and ignore the fact that there are quite a few that I praise.  Again, this is just one record-buyer's opinion.  And I always appreciate hearing yours.

Friday, March 25, 2011

American Idol, Season 10 -- Top 11 Results Show

I'm a seasoned reality TV fan.  I no longer believe when Chris Harrison tells me this will be the most shocking rose ceremony ever, so when AI producer Nigel Lythgoe went on Twitter yesterday promising a "shocker" on that night's results show, I was skeptical.  I will never doubt Nigel again.

In my wildest dreams, in my most insane fantasy scenarios for what last night's results show would bring, I could not have ever imagined judges' pet Casey Abrams would -- for one brief, shining moment -- be kicked off the show.  The rest of the evening is just a blur.  In fact, I must be hallucinating, because as I remember the show, Hulk Hogan came out and scared two contestants before going after Ryan Seacrest, the lady from Sugarland was dressed like a Christmas tree, Jennifer Hudson was trapped in a dark and smoke-filled room that weirdly distorted her voice, and Haley Reinhart was told she was on the AI summer tour.  As I said, weird stuff.

But what I do remember clearly is the moment the clouds parted, the sun came out, the birds sang and all was right with the world.  Ryan Seacrest had the final group of three, one of whom would be at risk for going home, the other two moving back to the couch.  It was Naima, Haley, and EW's pick for the season winner, Casey.  Ryan said one was safe.  Naima, and all of America, points to Casey.  But, no, it's Naima who is safe.  That leaves perennially bottom three member Haley along with the anointed one.  They elbow each other in a cute, joking fashion, but you see that the cloak of invincibility has slipped ever so subtly from Casey's shoulders.  The ego inflated superiority that has infused him since the first moment the judges crowned him king is starting to show a fissure. But, once he hears Haley's name, he'll recover and his swagger will return.

And then Ryan says what I thought I'd never hear.  Casey, you're in the bottom three.  I think my heart skipped a beat.  America, whose taste has been questioned repeatedly by me, got it right.  Casey cannot sing, or if he can he has chosen not to show us that particular talent these last few weeks.  He can pose and posture and put on an act, he can shout and growl and scream.  But he couldn't carry a tune if he had a bucket full of notes. 
But still, that had to be the extent of the shocker for tonight.  Casey being in the bottom was more than anyone could expect.  He'd be quickly sent to rejoin his compatriots, and chalk all this up to faulty phone lines or over-confident fans distracted by the NCAA basketball games.  Ryan brings the bottom three together midstage -- Casey, Stefano Langone and Thia Megia -- and we all wait for Casey and Thia to take their places on the couch while Stefano sings his swan song. 

Then something completely unbelievable happens -- no, not an unbilled-Stevie Wonder singing Happy Birthday to a 63 year old Steven Tyler.  No.  Stefano is safe and CASEY is the one in peril, about to be sent packing, 86'ed, told hasta la vista, baby, on the road to Palookaville.  There was barely time for any of us to catch our breath.  Stefano walks over to the couch and Casey is handed a microphone.  With the ten American Idol contestants assured that they would all be part of the summer tour fiasco, I mean, extravaganza, it is now up to Casey to shout, scream, growl for his life.

He started "singing???" I Don't Need No Doctor.  Now, for many AI fans, when we think of "Casey" and that song, this is what we think of:

But instead, a You Tube search of "Casey" and that song will now lead to this:

That was, though abbreviated, the consummate Casey Abrams performance.  Self-indulgent, over-the-top, and out of touch with what is going on in music today.  His attempt at scatting?  That wasn't interesting forty years ago.  That is not so-old-it's-new-again cool.  It's "I saw Louie Armstrong do it in a movie and I'm going to try and copy him to mask the fact that I don't actually have a good voice" awkward!  People...this is a singing competition.  I'm sorry to bring back one of Simon Cowell's famous lines, but the ability to sing should be a prerequisite for success on the show.  Having an off night is excusable, not being an actual singer is not.

So the judges cut him off in mid-song, not because they're so sure about what they want to do, but because they don't want us hearing just how bad Casey sounds moments before they're about to save him. Then they give him the good news, he's not going anywhere.  And Casey has an epic reaction.  First, he turns whiter than he already was, then cups his monster mitts under his mouth as if about to catch whatever has been percolating in his stomach for the last hour.  Then he, well, let's look at the tape:

He quickly moves through Elizabeth Kubler Ross' Five Stages of Grief, wallowing a bit in denial.  Apparently, they don't have acting classes at the school he goes to because from the minor heart attack, to the Sally Field moment, to seemingly making out with Ryan Seacrest, and all the rest of his antics (don't forget to kiss Momma!), Casey's reaction strikes me as more calculated than genuine.  Casey has instantaneously scripted the first moment of his Phoenix story.  Because he now will rise from the ashes and fly through the next few weeks even if he were to go on stage and read a book on paint drying out loud for his two-minute act. 

There is simply no way he will not be getting the lion's share of votes for the next few weeks after that spectacle.  But I can console myself with the knowledge that, at least for one week, my fellow Americans did not fall for the judges' pimping and saw Casey Abrams for the vocally weak contestant he is.  In fact, buried among the comments from last night was a telling one from Jennifer Lopez, who encouraged Casey to stop with the weird facial expressions and grunting and get back to singing.  Perhaps if she and the other judges had told him that weeks ago, and not continued to stroke his ego, he might not have found himself in such peril last night.

The only thing that will save this season now is if Jacob Lusk gets voted off next week and there is nothing the judges can do to save him.  A girl can dream.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

All Hail Linda Ronstadt

So while writing my American Idol post last night, I went on YouTube and grabbed Linda Ronstadt's version of  Heatwave to compare her electric take on that Motown hit with This Megia's rather tepid cover.  I don't know how or why this happens, but it's easy to forget some of the seminal artists of past decades as we move forward, and Ronstadt is one of those who has faded in the background.  But with young English singer Adele almost single-handedly keeping the art of singing alive for this generation, I thought it would be good to take a look back at one of the great voices of the past generation.

When I think of Ronstadt's most moving vocals, two songs compete for the top spot, Long Long Time and Different Drum.  They both have a slight country-tinged sadness and longing mixed with some of the most powerful pipes this side of opera.  The note at 2:40 on the first video still gives me chills. 

Linda Ronstadt isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Let that percolate for a bit.  Is it sexism?  Is it because she was "only" a singer?  I'm not going to start bashing who is in the HOF to make my point, but Ronstadt was a dynamic vocalist who handled a range of genres and had commercial as well as critical success.  What else do they want?

American Idol, Season 10 -- Top 11 Perform

Remember when the leaks of all the show's changes dribbled out over a number of months starting last fall?  One of the more intriguing leaks suggested that the era of the "Theme Night" was over and that contestants would no longer be forced to sing outside of their musical comfort zone.  For American Idol Season 9, that would have meant Crystal Bowersox would not have had to sing any song where wearing shoes or brushing your hair was required and Lee DeWyze would only have had to sing songs that had no discernible key.

But lo and behold, theme nights are back with a vengeance and tonight's was Motown.  Now, being of a certain age -- and, yes, I do love the daily AARP Spam I get -- means that I relate to these songs and probably hold them to a higher scrutiny than I would a theme such as Flo Rida collaborations or songs GLEE has yet to cover.

Ryan Seacrest reminds us of the stakes tonight.  There are eleven contestants, but only ten can be part of next summer's disappointing, many shows canceled, half-empty theater tour.  You won't want to miss that.  Haley, I'm talking to you.  Spoiler alert!

So first up is the living Wookiee, Casey Abrams.  He lumbers on stage after a brief backstage look at his interactions with the producers where they beg him, for the love of everything holy, do not sing like you tonight.  Please, no growling, screeching, screaming, yelling, or any of those things you feel obliged to do because you are not actually a gifted vocalist but a sideshow act waiting for the next circus to roll into town.  Casey decides to try and sing a Marvin Gaye song because, other than being killed by his father, the thing we best remember about Marvin Gaye was that he had the most beautiful and evocative voices in all of music.  It is such a natural choice for someone who can barely hold three notes in a row melodically to try and take on one of music's greatest vocalists!

I cannot pretend to be surprised by his painful, toneless, shouted-word take on the classic "I Heard it Through the Grapevine."  I was surprised, however, by two things.  One, how hard his buttons had to work to keep his shirt together.  (My daughter, who actually came up with that joke, has threatened to hire a lawyer to send me a cease and desist order, preventing me from using her source material to try and make my lame AI post funny.  I'm keeping the joke in, hoping we can reach a settlement at the mall.)   Two, how the judges continue to trip all over themselves and each other in their attempts to heap undeserved praise on this guy.  The only one Casey Abrams pleases when he sings is himself and after watching the 90 second masturbation sequence, one of the people I was watching with in the chat room suggested that he should smoke a cigarette and then roll over and go to sleep on the stage. 

Thia Megia has been one of my favorites from the beginning.  Cute with a big, clear, ready to sing the next Disney princess movie theme song, she's been consistently great.  But the judges have been less than wowed by her playing it safe (translation: singing well week after week).  So she tried to shake it up and take on the smoky, sultry, sexy song "Heatwave."  Now, it was sold as "Martha and the Vandellas'" song, but for me, the definitive version is Linda Ronstadt's.  This is what "Heatwave" should sound like:

Instead, sweet sixteen-year-old Thia performed it like she was at her high school talent show.  She sang the notes but not the words.  There was no passion, feeling or... heat.  She might as well been singing "Pleasant weather, about 72."

Next up was Jacob Lusk, who every week oversings and overemotes on his way to being overpraised by the judges.  Tonight was no exceptions what with Steven Tyler practically dry humping him after his performance and Randy Jackson tearing open his Thesaurus of Undeserved Compliments so he can find new unwarranged superlatives for Jacob's performance.  I appreciate Jacob's attempts to listen to the producers suggestion that her dial it back from Broadway Show Stopper meets Gospel Revival on acid to merely self-indulgently over-the-top.  It was a nice change of pace.  One of the judges said Jacob was a baby Luther (Vandross), I'd say he's more Liza than Luther and that his grotesque, burlesque kitsch started out old and now is getting really scary.

Also scary is how the not-so-subtle pimping of past years has turned into a blatant coronation this year.  First, they give Jacob his own choir.  Then they give him a spotlight.  Tonight, they dragged up on stage a dozen extras from Beatlemania to come worship him and wrap him in their fanatic embraces.  Do we still need the next nine weeks?  This has as much suspense as the second viewing of the Sixth Sense.

Just when I'm considering giving up on American Idol, help comes along in the form of Lauren Alaina.  Now this next joke, I am not taking credit/blame for, but when she came out on stage someone in my house wondered when they changed the rules and allowed you to be on two reality shows at the same time.  When I told them that Lauren was not in fact Kirstie Alley, I felt a little guilty figuring out the punch line so quickly.  But Lauren, really, walk a little.  It's good for you!  Putting the superficial aside, Lauren has an amazing voice and she is back on top for me.  She nailed "Keep Me Hanging On" and if it were a little later and I was desperate for material I would say that she had me hanging on to her every distinct, electrifying, powerful note.  This was her best performance to date.

Stefano Langone chose one of the most annoying songs ever recorded, Lionel Richie's "Hello," which reminds me that the last Lionel Richie song I liked was when he sang "Brick House" with the Commodores.  Stefano talked about his mother's cooking, in another blatant attempt to make us forget his DUI, but chef Gordon Ramsey later tasted the leftovers and deemed them a felony in their own right.  Stefano has a really great tone to his voice, yet week after week I'm not sold at all about his potential.  There's some weird disconnect between the sounds he can produce and the final product.  But he's a relatively cute male which means he'll get enough votes to give him a couple more weeks to try and figure this out.

The combination of the arrangement of "You Really Got a Hold on Me" and Haley Reinhardt's slow, seductive strut brought to mind Natalie Wood's portrayal of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.  This could not have been her intention as American Idol is good, wholesome viewing, suitable for the whole family.  I expected Howard Stern to come out and emcee the rest of the show.  Haley committed another sin -- straightening her signature hair which will just confused voters who won't know what happened to that cute, curly haired girl, and will have to give their votes to Kirstie Alley instead because she was so good on Cheers.

My boy Scotty McCreery was up next and all I can say is yee haw, I'm starting to love me some country music.  Scotty sang "For Once in My Life" and one of the members of the peanut gallery here at my house offered that he sounded like Glen Campbell -- which was what Steven Tyler said.  Score!  I loved Glen Campbell, back before he ruined it all with "Rhinestone Cowboy," so that may explain why Scotty's voice does not cause me to react like the Manchurian Candidate after seeing the Queen of Diamonds.  But the mannerisms have got to go.  I'm assuming the best (yeah, there's a first time for everything) and thinking that his difficulty holding a microphone and singing into it without looking like a deranged Howdy Doody is because he's used to playing a guitar when he sings.  That or he really is possessed by the ghost of some creepy lounge singer.

Pia Toscano continues to be perfect in every way.  One does wonder how someone who is gorgeous and sings like an angel had to come on American Idol to be discovered.  Has she no friends who could have videotaped her and put her up on YouTube singing "Friday, Friday, Gettin' Down on Friday?"  Let's compare and contrast Pia with Rebecca Black and you will see all that is wrong with the music industry -- and the record-buying public and America. 

So my daughter wondered why Daniel Negreanu was on the show and I told her that wasn't the Canadian poker pro but another of the judge's inexplicable favorites, the follicly-challenged Paul McDonald.  No, I explained to her, he doesn't have a good voice.  And, no, he doesn't really look good on stage.  But he's different and that is a buzz word meaning he's not boring and might be discussed in the morning around some proverbial water cooler, which is all that reality TV shows really care about.  So let's discuss.  Paul, may I speak to you directly?  When you are a singer and the judges compare you to Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, that is their way of telling you that you can't sing.  It may seem a little subtle, a little over your head, but if you think back to the last time you heard Willie or Bob, remember that pained expression on your face?  That's what the rest of us look like when we listen to you.

So Paul tried to sing "Tracks of My Tears," and it was less awful than in previous weeks if only because I wasn't also forced to watch his uncoordinated gyrations around the stage.  He croaked and brayed and warbled so much that I expected Jack Hanna to come out on stage.  But at least it was over quickly.

I said it last week, I will say it until she leaves.  I love Naima Adedapo.  She is a performer who is captivating to watch.  I don't know that she'll sell a lot of albums, but if the choice is between going to see a concert with her or any of the arguably better female vocalists left on the show, I'll take her.  She's got "it" -- that undefinable something that makes some people stars despite not being as gifted naturally as some others.  Tonight she actually had the vocals to back up her cover of "Dancing in the Street," so I will be very surprised and disappointed if she is again in the bottom three. 

Last up was James Durbin, rebounding from last week's less-than-stellar performance with a kick-ass version of "Livin' for the City" (probably my favorite Stevie Wonder song).  When you think that James' can't go any farther with his voice, when you think it will give out or fall short, he surprises you by nailing it.  He sings with reckless abandon and it is a little like watching a net-less high wire act.  It's daring and scary but oh so exciting when you see he's made it to the other end.  I really like this kid a lot and hope that the invariable Adam Lambert comparisons don't derail him early in the competition.

So my top three:  Lauren, James and Scotty
My bottom three:  Stefano, Haley and Paul
Alert the media, Jacob and Casey were spared bottom three this week!!
My predicted bottom three:  Haley, Thia and Stefano, with Haley getting the boot

What say you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 12 Perform

The theme is "songs from the year you were born," which is one of my least favorite since it only reinforces just how long I've been alive and just how young some of these kids are. On the other hand, if I had to sing this theme, I'd get to roll super-cool with Mack the Knife.  Bobby Darin was such a babe.  Seriously, check him out.

The show opens with the three judges and Ryan sending out their condolences to Japan and letting us know that the profits from the sale of tonight's downloads will go to help aid efforts in Japan.  Whatever else you say about American Idol, when they rally their efforts to raise money for charity, they usually do a pretty good job.  I hope tonight is no exception.

On with the show.  The colorful flower that is Naima Adedapo opens with Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With it?"  She should sing, "What do vocals got to do with it?" because she has every other part of the performance down except the singing.  The girl does not have the pipes to take on  Tina Fey let alone Tina Turner (for purposes of this joke I'm assuming Tina Fey can't sing).  But, there is something about Naima.  I love her whole vibe. It's weird, because I'm usually a stickler for a good voice.  Maybe she hypnotizes me with all the flowing colors and plumage.  Maybe they can get her singing lessons between now and next week, or hire Martha Wash to sing for her while she lip syncs.  Points to those who get the C&C Music Factory reference.

Is it possible that my hatred of Paul McDonald's voice grows with every week?  It's almost strangely romantic.  Just when I think he can't possibly sound any worse, he surprises me with a truly atrocious performance like tonight's scratchy, weak, tuneless "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues."  How do you choose what to focus on, the awful vocals or the drunk gyrations across the stage that I guess are his version of dancing?  Not since Sanjaya Malakar has an AI contestant tried so hard to be bad.  Maybe next week he'll force what few hairs he has left into a really epic mohawk.  Anything to distract from his squeaky, creepy, "is your mommy home?" voice and his uncoordinated, spasmodic movements.

Beautiful and very young Thia Megia sings the sweet and sleepy "Colors of the Wind."  She has such a mature, rich voice and she sounds amazing singing just about anything.  But, much as I hate to, I have to agree with the judges that there is more to performing than singing well and Thia needs a little of what Naima has that causes me to ignore the fact that she's practically tone deaf. 

James Durbin is up next and he tells Ryan that he formed a band with Stefano, Casey and Paul.  They're giggin' in the mansion, partying with each other.  I'm not making this up, that's a quote.  Yeah, those four wild and crazy band camp geeks must really get down. Intimidating they're not.  I've loved Durbin the last couple of weeks but this week he starts out flat and seems to have trouble finding his vocal footing.  He's chosen another rock song, Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You," but it doesn't highlight his voice at all.  He's still a cutie pie and I love his voice, but this was not a memorable performance.

Haley Reinhart comes from a family of musicians and is proud of them as they are of her.  She couldn't be more adorable and squeaky clean if she were in Up With People.  She's taking on Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight."  Um.  Yeah.  So.  She really seems like a nice girl.  She loves her family. Her hair is shiny. It looks like she cares about good dental health.  She's really pretty.  But the voice?  Pageant worthy, but not ready for the big time.

When Stefano Langone dragged out a song almost as old as me, "If you don't Know Me By Now" originally performed by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, I thought I was watching American Graffiti instead of American Idol.  But, I've got to give it to the kid, he's got the voice.  He has a pure, crystalline tone, very Bruno Mars-y, that will sound great on records.  And he's cute.  Of course, the AI people know all that, but also know today's revelation that the cute boy who fought back from the brink of death has a DUI from last year will not engender a lot of love and votes.  So what do they do?  They send him out into the audience for a hug with his mom.  Sure, he risked his life and that of many strangers' driving intoxicated last year (after his near fatal car crash!), but his mommy loves him.  Harrumph.  Makes me MADD.

Next up is the only person who could erase his performance, the radiant Pia Toscano.  I should hate her.  She's gorgeous and has an amazing talent.  But I don't.  She's singing a song I don't know, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," and for the second time tonight I wonder where I was in the late eighties, early nineties.  Oh, right, listening to good music on KROQ.  These other songs are a mystery to me.  But, even without being familiar with the song, her talent is undeniable.

How cute are Scotty McCreery's parents?  And his dad even takes on the song that Scotty sang about three dozen times the first week on Idol.  Adorable!  So Scotty sings some country song I've never heard of and I don't feel as I've missed anything.  Is there just one country song that is recycled over and over, because I can't for the life of me differentiate this from any other country song I've heard.  This one is called "Can I Trust You With My Heart" and Scotty tells us it's by Travis Tritt.  I'll have to take his word on it, because I'm not checking out the original.  For his genre, Scotty sounds a-ok with me.  Scotty should have a record deal already, and a TV show, and cute little action figures that sing "Baby lock them doors" when you pull on their ears. 

Well, that's a surprise.  Karen Rodriguez is still in the competition.  I was wondering why this was a two hour show, considering I could only remember about six contestants.  Okay, Karen, you should have demanded right of refusal for that baby picture.  That was not quirky or funny, that was butt ugly.  Luckily, you outgrew it (three gallons of peroxide a year helps!).  The piano accompanying her version of "Love Will Lead You Back" tried its best to drown her out, but, sadly, I could still hear Karen in all her wedding singer, karaoke blandness.  It's just there.  Not memorably bad but enjoyable like Naima, just a "C."  Oh, and for her fans, I'll add, no bueno.

What a shocker!  Casey Abrams' parents are as full of themselves as their little angel is of his precious little self.  If I didn't already think that Casey Abrams has the largest ego since Donald Trump, he has found a new height of chutzpah taking on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  I want to sue Courtney Love for letting this lummox getting his greasy paws on Kurt Cobain's music.  Luckily, it will be over soon.  Oh, god, not soon enough. He's yodeling!!!  What the heck!?!?  Again, he thinks of performance as masturbation -- if he's happy, that's all that matters.  This is exactly the kind of performance you'd expect at a frat house.  One of those watching with me wonders why he's singing like Charles Manson.

At first it seemed a little awkward seeing Lauren Alaina sitting there, talking with her dad, until you realize that's her mom!  They look identical, not in the faux compliment, oh you two could be sisters, but in the, wow, that is really weird sense.  There is no question about bringing home the wrong baby from the hospital, my only question is -- cloned or not cloned?  Lauren belts out "I'm the Only One" and does Melissa Ethridge proud.  She sounds great, although I could have done without her asking the audience to shout along.  We can only have one self-absorbed diva in the compeition, and Casey has that role locked up. 

Closing out the show is my raison d'etre.  My sine qua non.  If Jacob Lusk were to leave the competition, I would have no reason to write about it anymore.  Not even the Anderson Cooper appearance-deserving disaster that is Casey Abrams can bring me to my computer as fast as Jacob "Lusky Stank" Lusk can.  He practically writes his own paragraph.  He says of his mother, whatever you do, do not let her sing.  Do not give her a microphone.  Oh, Jacob, I say that about you every week.  And yet here you are again on my tv, about to destroy a nice Heart song that never did anything to you, "Alone."

If the sound were off, you'd think this was the reaction shot of a slasher film.  He grimaces, he screams, he pleads, he weeps.  How much suffering must he endure?  Well, not as much as me because in the interest of fairness I keep the sound on and actually have to hear him treat another song like Mel Gibson treats his women.  I do not know what the judges or the producers who gave him a literal winner's spotlight at the end of the song see in him, but I hear an overwrought ham who should be trying out for La Cage aux Folles where his cheesiness would fit in quite nicely.

My top tonight: Scotty, Pia, Lauren
My bottom tonight: Paul, Jacob and Casey

Who will be in the bottom tomorrow: Haley, Karen and Naima.  Because America hates bland more than awful.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

American Idol, Season 10 -- Top 13 Perform

Tonight all 13 performers took the stage for the first time and things were quite different from American Idols past.  Looking less like a reality TV competition show and more like an artist spotlight, the focus seems to be on  tapping into the Glee zeitgeist by presenting polished young people singing intensely produced songs which will be instantly available to DOWNLOAD NOW.  Putting aside any pretense of discovering undiscovered talent or watching a new artist's "journey," we're now watching "make a record" boot camp.

Gone also is theme night, unless you count as a theme "music I like," which is roughly the idea behind tonight's choices.  So music savant Jimmy Iovine, Chairman of Interscope records, and his cadre of Grammy Award winning producers now groom the contestants each week to "perfect" their songs.  Part of the fun of AI had been seeing what each contestant brought to the song, whether they copied or innovated.  So we should have less crashing and burning than in years past, right? 

First up tonight is newly countrified cowgirl Lauren Alaina singing "Any Man of Mine" by Shania Twain as twangy and hokey as anything you'd see come on stage after Minne Pearl.  Why someone who can belt it out without screeching, who has such a strong, pure voice, would waste her time -- and mine -- singing such a cheesy, lightweight performance is beyond me.  I'm now under the compulsion to yell Yee Haw at the top of my lungs...does that happen to anyone else when they hear this music?  But all is well, because Lauren had a good "tahhhhm."

I'm temporarily thrown off by the fact that the judges seem to agree with me.  This is a dangerous precedent.  But no fear it will continue, because their big cuddly teddy bear pet is up next.  Let the fawning begin!

So here his is, the Idyllwild trained musician who keeps me up at night trying to find more ways of describe his unique combination of smugness and false humility.  Never exercising and forgoing basic grooming does not endear him to me, but it apparently is a very in-demand combination for much of the women out there if audience squeals are any measure.  So Casey Abrams, the unlikely sex symbol of AI10, does Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help from My Friends." 

Hey who was that guy behind Joe Cocker in that video from last year's AI finale?  Probably doesn't matter.

It starts out well, actually, and my faith in my taste and judgment are immediately under attack. But no fear, cavalier (little nod to REM, sorry), as Abrams resorts to more of the shouting-in-lieu-of-singing that is becoming his trademark.  Is this the spoken word part of the concert?  I beg you, Casey, try singing.  You did it for the first fifteen seconds and it wasn't bad at all.  But, of course, the judges love him, telling him, in effect, that they are so under his spell at this time that nothing he does vocally really matters.  The other contestants die a little inside.

Okay, time for the first real clunker of the night.  Ashthon Jones had been one of my favorites early on.  But her version of "Hero" -- well, I won't say is a zero, I'm above that -- is strained and not in the least tuneful. But her hair alone deserves a few votes for defying the laws of gravity and aerodynamics.

Paul McDonald.  What can I say about Paul McDonald that I haven't  already?  Scratchy voice?  Check.  Overrated?  Check.  Unrecordable voice?  Ditto.  He starts out possibly worse than I've heard him before, oozing a creepy breathlessness better suited for stalkerish midnight calls to the babysitter.  He has so little breath control, and such a thin, reedy whisper of a voice, that I want to put him on a ventilator -- not listen to another second.  But I soldier on and listen to the complete breathy, squeaky performance -- and I'm rewarded with Tosh.0 web redemption worthy dancing.  Okay, dancing is a charitable word, more like awkward scooting across the stage.  But at least it helps distract from his singing.

Pia Toscano is the new Andrew Garcia.  Remember last year, after his amazing performance of "Straight Up" how week after painful week he was reminded how he was a'ight, but not up to that earlier height of brilliance?  Well, Pia killed it last week.  So no matter what she does for the rest of the season, it will always pale by comparison.   Her copy of Celine Dion's version of the Eric Carmen sop-fest "All By Myself," was fine, good actually.  But after her brilliance of last week, good seems like abysmal.  I'm sure she'll be okay, but someone should have explained to her the concept of peeking too early.

Stuck in the middle is James Durbin singing the only really great song that Paul McCartney wrote post-Beatles, the classic "Maybe I'm Amazed."  Now, weeks ago, I called James a poor man's Adam Lambert and mocked his oversinging.  Last week I took that back, noting his was the best performance of the week.  Well, ditto this week. If anything, it's like a rebirth.  James the shrieker has been replaced with James the gifted singer.  His was the only performance of the night I was sorry had to be cut short and the only one I'd consider buying.  No snark here, boys and girls, I'm really digging this kid.

Would someone explain to Randy Jackson what the phrase "turn the other cheek" means?  Thanks.

Next up is the yodeling Haley Reinhart, covering LeAnn Rimes' "Blue."  She looks nice, she sounded fine, she's just sort of there.  She has no star quality whatsoever.  Uh oh, I'm agreeing with Randy Jackson again.  Sleepy.  See also, boring, uninspired, lazy.

Oh, lord, it's Jacob Lusk.  I find it interesting that he was just as bad at concierge service as he is at singing.  Did anyone else understand a word he said in that mock phone call at the beginning of his segment?  Didn't think so.  So the inarticulate one opens up his oversized mouth, let's us examine him for strep, while singing R. Kelly.  Seriously.  "I Believe I Can Fly" is an overwrought song to begin with, so what happens when Jacob puts his particular form of extreme vocal makeover on the song?  It's typical Jacob -- Broadway, theatrical, histrionic.  He gets a church chorus to sing for him!  Don't we usually save excessive pimping till the top 3 finale? 

About those notes near the end, you know the piercing, unending, tuneless shriek, I have this to say.  Ouch.  Next time, I'll have my thumb hovering over the mute button.

Thia Megila has been on my radar since early on.   Underrated, she has one of the best voices in the competition.  And she showed it during that stripped-down intro to "Smile."  She's got it all, looks, a great voice that sings the melody (take note Casey and Jacob) with a sweet, pure, rich tone.  The judges don't see it, complain about the arrangement, and bring her to tears.  And I'm confused.

Stefano Langone violates one of Randy Jackson's cardinal rules...though shalt not sing Stevie Wonder.  That one has always confused me since I've never thought of Stevie as a great, or even good, vocalist.  Regardless, after hearing how Stefano mangles "Lately," I'm going to agree.  That horrible, disco arrangement did him -- and the song -- no justice. 

I've never believed the excuse that someone couldn't hear themselves on stage, but after hearing Karen Rodriguez' shaky, off-key singing, that is the only reasonable explanation.  She was only slightly more interesting than Haley, but her voice was all around the notes desperately searching for the right one yet invariable missing the mark.  You know the judges' comments are not going to be good when they start by telling you how prety you look, fyi.

The Soup has already noticed Scotty McCreery and commented on some of the strange faces he makes when singing, a strange smirk that is a tad menacing.  So when you go see Scotty in concert, don't spring for the expensive seats.  Just sit way back and enjoy his voice. Because, while it is NOT my genre, he has a nice, strong yet soothing sound.  He sand Garth Brooks' "River," and did a good job.   I suppose my only concern is that country songs don't have much "oomph" to them, so they tend to sound like you're not working very hard and the judges and the voters may prefer someone who sweats more.

Lucky number 13 is Naima Adedapo and I'm a fan.  I didn't think she should have made the top 13 over some of the other, better singers, but this girl went out and performed!  Her version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" was one of the most entertaining performances of the show so far.  Is every note perfect?  Okay, I'll admit to being a little hypocritical  No, she's not pitch perfect.  Did I love the weird funked out bit?  It was a little weird.  I can't explain why I like her.  She's just got IT.  I love the tone of her voice which hits the sweet spot for my ears. She's vibrant and exciting and immensely watchable.  I just hope giving her a wacky dial in number, 36 insead of 13, won't hurt her chances.

So that's my take on the top 13.  I predict Ashton, Haley and Karen in the bottom three.  As Bill O'Reilly says, what say you?

REM is Back with "Collapse into Now"

The very beautiful REM

REM's newest album, Collapse into Now, is finally out after months of anticipation sparked by reveals along the way.  First the song titles, then some individual tracks, and then last week's listening party.  I've been nervous as the memory of listening to the disappointing (to say the least) Around the Sun still hurts just a little.  Would this album live up to the reputation of a band I consider second only to the Beatles?

Well, upon more listens, I'd say the answer is yes.  I was initially concerned as I listened to each released track, but having a chance to hear the album in its entirety shows why iTunes is such a dangerous thing.  In the old days (wow, I'm officially old enough to say that without irony) you listened to an album as the artist and producers intended, from start to finish.  There was no Chinese food menu approach, I'll take this song here and that one over there. 

When you listen to the entire album, you feel and hear a sense of purpose again to their music.  There's emphasis of finding a memorable hook and yet Stipe still allows himself to use his words to paint sometimes abstract, sometimes poetic, and occasionally clear pictures.  I love how he focuses on the sound and cadence of the words, not just their meaning, One fan has put up the lyrics to all the songs here on his website, check it out. 

Right now my favorite song is Uberlin.  There was an initial video released which I posted earlier, but a new video has been released which is part of a project that Michael Stipe is working on bringing in a variety of filmmakers to direct their own vision of the songs. Read here for more info on other upcoming collaborations.

Another new short film has been released for the song Mine Smells Like Honey.  As always, love Mike Mills vocal support, he is a perfect counterpoint to Stipe.  I'm not quite sure what to make of the video other than I don't like my Stipey being tossed around like a ragdoll.  But he seems fine with it, no worse for wear by the end, and there is a stunning shot of his intense, sparkling blue eyes.  So that works for me. 

Last is a live video of a really gripping, powerful song, Oh My Heart.  There is no one whose voice can cut through like Stipe's.  There is so much meaning in the way he chooses to enunciate certain words (something he was not known for at the beginning of his career) and then when he voice goes up during the second part of the "Oh My Heart" chorus, it just kills me.  And we have Peter Buck on mandolin again.  Listen to how he so effortlessly has that instrument sing.  It just doesn't get any better than this.

I listen to a lot of music, but there is no other artist -- not even the Beatles -- that can do to me and for me what REM does. Listening to REM revitalizes me, builds me up, sustains me. It's like a missing piece coming back to fill the hole. Recently, I've had to rely on older songs to satisfy that need, that hunger. It's particularly sweet to have a new set of songs that can do that.

Okay, one more picture of Stipe... his most beautiful.

Friday, March 4, 2011

American Idol Season 10, This is your Top...13

Usually I live blog AI but today I write the day after, knowing just how wrong everything went last night and trying to find the enthusiasm to write about it.  The only redeeming aspect of this mixed bag of a final 13 is that there is plenty of snark fodder left.  Imagine if good singers like Lauren Turner, Robbie Rosen and Jovany Barreto were still on the show.  What obnoxious thing could I write about them? 

But have no fear, the American public did not let me down. 

I get more weeks with Casey "I am the Greatest" Abrams, who makes circa 1970 Muhammad Ali seem timid.  Of Randy, he says, "I think I might play upright bass better than him."  Wow, that is what the pop charts are desperate for, a great upright bass player.  American Idol is certainly keyed into what's hot now.  Poor non-upright bass playing Bruno Mars, his career is so over.  So Casey Abrams is a sex symbol?  How unfair is life for women?  This slovenly, unkempt lump is a sex symbol and if a woman carries three extra pounds, let alone looks like she hasn't groomed since the Bush administration, she would not be getting squeals from the audience.

And I will hear more from my favorite, Jacob Lusk, who sounds like a cross between Mahalia Jackson and Divine.  He has molested, manhandled, mistreated and abused notes to the point that the musical scale should seek a restraining order.  It would take him five days, an oxygen tank, and a blood transfusion to get through the Star Spangled Banner.  He is physically incapable of singing the original melody and all song writers should sue him for nonsupport.

Then I get at least another week with Paul "I just brush really hard" McDonald and his blisteringly white choppers.  I'll believe you've never bleached your teeth if you admit that your raspy, it's-so-quirky voice is a bad Rod Stewart impersonation gone wrong.  I believe that if you drank some tea with honey before you sang, you could clear up that throat condition and actually carry the notes in a pleasing way.  But if you continues to squeak and rattle like that, I'll have to take you in to Jiffy Lube and see if they can fix it.

Tonight we say goodbye to the best natural voice in the competition, Jovany Barreto.  Now, I may not have been a huge Jovany supporter, putting him fourth on my list, but I can appreciate a pure, controlled singing voice when I hear one.   Apparently, good voices are not what this competition is about.  So we also say goodbye to 11th grader Robbie Rosen, he of the pronounced proboscis, who has it all, talent, personality and a terrific voice.  What he didn't have is the judges shilling for him like some of the others and that, sadly, is the story so far this year.  The judges may change, but their manipulation stays the same.

Now, I'm not uniformly upset with America -- or the judges' -- choices.  It was particularly fun to say goodbye to Clint "No Chubby Boys in My Party" Gamboa and Jordan "Next!" Dorsey.  If you're unclear on the concept, boys, it's called Karma.  You put out mean stuff, you get bad stuff in return.  It's why Casey and Jacob are still in the competition -- that's Karma smacking me in the face.  Oh, and Clint, those glasses?  Not eccentric or cool, simply fugly.

The people did a little better with the women.  Lauren Alaina has been a frontrunner since day one and she's been consistently great, even when switching genres on me and going all country like she did Wednesday. I was a little shocked with the bait and switch, but she can sing in any genre.  And Pia's performance last night was worthy of all the judges' over-the-top fawning.  Since they were my top two last night, I'm feeling a little smug.  So this is how Casey Abrams feels all the time.  Nice.

What should I make of the fact that the first two moved on to the top ten are country singers?  I'm a little afraid.  Hold me.

Julie Zorilla said even if she's cut she'll be eternally grateful.  Wonder if she's still feeling that this morning.  If it were me, I'd be feeling a bit more "suck it America," but then I'm old and bitter.

Karen Rodriguez made it into the top ten over Kendra Chantelle.  They must have voted based on the earlier rounds, not last night.  But whatever, or cualquier, as Karen would say, because Latinos are back! 

Casey Abrams may be the only non-funny Jew in America (unless you haven't been at all amused by this post, in which case you can add my name to the list).  His idea of humor is to repeat what someone says to him.  So in answer to what does is feel like to be called sexy by a sex symbol like JLo he responded, I feel sexy.  I remember another Casey from last year who, even during the pressure of AI, always had a funny comeback.  Wonder whatever happened to him.

What was all that grunting and groaning when Casey and Jacob (and the later-departed Tim Halperin) were embraced in that giant bear hug?  So, even when they're not singing they make unpleasant noises.

If we were picking guys with unusual voices, I sure wish they'd gone with Brett Lowenstern over Paul McDonald.  I'm not sure I can deal with watching Paul's hair slowly disappear as the show goes on, it reminds me of David Cook's unfortunate 'do that was desperately trying to hang on to each last lock.

With screamer turned good singer James Durbin making it to the top ten, I was five for ten in my predictions.  Great for a major leaguer, not so great as AI predictions go.

Speaking of screaming, Ashthon does her best divaish take on the Dreamgirls belterriffic song.  Kendra nails the end of her song, showing she can knock it out with the best of them. 

Jovanny sings Angel like, well, an Angel.  Has there ever been such a pure voice as his on this show?  It's like polished glass.  I don't know why the judges didn't like him except for his voice doesn't match his stage presence.  He's just not as electric on stage as he needs to be.  JLo said it best when she said he did all he could do.  He sang great, but for some reason that's not enough.  Naima sang for her life and couldn't find the right notes if they hit her between the ears, but she has presence and star power, so that is enough.  Yes, Jovany, life is unfair.

Also unfair was the fall of early front-runner Julie Zorilla.  Gifted by god with looks and talent, how did she find herself on a one-way bus to join Janelle Wheeler in Who?ville.  She went quickly from the one to watch to the one we'll forget by next week.  It's even harder to say good bye to Lauren and Brett and Rachel and Tim.  The only upside for them is that they learn early that the music business is cruel and unfair and can now become cynical and bitter at a much younger age.

Robbie Rosen sings, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, and they do a closeup on Randy and his frozen half smile does not bode well for the high school junior.  Stefano Langone's vocals were equally strong, probably his best performance to date, and he has extra points in the cute department, so it's not a shocker when he's the judge's choice.  I don't get their other selections, Ashthon and Naima, and I would have taken both Robbie and Jovany over either of them.  But it's not up to me.  Yeah, I don't get why not either. 

I think this is an American Idol first -- no contestant from the Lone Star State.  That must violate some reality TV show rule.  But, really, how could they follow their representative from last year?  And, no, I'm not talking about Tim Urban.

So here's your top 13: Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Pia Toscano, Thia Megia, Stefano Langone, James Durbin, Haley Reinhart, Karen Rodriguez, Ashthon Jones, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, and Naima Adedapo.  I have to somehow come to grips with the fact that my two favorites still in the running are both country singers.  This is not a pleasant turn of events.  I'm feeling a bit feverish and dizzy, maybe it'll pass.  Next week maybe they'll both sing a Metallica song.  See you then!