Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Idol Season 10 -- Looking Back at the Top 5

With just five left in the competition, I thought it might be interesting to see how I evaluated each during their first Top 24 performance.  So here's the review of what I had to say about them, with my review of Casey Abrams thrown in for good measure.

Now, one of the two moments we've all been waiting for. The Adam Lambert wannabe with an unending supply of bandanas is up. James Durbin is rocking out to "You Got Another Thing Coming' by Judas Priest. But, wait, this doesn't blow. Maybe because I knew the high notes were coming, but I liked his voice in the rest of the song and the rock star vocal posturing actually didn't bother me. Two thumbs up! He's a natural rocker -- just stay away from the show tunes, dude, and you may go very far!

Haley Reinhart sings "Fallin” by Alicia Keys. Hasn't this song suffered enough? Who doesn't think they can sing it better than the original, only to find out that they end up...wait for it -- fallin'--short? Well, to be fair, Haley doesn't fall, but neither does she soar. It's okay, it would be a nice, safe performance were it not for the fact that only five girls will go through. She apparently studied under the Scotty McCreery School of facial expressions and she mugs a bit too much to the camera. Her voice is almost there, but just...doesn't make it all the way.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I don't like country music. But I love me some Scotty McCreery. And so do apparently the screaming teens in the audience who have been relatively quiet until now. I think it's called “Letters from Home” and Randy says it's by John Michael Montgomery, but this is all a foreign area to me. But whatever it is and wherever it comes from, it's good and so is Scotty. He's cute; he sings well, even the high notes. He's ready to record, right now.

I did not see this one coming. I've been a fan of Lauren Alania from day one, but never would have put her name in the same sentence as one of the queens of country, Reba McIntyre. And yet there they are together as Lauren chose “Turn on the Radio ” as her Top 24 song. Lauren can sing anything. She sounded great -- like an old pro and now someone who should be getting fitted for a retainer. She looks like the missing third Judd sister and sounds just as good (as Wynonna, not Ashley -- who knows her country singers).

Jacob Lusk is the judges' favorite. They make sure to remind us of this before he sings. He has sung better than anyone ever had ever in the history of singing and the rest of us are not even worthy of hearing his dulcet tones. He has been bombastic and over-the-top, pushing his voice louder, higher, farther each time he takes the stage? So what will he do for a change? He takes on another overwrought singer's song, "A House is Not a Home." A song that cries out for delicacy and restraint. Well, keep crying, because you're going to get none of that. Just more GLEE-rific how many runs can I do? He has compulsion to do more than is necessary to sing a song. And with the judges telling him they want more and more, that's what we're going to get. This is not current, this is not anything that you will hear on the radio, and this is not the future of music. It's campy and dramatic, but it's not going to bring the music business back from the brink.

Now it is the guy who will cure cancer with just his least according to the judges. Casey Abrams is only slightly more in love with himself than the judges are. I will run out of ways to say smug before this competition is over. He's 99% attitude, 1% singing. I don't know what show he thinks he's trying out for, but if their goal down the line is to find a current recording artist, this ain't the guy. It would be a standout performance at your local High School talent show, even if it's mostly smoke and mirrors. He looks like what he's doing should be amazing, and somehow he makes you believe it. But not me, I'm impervious to his voodoo powers! The growling, the talking, it's unique and interesting -- but not the sound of a future recording star. And it's way too calculated and cute for me to buy it.

Well, except for being shocked that Lauren was singing country, I'd say that I was pretty accurate and consistent.  I have grown to like Haley more, James too, but I didn't really pan either of their Top 24 performances.  If anything, I'd say early frontrunners Scotty and Lauren have receded ever so slightly.  But why, how Jacob is still around is a mystery to me.

American Idol Season 10 Top 6 Week -- Results Show

Before I begin recapping tonight's show, let's look back at last night and see what we learned.  Randy Jackson does not know the meaning of "to turn the other cheek" and thinks New Orleans is a state.  He was unable to find any good name-dropping opportunities during Carole King Week ... which should make it a staple of future seasons if this show lasts beyond Season 10.  Steven can actually say something besides "that was beautiful" but whatever else he adds is even less helpful and nearly impossible to decipher.  And JLo is a guy magnet, even for guys of questionable heterosexuality.

Ryan reminds us that this is an elimination night which means "a lot of fans are going to be disappointed with tonight's results."  Spoiler alert -- not this blogger!

The top six did a medley of Carole King's songs and, for those of you hearty souls who want to brave the AI Live Summer Tour, let's hope none of these songs are performed.  In fact, I'd say that this group, because of its noted diversity of styles, is possibly the least able to harmonize of any prior collection of Idol contestants.  Every time two of them gets together, it's painful.  But, when a greater multiple tries to sing together, it's a mad dash by the home audience to the mute button.

Who sounded the worst?  I'd say the honor has to go to Jacob Lusk.  As bad as he is singing alone, when you hear his Kermit under water voice contrasting with the clear sounds of Lauren or James, it's disorienting.  But no one came away unscathed and the producers may want to consider scrapping medleys for the duration.  Or maybe use it as a product placement opportunity, a graphic of a bottle of Pepto Bismol would work just fine.

Although tonight their awful group singing was actually surpassed by how poorly each of them can do an English accent. Is it really that hard? Dear readers: In honor of tonight's final Michael Scott episode of The Office let's say together: "that's what she said."

Before we get into the results, last season's robbed second-place finisher, Crystal Bowersox, comes back to the Idol stage to sing "Riding with the Radio."  Well someone has sure gone country!  What happened to our midwest hippie chick?   So instead of Lillith Fair, she's off to CMA Fest.  She had one guy playing the mouth organ, another on steel guitar, and of the many choices on her very good debut album she (??) picked the most countrified one.  She still has a great voice, is a passionate performer, and a solid songwriter.  But I'm sorry to see her go down south.

For this week's twist, we have Jimmy Iovine weigh in about each of the remaining contestants before we hear their fate.  Jimmy was a little tough on Haley Reinhart...first he said she has one of the best voices in the competition, but he claims that Haley doesn't know who she is...Haley was not buying it and apparently used some epithet to express her disagreement.  Well, that should bode well for their future working arrangement.   We'll find out as Haley is safe and will be back next week.

Scotty McCreery is more accepting of Jimmy's suggestion that some of the subtlety he showed last night in his soft, tender rendition of You've Got a Friend may not result in sufficient votes.  But, ultimately (meaning after unnecessary drama, because there was no way Scotty was going anywhere!), Scotty was told he was safe.

Jimmy has a lot of faith in Lauren Alaina and it is not misplaced as the very young, very good singer is eventually told she is safe.  Then Jimmy gives the quote of the night.  Nay, the quote of the season.  In discussing Casey Abrams' growling/grunting vocals, Jimmy says "Casey has got to realize that the family dog does not vote on this show."  He predicts that Casey is safe (a psychic, he's not).  Ryan asks Casey about the grunting (finally!) and he explains that heh as a theory about it, that he has "this passion for music that I have to get out."   I suppose this means he's confirming our suspicion ... he's possessed.  As we all know, he eventually gets the bad news.  But not yet.

James Durbin is clearly the new frontrunner.  Jimmy loved him, the judges love him, and, according to Jimmy, if he picks the right songs "he can win this thing."  He is sent to safety, joining Haley.  Jimmy thinks Jacob Lusk's sartorial misstep last night could lead him out the door.  His prediction is that Jacob's foot is precariously placed on a banana peel the exact color of that ugly shirt he wore last night.  But, though it comes down to Jacob and Casey, who Jimmy had early predicted would be safe, it is Jacob who is off to Top 5 status.

And with that the second Vote for the Worst pick is eliminated.  Casey Abrams is no more.  He does one more self-indulgent, grunt-filled performance and is once again treated like the second coming.  But, at least it turns out that the voting public didn't fall for it.  

Now, I'm sure many of you are expecting me to dance on Casey Abrams' AI grave, something akin to how I reacted to the elimination of Court Jester Paul McDonald.  But those two guys are very different.  Paul is a 27-year-old grown up with an extensive body of work behind him who took to the Idol stage like the comedy relief between acts at the Apollo.  He should have been followed on stage by someone wielding a broom -- it was ridiculous, from his neon outfits to his barely croaked-out vocals.

Casey is just 19, an only child of much older parents, raised among the NPR listening, tree hugging, jazz music loving people of Idyllwild, California.  Of course, he's going to bring out a stand up bass and try scatting, I'm sure it makes his parents beam with pride.  My problem with Casey Abrams has always been with the judges who have created a monster, showering him with undeserved adulation and never giving him any realistic critiques.  They saved him when they should have listened to America and instead, like a drunk's enabler offering DUI bail money, continued to tell him that every off-putting thing he did was magical.  The grunting, the lumbering menacingly around the stage, the crazed serial killer looks, the enraged teeth baring all while talk-shouting through songs...not once did they suggest those were not great artistic choices.

Is Casey Abrams this talented musician he's been touted to be?  Perhaps.  But what he turned into on the show was a psychotic Jack Black ramping up the creepiness factor in his performances week after week.  And why not?  He was getting praise and attention for it.  So I will say that I wish him well.  I hope he can go back to focusing on what it is about music that he loves and not what it is about being in the limelight that he craves. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 6 Perform -- Songs of Carole King

So it wasn't a train wreck and two of the contestants actually had something approximating a "moment" which only goes to show you just how good a songwriter Carole King is.  We actually had nine total performances tonight as there were three duets along with the six solo numbers (no, I didn't have to use my fingers to do the math...I have a calculator).

We begin with Jacob who found himself in the bottom two last week and needs to do something big this week to stave off elimination.  Jimmy Iovine tells him that the judges want him to soar and go off.  If any of that involves him leaving the stage and not returning, then sign me up!  He's singing a song I'm not familiar with, "Oh No, Not My Baby."  He started out well -- for all of one line.  Then it all completely fell apart.  The vocals were rough and all over the place, almost bad enough to distract from one of the more unfortunate wardrobe decisions this side of Paul McDonald -- Bill Nye the Science Guy meets Pee Wee Herman (thank you to the chat room for the PWH suggestion).

When Jacob wasn't emulating Paul's dud duds, he decided to channel Casey Abrams and start scatting...because, when I think of what the show needs, the first thing that comes to mind is -- more scatting!  He bounced around on stage like an apoplectic toddler who needs to go RIGHT NOW.  I couldn't tell if it was an American Idol performance, or an outtake from the latest Tyler Perry movie -- Medea's Big Happy Karaoke.  Of course, the judges were hard pressed to say anything negative, though a little truth started slipping out as they mentioned some wonky notes. 

Next up was Lauren Alaina and she chose "Where You Lead," which was the theme song to the Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite TV shows.  Except for the last year which I will never buy on DVD and have to pretend never happened.  How they could continue the show without its creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, is beyond me.  She was the heart and soul of that show and without it, it lost its way. Not that I liked her decision to give Luke a daughter in season six; I really hated that story line.  But the last year was even worse, and how it ended, with Rory moving away to become the next Christiane Amanapour and Lorelai and Luke not officially together, was awful.  Is this a digression or a whole new post?  Back to American Idol.

Lauren is still struggling with her confidence, but will a surprise visit from role model and occasional salvia smoker Miley Cyrus help her believe in herself?  I'd say yes.  Because while I wasn't blown away by her vocals, Lauren did seem more at ease and more in control on the stage.  But her voice took a weird Dolly Parton quiver and was weaker than in past weeks.  The song really started off strangely, she seemed off beat and somewhat unconcerned with the melody.

There was a lot of screeching thanks to the background singers and more wayward notes, till the last "I'm gonna follow where you lead" which was really nice and ended with the cutest little laugh.  At the end of the song, she sat down next to some random boy from the audience.  Ryan brought him back up on stage to get to the bottom of the story and found out that he was three years older than our 16-year-old contestant.  That was awkward.  I'm concerned may move what he's thinking from a misdemeanor to a felony, but Ryan scooted him off stage before the authorities had to be called.  Meanwhile, I have no idea what the judges told her.  The vocals were not perfect but she brought it, she had swagger but her voice broke.  I'm not sure they know if they want to promote her or not.

The first duet of the evening were the little lovebirds, Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams, singing "I Feel the Earth Move."  This is probably the only opportunity Haley will ever have to say that to Casey.  Haley pulled out the growl and the jazzy vibe she's been working recently, Casey comes in and throws her off since he's incapable of singing.  He talks through his part of the song, while making random scary faces when he's supposed to be sexy.  In fairness, that's probably as close as he can get.  I think finally, now that the judges can hear the difference between Haley's singing and Casey's talking, they'll tell him he has to stop faking it...but no such luck. They love everything about him including that performance which would have been gonged back in the day.

Steven, forgetting this is a competition, then discusses the not-so-secret nature of their relationship, asking Casey how much in love with Haley he is.  That wasn't uncomfortable at all!  For the record, I get partial credit in predicting Casey would sing this song, writing last week:  "When I suggested what I thought what Casey Abrams, our band camp nerd cum ladies' man, might take on, I thought it would be I Feel the Earth Move as it seemed to have more than its share of growling opportunities."  Well, with all the feral sounds coming off the stage, I think I can say, Nailed it!

But I knew with complete certainty what Scotty McCreery would pick, writing "I will bet the farm that Scotty will sing You've Got a Friend."  When I mentioned this to my husband tonight, he asked in the future I not risk something we don't actually own.  But I knew this was a mortal lock.  What I didn't know was what a fine job Scotty would do with the song.  The mentors, Jimmy and Babyface, convinced him to de-twang himself just for this week. And it worked like a charm.  It was restrained yet moving.  It gave me and at least one other member of the chat room chills (and it was 80 degrees here in LA, so that wasn't an easy feat). 

At first, I just listened a la The Voice, without looking.  I didn't want to be distracted by Scotty's inability to carry a mic one-handed or his skeevy looks into the camera.  But you know what?  Someone taught that boy how to hold the microphone and introduced him to all sorts of fun things his other hand can do rather than provide counterbalance.  And he even cut down on the smarmy grins and held cocking.  But most importantly, he brought lovely tones -- in a higher than usual register -- and knocked it out of the ballpark.

Let me take a moment to correct Randy Jackson.  The phrase "to turn the other cheek" does not mean to change things up.  It means to not meet violence with violence.  I'm a heathen and I know that.  But three separate times Randy used the expression as if it meant to do a 180 or switch things up and it was really annoying.  Someone take him aside before the next show and fix that.

While James Durbin has sung ballads before, it still seems always newsworthy (at least to Ryan) when James takes it slow.  Maybe if Ryan spent more time paying attention to the performances, and not so much on makeup retouches, he'd realize that.  Anyhow...James takes on "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." At first, I don't get his choice.  It's outdated and corny.  But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Before he sings, however, James pimps Scotty -- and is even more adorable for it.  He seems oblivious to the fact that this is a competition...or he's the wiliest person ever to compete. 

James decides to go this week with just his guitar and  is going to sing without bells, whistles or pyrotechnics.  And it's a brilliant move, because he has by far the best voice in the competition and he needs to let people hear it in its purest, unadulterated form.  He starts out with a nearly a cappella rendition and his voice is exquisite.  Then the band comes in and we're transported to the 50s, yet it's not hokey or old fashioned.  Okay, I'm a fan.  He sings the hell out of the song.  He does soft, he does loud, he croons, he screams, he even channels Axl Rose at one point, yet can turn on a dime (while keeping his cheek in the same place) from one vocal trick to the next.  Jennifer correctly points out that James has been consistently excellent and nailed it again tonight.  When Randy goes nuts and declares him the winner, I can forgive his exuberance.

For the third time, the producers put Lauren and Scotty together for a duet.  They're about the same age and they both sing country, so how did they ever come up with that pairing.  Did it strike anyone else that Lauren likes Scotty but that her feeling is not reciprocated?  Will that upset his little girl fans, or give them hope that he's saving himself for them?  The two twangers take a song that is  risky choice, "Up on the Roof."  The song is all one long buildup to the big payoff at the end.  But since neither of them go for the glory note, it's pretty monotonous, all set up and with no happy ending. 

Vote for the Worst pick Casey Abrams is up next with "Hi-De-Ho," a song most famously done by Blood, Sweat and Tears.  Unlike James who takes an old song and makes it relevant, Casey takes a less old song and makes it sound ancient.  I cannot think of someone more out of touch with popular music than Casey Abrams.  Is every station on his car radio set to Swing music?  I am more than ever convinced that Casey has no interest in the music industry and his goal in going on American Idol and his planning behind every performance has been to further an acting career.  He wants to be Jack Black, not Jack White (see what I did there, one is an actor, the other a singer, but they have the same first names and their last names are opposites.  Okay, not impressed?  You know I just got lucky?  That's fair).

So this would explain why Casey doesn't sing so much as talk through most of his songs.  It explains the menacing stage stalking.  The creepy facial expressions and camera stares.  The growls and grunts placed where notes should be.  The intentional, planned nature of his every move and utterance on stage.  It is one long audition not to cut a record -- under no circumstance could he record an album anyone but his parents would buy -- but to get on stage as a performer.  I'm sorry, I almost did a spit take when JLo said to him "You're such a great vocalist."  I think she accidentally shuffled the yellow notes she invariably refers to during her critiques.

The last solo of the night has Haley singing "Beautiful."  I had originally written that I'd like her or Lauren to sing the song, then decided it would better fit Lauren.  I still stand by that.  This is a really emotionally challenging song and if you don't believe it or can't convey it, it saps the song of what makes it special.  Part of the fault lies in the arrangement, it's too bouncy, too 50s.  She also takes too many liberties with the melody which really doesn't need her help.  I've really enjoyed Haley the past two weeks and thought she did fine in her duet, but this didn't work for me.

The cameraman came very close to getting the show a parental advisory and needs to be careful taping her when she's wearing a super short dress.  Steven says he saw God, I think it might have been some Victoria Secret instead.  Randy correctly mentions that this wasn't a great performance and gets shouted down by JLo.  Please, Randy is so rarely right, don't interrupt when one of those magical moments comes along.

Doing the math, there were two people left who had yet to duet...James and Jacob.  Well, this should be's in the name of the song after all.  So they do "I'm into Something Good," and, call me insane, but I didn't hate it.  Jacob was actually dressed normally for a change, James looked cute in his outfit and they seemed to have a blast.  Usually, I find the old standby "we had fun" the ultimate cop out, but when you're two guys, with completely different styles, singing a duet, that's about all you can hope for.  They had fun, and so did I.

My favorites:  James and Scotty
My bottom three:  Casey, Jacob and Haley
Predicted bottom three: same (though I wouldn't be shocked to see Laurent there instead of Haley)
Going home:  Jacob, I bet the... chair in the bonus room

What say you?

The Voice -- Not Exactly Discovering New Talent

The days of a complete unknown stumbling on our TV and wowing us with heretofore undiscovered talent is over.  Thanks to YouTube, a simple search of the contestants on the new reality TV talent show The Voice shows that these people have been singing for a very long time, toiling on the fringes while never quite hitting it big.  But what we lose in the "newness" factor we gain in having a veritable treasure trove of past performances to evaluate.

My favorite from last night was Javier Colon.  Javier has performed with Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish, now esconced in Nashville as a newly minted country performer).

Javier has sung the National Anthem on Monday Night Football

And he has toured with Joss Stone:

Javier has his own YouTube channel, so you can check out more of his videos:

While Javier has been rubbing elbows with mainstream artists and recording professionally, Rebecca Loebe has been doing the acoustic indie girl singer routine. Grab your guitar and go from one coffee shop to another singing your original folk-infused songs.  Talk a lot between songs and reference NPR and caffeine. 

Rebecca (whose last name is pronounced Low-Bee) has videos dating back about four years, too many with annoying chatter in the background.  So here are a couple where you can actually hear her.

You can read up more about Rebecca on her website:

Unlike Javier and Rebecca, country singer Jeff Jenkins was a little less sure about what to do to get heard.  He did not have the vision to sell his music on his own, going by the limited number, and poor quality of his videos.  He definitely needs the packaging help the show can offer, but his voice is undeniably great.

Especially if you're into that country sound:

NBC's The Voice -- Premiere Episode

I've been excited about this new singing competition reality show since I first heard that Mark Burnett was behind it.  I'm sure by now you know the premise: The Voice has four "coaches" who each try and discover the next great singer, after first selecting them based only on how well they sing.  If more than one judge selected a singer, the singer then gets to choose who he or she wants to work with.  Meaning within a three minute period, they go from "Oh, please, God, Allah, Buddha, Whoever, let someone push the button," to "What exactly can you do for me, country boy?"

The coaches know a little something about having a successful recording career -- they are Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine (of Maroon 5) and Blake Shelton. Of course, they came up the old fashioned way which makes you wonder why we need reality TV talent shows, but we need them so I have something to write about besides the economy, the attack on Internet gambling, and REM's latest video.  Oh, and that other subject I've written about once or twice.

It begins with a blind audition -- the judges have their backs to the singers and unless they've rigged up some reflective device or placed spies in the audience to flash them signs, they have no idea if the contestant is hot or not.  Of course, the singers were already preselected by the producers, so one would imagine that no one likely to scare small children has been allowed to sneak through.  So no Iggy Pop appearances any time soon.  Seriously, can we chip in to buy that guy a shirt.  Hanes sells tees at 3 for $10.

It seems that the show is not taking the AI approach of shock and ugh, so no memorably horrible auditions.  The first singer of the night is Tarralyn Ramsay singing "Breathe."  She is an example of what the show is about -- someone overcoming their outward packaging and being judged just on how well they sing.  Except, I wasn't all that wowed by her voice anymore than her unfortunate outfit.  She seemed out of breath, but it could have been nerves.  Fine, both Christina and Cee Lo mention that it was really clear that she started out nervous. So, what are you saying, I only stated the obvious?  I'm not some musical savant?  On second listen I can see that there may be something to her voice  Well, both of them want her and Tarralyn has to choose and she goes with Christina.

Patrick Thomas says, looking at me now, you wouldn't know that I was bullied, but back in elementary school I was a complete nerd.  Well, someone sure found their confidence! Then he mentions he wasn't athletic as a kid.  What are you trying to tell us, Patrick?  Spit it out.  So he's wearing a cowboy hat and he comes from Nashville and he is singing "Live Like You Were Dying," by Tim McGraw.  I wonder where he's going to end up. The suspense is killing me.  Cee Lo may have been the first to hit his button, but Blake convinces him that he has people and connections and knows the secret country music handshake, so Patrick goes with him.

Bald rocker.... not Daughtry...Jared something comes up next and he's singing the Cobra Starship song Good Girls Go Bad which, since my daughter is a fan, I've heard some three dozen times give or take a hundred and he doesn't do as good a job as those cute guys so, while judge's hands hover tantalizingly close to the button, he is the first reject of the night. In fact, I couldn't even find a video of his performance, so here's the original, featuring the fetching Leighton Meester.

The next contestant who makes it is Vicci Martinez who decides to tackle Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Let me first take a moment to acknowledge what a terrific job Haley Reinhart did last week with this song, because I found Vicci's performance just average. But the song is so mesmerizing and the original so indelible, I think you get brownie points for just reminding us of it. She may have a lisp, she definitely has some trouble corralling the wayward notes that escape her raspy throat. So while I thought Vicci should, first, change the spelling of her name to any of the commonly acceptable versions and, two, be kicked to the curb, Cee Lo and Christina both saved her from elimination hearing something that was apparently not obvious enough for me to notice. She squats, calls Christina a goddess, then choose Cee Lo as her mentor.

A commercial for The Hangover 2. How hot it Bradley Cooper? Discuss.

We're back and a really pretty girl sings an Alicia Keys song passably, but not memorably enough to be chosen, and the rest of us try not to feel a touch of Schadenfreude. Sonia, it's called rejection. It's what you'd hear more of if you wore a burka. Meanwhile, when Cee Lo sees that he missed out on a hot one, he does a big time Oh, #$&! and tries to force his button to stay lit. I don't like the song enough to go dig up a video, so on to the next song!

The next singer is actually a married duet named Josh and Nicole so of course their professional name is "Elenowen." They're singing one of the most cloying songs ever, "Falling Slowly," and I'm not sure what they could possibly do with this treacly mess to make me not start dry heaving. As they start singing, Nicole has a nice tone to her voice and the judges seem to be digging it and then Josh joins in and they become apoplectic. See, no one told them a duo could be auditioning and they thought she'd undergone gender reassignment in the middle of the song -- which would have been impressive. Blake slaps the button because he wants to see what's going on and eventually Cee Lo wants them too. The too cute folk rock couple question the judges and they - y'all - like what they - y'all- hear from - y'all - Blake and so they go country.

Wow this show is sure reminding me of American Idol. I mean this next contestant looks just like that girl who was kicked off of AI for having done porn. What was her name? OMG, it's Frenchie Davis! She's baaaack. Having been on Broadway, having been on more places than she'd like to remember I'm sure over these past few years, she wants another go at reality tv stardom. She sings "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry and, luckily for her, one of the judges liked it as well. Christina picks her and Frenchie gets her second chance at stardom.

It's another gorgeous girl having to be judged just on her voice. But, Kelsey Rey, who takes on Estelle's "American Boy," can sing! She actually seems touched that she's being appreciated for her talent, not for her looks, and call me a sap, but I buy it. I like the tone of her voice and her ease on stage. She gets yeses from Adam (his first pick -- maybe he did have a mole in the audience), Christina and Cee Lo. I guessed she'd pick Cee Lo and she does -- so she's pretty, talented and smart. Does she remind anyone else of that brainy actress who was on the Wonder Years and later went to Harvard?

As if god wants to test just how comfortable I've become with country music (because it is all about me, right?), Patrick wasn't the only country crooner on the show. Oh, no, he was Eminem compared with the next guy, the twangy, cherubic Jeff Jenkins who sings "Bless the Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts. He's from Texas and his mom just died, so if this was AI he'd be getting votes by the boatload. My heartstrings, which are a bit frayed right now, are being tugged all over the place so even I overcome my initial reaction to stab myself in the head and decide to listen to the whole song. Yes, it sounds like twangy, twangy, drawl, yee haw, y'all, but in a good way. All four judges want to work with him. He's so country I need subtitles to understand what he's saying, so of course he picks...Adam!!

The next singer is Rebecca Loebe and she has the cojones to take on a reworked version of Nirvana's "Come As You Are." I am spellbound. I'm not swayed by the "homeless" storyline, she has enough money for mascara and eyeliner. But, her singing? I could listen to her all night. It may be the best single audition I've ever heard. I want to take my savings and buy her off the show right now. She doesn't need anything but a microphone. I can not express in mere words how she moved me. Hey, Adam, stop looking over my shoulder! I said "reworked" first. Sheesh. Anyhow, everyone loves her as they should and she makes what I think is a good choice, going with Adam.

Because no one could follow that, they put up someone who has zero chance, 56-year-old Joanne Rizzo. Now, the trick with this show is that the judges can't see her, so they have no idea how old she is -- until she starts singing a song written before any of them were born!!! She does a mediocre, at best, version of "I Say A Little Prayer" originally sung by the gifted singer turned crazed Celebrity Apprentice player, Dionne Warwick, and to no one's surprise, no one picks her.

Xenia Martinez sings "Break Even" by The Script. She's really young but has a remarkably mature voice. What the heck is going on here? So this is where all the talent that didn't try out for AI ended up. She has an amazing rasp that is not off-putting in a Paul McDonald way, but serves the song. Talking about her performance today, I agree with my daughter who said Xenia didn't quite connect with the song (she added that she thought the girl was going to nod off during the song). I agree with that assessment. There was a sleepy quality to her performance and, considering this was her one shot, you would have thought there would be more passion. But, Blake and Cee Lo both hear something special and they fight for her, complimenting her tone and vibrato. Blake makes a very funny comment about Cee Lo's ever-changing appearance and how it could be unsettling for someone so young, but I doubt that entered into her decision to ultimately choose Blake.

The next singer is a self-described big goofy nerd conveniently named Tje Austin (also his hometown) who sings "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars. They have us listen to him as the judges are, without seeing him first, so you know something is up. Yep, the pop crooner with the white Mormon parents is sporting one of the most impressive Afros I've seen since the early 70s. Oh, that's not the surprise? Oh, yeah, he's African American. Cee Lo and Adam race to be first to push their buttons, but I'm not quite as wowed by his vocals. Christina and Blake held back -- Christina immediately regretting her decision when she sees how cute Tje is. Ultimately, he chooses Cee Lo. I'm on the fence with Tje. He's got the look, but his voice was a little thin in places. We'll see.

As unexpected as Rebecca singing Nirvana, was the next contestant, Javier Colon, taking on Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." I'm a sucker for this song and so I don't know if he was as good as I thought. Yeah, I'm listening again, what he does with those notes is illegal in 11 states. Okay, so now I have a new favorite? While AI has left me cold, already two singers have me enthralled. If you've come here to read me skewering untalented wannabes, you're a day early. What an impressive vocal performance. Javier may not know how to dress, but what his voice can do is magical. Oooh, nice question to Christina...what took you so long to ring in. I like that. Good answer, but not good enough. Javier joins team Adam. Adam may have been slow to pick contestants, but he somehow managed to get (in my never to be humble opinion) the cream of the crop.

Last of the night is our second bald female contestant, Beverly McClellan,
who does her best Janis Joplin impersonation on "Piece of My Heart." It was too copycat for me and I wasn't digging it at all. Too many random "wooo's," I didn't get it. This was from the trying too hard school of rock and roll, which masks average singing with desperation. She has spunk and heart and all that, but I do not see her going far in the competition. Poor Christina ends up with her to go along with the follically challenged Frenchie.

So at the end of Day 1, I'd say Adam has the strongest group with Rebecca, Javier and Jeff, and Christina has the weakest.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Predictions for Carole King Week on American Idol

I can't remember the last time I was this excited and apprehensive about a theme week on American Idol.  I am of a certain age where Carole King has been almost a constant musical companion.  Whether it was wearing out the grooves in Tapestry, or hearing her voice introduce seven seasons of the Gilmore Girls, I've seldom been separated from her music.   Now this talented musical genius is allowing the top six contestants on American Idol to tackle some of her creations.

UPDATE: The more I listen to Tapestry, the more I can see Jacob Lusk taking on Way Over Yonder.  So many opportunities for sustained notes, extremes of emoting, and bringing that gospel feel back to the Idol stage.  They'd have to bring out the Lee DeWyze spotlight and backing choir of heavenly angels, about four or five violins, and perhaps install a lift on stage to elevate Jacob as the song goes on so he's literally nudging God by the end of the song.  Shouldn't be a problem.

UPDATE: I can't believe I ignored Home Again in my first draft. Thanks to the anonymous comment suggesting it as good for either of our country crooners Scotty and Lauren. I'm a little concerned with giving such a lyrically weighty song to kids who probably still sleep with retainers on, but it's also a good test to see if they can sell a powerful message, not just sing words and notes.

I would caution them about singing a song that opens, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever going to make it home again."  It's always dicey choosing a song that is unintentionally asking for you to be voted off.  I supposed that there are two ways the audience can take the lyrics -- I want to go home, but only as a member of the Top 3 or I'm tired of LA, send me back to the sane people.   So if either of them do pick this song, let's hope the audience is going for the first interpretation.

Since someone already sang Natural Woman, I have to find another Diva-esque song for Jacob Lusk to manhandle.  One possibility is Up on the Roof.  The song is, after all, just one long build-up to the last glory note. 

Another possible choice for Jacob is Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? which has been covered by the likes of Cher, Elton John, Patti LaBelle and Smokey Robinson, among others, which seems to put it firmly in his comfort zone.  Fun fact from Wiki: At Carole King's home, in West Orange, her doorbell rang the eight bar hook of the song.

Seriously, if anyone tries So Far Away, I'll cut a bitch.  No, really.  This is the most achingly beautiful song.  One more song about moving along the highway....

On the other hand, I'd love to see Lauren Alaina sing this -- Beautiful.  I think it's a great anthem for people of any age about having a positive attitude, but also good message message for young girls today with the pressures they face. It is such a hopeful, optimistic song and, though you probably can't tell from this blog, I'm actually someone with a fairly sunny disposition.  Really.  Just don't tick me off.  

But maybe a better choice for Haley Reinhart would be It's Too Late.  It has a little jazzy, bluesy feel that she could have fun with.  She could even bring back the Haley purr.

When I suggested what I thought what Casey Abrams, our band camp nerd cum ladies' man, might take on, I thought it would be I Feel the Earth Move as it seemed to have more than its share of growling opportunities.

How I could have missed the more obvious choice, Jazzman, is beyond me!  But one of my Twitter friends reminded me of this, one of the few Carole King songs that I don't like.  Which, of course, would make it a perfect choice for one of the remaining contestants whose antics I don't like.

I will bet the farm that Scotty will sing You've Got a Friend.  It's been covered by a bunch of country artists, it's sweet and will make the tweens all giddy thinking that future president George Bush will be there to brighten their darkest night.

So what song for our resident rocker, James Durbin?  I wouldn't put it past him to slow it way down again, like he did with Maybe I'm Amazed and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  I could actually seem him try and tackle the untouchable So Far Away.  But an interesting choice for him might be Child of Mine which he can dedicate to his young son.  It's a lesser-known song, but might be something he can really connect with.

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats had an interesting interpretation of the otherwise perky, sing-songy Carole King ditty, One Fine Day.  As I was watching his menacing, stalkerish take on the song, I finally realized that this is what Casey Abrams has been doing all along.  Channeling the Mountain Goats!!  John Darnielle can't sing, and he make strange faces and odd sounds.  Yet many -- including me I must confess -- consider him a genius.  It's all becoming clear to me now.  Only an indie wannabe music geek would even know about TMGs!  So watch this and tell me if you see a little Casey in there:

So what have we all learned here today?  Carole King is more talented than the rest of us and we should all just jump off a bridge.  Wait, that's not it.  Instead, let's just appreciate how ridiculously gifted she is and marvel on how her songs hold up almost half a century since they were written.  Yeah, let's do that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 7 Perform

The theme for tonight was songs from the 21st century -- apparently an effort to get the contestants to consider for a moment being at all relevant to the music industry today.  You have one who thinks he's Al Jolson (get it, the Jazz singer?  Too obscure?), another who looks like he's ready to appear on the Gene Autry show, and third who should be wearing a mink stole, sipping a martini while singing about the man that got away (and, here'a hint, it's neither of the girls).  Now, finally, we will get an idea what kind of a record they would be putting out when the show is over (assuming the record industry can hold on that long).

But first, they (whoever they are that aren't us because we wouldn't have done that) decided to bring back the first six fallen idols, Paul, Pia, Naima, Thia and those other two girls.  Somehow they missed the point that we didn't like them enough to vote for them in the first place and decided that we just had to see them again, including the ones whose names we can't remember.  So they go with the Pink song "So What?" and it was actually an inspired song.  They were all, "yeah, you kicked us off the show, but we don't care," even though you know they're devastated and if they had any money -- which they don't and now won't thanks to you America -- they'd be on a therapist's couch at least two days a week wondering why the voters hate them.  Naima strutted her stuff and Pia sang beautifully and Thia was adorable and the other two were there too. 

The recently departed Paul comes out on stage and once again I'm temporarily blinded by his awful sartorial choice for the night.  He opens his mouth and, though I find it impossible to accept, it appears that Paul's voice has actually gotten worse since he left the show.  Whatever was plaguing his vocal chords has called in for backup and has now taken his entire voice hostage.  He faintly squeaks and croaks and creaks out something not at all resembling notes to the song and even the most fervent Paul supporter has a WTF moment.  He talks through the rest of the song while the five more talented vocalists around him, who he outlasted, wonder if they should add a third session with their therapist.

Finally, it's over and we start out with the front runner so far this year, seventeen-year-old Scotty McCreery.  Before he sings, the other contestants have an opportunity to talk about Scotty and they each choose to mention something I've never noticed before.  Apparently, he holds the mic oddly.  Hmm, completely missed that.   OMG, people, if everyone sees it, why has no one been able to stop him?! Would you let him smoke cigarettes?  Take drugs?  Drink and drive? Vote Democrat?  Of course not!  So please, let this be the night he breaks that horrible habit!

Tasked with making it current, Scotty picks the song Swingin' by Lee Ann Rimes, which sounds like it was first recorded before I was born.  He actually starts off sounding great and I'm once again surprised how good his voice is when he's not digging deep for those subterranean notes.  But then he starts two fisting the mic and tilting his head and making goofy faces at the camera.  It's the same performance on a loop week after week, with the added touch this week of making a recent song sound fifty years old.

The judges, who normally wouldn't say anything bad about Osama bin Laden (you're really rockin' that beard, dawg) decide to go after Scotty this week for playing it safe.  Fair criticism, but unfair when you pick and choose when to be honest.  And I wonder why the fix might be in for poor Scotty? 

The next one up is James Durbin and his fellow contestants kid him about being a rock star and wearing too many scarves oddly positioned around his body.  James decides to tackle Uprising by Muse and I immediately recoil.  Yes, I know, Muse is great, blah blah, epic, sure, visionary, whatever, but that song drives me up a wall.  The singer has zero breath control so he gasps and wheezes and loudly inhales all through the song and I keep expecting an oxygen mask to fall from overhead whenever I hear that song.  But I digress. 

James has a vision for the song and from his outfit to the drum line accompaniment it's brilliant.  He sounds amazing, nailing the passion of the lyrics and the intensity of the music.  He takes it up to dizzying heights then brings it back down and always stays on pitch and in the zone.  He made me forget all about the original and really see the beauty of this song.  This is something I would actually download.  The judges rave and I can't argue (which puts me in a weird position!).  But I did find it odd that they seemed to be reading their comments and also that they were so sure this was the best performance of the night -- psychic or scripted?

Haley Reinhart next gets ribbed by her fellow contestants and it appears that she and Stefano have some issues that definitely deserve further investigation.  They both seem like nice enough kids, yet they apparently have a teensy problem getting along.  I think I see a RomCom in their future -- she first hooks up with the goofy side kick (Jonah Hill), while loathing the flirtatious Lothario (Jake Gyllenhahl) then realizes in the last reel that she was in love with the hotter guy all along (shocking ending!!).  Speaking of Jonah, where was Casey's comments on Haley?  Curiously absent.  Hmmmm.

Going with Adele's Rolling in the Deep was a risky choice and so was wearing the table cloth from Daisy Duke's Italian restaurant, but I thought Haley sounded great.  Someone else listening along with me thought it was unfortunate that she was going through puberty while singing the song, but I enjoyed the yodel.  This unnamed someone thought I might have been swayed by the original and so wowed by the song and Adele's voice that I didn't realize it was being butchered on stage like some poor animal that I don't want to think about because once you cook it and add a nice sauce it's really tasty.

Anyway, I loved Haley tonight and I'm sticking by my decision. 

Next up was Jacob Lusk and I was shocked that the word his fellow contestants used to describe him was Diva.   Was it the bombastic oversinging, the arrogant attitude or the feather boas that first tipped them off?  Having nearly derailed his AI choo choo with his hubristic attack on America two weeks ago, Jacob decided to pull out the stops to beg for votes.  He chose a Luther Vandross song (one point for Luther being dead), on Luther's birthday (2 points), called Dancing with My Father, (3 points for tear-jerker song), after mentioning his own father died when he was a child (4 points).  Wait, there's more!  He then dedicates the song to anyone with a father.  Well, that's pretty much every voter.  Brilliant.

He sang the song fairly straight forward and didn't do too many runs or his usual, unnecessary excesses of vocal gymnastics.  He didn't try to swallow the audience and he didn't make facial expressions like some smallish parts of him were being squeezed in a vise.  I still don't like the tone of his voice, he always sounds like he's underwater, but I didn't want to throw anything at the TV either, so for him that amounts to a good performance.


Jacob was followed by Casey Abrams who chose a Maroon 5 song, Harder to Breathe, that I was unfamiliar with.  I hear I've been riding Casey Abrams all year.  If so, he doesn't seem the worse for wear and I don't seem to be any farther along.  He's just as arrogant and self-satisfied as he was the first time we saw him and I'm still at my computer having to write about another performance of his.  He decided to switch it up tonight, bringing out a guitar as a prop (the only time I saw him playing it, he was fingering it like a bass) and cut down on his usual array of grimaces, grunts and growls (which sounds like a really unpleasant law firm).   But when he sings straight, it only highlights the fact that he has at best an average voice and, at worse, one that he can't stop from drifting off-course repeatedly.  If he didn't do the bit -- the teeth gritting, the random guttural sounds, the mugging, the Sammy-eque mannerisms, the scatting -- he'd just be some dude with an ordinary voice and an oversized instrument.

Begin rant:  As the song continued, manic Casey came out and he started moving menacingly towards the judges.  He finished his song literally right in Jennifer Lopez's face.  As he sang, looking right at her, she turned her head uncomfortably away from him, averting her gaze from Casey and looking (for help?) at Steven Tyler.  When Casey finished, he kissed her on the cheek.  I was aghast and it took at least an hour for me to calm down.  This is not shtick and this is not a bit.  I was truly upset.  I am sick and tired of men objectifying women, of thinking women are their property, and they can do whatever they want whenever they want.  I didn't think it was cute, I thought it was a horrible message to send to both sexes.

Sorry for the digression, but it reminded me of when actor Adrian Brody kissed Halley Berry during the Academy Awards and that offended me greatly and still does.  Women are not men's toys and they don't get to do with us what they want because they want to.  When I complained, I was told "she didn't object" and "it's not like he tongued her."  So apparently, a little inappropriate physical contact is a-okay?   End rant.

Stefano Toscane picks the perfect song, going with Ne-Yo's Closer.  In his pre-performance package the other contestants mention that Stefano is a flirt and he does try to make out with the camera when he sings, which you might think would get him some votes as he's not bad looking.  But, it all comes off more like a hunk of Velveeta than, well, think of some romantic cheese.  Fondue?  Okay, let's go with that.  A nicely melted Gruyere.  Stefano has zero sex appeal, but ranks pretty high on the ick meter.

This is my complaint every week with Stefano, he has it all but just can't seem to put it together in one cohesive package.  It's frustrating.  He's got a great voice, but doesn't seem to have a clue what to do with it.  I'm tired of repeating this.  The sound is there, the tone, the notes. But something just doesn't quite click.  They've been working with him for weeks now and they're just not making any progress.  Let's bring out Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, cuz it's Time to Say Goodbye.

Last up is Lauren Alaina who sang Sara Evans' Born to Fly.  I've loved this girl from the first time we saw her.  I thought she had such a strong voice and was so confident.  But that girl is less and less the girl I see on the screen.  She's just almost there, but not quite.  Every week, she starts out a song really strong, you know she's just going to nail it, and then she just lets it hang there. Where's that breakout performance that she is so obviously capable of? 

I'm waiting for that one note, that one moment, where she just grabs me by the throat or touches my heart or makes me feel something.  Instead, I sit dispassionately and think, well, that was nice.  She sounded really good.  And then I realize that words like nice and good are not the words that describe someone whose record you can't wait to buy or whose concert you're dying to go to. 

Then it occurred to me why Casey Abrams and Paul McDonald have such fervent followers.  You can't describe them as nice or good.  Whatever you think of them, and I think you all know pretty well my opinion of both, you're not going to damn them with faint praise.  You'll either excoriate them as a plague, a scourge on humanity, as I've been known hyperbolically to do, or you'll praise them as unique and electrifying and breaking the mold.  There's no safe, boring, middle ground.  And that's where, I fear, Scotty, Lauren and Stefano fell tonight.  Fine, good, okay, nice. 

My Top Three of the night: James, Haley and ... crickets??  Make that top two, unless I can say Pia.
My Bottom Three: Stefano, Casey and Jacob
Predicted Bottom Three: Stefano, Scotty (gasp!) and Lauren
The boot?  Stefano