Thursday, April 14, 2011

American Idol Season 10, Top 8 Perform -- Songs from the Movies

Wait, what?  Pia went home last week?  How'd I miss that?

The rehashing of "the most shocking elimination ever" was expected. but watching it realizing that the sun did rise again and the world continued spinning puts it in a bit of perspective.  No one died, no one was seriously injured.  A reality contestant was sent home.  Were JLo's tears really necessary?

Paul McDonald is up first with Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger.  The outfit is absurd but, like a peacock, maybe he's hoping to attract females with his gaudy plumage.  Or perhaps he hopes people will spend the ninety seconds of his song commenting on his apparel, so they have to rely on the judges' unwavering praise rather than their own ears. 

He looks silly and runs around onstage like he's half drunk, which I'm starting to wish I were if I'm going to have to sit through this whole show.  Then he brings out a tambourine.  As if the cheese factor could go any higher, he takes it from Camembert to Limburger.  Only Paul can play a tambourine so oddly it is robbed of any musicality.  He's actually whacking that think around like he's putting out a fire on his torso.  He wheezes and rasps and croaks so much, I thought I was watching an anti-smoking commercial.  It is more than a mockery of the notion of American Idol being a singing competition for Paul to still be on this show. 

Randy says to Paul, "you're not a typical singer."  If by that he means Paul doesn't care about notes or melody or tone or breath control, then he is correct.  Paul is not a singer and he no longer takes the trouble to pretend.  The roller coaster approach he took to this song, basically rewriting it as he was singing it, shows that even he knows his longevity in the show is due to the entertainment value of watching the Chiclets-toothed, Porter Waggoner-garbed, weed-whacker-coiffed contestant do his Cirque du So-So act on the stage.  It has nothing at all to do with singing.

Next up is early front-runner Lauren Alaina who must be starting to worry that her gender handicap will be sending her packing her Dolly Parton inspired pageant dresses home pretty soon. She tells the mentors that she's singing The Climb by Miley Cyrus. The mentors immediately diss Billy Ray's little girl, telling Lauren you're a better singer than Miley. As if she didn't have enough trouble just being a female contestant on American Idol, they now take away any votes she might have had by upsetting the Disney crowd!

I expect great things from Lauren -- she has a terrific natural voice. But this song doesn't quite work for me. There is the problem of the chorus being built primarily around one note and the problem of Lauren singing as if she were nailed to one spot on the stage, which leaves it all a little...boring. The background singers drown her out, and even seem to cause her to question the pitch. What should have been a great shining moment comes off as high school talent show worthy. But nothing more. If this were Sing Better Than Miley Idol, she'd be in great shape. Unfortunately, you have to be memorable and exciting enough to get people to actually pick up a phone and call for you. A lot. And I'm not sure that's the kind of performance that will get that kind of action.

Stefano Langone tries to stay in this competition by singing his heart out on the Boyz II Men song End of the Road.  One wonders if that is the best song title for someone who has been dancing so close to the edge of the abyss.  Stefano starts out a little weak, but gets stronger.  The problem is, he's singing the song about a half octave too high for his voice.  I notice that the neighborhood dogs are starting to bay in unison.  Maybe Stefano's pants are too tight or perhaps there wasn't time to readjust the music to a register that humans could readily hear, but he sounded forced and tight stretching for those notes.  He sings with a pained expression, which could be the by-product of his strained vocal chords begging for mercy.

Randy name dropped some obscure member of the original band.  Take a shot.

The other country singer, Scotty McCreery, is up next.  He practiced Everybody's Talking by Harry Nilsson but then decided to go with George Strait's Cross My Heart.  True confession, I've never heard this song before.  I've heard of George Strait, I don't live under a rock.  I just haven't actually ever heard any of his songs.  At least not knowingly.  So I don't know how Scotty's version held up to the original but I do know that on the plus side, Scotty is treating his microphone much nicer.  He still is tempted to put that second hand up, as if the 13 ounce mic is too much for him to handle without additional support.  But he's at least working on fighting that temptation.

As for the vocal?  Like with Lauren, I usually love Scotty.  But this time, I started dozing.  Scotty's got great potential and at times his voice is amazing, but he's also young and it often shows.  He needs to gain more control over the gift he has and that will come in time.  I felt that the judges were close to letting him know this wasn't one of his best, JLo started out "you still performed it" and I would have stopped right there.  But then she added some positive adjective and ruined what could have been an awkward, but honest, moment.

Casey Abrams wants to sing a jazz classic, but Jimmy warns him that when he sang it, he got small and they lost him.  I'm excited at the prospect.  Where's Casey?  Don't know.  He was here a minute ago, then he started singing and poof!  Casey at first takes the suggestion to do another song, Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight, but (shades of Scotty) he won't feel comfortable unless he does what he knows he can do, blah, blah, artistic integrity, blah blah, be myself.  Basically, what does Jimmy Iovine know?  Jimmy's response?  Casey better be right.

We can now identify the exact moment that American Idol as a franchise doomed itself.  Casey Abrams, newly groomed with his rambunctious hair tamed and his wild whiskers neatly trimmed, took his upright bass and, in defiance of his would-be future boss, sang Nat King Cole's Nature Boy.  Here are my notes of Casey's singing:   boy-uh? boy-ah? It's one syllable!  breathy.  flat.  gritting teeth.  clearing his throat?  grimace.  scary serial killer look.  camera mercifully pans back.  closeup, more gritting teeth.  raspy.  searching for the note.  off key.  missed again.  random notes. weird stares.  Stealing from the Paul McDonald book of random shout-outs. grunt. creepy looks.  attempt at scatting.  shifty eyes.  flat notes. squeaking.  flat. 

It reminded me of a beatnik poetry reading contest performed by an escapee from a mental ward.  The word artistry was thrown around more than at a tribute to Van Gogh.  Somehow, Casey Abrams has put a spell on the judges and convinced them (though, hopefully, not the voting public) that different, weird, unconventional equates with talent.  A good jazz singer (and that's not an oxymoron, youngsters) sings what they feel and it's natural and organic and it just flows.  What Casey does is the burlesque, hammy, mugging version of jazz.  He intentionally, with malice aforethought, picks every grimace and grunt, every run and improv, to try and sound cool, edgy, hip.  The more unrecognizable he can make the song, the better he thinks he comes across.  He does this for a simple reason -- he does not have a traditionally good voice.  So, the jazz genre is his vocal smoke and mirrors. 

This would bother me less were the judges to assess him more fairly.  But, following through with the "everyone is a special snowflake" conceit that pervades this season, they are not permitted to suggest that maybe Casey is not god's gift to music.  That, perhaps, he is a good musician with an interesting taste in non-popular music who will be a great high school music teacher some day.  But he is not the next American Idol.

If you want a comparison, this is what the original sounds like (note in the video the song's writer Eden Ahbez -- looks a little like Casey).  This is singing:

Haley Reinhart is up next with one of my favorite songs, Call Me, by Blondie.  For once, I didn't hate Haley.  She cut her grunting down to a bare minimum, she sang the song with enough Deborah Harry swagger (I name drop, take a shot) to mask a few random missed notes.  I find it pretty entertaining.  The stripper vibe she throws off, the slinky prowling around the stage, the screaming --  they all work for the song perfectly.  I even love the way she played around with the melody.  Nice!!  So what do the judges do?  They certainly know how vulnerable women are in this competition and they realize that their slight criticism of Pia last week sent her to the reality TV show gallows.  They'll be careful in what they say to Haley, right?

Not so much.  Haley meet bus.  Bus flatten Haley.  Randy pulls out the dreaded K word.  Randy who has up till now conveniently forgotten his nine prior seasons on the show and the hundreds of prior critiques he's given for anything short of perfection, suddenly turns back into the Randy of old.  He  improperly calls her (different) version karaoke.  Then he tells her that's not a singer's song, not one where she can show what she can do vocally (despite the fact that it's the best she's sounded all season).  Steven agrees!  And so does JLo...even while admitting that to do so is basically sending Haley to Siberia.  "It wasn't the best" is the equivalent of "if you vote for her, we'll shoot the puppy."

Jacob Lusk gets a stern warning from Jimmy.  You're lucky to have survived preaching to the American people.  Hmm, who would ever have thought that talking down to the voters was a bad idea?  Oh, everyone but Jacob.  Right.  Now that the powers that be realize Jacob cannot be trusted in guiding his own future on the show, they decide to take over.  Jimmy doesn't like either of the songs Jacob has chosen (so corny they could have fueled a cross country trek in a pick-up) and instead gives him the gift of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.  Jacob says little before singing, just that he hopes America likes it.  Perhaps he's hoping that his picture will be moved from the dictionary definition of "hubris" over to "contrite."

It's a sedate, lyrical song. There's no way he can put his Lusky Stank on this.  Well, he is more restrained than usual, I'll give him that.  I mean, doctors can still run a colonoscopy on him through his gaping mouth, but at least he doesn't sound like he's passing a kidney stone the size of Ryan Seacrest like usual.  But, he also had huge pitch problems that haven't plagued him in the past.  I don't know if it's the background singers or the effort of trying to not go for that killer note, but he was way flat and way off key to the point that I suddenly thought Lee DeWyze was back on my TV.

But what will the judges say?  Well, let me put it this way -- I hope the judges were using protection, with all that humping going on.  They also better have enough class to at least call him the next day.

Once again, a contestant wants to do their own thing.  Ignore the experts, follow their gut.  Brilliant idea.  You had such a successful career as a musician that you had to come on a game show to get noticed.  What does that guy who produced  U2 and Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith and Tom Petty know about music?  But I digress.  My favorite, James Durbin, is going to do it his way, which is bring on the rock.

I learned two things thanks to James Durbin's electrifying (get it?) performance of Heavy Metal by Sammy Hagar.  One is the correct spelling of  Zakk Wylde's name.  Two, that maybe I was too hard on heavy metal as a musical genre throughout the seventies and eighties.  It -- and he -- sounded great.  So kudos for salvaging the show with the one solid vocal of the night.  James has an amazing set of pipes and he manages to make it seem effortless to hit notes that others can only dream of.  Having said that, points off for the guitar solo in the middle of your song.  It's fine...if you're the one playing the guitar.  Not so much when you're doing your "whoa, I'm pretty limber" move and some other dude is doing all the hard musical work.

One more name drop by Randy, take another shot!

So after my brilliant prognostication last week, I'm destined to get it way wrong this time.  But I will not back down out of fear.

My top three:  James, Haley (that one hurt, just a little) and Lauren (zzzzz)

My bottom three:  Paul, Casey and Jacob

Predicted bottom three:  Paul, Casey and Haley

Sent home:  If "Nature Boy" hadn't trended on Twitter, I'd say Casey, so I'll go with Paul.  But the Vote for the Worst guys might turn out enough votes to save him one more week.  Haley was thrown under the bus and she lacks that Y chromosome that seems to be all the rage with AI voters, and that usually spells doom. No, I'm pretty sure it's Paul.  He went first and he was awful, even on the Paul scale.  But Casey was so cosmically horrible in an unpopular genre.  Okay, I'm not wimping out.  Casey.  That's my final answer.

Bring on the love!


  1. "Like a peacock, maybe Paul's hoping to attract females with his gaudy plumage... whacking that think around." ~~ Hey, it could work. His outfit could net him some prime Paul-caliber posies. So, excellent observation, Shari. And you whack that think, Paul.

    "Randy says to Paul, "you're not a typical singer." If by that he means Paul doesn't care about notes or melody or tone or breath control, then he is correct." ~~ Nothing but net. Right on. Somehow, Paul is immensely likable, but he revels in seeming dramatically undisciplined. I suspect he isn't an idiot and can actually sing properly. Unfortunately for him (and us), Paul believes that being uptight while singing/performing isn't being sincere/honest with your audience, firmly honoring his alma mater of Blah Blah Artistic Integrity Blah Blah Be Myself University.

    "Jimmy warns him that when Casey sang it, Casey got small and they lost him. I'm excited at the prospect. Where's Casey? Don't know." ~~ You're so mean! ...hee hee. The more I imagine hearing someone say that during that specific moment of the show - MST3K style - the funnier it gets.

    "The jazz genre is Casey's vocal smoke and mirrors." ~~ Nicely put. I am less a fan of Casey's voice than of Paul's, but at least Casey is growing in awareness of his strengths and weaknesses (and I'm somewhat partial to his first name), whereas Paul is just growing old. Lately, Casey's been trying to play to his mighty strengths (I'm sure the AI producers are helping), but his mighty weaknesses keep getting in the way. You know, when Casey finally gets the boot, you might consider starting the associated blog entry with the final four lines from the old poem "Casey At The Bat". That would be rich. Or just title it "Mighty Casey Has Struck Out." Or do both. Or do neither.

    Unfamiliar with Zakk Wylde? Did you know the man can actually Sing? Here's a tip for beginners... After his early hair-metal fame with Ozzy Osbourne, and before he became the king of Biker Metal (with his pointlessly heavy band Black Label Society), Zakk created two brilliant Southern Rock albums, the touching "Book Of Shadows" (1996) and the friendly "Pride And Glory" (1994). Eight of those two albums' 25 songs are from the rare Southern Metal genre (1 track from Shadows and 7 tracks from Glory). But the rest (10 tracks from Shadows and 7 tracks from Glory) showcase Southern Rock at its finest: Zakk's pleading vocal melodies and tasteful acoustic/electric guitar-playing, along with his beautiful piano-playing.

    Zakk certainly has some stand-out tracks on other albums he's done; check out his shirtless guitar solo in the video for No More Tears, from his second studio album with Ozzy. Yet, the spare arrangements and cohesive melancholy found on "Book Of Shadows" are the real reasons why Zakk Wylde is respected in the music community, that and how he looks like a goddamned ancient viking (or perhaps just a really scary homeless guy). Tell you what, if you can at least tolerate the Southern Rock genre, go buy "Book Of Shadows" and decide for yourself if you'll like it. If you don't, I'll send you ten bucks in the mail for your trouble.

  2. I love you Shari.. but I'm a huge Paul fan (his pre-idol music is insanely good). I hope you're right on your pick to go home again tho.. I want it to be Casey.

  3. Outrageous that Jimmy Iovine told Lauren Alaina something like if she did well enough she could get all of Pia's votes. What? Lauren's doing just fine on her own (as JLo credited her). Obvious Pia didn't GET the votes, so PLEASE, let's get over that "shocking" vote-off. Going home tonight: Stefano.

  4. What about Paul? If you listen closely during the rare quiet passages, you can hear the hum of the big flying saucer parked out back. They have come to take Paul back home to that galaxy far, far away, where Elvis is King, suits are rated in watts, and the rivers flow with cheese whiz.

    I was embarrassed for Casey. This was like being in a small jazz club and when the band goes on break, you bet the drunkest guy in the joint that he won't go over there, pick up that big stand-up bass and do Nat King Cole's Nature Boy. He does, of course, and you feel so bad for him that you give him an extra 5 bucks.

    Just a quick note to the AI lighting director:
    Please, enough with the bright lights behind Scotty. It lights up his ears in an eerie red glow as if some demented kid in shop class made a lamp out of the banjo player in Deliverance.


  5. I'm still in love with James! Everything he does is kick-ass! Also liked Haley much more this week and was stunned into silence when all 3 judges dissed her performance. But The shocker was the standing ovation! What????? "There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy" His name was Casey Abrams. Warning: Do not trust anything about the outcome of this show.

  6. I think we can all agree that this is no longer a talent contest. If it was Pia would still be on right? This group is pretty smart. Some of the guys have something like 65,000+ twitter followers. They all use that to conect with the fans in hopes it might save them from week to week. Paul takes lots of pics of what is going on back stage. He talks about his fan mail and even asks people what he should wear! Stefano took a picture of himself with his shirt off.(what a six pack!) Scotty is on from sunrise to sunset.( " I just got a mudd mask") The girls not so much. That might have saved them a few times if they did. After Pia went home last week Lauren is now on twitter a lot. It is working. I love to hear everything that is going on day by day. Paul's pics are great! I find him more entertaining then taleted, but this could explain why he is on week after week.
    After last week I will be curious on how many votes come in.
    Based on talent the bottom three were Casey, Stefano, and James(my favorite). I think it will be Haley that goes home even though she gave one of the stongest performances of the night.

  7. I'm with Kel, I love Paul. His pre-idol music is great and love the track just released to aid the Red Cross in Japan, "New Orleans". I hope your prediction is wrong, I would love Jacob to go home. I'm from the UK so have to go to bed and sleep before I find out who has gone home.

  8. I still don't understand why TPTB decided the answer to the erratic judging of the past was to forgo criticism altogether. There is a difference between tempering their critiques and neutering them. It's like they're judging an eight-year-old's first piano recital and don't want to upset the little tyke.

  9. Couldn't agree more about Casey. I didn't realize I knew that song until I listened to the original, which I actually like. Casey made it unrecognizable. And you're right, the grunts are a gimmick. Maybe they need someone who knows something about jazz to critique him b/c I don't think these judges have a clue, or they're blowing smoke up his a**, or most likely, both.

  10. Okay, you're not psychic. Pressure's off. Just trust your gut. Your gut said Paul (though it probably prays that every week), but you typed as though you were getting nervous about being wrong. Relax. We like you because you're honest and funny. And we want to know who you think should stay and go home, not who actually will. That's why we peruse your blog, to weigh the opinions of a distant friend.

  11. Love Lauren, Scotty, and Jacob!! Wrong vid for Jacob, Shari. It was "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as you know by the context of your writing about him. Thanks for the vids..loved being able to hear again!