Wednesday, March 15, 2006

At least it should be a strong Final 6

After the announcement of the final 12 last week, I declared this to be a wide-open competition. At the beginning of tonight’s show, Paula Abdul said something similar–never a good sign. And midway through tonight’s show, it did look like that the only reason the competition was so wide-open was because everyone was so mediocre. But by the end of the show tonight, we did get enough quality performances that the next two months could be pretty interesting.

We started tonight with Ryan commenting on how everything was bigger tonight--the band, the stage, etc. It seemed like Ryan was saying that the stage for the finals was bigger than it had been in past years (not just bigger than in the semifinals), which I found hard to believe. (Fox and American Idol actually spending a little additional money on the show–no way!) But after watching the show tonight, I think it did get bigger–there seemed to be more area on the sides. Why am I discussing this arcane matter? Because the big stage, as I believe Randy mentioned at the top of the show, kind of swallowed a number of singers up–they didn’t seem to have the presence to command that big stage. And that seemed to be a crucial factor.

So before we got to the singing, and perhaps specifically to annoy me, we got a montage of “how we got here,” and were shown highlights of the final 12 from their auditions and their semifinal performances. Wow, what memories–I think it may have been three full weeks since we last saw some of these clips. If we for some reason wanted to forget Paris Bennett or Katharine McPhee’s early auditions, apparently the American Idol producers just won’t let us.

Our theme tonight was Stevie Wonder, and like everyone I thought, “Gee, wasn’t the theme of the semifinal round Stevie Wonder? We must have already heard more than a half-dozen of his songs in the last few weeks.” Interestingly, none of the Stevie songs that were performed the last three weeks were sung tonight–I guess they were put off-limits. Of course, that meant some of Stevie Wonder’s best songs were missing on Steve Wonder Night, but it was probably the correct choice to give us some variety. And because I’m a sucker, I was quite moved at first seeing some of the contestants get so choked up and emotional when meeting someone whom they had idolized for so long. I must admit, though, after the fifth or sixth person broke down in tears, it got a little old. (And where were all these guys when Stevie Wonder put out a new album a few months ago? It didn’t exactly burn up the sales charts...) Let’s get to the singers:

Ace Young (“Do I Do”)–In my continuing search for Ace’s personality, I noticed his pun saying he was “overjoyed” to meet Stevie Wonder (get it, that’s the name of a Stevie Wonder song...) On the negative side, I can’t believe we had the first singer of the night immediately venture out into the audience and stand on that platform behind the judges–one of my pet peeves of last year. It doesn’t make a performance any better, just more frantic. Thankfully, no one else followed suit. Unfortunately, it seemed this transparent ploy to get more audience love did work, since the crowd seemed to love Ace’s unexciting performance. He wasn’t terrible, but vocally he was just adequate, and other than a couple cool dance moves at the beginning, I really didn’t see much of that vaunted Ace charisma (which I’ve never really noticed that much of to begin with.) The most interesting thing about his performance was how long he held his pose on the last note–he must have stood there with his arm out staring into the camera for at least five full seconds, enough time for them to cut away to the audience for a while and then come back with him still standing there. Kind of creepy. Paula, of course, said Ace was “fantastic,” extending her streak of not saying anything negative about any male contestant for a second consecutive week.

Kellie Pickler (“Blame It On The Sun”)–So Kellie seemed to be crying after meeting Stevie Wonder even though she seemed to indicate she really didn’t know much of his music. I guess she’s just emotional. Anyway, tonight was the first week that the vaunted American Idol stylists had their way with the contestants, and Kellie was one of those most affected. She looked good with the new hairstyle and fancy dress, but I think when they glammed her up, they took all the fun out of her. Vocally, I guess she was OK, but Simon was right, her performance was just boring. And I don’t have much more to say, except that Kellie’s country girl act is starting to grow a little tiresome. Tonight, we had her first encounter with false eyelashes, which she compared to tarantulas. Don’t they have fake eyelashes in Albermarle, North Carolina? Does the Walgreens there not carry that product? I never shopped for false eyelashes in my four years living in Durham, N.C., but the drug stores there were pretty similar to those in the big city. (And yes, Durham is in a much more metropolitan area than Albermarle is, but I think you get my point.)

Elliott Yamin (“Knocks Me Off My Feet”)–First of all, to follow up on my remarks last week wondering what else Paula was referring to when she spoke about the challenges Elliott had faced, it was pointed out to me that on the Idol on Fox Web site Elliott talks about living with diabetes (and how he hopes to educate people about the disease.) So I’ll cut Paula some slack on that. As for Elliott’s performance this week, it didn’t exactly knock me off my feet (yeah, I’m sorry–and I was belittling Ace a few minutes ago.) Elliott does have a really nice voice and did a good job singing the song. But it just didn’t have that “wow factor” that made it memorable or stand out from the rest of the performers. One of the most interesting things about Elliott’s segment is that Paula spent her entire time speaking talking about Elliott’s emotional reaction to meeting Stevie Wonder and how beautiful that was or something, and didn’t say anything about Elliott’s actual performance. There’s really no one quite like Paula.

Mandisa (“Don’t You Worry About A Thing”)–I haven’t been as big a Mandisa fan as the judges these past few weeks (and I’m not sure what the readers out there think of her–leave a comment for me!) But tonight I did like her–she didn’t seem to try and overpower the song, but simply sang well and made it her own. First really good performance of the night. Two other things: Is Randy trying to find a new phrase to take over for “dawg”? Because he sure has been increasing his use of the words “for me.” As in, “Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest vocalists of all time, for me.” Or “For me, that performance was just all right.” I just think it sounds odd. Much more disturbingly, was Ryan Seacrest revealing some sort of shoe fetish to the world tonight? Offering to take Mandisa’s shoes off, commenting on her moisturized ankles–I want to forget the whole thing immediately.

Bucky Covington (“Superstition”)–I just found Bucky, the country rock guy, singing one of Stevie Wonder’s funkiest songs, just one of the weirdest performances I can remember on American Idol. That didn’t mean it was bad, just odd. I guess it was OK, because Bucky does have a unique voice. As for the fact that someone seems to have washed and brushed Bucky’s hair, I guess I agree with Simon. It just didn’t look right.

Melissa McGhee (“Lately”)–So Melissa messed up the lyrics, and I didn’t even notice. So I ran back my tape and noticed that at the beginning of the song, she did sort of mumble for a line or two and I guess that’s when it happened. I noticed that the first time, but I just thought she was unintelligible because she was hoarse and out of breath. And that was kind of my problem with Melissa’s performance–although she did improve and hit some big notes at the end, I think her voice’s raspiness isn’t all that cool. It’s just a sign that she often doesn’t hit the notes she should be hitting. She’s just kind of limited vocally. And why was she sitting all the way on that left part of the stage for her performance? Why was she not sitting in the center, oh, in front of the judges? Maybe it was done so that she wouldn’t get swallowed up by the stage by sitting in its center, but the feeling I got from watching her way out on the fringe was that she was trying to avoid something. Simon said she was “edgy,” and for the first time in a couple weeks, I must disagree with him.

Lisa Tucker (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”)–I have to disagree with Simon again about Lisa. I’ve been kind of critical of Lisa and her mannered, mechanical performance, but when she chose something other than a ballad for tonight, I wanted to like her tonight. But she just seemed like a ballad singer who was trying to rock, but didn’t quite know how. Although vocally she sounded pretty good, I just found her boring and trying too hard.

Kevin Covais (“Part-Time Lover”)–I at first wrote here that “nothing has really changed for Kevin.” But then I thought about it and realized that’s only half true. Yes, he hasn’t become a better singer–he’s still not a good enough vocalist to deserve a place in the top 12 and wasn’t very good tonight (although I did like his modified “duck walk” or whatever he was doing at the beginning of the song moving from one side of the stage to the other–the judges generously referred to it as a “dance move” but all I could think of is that thing Chuck Berry used to do during his performances where he’d sort of kneel down and walk across the stage. The difference of course, was that Chuck Berry was playing a heavy guitar at the time and Kevin wasn’t.) What has changed is that Kevin all of a sudden seems to be taking himself a lot more seriously (or, if one wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, is trying to joke about his sudden increased stature but falling flat at comedy). First, he asks where all the signs are about him, then he continues with the already tiresome jokes about him being some kind of stud, and then he mouths off to Simon with a “I wasn’t expecting much from you” when Simon criticized him. Kevin’s slowly turning into Scott Savol–and I don’t really find him nearly as likeable as I did a month ago. Highlight of his segment: Paula praising Kevin for being “in time” with the music. Wow, Paula, that’s the least we could ask from a singer, isn’t it? What’s next? “Kevin, I liked how you held the microphone.”

Katharine McPhee (“Until You Come Back To Me”)–Katharine stepped it up tonight–this was a really good performance. While she may not move around a lot on stage, she certainly seems to have a presence that takes command anyway. And she’s got a powerful voice. And although no one will believe me, just like Simon I also had a “there’s something about her that reminds me of Kelly Clarkson” moment during her performance too, and that’s a really good thing.

Taylor Hicks (“Livin in the City”)–So now the competition is starting to heat up. Taylor is just fun to watch, and he was very enjoyable tonight. And he wasn’t too spastic with the dancing. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does over the next few weeks.

Paris Bennett (“All I Do”)–Paris was good too, although I wish that when the song ended, she’s stop singing, instead of continuing to sing in her answers to Ryan. But that’s a minor quibble, and once again the key here was that like Taylor and Katharine she, along with singing well, had a stage presence that drew you in. Oh, and Paula, sit down.

Chris Daughtry (“HigherGround”)–While I didn’t like it quite as much as the judges, I enjoyed what Chis did with this song, but still wonder if he’s going to be able to adapt everything to the rock style in which he excels. Simon said this was the only song that would “stand up in the real world.” I’m not totally sure what he meant by that (and it’s kind of unfair, since a contemporary rock group actually covered this song and Chris admitted he melded the two versions, while most of the singers only had Stevie’s versions to work with. So he came in with an advantage.) Finally, Chris, one piece of advice. Bo Bice did that dragging the microphone stand around thing last year and it got old after a couple weeks. Please, don’t do it again.

Who goes home? Kevin Covais should, but I have a feeling he’ll survive. No one else stands out as being particularly bad, so picking someone is difficult. So I’ll just guess it will be either Melissa or Bucky, and I’ll select Melissa.


Anonymous John said...

Good heavens, were you really up until 5 or 6 in the morning writing this? I mean, it was worth it for me, as I really enjoyed reading it, but still, think of your health.

Ace: It was okay. I think it's a pretty stupid song.

Kellie: okay, I enjoyed it and voted for her twice last night. Yes, she was a little stiff last night, but I thought her performance was good . And I wanted to protect her, though she's probably still safe. Side note: every episode now, they work in that footage of her on her knees humping the ground. Is there some sort of conspiracy to mock me for missing that? That naughty little minx.

Elliott: I thought he was decent, and I do like him. Kudos on your pun, Fingerman.

Mandisa: you know, I think I only know that song from a commercial or something. I thought that Ryan was a bit disturbing with the shoes, but Mandisa handled it was class and humor. I thought that vocally, she was very good.

Bucky: he always sounds to me like he's holding back...or maybe that's all he's got. Either way, he wasn't great, though he's an affable guy.

Melissa: first off, she's such a mush-mouth that I didn't even notice that she muffed the lyrics. I rewound and yeah, she did. But listen, it wasn't like she messed up the Gettysburg Address. Those lyrics aren't Stevie's best. Anyway, I thought she was okay and looked nice all glammed up.

Lisa: I thought she was robotic and uninteresting. I disagreed with Simon.

Kevin: well, I went from laughing at him to just flat-out disliking him. I hope this is the end of the road for him, and he goes back to his high school for a series of wedgies.

Katharine: well, I'm a Katharine backer all the way and I loved this. Everything about it was great. Johnny likey mucho.

Taylor: I'm tiring of his schtick, but he was good.

Paris: you know, she and Taylor dancing before the commercial break made me laugh. I actually think she gave the best performance of the night, though. Great voice and a lot of fun.

Chris: he was good. I'm tired of his bit as well, though.

I hope Kevin goes home. Could be Bucky, though, as he was underwhelming.

3/15/06, 10:52 AM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

I wasn't up all night--I fell asleep almost immediately after watching my tape, woke up a few hours later and wrote this. That wasn't probably conducive to writing a good recap--for me, it wasn't my best work.

3/15/06, 12:17 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I do not need to mwaste my writing space on Ace, Bucky, Kellie, Melissa, Kevin or Lisa as I do not like any of them to win the competition.
So, on to the top 6 for me...
Elliott - was not his best but I still like him
Mandisa - very good and needs to keep shoes on and still at least try to drop some lbs.
Katherine - Excellent and I know you do not believe me but I said the same thing about kelly Clarkson during her performance and then was amazed when Simon said it!
Taylor - good enjoy watching him
Paris - she can entertain and that is good to see and has a great voice
Chris - okay for me but he can sing...did not love the rendition of that song and leave the mike alone...

3/15/06, 12:56 PM  

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