Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What's wrong with last century's songs?

As good as last week’s American Idol was (although the guy recapping for Entertainment Weekly’s Website may have gotten a little carried away when he called it the best episode of Idol ever), tonight’s show was really a letdown. Other than the obvious explanations (poor singing and bad song choices), there were two reasons in particular for the off-night. First, tonight was the first hour-long show of the final round, after two two-hour extravaganzas. And fitting in ten singers in one hour after having two hours to showcase 11 just last week always creates problems. The producers jettison some of the commercials (that’s good), get rid of most of the banter between the judges and Seacrest (no real problem with that), give the judges less time for their comments (my opinion on that varies depending on the judge), get rid of the post-sing talks with the singers (if that means not having to hear Kellie Pickler ask “What’s a ballsy?” like she did last Wendesday night, that’s a positive development) and, most importantly, cut down the amount of time the singers get to sing. I didn’t time it (OK, I did, but since I didn’t time it last week it didn’t matter), but it sure seemed like the singers had a shorter–maybe 15 or 20 seconds less–amount of time available for their performances. A few times, I said to myself, “That’s it?” when it was over. And it seemed to me that some of the singers never really could build up the momentum they needed with the song being so short.

But what had the single biggest impact on the poor performances tonight was the sounds-better-than-it-really-is theme, “Songs of the 21st Century.” Yes, there are six years of songs to choose from, as one of the judges said tonight, but have the years 2000-2006 really been banner years for pop music, the kind of music that this show celebrates and emphasizes? Many of the top artists of the 21st century have been in the rap and hip-hop genre–Outkast, Kanye West, Eminem–and no one is going to perform one of their songs on American Idol. There’s been some popular R&B in recent years, like Usher, but not everyone can pull that off (Elliott maybe, Chris wouldn’t try, and I hope Ace wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an Usher song.). There’s been a lot of the Creed, Nickelback, Linkin Park kind of stuff in recent years, which Chris seems to have cornered the market on but isn’t for everyone But not as many songs as one might think that would be suitable for American Idol and that are, even more importantly, good songs that showcase one’s voice

Furthermore, most of these songs haven’t even stood the test of time–how many of the ten songs performed tonight will we still hear in 20 years? I’m not confident that we’ll hear any of them, but maybe the Train song sung by Ace, and perhaps the Gavin DeGraw song done by Elliott because “One Tree Hill” reruns might still be in syndication. And people might still hear that Kelly Clarkson song Lisa because they’ll still be buying her last album to hear “Since You’ve Been Gone,” which probably will stand the test of time.

Randy said tonight was a good theme because it showcases the kind of album the singers would make. Does it really? I’d hope they’d try to be a little original, not try to just copy the singers out there...but you know what, I think I’ve convinced you all how much I hate this theme and I’ll get on with rating the singers.

Lisa Tucker (“Because of You”)–Even if this song is still being played on the radio and thus her performance would likely pale in comparison, I think this was a good song choice, finally, for Lisa. It was a song where she could show off some vocal ability, and yet it was a song that a young person would sing (since it’s a recent song recorded by a singer in her 20s). Unfortunately, Lisa just didn’t sing it well. She started off horribly, seemed to–as Randy would say–“work it out” some in the middle, and then ended badly. Simon was kind of correct–there were a couple parts that one could actually describe as somewhat painful. The good news was that tonight seemed to be the most natural performance Lisa has done so far–the hand movements and the facial expressions didn’t seem forced at all. Unfortunately, it may not matter–after being in the bottom three for two weeks in a row, the fact that she drew the first singing slot tonight does not bode well for her survival.

Kellie Pickler (“Suds in the Bucket”)–The judges didn’t really like this, but I didn’t think it was that bad. While I’m not a big fan of country music and didn’t love the song, I thought it fit Kellie’s voice well--although it did get kind of boring quickly. I found it interesting that Randy complained that the theme was songs of the 21st century and Kellie’s song sounded like something older. Gee, Randy, you didn’t seem to have any problem at all when Chris took a song from the 50s last week and turned it into a song from the 21st century. Please make up your mind. By the way, does anyone know who those two women were they showed a couple times after Kellie’s performance?

Ace Young (“Drops of Jupiter”)–I laughed out loud when Ace started doing the “Eh, eh, eh” stuff at the end of the first two lines of the song, and it didn’t improve from there. I thought this was pretty bad. Plus, as I was saying in the opening, the short time Ace had to perform this song–which kind of builds throughout–meant that once he started to get somewhere in the song, it was over. That didn’t really matter, though, since, as I said, it wasn’t very good. But forget about the singing–tonight, all that mattered about Ace was Paula’s drooling over his scar. Wow, both Simon and Randy felt the need to rein her in. “You’ll have to tell me sometime about how you got that scar...”–I asked a few weeks ago, but does Paula have any self-awareness? Oh, and when Ace showed off the scar, I just thought he was doing that weird opening of the leather jacket while singing move that Constantine did a few times last year. By the way, I’ve heard comparisons of Ace and Constantine and they’re not meant to be flattering. Say what you will about Constantine’s cheeseball antics on stage, he was a better singer and a lot more interesting than Ace–at least Constantine seemed to have a much wider knowledge of music than Ace does. I got a kick out of Paula saying tonight that Ace always picks “really great songs.” I guess she needed to say something that wouldn’t be interpreted as sexual, but she’s crazy–did Paula not remember that Michael Jackson falsetto monstrosity from a few weeks back?

Taylor Hicks (“Trouble”)–I was hoping Taylor would do the song “Trouble” that Pink recorded a few years back, but I was not so lucky. I’d never heard this song before, something I’m sure I share with the vast majority of America, but I still kind of liked it. It was nice just to see Taylor sit back and sing for once, instead of all the twitching and running around and crazy dancing. But I did agree with Simon–that whole t-shirt and leather jacket combo was a bit ridiculous. In his suits, he looked a lot more classy. (Even Seacrest seems to be wearing suits every week.) By the way, what happened to Taylor’s “woos” and weird hugging himself thing he’s often do? Did someone get to him and tell him to tone that down? Did it tire him out and he decide to drop it? Whatever the case, it was a good decision.

Mandisa (“Wanna Praise You”)–Yeah, Mandisa sang one of those “hip,” Kirk Franklin-style gospel songs, but it was still gospel and I don’t tune in for that on American Idol. Her voice was impressive, but I’ve been sort of critical of Mandisa for being a little too much, a little too over the top. Singing a gospel song did nothing to change that opinion. Simon did call her performance “a bit indulgent,” by which I assume he means singing a song to please yourself and not to entertain other people. I guess you could say that tonight.. Oh, and Mandisa, I don’t know much about clothes, but jeans are not a good look for you.
Chris Daughtery (“What If”)–Boy, this theme must have been tough for Chris, huh? But first, we had the short interview where Chris cleared up the controversy that had been raging since last Tuesday–he admitted that yes, he hadn’t totally rearranged and altered “Walk the Line” into some contemporary rock song all by himself, he’d just copied the arrangement that the group Live used a few years ago. A lot of people thought Chris was hiding something by not mentioning this last week–I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he did mention it but the Idol producers just edited it out of the tapes of the Barry Manilow meeting, especially because Chris was so quick to say he used the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” the week before. Other people were saying that the judges should have known that Chris was doing Live’s version, and thus should never have praised him for being original. I think that’s a little ridiculous–it’s not like Live’s cover off “Walk the Line” was a huge hit, and are the judges supposed to know every single song recorded by every single band? But now, Chris has copped to it, it’s out in the open and we can move on .... to a performance I didn’t paticularly care for. While Chris might have done an OK job singing his song, it was a terrible song, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. And finally we heard Simon say what somone should have said last week: Hey Chris, you’re getting kind of boring and stale. Now why Chris was “uncompromising” last week and all of a sudden a week later needs to “start showing a different side to you” is something really only Simon can answer–I’ve been saying he needed to show a “different side” for at least three weeks, and I’m hardly the only one–but it’s just good that Simon is on the bandwagon. Of course, watching Chris’ reaction to Simon’s comments, I didn’t get the impression he was thinking about changing course anytime soon–I sensed a “well, that may be what you think, but I think the audience likes my style” vibe. We’ll see.

Katharine McPhee (“The Voice Within”)–The judges seemed to really like Katharine tonight, but I can’t say I totally caught the McPheever tonight. Once Katharine got to the song’s chorus, I thought she was really good, but I wasn’t sure about the first part of the song–it seemed a little rough. What was sort of interesting was seeing Katharine do a “new” song–I don’t think she had done one song that was less than 30 years old yet in the competition (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just thought it was kind of interesting.)

Bucky Covington (“Real Good Man”)–Other than Bucky’s sliding across the stage during the middle of the song, I remember virtually nothing about this performance except that it was boring and not all that good.. Paula said Bucky should watch his diction, which is in some way kind of silly–there are tons of rock singers that no one can understand. Bucky should be more worried about the fact that he doesn’t have much range as a singer and isn’t all that exciting.

Paris Bennett (“Work It Out”)–Liked the dance moves, liked the sound of the voice, liked the charisma, but don’t really like the song–it’s boring and repetitive and doesn’t really show off much vocal ability.

Elliott Yamin (“I Don’t Want to Be”)–Simon and the other judges, even once tonight, have used the phrase, “You’re better than that song.” Isn’t Elliott better than this song? I thought his vocals sounded good, but this didn’t seem like the right vehicle for them. But it was nice to see Elliott singing a song that wasn’t as difficult as some of the other songs he’s sung in recent weeks, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Who’s going home? I think the final three looks like Bucky and Lisa for sure, and maybe Ace, and because she went first tonight and was long gone from voters’ minds by the time 9 p.m. rolled around, I think it will be Lisa who will leave us. Fingerhut out!

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think those two women were Debbie Gibson and Kristy Swanson.

3/29/06, 9:11 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Eric-you posted this at 4:38 am? are you kidding?
Okay, Lisa, Ace, Bucky, not even worth talking about.
Chris- Has now dropped out of my top five with last night. He could have done a great nickelback song even and been better than that screaming crap of Creed last night. Yes, he is boring me.

Mandisa- Over the top and not so great for me...losing some excitement for her too.

Kellie - okay, I still like her
Katharine - Very flat in the beginning but found it and stepped up...enjoyed the middle to the end.

Paris - she is still good and my GA Peach
Taylor - enjoyed it and he showed a difference in his voice

Elliott- still like him a ton. I liked that he pulled from a totally different type of music then he has been singing (Gavin Degraw vs Stevie Wonder)

3/29/06, 12:33 PM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

Amy,

Once again, I fell asleep for a while and woke up to post. Oh, and there is no such thing as a "great Nickelback song." But I do like the phrase "screaming crap of Creed."

3/29/06, 12:47 PM  
Anonymous arlene said...

I didn't really enjoy last night's show at all since I couldn't identify with any of the music. I didn't think anyone was that great. It was just a totally boring show.

What do you mean you fell asleep? You should be asleep at 4:38 AM!!!

3/29/06, 10:20 PM  

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