Wednesday, May 03, 2006

No birth of an American Idol tonight

Since last Wednesday night, everyone’s been talking about how we have the best, most wide-open final five ever (well, at least I have.) But if it is the best final five ever, why was tonight’s show so “blah”? No one was terrible, and some people had some good perfromances but no one put together two strong, solid songs (or even just one great performance). On the bright side, that does mean the competition is still wide open. In honor of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, here are my odds:

Chris has to be the favorite, although not a strong one. Let’s make him 2-1.

Katharine and Taylor are strong contenders right behind him. Let’s say 3-1 for her and 7-2 for him.

Elliott is the underdog who’s getting a lot of late money bet on him as the horses approach post time. He’s about 6-1.

And Paris is the young longshot, with potential but hasn’t put it all together yet. She’s at 10-1.

So Paula seems to have taken her meds tonight, and I’m kind of surprised that her breakdown hasn’t received more attention outside of the Internet and people around the water cooler at work. I thought for sure we’d see speculation in the mainstream media all week about her health, we’d get interviews with psychiatrists giving diagnoses of her behavior, etc. (Then again, I don’t watch Extra and Access Hollywood, so maybe they’ve been doing this.) I guess maybe Paula losing it just isn’t news anymore.

So our themes were sing a song from the year of your birth and sing a song currently on the Billboard chart. The first theme is a good one because it gives the contestants a decent amount of songs that have stood the test of time to choose from–although a number of contestants still managed to make bad selections. The second theme isn’t good because although it does give a wide variety of songs to choose from, many of them are new and haven’t stood the test of time (a problem I discussed a few weeks ago when they did the “Songs of the 21st Century” theme and it was a rough week. (Also, using new songs mean much of the audience doesn’t really know the songs either, and that’s an important part of this show–“American Idol” wouldn’t be nearly as successful if the contestants were singing original songs instead of covers.) Of course, because it’s American Idol, there still seemed to be a little cheating with the themes, which I’ll get into as we move on.

Elliott Yamin (1978-“On Broadway”)–So we saw baby pictures of Elliott, and fortunately no photos of his bris. (Although what was going on with the red outfit he was wearing with the red cap? For a second I thought it was a Santa Claus costume, before rewinding the tape and reassuring myself.) Scott Savol did this song last year, and did a pretty good job of it, but Elliott is certainly better. It wasn’t great, but he looked pretty comfortable and confident. On the other hand, it was a little unexciting.

Paris Bennett (1988–“Kiss”)–Wow, I graduated high school in 1988. Of course, I remember that this song, “Kiss,” was popular in 1986, when I was a sophomore in high school. So why was Paris singing it? I guess that’s when Tom Jones did his version of the song–apparently, as long as the song was recorded by somebody in your birth year, it fit the theme. I guess that makes some kind of sense (and Elliott did the same thing–George Benson released “On Broadway” in 1978, but the Drifters sang it many years before), but how far can you take it? If Idol is still on ten years from now, I presume someone born in 1996 will be able to sing “Killing Me Softly With Your Song” because the Fugees did a hip-hop version of it that year. But how about that Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise” that Coolio sampled and changed the words of around the same time with “Gangster’s Paradise”? It could get a little ridiculous. What about Jay-Z’s sampling of “It’s a Hard-Knocked Life” from “Annie” in the late 1990s? Does that count?

Anyway, Paris did say she was doing “Kiss” by Prince, even though she was only allowed to do it because of Tom Jones, and then said the reason she chose it, as far as I could understand it, was “The song is not really a song that people think can make a song” or something like that. If someone knows what that means, please leave a comment. I’m surmising she meant it’s not a song most people would think someone would sing on American Idol, and she’s probably right about that. There may be a good reason for people having that opinion, though, because I didn’t think Paris was particularly good on it. First of all, she is singing a song that has been recorded by two very stylized, unique singers. (By the way, quick story: Prince was apparently courted by the AI producers to appear on the show this season, but apparently the rumor was Prince declined because “he didn’t want to meet with the kids.”) Second, I don’t think it really showcased Paris’ strengths, which is a great voice. Sure, Simon has been on her about singing older songs, and this was a younger type song and she came out and strutted around the stage like a teenager. But it was just kind of mediocre, and to quote Simon from another one of her performances earlier in the year, a little weird. Just like Simon, I can’t really explain that comment, it just felt strange to me.

Chris Daughtry (1979–“Renegade”)–The judges slobbered over this, and I suppose it was better than the first two singers tonight, but I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. In fact, I thought it was a rerun of a Chris performance from earlier in the spring. Didn’t he wear an all-black outfit with a chain hanging out of the right pocket a few weeks back? And didn’t he do a loud song where he stares intensely into the camera and yells and screeches, um, like almost every week until the last two? I was starting to like Chris actually singing songs that weren’t all hard rock screamers, but apparently it’s what he likes to do. But on American Idol, it gets boring for me in a hurry–and it seemed like the judges got bored by his next song, so it’s not only me. But more on that below.

Katharine McPhee (1984–“Against All Odds”)–When I wrote last week about Katharine and how much I liked the big slit up her dress, I hadn’t even noticed that one of the buttons on the dress had popped until I read about it on the Internet and re-watched the tape. Also all over on the Internet, there was talk (as well as pictures) that Katharine allegedly flashed her underwear when the button popped. I also checked this when re-watching the tape and have no idea what people are talking about–if anyone could see that–especially without slow motion--they either have a TV with much better resolution than mine, or some kind of Superman-like vision. People are crazy. On the other hand, I’m so proud that someone actually searched “Katharine McPhee breasts” on and ended up on my blog. I’ve really made it in the blogosphere now.

So perhaps in order not to even accidentally show anything that anyone could misconstrue as underwear, Katharine wore a dress that literally seemed to have a belt around the ankles. She also sang “Against All Odds,” which has been sung many times on Idol and never particularly well. Katharine didn’t change that trend–there was something just kind of off about her performance. It was lacking a spark. It seemed like she was trying to sing it a little more intimately (like Paula suggested), but it’s a big song and needs to be belted out. And she didn’t do it. And then Simon, apparently still daydreaming about Katharine’s breasts from last week, called it “by far one of you best performances” when he really meant to add a “not” in there. That was awkward, but Katharine claimed to know that he didn’t mean to say she was good, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

Taylor Hicks (1976–“Play That Funky Music, White Boy”)–I really liked Taylor from the beginning of the show this year because he was great at singing classic soul and R&B songs in an classic style–not because of all his tics and weird Joe Cocker-like movements (in fact, they made me scared and nervous), or because of his dancing. While he danced crazily when he did “Taking It To the Streets” a few weeks ago, he also sang the heck out of the song. But tonight, all we got from this performance was weird tics and dancing. The song didn’t show off his voice at all. It was truly a “karaoke performance,” as Simon said. I don’t want a song and dance from Taylor, I just want a song, sung well and with feeling.

Elliott (“Home”)–I’ve heard this song because someone in my office is the biggest Michael Buble fan in the world (or at least in Montgomery County, Md.), and I like it. And while I think Elliott did a good job with it, I didn’t think it was a good choice for him–Michael Buble is sort of a crooner, and this song didn’t let Elliott show of the richness and versatility of his voice. When Simon said that the song didn’t have enough of a hook, of course Paula misunderstood him and thought he was talking about the lyrics. No, he was talking about the hook of a song, that musical part of the song that draws you in and makes it stick in your heard. And he was correct–it just wasn’t memorable enough.

Paris (“Be Without You”)–I think Paris hit every one of my pet peeves about Idol performers tonight. In her first song, she went into the audience, and during this song she yelled “Come on!” to the crowd (was this really a song that people are supposed to get up and dance and clap to?) She also let the backup singers carry a little too much of the song, and spent about 10 or 15 seconds on one sort of held note that she riffed on. The judges liked it, but it didn’t work for me–it just didn’t all come together as a song. It just felt like some pieces of vocal gymnastics patched together.

Chris (“I Dare You”)–So Chris decided to give us two different sounds this week–rock song and extra-screamy rock song. Way to change it up in the second half o f the show. The judges said Chris’ voice was giving out–although I didn’t notice that much of a problem. But maybe if he picked songs that had less screaming in them, he wouldn’t have as big a problem. It seemed the judges already have tired of Chris’ return to custom (yes, his first performance was better, but not that much better) considering their comments. So Chris, how about a softer song where you just sing as one of your two tunes next week? Would it kill you?

Katharine (“Black Horse and Cherry Tree”)–I’m not really sure why Katharine sang this entire song on her knees, unless it was an attempt to once again appeal to pathetic horndogs like me–not that there’s anything wrong with that. This was fine–it was good to see Katharine sing a different kind of song that didn’t require big belting–but nothing special. If she wants to win this thing, she’s going to have to step it up a notch.

Taylor (“Something”)–So Billboard has enough charts that Taylor could find a song released before he was born on one of them? I should have known when Ryan said that the American Idol finalists have had 90 number one hits in the last four years. For that to be possible, there must be 8,762 different charts. And then when you realize that they could use the album charts too, multiply that by 12. Siilly me, I thought a competition where each person sings a song would mean they would get to pick from the vast array of singles charts. Being able to pick songs from any album on the charts? You might as well not have any theme. Putting that all behind me, though, I really liked Taylor’s performance. He did exactly what I said I wanted him do after his first song–just sing a song well. He was great on the bridge in this song (I think that’s what it’s called, to show my ignorance–it’s the part where he sings “I don’t know, I don’t know” etc.). He wasn’t as good on the verses, but I still enjoyed him actually singing instead of acting like a maniac. Also, Simon referred to Taylor’s “barminess”? Is that what he actually said? And what does that mean–being a member of a band that plays in bars? The characteristic of someone who likes to hang out in bars?

So will we get a bottom three or a bottom two? I don’t know, but I’ll give you a bottom three–Katharine, Elliott and Paris, with Paris going home. She had to come up big tonight, and I don’t think she came anywhere close.

Fingerhut to bed!


Anonymous Mom said...

I thought Paris was very good last night but that Elliott was not at all at his best. It bothered me to watch Katherine on her knees--I don't know what purpose it served. I think it's time for Elliott to go, although if it were up to me I'd get rid of Taylor--he just doesn't do it for me.

5/3/06, 12:44 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Barmy = Nutty, slightly off in the head. It's Brit-speak.

5/3/06, 1:15 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks mark-I was wondering that too.
Ok, disagree with you Eric. My top three are still paris, katharine, and Elliott (voted for each of them twice last night)
I am bored by Chris but liked his first song and hated his second. I would not buy that album if he released it. I think paris is great and very talented and will only get better. Loved Katharine's second song even thought the knee thing was really weird.

5/3/06, 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Sal said...

I can't really say I watch this show anymore. I really didn't think anyone else did too. What I don't understand is all these people who really do not know anything about music all of the sudden are experts. Basically they are just using all the catch-phrases one hears on the show..."it was a little pitchy", "it didn't come together", "it was too safe". Gimme a break. Now, if one does not like a particlular performance, fine, just say so. But don't get all technical when you don't know that of which you speak. Now, Mr Fingerman, I am not directing this comment at you directly, rather at all those that speak of the show. I enjoy your commentary. I don't understand though how the heck you stay up all night writting this stuff. Do you sleep? Well, keep up the good job, whoever you are. Sal out.

5/3/06, 2:24 PM  
Anonymous John said...

I agreed, a pretty uninspired show. Good post though.

I thought that Katharine's second performance was the best of the night. It was actually fun. Okay, and Taylor's spastic dancing in the first song made me laugh.

Anyone else see Ace in the audience? He looked like the happiest also-ran ever.

5/3/06, 3:46 PM  

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