There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the ratings decline of American Idol this year. The ratings are down fairly significantly--I believe it's as much as 15-20 percent--but it's still far and away the top-rated show on television. And the fact that its decline hasn't come until the seventh season is also a sign of its strength--most shows don't even make it to their seventh season, and just about every show has peaked in the ratings far before that. (Jerry Seinfeld would probably argue that his show didn't peak until something like the seventh season, but the first three seasons of Seinfeld were one, four and then 13 shows, so that doesn't really count.)
No, tonight it wasn't the ratings that demonstrated to me tonight that American Idol is in an irrevocable free fall. It was tonight's debacle of the show. It wasn't just the fact that we had ten performances tonight and not one of them was memorable. (I can't imagine that there was any performance that people will want to watch again on Youtube this morning.) It wasn't just the fact that one of the judges was so bored that she didn't know how many times each contestant had sung (and normally we'd chalk it up to Paula being drunk, but she seemed fairly with it, for her, in most of her criticism.) No, it was mostly because after seven seasons of this show, the producers still don't seem to understand why we watch the show.
HOW COULD THEY SKIP THE JUDGES FOR THE FIRST ROUND OF SINGING? (Sorry for the shouting, but it was necessary.) Look, we all may get tired of Paula's strange critiques, Randy's eight-word vocabulary and Simon getting interrupted. But it's one of the two main elements of the show. I remember the first night I watched this show back in the summer of 2002. I was sitting on the couch and my friend John, then my roommate, walked in and started unloading some groceries. After watching a couple minutes from the kitchen, he said something like, "So this is how this show works--someone sings and then they judge him?" I said yes, and he said something like, "Oh, this is fun." That's the concept of the show. How can you relegate the judges to taking notes and popping up 25 minutes in? They did this once before, on the first season finale, and it was very weird and never done again--until tonight's mess. If AI producers don't even understand how their own show works in season seven, they deserve to lose the golden goose. There are certainly improvements that could be made to Idol, but this new format tonight wasn't one of them.
And I have no idea why this was done. They've had 10 singers in a one hour live show before--they had to rush a little but they got it in. (This year, though, they extended that show to a hour and a half.) Even more relevant, they've had five singers sing two songs each in an hour (shorter than 10 singers, because you only need a taped intro for the first song of the two, as they did tonight), along with judging, in multiple seasons. They didn't do it last year because they didn't cut someone during "Idol Gives Back" and thus had six singers for two weeks in a row. But in season five they did, season four they did and season three they did (although that year they had the singers do their songs back-to-back, which was kind of weird but would have been better than tonight's solution.) I could look up season two on the Internet, but that was so long ago. Anyway, what allowed them to do it in past years but not this year? Was it just too many commercials they didn't want to pass up? In such a rushed show, did they really need those chats Ryan has with the contestants simply for the purpose of putting Coca-Cola's name on the screen? OK, I think I've made my point.
So I thought Neil Diamond would be a good theme. I wouldn't call myself a huge fan of Neil Diamond, but I've liked him ever since I saw the movie "The Jazz Singer" when I was 10 and then listened to the soundtrack for months afterward.(And come on, who doesn't love the scene when Lawrence Olivier walks into Diamond's apartment, sees he's living with Lucie Arnez and rips his clothes?) There was also the camp I went to one summer in which someone played the song "Sweet Caroline" on the record player multiple times a day. And then I read an article in Rolling Stone when I was in high school arguing that Neil Diamond might be the most underappreciated songwriter of his generation--and when you go back and listen to some of his other songs, he does have some really good ones. But tonight's show actually made me appreciate Neil Diamond more as a vocalist than I expected. He really knows how to put some emotion into his performance and sell a song, something that someone like Jason Castro seems to have no idea about. Having praised Neil enough, though, I must say, especially after ALW last week, he was terrible as a mentor. His big advice is change the words of the song from New York City to Arizona for Brooke? Huh? It might have worked if the next line hadn't mentioned that she was "living between two coasts," which Arizona isn't.)
Anyway, let's get to the lackluter performances, and I'll judge after every song, but after my rant, I'll try to be brief.
Jason Castro--(Forever in Blue Jeans) I suppose it was pleasant, but really, really boring. And I'm sure one of Jason's fans will have a sign tomorrow that says "Jason-Forever in Blue Eyes". So we've got that to look forward to.
David Cook ("I'm Alive")--So David Cook is once again going to the Chris Daughtry during Queen week strategy--pick a song by a popular artist that no one has ever heard before. Amazingly, he did it twice. This first one was basically average, nothing special Jason Cook. I would have rather seen him sing that song from Phantom again.
Brooke White ("I'm A Believer")--Strange song selection for Brooke, who excels picking songs that show some authentic emotion. Not sure why she thought a song first sung by the Monkees would suit her. She at least tried to give it her own tiny little fun spin, but it wasn't fun at all.
David Archuleta ("Sweet Caroline")--I don't know what this was, but I hope I never hear it again. Although I've grown to not really like David, I hope he doesn't get kicked off tomorrow--not just because that would mean Jason Castro would be around another week, but because we might have to hear this again. That was "Sweet Caroline" set to David's annoying light-pop arrangement, with a dollop of jazziness thrown in, and I thought the whole thing was just wrong. Anyone else feel the same way? If you just isolated the vocals, they were OK, but the whole performance just didn't work for me.
Syesha Mercado ("Hello Again")--Our first Jazz Singer song! (Unfortunately, no one did "Love on the Rocks." While that wasn't great, I thought Syesha was the best of the first round. She still doesn't put enough emotion or perform interestingly enough to really draw me in to the performance, but she's getting better at it.
Then we had the judges' quick rundown, the less said about, the better. I'm still stunned about Paula thinking Jason Castro had already sung twice, but I guess she was watching an even worse show than I was watching, so I'll take sympathy on her. And the praise of Archuleta by Randy is just mystifying.
Jason (September Morn)--This performance was just so lackadaisical, so enervated (is that the right word?) you have to wonder if Jason even cares anymore. There's not much more to say.
David Cook ("All I Really Need Is You")--The judges were correct that this was much better than his first song. But it still wasn't as good as about eight other performances he's had this year. Simon is correct, that song did sound like it could be a hit today--but that still doesn't mean it would deserve to be a hit. Maybe I'm just not in love with that style of rock music, but I still was left wanting something more.
Brooke White ("I Am ... I Said")--The verse was OK, and then the chorus was where Brooke finally seemed comfortable again, showing that authentic feeling and emotion. Unfortunately it was like 20 seconds long and the song ended before she could get to the chorus again. Oh well. But it might have been good enough to vault her over Castro in the results.
David Archuleta ("America")--Not the desecration that his first performance was, but what was up with that weird ending of the song? He "Archuleta-ed" it up some, but it was still OK.
Syesha Mercado ("Thank the Lord for the Nightime")--This performance kind of summed up Syesha's time on the show--just good enough for you to say, "You know, she's got some talent," and just off enough to say, "But she's not good enough to actually be a recording star." This was good because it allowed Syesha again to show her personality, but that personality isn't quite appealing enough. As for Paula saying she's a combination of Minnie Riperton and Corrine Baily Rae, maybe she was drunk.
On the night, I'd probably say Syesha was overall the best of the night, and that should save her from the bottom two, despite what Simon said. I think Brooke and Jason will be in the bottom two, and let's go with Jason as the one eliminated. Fingerhut out!
Labels: American Idol