Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The arrogance of American Idol

I thought the biggest scandal of American Idol on Tuesday night was the horrible decision to eliminate the judges from the first half of the show. But for some--including probably the most influential American Idol chronicler, Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly--it was Paula's gaffe in talking about Jason Castro's second song before he had sung it, and whether this showed that the judges are either actually critiquing the dress rehearsals instead of the live performances, or the judges' comments are scripted in advance.

Amazingly, even though this was a major topic of discussion today throughout the country--it was the featured story on Yahoo for a good portion of the day--the only reference to it in the interminable one-hour show tonight was Ryan obliquely referring to a report on TMZ that Paula had been drinking before the show and that's why she was so confused. So instead of addressing a situation that in some minds, such as Slezak's, threatens to undermine the integrity of the show, Ryan defended Paula as "part of our family" or some such silliness, and moved on with no other comment. Not a good move.

Personally, I don't think this situation undermines the credibility of the show any more than anything else has over the years, because I sort of believe what is a weird, confusing story that Paula and Ryan told on his radio show this morning. I was more amazed by the amateurishness of the way the show works. I think the fact that the show is live is valuable because it adds an element of unpredictability to the show. But seeing Brooke mess up the lyrics to a song is unpredictable. What was done Tuesday night is just ridiculous. Apparently, the judges WEREN'T EVEN TOLD they woudln't be critiquing the singers until after the second performance until Ryan told them live on the air Tuesday night. According to Paula, they were so surprised and confuse by this development that they spent much of the first performance talking among themselves about it and asking to get a pen and some paper so they could write notes. (Really, this is what Paula said.) Then, apparently, what threw Paula off was when they were asked to critique at the end of the first performances. She said she had walked in earlier during the dress rehearsal--because she had gotten some family and friends in to that session--and heard Jason Castro singing "September Morn" so she had that in her head and she was so flustered by the change-up that she was thinking about that. (This, of course, contradicts what she said during Tuesday's show and what she apparently told Entertainment Tonight Tuesday night--that she had confused the Cook and Castro notes--but that didn't make any sense anyway, because she said she liked David Cook's performance but she didn't like Jason's "second" performance.) I'm willing to generally believe this explanation, because I watched an episode or two of that "Hey, Paula" reality show about her life, and she seems like a really confused person most of the time.

But the funniest and most satisfying part of the whole story is why they got that critique after the first performance. Apparently Mike Darnell--the head of Fox reality programming and, in effect, AI producer Nigel Lythgoe's boss--was watching the show at home and was, like most viewers, astounded that they skipped the judges for the first half of the show and told Nigel to bring out everyone and have the judges give their opinions before they did their second songs. So at least someone at Fox knows what's going on.

As for Brooke's elimination, it can't be surprising to anyone, and she had been flailing for a couple weeks. Just like Brooke was the first singer to restart a song in Idol history, I think she was the first contestant to actually walk away from her fellow contestants because she was having some sort of emotional breakdown after the song instead of being part of a group hug. Very weird.

As for the rest of the show, the medley wasn't quite as bad as usual, I'm not sure what Natasha Bedingfield was doing there but I like her, Neil Diamond was good but still had absolutely nothing interesting to say to the contestants, and "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Week"? How frightened should we be of this? Fingerhut out.


The beginning of the end for American Idol

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!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Carly Smithson, not quite a superstar

Six weeks ago, I thought Carly had a shot to win. By the last couple weeks, it was clear that wasn't going to happen. And yet I like her a lot more than I did six weeks ago. I think it had a lot to do with the huge amount of screen time and over-the-top praise from the judges that Carly got in the audition and Hollywood phase of the show. She was never as good as Simon and Randy and Paula told us she was, and the constant crying in her audition clips was tiring and annoying. And I think that came back to haunt Carly. She turned out to be a pretty good singer, but she was never as good as Simon had claimed she was (or Paula or Randy, for that matter.) And the crying she did the first few weeks about how tough the music business was (despite the fact that she once did put out an album on a major record label) and her general nervousness most of the time masked what eventually seemed like a pretty fun personality in the last few weeks. All that, combined with the fact that she looked like she was in severe pain when singing a lot of the time, combined to make Carly not particularly popular. And the husband with the face tattoo weirded people out. Anyway, I'd rather hear her sing Neil Diamond songs than Syesha, Brooke or Jason, and Archuleta too, but I guess we won't have that opportunity. (For instance, Carly singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" might have worked, but Syesha singing the same song? Not looking forward to it. And you know she's picking it. Just like Archuleta will be doing at least one of Heartlight and America. A couple other guesses: I'm feeling Jason Castro for I'm a Believer, David Cook might try to do something with Red, Red Wine, and Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon is a definite possiblity, and Brooke--I have no idea. Play Me? I do hope someone does Love on the Rocks.)

As for the rest of the show, to use a Simon term, it was a mixed bag. The group sing was, as usual, terrible. I liked that Leona Lewis song the first 800 times I heard it, but I think I'm already getting sick of it. It was nice to see Clay and Tamyra (still the most shocking elimination in Idol history), and actually I would have rather spent a little more time with them and less timne hearing both of the final two sing. And Andrew Lloyd Webber was just as entertaining tonight. Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If I make a mistake in the first paragraph of this blog, I won't be starting over

After watching the Capitals lose Game 7 in overtime, then pretty much sitting on the couch in a daze for the next hour, I didn't start watching Idol until 11 tonight--so if this blog is incoherent, that's my explanation. I might have had trouble making it through the show, if not for the fact that we probably had the best mentor ever tonight. Andrew Lloyd Webber was great--knew the contestants, had actual advice to offer them, was funny and knew what he was talking about. The other thing that was good about tonight is that, like they had read my rant last week, almost everyone stepped out of their box tonight and sang a Broadway song like they were performing on Broadway--and didn't do the same old performance they always do (except for Archuleta, sort of.)

Syesha Mercado ("One Rock and Roll Too Many")--I'd never heard this song before, but I looked it up and it's from that show on roller skates, "Starlight Express." And even though I didn't know it, unlike last week, it was a great choice for Syesha. I don't understand why she said that she hadn't been able to pick a song that showed personality previously in the competition, but if it took Broadway week to make her do that, it's about time. It was fun, sung well and didn't bore me at all (that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's not meant like that--I'm just trying to contrast her performance tonight with the boredom she usually induces in me.)

Jason Castro ("Memory")--Although the judges didn't want to, I'm going to give Jason credit simply for not using a guitar and singing a song that required him to stretch. But it was no "Hallelujah." The vocal was rough at times, particularly the low notes on the bridge. But, hey, Jason did give us the funniest line from this season's Idol:" "I didn't even know a cat was singing it." Funny, but of course a little frightening in the lack of musical knowledge Jason has. Second funniest line from Webber: "I think he understood it."

So they showed David Duchovny, Allison Janney, Courtney Cox, and other celebrities in the audience tonight--are regular people even attending the show anymore?

Brooke White ("You Must Love Me")--I like Brooke, but sorry, once she started the song over--for the second time this year--she ruined the whole performance for me. I've watched this show for seven years and never seen anyone else do that. I agree with Paula that she's got to be able to recover, or cover up, or find some way to move on without starting the song over. As for the actual song, it was heartfelt, but when she got to the heart of the song Brooke's vocal limitations were really showing through. She wasn't even attempting to hit some of those notes.

David Archuleta ("Think of Me")--I've never seen "Phantom of the Opera"--although I have heard "Music of the Night"--so I don't know what David did to this song. But after either Webber or one of the judges said it, I realized that Archuleta's song did sound pretty pop song-ish for a Broadway song (or at least for a Broadway song that didn't come from Mama Mia or that Billy Joel show). So he really didn't come out of his box all that much. But I must say that it was the most I've enjoyed David Archuleta in weeks. It was just a really nice performance. But that group of girls that came up and hugged him before the song looked like something out of that polygimist compound--very creepy.

Carly Smithson ("Jesus Christ Superstar")--Wow, loved that Andrew Lloyd Webber actually told Carly she picked the wrong song. That's good mentoring, and he was correct too. Carly should be singing big songs. And she did a pretty good job tonight. Not great, because as Simon said, she was shouting some on the choruses, but enjoyable. And the outfit was hot.

David Cook ("Music of the Night")--Instead of taking the Elvis-like Pharoah's dream song in "Joseph" or something, David just decided to sing a famous Andrew Lloyd Webber song and I'm glad he did. Because he was really good. Yeah, Simon, I know, he's not going to record an album of Broadway songs, so you'd rather see him do the thing that's going to sell lots of records for you and Clive Davis and Simon Fuller, but I enjoyed seeing his versatility. And by the judges' comments tonight, it seems obvious they're setting us up for the 2 Davids finale. Can it be stopped? Unlikely. Should it be stopped? I'm still deciding.

Bottom three is tough, but I'll go with Brooke, Jason and Carly, with Brooke going home because I think other people will be turned off by the same thing I was.

And thanks Caps, for a great season.

Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why do they have to put us through this silliness every year?

Reason No. 816 why I hate the American Idol producers: The annual "Let's make one of the contestants 'choose' which group is the bottom three" charade. Considering that I believe this is the third consecutive time that the contestant they chose stood in the middle and refused to play their silly game, I'm not sure why they continue to do this. I guess the memory of the confused, pained George Huff trying to figure out where to go the first time they pulled this stunt must really warm Nigel's very cold heart. And what was up with Ryan switching David Cook and Syesha before making Archuleta pick--did he mess up, was that some sort of weird fakeout for us at home, or was that something to force Archuleta to think on his feet? Very weird.

Anyway, it was nice to see Elliott Yamin return and pay tribute to his mom. I thought Mariah's song wasn't all that great--until perhaps the end when she started to belt a little bit (which makes her 0 for 2 for this album in my book, since I don't think "Touch My Body" was all that hot either.) As for Kristy Lee Cook, there's not much to say. She was steadily improving, but she was basically living on borrowed time for the last month. Why she went this week instead of after that horrible "Eight Days A Week" performance is just one of those American Idol myteries.

Oh, and that was a great question that woman on the phone asked Simon--what is the difference between a karoke performance and a theme park performance? But I guess that will be another of those AI mysteries....Fingerhut out


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Idol's got me feeling some emotions--but they're not necessarily good ones

So I'm about 20 minutes into watching the show on DVR tonight, and my friend John text messaged me to say "I'm so ... bored of all these contestants." And after reading that message, I immediately realized what the problem is with this season of American Idol. Almost everyone is kind of boring, because they do the same thing every week. American Idol used to be about singers having to do a song with a new style pretty much every week. But after the success of Chris Daughtry in season five and Blake Lewis in season six trying whenever possible to tailor the songs to their style, almost everyone is remaking every song in their style. And after a few weeks of it being sort of interesting and creative, it's now just boring. Every week we can expect Brooke to do a piano ballad, and Jason Castro to sing some guitar-strumming coffehouse type of song, and David Cook will do a modern rock tune, and Kristy Lee Cook do her country thing and David Archuleta sing an inspirational song and Syesha sing some song with a big vocal range (OK, Syesha isn't quite the same as the others, but it's still boring.) Whatever you think of Carly, she's a breath of fresh air most weeks--at least she's an old-fashioned Idol contestant who varies her style depending on the theme. Perhaps this whole playing-your-own-instrument thing has gone too far.

Having said all that, tonight's show overall wasn't bad. Mariah seemed like a relatively engaged mentor, and her catalogue is big enough that everyone can find a song that works for them. I do wonder, though, how you have a show featuring the songs of someone with 18 number one hits, and three of the seven singers pick songs that either are completely unknown to the viewing audience (Syesha's song) or were only minor hits (Archuleta and Kristy Lee Cook's). But such are the mysteries of American Idol....

(And speaking of mysteries, to follow up last week's post about "Shout to the Lord," the Idols also sang that song on Wednesday night but substituted the word "Shepherd" for "Jesus." I didn't notice that--because I didn't know the song--but apparently many Christians did and were furious, expressing their anger on the Internet and elsewhere. Whether this led to the producers putting "Jesus" back into the song is an interesting question, but one we probably won't get an answer to if I know the mysterious American Idol producers as well as I believe I do...)

Before I get to the song, by talking about how "surprising" Michael Johns' departure is, isn't Ryan kind of insulting everyone else that's been eliminated? He didn't talk about their "surprising" departure the following week, so I guess they were deemed to be expendable and the producers felt they had gone as far as they could go. That may be true, but it still seems kind of funny.

David Archuleta (When You Believe)--I had no idea what this song was until Randy mentioned it was the Mariah-Whitney duet. Yes, it did win an Academy Award because it was in the movie "Prince of Egypt," but this has to be one of the most disappointing songs in history. When I heard there was a Whitney Houston-Mariah Carey duet, I was expecting something impressive--and instead we got this unexciting song lacking in any good pop hooks. But it's inspirational, so of course David Archuleta sang it. And was he wearing leather pants? And if he was, why? (By the way, did you know that David was born after Mariah Carey's first record was released?) Anyway, I wasn't impressed by this at all. I thought the song seemed too big for him and a time or two he was almost drowned out by the music

Carly Smithson ("Without You")--I really wanted to love this and was expecting Carly to knock it out of the park, but it just wasn't as good as I had hoped. It was still fine, but nothing memorable. And I agree with Simon--it does seem like Carly was nervous and was holding something back. She looks different during her best performances--she's smiling and strutting around. But not tonight.

Syesha Mercado ("Vanishing")--So did Syesha pick this song that I and most of the country had never heard before because, as Paula said, she wouldn't have to be compared to Mariah Carey, or because it allowed her to do a 30 second vocal run or something near the end? I think the latter. This was like all of Syesha's performances: solid, competent, even very good vocals lacking anything unique or any emotional connection that would draw me in. And I agree with Simon--picking a song no one's heard before in a competition where people generally sing songs that everyone has heard before is a minus--because most viewers spend most of the song going "I know Mariah Carey, but I don't think I've ever heard this song. Have I heard this song? No, what is this...?"

Brooke White ("Hero")--So why couldn't Brooke go to her sister's wedding? Does American Idol not let you leave the show to do something like attend one of the most important days of a family member's life? If she misses a day of rehearsal, isn't that her problem if she chooses too? Would the world still turn on its axis if Brooke couldn't make the Ford commercial this week? As for her singing, it was back to Brooke White, piano player, this week, and I actually thought it might have been her best performance since "Let It Be." It was authentic, as Paula likes to say. But she's just not diversified enough or vocally strong enough to win this competition, as pleasant as her piano ballads are.

Kristy Lee Cook ("Forever")--Even though Mariah said not many people know this song, I was surprised to realize I'd heard it a few times before. Even more surprising was seeing Kristy sing it pretty well. While she had a slight twang in her voice, she basically sang it straight and I enjoyed it. Kristy seems to have stuck around long enough to figure out the right songs to sing, and may even be around a few more weeks at this rate.

David Cook ("Always Be My Baby")--OK, I may be tired of him making everything into that emo-style of his, and I may have thought he was getting too big for his britches--but for tonight, David, all is forgiven. That was great, just really cool--especially because it seems like he came up with that arrangement himself. I could have done without the vocal histrionics at the very end, but I still really liked it.

Jason Castro ("I Don't Want to Cry")--It was no David Cook, but that actually wasn't bad either, although I'm now getting bored with the whole Jason Castro vibe at this point. Like Brooke, his limitations are showing.

So who's going home? I really have no idea. I think that Syesha will make the bottom three, and other than it could be one of any number of people, other than David Cook and perhaps Archuleta. Let's say Brooke and Carly also make the bottom three, and Syesha goes home.

Fingerhut out.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

The first real contender to go down

He was still a relative longshot compared to Davids Cook and Archuleta, but I think most people could see a scenario where Michael Johns won this season of American Idol. So it is disappointing to see him go home before Syesha Mercado or Kristy Lee Cook, who I don't think anyone could really see winning the title. But I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising. For all Michael's talent, he just didn't show it off enough. He was my third choice coming into the top 12, but after his "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Hollywood week, the only two times he really stood out were the two weeks before this one--with "We Are the Champions" and then the Dolly Parton song last week. Every other week, he basically did a relatively faithful cover of a classic rock song and was fine but nothing special. And in a year when many of the contestants are taking well known songs and tweaking them (or, more correctly, singing covers that somebody else did that change up well known songs), it just wasn't enough.

In other notes from tonight's show: I wasn't that crazy about the Chris Brown-Jordin Sparks duet, but I did like the whole performance Jordin, in particular, was doing. And Chris Brown had a much better performance in this venue than he did on the O.C. He should stick to singing.

I guess they ran out of time and couldn't show that "I'm A Believer" video on Idol Gives Back. It's a shame they didn't run out of time tonight, too. What a pointless waste of time and effort. The time and money they spent making that would have put to much better use being given to any of the Idol Gives Back charities.

And finally, there's something that bothered me tonight. Why was the Idol gang singing such an overtly religious song tonight. "Shout to the Lord" was, if I heard the title correctly, the song that the Idols sang at the beginning of the show tonight, and I believe at the end of the show last night. The opening lines to the song were "My Jesus, my savior. Lord, there is none like you." If an Idol chose to sing a song like this for inspirational night, that's fine, it's their choice. But for the producers to pick a song for the Idols to sing that excludes all non-Christians in America seems to be an pretty strange choice for a show that has an incredibly diverse audience. I'm not offended, I'm just puzzled and bothered by the choice--did they not realize that Elliot Yamin, for instance, might not have wanted to sing this song? Or that some viewers might have been turned off? Did anyone else notice this?


Taking back my Idol Gives Back rant

OK, I'm wrong. I've been getting a lot of flak about my whining in regard to "Idol Gives Back," and after watching tonight's show, I'm going to stop complaining. It thankfully didn't have any of the self-congratulation that I had feared (and that we saw in the weeks leading up to the show), but simply had some entertainment mixed in with some stories about those getting help. And even more impressive, instead of just getting celebrities to smile in some music video like last year, they actually had a bunch of celebrities go to visit the people that were being helped.

And after initially being kind of confused at how unfocused the charity efforts seem to be (AIDS in Africa one minute, poor people in the inner city the next, and Katrina victims a half hour later), I started to understand why they were taking in so many different causes. American Idol is a broad-based show, and thus they were trying to capture as many viewers as possible with a cause that may specifically tug at their heartstrings.

I still wish Fox would learn to tell its viewers that a show is going to run 10 minutes longer than scheduled (most of this show, after all, was taped on Sunday, so they must have known), and I hope Miley Cyrus and Billy Crystal are never on stage together again (and after seeing Miley Cyrus perform for the first time, I must say, as a 37-year-old male, I'm kind of confused as to why she's so popular.) But other than that, Idol Gives Back was a good thing.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I was only sort of inspired by Idol

I could save all of us a lot of time by saying that I agreed with pretty much everything Simon said tonight--but I'll blog anyway. After all, someone has to complain that they've gotten a little carried away with this whole "Idol Gives Back" thing. Not only is it going to be more than two and a half hours long tomorrow night, but they've also got the presidential candidates and the prime minister of Great Britain to record messages for the show. Yeah, I know it's for a good cause, but I like to watch American Idol because it's an hour when I can just watch a singing show and not have to think about Hillary Clinton or John McCain or the problems of the world. Is it so wrong to want to keep it that way? And then there's the story I read today in which Seacrest and the judges all announced that they would be donating their paychecks for Wednesday night to Idol Gives Back. That's very nice, I guess (although I guess that means they did get paid for it last year.) As I said last year, though, what about Nigel, Ken, and the production company that puts Idol on, 19 Entertainment? How much did they donate to all this after asking everyone else to chip in? OK, enough with that sore subject.

Tonight's theme was inspirational songs. After last week's more narrow theme, it was nice to open it up a little this week for a category that was much broader than I had thought. I've heard the song "Dream On" lots of times, but never thought of it as inspirational, nor did I think that of "You've Got A Friend." But there's a first time for everything.

Michael Johns (Dream On)--After giving us one of the best peformances of the competition last week and becoming a contender again with a bluesy, soulful performance, I thought Michael returned to what he had been most of the season--a guy doing a good but not great job of covering well-known rock songs. Midway through tonight's performance, I said to myself, "I'd like to see some originality here" but never really got much. He sang the song fine, it just wasn't particularly special. And for the first of many times, Paula just needed to shut up here. Paula, it's fine you disagree with the other judges. You get your time to give your opinion. When someone else gives an opinion you don't agree with, it's annoying and kind of rude to interrupt them in the middle of it to tell them how wrong they are (especially when their opinion is closer to the truth). It's been seven seasons? Doesn't anyone tell her this, just on the street or something?

Syesha Mercado ("I Believe")--LaKisha did this same song last year (I believe also during Idol Gives Back week), and I wrote the same thing I'm going to write now. Why? Why would you be stupid enough to perform a song that a previous Idol contestant basically immortalized on the very same stage? Fantasia practically lit the stage on fire that night after winning by singing this song. And the judges loved Fantasia as much as any Idol contestant they've ever had. Why would you sing a song in which you're going to be unfavorably compared to the previous singer of the song, no matter what you do? Having said all that, she sang it fairly well--but that's practially irrelevant.

Jason Castro (Somewhere Over the Rainbow)--About 10 seconds into this performance, after realizing that this version of the song is played on some commercial, I just started laughing. Seriously, Jason Castro is now playing the ukelele on stage? It's like he's become a parody of himself. But the judges were correct, he sounded really good.

Kristy Lee Cook (Anyway)--That song was right in Kristy's wheelhouse, and she hit a solid double, if not a triple. That wasn't bad at all. But she can't win--so it's still probably time for her to go.

David Cook (Innocent)--Mediocre song, mediocre performance. I said it a couple weeks ago, but it got much worse tonight: David Cook seems way too into himself. The posing and pointing to the sky in the middle of the song, the "give back" on the hand--maybe take yourself a little less seriously next week, David. And pick a song that allows you to show off your voice--because that one didn't.

Carly Smithson (Show Must Go On)--Probably the one time I didn't agree with Simon tonight. Although I expected it to be better, I didn't think Carly was that bad tonight. Simon, I believe, described her performance as angry, but that's the Carly I like. Instead of the nervous, weird Carly, we got the Carly who has the "I'm going to kick your butt" look and attitude. And each week she gets better looking--while her husband's face tattoo gets more disturbing looking. I hope Simon wasn't correct and she may be in trouble--in fact, that may have been Simon's effort to rally her fan base. I'm still not Carly's biggest fan, but she can sing rings around Kristy Lee Cook--and pretty much every other woman left.

David Archuleta (Angels)--I guess I can understand why David Archuleta had so much trouble picking a song--all he ever sings are inspirational songs, so this pretty much opened it up to just about every song he likes. He was really good vocally, as usual, but I'm still kind of bored by him. And was it just me, or in his posture when he waited to hear the judges remarks and the looks he gave after it was over, was anyone else getting a "I'm tired of this and ready for it to end" vibe from young David? He just seemed to have a beaten-down, slouched air about him. But maybe I'm just projecting my thoughts on him. And the creepiest sign of the night by far was that girl with the "Lick Those Lips!" poster. That's just weird.

Brooke White ("You've Got A Friend")--I like Brooke, but she seems to be hitting a wall. This was a nice, authentic performance like "Let It Be," but just didn't hit the same heights that did and came across, as Simon said, as nice and pleasant but not particularly remarkable.I don't know why she didn't play the piano herself. And the crying after the performance was OK once, but a bit much when it happens more than that. By the way, I've got sort of a funny story involving the song "You've Got A Friend" and high school, if anyone wants to hear it. If enough people leave comments requesting it, I'll tell it in a future blog entry.

Bottom three is going to be Syesha, Kristy and Brooke, and I think Syesha will go home, because she sang early in the show and Kristy did better than usual. But it wouldn't bother me if it went the other way. Remember, the results show this week is on Thursday just to make us suffer. I'll definitely blog about that, but I'm not sure I have the energy to blog Idol Gives Back tomorrow. Fingerhut out.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Is it really already less than a week until Idol Gives Back?

Before we get to tonight's elimination, I had no idea until seeing a commercial last night that "Idol Gives Back" was next week. Yeah, I know it's for a good cause (although I'm still waiting for Idol production company 19 Entertainment to announce its financial contribution to the effort), but do you realize next week's Wednesday show is going to last 2 and a half hours? They're starting it early, at 7:30 (or, because it's Idol on Wednesday, probably 7:27.) It's going to be a very long night, and they'll probably do what they did last year and not even eliminate anyone because they couldn't do something like that on such a great night, yada, yada, yada. But they did raise more than $70 million for AFrica, so I guess my complaining does sound kind of petty and stupid.

Anyway, the best part of tonight's show--other than the elimination--had to be seeing Bucky Covington and Bo Bice again. And Phil Stacey, too, I guess, although it seems like it's been hardly any time since he left us. In fact, instead of that increasingly dumb phone-in segment, or the typically ugly medley from the Idols (they couldn't even seem to get the mikes to work for it tonight--maybe the mikes were refusing to work in protest), perhaps we could spend a little more time with the former Idols. Bucky's segment was, what, 30 seconds?

Finally, it was good to see the right person go in Ramiele, and I felt no sympathy for her after her crying jag. I'm sure it's sad to leave Idol, but she had to know she was still lucky to be there, didn't she? And her "I want you to feel sorry for me being in the bottom three, so I'll scrunch up my face and look sad" face was really annoying. I think Kristy's "I'm dead meat" attitude is much more appealing, and probably winning her some fans (because her singing certainly isn't). Until next week, Fingerhut out.


Some more excitement needed on Idol

Maybe it was because I was tired after not getting home from work until 10:00 and then watching postgame hockey coverage before turning on Idol near 11 p.m. Or maybe there were just a bunch of forgettable performances. But whatever the reason, I couldn't really get into Idol tonight. Which may account for what may be shorter blog entry than usual (although once I start writing, I never really know.)

I don't think my lack of excitement had anything to do with Dolly Parton. While I'm traditionally not a fan of "country night," this wasn't a typical country night--since it involved some high-quality songs of one of the top country artists of all time. Maybe it the bad vibe from that really unfunny "April Fool's joke" that Ryan told at the top of the show. Did someone really think that was funny? The American Association of Vocal Coaches or whatever he said?

One other thing before I get to the rundown. To my anonymous commenter on the West Coast who requested that I post after the show airs on the West Coast on Wednesday: I've heard there's some way to set posts to go up automatically at a certain time, but I have no idea how to do that. Perhaps I can save my post and put it up in the morning. Or if I kept the bootee's name out of the headline and first few lines, would that solve the problem?

Brooke White (Jolene)--I really like Brooke White, but if she wants to possibly win this thing, she's going to have to step up her game a little. Her performance was good, but hardly memorable. But it was a lot better than a busker in the subway, Simon. And Brooke, you don't have to answer every judge's critique with a comment or thank you. Just stand there and listen unless they ask you a question.

David Cook (Little Sparrow)--First of all, I don't know what he did with the hair (Is it a piece? Plugs?), but it did look a lot better tonight. You couldn't even tell he had to comb it over. Second, once again the Idol producers slyly gave someone a chance to address a brewing controversy by having him get asked a question by Ryan before his song. Just like Chris Daughtry copped to using someone else's arrangement of "Walk the Line" (Was Live the band?), David admitted that he modeled his "Eleanor Rigby" performance after a cover by a band called Doxology (which had put out a press release taking credit for the arrangement earlier in the week.) Personally, I don't care if singers use someone else's unorthodox arrangement of a popular song--after all, they are singing covers, not original music--as long as the artist who created that unorthodox arrangement is credited on the show. What bothers me more is when the judges call them "brave" for doing it. This whole thing has also given me new appreciation for Blake Lewis, who came up with that whole "You Give Love a Bad Name" thing last year all by himself.

As for David's performance, I was glad to see that he put together his own arrangement (I'll take him at his word) and I thought it was fine, if not spectacular. I was glad to see that he didn't make it into the brooding rock ballad he's done with everything else the last month, but sort of adapted it to his style without seeming to completely revamp it.

Ramiele Malubay (Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?)--I think it's just time for Ramiele to go. There were times I was having trouble heariing her over the music, and she was just kind of boring. Whatever promise she once showed (and her one not bad performance of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" for some reason has been treated like a combination of Fantasia's performance of "Summertime" and Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl) is not there anymore. And is it just me, or does she seem to increasingly dress like she's 12? Or is her style really "in" for women now? My readers, please help me out.

Jason Castro (Travelin Thru)--Dolly said Jason went "a little bit outside himself" and what he had been typically doing on Idol with this song choice. Really? Has Dolly been watching? This sounded like most of the songs that Jason has done this year. And I thought he was fine if you like that Jason Castro style--which I kind of do. I thought for sure Randy would go to the "Jason Castro is back" well after his performance, but I guess I wasn't good enough for that in Randy's opinion.

Carly Smithson (Here You Come Again)--I agree totally with Simon. It was good, not great, and not worthy of the weekly Carly slobbering our other two judges love to dole out. I kind of liked the fast, Dolly version of the song better too. As for Simon's comments about Carly's clothes, I've already been reprimanded by my sister for commenting on Carly's wardrobe--so I'll pass on that.But from the neck up, she's never looked better.

David Archuleta (Smoky Mountain Memories)--I was never really on the David Archuleta bandwagon to begin with, and I guess I've given up my seat permanently because I wasn't all that blown away by this performance. He was once again very good, but I wasn't getting those "David Archleta is back" goosebumps that Randy and company were getting. Oh, and American Idol producers: Although it wasn't nearly as bad as a couple weeks ago, I'm hearing way too much applauding in the middle of songs. Please take care of that.

Kristy Lee Cook (Coat of Many Colors)--This started very rough, but improved as the song went on. But it was basically Kristy's typical not terrible, but not close to good performance. Like Ramiele, I'm getting tired of it. But that weird, sarcastic "thank you, Simon" as Ryan was throwing it to commercial could do her some damage.

Syesha Mercado (I Will Always Love You)--Here's my problem with this performance: the song is kind of long and dramatic, and squeezing it all into 90 seconds made it feel rushed and disjointed. I felt seasick by the end. I respected the way she tried to sort of combine the Dolly and Whitney versions, and her vocals were pretty solid, but it just didn't work for me.

Michael Johns (It's All Wrong, But It's All Right)--Michael Johns, welcome back to contender status. We've missed you. He sounded great, and was in my opinion by far the best of the night--soulful, strong vocals. I hope he can keep it up.

So who's hitting the bottom three? Let's hope Kristy and Ramiele are there. I'll add Syesha too, just because she was there last week when she probably had a better performance. Fingerhut out, and let's go Caps.