Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm done, for now

I've been blogging about American Idol for three years, and I wrote an e-mail reviewing the show for a couple seasons before that. But after watching Norman Gentle/Nick Mitchell "sing" tonight, and then hear three of the four judges praise him, I've had enough. If American Idol isn't going to take itself seriously, then why should I? His whole bit is a joke, but for some reason Randy, Paula and Kara don't care. It's an insult to everyone who actually performed on the show and got critical comments from the judges--when they were 100 times better than Norman/Nick. How do you think Jamar Rogers, or Frankie Jordan or other people who lost sing-offs and didn't make the final 36 feel watching this joke?

Look, I know American Idol is a television show, but it's an enjoyable show because while it can be silly and stupid sometimes, the whole idea behind it is so compelling. Some total unknown who no one ever heard of in December is going to be a huge star by Memorial Day (and perhaps unknown again by the next Memorial Day, but let's not get into that.) And it's genuinely enjoyable and full of suspense to watch each week, see what everyone is going to sing, whether they'll pull it off, how the judges are going to react. But if we're going to mock that with some novelty act, forget it.

There were a lot of other things wrong with tonight's show (specifically the focus, especially by Kara, on this whole "that song didn't show me who you are as an artist" crap. Really, Kara? Someone is supposed to show who they are as an artist with just one song? Don't be ridiculous. Half the fun of American Idol, actually is seeing people figure that out after a few weeks.) But Norman Gentle is the biggest. I'm going to watch the Duke-Maryland game.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

We didn't get off to the best start

So Alexis Grace wasn't as good as the judges said she was, but she was still probably the clear best girl on Tuesday night. And the same goes for Danny Gokey--he wasn't deserving of the whooping and hollering from Paula, Randy and Kara, but he was good, and with his backstory (but please, friend of Danny Gokey, holding up a photo of Danny and his late wife for the camera may be starting to push it), it was clear he was going to the final 12. But Michael Sarver? Wow, Simon has even more power than I thought. It's clear that his sort of odd endorsement of him Tuesday night--when he clearly isn't much more than a middle of the pack singer in the group and a pleasant but far from memorable vocalist--must have helped push him over the edge. I mean, really, was there anything special about his performance Tuesday night or Wednesday night that said to you, "Hey, this guy can win American Idol?" All I said was, "This guy might, if he's lucky, finish tenth."

And it's a shame, because there were at least two other singers, Anoop and Ricky Braddy, who were better than him last night and just generally have better voices. And Ricky used to serve chicken fingers--is that so much better than being an oil roughneck or whatever it is that they've told us about Michael to garner sympathy for him? I presume Anoop and Ricky will be brought back for the wildcard round, but who knows how many other good singers they'll have to battle against? By the way, my other picks for possible wildcards in the group would be Tatiana and perhaps Ann Marie. And speaking of wildcards, why did they do that to poor Tatiana? When they said Anoop and Michael were within 20,000 votes of each other (the most information they've ever given out about a semifinal voting contest), it was clear that they were two and three in the guys, and that Danny was number one (because there's no way he was behind both of those guys.) That means Tatiana was no better than the fifth biggest vote getter overall, and yet they tried to make her think she might have gotten the most votes. Those AI producers--they just love to treat people cruelly for our amusement.

But I'm not angry. I spent the night at the Capitals hockey game and saw Alexander Ovechkin score one of the most amazing goals you'll ever see--and certainly the best goal I've ever seen in person. Watch it here. It's much better than any performance from Tuesday night's Idol.

Fingerhut out.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The most exciting Tuesday night of the year

It's one of my favorite Tuesday nights of the year--he first night of the Idol semifinals! And tonight's show didn't disappoint--well, maybe it had some disappointing singers, but only three are going to advance anyway. It had everything you could want from an Idol episode: some good singing, some really bad singing, some funny judging exchanges, and some spacey moments from Paula.

Before we run down the singers--which I'm going to try to do more briefly this year both because some people complain it takes too long to read and because my (not-so-new-anymore) job has a 45-minute commute instead of a 10-minute commute and thus I can't sleep as late on Wednesday mornings as I used to--a quick word about the new format and Joanna Pacitti. First, I don't really care that Pacitti was bounced from the show--Simon said anyone who forgot their words would be eliminated in Hollywood Week and then she forgot her words during apparently every performance. So she should have been eliminated for that. As for the new format, this is how they did it the first three seasons, and I don't remember anyone--at least in seasons two and three--where I said, "Wow, it's too bad there weren't enough slots in their group for them, because they were really good." If there are too many good people in their group but they're really good, they'll get put through in the wild card. At least with this new format, you actually have to win your way into the final 12, instead of the way you could basically back in in the last few years if you had enough screen time in the first few weeks and didn't screw up. It makes singers go out and take chances (although some of them took risks that were way too big for them.)

As for how they divided the three groups--I'd like to think they just drew numbers out of a hat. Or maybe the judges seeded them, like in the NCAA tournament, so the people they thought were the best were in different groups. But having watched American Idol for eight years, I'm sure the producers selected the groups in a way that would maximize the chances that the people they liked would end up in the final 12. We'll see how that turns out

And before we get to the singers, one request. I work in an office with one co-worker and he doesn't watch American Idol. So, please, leave some comments for me. I want to communicate with other people about the show. Thank you. Let's get to the singers.

Jackie Tohn ("Little Less Conversation")--Whenever I hear the name Jackie Tohn, I always think of former Houston Astros shortstop Dickie Thon. I have no idea why, but I just wanted to get that out there--because I don't think I'm going to be hearing the name Jackie Tohn much after this week. That was just weird--it started off as some lounge singer version of "Little Less Conversation" then got fast but stayed weird throughout. And Randy might have like the outfit, but I thought it was awful. To her credit, unlike a lot of recent singers in this round of Idol in past years (as I mentioned above), at least she was adventuresome.

Ricky Braddy ("A Song for You")--Ricky was the first of a few people tonight that fell into the same category for me--I wasn't crazy about their song choice, and, in some cases, their performances, but I loved the tone and power of their voice. Ricky Braddy, who I don't think we'd heard sing, has a really nice voice. I hope we can hear more of it. But I just thought his performance of this song was too showy and full of vocal runs. I prefer the more straightforward performance Elliott Yamin gave of this song three seasons ago. Two more things: The Braddy Bunch? That's going to get old quick if Ricky advances to the finals. And one of the great judge exchanges of the night came when Simon told Ricky he needed to get more confidence and Paula said, in what seemed like an insult directed at Simon, to "Take lessons from him." Simon turned it right around and said "Why not?" Well done, Cowell.

Quick judge interlude: Simon, of course, is still mostly correct about everything. But I will say Kara was much better tonight than she has been, actually offering something besides "I like you."

Alexis Grace ("Never Loved A Man")--Wow, I can't believe how slutty she looks now, just on the basis of that advice from the judges. Once again, her voice sounded very good and strong, but I wasn't crazy about the song. She gave a good performance of it, but I'd just like to hear a song with a little bit more of a melody before I pronounce her a contender. It may be a classic song, but it was a lot of vocal runs and not a lot of just simply singing.

Neil Patrick Harris and Ted Danson, together in the audience? What's up? Were two of the best sitcom characters of the last 25 years just hanging out together? Actually, can you imagine Barney Stinson and Sam Malone going out to pick up girls together? Well, if there's ever a Cheers-How I Met Your Mother crossover episode, I think we've got a storyline....

Brent Keith ("Hick Town")--I'm not a big fan of country music, or at least real genuine country music (I do like the more pop country music), and so I didn't really like this much. It was, as Simon said, forgettable. Great judge line: Simon responding to Paula's invocation of Bucky Covington by saying "What has happened to Bucky Covington?" I actually would like to know, but I'm not curious enough to stop what I'm doing and Google now--which I guess says something about my lack of interest in Bucky Covington.

Stevie Wright ("You Belong With Me")--Speaking of pop country, I really do like Taylor Swift. While her singing voice can be, for lack of a better word, pitchy-and her songs don't require a particularly powerful voice to sing--she writes good songs with some interesting melodies. And Stevie Wright, to say the least, didn't exactly do Taylor Swift justice. That was just bad--a tuneless mess. I will give her mom a little credit, though--she called the judges on the silliness they give us every year. They told Stevie to be young (which is kind of a silly critique anyway--if you sing a Beatles song are you old fashioned?), and then when she sang a young song, they told her they liked it when she sang the songs she used to sing. Of course, the main problem here wasn't just song choice, but bad singing. Best line of the night from Simon came here, when one of the other judgest said "America votes," and he said, "But they listen to me." And because this will probably be my only chance, I just want to say that Stevie Wright shares a first name with one of my most fondly remembered AI semifinalists, Stevie Scott. I will never forget when she told the judges after a bad critique that "I can bring it" if she received another chance. Unfortunately, she never received that second chance--nor did she ever define what she could bring and why she didn't "bring it" to her previous performance. Stevie Wright didn't bring it either.

Anoop Desai ("Angel of Mine")--Another in the category of great-sounding voice, so-so performance and song choice. I got really excited when Anoop said during the taped package that he was going to "sing songs that I have wanted to sing when watching at home." But when he said after singing that he picked it because he wanted to thank people or whatever and that it was the first R&B song he ever heard--Anoop, haven't you learned anything from watching the show? You never pick a song because you like its lyrical content, you pick a song because it's right for your voice and then work on connecting with the words. I kind of always liked this song because I liked the hook in the way "Angel of mine" comes in during the chorus, but the rest of the song is kind of boring, and there was way too much background singing necessary which distracted from Anoop. But I hope, even though I believe he's a Tar Heel, that he moves on to the final 12--because I believe that he has a chance to win if he picks the right songs (I'm not sure there's anyone else I could say that about yet, with confidence.)

Casey Carlson ("Every Little Thing She Does is Magic")--I wrote in my notes that Casey's performance may have been the worst semifinal performance in American Idol history. After thinking about that, I'm probably exaggerating. Sanjaya had a couple bad performances in the semifinal round, Antonella Barba was pretty awful at least once, and Janay Castane was probably the all-time worst. But Casey is a contender. I laughed out loud twice during her performance because I couldn't believe how bad it was. The performance was so bad it actually moved Randy to utter the funniest thing that's ever come out of his mouth on this show--him singing "Everything about it was wrong" to the tune of "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic." And let me add--this was a terrible song choice, but that didn't matter. She was so bad on this song I can't imagine her being all that good on any other song. (It was also hilarious that the judges' critiques were so bad that by the time they got to Simon it was like a funeral was happening in the studio.) On the bright side, Casey Carlson is really hot. I was watching in HD and she was stunning. (And there are photos of her in a bikini floating around the Internet, if you're interested.) But even the chance to see her in different outfits every week can't justify her getting anywhere near the final 12, or even anywhere near the wild card round. And as my friend John texted me after Casey's performance, "At least she will have porn to fall back on."

Michael Sarver ("I Don't Want to Be")-- Does someone have to sing this song every year on the show? I'm sure Michael is a nice guy, as everyone said, but this was just kind of pedestrian and boring. He has a decent voice, but there's nothing distinctive about it like an Anoop or Ricky Braddy. I don't know why Simon is so eager to see him get to the final 12 (probably some theory that "Middle America" will love him), but he has no chance to win.

Ann Marie Boskovich ("Natural Woman")--I've liked Ann Marie from her first audition. She's very pretty (especially in HD) and reminds me, looks-wise, of my old favorite Katharine McPhee. But my reaction to her picking this song was simply "Why?" Why would you pick a legendary song and think, in your first performance on Idol, you could do it justice? It's nice to take risks, but there's taking risks and then there's needlessly putting yourself in danger. I'm really disappointed.

Stephen Fowler ("Rock With You")--Not as bad as the judges said, but not good. I did like the tone of his voice, but he forgot his words during Hollywood Week and then was lackluster tonight. I did feel bad, though, that just because he didn't have any family there, he didn't get a post-song interview (Danny Gokey didn't either, but he got a question after his song).

Tatiana del Toro ("Saving All My Love for You")--As annoying as she is, Tatiana actually did show some pipes on this song. I also found her overly dramatic end to the song, where she closed her eyes and came out of the "singing trance" she was in very slowly, absolutely hilarious. But how can you separate Tatiana's not bad singing from her horrifying, annoying personality? You can't. Although that "this is my dream and it's up to you to keep it alive" plea as they went to commercial was pretty hilarious too...Maybe I'm starting to warm up to her--although she might also be mentally ill...

Danny Gokey ("Hero")--Wow, what a surprise. The guy who has gotten more screen time than anyone but Bikini Girl and Tatiana gets the pimp spot. He was good, but I really don't think he deserved the tongue bath he got from Randy, Paula and Kara. He's got a nice voice, but there are certainly people with more distinctive and interesting voices that sang tonight. The guy's got a moving personal story, but please, judges, don't let that alter your opinions.

So who's not going home? The top girl will probably be Alexis Grace. The top guy will probably be Danny Gokey. And the third person to qualify? Let's say Anoop. As for who I'd like to see advance, I don't have a problem with any of those people, although I'd like to see a little more of Ricky Braddy too. And that's it for me--Fingerhut out!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Norman Gentle? Really?

All I could think of while watching Tuesday night's American Idol is what a bad job of storytelling they've done this year. Now former producer Nigel Lythgoe once said that he considered American Idol three different shows -- the auditions, Hollywood Week and the rest -- and thus didn't feel any need to follow the stories he'd set up in the auditions into Hollywood Week. Apparently, his successors agree and have taken it even more to an extreme, because it's amazing how many stories, good stories, were set up in the first three weeks and then basically abandoned until tonight. Like the homeless girl. And even thought we got closure on Leneshe Young Tuesday night, it wasn't quite satisfying--since we saw her sing pretty well, especially compared to all those people that forgot words or (like Kai) couldn't even hit a note. The judges said they were considering the whole week, not just the final sing, so it's hard to figure out why certain decisions were made considering so many people who were shown tonight hadn't appeared on our screens singing since mid-January. And of course, there were certain people we still weren't told about--I think Amy Winehouse Jr. made it, and I didn't catch any mention of tattoed arm girl.

We do know way too much about Tatiana and Norman Gentle, and I can't believe either of those people are going to make the final 36. Can't believe and hope they won't. Tatiana is just annoying and not as good as she thinks she is--but Norman Gentle just isn't a good singer. He's making fun of the show. Why would they let him be part of it? Norman Gentle in the top 36 would be a sign that the show isn't taking itself seriously, so why should we take it seriously?

Anyway, I'm rambling, so I'll just say that the most amused I was tonight was seeing everyone party at the end of the show like they'd made the finals, when a couple dozen of that is going to get cut tonight, before they ever get to sing again. They do know that, right? But at least they had fun.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Welcome back, group sings

All I could think of while watching tonight's entertaining episode of American Idol was "I still can't believe they got rid of the group sings last season." Maybe that's why last season was so boring.

I believe they said last year that the reason they got rid of it was because it wasn't really relevant to the rest of the competition (no other group sings) and being a pop star. While it may be true that if you win American Idol, you never have to sing with three other people, I would think you'd still have to collaborate with others on songs and performances at some point, so that didn't really make much sense. But more importantly, it gives you a sense of both the personalities of the contestants, but also how they hold up under pressure. We saw that Bikini Girl, whatever her singing talent or looks, is completely nuts. (You couldn't have taken off those heels while you were practicing the group sing?) We saw that Tatiana is close. We saw that some people really work well together. And we got some really creative performances--like the first group that went with the guy whose wife died. Most importantly, it was fun to watch.

So I won't spend too much time complaining about how certain people who were featured in the audition shows have virtually disappeared. I think blind guy made it, but have we even seen him perform in Hollywood? I think arm tattoo girl did too, but why did she disappear? Did Amy Winehouse Jr. make it? Hopefully we'll find out on Tuesday


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hollywood Week is always enjoyable

As I said in the title, Hollywood Week is always fun, although I'm still not sure how many actually good singers we have out of the 104 that are left. I wasn't sure if half the people we saw tonight were people we were supposed to know and remember from the auditions or not--other than the obvious ones like barefoot girls who lost her parents and sort of looks like a young Britney Spears. But I still enjoyed it more than the long slog of the last three weeks. A few quick observations, because I still can't tell that much about how good a singer is from a 10 second a capella clip (I agree with Bikini Girl that singers are better with music):

Barry Manilow mentoring during Hollywood Week? Wow, he's either a really nice guy or really desperate to get on national television. I did enjoy watching the singers actually take notes on his advice, stuff like "make the song your own." Yeah, that's fresh advice.

That guy Dennis at the beginning of the show who Simon said was making weird faces when he sang? Who cared about the faces? He wasn't a very good singer. Why didn't they tell him that? Maybe that would have calmed him down? Or maybe not...

Had we seen that Stephen Fowler guy that sang the Stevie Wonder song that Randy said was really difficult? Because he was good.

Von Smith--Not my thing. I prefer slightly--OK a lot--less dramatics from my singers.

They put that Norman Gentle guy through? Really? Why are they wasting his time and ours?

Sad to see girl who takes care of her grandmother was eliminated. She seemed cool.

I don't know how good a singer Bikini Girl is, but the whole thing she's got going with Kara--that's the best thing the show has going for it right now. Keep her around.

Where was ugly arm tattoo girl tonight? Did they show her?

Yeah, I know his father has MS and doesn't perform anymore, but does an Osmond really need American Idol to get a break in the music business? And if he does, is it beacuse he isn't that great?

That's it--but I'm eagerly looking forward to one of the best episodes of the season tomorrow night. Gotta love group sing night. Can't believe they eliminated that last year--but as I've said many times, the American Idol producers can be pretty dumb.

Fingerhut out.