Anoop On My Mind (Idol 8 Round of 11)
Last Christmas, my local radio station played a recording of David Bowie singing a duet on Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby. It should have been beyond strange, but it wasn’t. Idol theme nights frequently present those sorts of situations. It’s often hard enough for a young artist to master one genre. Most of the winners have found some way to adapt and even flourish when forced into unfamiliar musical waters. Carrie Underwood did Heart. David Cook did Billie Jean. Chris Daughtry did Walk the Line. Oh yeah! I forgot, Chris Daughtry didn’t win, the show now just acts like he did. Anyway, Grand Ole’ Opry night with Randy Travis presented several of this year’s finalists with just such an opportunity.
For Anoop Desai, aka the Desi Next Door, country night presented a problem. India’s the second most populous country in the world, but you don’t see a lot of Indian athletes in the Olympics and despite the sheer number of Bollywood musicals that come out each year you don’t see many Indian country western singers. I know India had a strange fascination with Jim Reeves (the guy was even bigger in Sri Lanka), but I don’t know that necessarily meant that he spawned a lot of imitators there.
Of course, Anoop is American. He’s Indian by heritage. He’s also one of the first Idol finalists who appears to be getting a graduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill no less (Go Tyler!) , but he grew up in North Carolina just like Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington. Maybe if he goes deep into the season, we can have rumors about Anoop dating Kellie. “Ah nevah heard of no aloo gobi. Is it something you put on a hamburger?”
In the meantime, Anoop is sort of an antidote to Sanjaya mania. This time they have a Desi contestant who works hard, dresses conservatively (even a bit on the preppy side), and who plays within the lines of the show. Like Sanjaya, he also appears to have a huge reserve of fans as in I get hits for Anoop Desai and I barely mentioned him last week. This week the judges anointed him an actual serious contestant for his version of Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.”
Anoop was genuinely good as in listenable. Good enough to keep this guy around for a couple weeks, quite likely. He faces two significant issues. His voice is very nice, but no one claims that it’s “Oh wow, that guy has an instrument!” Second, there’s nothing that unique about Anoop’s approach to the music. Actually, one can say that about two thirds of the singers who make the final. Remember Phil Stacy, Vonzell Solomon, Anthony Federov? All three of them went very deep into the competition. There’s a lot to be said for being, fun, likeable, respectful, and sharing an ethnicity with like a billion people who do the tech support for all the cell phone companies :}
Anyway, if Jim Reeves was big in India, why can’t Anoop Desai be big doing country music on Fox TV? He just took a country ballad straight on and I think that’s what made the performance work so well. Anoop finally let go of “gotta perform” (to me Beat It was sort of Sanjaya like in that sense) and he just sang. That he did it in a more or less unexpected genre (assuming you think he’s Indian first not a Carolina guy first) made it all the more effective. In the meantime, have the judges ever said Sanjaya’s name in Anoop’s presence?
Three seasons ago, Chris Daughtry made himself a serious contender by going alt.rock with Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line. He’s a very different performer, but Adam Lambert tried to follow with his attempt to cut into Anoop Desai’s demographic with a South Asian take on Ring of Fire. Once I got over the Chris Daughtry playbook thing, I actually enjoyed it for being affected, pretentious, and pure camp (It also verged on the Sanjaya playbook as well). When he hit the falsetto section, I wasn’t sure if Adam Lambert was laughing at or attempting to laugh with the show. I don’t know how it’ll affect the voting, but the show’s supposed to be fun and this was fun, something to actually talk about. Who knew that Man in Black had alternate interpretations?
Still, the highlight with Adam Lambert was Randy Travis. It was fascinating to watch two gay men on completely different sides of the flamboyance divide. To Randy, you deal with being gay by suddenly marrying your female manager whose 19 years older than you after you get arrested for “loitering”. To Adam, you just let America know that you don’t give a “S*#$” about what they think. I know, the whole gay thing with Randy is controversial and that he strongly denies the speculation about his sexuality, but if you ever asked me about proof his obvious discomfort with Adam might have been as good as any. It was like, I don’t want America to think that I find being around this Edward Scissorhands guy comfortable in any way. Not sure, I’ve ever seen a mentor on the show work so hard to distance himself from a contestant. Maybe they’ll get Elton John or Barry Manilow to mentor again and if Adam’s still around we can see how they respond to him.
Lil Rounds decided to do straight up country and the judges hated her for it. I’m not sure why so many of the guys crossed genders for country night. It seemed like one did Martina Mcbride and two did Carrie Underwood. Maybe it was to “honor” Randy Travis in some way? btw One of the measures of really winning American Idol is that the contestants start covering your songs. They do Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Clay Aiken. No one covers Taylor Hicks or Jordin Sparks. That said, I guess I’m officially in the I don’t get Danny Gokey camp. It might just be me, but if you’re a church music director and your wife just died, shouldn’t you be able to get a little more feeling into a song like Jesus Take the Wheel? Personally, I find the song absurd even when Carrie Underwood sings it, but I find that Danny Gokey sings with passion without bringing out the passion in the song/music itself. The really good singers do the latter. The "passion" bit shouldn't sound the same in every song. Sorry, Paula!
I haven’t watched the show obsessively this year, but I feel like I’ve known Megan Joy so long that I remember her back when she was Megan Corkery. Some say the key to success in pop music is the business of walking the tightrope between the familiar and the novel. Megan Joy appears to understand that. She has a very mainstream look interrupted by a sleeve of tattoos, something that works for her but didn’t work for Carly Smithson (though she may not last as long as Carly did). She mentions that she was influenced by Bjork. I also hear some of the things that Michelle Shocked would do with her vocals sometimes. Even though she had the flu, I thought she did the tightrope thing very well on Patsy Cline’s Walkin After Midnight. I keep waiting for her thing to wear thin and thought that had happened last week. Now, I’m not so sure.
On the other end, I’m not sure what kind of mind games the judges are playing with Alexis Grace with the whole “this is the kind of singer we think you should be” bit, but it seems to be messing with her head. Somehow, this seemed worse than Paula’s bit of “We loved the piano” now “I hate the piano” thing with Scott Mcintyre. Btw, I’m pretty sure that the arguments between Paula, Kara, and Simon this season are more or less scripted. Maybe, it’s because Alexis Grace has the whole waif look thing down, but it made me want to cry. I’m not saying that her Jolene was compelling in any way. It’s just that she felt almost written off. She maybe should have changed the name of the song to Allison and instead of it being about stealing men, it could have been about having a better voice and more grit and stealing judges.
I did do some Googling after last Wednesday and I was a little surprised to learn that Allison Iraheta already won a recording contract and fifty thousand dollars through Quinceanera on the Telemundo network. So is it you can’t have a current recording contract in English? She’s still really good. The fascinating thing to me is that she appeared to take Blame It On Your Heart straight on, yet at the risk of sounding like Randy, she stayed very distinctive. It’s not like I think Allison Iraheta should sing country music, but she seems to commit to her material in way that the older performers on the show can’t. It helps that she has a really strong voice, but it is interesting to see a young performer who’s not trying to sound like other people. As good as David Archuleta was musically, I wouldn’t say I could ever pin down a long term musical identity with his performances. There’s something much more personal about Allison Iraheta’s vocals that goes beyond just being loud and intense. Anyway, if anyone won the benefit from a theme that doesn’t suit you prize last night, it was Allison.
I did think that Matt Giraud sounded much better this week. I did notice that the judges worked very hard to justify giving wild cards to Anoop and Matt. I suspect they’d rather not have all four of their choices go down in the first three shows. In the meantime, Kara got to let America know that she’s a size queen by commenting on So Small.
Kris Allen did fine with Garth Brooks, it’s just that eight seasons in I’ve seen the tactic a few times before. Iirc Ace Young did the same sensitive country guy schtick with Tonight I Wanna Cry a few seasons ago and Chris Richardson did something similar with um Tonight I Wanna Cry. That, however, was far preferable to Michael Sarver’s good ole boy act at the beginning of the show. First his mouthful of Garth Brooks was forgettable enough, but that whole, “I’m big, I’m tough, I work on an oil rig, and I don’t pay attention to criticism” thing didn’t play well with me. How do I put this? Michael was pandering. If Michael Sarver got in a real fight say with Adam Lambert, I could tell you in advance which of the two is going to go running and which would stay in the Ring of Fire fingernail polish and all. You want to talk about just having fun? That would be fun.
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