Saturday, March 04, 2006

American Idol (Round of 16) review

About the most exciting thing this week was that Paula and Randy had to change seats for half the Tuesday show because Simon called Paula a child in the midst of critiquing Heather Cox.  Cox thought she had done fine with Mariah Carey’s “Hero” until Randy turned into Lloyd Bentsen with “I worked with Mariah and you’re no Mariah Carey.”  

Over the course of a season, Randy drops so many names that his contract with the show includes a custodian who follows him around to pick up after him so no one trips over the likes of Journey, Mariah, etc. and sues the show. It's especially hard on Simon, because if you've ever looked at his resume of the groups he actually produced....Well, you notice that he never mentions who he's actually worked with.btw, One name that's never been dropped on the show is Emilio Estevez which means that Paula was Presiden't Bartlett's daughter in law once. Now, Paula Abdul on West Wing could have been a truly interesting cross-promotion. Paula then accused Cox of spelling Goat with an “E” and that pretty much did it for the North Carolina self-confessed Idol stalker who probably hadn’t performed that badly.  

The judges apply a double standard.  They aren't as vocally demanding of the singers they believe have the “it” factor, some combination of camera presence or appealing back story. They insist on being “wowed” by those whom they believe don’t have it.  Ace Young, whom I’ve decided looks like Peter Gallagher (if you remember the guy in Summer Lovers like 20 years ago before he turned Orange County villain as opposed to Kellie Pickler orange tanning solution) got told that he can sing even better than he had so far.  Pickler was told how “likeable” she is when she says “calamari” funny.  It was almost like the vocal version of the Special Olympics.

The non-it folk faced a much tougher bar line.  Simon told Bucky Covington that he’d sung fine, but will be a warm up act.  William Makar, who sounded surprisingly good (in six years I wonder if he turns into Ace Young) on Kenny Rogers/Lionel Ritchie’s “Lady”, was accused of not taking on a challenging enough song to wow folk. Kinnik Sky also got hit with the you have to pick exactly the right song, etc.

  I honestly have no idea what the standard is for Kevin Covais who did the California Raisins version of “Heard it through the Grapevine” as a green table grape with glasses. Talk about grading on the curve.  Simon was right, "Would you seriously listen to it on the radio?" When you start thinking the AI background singers sound a lot better than the soloist, that can’t be a good thing.  

I did think they were perfectly fair with David Radford.  It’s not just brio, it’s phrasing and big band singers are actual musicians, as opposed to performers or impersonators,who do trade off musical lines with the band itself.  They also were reasonable enough with “Show Me the Money” who oddly does have something many AI contestants don’t have, the ability to play to the camera.  Miykalah Gordon had it too.  TV is a tough medium in that we don’t generally look at anyone for five minutes straight.  It’s not just a matter of being passively telegenic a la Becky O’donahue, it’s something one actually does.  Brenna,though, had no idea when to stop with the insistent upstaging or how to throw in bits of humility that the small screen also demands. And, yea, I have to ask is this really what happens when you send your kids to Brandeis (Brenna's alma mater)? What happened to that whole Tuesdays with Maury thing?   

From a tv standpoint, Sway Penala made for good reality tv.  It did seem that he could sing, though he had very little command of the camera itself and he didn’t actually sing that well on tv.  There was real sadness in his story arc with his seeming attempt to turn his appearance on the show into a way to bring his parents together.  It brought home to me how young a lot of the contestants really are.  

For whatever reason, thejudges are being especially tough on Ayla Brown.  Randy was “Wow good song, didn’t make us dwell on your vocal limitations” and Simon was “Gee, perfect isn’t good enough because it’s not original enough for this show.”  I’d agree with that if the standard were Edith Piaf, Shirley Horn, or Judy Garland, but the de facto standard on this show is Kelly Clarkson.  

As for the putative contenders, I started to wonder if Taylor Hicks has Tourette’s syndrome with the mannered whoo and eehs he force in to his rendition of “Easy” to make it distinctive.  I’m starting to wonder if he’s a real artiste or if the whole persona is more or less his schtick.  If there was a theme for the week, it might have been “race crossing” which I imagine is an even more loaded theme than the “gender stereotypes” I commented on last week.  Paris Bennett did “Wind Beneath My Wings” which might be the whitest song of the 80’s.  Not only was it the theme in “Beaches”, it’s in both Bette Midler and Judy Collins’s repertoire.  Mandisa did a very impressive Faith Hill while the producers continued their quest to sell her as the one with the loveable “personality” via a dog jaw routine this time.  Kinik Sky put on a cowboy hat.  Lisa Tucker confessed to having sung professionally since she was age 10, which has nothing at all to do with race, but a lot to  do with “outing” herself as anything but a terrified high school kid.  From the other end, Katherine Mcphee did Stevie Wonder.  Elliot Yamin did Moody’s Mood for Love which started as a James Moody sax solo and I believe first got turned into vocalese by King Pleasure and often gets associated with Eddie Jefferson.  

I honestly believe that the continued blurring of racial and gender lines in music is a very good thing culturally, but it’s interesting how the judges continue to call it “playing against type” for aspiring vocalists who venture into songs made famous by a singer of another race.  

When Gedeon Mckinney, who very persuasively evoked Sam Cooke and who gets a little bit of the Ayla Brown treatment from the judges, and Chris Daughtry lit up Fuel as a white rocker singing rock with more actual conviction than I remember from Bo Bice, the judges went into "You're so genuine" schtick and isn't that great.  

I don’t pretend to be able to predict either American or Arabian idol.  This though is who I actually like thus far, more or less in order.

Lisa Tucker clearly can sing. The potential story line is that as the show unfolds she strengthens her identity as a performer. Of course, that hasn't happened yet nor has there been time for it to happen.
Katherine Mcphee  may have the strongest combination of singing, personality, look for the show.
Mandisa also clearly sings well and they’re giving her the “grounded but fun” edit.
Paris  Bennett is very old sounding singer in ways that go beyond singing Bette Midler ballads in your grandmother's clothes, but she does it well.  
Ayla Brown not sure why the judges don’t warm up to her more.

Holding on:
Kellie Pickler is being sold as a rougher-edged sadder backstory version of Carrie Underwood.  I get the feeling that she has a large fan base though.

May not remember in a year:
Melissa Mcghee did quite well last week, but no one much remembers her. It's a dangerous thing to have AI judges tell you that your voice is "smoky".
Kinnik Sky who seems to be exploring Vonzell Solomon territory without quite the same sense of fun.

Chris Daughtry if he can show a little more versatility.  He’s already staked out the normal guy who happens to be able to sing thing.
Gedeon  singer, showman, but so far maybe too much of a throwback feel.
Elliot sang well both weeks.  In some ways, may be Clay Aiken’s real heir on the show.

Holding on:
Taylor: I'm wondering if his act will wear thin. As in where does the attempt to channel a 78 year old Delta Blues man end and Taylor Hicks the singer begin?  
Ace: has to get beyond the Nick Lachey's other brother thing.
Wiliam Makar:  seems to be a better singer than he gets credit for because they keep going on about the teeny bopper business.

Don’t want to remember in a year:
Kevin Covais, okay, you’ve had your fun.
Bucky was good this time around, but he hasn't dug out of the shadow of Chris and Bo Bice. They need to send him to the sushi bar with Kellie Pickler for one of those AI does Wife Swap bits.   

Other Reviews by Chancelucky


At 3/05/2006 09:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Supposedly, his identical twin brother Rocky is going to be in the audience, and they've collaborated on his song choice this week.

At 3/05/2006 10:21:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Bucky has a twin? Can they do Johnny and Edgar Winter stuff?

At 3/06/2006 08:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments are very incisive and intelligent. Kudos.

I hope that a lot of people will vote for Elliott this week because he's the one that really surprises me each time. Such a pure, natural vocal. No melissma. I worry that people take him for granted and assume he is a lock for the finals. His line was open for most of the 2 hours on Wednesday - a lot of people don't seem to call in for him. It's a shame.

At 3/06/2006 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

I noticed that Elliott is getting more of a backstory now with the sick mother. He also had the distinction of being the guy who stood up to the Brittenum twin. More important, he can actually sing and appears to be the sort of everyday guy who happens to sing that would make for great tv.


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