Friday, April 07, 2006

American Idol 8 Left and Seacrest Not Out

Terri Hatcher called me the other night to ask if I wanted to have some oysters then “make out” on the beach in front of a bunch of photographers.  I had to explain that I was married, but flattered and that she was both “real and magnificent”.  

I’m not sure about the whole coy outing of Ryan Seacrest.  How else does one explain, an older man sitting in the aisle shouting “I love you in every way, Ryan” or something to that effect.  What does one make of the coded exchange between Simon and Ryan, “Lose the Beard, it looks like your trying to be on Desperate Housewives.” ?

Simon might as well have said, “Ryan, I have a name for your beard. It’s “Terri”?”

Soon Simon is going to insist that Clay Aiken do Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” and dedicate it to a stubblefied Ryan.  In any case, the producers are being about as artful about this as say Dick and George were about how they were going to catch and punish whoever leaked the identity of that CIA agent.  

In the meantime, I notice that debates have broken out about the effect Mandisa’s statement song about Jesus helping people overcome “addiction, lifestyle, and wearing tank tops with horizontal stripes” had on her unexpected departure from the show and whether or not she was using Evangelical code for those who should not marry one another while reading Leviticus.

Enough already, this is “American” Idol not American Code Breakers.  When the show draws more buzz from these word games, it’s a sign that the show might be jumping the shark.  Is anyone talking about the music or the contestants anymore?  

Certainly, the last two weeks have not been memorable from a musical standpoint.  If you remember, music and singing nominally remain AI’s raison d’etre, rather than what sort of names Simon and Ryan will call one another or if Ryan really did aim his “flask” comment at that dark-haired lady who slurs her critiques every now and then.  Last week, I had to question whether the 21st century had any pop music worth a listen.  This week, I’m telling myself “That Carrie Underwood must be a whole lot more talented than I thought.”

My daughter had the country music station on as she drove me to school the other morning.  She’s still on her learner’s permit, so that means that I don’t dare listen to the radio all that closely since most of the ride I’m repeatedly stepping on an imaginary brake and wishing for three sets of eyes. Still, about two miles from the school parking lot a song came on that sounded both good and familiar.  It was the “real” version of Ace Young’s “I Wanna Cry”.  While I thought that Ace had done reasonably well with it, there was honestly no comparison to Keith Urban who made me feel all the pauses in the song as heartbreak and got across the post-modern Cowboy confession of the opening verse.  Really good country music is never that far from being a wail.  With Ace Young, it’s more wan than wail.

After she got out of the car, I started wondering who was that gray-haired man who was so listlessly singing John Denver’s “Country Roads”?  If people are calling you “Gray Charles”, you really don’t want to take singing advice from Kenny Rogers, no matter what the show’s producers tell you. fwiw, even great pitchers don't often get away with throwing the changeup two pitches in a row.  

Either Kenny Rogers needs to get a refund from his plastic surgeon.  or I’d say whoever it was doesn’t know how to “fold ‘em”.  It must make Kenny a great gambler in real life though, there’s not a lot of facial expression left to read.

If you think about the sort of singing American Idol glory notes in, Kenny Rogers had to be a decidedly odd choice for vocal coach.  AI spots are about ninety seconds long and whatever Simon, Randy, and Paula say to the contrary, you’re supposed to use that time to draw attention to yourself not the song.  One, does Kenny Rogers actually sing in songs like “Coward of the County” or does he just talk melodiously over background music?  Second, even Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel stories take longer than ninety seconds to read.  I won’t quarrel with Rogers’ longstanding formula of telling a story in key that strains the listener’s heart strings though not the bass player’s. I just wonder if it had any chance to work on AI.  

Consider the most “storylike” song of the night Bobby Gentry’s  “Fancy” later covered by Reba Mcentire then covered in a bright red low cut top by Kellie Pickler which has the following verse, (abridged from the American Idol version)

“Now, in this world there's a lot of self-righteous hypocrites
That would call me bad
And criticize Mama for turnin' me out
No matter how little we had.”

The lyric makes it clear that the narrator is too old at the time her mother encourages her to become a prostitute on the streets of New Orleans to attract the interest of anyone from the Department of Homeland Security, but it’s also a venture into complex morality.  The way I read it, “Fancy” is a tale of how if you’re poor you got to do what you got to do to get by.  That might include sneaking across a border. It might include doing things you can’t do in North Dakota.  It might include pretending you don’t know what “ballsy” is and reassuring Ryan that you don’t know what “calamari” is or that the word “beard” is code for anything else while calling in your personal hair stylist from the east coast.  

While Kellie Pickler actually did well with the song, I’m wondering if anyone paid any attention to the story.  Was Kellie telling America, “If I have to fake being stupid for America to love me, I’m gonna do it?”  Was AI sending a coded message back to Mandisa’s church?  Or was it that despite Kenny’s advice, the story of the song never matters that much on a show like Idol? Btw, while were at it, could someone please explain that “Been through the Desert on a horse with no name” song to me before some AI contestant tries it on “Forgetting the Seventies Night”. In the meantime, I'm wondering if Kellie's grandfather is now getting funny looks.

I did notice that virtually everyone who took Kenny Rogers’s advice didn’t get to count their blessings when the night was done.  Both Taylor and Elliot stripped away their basic frenetic charm in pursuit of “keeping it simple”.  Paris did country music as power ballad and never did quite slow down that one word that Kenny said made the song work.  As a result Paris and Elliot hit the bottom three for the first time with both probably going, “You wanna bet that we can unlove you after what you did to our performances?” or “What kind of grizzled country singer gets cosmetic surgery?  Couldn’t they at least have given us Willie Nelson, we would even have helped him with his tax return or something?”

Heading into Queen week, with Mandisa now voted off, I’m very worried about how much more overt the banter is going to go between Simon and Ryan.  I’d say the following about the other contestants.

Chris Daughtry raised his stock by choosing not to rock out, do John Denver, or pay all that much attention to Kenny Rogers.  He sings with “conviction” and it looked like he recognized that was his musical asset that translated well to a country ballad.  It made me think of this almost surreal tv special where Patti Labelle was singing duets with Cyndi Lauper, must have been a hair stylists nightmare or dream depending on your perspective, but both sort of found a way to sing in the other’s element and it worked if only for one not seen by many people tv special.  

Katharine Mcphee rescued herself from the triad of shame by also opting not to do the story telling thing and simply finding a country song that fit her voice and going more pop than country.  Of course, the bigger news was her interruption of Simon with “It’s okay if you don’t like country music. Look at me, I’ve had to share a room with Kellie Pickler for seven weeks now.”

Where this sort of tactic has backfired for other contestants, I think her venture into putting herself on “Simon’s” level momentarily may have actually given her an aura of having a bit of spunk.  Remember, her storyline is that of voice teacher and tv prodcuer’s daughter who may have flirted with L. Ronism.  Katharine showing independence is a good thing, but she’s going to have to balance that with the goofiness that she showed early on and that charmed what I suspect is her hardcore fan base.

Bucky did the cowboy hat thing again and the show gave him the anchor spot.  I just don’t remember his singing, but maybe he’ll tell me “It’s okay if you don’t like southern country rock singers that much.”

I have to say that the fall of Mandisa was one of the more interesting story arcs I’ve seen on the show.  She didn’t really pull off the sassiness of Shania Twain’s original all that effectively, but clearly she should have had enough strong performances in her AI bank to have bought another week.  It occurs to me that America actually didn’t mind Mandisa’s decision to go full on Christian from the previous week, it’s more the way she did it or didn’t do it.  One week she was shouting out about her faith in Jesus.  The next week she was prancing around the stage in a tank top singing a song about how any man of hers needs to essentially “worship” her.  If America was going to connect with Mandisa the Christian singer gone crossover, they needed to see that faith in song.  Paula was right, it was time for Mandisa to be vulnerable, subdued, and infused by the power of the Lord in her performance this week.  If you can’t do that through country music, I’m not sure what popular genre you’re going to manage that in.

I don’t know if God has tivo, but on elimination night, there was something even more interesting.  If anyone showed Godly spirit, without having to invoke God’s name a single time, it was Elliot Yamin.  There stood Elliot and a somewhat cell-shocked Mandisa and Paris in the circle of torture.  It was Elliot who managed to show America the depth and generosity of his own spirit by both supporting the other two contestants while they waited for Ryan to announce America’s verdict then unreservedly hugging Mandisa and showing his real love and admiration for his competitor.  I suppose if it weren’t nominally about the singing, for that moment at least Elliot became my American Idol or at least Yoda with a good voice.  As a non-religious type, I’d also say that if you want to recruit, that’s the way to do it. I’m also betting that Paula wishes she had had Elliot with her at that party last weekend.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles


At 4/07/2006 10:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My, my, this stuff is a soap opera. Willie Nelson?! Did they unfreeze him?

I'm still not sure where your rooting interest is -- or are you keeping your powder dry?

At 4/08/2006 05:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you really think it's supposed to be about the singing talent? You say that, then write about everything else. I suggest you listen to the performances next time before you write a single "witty" word.

At 4/08/2006 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

First, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Popular music has never been about the singing talent alone. It's part image, creativity, marketing, and for lack of a better phrase being in the right place at the right time.

The show likes to say it's all about the singing, but then they frequently jump back the other way and talk about all the other factors.

I do think most of the people who write about the "singing" place way too much emphasis on pitch when rhythm, dynamics, and structure matter a whole lot moren sheer musical terms. Still the essence of pop music is to connect with your audience in some way. I tend to write about the latter for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I'm not a musician.

At 4/09/2006 09:16:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

Hi Chancelucky,

Just stopped by to say hello and to check in! I like the radar pic! Benny

At 4/09/2006 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for saying "hi". It's always good to have you come by here.

At 4/11/2006 09:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed watching Kenny Rogers perfrom "I Can't Unlove You". I'm a big fan of his and that song is another good one from him.

At 4/11/2006 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the comment. I'm not a Kenny Rogers fan myself, but I thought he did fine with it. I do think if the Idol judges reviewed Kenny Rogers though, they would have called it boring.

As I said, Kenny Rogers's theory of what makes music work is very different from what they say they want on American Idol.


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