Thursday, May 18, 2006

American Idol (review) Elliott Yamin Out at Third

I was reading the Idol message boards this week (Yes, I confess I read them) and I learned the following about Katharine McPhee.

  1. She helped plan 9/11, but she won’t accept criticism about it.

  2. She kicks puppies and makes fun of disabled people.

  3. Her mother should have been turned into social services years ago.

  4. She  stalled on home run 713, because she’s off the juice now.  The steroid rage has left her arrogant , you can see it in her face.

  5. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” wasn’t sung nearly as well as William Hung.  This is according to someone who was a professional singer, has 37 gold records,  and now just like to hang out on Reality Tv message boards though someone from the entourage does the actual typing hence the ISP from Henryetta, Oklahoma.

No one said that in just those words, but she must have done all those things to provoke that kind of hate.

By contrast, I learned that Elliott Yamin had not practiced between appearances on the show because he insisted on  doing diabetes charity work while also helping his invalid mother.  The fact that Elliott sings at all is really quite amazing because for the first fifteen years of his life he was completely deaf and the family was too poor to afford even a radio.  After being exposed to the music of Al Green while riding a city bus, Elliott worked three jobs at age fourteen to buy a used CD.  He started singing the week before the audition.  On one Idol charity visit, Elliott met a leukemia patient and the boy went into remission minutes later. Elliott then became the first Idol contestant to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and is also an object of veneration for the Falun Gong.

Equally fascinating, one finds out almost nothing personal about Taylor Hicks other than hundreds of posts about the “Soul Patrol” and how Simon must hate him.  Beyond that, Taylor apparently didn’t have a childhood, doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend, or has no friends who want to dish about him.  The only reason I knew he had ribs for breakfast one day is because Ryan told me so.  

Of course, your average AI scribe wouldn’t take the time to investigate, but ever since it came out that I’m on Elvis's speed dial(Okay, I know it has two meanings, but I’m not going there) doors have opened for me.  I got the following e-mail from someone calling himself “Thetan”.  

“CL, you wanna know where all the Katharine hate comes from, meet me on Wednesday at 6:00 at xxxxxx in the Valley.”

I found my way to some sort of reading room filled with people offering to test my spiritual potential.  Thetan, a slightly chubby young man was seated at a library table.  He held what looked to be a soup can with a wire sticking out of it.

CL:  So, I don’t understand why the hate here for Katharine McPhee?

T:  She denied that she was a Scientologist.

CL:  I think she said she went to a meeting once because she was dating some guy who was in the church. But, they broke up.

T:  She lost twenty pounds and she dumped me, but that has nothing to do with it.

CL:  Okay.

T:  You noticed that ever since she denied that she was a Scientologist, the judges turned on her. You remember “being in God’s hands” when she hit the bottom three?

CL:  Yeah, I guess it was during the Church of Mandsa.

Thetan  picks up his soup can and holds it out to me.

T: This uses advanced alien technology.  Any time you want to make Katharine McPhee laugh or smile at inappropriate times during her performances….In fact, it works on anyone with DNA similar to hers.  It can also make them cry. On certain kinds of music, it can make her shriek in pain just at the wrong moment.  For some reason it works best on songs sung by Whitney or Christina, but we’ve gotten it to work with other music.  You wouldn’t believe how well it works with Phil Collins.

CL: Wow.  Look, I don’t want to get too personal here, but when Katharine was losing the weight did you think about maybe joining a gym yourself? Maybe see a dermatologist, go on “The Swan”, instead of maybe this….

T:  You’re not very advanced are you?

CL:  Well, I’m no Tom Cruise I guess. But, why doesn’t this thing….

T:  It’s called an E-phaser.

CL:  As in Elliott Yamin?

T:  I can’t tell you that unless you pay me thousands of dollars for auditing and bring two of your friends.

CL:  Could you tell me what’s up with the message board hate stuff?

T:  You are aware that the Church of Scientology has controlled all message boards on the net ever since  Just post something negative about the church and see what happens.

CL:  I take it you don’t watch “South Park” much these days.

T:  I know what you were going to ask.

CL:  Sure.

T: You wanted to know why the E-phaser doesn’t work on ballads.

CL:  Actually, you’re right.

T:  We can’t figure it out. Also the rays seem to come in just above chest level.  Have you noticed that whenever she sings on her knees, she does really well?

CL: Well, I sort of thought that it was because she was self-conscious about her butt…. (I started feeling oddly uncomfortable) Thetan, uh thanks, this was the most amazing interview.  

T: You know we almost got her anyway last week. We had a connection to Lisa Marie Presley….(he paused as if he’d just said too much) You realize that you can’t ever tell anyone about this.

I then pointed to someone near the door and said “Hey, I remember you.  You were in the volcano in "Battlefield Earth".”

I ran up to him, pretended to shake his hand, then ran out into the street.  For three days, I’ve been laughing at the oddest times though. If the Unification Church can run the Washington Times, the Church of Scientology can certainly control “American Idol” in its way.

That brings me to the big Taylor secret.  You remember Billy Bass, the fish that you hang on the wall and it wiggles around and sings Bobby MacFerrin?  

Okay, have you noticed that the Taylor forums are filled with animated Taylor icons?  Ever wonder why they call the show AI?  Also does anyone remember a six-sided black plastic box that had brightly-colored trapezoidal buttons.  It would play notes and you had to follow the notes or it would squawk at you.  Do you think it’s a coincidence that the gadget was called “Simon”?

Each of the last three years, there’s been at least one contestant who was accused of being the product of Artificial Intelligence.  First it was Di-bot, then it was Scott Savol and even Carrie Underwood,  then  Lisa Tucker.  Simon would even joke with them about it just to throw America off.  You don’t have to believe me, but there’s a factory in the West of China that has already made three million animatronic Taylor Hicks’s for thirty seven cents a unit.  Target has committed to the first lot for the Christmas season.

If you order now, you can get a full set.  There’s a dancing version that does “Taking it to the Streets”.  Another does “You are so Beautiful”.  Plans for one doing “Country Roads” fell through after a battery drain issue problem caused it to seem sleepy and lifeless.  With all models, you press on his stomach, he goes into a crouch, and pulls out a harmonica.  At the end of the song, each animatronic Taylor chants “Soul Patrol” four times with raised fist.  Until you’ve seen 383 Taylors do this simultaneously, you really haven’t lived.

They say Nigel wants an artist that 19-E can truly control.  After Kelly and Clay got out of their contracts the first two seasons, who can blame AI for what it’s doing?

Now that that’s out of the way.  I’m sorry to see Elliott go.  There was a lot of talk about his having perfect pitch, but I think even more interesting he had perfect emotional pitch in front of a tv camera.  When Elliott started crying Wednesday night, who didn’t cry with him?  Here he was, the consummate but talented underdog taking on the pimpage that be, somehow never showing any signs of frustration at what often amounted to unfair treatment, simply thanking America for the opportunity.

I do think that reality tv folk have too primitive a notion of what it means to be telegenic.  It’s not necessarily about being Ace Young or Kellie Pickler.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a reality show person send the Q factor spinning the way Elliott quietly managed from week to week. When he laid into “Trouble” last week, I thought this guy could be a star.  He was also great on “Moody’s Mood for Love” relaxed and vocally showy at the same time.  Had he hit that level on his three songs on Tuesday (he wasn’t bad btw), I think he might have won.  

As is, he’s clearly a different singer from Clay Aiken, but he’s Clay’s heir on Idol, the ordinary guy who grew as a performer over the course of fifteen weeks while America watched.

Not all charisma is palpable the first time through especially on television.  If you remember Harry Morgan or even Bob Newhart, people just kept watching them because they were so darn likeable.  Consider the fact that Regis Philbin has been on television since 1963.  One of the keys isn’t so much that people love you immediately, it’s that they don’t hate you after continuous exposure.

My fear is that they’re going to make Elliott the next “Bachelor” a la Bob Guiney, with similar results.  He’ll appear on Oprah then be partying with Lyndsay Lohan and Paris Hilton instead of hanging out with his mom.
I point out that the show fashioned his story line.  People still say, “Gee, that Elliott knew nothing about music and just appeared on our tv set one day.”

Somehow, the fact that his mother was a professional singer never got repeated much.

Of course, nothing about AI is straightforward.  Were the Bush v. Gore figures from Wednesday night for real?  Who knows?   How hard do the producers and judges work to manipulate America’s reaction?  It’s part of the genius of the show.  Much like real elections, everyone complains about the results, the process, the integrity of the counting itself, but without viewers/voters the system doesn’t exist.  In the end, you get the candidate/Idol you deserve.  In this case, people vote for anti-Idols like Taylor Hicks in the oddly deluded belief that it’s some act of rebellion against a system which may have manufactured your own rebellion.  You want quirky original, how about Tom Waits, James Brown, Rickie Lee Jones, or even Woody Guthrie-all of whom made it pre-“America you decide”.

By the way, when they posted the percentages in the blue-bordered boxes like that, my first thought was that they were making fun of the California High School Exit Exam.  
Can you imagine the millions of graduates watching going, “Oh geez, which number is larger?….Would you like to super size that sir?”

“So sorry, my English is not good.  I am here on H1 visa as computer engineer.  What is to super size?”

I then thought that Ryan was either going to offer us a “lifeline” or make us answer in the form of a question. “I’ll take cheesy entertainment for 500, Ryan.”

Ryan pulls away the door and reveals the answer “Vonzell Solomon.”

I raise my hand and say, “Does anyone really remember who finished third on this show?”

Camera cuts to Jasmine Trias in the audience and a crying Elliott Yamin on the stage.

I suspect though that it’s not going to be that way for Elliott even after waking up to Daniel Powter on Thursday morning.

Oh yeah, about the music….  

I thought Taylor was generally very good.  I did think Paula made a lousy stand in for Courtney Cox, even pre-Monica Gellar Bing.  If I remember the Springsteen video, they slipped in Courtney Cox because they wanted to do MTV type videos with someone like Springsteen and the working class-political edge always implied in his music.

Think about the  lyric to “We’re just dancing in the dark.”

I get up in the evening
and I ain't got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothing but tired

They always talk about Taylor being the one who connects with the meaning of the song, but he didn’t with this one.  Might have been Clive Davis’s fault for telling Taylor it was a love song.

Taylor was much better with  “You Are So Beautiful”. Taylor didn’t just ape Joe Cocker, he also caught the “pained love” feel that Cocker got into the song’s otherwise “puppy love” lyric. You feel like it’s being sung to someone who doesn’t think of herself as beautiful and really can’t see it by someone who isn’t so conventionally beautiful himself.

I thought that Taylor was Taylor on “Try a Little Tenderness”, but also thought Simon was right about the throwback ending.  With performers like Taylor, the aesthetic choice is constantly between when to be a showman and when to be a musician.  This slow motion ending was all about cheesy performing.  If he had to go that way, he should have done the splits when he broke the last word into syllables.  Sheez, Gedeon McKinney would have done both far better.  

All in all though, I thought that Taylor performed very well and made himself the favorite even if the balloting results proved to be more ambiguous.

First was Clive Davis trying to “bobby trap” (darn these double entendres) Katharine?  She’d spent several weeks tripping over Whitney, so he divaishly sticks her with R. Kelly?  Second, no one really remembers the performance just that Katharine talked back to Randy and called the judges out.  For me, it was more a question of who to blame Katharine’s limitations or Clive than it was anything like the “moment” that Simon suggested it was.

I think of this season in general as the year of the “Geek” on “Idol”.  Of  the last three standing, each has an outsiderish quality.  In Katharine’s case, it’s a bit less obvious, but part of her charm is that you sense that she hasn’t gone through life as the babe. When they do the pictures, they skip junior high and high school with her.  There’s something  Lisa Lupner waking up in Catherine Zeta Jones's body (maybe she was heavier or just way tall really early) that at its best gives her a sense of vulnerability on camera.  If you saw the back to Catholic School clips, she wasn’t hugging the football players and the cheerleaders. Her people seemed to be the high school commoners.  I just don’t think high school Katharine was one of the “Plastics”.  

Anyway, here she is suddenly looking like a plastic on national television and her teen years maybe didn’t prepare her for it.  I honestly think her rougher moments come from the fact that she’s not used to the role and doesn’t take to it well.  When she deals with the judges, she’s both giddy and emotionally unprepared.  My side theory is that most Americans have their sense of adult sexual esteem formed some time in junior high school.  If you’re cute and popular as a pre-teen, you can gain a hundred and fifty pounds as an adult and still flirt with confidence.  If you were a geek back then hiding in theater productions, no matter what happens in your adult life you never quite lose that fear of not being fully accepted.

I think perhaps the Judges criticisms occasionally bring out the Lisa Lupner in her.

Of course, I’m basing all of this on absolutely no evidence, but that doesn’t stop anyone else.

Back to topic-“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is the song that put her in the finals.  She was really good. It was sort of Broadway-good and I think that’s possibly the best fit for her, but what’s wrong with that?  Paula is right, the more relaxed Katharine sounds the better she is.  

I differ with the judges on “I Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues”.  A lot of people have been saying “Didn’t sound like the blues to me” or “Ella did it better.”  First, I know the Ella Fitzgerald version.  She wasn’t Bessie Smith nor is the song really a mournful blues.  In its time it was a pop number and Ella sang it with a smile. In her time, critics often went at Ella Fitzgerald for ignoring the lyric and just going off to scatville.  I don’t think Katharine matches Ella’s vocal purity or subtly perfect sense of time on the song, but that’s not the AI standard.  Even dressed as Nancy Sinatra, it was meant to be a fun song that contrasted with “Rainbow” and in a saner world that’s exactly what she accomplished.  

Maybe she should have aimed a bit higher with her closer, but the judges were harsh.  

Heading into the final, I’d say Taylor comes in off a game with two extra base hits and a single.  Katharine hit a home run and made contact on two outfield flies.  As a fan, I prefer Katharine’s inner-geek, but I won’t threaten to move to Canada if America votes for Taylor.

The best part though is that I just have one more of these to write.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles


At 5/19/2006 02:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henryville, Oklahoma? That must be one of those small rural towns with 1 stoplight, and people go to Okrafest for fun and go fishing in nearby Eufala lake (Sorry, I've been listening to "Some Hearts" for too long.)On another note, you've hit the nail on the head on why I like Katharine. She started as a goofy,giggly, silly, girl-next-door with insecurities. May have even been a geek and didn't realize how pretty she really is. On stage she is transformed into the sexiest, sultriest, hottest girl to grace the idol stage (Carrie is pretty, but could never by sexy). Then after performing, she goes back to being the goofy girl again. That is why I have McPheever.

At 5/19/2006 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for reading and the comments on my Katharine McPhee theory.

Henryetta, Oklahoma is, was, the town where Troy Aikman went to high school. I had to shower in the locker room of the football stadium there when I stayed there. Very green, little hillier than most people would think, actually a pleasant place to bicycle through.

At 5/20/2006 04:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so damn funny as usual! I read your comments every week with delight. Hope you don't mind, I am going to link here from the IDF forum, they could use some cheering up!! Miserable bunch over there at the moment. Logging onto there and opening threads is like opening the door of a free for all food fight in a high school cafeteria!

At 5/20/2006 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the very kind comment Anonymous. Feel free to link it.
food fight in high school cafeteria is good....I should quote it somewhere on this site...

At 5/21/2006 09:03:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

sorry you don't like the
how did you wind up here? :}

At 5/21/2006 10:35:00 PM, Blogger thecitychicken said...

Hey, funny article! I liked the insight about Kat's "inner geek." I never would have insighted that myself. (It is *so* a word!) And a lot of other things in the article were really insightful! You are insightful! Did I mention you're insightful? ---Katy

At 5/21/2006 11:25:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for your insightful comments :}

At 5/22/2006 05:41:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

Hi CL,

As you know, I don't follow American Idol, but I enjoy the commentary. At first blush, I saw that fish, and all I could think of was W's main accomplishment of his presidency was catching a 7.5 lb bass. :-)

Check out my blog--something pretty exciting happened to me today.


At 5/23/2006 09:50:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Perspective is always interesting. I'm writing about American Idol and you're getting mentioned by name by Elizabeth Edwards :}.

At 5/23/2006 04:59:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for stopping by. I thought you got sort of a bad rap in "Wicked".


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