Sunday, May 07, 2006

American Idol (review) Paris Bennett's Last Kiss

When this Idol season started gas was just two dollars a gallon and the tv news was talking about getting out of Iraq instead of nuking Iran. I’m pretty sure that Paris Bennett was in middle school and Taylor Hicks had dark hair. I vaguely remember that they were talking about Ace Young being one of the favorites and Elliott Yamin was in danger of being lost among charismatic performers like Mandisa and Kellie Pickler. I was still having nightmares about Kevin Covais outlasting Scot Savol.

As I watched Tuesday’s show from my hotel room in Florida this week, I got this odd but in some ways relieved feeling that I’d run out of things to say about the show. In much the same way the blogosphere had stopped finding new ways to dissect Stephen Colbert’s doing the dozens with W at the press corps dinner. Of course, this president is expected to face less criticism than your Average Idol contestant.

I’d heard Taylor Hicks chant “soul patrol” a hundred and seventy two times. I knew Paris Bennett would say “thank yew” in her squeaky voice even if Simon was saying “That was completely unlistenable. Had I compared it to nails on a chalkboard, it would have insulted chalkboards.”

I even knew the exact moment Chris Daughtry would strangle his microphone stand.

As I watched Katharine McPhee self-consciously avoid a repeat wardrobe malfunction instead of connect to yet another power ballad, I was starting to tell myself”Wow, that Cal Ripken did the most incredible thing!”

Can you imagine watching seventeen hundred episodes of Idol in a row?

In any case, what are you supposed to comment about when there’s no weird musical guest to somehow slight one of the singers, the judges do almost nothing bizarre, Kellie Pickler is gone, and the music itself never quite makes it to memorable? Had Sominex become the show’s news sponsor?

I have to say that what’s been an entertaining season is now seemingly flirting with boredom.

Years ago, there was a Super Bowl that ended like 16-14 with a last second field goal miss. As close as it was, the game simply wasn’t exciting because each team mostly turned the ball over and there were no spectacular plays. With the show down to five finalists and each one now asked to do two songs on the same installment, it was an opportunity for one of them to grab the viewer’s attention and declare himself or herself the frontrunner.

Instead, the survivors chose to kick musical field goals. There was Chris Daughtry rocking away again with "Renegade." The judges loved it, but I found myself thinking during the better of his two rock out numbers, “Sure, fine, but is this any better than the eight other times you did this?”

Taylor Hicks jumped around the stage and into the audience with “Play that Funky Music White Boys,” as the Taylor the Soul Patrol knows and loves while the rest of America may have wondered if he did his bit any better than way back when on the show when he was Taking it to the Streets.

There was Elliott Yamin doing the R&B bit with George Benson’s cover of “On Broadway”. If you ever saw the way Bob Fosse choreographed Benson’s version to undulate with anticipatory energy to open All That Jazz, you would know that America’s best film choreographer couldn’t have managed the same thing over Yamin’s take on the classic.

Finally, there was Paris Bennett shimmying through a way too adult Prince song in yet another hairstlye. If she was doing one of those Sandy-like transformations from Grease, it felt more like dress up than full-on “Wow, what happened to Paris, the girl who sang Streisand last week?”

In all five cases, I was certain that each of the finalists had done this and done it better at some point. The judges appeared so bored that they didn’t even summon the energy to put on their usual sideshow. Idol fatigue had announced itself. Whatever was good about the singing, I’d simply seen too many times.

Had I been directing, I would have sent Simon and maybe Paula into the locker room at halftime to do the Vince Lombardi thing as they switched form song from the year you were born to something on the current Billboard Chart.

“If you really want to be the bloody American Idol then maybe you want to sing like it,” he might have said, “This is like some karaoke bar, at a wedding celebration, in a second rate saloon, on a cruise ship somewhere, if I had to be perfectly honest.”

Paula could have said something like,”Guys, you sing about as well as I did, but… I could dance.”

Perhaps the producers could have brought in Balco labs and given them the musical equivalent of steroids. Actually, I would have settled for Barry Bonds singing, not even to the grand jury, over the been there done that feel of the first half of this week’s show. I’m fine with baby pictures and all, but at the rate this was going I was convinced that I didn’t care who won this year because I’m not going to remember him or her anyway six months from now.

Totally random, but does anyone else remember Mitch Miller urging the audience at home to sing along by following the bouncing ball? I guess I actually listen when they talk about the social security trust fund for a reason. To be fair, Idol is better tv than that was.

The second half was better, but not markedly so. Elliott did a Michael Buble song about wanting to go home. While he sang it well enough, I’ll mostly remember that he broke the jinx by not turning the title of a song like that into wish fulfillment.

Chris rocked again then explained that his voice is wearing out as the judges went “Meh, meh, okay I get it, you’re a rock singer.”

Paris did Mary J. Blige and a few days later I just don’t much remember it. This is a shame. Paris may have the biggest musical upside of any of this year’s finalists. At seventeen, she proved herself the most versatile finalist and with the one exception of country night I thought there was always at least something to like about her performances.

If, however, you asked me what she will be singing in eight years when and if she gets our attention again on the charts, or whatever they call them in the second decade of peer to peer file sharing, I couldn’t tell you.

This makes perfect sense for a seventeen year old. As is often the case with these step into fame scenarios, I suspect that even she knows that she’s better off going out now than actually winning and getting trapped into being a “star” without first finding a musical identity. When Lisa Tucker returned last week to plug her appearance on the O.C., she hardly seemed upset to be in the audience instead of on stage.

Katharine Mcphee sang "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" while dancing on her knees to the rhythms of two guys playing something called the “box drum”. She was good at it. It was different from the diva in training she’d affected over the last couple weeks and it kept her in contention. The only problem is that her self-admitted miss on "Against All Odds" hurt her odds because it raised the question “Has any winner whiffed that badly this late in the show?”

Taylor Hicks then took on that brand new song “Something” by a hot new group from England called the “Beatles”. The interesting thing about the choice was that mellow Taylor hadn’t worked after the first time or so some seven weeks ago. This time, he showed that he could go slow and soft and keep it interesting without having to spaz out at all. Also, a lawyer from Apple Computer came on to explain that after the court ruling, all Beatles songs are now "current" hits on itunes without any need to mention Apple Music.

It wasn’t just a change of pace. It also appeared to remind America yet again that the music of thirty five years ago somehow stands up better (even if you’re kneeling like Katharine) than most of the actual contemporary stuff on the Billboard charts. Actually the last time anyone cared about Billboard Magazine was also probably when the Beatles were still together.

Now that it’s down to four. The judges continue to work hard to make Chris Daughtry the favorite. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only one with a family to support. He’s also had at least one strong performance in each of the last two weeks. I’m wondering if Taylor and Elliott have anything new to reveal musically at this point. Actually, one could say the same of Chris, but at least based on the judges’ reaction, he doesn’t need a trick play at this point in the game.

Katharine McPhee, who has already had someone bring out the Elvis in her, remains the one who seems to have the best chance of pulling the “upset” by maybe scoring big as Katharine McPhee rather than daughter of diva dearest who can’t sing high notes. “No more wiry melisma, no more wiry melisma!”

Other than seeing Chris Daughtry or Elliott Yamin come out in a white jumpsuit as lounge lizard Elvis (Katharine Mcphee as early Elvis impersonator would also be cool), what I’d like best is to see one of the performers go for the bomb, even if it’s just a Randy bomb, and actually generate some excitement during Graceland week.

Speaking of Graceland, it’s in my head that if he’d ever do it, Paul Simon (think of all the great "Paula"-"Simon" jokes there would be in it) week might be a good fit for the remaining finalists. In the meantime, wasn’t Tommy Mottola married to Mariah Carey and is he going to help them channel Elvis or urge them all to go Diva City which I heard is just west of Russellville, Arkansas? And what’s the over under on the number of minutes before Randy makes a reference to working with Tommy Mottola or Mariah in some way?

Otherwise if none of the finalists find a way to step up the excitement next week, America may soon learn for sure that Elvis is alive and home at Graceland next Tuesday night when he pulls out the magnum and shoots his tv set again.
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At 5/08/2006 04:46:00 PM, Blogger benny06 said...

You've got that right about this President. His double, Steve Bridges would win a spot on American Idol though.

What's up in Florida?

At 5/08/2006 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I was in Florida for a conference for my work. I did absolutely nothing Disney World related, other than stay in one of their resorts. I am, however, five days later still tired.

It was a bit strange to spend an evening in another state and feel this duty to watch a reality show so I could write it up.

At 5/09/2006 01:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You being trapped now in American Idol Review Hell is some odd cross of Kafka & Rockwell.

//Remember to do a somersault for St. Stephen whose b-day is May 13.

At 5/09/2006 09:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, what's with the Russellville reference?

At 5/09/2006 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Honestly, I rode my bicycle through Russellville and spent the night in a frat house (was over the summer and they were being nice to bicycle people) at Arkansas Tech back in 1987. At the time, it struck me as a place that was within a day's drive of Graceland that seemed to be far away from most any town or place that people outside Ark/Tenn would know.
I really found the people in Arkansas unusually friendly and generous. Also remember having a conversation with a fellow in Little Rock who was telling me how he thought Bill Clinton was going to be president, but he'd have trouble because he cheats on his wife. Guy was a big fan of Hillary.


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