Thursday, March 22, 2007

America Doesn't Say Forever to Stephanie Edwards (American Idol 6 review)

I had an argument with my wife this morning. For some reason, she’s refusing to dress up as Haley Scarnato. Now I’m thinking they let Britney out of rehab yesterday, so she could go to the Kodak theater to get her wardrobe back. In the meantime, we’ve now talked the eleven year old girl who lives two houses up the street to sit in our living room and cry at everything we do, well except for when I get my wife to dress up as Haley. That would be wrong of course and we’d probably have to share a jail cell with the Brittenum brothers.

While most everyone else remembers seeing the Beatles and the Doors on Ed Sullivan, I mostly remember turning the show on to see the latest rock act and always seeming to tune in when it was Herman’s Hermits or Chad and Jeremy. Did you know that Jimmy Page once played as a session guitarist for Herman’s Hermits? Can you imagine Peter Noone’s version of “Whole Lotta Love”?

“Excuse me mate. Jimmy. Can you maybe tone down that guitar solo on “Kind of a Hush”? It sounds like a bloody stringed machine gun.….Right. Thanks much. Cheers. Oh, by the way. You’re not the one who’s been messing with the mixer?”

If Peter Noone and Lulu were really the “British Invasion”, I’m extremely grateful for Bunker Hill and Paul Revere. No, not Paul Revere and the Raiders, the guy on the horse.

AI has always indulged in a fascinating sexual schizophrenia between “wholesome family show” with crying eleven year olds in the front row who get hugged by Sanjaya and minutes later Simon (who sometimes seems closeted himself) gaybaiting Ryan Seacrest . This reflects a longstanding confusion in American pop culture over its simultaneous attraction to and revulsion from gay culture. AI’s sense of this, conscious or not, has been one of many things on the show that has been culturally “pitch” perfect and accounts for some of its ratings staying power.

At another level, American pop culture is curiously self-loathing particularly when it come to things British. The single most mimicked facet of AI in talent-based reality shows is Simon Cowell. Almost every AI knockoff has a judge with an English accent who’s supposed to be more critical/honest than his American peers. The formula is pretty simple, America chooses but some Brit gets to insult America in the process while telling them what to think. Anyone who remembers Benny Hill has to know that this is a very dangerous thing.

While I love much of the music it produced, the “British” invasion is really one of the weirder episodes in pop music history. America was the home of the electric blues. The only problem was that it was sung by black people who couldn’t be on the radio on mainstream stations. Anyway, all these scrawny British guys start imitating it, sometimes lick for lick and it gets re-imported back to America and suddenly they go crazy for it.
The whole weirdness of it all reached its apotheosis when the Rolling Stones decided to honor one of their influences by having B.B. King open for them on their 1969 American tour. King supposedly had never made that much money in his life. Unfortunately, some of the crowds allegedly booed B.B. King because they didn’t want to wait for the Stones.

Further compounding the irony, the British invasion made American Rock and Roll so white that Jimi Hendrix was trapped as an Isley Brothers/Little Richard sideman. He had to go to England to establish bonafides as a black rock and roller.

So I turn on the tv, Tuesday night and I see Lulu showing Lakisha Jones and Stephanie Edwards how to sing like Shirley Bassey (who is black but not American) and Dusty Springfield, British singers influenced by African-American vocalists. The mystery train thus chugs along on mobius strip track.

I can also confess that I’m old enough to have seen Lulu in To Sir With Love in a movie theater in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1968. The scary thing is that she looks better now than she did then. For the many Kellie Pickler fans who got mad at me a couple weeks ago, please tell Kellie to check in with whoever has been working with or on Lulu. In the meantime, I took care not to comment on this while watching the show with my wife.

One other thing… do you do British Invasion night without anyone covering the Beatles? Dancing with the Stars has more connection to Lennon and McCartney than AI’s British Invasion theme show.

So here’s the recap part for those not watching at home:

Chris Richardson- What are they comparing this guy to when they critique him. It’s like, Chris we understand you have a thin-nasal voice, but that was your best yet? Listen to Shirley Horn’s or Ray Charles’s version of “Don’t Let the Sun” sometime. Ironically though, Chris Richardson’s version was probably closer to the original Gerry and the Pacemaker’s take. Still, I wasn’t that shocked to see him in the bottom two. Btw, what was that bottom two-bottom three business and is the sing out now a thing of the past?

Peter Noone also seemed to agree with America. I’ve never heard a guest coach sound quite that openly negative about a contestant. Btw Was that Alaina Alexander with the Richardson family on Wednesday?

Stephanie Edwards- I mentioned last week that I thought she might be vulnerable to an earlier than expected exit. No one believes that this was Edwards’s best performance, but Lulu may have killed Edwards’s chances by making the Beyonce comparison. With the judges saying on two occasions, “You sound too much like other people,” the comment might have been strike three.

If American Idol is an experiment in democracy, then Edwards’s 11th place finish reminds us that democracy and meritocracy are not the same thing. She’s a nineteen year old with uncommon poise, class, and unquestionable talent. Just like in local elections in America though name recognition is seventy percent of the battle. Edwards was bracketed by Lakisha and Melinda on the music side. Jordin Sparks is even younger and not just poised but more exuberant and just as talented. Edwards might have had some of the vote for the pretty one vote, but Haley Scarnato’s version of “Tell Him” included the improvised lyric “lap dances are two for one tonight.”

I am grateful to Stephanie Edwards. It was her performance as the first woman in the semi-final that kept me from giving up on this season.

Blake Lewis- He got major props from the judges for supposedly “modernizing” the Zombie’s “Time of the Season”. Listen to this version of the original. They don’t beat box, but he didn’t really do that much except to add some dance steps. The Zombies’ sound was ahead of its time in many ways with synthesizer like sounds without synthesizers and a more gliding beat.

It seems that once every show Ryan does something exactly right. This time it was dancing and singing after Blake’s judgment time.

Lakisha Jones- Okay, you tell me to sing songs from the British Invasion from the Sixties and have Lulu coach me and then you say “You’ve got to sound more modern than that! You’re kidding right?”

I agree, it was totally unfair, yet it was also right. She sounded fine, but just wasn’t very interesting. Lakisha’s mojo on the show is that she’s the single mom, bank teller, who just happens to sing great. Btw, they keep saying Flint, as in Roger and Me, but she actually lives in Maryland now. I liked her sassy “If I look and sound like this in 45 years, I’d be pretty happy with that,” but it was double-edged. It came off as ever so slightly entitled instead of humble. In the weird universe of Idol, some performers can go there, but she’s not one of them. Perhaps she spent too much time with Diana Ross the previous week.

Phil Stacy- Did they give him amphetamines on Wednesday night? What was with the screaming and hand slapping? In the NFL, the old school coaches like to say, “You get in the end zone, act like you’ve been there before and like you’re planning to be back.”
The over under on this guy is 1.5 more shows.

Gina Glocksen- Is somewhere between Constantine and Bo Bice as a rocker. The judges keep telling her what she is, but when she goes there I’m just not sure she’s all that good at it. I don’t think Paint It Black needs to be melodious in any way, I’m thinking more that covering the Rolling Stones means you riff on Mick Jagger’s showmanship. It isn’t just having energy and singing loud, it’s grabbing the audience by the crotch and refusing to let go for five minutes.

Sanjaya Malakar- Oddly, I kind of think Sanjaya of all people understood this better than Gina. Yes, the whole Michael Jackson vibe is beyond weird, but the Gene Simmons’ tongue action, the prancing/strutting across the stage, the “I don’t care what the judges are going to say this time” caught the spirit of this music. It was almost too bad, he couldn’t have done the Doors. Yes, the singing still wasn’t very good, but this was an actual performance. It was almost Karaoke in a good sense of “I’m going to just have fun.”

In addition, the whole bit with that costume, the goofiness of the performance, and his hugging the crying girl just made for incredible reality television with its breathtaking tastelessness. It was as if John Waters was guest directing the segment. It really did get me.

Jordin Sparks- Simon complained that “I Have Nothing” made him feel totally desolate at the end. That’s the point of the song. It’s pretty clear to me that this is the most accomplished teenager they’ve had on the show. She actually put emotion into a very dark song, she shaped it, built it to a climax, and she can banter with the judges. I also like the healthy big girl self-image she seems to radiate. There is the small matter of her singing at pro-life rallies, but singing’s singing sometimes. Not everyone I listen to needs to be Paul Robeson or Woody Guthrie in their political lives.

Chris Sligh- I’ll say it again. How do you do British Invasion night and get 3 Shirley Bassey, 2 Dusty Springfield (she covered Tell Him), Two Zombies songs and no Beatles? Are they going to do crooners night and not do any Frank Sinatra?

I’d be a little frightened if Chris Sligh walked in front of me while I was sitting in the audience. He has a nice enough voice, but again for a rocker even a Christian rocker he doesn’t bring any angularity or edge to the music. “She’s Not There” is a song that makes all these turns and Sligh smoothed it out except for point where he jumped up and down, threw the mike stand around, and sang loud. Peter Noone asked him what the song was about and Chris went “It’s a sad love song”, but it’s also about suddenly realizing that you’re missing someone. The Zombies had the sudden part in their version.

Melinda Doolittle- She may well be American Idol 6 and she did sing well, but I was disappointed this time. I wanted her to take a chance and she ducked it by breaking out a song from Oliver about sticking with a bad boyfriend. I couple that with the Lyric to W-O-M-A-N from a couple weeks ago and I’m puzzled. These are genuinely weird song choices. As good as she is, I sometimes check the tv to make sure that my wife hasn’t changed the channel to Nickelodeon’s showing old Andy Williams or Mike Douglas shows. You could send Melinda Doolittle back to the sixties and she’d fit right in with Johnny Hartman, Eydie Gorme (who actually had a great voice), and Leslie Uggams.
The only thing she doesn’t do is smoke cigarettes on camera.

After Wednesday, I'm left with this thought. American Idol is far more likely to produce this generation's version of Petern Noone and Lulu than it is to uncover the next Muddy Waters.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot Stephanie Edwards American Idol



At 3/22/2007 10:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean to oversimplify, but I say forget where the music is from. If it's good, it's good. If we hold it against music for being British, then that's no better than doing so against music that was created by African American culture. But we do have to label eras in music history such as "The British Invasion."

As for American pop culture's "simultaneous attraction to and revulsion from gay culture," I would say it applies to sexuality in general. We are obsessed with it, yet we are ashamed of it to the point that we can't show nudity on public through the air TV. But we senselessly allow kids to see violence and murder.

Props to my homeboy Sanjaya. Perhaps he will increase the "stock value" of Indian guys on the dating scene, even ones that don't look like Michael Jackson.

At 3/23/2007 02:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like reading your AI columns a lot, but if I had to see that crying girl try to fake crying one more time on otherwise dear Keith Olbermann et al, we're moving into projectile distaste land.

I know now to switch to History Channel at the first glimpse of AI and maybe I'll luck into some nice video dissertation on mummies and be edified.

Atul has it right about the revolting hypocrisy between violence and sex. Mutilation is fine but Janet Jackson's bosom flash causes a Congressional hearing.

At 3/23/2007 04:33:00 AM, Blogger Sunny said...

Emerson said, "Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm." That said, in its most basic definition, Sanjaya was great. The boy caught me up in his romp over the stages. Criticize the kid all America wants to - but he has a star quality. Not the best singer on this show, but there is a factor that should take him far. Those tweenie girls love him, including my own.

By the way your interpretation of the music from the British Invasion and the American acceptance needed to be said. Exactly true.

I love your writings.

At 3/23/2007 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I agree that it doesn't matter where the music comes from as long as it's good. The level at which it does matter though is that a whole generation of African-American musicians had their work stolen while others made enormous amounts of money off of it. It's not just the Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Guy type folk, it's really many of the second line musicians who should have had their turn.
I agree about the sex thing....One thing about Idol, there is no violence or murder to humans, just songs, on the show.
I still say you need to seek out the Sanjaya's sister Shymali or see if they have an older cousin.

Mr. Pogblog,
the scary thing is that we care so little about actual violence and mutilation....vs. televised violence.

Nice to have you back here. I hope Taylor Hicks is doing well.
I actually do get why people vote for Sanjaya and yeah he gets rock and roll better than the two alleged rockers on the show.

Also, thanks for your kind comment.

At 3/23/2007 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God how I love your blog! You are so damn funny. I look forward to it more than the show! You ought to link to it from the IDF board, you'd have a lot of fans! You should read the reviews by NGH (nevergoinghome) over there. He writes in a similar funny vein!

At 3/23/2007 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for your kind comments. I tried to register over at IDF, but the software there is giving me trouble.
Someone did link one of my posts there some time ago.
One of the hard things about trying to be funny in a blog, is you have no idea if anyone reads much less laughs, so it's wonderful when someone like you takes the time to say that she enjoyed it.

At 3/24/2007 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Somehow you always manage to make me laugh and think Chancelucky (and they said it couldn't be done!)

You've always got perspectives on things I don't read anywhere else and the way you get things across is brilliant.

At 3/25/2007 04:48:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for brightening an already fine weekend for me.


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