Friday, April 06, 2007

The Sanjaya Effect (American Idol 6 Review)

How huge is Sanjaya mania? In the midst of opening day, the NCAA final four, and John McCain going shopping in the middle of Baghdad when the weather is hot and partially clouded by Blackhawk helicopters, his royal hairness is the number one water cooler topic in America. Yesterday, I turned on a political talk show when I was driving home from work and they were talking about the biggest question currently on America's mind, "Can Sanjaya maybe sing in front of a tv camera if he really put his mind to it?"

The second most popular but related question in America seems to be "Is this the worst singer ever to make it this far on the show?"

I've written a lot about Idol's knack for picking up on the sexual contradictions in our culture. For example, Haley Scarnato constantly talks about praying yet wears dresses so short the image of her praying in one of them is a bit disconcerting. In the meantime, Simon explores his own inner-homosexual in his banter with Ryan. I tend to write less about the fact that Idol also stands in as a morality play about the state of democracy. I was tempted to say that Idol's the world's largest democracy, but that's actually India. Funny thing that, it almost makes me a little Desi just thinking about it.

So what is it about Sanjaya Malakar that makes so many people pick up their cell phones and dial repeatedly? Why do the rest of us find his indestructibility on the show so fascinating? Is it the smile? Is it Howard Stern or Vote for the Worst? Is it the hair? I just ask you to consider one other possibility. Perhaps Sanjaya mania has become a "newsworthy" topic because America elected the village idiot twice in the last six years.

Think about this. What do you think the over under is on Sanjaya outlasting Alberto Gonzales right now? It did occur to me that if U.S. Attorneys serve at the will of the President, so does the Attorney General. What have Republican insiders been saying about the man charged with upholding the Constitution? I've seen at least one story that insists that the inside word is "this is the most incompetently run Justice department that anyone can remember." Their judgment doesn’t necessarily include the U.S. Attorney shuffle.

So what's that say about the President?

If we elected a President who seems to be happy keeping incompetent-corrupt members of his cabinet in place until it's politically untenable, why the heck can't America pick an American Idol who can't sing?

On the other end, I keep hearing about how much money Clinton and Obama have raised. This is a great thing for both candidates, but it upsets me to hear that this all but eliminates at least three declared candidates before anyone has even voted in a caucus. While Sanjaya mania has mostly been silly, there’s a certain amount of anger and resentment behind it as well. If nothing else, Americans are saying that they don’t like being told who to vote for until they get their chance to actually do it.

Sorry DW, I mean Miss Doolittle, this is the real American dream. We enjoy your singing and know that you've worked hard for your chance to be on the album cover, but Sanjaya mania may be the real American dream in action. Like most dreams, I’m not sure what it means, but I have this suspicion that this phenomenon is not just about Sanjaya Malakar.

This is also the second time that an Asian-American male has gotten noticed on AI. The other, of course, was William Hung. Okay, Sanjaya's mother is white and no one has really made sense of how Indians fit the racial scheme of things in American life. A lot of them have money and tend to be well-educated, but they're often darker than black people. Hindu marital customs sometimes sound like a reality show premise and many people in California take their religious ideas really seriously. But what's up with the Asian guys getting cast in the clown role on this show? I'm feeling like I 'm watching John Hughes's Sixteen Candles and those excruciating scenes with Gedde Watanabe on Endless Rewind.

We've got Yao and Tiger Woods, can't there be some Asian version of even Phil Stacy? Maybe we can count Phil because he stole his look from Yul Brynner and the King of Siam.

Other thoughts:

Tony Bennet looked good to me for 80 years old, I wish that I’d gotten to see him sing on the show. I still like his album of duets with Bill Evans. I’ve heard Michael Buble a fair amount on mp3. I was honestly a bit disappointed. I know he’s a throwback crooner, but I just didn’t see much in his Wednesday performance that was distinct. Please tell me that someone else wrote that Antonella Barba joke for him.

Lakisha Jones- The judges loved her and I don’t question her talent, but I’m starting to have some reservations about her musical taste. Stormy Weather is not a tornado, a hurricane, or even a storm per se, it’s subtler than that. Listen to Lena Horne’s definitive version of the song in the movie of the same name and you get a sense of the depth of the song when it has the delicacy put back into it. When you hear it, you understand that the real storm is still on its way. This was done as Hurricane Lakisha. And please, the Bill Withers ending was beyond affected. Given that it was the exact opposite of what Tony Bennet had suggested, I was scratching my head.

Phil Stacy- The getup made me think of Joe Jackson when he was doing new wave takes on big band material. Unfortunately, the Conehead’s long lost son didn’t sound like he’d ever listened to Joe Jackson’s version of Night and Day.

If you sing Cole Porter, it’s critical to do two things. You have to phrase well and you have to have a feel for the song’s bones, its harmonic structure. With Night and Day, it’s Porter’s use of minor chords at key places to purposely cut against the sweetness of the lyric. Cole porter is witty and precise. Phil Stacy made it sound like syrup. If you’re not into Joe Jackson (not everyone is), listen to Susannah McCorkle’s album of Cole Porter to get what I’m talking about.

Blake Lewis- I completely agree with Tony Bennet’s take on the song. Kurt Weil was writing gangster rap before anyone imagined such a thing with the “Three Penny Opera.” It was actually curious given this singer’s taste in music that he slid over to the Bobby Darin, swinging nightclub singer version of the song. I suspect that Mr. Beatbox didn’t see this as his week and just wanted to survive, but I have a feeling he missed a chance to do something really interesting with what Weil actually gave him. He was certainly pleasant enough but instead of showing what he might do as the “musician” in this year’s contenders, the song really tended to remind me of the limitations of his instrument.

Chris Richardson- I’m sorry, I’m just missing the whole Chris Richardson thing. It didn’t seem as much modern as he avoided what’s really possible with this song. The judges need to listen to Joe Williams sing this with Count Basie (I know it’s incongruous. It’s a bit like the Rolling Stones doing I Wanna Hold Your Hand) then get back to me about their take on Chris Richardson.

Melinda Doolittle- I actually agreed with Simon that the first half was just kind of okay. There just wasn’t any jump or real excitement in the double time section. I really did like it when she took the arrangement into Pearl Bailey territory, but I need to mention that this was very similar to what she did with My Funny Valentine.

This is what’s bugging me by the way. DW is clearly very good technically, she’s a solid performer, but she’s not terribly original. At the same time, on this show it’s a pleasure to see someone just sing really well.

Haley Scarnato- Tony Bennet goes back a long ways, but apparently he doesn’t go all the way back to Fats Waller. Waller’s performances of his own song actually were more playful than romantic. Given his tongue in cheek talkovers on his own material, I think Fats would have enjoyed her irreverent take on the ending (though I don’t know if she knew what it implied. A lot of the time she comes across more like the lost Sweeney Sister from the medley-singing Saturday Night Live routine about the clueless cabaret singers).

Randy and Paula seemed like they were getting their revenge on her for going so Simoncentric in her question and answer with Ryan. I thought the judges were rough on her.

Jordin Sparks- She may have had a cold, but she did Lerner and Lane pretty well. I heard that every dog all the way to Brentwood was howling in approval after that last note though.

Sanjaya- Interesting that he did another Fred Astaire song. Dancing with Paula was nice. It’s one thing to say that he won’t make people forget Fred Astaire the dancer. It’s a bit scarier that he made me want to remember Fred Astaire the singer. Astaire too had a sweet voice with very limited dynamics. He just had a much better idea how to deal with it. I thought Sanjaya maybe should have done the song in drag though, given the route he’s taken on the show.

I still wonder how it must feel to be Shymali Malakar right now. First the judges tell her that her brother sings much better than she does, now people are saying that her brother is the worst singer ever to make the finals. It would be great tv if she came back next year and turned out to be really good.

Gina Glocksen- I thought she was surprisingly okay with Smile. She actually was good two weeks in a row, so this had to hurt. My wife felt she needed to be more understated with the song. It is, after all, about being able to smile through adversity. I found it interesting that she was generally better with ballads than rocking out.

I actually didn’t think that Chris Sligh got Sanjayaed, but Gina Glocksen definitely did. I’m sorry to see her go.

On the other hand, I’m one of those people who don’t vote, at least on this show.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot Sanjaya Malakar American Idol



At 4/06/2007 09:10:00 PM, Blogger Sunny said...

Loved the article - you are the best at calling it like it is, uhm, with the exception of my Sanjaya. Drag. Really, have you seen the video of him eating out with family and friends? That boy has no real use for drag. He is all boy. ;) (Should you need the link you know where to find it.)
Love your articles/posts whatever it is called that we do.
I think Jordin should win this and my boy pull her second in command. But.... I'm very biased.
Much Love,

At 4/06/2007 10:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great use of the word "desi". I had already forgotten about William Hung who was another joke of a contestant, although his popularity didn't affect the outcome of the American Idol contest.

That's an interesting parallel with the Bush phenomenon except I think that mainstream Americans can't fully relate to Sanjaya since he's half Indian. With Bush, his supporters felt like he was one of them.

At 4/06/2007 10:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, the best and most inclusive word on AI for the week. I am personally of the opinion that the longer Sanjaya stays, short of winning the whole thing, the better. The good singers will get plenty of recognition with their weeks of exposure. So what if mediocre singers like Haley, Chris (either one) Gina, or Phil get ousted a week earlier than they should? The entertainment value of Sanjaya is priceless in an otherwise boring season. And the Idol producers are loving it; all this free publicity and getting Howard Stern's fans to watch AI. I wonder if he is on the payroll. And at least Sanjaya won't start any wars.

At 4/07/2007 12:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanjaya is certainly an anodyne fellow. He dulls us from having to bewilderedly contemplate the careening-between-gruelling-&- grotesque havoc and rubble we are in willful ignorance causing around our precious Globe.

Sanjaya is a meme -- an idea/notion/fad virus that spreads pestilentially around the world faster than bird flu. (Sorry, Sunny, I see you've been bit. I have a similar thing for Rowan Atkinson.)

At 4/07/2007 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Sunny said...

Thanks for coming by - I agree with what you said. I continue to hold onto the hope. LOL! I just love this boy, no real explanation.
Talk soon,

At 4/10/2007 08:59:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Sunny thanks. I'll look for the video of Sanjaya.

Atul, I think the difference between William Hung and Sanjaya is that every now and then Sanjaya is not just a joke. He's much more flexible as a performer and he is actually entertaining.

Anonymous, yes I think Sanjaya may be the best thing this year's show has going for it.

Whatever it is....Sanjaya is a pretty interesting story.

At 4/15/2007 02:52:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I roared at your Desi comment Chancelucky and loved your take as usual on all that matters and some that doesn't.

At 4/15/2007 07:14:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Dale. I actually got interested in the whole Desi end of Sanjaya appeal through Atul's page.


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