Thursday, May 10, 2007

Strayin Alive (American Idol 6 review round of 4)

"Idol has clearly decided to be a bit more modern this year."

My wife and I were so excited about Barry Gibb night on Idol that we replaced our living room ceiling fan with a mirror ball and I put on my white suit and medallion while she dressed up as Karen Lynn Gorney. Do I have that right, maybe I dressed up in the frilly dress with the satiny layers and she had on the white suit and platform loafers? While other middle-aged adults tell us that their lives would have been no poorer had the Bee Gees never made it here from Australia, we’ve never given up on all that was great about Disco Culture. Where would modern life be had it not been for polyester suits, platform shoes, hairspray, cocaine, and idiotic lyrics coupled to a thumping beat? Do you think we’d be anywhere near as vapid, materialistic, and tasteless as we are today had it not been for Disco? It seems to me that only Idol would be nostalgic at all about Disco and keep a straight face about it. Even John Travolta buried Tony Manero with Vincent Vega. After Tuesday, do I have to point out that at least that scene from Pulp Fiction made me feel like dancing?

When Randy Jackson whooped up one of the worst musical nights in Idol history by commenting on all the incredible songs that Barry Gibb had written, I turned to my wife and said, “SAT question for you-George and Ira Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney, Holland Dozier Holland, Barry and Maurice Gibb- Which one of these doesn’t fit?”

Despite what Barry Gibb claimed about hundreds of people covering “To Love Somebody”, I actually couldn’t find anyone who covered the song and made it a hit who didn’t grow up in Australia and sing harmony with his brothers.(yes, Rod Stewart, Nina Simone, and Michael Bolton all sang it, but gold record “no”, maybe Barry is refering to some alternate Beegeeverse) While dozens of artists cover the Gershwins, the Beatles, and Motown, the only performer I can think of who ever covers the Bee Gees is Will Farrell. I will grant that he is better at it than Blake Lewis.

Okay, you want scary? Imagine if Idol actually does turn Blake Lewis into a star and for Idol 46 this gray-haired man comes on stage to mentor Haley Scarnato’s granddaughter for “Beatbox Night.” There’s an elderly Blake standing there with his Casio and his longtime companion and best bud Chris R., who gave up show business to work for a nasal decongestant company. For old times sake, they invite Ryan to hang with his grandchildren and his fourth wife Anna Nicole Smith the Third. Ryan’s twins Paula and Simon Seacrest manage to drop by too.

A really talented gospel singer who’s favored to win this season comes to Blake to cover his now legendary version of Amazing Grace for Idol Cares 36. This year’s show is dedicated to saving all the starving young women in Hollywood who have hideous things done to various parts of their bodies for which the only known cure is cultural sanity. Idol holds a telethon instead and a three hundred and fifty pound, brunette, Paris Hilton comes on the show in her tuxedo-print t-shirt to pitch for the cause and to mention her conversion to Evangelical Christianity. There’s Blake coaching our gospel singer, “I know you have this beautiful resonant voice, but that’s so Twentieth Century. You need to mix it up with idiotic noises that sound like you’re really trying to spit up a big ball of mucus in rhythm. Today’s audience just doesn’t want to hear Amazing Grace sung in a way that raises goose bumps.”

Of course, by then, Beatboxing has instead of being a gimmick turned out to be a legitimate extension of the pop music idiom like the long notes in Dick Dale’s surf guitar, Ella Fitzgerald’s scatting, or Jimi Hendrix’s use of feedback and amplifier distortion. Even when singers do the national anthem before football games, they have to add in minimum of eight bars of beat boxing. By 2030, it hits its peak when President Sanjaya Malakar beat boxes through seven minutes of his State of the Union address and Congress not only gives him a standing ovation, both parties the right wing Republicans and the moderate Republicans spontaneously cross the aisle to do the robot together while a 13 year old girl is seen crying in the balcony. It did help that he was also announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq which somehow coincided with the last oil well in that country being tapped out, but in 2031 Blake Lewis finds his way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Kurt Cobain.

It doesn’t end there, of course. The French decide to replace Jerry Lewis with Blake Lewis. The New York Philharmonic debuts Blake’s Beatbox Concerto alongside Mahler’s First Symphony. The Pulitzer Prize in Music is awarded to Blake Lewis and the jury notes that “This central innovation for the first great music of the Twenty First Century all started on American Idol when Paula Abdul declared him a "rebel".”

Okay, you think that’s a nightmare? Imagine what it’s like to fast forward your Tivo and find Barry Gibb bleating through a cover of Jordin Sparks’s “To Love Somebody” some fifteen years after you’d convinced yourself that all the Brothers Gibb had finally gone away. I wonder if the producers of Idol have Alzheimers? Was it just two weeks ago that they had Lisa Kudrow, Hugh Grant, Helen Merrill, et. al. more or less parodying “Staying Alive” ?

Lakisha Jones - My wife was rooting for Lakisha. Last year, she rooted for Chris Daughtry who coincidentally also finished fourth. She argues that Lakisha’s rawness was really an asset because she was the only singer left in the show with a day job outside the music business and was thus truer to the spirit of Idol.

It’s true. Even Jordin Sparks has been on the professional performer track for a while. When they were doing the back story stuff on the final four, it struck me that more photos of the daughter and talk about her actual life would have helped Lakisha considerably. Her onstage personality generally didn’t match her big-exuberant voice. For some reason too, the producers had a habit of showing Lakisha getting coached by the guest mentors, then clearly not following their advice for the actual performance.

I liked her sing out version minus that odd note at the end more than I liked her Tuesday night take on Staying Alive. It was interesting too that she chose to do the song the Judges had liked less. For some reason, Lakisha Jones was always best singing about “defiance” in some form. There actually are any number of Disco hits like “I Will Survive” that would have served her well, but the Bee Gees not so much. I think America liked the voice. It was Lakisha the persona and the performer that didn’t quite come across.
I’m not sure how she’ll do post-Idol, but the show actually needs more Lakishas to maintain its credibility. The dream really is that the world will discover that some bank teller has this incredible voice, not that some working musician just needed to be seen a bit more.

Jordin Sparks - Odd that a few weeks ago, Jordin Sparks told Ryan that she absolutely loves 80’s music. It then just happens that two critical weeks of the show are straight out of the 80’s. Even odder, she didn’t do all that well with either Bon Jovi or Barry Gibb. I did agree with the judges that “To Love Somebody” might have been the best performance of a mostly dismal night (Melinda might have been better with Broken Heart), but she sang it as a straight ballad.

Simon’s pageant remarks may remind audiences that Jordin’s stage presence is a bit on the slick side. In that sense, she’s the polar opposite of Lakisha. I don’t know that the producers necessarily want her to win, but they’re constantly dropping Barry Gibb-like hints that Jordin may be the most bankable of the three finalists in that she’s the only one with some combination of voice, personality, look, and contemporary feel.

There was an item a couple weeks ago that Tony Bennett spoke directly with Simon Cowell about Idol’s crash and burn trajectory. Bennett basically said that instead of nurturing talent, the show launches it. He suggested that the show support a series of small clubs where some of its performers could work and develop. Simon supposedly said that he was making too much money this way to try Tony’s. The difference may be that Tony Bennett loves the music and the singers. Jordin may be as well-prepared as any teen singer has been for Idol and post-Idol success. Even in her case, though, I think she’d be better served by the other sytem where she’d get to take some risks, work out her own style, and add some emotional depth before going into Pop music orbit.

Briefly on the topic of reality- I saw an article that suggested that now that he's been voted off the show, Phil Stacy might get sent to Iraq. No, he wouldn't be doing house to house searches in Fallujah, he's an entertainment specialist for them. He'd be sent there to entertain the troops. I'm pretty sure that was a fully-clothed Haley Scarnato in the audience on Tuesday. Maybe it comes from watching too many Bob Hope specials when I was a kid, but sending Phil Stacy to entertain the troops may be yet another sign of how misguided this whole war is. Even Judge Judy would have told W that if you want to boost morale, you send Haley Scarnato.

If I could make another plea here, please go back to the 30 minute format on Wednesday night. All of these filler ads and iffy guest singers don't exactly have me tickled pink.

Melinda Doolittle - If this show were American Singer, everyone else would have gone home a long time ago. The judges repeatedly call her the resident professional which in the Idol dictionary says “see backup singer.” Honestly, if you listen to showbiz folk talk if you ever get called a “professional” whether it’s acting, singing, dancing, comedy, it means that you’re not the star attraction.

Melinda actually does have an engagingly goofy personality, it’s just not outsized. In fact, her whole stage persona is built around her being endearingly modest and quirky. She chews food the same number of times on each side of her mouth. Her mother scratched out “Bad” and wrote “Good” on a Michael Jackson album. Her eyes well up with tears when the judges praise her. She has slightly less sex appeal than Barry Gibb. I like it, but it’s got to terrify the promoters. How do you sell tickets to a show for someone who just sings good? What a bizarre concept!

To be honest, as much as I liked the way she took the treacle out of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, I thought Paula kind of caught the issue. Melinda had used more or less the same technical trick to vamp up the ending of “My Funny Valentine” several weeks ago. As weird as it sounds, there’s a musician that gets between the song and the audience. A lot of stars get across that kind of emotion, because they lead pretty dramatic lives themselves. Melinda doesn’t embody that kind of drama, yet there’s something perverse about us that likes playing witness to other people’s raw emotional drama onstage. We don’t just want our star singers to have outsized vocal talent, they’re supposed to have outsized lives that they find ways to put on display for our vicarious pleasure. It’s the modern version of a ritual sacrifice. Thus far, Melinda Doolittle doesn’t appear to have the blood and fire for her music to seem to come from some primal place that skips the notes and gets straight to the heart. I also happen to like that about her. Still, it’s part of what made Fantasia work. The angst also contributes to Clay Aiken’s appeal.

On the other hand, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have done fine without it, but attractive white women singers often get held to a different performing standard. While I’d root for Melinda Doolittle to win this, I just don’t know how they’re going to market her. Of course, that’s not my problem and it shouldn’t be America’s either.

In the meantime, if I never hear a Bee Gees cover again or a beatbox, I would die with no regrets.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot MelindaDoolittle American Idol



At 5/10/2007 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Tanya Espanya said...

Thank you for writing this great review. I was most disturbed overall by my poor Barry - he just don't look like he did 30 years ago...what's up with that?

I think they should have brought Andy Gibb to sing...*sigh* Andy...I know, I was only 6 when SNF came out, so what was I doing liking them, but whatever...I'm slutty.


At 5/10/2007 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Tanya,
Well, if they could have Elvis singing with Celine Dion two weeks ago, they can certainly get Andy Gibb on the show.

At 5/12/2007 02:19:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

But could they get Victoria Principal to break his heart like she broke her Jhirmack contract.

Great review and hilarious Chancelucky. Blake was so awful, well none of them dazzled did they? Ugh.

Really interesting about Stony Bennett's idea.

At 5/12/2007 02:56:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...

You had me at the picture of John. *sigh*

And, oh my God, Dale....JHIRMACK! I had forgotten all about that shampoo. That went the way of Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific.

At 5/12/2007 07:01:00 PM, Blogger Tanya Espanya said...

I keep meaning to ask you, how do you set up your post so that half of it shows and then you have that Read More option?

At 5/13/2007 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The other weird Gibb connection was that Lulu, who mysteriously showed up as a guest mentor after having disappeared for two decades, was married to Maurice Gibb.

Where is Victoria Principal these days?
I wonder if Tony Bennet really was sick that Wednesday or if his disappearance was the result of that conversation.

That's not John Travolta, that's me and Mrs. Chancelucky. We were all set to start dancing in our living room until we heard 8 versions of BEe Gees songs you couldn't possibly dance to.

On your Blogger posting page, go to "Blogger help" and put "expandable posts" into the search box. You'll get an article that explains how to do it. If you need help beyond that, please let me know and I can probably get you there.

At 5/13/2007 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Tanya Espanya said...

Cool, thanks, Chance. I'll read up on it and see if I can get it to work. Or I'll just sit and cry and stop blogging.

At 5/13/2007 06:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How I long for us in the US to have become "vapid, materialistic, and tasteless" rather than the arrogant and bloodthirsty we’ve so sorrily become. It probably would have saved the planet this grotesque spasm of blood & flashflood of cash for destruction if Dick had done more Disco.

CL, this is, among so many excellent reviews, the best piece you've done on Idol. Maybe because it's winding down and you're sick to the bone of its faux fripperies. It's trenchant on steroids. Hurray!

I'm not sure how I missed all of "polyester suits, platform shoes, hairspray, and cocaine," but I'll still vote for disco and even the Beegees if they just make us vapid rather than rabid . . .

At 5/13/2007 09:21:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
I hadn't thought about it that way, though it's sort of a Reagan vs. Bush difference.

I keep thinking about Blake Lewis and coming back to the simple conclusion that Dancin didn't make anyone feel like dancing.


Post a Comment

<< Home