Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Backtalk Week (American Idol 7 round of 11)

One of the stranger things about this season is that we’ve gone five weeks and no one’s been permitted to sing a song written later than 1989. For instance, the twenty four year old Amanda Overmyer wasn’t alive when there was a USSR. Should it be any shock that she totally missed the irony in one of the Beatles most political songs? I do think this would have been a terrific song for Anthony Federov. I wasn’t that surprised that Kristie Leigh Cook had never heard the song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” but it still made me wince. Perhaps I didn’t wince quite as much as I did when hearing her try to turn “Eight Days a Week” into a country ramble or whatever annoying thing she did with the “Hey” refrain in “You’ve Got to Hide”, but it reminded me that an awful lot of time has passed between the Woodstock generation and the Idol-tunes generation. btw The difference runs deeper than getting music downloaded instead of getting loaded while listening to music on one of those record changing turntables. John Lennon died in 1980. I think only one of this year’s Idols was alive then.

In case you were wondering, the Beatles were still together when Woodstock happened in 1969. It’s just that they didn’t perform there although the movie of the event includes two Beatles covers, Richie Havens on “Here Comes the Sun” though he didn’t perform in a yellow dress nor did he do any kind of twirl just before the chorus and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”. That said, it’s not all that shocking that none of the eleven remaining contestants with the possible exception of Michael Johns appeared to have any grasp of the significance of the Beatles.

Basically, the power of the Beatles goes way beyond the fact that they created dozens of hummable melodies that now hawk a vast array of products and enhance any number of movie soundtracks (USA network was showing I Am Sam last night which I’d forgotten had a soundtrack of Beatles covers). I suppose we’d still remember and maybe even revere the Beatles if they’d chosen to remain the Shea Stadium-Ed Sullivan fab four who exploited the synergy between television and pop music to become an unprecedented marketing force. No, I never had a Paul McCartney lunch box nor did any member of my immediate family have a Ringo Starr bobblehead but I do remember when every shop in the pre-porn Times Square had an assortment of weird Beatles merchandise in its windows. Part of the power of the Beatles is that they were commercial musicians who managed to grow and change as artists. One result is that they pioneered musical ideas like the thematic linkage between the songs in Sargeant Pepper, the use of East Indian instrumentation, the mixture of styles and sendups of the White Album. Just as significant, they moved beyond just churning out danceable love songs and into the realm of social and philosophical commentary through pop music.

Because of that, the Beatles caught the volatility of the sixties perfectly by making the case for the notion that pop music mattered in ways that went way beyond album sales and sold out tours. There was a perfect tension between the pop hook sweetness of McCartney and the anger and vision of Lennon that simply couldn’t hold together forever. So much of the pop music world both before and after the Beatles has been about the “ME”, I suspect some of my generation’s reverence for the Beatles comes from the fact that they briefly made the music about the “WE”.

What I remember mainly about Tuesday night’s Idol Holds the Beatles hostage week 2 is that the backtalk from the contestants was way more memorable than the music. Whether it was the sweetness of Brooke White, the rebel without a clue of Amanda Overmyer, or Amanda Smithson’s turn at Norma Rae does American Idol, it was strangely and disturbingly about the “ME”. It reminded me that Idol is really about Coca Cola and Iphones and that the saddest thing about the materialism of the show is that all these teenagers go on it and tell the camera with utter sincerity that the show is the only dream they’ve ever had. Music is so much more than a carrier for Materialistic fantasies. Exactly what did happen to “Love Is All There Is”?


Amanda Overmyer: I can picture her rocking out on top of a flatbed truck or even packing a club in Lafayette, Indiana. I’d buy a ticket to send her back to doing that. Singing is about more than cranking up the volume and shouting. If you’re going to be a “shouter”, it also helps if you’re shouting about something. Amanda’s kind of music is usually some attempt to channel some real anger or frustration or to give voice to those who are angry, frustrated, or alone. The only thing I sense when she does her act is that she just thinks it’s cool to sound like that. So she rides the Harley, burns up her condo, and sells oxygen devices by day. Being Amanda the singer is a hobby not a mission and it shows.

I don’t blame her for being clueless about Back in the USSR, though it would have been great if she had. I blame her for being about “selling tickets” to hear “ME” sing someday. Very possible bottom 3 tonight.

Kristie Lee Cook: Can someone please get her horse out of hock so they can send her home. Does she own stock in the sparkly outfit warehouse? Simon’s more or less right about the musical wallpaper. Did she really obliquely offer to blow Simon if she gets to stay next week? Say she does survive. They need to start next Tuesday with a quick shot of Simon’s bare ankles below the judge’s table and a quick cut to Kristie. She did get herself a high-powered agent somehow.

David Archuleta: When did good become brilliant? How can you be a 17 year old on American Idol and persuade people that you’re really feeling “The Long and Winding Road”? He sounded rather remarkably McCartney like in that opening. They cranked up the shrieking girls for him again. The Beatles sang it as a valedictory to a journey from playing in basement clubs in Liverpool to being more famous than Jesus and all that came with that personally and professionally. This was a power ballad with all the detours and switchbacks removed. David’s winding road was that he had one bad week when he didn’t even hit the bottom three. I suppose there’s also the throat thing and the rumors of the demanding stage dad….mmmmm.

How bad was Tuedsay night? This was still one of the better performances.

Michael Johns: He probably shouldn’t have taken on something as complicated as “Day in the Life”. My guess is that he saw it as another possible “Bohemian Rhapsody” which also is sort of a song in three acts. I thought he performed it much better than the judges gave him credit for, but it was probably the wrong choice for this audience. I still give the guy points for at least appearing to have a real appreciation of the Beatles and their music. He also handles criticism very well. Yes, it was weird to have to stand there while Paula expounded on the pitfalls of wearing an ear monitor when you didn’t happen to be wearing one.
If anyone doesn’t like this review, I’m dedicating this post to a dead friend who loved American Idol.

Brooke White: Her version of Here Comes the Sun was like something out of Hollywood Palace or some other sixties varieties show trying to embrace the rock and roll generation. The yellow dress with the weird layered thing, the spin, and the doo de doo doo doo with the Whoo….If you paired that with Ramiele Malubay’s performance, it was like some Reality TV version of time travel.
I thought her patter in the face of the criticism came off as a bit too preemptive. “I know I sucked, I’ll go back to my box, and it’s my time to get smacked with the Simon stick.”
Last week, she was pitch perfect emotionally in her reaction to the judges. This week felt very calculated as if she was agreeing loudly so she wouldn’t actually have to listen.

David Cook: Whitesnake? The Vocoder? It was like Idol transformed into Guitar Hero. How many points did he score with that version of Ticket to Ride?

Carly Smithson: I love Blackbird. I don’t love Blackbird as a divafied version of Broken Wing. You know why Carly Smithson might have failed to catch on that first time? I’m wondering if it has something to do with not having a tv face. She’s attractive enough, it’s just that her face doesn’t communicate emotion very effectively on camera. She sang fine even if I didn’t like the arrangement.

I didn’t like the Hyde Park oratory after Simon’s comments. Why? My problem is that she’s a singer who’s now had multiple chances to hit the big time. Prior to her major label debut, she had lots of professional opportunities. Idol is yet another chance. I’m sorry she’s not a little bird who keeps struggling to fly or their spokeswoman. I appreciate the fact that she’s now an ordinary person who faces the same obstacles as any other aspiring singer, but she’s not Glenn Hansard’s character in Once busking on the street corner and borrowing money to do one recording session. She’s had connections. She’s had exposure. Her speech sort of disrespected those who might have her talent who’ve never come close to those things. She’s not really one of them.

Can’t she just settle into some job singing in clubs owned by the Russian mafia or the Yakuza during those tattoo ceremonies?

Jason Castro: Last week Simon criticized him for sounding like some guy singing in a dorm room for some girl. He responds by picking the ultimate play guitar for girl you like in dorm room song, assuming her name has the same number of syllables as Michelle. I wasn’t sure that he knew that it was a love song. Paula was right about his turning it into a kind of polka. Some of those looks at the camera with the wry smile made me think Constantine Maroulis and I never in a million years would have thought I’d be comparing these two.

Syesha Mercado: She needed to show vulnerability and sensitivity in a performance. She did that with “Yesterday”. She changed the look, brought out the cleavage, and sang mostly soft and in a higher register before bringing on her inner Mariah Carey. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to get her well back into the middle of the pack.

Chikezie: I’ve never seen a black man play harmonica with less of a sense of rhythm. Yes, I know it’s a racial stereotype. What next, we’ll start hearing that Chikezie goes to a church where the minister talks bad about white people? It’s weird how his version of “I’ve Seen a Face” did a better job of taking the Beatles country than Kristie Leigh Cook managed. How’s that for messing with racial stereotypes?

Ramiele Malubay: The decline of the pimp spot continues. She sang okay, but yes, she should have known better. It was uninspired in that it felt like she’s painting by numbers. The judges told me to try this, so I’ll do it.
Honestly, that film clip of how she loves everyone on the show worried me a bit. After they supposedly voted off her best friends in the world, she’s now calling Brooke White mom and treating David Cook as her older cooler brother? It felt sort of emotionally desperate and even a little creepy. I’m sure in real life, she’s fine. I’m just saying that it came off that way.

Okay, as addicted as I am to the show….I swear if they now do a Bob Dylan week after what they did with the Beatles, I’m done with the show.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

Buddy TV AMerican Idol Page



At 3/19/2008 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I'd love to see them take on Dylan (or at least Cate B. playing Bobby D) considering they have a hard enough time channeling the Brady Bunch even. I'm going with Syesha, Kristy Lee and Ramiele to hit the bottom three but thass just me.

At 3/19/2008 03:20:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said... guess is Kristy Lee, Amanda, Chikezie...

I haven't seen Cate Blanchett's turn as Dylan yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

fwiw, The Brady Bunch would be an excellent theme night for the show....bubblegum music...If they vote Kristy Leigh off though, I guess Brooke would have to play Marsha.

At 3/19/2008 06:25:00 PM, Blogger Gifted Typist said...

OK I'm up to date again now. Thanks.
Good point on why the show is milking the Beatles like this? Is it the Boomer demographic? It does seem ingenuous. This is musical history to these kids.. how can they seriously be expected to make it their's
Now back to my vacation....

At 3/19/2008 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that his name is not David Castro but Jason Castro?

At 3/19/2008 09:28:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...

Michael's safe. And American tweens are safe from my wrath. For now.

At 3/20/2008 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks for the catch. I've fixed it. I write these fairly fast and there've been so many Davids this year...

Hope you're having a great time on your vacation.

I imagine that Michael is extremely grateful for your four votes. I know this is sacrilege, but from some angles he looks like Billy Crystal.

At 3/20/2008 05:42:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...


You're completely out of your gourd. I hope you know that.

At 3/20/2008 08:41:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

what's wrong with Billy Crystal? He even played for the Yankees. he's going to be on Idol Cares, I assume that Michael Johns will still be on the show then....can figure it out then :)


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