Friday, April 17, 2009

Is There Anything to Save? (Idol 8 Round of 7)

It was nice to see Jennifer Hudson come back for results night on Idol. Her voice still sounds great; whatever issues there were about her wardrobe and look are smoothed out (though I liked the original Jennifer Hudson); She’s more comfortable doing patter. I doubt that her coming back for the round of 7 elimination was an accident. She’s both the only Idol contestant to win an Oscar and the most infamous early exit in the show’s history. As it happens, Jennifer Hudson went out in round 7. As it happens, one of this year’s gimmicks is the judges’ save option: America decides, but we get one chance to correct. Lo and behold, Jennifer Hudson comes to sing on the results show and what do those zany-unpredictable judges just happen to do for the first time? They save Justin Timberfake, I mean Matt Giraud. Imagine that!

If you’re wondering why I’ve cut back on posting about the show this year, that’s it in a nutshell. From Paula pulling out the box of crayons for Simon, to Kara flirting with male contestants, to various oblique references to Danny Gokey’s departed wife, to Scott McCintyre’s disability, everything feels rehearsed. Reality TV thrives on spontaneity. If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t seen the Susan Boyle clip from Britain’s got talent, have a look. Whether anyone really was surprised to hear that voice come out of that person, they sure acted like it and that’s what makes the video viral. Reality shows do best when things happen that just don’t seem to be scripted.

There’ve actually been some pretty memorable vocal performances on Idol in the last two years, but I still wonder if there’s been anything as arresting as Sanjaya Malakar doing Wild Thing. It’s not that the guy was a great talent, it was that there seemed to be something chaotic about his presence on the show. It’s part of why I actually watch this year when Adam Lambert performs. It’s not so much when Paula starts talking about his special sauce, it’s more interesting when he does a Middle Eastern Ring of Fire and Simon hates it. The problem is more with everyone else.

You may or may not remember the American Girls software. American Girls is this history-conscious-politically-correct line of dolls that came packaged with a backstory. Instead of Lingerie Barbie and her pink corvette, American Girls dolls were supposed to provoke little girls to think about what life was like during the revolution, working in a factory, or say a slave girl working in the Master’s plantation manor. Anyway, the dolls were a big hit so since everyone else was doing educational software the company did its own. In it, you could take their characters and stage little plays with them. Nice idea, but in those days most home computers didn’t have the horsepower to do it well.

I think American Idol licensed the software and most of the contestants are just dolls with pre-printed back stories. There’s the Desi-next door who’s kind of like Phil Stacy with a tan. He appears to work hard, has a nice voice, but there’s nothing all that interesting about his music. There’s the 16 year old rocker with the great voice who can’t quite connect with the audience yet (what was she thinking with that song from Armageddon?). There’s the nice-looking married fellow from the sticks who’s doing really well singing ballads. After 8+ performances with this cast, some weeks are good and some not so good, but I’m never all that surprised. A few times, a couple of them have come on to sing I check out the costume, figure out which way they’re going to play it fast-slow, bluesy-sensitive, etc. in about fifteen seconds then I walk out of the living room to put something in the microwave or move clothes from the washer to the dryer. I figure I can just go to the toystore and get an American Idoll next week if I change my mind. With the exception of Allison and Adam, I just don’t see any of these people having any chance to be Jennifer Hudson or Carrie Underwood. As Simon has told a few contestants this year, “I don’t see any way you can win this.” It’s true, but nine zillion people auditioned for this show, what the heck happened?

I know this is horrifying, but I’ve been paying more attention to Dancing with the Stars than Idol. One aspect of DWTS, apart from the fact that even when it’s bad there are always a handful of really attractive people on the show (Mrs. Chancelucky has developed a thing for Gilles Marini and she keeps accusing me of watching the show for Julianne Hough), there are never more than four or five people who can win on that show. For some reason, it’s still fun watching the also rans. That used to be the case on Idol, then something changed and the also rans became oddly forgettable. Does anyone remember Stephanie Edwards, Ramiele Malubay, or Brandon Rogers? Want something even more scary, who are Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver? DWTS more or less keeps the sexy factor in the mix at all costs, this year's AI cast just isn't long on that kind of appeal.

Reality TV is about surprise and a big part of the surprise is rooted in personality. Years ago, Idol had a semifinalist, Melinda Lira, who was so pissed off when she got eliminated that she didn’t go through the motions of even appearing to do her sing off. Not so good for her, but really entertaining tv. One of the joys of watching Jennifer Hudson when she was a contestant was to see both the talent and the rough-edges. It just seems like the contestant show up in the final 12 with their makeovers already done these days. It can be argued that Jordin Sparks grew some on her way to being Idol 6, but I’m hard-pressed to think of other “watch them grow” runs on the show. Taylor Hicks and David Cook pretty much had their acts tv ready. I think the same can be said of Adam Lambert. It’s also one of the reasons Melinda Doolittle didn’t make it past third. We want to see a story unfold. I don’t mean back story, a la my wife died, I mean one where things happen and change over the 20 week season. Think more Elliot Yamin.

So, what can happen to make this season more watchable? Allison Iraheta can acquire a bit more stage presence so it appears less like she’s singing into a microphone and more like she’s connecting to an audience. Lil Rounds can take Jennifer Hudson’s advice and defiantly be herself. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. If I were to list Divas who appeared on the show, well all three from Jennifer Hudson’s season were better perfomers than Lil Rounds. Throw in Carly Smithson, Mandisa, and Lakisha Jones and how can you be like the 8th best singer in your category and seriously expect to win the show? Anoop, Matt, Kris are all reasonably attractive guys with good voices who score somewhere below a 5 on virtually anyone’s originality meter. Generally, this means you finish anywhere from 3rd to 7th. Antony Federov, Chris Richardson, Ace Young, and sorry Beckeye there may even be an Australian or two who fits this category.

With the guys that Paula put in the finals like five weeks ago (like Simon, she might well have been right), I feel like we’re seeing two instances where the show got a do-over. While I think Adam Lambert is in a different talent league from Constantine, they play the same sport. Both clearly love being on stage and see their Idol performances as a “show” rather than a singing opportunity. I also think that Danny Gokey is a new and improved version of Chris Sligh. You have the church ties, the wife being part of the story, even the glasses. This time, though they took away the back talk and the blog. That said, the story with both these contestants is pretty much told. I imagine that Adam Lambert will find yet another way to surprise America, but it’s not going to be breaking news even if he wears Allison’s dress from two weeks ago. Bottom line, I suspect the only lurking story line is Allison making the jump from singer to “performer”. I wasn’t shocked that the judges pimped so hard for her on Tuesday night, whatever sauce Paul was on.

If AI wants to get its mojo back, even if it’s not Born to Be Wild, it needs to get away from being “tamed”. The performers need to take the show back from the producers and
we need to see a couple Susan Boyle moments. If you think about it, that’s more or less what Clay Aiken was so many seasons ago. Though, who knows whether he’d been kissed back then and by whom.
Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

Buddy TV AMerican Idol Page

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At 4/18/2009 12:09:00 AM, Blogger Sunny said...

Brilliant post Chance and you are right. I've been almost embarrassed to talk about the fact I still watch this show and once it was watercooler cool.

At 4/18/2009 07:01:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Sunny.
At my water cooler, they've talked about Susan Boyle this year. I've heard a little bit about Adam Lambert and virtually nothing else about Idol. It's way down from the season with Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee.

At 4/18/2009 02:32:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...

A certain Australian's new single just came out and it's pretty good.

At 4/18/2009 03:31:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

glad to hear that Olivia Newton John is recording again. Didn't know you were a fan :}

At 4/20/2009 04:46:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

Careful Chancelucky, Beckeye'll be all over you. Luckily she does love ONJ too as evidenced when she forced me to go to Xanadu the musical in NY a while back. Okay, I liked it too.

Brilliant analysis of the show. I dreamed a dream the show was good. And then I woke up.

At 4/20/2009 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Dale. I sort of remember your posting about Xanadu or was that a dream too?

At 4/21/2009 04:31:00 PM, Blogger BeckEye said...

I like how Dale tries to half-heartedly pretend that he didn't completely enjoy "Xanadu."

And I like how you both try to pretend that ONJ and Michael Johns aren't two of God's greatest gifts. But they are.


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