Archive for May, 2010

Idol: Crystal Tipped

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged Idol for the past couple of weeks. Partly that’s because I’ve been too busy, first prepping to go to Tokyo, and then actually being in Tokyo. But it’s also because, dear God, people, have you noticed how awful this season of Idol has been? One can only grit one’s teeth and trudge on through it for so long. Eventually, shitiocrity fatigue sets in.

Now we come to the final week, and the results are just a few hours away, so it’s safe to say that this was unquestionably the worst season of Idol. There can be no quibbling about that. Since Kelly Clarkson’s coronation and the Clay/Ruben battle, we’ve had the diva season (Fantasia, LaToya, Jennifer), the Southern season (Carrie and Bo), the fabulous wreck that was Taylor Hicks/Katherine McPhee, the epic sixth season (Melinda, Sanjaya, Blake, Jordan), the battle of the two Davids, and The Year of La Lambert. There were crap contestants and crap shows every year, but there was always a story, and there were always a few people to cheer for and a few people to boo, and it was always an entertaining diversion. This season was just limp.

Not that this season didn’t have a hero. Crystal Bowersox is clearly a very talented and atypically authentic Idol contestant, with a great voice and genuine musical ability. The problem is, there was no-one around to challenge her, and that made the whole season a tiresome drawn-out bore. She might as well have been given a free pass to the final two.


There were people who could have put up a more interesting fight against her, but Lily Scott was voted out way too early, and Siobhan Magnus succumbed to bad advice, and towards the end we were left with the shockingly dull quartet of Aaron Kelly, Mike Lynche, Casey James and Lee DeWyze. You know those political polls were they put a known candidate up against ‘Generic Candidate’ to see how they might fare? Those four boys were all Generic Candidates, and none of them were fit to touch Dame Crystal’s hem.

For what it’s worth - and it’s not worth much - Lee DeWyze is the nominated generic candidate. Last week the judges made a considerable effort to persuade us that Lee was a contender, spouting the most egregious bullshit about his growth and talent (while unceremoniously kicking third-place contestant Casey James to the curb). They even got Lee to sing Hallelujah, which is the ultimate pimp song.


Can Lee sing? Sure, OK, I suppose so. He doesn’t have great vocal control, but there’s something there. Can he perform? No. He’s a sleepy lump on the stage, wholly lacking in charisma. Silence is more engaging.

Can he win? Of course he can. He made it to the final two, and the final is always a toss-up. And never underestimate the appeal of someone safe, pedestrian and mid-Western to the safe, pedestrian mid-Western audience. He could be crowned champion tonight - but he’s no Idol.

Of course, the same could be said for Crystal. She’s probably not what the producers were looking for. She had never seen the show before she auditioned, and it was clear at the outset that she didn’t really understand what she was getting into. She seems to understand it now, but she still bristles at the idea of being a performing puppet and singing nothing but cover songs. Whoever wins this year’s Idol will not fit the mould, and will likely be a tough sell for marketing team.

The contestants each have different ‘winner’s songs’ this year, and those songs showed the size of the chasm between them, but also showed what odd ducks they both are. Lee’s song is U2’s Beautiful Day, which is reason enough to pray he doesn’t win. Astonishingly, he made the song even more mawkishly grating than it was before. When the performance was over, it seemed that the judges were embarrassed to have him up there at all.

Crystal’s song is Up to the Mountain, a little known folk song about Martin Luther King. She sang it beautifully, but it really doesn’t feel like the sort of song - or the sort of performance - that you expect five months of American Idol to lead up to.

Lee can win tonight; I’m fairly certain that he won’t, and I’ll be very happy if Crystal is the victor, as inevitable and plodding an event as that would seem. In a way, she’s as subversive an Idol finalist as Adam Lambert was, because she represents real musicianship peeking its green roots through the asphalt of modern manufactured pop. Whether she can go on to any kind of commercial success, even with Idol behind her (for as long as it stays behind her), is hard to guess, since her music would probably appeal most to the sort of people who hate Idol.

The worst ever season of Idol should yet come to a solid conclusion, and hopefully the show can recover next year. But, is it possible that Idol has run out of plausible contestants? Should they rest the show or a few years while America grows a new crop of TV-friendly talent? It now makes sense that Simon Cowell has decided to quit after this season, but I bet he’s wishing he’d made that decision a year earlier. How disappointing, to go out with a whimper.

7 Reasons A Tory Government Might Not Be The End of The World

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

It’s election day in the UK, and while we may well be heading for a hung parliament with the outside possibility of a Lib/Lab pact, I’m girding myself for the horrible possibility of a Tory victory. Is it the end of the world? Almost certainly!

But it might not be. I’m clinging to a few scant scraps of comfort in the event of a Cameron government. Such as…

1. What It Feels Like For A Girl
Most forecast models agree that a Tory majority looks unlikely. The rich white Eton boys have never been part of a minority before - this could be an exciting experience for them! The important point about this is that a minority government doesn’t have much of a mandate. Even if the Tories win, they may not be able to pursue an aggressive agenda. Then again, they may, if the opposition is wet enough. Ask a Canadian.

2. Brown Out
Frankly, I suspect it’s all over for Gordon whatever the outcome, because a Lib/Lab coalition might depend on his ouster, even if that does mean a second successive unelected prime minister. (Actually, a 76th successive unelected prime minister, because we don’t directly elect prime ministers, but you get the point.) If Dave wins, I take consolation that we will never speak of Gordon Brown again. He was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad prime minister. (But I’d still rather ten more years of him than a single week of David Cameron.)

3. Cleggmania
My biggest worry about a Tory government is that we may lose our best shot in years at electoral reform and the introduction of proportional representation in the UK. First-past-the-post politics has for too long condemned the country to rule by minority interests, and reform is necessary. The Lib Dems got a lot of attention in this election thanks to Nick Clegg’s strong performance in the leaders’ debates, and the party may score their best performance since their formation. Clegg’s star could rise higher as a Tory opponent than it might in a Lib/Lab coalition. The Liberals are on the landscape now, and they’ll have more to kick against in a Tory nation.

4. Winner Takes It All
Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, reportedly suggested that the winner of this election will be rendered unelectable for a generation because of the severity of the deficit cuts that they would need to introduce. So, good luck with that, David.

5. A Timely Reminder
The Tories are awful, awful people. Some people seem to have forgotten that, which is why they’re on course to get the biggest share of the vote. The Tories don’t like you. They don’t care about you. They will try to ruin your life. They will shut down women’s shelters and homeless shelters and youth clubs. They will hinder minority rights and keep brilliant foreigners out of the country because they talk funny. They will take a hacksaw to the NHS, and they will turn the BBC into a pirate radio station. They will remove safeguards on everything from banks to trains just to turn an extra buck. They will guarantee that struggling families have to struggle more, and that people on the fringes of society are pushed further to the fringe, because they are only interested in the preservation of wealth among the wealthy and the conservation of stifling and fantastical Victorian values. They are monstrously awful. Putting them back in power will remind us of that pretty quickly.

6. Thatcher Versus Twitter
Social media like Twitter are making it easier for people to disseminate information while circumventing the Murdoch-controlled mainstream press. We’ve seen what effect that can have already in the way that The Sun has failed to dominate the message in this election. It’s much harder now for conservatives to get away with selfish abuses that they claim are in the public interest when the public has a voice and a means to mobilise. Thatcher never had to deal with Twitter. The Tories have never had to worry about the Internet. The game has changed. You won’t get away with it this time, right wing politics!

7. Britons Will Learn A New Word
That word is ‘prorogation’. It hasn’t happened in the UK for a while, but it’s probably going to happen again soon. Ask a Canadian.

All of which is to try to put a good light on a terrible turn of events. A Tory government will be a disaster for women and all minorities, for the unemployed and the disadvantaged, for children, schools, and young people, for the homeless, for the BBC, for the NHS, for the world, and for you. Be afraid. Be fucking terrified.

Idol: Rat Trap

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I think a lot of the hate that gets levelled at American Idol comes from people who believe it’s damaging to music - it cynically churns out production-line pop stars with zero integrity.

Of course, these contestants are real kids who usually possess a real desire to make music - the fame whores mostly get weeded out. American Idol hasn’t really invented anything; it’s just created a new process to get us to the same place, using kids who’d have as much claim as anyone to legitimacy if they came up through another route. The food industry doesn’t make good food; it makes processed food. The music industry is the same. That’s what industries do; they sell packaging.

None of which is meant to excuse what Idol does - and I’ll let you in on a secret. A lot of the people who love Idol also hate that it cynically churns out production-line pop stars. A lot of the people who love Idol are frustrated by the way the judges and producers chip away at the contestants’ individualism to try to fit them into a pre-formed vision of an existing artist they want them to be like. Or, more accurately, an artist they want them to sell like.


Take, for example, Siobhan Magnus. Siobhan was voted off last week - but it wasn’t the Siobhan I’d been cheering for earlier in the season. That Siobhan disappeared weeks ago. That quirky, expressive, operatic alien - a latter-day Siobhan Fahey - was a popular performer. She screeched a lot, but she was exciting to watch and never boring. Then the judges whittled her down with their usual incomprehensible and contradictory advice until she was a bland and uninteresting shell of her former self. The audience doesn’t want that, and that’s why she’s not on stage this week.

And that’s why there’s not much at all on stage this week; everything is neutered. It’s Crystal Bowersox and four dull boys.

This week’s theme is Sinatra, and this week’s mentor is Harry Connick Jr, who must be thrilled that Michael Bublé was apparently unavailable. I didn’t know that was this week’s theme when I mixed myself a Martini, but my Martini is probably the classiest thing I’ll see this evening.

To Connick Jr’s credit, he not only mentored the contestants, but did the arrangements and led the band - which is why the music is a lot better this week.

From worst to best:


5. Casey James, aka Joey Bishop
Casey pulled his hair back this week, which was very good. He looks like Poochie most of the time. Sadly the hair was the only good thing about his performance of Blue Skies. His voice sounded so tight and strained that I thought he’d trot out the old ‘I had a cold’ excuse. But it was just the ‘I’m a bit rubbish’ excuse.

4. Aaron Kelly, aka Peter Lawford
Aaron is still here because he’s never been the worst, but that’s all he has in his favour. He’s the wetter, more in-tune version of Tim Urban. I miss Tim Urban. Aaron got to sing one of the greatest of all vintage swing numbers, Fly Me To The Moon, but vintage swing is not in Aaron’s crayon box. His phrasing was muddy and his performance belonged at the kiddie table. His swing was so lacking that it officially didn’t mean a thing.

3. Lee DeWyze, aka Dean Martin
Connick played an awesome church organ for his arrangement of That’s Life, instantly making this a much more interesting performance than it ought to be. I like boiled potatoes a lot, so it’s a shame that I always mentally associate Lee with a boiled potato. He’s not anywhere near as delicious. But you know what I mean, right? He might be improved with butter. His That’s Life had no life. The judges jizzed all over it, not because it was good but because we’re officially designating Lee as Crystal’s competition. Fine, then let’s fast-forward to the end, shall we?


2. Crystal Bowersox, aka Sammy Davis Jr
Crystal was a bit reedy this week, a bit buried by the music. Summer Wind is a beautiful song, and she softened it, but she didn’t reinvent it. I would have expected her to get her Nina Simone on with this, but perhaps Crystal Bowersox doesn’t have a Nina Simone? The girl isn’t perfect, you know.

1. Big Mike Lynche, aka Frank
Big Mike, in first place? Oh, you better recognise! Here’s the thing about Mike; he may not have the likeability factor, but he knows how to sing, and he belted out The Way You Look Tonight like he knew what he was doing. It was rich, tuneful and very strong - easily the best of the night. Mike will probably go home this week.

Anyway, that was a shitty show.