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The Post-Game Show

Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume One

June 17th, 2010

The first season of Glee came to an end last week, and a great sadness chilled our hearts. The show’s delicious mix of theatrical camp and outsider sentimentality will be sorely missed on this sofa over the summer months.

There has never been a show quite like Glee, and it could easily have bombed, so it’s a relief to see a show about gays and divas and boys who dance has become a hit – and more than that, a minor cultural phenomenon. It’s also a delight to see Jane Lynch finally getting her long-deserved superstar turn.

Glee has a lot of faults, some of which I would normally find unforgiveable – the characterisation has been especially horribly sloppy at times – but if you buy in to the conceit that this is a musical, with bigger emotions and crazier people than you’re used to seeing on TV, then it’s much easier to bite in to the sweet, sweet Glee confectionery.

It’s also much easier to forgive flaws in a show that gives you fantastically staged foot-tapping musical numbers every week. The very point of musicals is that they’re the best kind of escapism. People who don’t get them tend to complain that they can’t get to grips with the idea of people breaking into song and dance all the time. It’s too unrealistic. People who love musicals might argue that ‘unrealistic’ is the point. Musicals are impressionistic. They capture the intensity of a moment in emotional full bloom. Sometimes with a shuffle ball change.

The music has its faults as well. For example, there have been way too many numbers centred on Rachel and Finn. As the show’s central couple, their spotlight is inevitable, but it draws too much attention away from a splendid ensemble, and puts too much weight on actor Cory Monteith’s still developing vocals. There has also been a horrible tendency to get Broadway star Matthew Morrison to sing (and dance to) hip-hop and R&B. Gold Digger was fine. Bust A Move was too much. The Thong Song was unforgivable.

Then there’s the show’s biggest problem: Auto-Tune. The pitch correction was egregious in the first half of the season. It seemed to settle down slightly in the second half.

But when the show is good, it’s great. These – in my opinion – were the fifteen best performances in season one. Sometimes it’s the vocals, sometimes it’s the dancing, sometimes it’s the story, and ideally it’s all three. (I’ve included videos and audio links, but these may be taken down at any time.)

15. Four Minutes – Mercedes & Kurt (Ep 15: The Power of Madonna)
There were a lot of highlights to the Madonna episode – most famously the Sue Sylvester version of Vogue, and the cheerleader stilt dance to Ray of Light. Four Minutes is not usually one of my favourite Madonna numbers, but it was my favourite here, thanks in no small part to the presence of a full marching band.

14. Lean On Me – Artie, Mercedes & New Directions (Ep 10: Ballad)
Glee’s song choices are eclectic, ranging from little know contemporary pop numbers to 80s classics to show tunes. Of course, there’s always room for a hoary inspirational standard like Lean On Me, but Glee has a pretty good track record of finding something new to do with them. In this instance, they turned it into hand-clapping gospel roof-raiser and gave the song a much needed spark.

13. Keep Holding On – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Who knew that an Avril Lavigne song could have so much pathos? This one is a favourite despite some particularly obvious Auto-Tune and some weirdly mangled vowel sounds. Sung by the choir in support of Quinn when she was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant, it was one of the show’s best acted and most affecting numbers.

12. Somebody To Love – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Queen has cropped up in three episodes of Glee. As one of the most theatrical acts of all time, it’s a good fit. This show-stopper was perhaps the first time that the show got the vocal layering right. It’s still dominated by Finn and Rachel, but the other voices all came through – most notably Amber Riley’s incredible wail.

11. Dream A Little Dream of Me – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
Kevin McHale’s vocal on this was beautifully emotive and felt utterly sincere, but what made this a performance was the tap routine by Jenna Ushkowitz and the incomparable Harry Shum Jr. Shum rarely gets a showcase, but his dancing always catches my eye. He’s one of the show’s most magnetic performers, and hopefully more will be made of him in season two.

10. Sweet Caroline – Puck (Ep 8: Mash-Up)
Cory Monteith as Finn is meant to be the show’s schoolboy heartthrob, but bad boys are always so much more interesting. Mark Salling as Puck has been one of the big TV crush objects of the past year, and it helps that the actor has a surprisingly lovely voice when given the chance to show it. The only thing better than a bad boy is a bad boy who can make you swoon.

9. To Sir With Love – New Directions (Ep 22: Journey)
The season finale was packed with great performances, but this one was the emotional core. It’s not the Lulu number I’d have expected to hear on Glee, but of course it makes perfect sense, and it gave us the most satisfying coda we could have asked for to the characters’ first season journeys.

8. Poker Face – Rachel/Shelby (Ep 20: Theatricality)
The immediate consensus on this number came in two parts. First of all, why in the world did they choose this ‘bluffin’ with my muffin’ number for a mother-daughter duet? Second, who cares – it was amazing! This is a completely unexpected Barbra Streisand-meets-Cyndi Lauper reinterpretation that’s absolutely blissful. It’s a pleasure to hear Idina Menzel and Lea Michele having so much fun.

7. My Life Would Suck Without You – Rachel & New Directions (Ep 13: Sectionals)
This was the closer to the first half-season, but it was as good a season-ender as you’re ever likely to get; a tremendous feel-good performance. What really sells it, and makes it a favourite, is the dance routine, which recaps dance moves from throughout the first twelve episodes.

6. The Lady Is A Tramp – Puck/Mercedes (Ep 18: Laryngitis)
This is Puck letting his mask slip again, this time to show us his best Rat Pack slide. That alone would make this a wonderful number, but then Amber Riley unleashes an even more splendid surprise – she’s not just a great R&B wailer; she can also do an impressive Ella Fitzgerald.

5. Run Joey Run – Rachel, with Finn, Jesse and Puck (Ep 17: Bad Reputation)
This is one of the most delightfully cheesy things I’ve ever seen on television. I didn’t know the song, but the execution is witty and exuberant enough to make it an easy sell. Rachel as a winking angel? Sandy as a shotgun-toting father? Puck in an undershirt? Bravo!

4. Hate On Me – Mercedes (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Amber Riley is a powerhouse vocalist who, as the show’s own joke goes, is brought in to deliver the killer note at the end of every big number. But sometimes she gets a whole song to herself, and it’s always amazing. This was her best – a triumphant R&B ball-buster with plenty of brass (literal and metaphorical).

3. One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not a Home – April & Will (Ep 16: Home)
Here was the purest musical theatre moment in the show - two stage pros performing a pair of amazing Bacharach numbers as they expose their inner turmoil through song. Endlessly re-watchable.

2. The Safety Dance – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
The show’s most entertaining dance number is a bit unexpected, both because it’s an unlikely song, and because presenting it as a flashmob should have felt stale and predictable. Director Joss Whedon did a terrific job with his episode of Glee, and this fantasy sequence –Artie getting out of his wheelchair and setting off a dance routine in the mall – is the highlight of the episode. Energetic choreography, superbly directed.

1. Maybe This Time – April/Rachel (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Kristen Chenoweth is Glee’s secret weapon, and while it’s tempting to wish that she could be in every episode, perhaps it’s better that we keep her as a special treat. This number pitted two of the show’s best voices head-to-head on a wrenching Cabaret classic. Cheno is an amazing vocal actor, and this number breaks my heart every time.

Idol: Crystal Tipped

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.

bowersox

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.

dewyze

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

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

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.

siobhan

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:

caseyjames

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?

crystal-bowersox

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.

Deadliest Warrior: Huns On The Run

April 28th, 2010

Note: This blog entry contains spoilers for the second episode of the second season of Deadliest Warrior.

I’m a big fan of Deadliest Warrior. It’s the best sort of silly television - a drunken pub conversation about whether a Roman gladiator could beat up an Apache, except in this pub conversation they bring in a champion knife fighter to throw the Apache’s knife, and then they get former UFC champion Chuck Liddell to punch a side of beef with a bladed boxing glove, and when they’ve done all that they feed some numbers into a computer, generate some ‘kill’ statistics, and get some stuntmen to play dress-up and act out the final fight.

These final fights probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This is really a show about weapons, where they test the lethality of everything from katanas to flame-throwers against dead livestock and gel torsos. The big fight really just hangs the tests together. I don’t think a computer can really predict the outcome of a completely hypothetical fight.

Even so, this week’s episode was a big disappointment. Actually, that’s not fair; this week’s episode was terrific, but the result was a disappointment.

It was Attila the Hun (below) versus Alexander the Great. Usually the show picks classes of warrior, not individuals, but they’ve gone down the historical figure route before with William Wallace versus Shaka Zulu, and they’ll do it again several times this season.

attila3

Now, Alexander is a bit of a personal obsession. I’ve read probably a dozen biographies of the man. I think he’s a fascinating character and a titanic military mind. So I’m obviously biased. Even so, I think this was an easy win for Alexander, and I thought I would be devastated if he lost.

And then… he lost. And I was more disappointed than devastated - because I remain utterly confident that he wouldn’t have lost. He was the better combatant, the more brilliant tactician, the greater all-rounder. Unlike Attila, he was never defeated in battle - so it seems a bit presumptuous for a computer program to hand him a defeat when his enemies never could. Alexander would not lose to Attila. Which means that this show - which I’m almost as obsessed with as I am with Alexander - got it wrong. They got it badly wrong. And it wasn’t all the computer’s fault.

Here’s my pub conversation starter; ten reasons why Deadliest Warrior was wrong about Attila versus Alexander.

10. Computers Aren’t People
We, the audience, don’t know what fancy algorithms drive the computer program that runs the fight simulations. We don’t even know how much data goes in. However, I’m willing to bet there isn’t a field on their front-end for the personality profiles of famous dead people. Inputting the velocity of a spear is one thing; how do you tell a computer that Alexander was so fearless that he once threw himself behind enemy lines to force his army to surge after him? The computer isn’t running an Alexander simulation; it’s running a simulation on a generic Macedonian and a generic Hun.

ballista

9. You Don’t Bring A Ballista to a Sword Fight
The show usually tests four weapons for each warrior. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious that they choose weapons not because they’re what the warrior would have chosen, but because they want to have a go with them. I’m sure the conversation at the production office for this one went; “Hey, we could test a ballista”; “Hell yes we could”.

A ballista is a spear-chucking catapult. It’s an awesome machine - for siege warfare. Alexander was one of history’s greatest practitioners of siegecraft. But he was also a brilliant tactician, and a master of choosing the right tool for the job, and in a direct fight againt a mounted opponent, he would never have relied on a catapault. The ballista scored seven kills out of a thousand simulations. It was a terrible choice.

8. You Don’t Bring A Belly Bow Either
Of Alexander’s other three weapons, two performed very well. His spear racked up 225 kills in a thousand simulations. His sword got another 120. These two weapons got more kills than three out of four of Attila’s. But for his fourth weapon, Attila got a Hunnic compound bow, while Alexander got something called a belly bow - a slow-loading, awkward-to-aim giant crossbow that’s held against the archer’s belly.

Here’s an interesting thing about Alexander’s army; they had the same bows as the Huns! The show called these composite bows Hunnic bows, but they’re actually Scythian bows, and Alexander used Scythian archers. Now, I don’t know if Alexander often carried a bow, but he was a huntsman, so he’d have used one if it were appropriate. If you’re going to give him a bow, you wouldn’t give him a belly bow, which he couldn’t use on horseback - you’d give him a Scythian bow.

7. Two Out of Four Weapons Ain’t Bad
As I said, Alexander’s spear and sword performed very well, both in the tests and in the simulation - but Alexander would never have used the ballista or the belly bow in this type of fight, which means he’s down by two weapons. Even if we give him a Scythian bow, he’s still down by one. So give him his axe, or his club, or his short sword, and let’s run those numbers again! Or give him some spiky caltrops to throw under the hooves of Attila’s horse, and let’s see how Attila copes with that. (In fairness, Attila got one crappy weapon as well; a lasso. And that scored thirty kills!)

alexander3

6. Armour Is Not For Wimps
Attila wore light armour because he thought it gave him better mobility. Fine; but it didn’t give him much protection. The episode showed us how badly Attila’s armour fared against a Macedonian spear, and how well Alexander’s helmet fared against the Hun’s axe. What we didn’t see was how well either armour fared against arrows or swords, and that leaves a huge hole in the data. If they didn’t run those tests and include that data, the simulation is meaningless. Attila’s inferior sword would have bounced off Alexander’s armour.

5. Attila’s Inferior Sword and Attila’s Superior Swordsman
Oh yes; Attila’s inferior sword. Despite the judges claiming that Attila’s sword had the advantage over Alexander’s, it scored only 117 kills to Alexander’s 120. Alexander’s sword was better (or at least the equal of Attila’s), but it tested worse. How can this be? I assume it’s because the guys doing the testing were mismatched. The mounted weapons specialist on Team Attila was amazing. The two guys testing Alexander’s weapons didn’t have anything like the same proficiency. Attila’s guy was probably close to the competence level of a Hunnic warrior; Alexander’s guy was not trained to the level of a Macedonian soldier. Give Alexander’s sword to the Attila guy, and then let’s see what it can do. (But don’t tell him what it is, or he’ll throw the fight.)

4. Sparta!
In last week’s Deadliest Warrior special, we were told that the Spartan was the best ancient warrior of all the guys the show had tested. The Macedonian army of Alexander’s age faced and defeated the Spartan army - while led by a lesser general than Alexander! So, Alexander’s Macedonians are better than the best. This. Is. Faaaaaact. (Admittedly it wasn’t the Spartan army at its peak, but they had the same weapons that the show tested, so the comparison applies.)

wrestling

3. He Likes to Wrestle
The show brought in another UFC fighter this week to test the killing potential of pankration, the martial art that Alexander was trained in all his life. It looked fairly deadly, proving that Alexander was a fearsome opponent even without a weapon in his hand. If the ballista could get seven kills, and even a blowgun could get four kills in a previous episode, and a lasso can get thirty, then pankration surely would get at least one, right? Nope. Despite testing it, I suspect they didn’t include it in their simulations. It’s almost as if they only brought the UFC guy in to cross-promote their show with one of the channel’s other most popular programmes! Crazy!

2. When Attila and Alexander Did Fight, Alexander Won
OK, they never did fight, because they were almost eight centuries apart. But Alexander faced horsemen every bit as expert as the Huns, and enemies every bit as wily, and he defeated a cavalry much greater than Attila’s. Attila eventually went into retreat against a disciplined Roman field army that was nowhere near as formidable as Alexander’s.

Alexander conquered the greatest empire of his age, and Attila… scored a stalemate against the declining great empire of his age. The show knew they weren’t an even match; just look at how it presented the two warriors in the reconstructed video clips. Alexander built an empire by defeating larger armies through tactical superiority. Attila built a smaller empire by shooting fleeing peasant women in the back. Advantage: Alexander (as narrator David Wenham might say).

1. The Numbers Don’t Lie, Except When They Do, But Let’s Pretend They Don’t
Of course, it all comes down to numbers. Take away Attila’s bow, and he scored 242 kills. Take away Alexander’s silly belly bow - and, for the hell of it, his ballista as well - and he scored 345 kills. Now, let’s give both men the composite bow and see how they fare. Assuming equal kills, Alexander wins. But let’s say that Attila was better with a bow, because it’s likely he was. Let’s give him 60% of the kills with a bow, and Alexander 40%. Then the number of kills is 510 to Alexander, and 490 to Attila. Alexander still wins.

Then let’s give Alexander his armour. And let’s let him use his pankration if it comes to close combat. And let’s be crazy and give him a fourth useful weapon! Caltrops? Short sword? Or, hell, forget the weapon; let’s factor in the power of his legendary horse Bucephelas. I’d let Attila use his legendary horse as well, but apparently his horse wasn’t as famous. Perhaps the superior Hun horseman kept getting his horses killed? Put some serious data into this simulation, and the result is going to be very different.

What I’m saying is, Alexander the Great didn’t lose this fight; Deadliest Warrior did.

Right, it’s your round. I’ll have a bitter.

What do you mean, I’m bitter enough already?

Idol: Long Twain Running

April 27th, 2010

This week’s show opened with a weird Village People vibe, as Ryan introduced the contestants by their Official Barbie Occupation Designations. Glass blower! Mother! Construction worker! But this week’s theme is not ‘bring your work to Idol day’, which is a shame, as that would be amazing. Siobhan could sing Blow, Gabriel, Blow!

No, the theme is ‘the songs of Shania Twain’. You will remember Shania Twain as one of the guest judges this season. She was moderately decent at it, though she seemed to be working from a singing teacher bingo card. Little known fact: Shania Twain was also a popular musician back in, like, the 80s, or something. I think she was in Heart.

Anyway, how many Shania Twain songs can you name? I came up with three; You’re Still the One. Man I Feel Like A Woman. That Don’t Impress Me Much. So, with six contestants left, expect to hear each of those songs twice.

This week I’m listing the contestants not from least to mostest, but in order of performance. Why? Because, honesly, there’s not much to choose between them this week. No-one was amazing. No-one was terrible. There was no Twain wreck. (Stick around; my Twain jokes are way better than Ellen’s.)

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Lee DeWyze, aka Freight Twain
I’ve heard that Lee is considered the likeliest contender to join Bowersox in the top two. I suppose that makes sense, but for all the worst reasons. Mike is unpopular; Casey is pedestrian; Siobhan has lost her magic; and who even remembers who the other one is? So Lee is number two by default, not because he rose to the top, bu because he rose to the middle while everyone else was sinking. He sang You’re Still the One, and started it too low, and never brought any intensity to it, but, hey, he didn’t kill anyone, did he? So, that’s good.

Big Mike Lynche, aka Midnight Twain
Mike sings a Shania song I’ve never heard of, and he sang it rather beautifully, with that effortless smooth soul voice of his. But, no-one cares, do they? Mike has a great voice, but it’s so early ’90s R&B that anything he sings sounds like it was ripped from the closing credits of a Tia Carrere movie. He’s out of fashion, which means he’s doomed, never mind that he’s talented. (Shania Twain thinks this song is so emotional that it makes her cry. Shania Twain wrote this song. Shania Twain needs to get over herself.)

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Casey James, aka Boxcar Twain
While Casey was singing, I went off and checked my e-mail and forgot to pay attention. It sounded nice. The judges seemed enthused. I’m not rewinding for this guy.

Crystal Bowersox, aka Soul Twain
Crystal sang another twangy Twain obscurity, which only highlighted the wasted opportunity of an all-Shania week in place of country week. I like country music. I don’t especially like country week on Idol, because it’s usually full of blue collar pomposity and disturbing Christian intensity, spiced with an abortive rendition of Jolene. But this year there are a few contestants who could have done something good with a wider country music selection, and Crystal is top of that list. The judges were lukewarm, and Simon said it lacked ‘conviction’, but the same could be said for their judgements; there was nothing wrong with the performance. The judges just needed to shake up the narrative a little bit.

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Aaron Kelly, aka Toy Twain
The most interesting thing about the little one’s performance is that he changed the lyric, “It’s in the way we make love”, to, “It’s in the way you show me love”, and he changed “want me” to “know me”, because… he was singing it to his mother. The audience said, ‘awww’. I said, ‘ewww’. On some vestigial, subsconscious level, he just sexed up his mother, and no lyric switch can ever change that. But he sang it prety decently, and I’m coming to realise that Shania writes rather well for singers. It’s pablum, but it’s very singable pablum.

Siobhan Magnus, aka Crazy Twain
We expected too much of Siobhan Magnus. She looked like she had the potential to be Lady Lambert, but she just doesn’t have his control or his artistry, and she really doesn’t have his balls. This was her best performance in a few weeks, but it still felt like a performance any good singer could give; it didn’t feel like the Magnus Opus I’ve been waiting for. Only in the final seconds after her slightly botched big note did Ms Magnus show a bit of grit.

Who goes home this week? Mike or Casey, I would guess, but really it could be anyone. Except Crystal. All hail Crystal.

Are we sick of Crystal yet?

Idol: Pitchiest Warriors

April 21st, 2010

I’m so late this week that the results have already aired, and I didn’t even go out last night! No, I was watching superior television - the glorious testosterone-fest that is Deadliest Warrior on Spike, which returned for a second season last night.

For those not in the know, Deadliest Warrior takes two warriors from history and attempts to determine who would win in a fight. It’s gloriously absurd. They cut up pigs with katanas. They test the accuracy of ballistic knives. They take sniper shots at men made of jelly. And then we all go into the Matrix and watch a Shaolin monk fight a Maori. It’s just about the ultimate expression of television as an entertainment medium.

Which brings us to Idol, and its desparately weak ‘inspirational songs’ theme, which served up some of the snooziest performances we’ve ever seen on the Idol stage. With Garcia and Katie gone, I honestly thought we’d get a strong week, but I think I must have forgotten that the last seven acts this year do not include Adam Lambert, Melinda Dolittle or Carly Smithson.

What the hell is an ‘inspirational song’ anyway? The evidence of the night suggests that no-one knows. Oh, I hope they play Bitch, by Meredith Brooks! That’s my favourite inspirational song!

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From worst to least-worst:

7. Aaron Kelly, aka Fly SWAT
I didn’t actually listen to his performance, but I know it was the worst. That sounds irrational, but you’ll understand what I mean when I tell you that he sang ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. That is a war crime, Aaron, and you must be sent down for it. (Up 1, but only because there is no eighth place anymore.)

6. Tim Urban, aka A Patchy Warrior
The other contestants all tried to address the ‘inspirational song’ mystery through their music. Tim, for example, sang a Goo Goo Dolls song that was so boring that it inspired feelings of suicide. Tim, these are not the feelings you’re meant to inspire in me. (No change.)

5. Big Mike Lynche, aka Singer Zulu
Mike thinks an inspirational song is a song with ‘hero’ in the title, so they gave him the big book of hero songs, which is actually the biggest of the inspirational songbooks. Bafflingly, given all that choice, he plumped for… what was it, Nickelback? The one from the Spider-Man movie? Surely even Nickelback wouldn’t choose to sing that song anymore? (Down 3.)

4. Casey James, aka Hicksville Samurai
Casey doesn’t know what an inspirational song is either, so he just went for ‘upbeat’; Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow with an electric guitar. And it really was a guitar performance, not a vocal performance. Casey honestly doesn’t seem to get better or worse any week - everyone else just shuffles around him. (No change.)

3. Siobhan Magnus, aka Spartan Barmy
Ol’ Shiv was all about the microphone plosive this week. The microphone isn’t a bat, Siobhan; you don’t need to bite its head off. Siobhan’s answer to ‘what is an inspirational song’? It’s any reality show winner’s song! She sang When You Believe, the song that launched X-Factor winner Leon Jackson to international… mumble mumble mumble. At this point, the promise of Siobhan Mangus seems well and truly squandered. But she was adequate, which is enough to make her the third least worst. (Up 2.)

2. Lee Dwyze, aka Ninja Potato-Head
Lee DeWyze thinks that The Boxer an inspirational song. Yes, The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. It is literally a lament about poverty and hard times, and unless I’ve missed something, it doesn’t end with a redemptive exaltation. So it’s a song that only inspires heavy drinking, which is a great interpretation, and he sang it pretty well. That’ll do, pig. (Up 1.)

1. Crystal Bowersox, aka Viking Brilliant
Crystal put down the guitar, pushed away the piano and went briefly a capella on People Get Ready. I wish she’d stayed a capella, because it’s nice to hear her voice without all the horrible Idol orchestration. Like the crazy street person she is, Crystal seems to think that music is itself a vehicle for inspiration. Wacky. She loses marks for her blurt of emotion at the end of the song - on Russian Idol she would have been shot for that sort of vulgar excess - but she picks up points again for her fantastic glass lamp microphone stand. (No change.)

cowell-and-poor-peoplePoor people make Simon Cowell laugh.

Why were they singing inspirational songs? Well, it’s Idol Gives Back week, which is the American version of Comic Relief or Children In Need, except it’s only two hours rather than a year of your life, and in the midsts of all that stuff about malaria and poverty and saving children’s lives, they take one young boy or girl and tell them in front of millions that they have to give up on their dreams and go back to a life of miserable obscurity, where they will live forever with the bitter knowledge that they missed their shot at a golden ticket. Ah, America!

While the Idol show was going on in one theatre, Queen Latifah was introducing musical acts in another theatre, and I sort of wonder if they put the musicians over there so they wouldn’t have to tell them they were appearing on Idol. Until the cameras go live, all those video screens probably say it’s the Grammies.

Highlights of the night included Alicia Keys telling us, “tonight we’re going to do the unthinkable together” - all right Alicia, but I have a bad knee, and we’ll never get enough quark at this late hour - and Jennifer Garner giving voice to the false promise that lies at the heart of Idol; “She’s a special little girl, just like every other little kid.”

Ellen DeGeneres went to meet poor people in Monrovia. I suspect she thought she was pulling a fast one on the producers by telling them she was going to a country that she knew didn’t exist. Imagine her surprise when she found out that Monrovia is in Liberia. But it’s also in California, so, guess which one she went to? Clue: the one without a Somali pirate problem.

There was also a stark and harrowing reminder that even in this age of plenty, some people still live with - and die from - severe malnutrition. Yes, Victoria Beckham was on the stage. Ba-dum. She went to a poor school to learn about literacy, but interestingly there was no video of her visit, and you can write your own punchline to that one.

So, who got sent home this week? I don’t know. The show overran substantially. Idol gives back, and Idol taketh away.

Idol: Madam, He Is Adam

April 13th, 2010

It’s an exciting week on American Idol. Officially, it’s exciting because last week the judges used their one-off save on Big Mike Lynche, which means two people go home this week, but that’s not so much a thrilling twist as a clerical adjustment. The real reason it’s an exciting week is because the guest mentor is Adam Lambert.

It’s also Elvis week, but Elvis is dead (by now, surely), so Adam is as close as they’re going to get. Now, I sneered at Miley Cyrus as a judge, because she’s only 17, yet she’s been a star for four terrible years, while Adam has been in the pop business for less than a year, so I’m surely being a big hypocrite.

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But I’m not, of course. Miley Cyrus is a performing puppet. Adam Lambert is a performing artist. The reason Lambert is the first former Idol contestant to come back as a mentor is simple; he understood how to play this contest better than anyone in the show’s history. He can give these kids smart advice that can really change their game. He may inject some life into what has been a pretty dull season. He’s a brilliant choice of mentor.

Before we get down to the performances, I should comment on the judges’ save. I think using it on Big Mike was the right choice. He’s the best male vocalist in the show, and he didn’t deserve to go home yet. I do worry that using the save now means it won’t be there if Siobhan has a terrible week, but it’s better to have the save out of the way.

This week’s performances, from least to most:

9. Andrew Garcia, aka Barrio Elvis
In the mentor scenes, Andrew nearly bored Adam to death with his Hound Dog. Adam told him to, “change it up”. So he changed it to ’still boring, but faster’, and that’s the direction he went with on stage. There are metronomes that rock out harder than Andrew Garcia. This was probably his best week in the live shows, and faint praise has rarely been more damning. (No change.)

8. Aaron Kelly, aka Toys R Us Elvis
What song can a person sing when they haven’t been on the planet long enough to have experienced their first emotion? Blue Suede Shoes! Of course! A song that stomps the stage without really saying anything at all! And that’s what Aaron did this week, with the most milquetoast Elvis impersonation I’ve ever seen. Any kind of toast is wrong on Elvis night. What we need is some deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. (Down 3.)

7. Katie Stevens, aka Sanrio Elvis
Every year the show has a Matt Girard - a contestant I’m so sick of that I just don’t want to write anything about them any more. This year it’s this creature and her grating faux-sassy head bobs. The song is, Baby What You Want Me To Do. I want you to go away, Katie Stevens. (No change.)

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6. Tim Urban, aka Surf Shop Elvis
Adam thinks he pushed Tim out of his comfort zone. Probably when he ravished him in the orchestra pit. The puppet poppet sang Can’t Help Falling In Love, which seems like a good choice for squee-inducement, but Tim’s voice is too low and expressionless to induce the sort of nether-tremors that Kris Allen was able to evoke at his most bedroomy. Adam’s advice - sing some falsetto - was spot on, because it got Tim to do some real singing for a change. Plus, Tim looked absolutely terrified while he was doing it, and that was hilarious. (PS. Good open-necked tight t-shirt choice this week, Tim.) (No change.)

5. Siobhan Magnus, aka Estate Auction Elvis
Siobhan and Adam. That’s a meeting of minds - and bouffants - for the ages. Sadly they didn’t speak to each other only in high-pitched screeches. After her sleepy performance last week, Miss Madness needs to be dragged back to the crazy, and I hoped Adam’s supervision would push her there. And it was crazy, but only in an odd way; she opted for an incomprehensibly smiley Sheena Easton-style rendition of Suspicious Minds. The vocal got stronger, but the smile never left, and her backchat was better than her singing. (Down 3.)

4. Casey James, aka Tackle Shop Elvis
I snicker at Casey’s hick-ness every week, so it tickles me that he chose to sing Lawdy Miss Clawdy, which I feel is a bit of a hick anthem. He didn’t do anything with it, though. He’s one of the most consistent singers on the show, but consistent can be very dull. Also, I feel he needed a banjo. (Down 3.)

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3. Lee DeWyze, aka Home Depot Elvis
Wise old Adam told Lee to shake himself out of his dullness, albeit he put it more diplomatically than that. Dullness is exactly the problem I have with Lee. He’s usually a concrete bag on that stage. He changed that a little bit this weekwith a clever country reinvention of A Little Less Conversation. It worked well enough that I actually enjoyed a Lee Dewyze performance. (Up 5.)

2. Big Mike Lynche, aka XXElvis
Apparently Mike didn’t know In The Ghetto. Has he never watched South Park? Probably better, actually, that he hasn’t. If you can get Cartman’s voice out of your head, this is a good song for Mike - it allows him to use his rich texture and enviable control without going back to his deep well of hot chocolate. A very understated performance, but elegant and well pitched. (Up 2.)

1. Crystal Bowersox, aka Thrift Shop Elvis
Elvis has a huge, huge back catalogue, but of course most of the contestants didn’t dig very far into it (while busily product-placing iTunes). Only Katie, Lee and Crystal avoided the most obvious hits, and only Crystal did the legwork to find a song that was a truly excellent fit. With Saved, Crystal took an obscurity from Elvis’s gospel songbook and put on a churchstorming show. It’s a shame she was the first act on, because you always know there’s not going to be much to keep you up after Bowersox. (Up 1.)

This was probably the strongest week so far, and I attribute that in large part to Adam Lambert. Now we get to boot two people off the stage, and I think odds have to be good that one of them will be Andrew Garcia. The other really could be Siobhan, but Aaron and Katie are welcome to bog off any time. It’s unlikely to be Big Mike, after last week’s save and this week’s performance. Because Tim actually sang this week, I think we get to keep him for yet another week.

What did you think, dear reader? Who do you want to see go home?

Idol: Killing John Lennon (And Paul McCartney)

April 7th, 2010

I’m a day late this week because I was out having fun last night. Sorry. I’ll try harder to avoid fun in the future. And that starts right now, because this week the kids are singing from the Lennon and/or McCartney songbook, and how much fun can that be? But it could be worse. It could be the Starr and/or Harrison songbook.

All though I’m a day late, the results aren’t in at the time of this posting, so this post is results-free and safe for those in foreign time zones. This week’s ranking, from worst to best:

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9. Andrew Garcia, aka Misery
It’s noticeable that three women have been sent home three weeks in a row - Didi was sent home last week - and I think all three of them were better than both Andrew and Lee (and obviously better than Tim, but he’s Tim, he’s different). This competition is clearly much harder on the girls. Andrew’s rockajosé production of Can’t Buy Me Love continues his run of songs that make me wish Lilly Scott was still in this competition. (No change.)

8. Lee DeWyse, aka Nowhere Man
Lee chose to sing Hey Jude, which is like a 4×4 off-roader saying, ‘tonight, Ryan, I’m going to drive along a dirt track’. No, really? You’re going to Rod Stewart your way through the Beatles’ most popular pub chant? Wake me up when the ridiculous gimmick gets here. Oh, hey, there’s the bagpiper. (Down 2.)

7. Katie Stevens, aka Honey Pie
You remember those big neon rubbers/erasers that you could stick on the end of your pencil when you were at school? Katie came dressed as one of those this week. Let’s pretend that’s a complement, because that’s as close as I intend to get to saying a nice thing about Katie’s boil-in-the-bag version of Let It Be. It sounded much as I would expect a Taylor Swift version of the song would sound, which means Simon is correct; she went ‘country’. Not country as a country music fan would understand it, but country as a Taylor Swift fan would understand it. (No change.)

6. Tim Urban, aka Golden Slumbers
God bless Tim Urban, my little oasis of shining crap in a desert of regular crap. But I do worry about the boy. Not because he might be sent home - we know he must eventually - but because his sentient shell of alien hair is slowly eating his head. Tim sang All My Loving while strumming a guitar, and if you could describe a vocal performance as ’strumming’, well, he did that too. He lightly and methodically brushed the notes with his uvula. It was probably his best performance. It was still crap. Hurray! (Down 1.)

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5. Aaron Kelly, aka This Boy
With Bowersox and Magnus as the frontrunners, there remains a vacancy in this contest for a ‘dark horse’. This can mean one of two things; a contestant who grows in confidence week after week until he has sufficient nerve to let his talent emerge, or a contestant who bubbles along without any huge disasters until he’s one of the only ones left and that alone gives him momentum. Aaron is a dark horse, but at this point I’m not sure which flavour. The pencil-necked chicken-head-eater was overwhelmed by the size of The Long and Winding Road, but I don’t think he was as bad as the judges suggested. (Down 1.)

4. Big Mike Lynche, aka I Am The Walrus
Did he say his family singing group was called ‘the Lynche Mob’? Really? Really? Let’s set aside the worrying implications of that and talk about how Mike is finally trying my patience. I’ve enjoyed Mike’s smooth soul cheese so far, but his Eleanor Rigby felt much too jazz-lounge insipid. Or, as the judges like to say; ‘commercial and relevant’. God save us. (Down 2.)

3. Crystal Bowersox, aka Ticket to Ride
As a musician who accidentally found herself trapped in a popularity contest, Madam Bowersox probably had an extensive repertoire of Lennon/McCartney songs she could have pulled out of her crocheted Tibetan prayer purse, so it’s disappointing that she settled for the ever-obvious Come Together. It just seems lazy. She could knock this out of the park and still have time to perform the entire Joan Baez Woodstock set list before it touched down again. Stretch yourself, Bowersox. Pull your bowersox up. (Down 2.)

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2. Siobhan Magnus, aka Rocky Raccoon
After a couple of rough weeks where it seemed like Siobhan had lost all her promise, the crazy caterwauling lady needed to come up with the goods this week. The fact that she came dressed as Bjork’s Swiffer was a good sign. The unusual choice of Across the Universe was another good sign, and I think she did a good job with it. Yes, it was slow, and slightly over-enunciated and pinch-nosed, but it was refreshing to hear her without the screeching. Her explanation for why she chose the song was the most articulate I’ve ever heard a contestant give, and I think that took Simon by surprise, which was also lovely. (Up 6.)

1. Casey James, aka Happiness Is A Warm Gun
If they made a cartoon musical about hair metal where all the characters were played by anthropomorphic poodles, the animators might get close to approximating the laughable crimp of Casey James’s blond tangle. It’s my favourite terrible hair on television. But that shouldn’t detract from his charming, tender, acoustic rendition of Jealous Guy, so I suggest listening to this with your eyes shut, or you’ll think Peter Stringfellow is trying to get into your pants. This week Casey made a strong comeback from his previous soulless numbers. That said, I’m not sure how much you want folks to emphasise your ‘authenticity’ when you’re singing Jealous Guy. (Up 2.)

Results come in soon, and they’ve probably already announced the bottom three. My guess is that it’s Tim, Katie and Andrew, but I wouldn’t like to guess who’s going home. Precedent says it’ll be Tim and ‘a girl’ at the bottom, and ‘a girl’ will lose, in which case it’s the end for Katie. Fingers crossed!

Idol: Rhythm & Balls

March 30th, 2010

It’s R&B and soul week on Idol. I’m hoping this means they’re performing songs by Cab Calloway, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles (and not Aretha Franklin, because no-one should touch that). I fear that it’s actually going to be Rihanna, Boyz II Men and Jodeci (and Whitney Houston, but no-one should touch that). Let’s find out together, shall we?

Instead of a mentor, they’ve provided a young man who they refer to only as ‘usher’, who will presumably check tickets, hand out programs and show people to their seats. Here are this week’s performances, in order from least loved to most bestest.

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10. Didi Benami, aka the Senator’s Murdered Nanny
Didi’s thin reed voice is not at all suited to R&B. She has a nice voice, a folksy tone, but pitting it against the rich texture of Jimmy Ruffin on What Becomes of the Brokenhearted seems hopelessly ambitious, and she looks and sounds like Cheryl Crowe struggling under the weight of Isaac Hayes. I will give her this; she’s very game. If she survives this week, it can only get better from here. (Down 5.)

9. Andrew Garcia, aka Paul ab-Dull
Last week, Simon spoke truth unto Garcia; you are not as good as your one good moment, and we’re no longer even sure how good that moment was. Garcia needs to pull off a miracle to get back into my good books now. Singing Forever by Chris Brown is not going to fix anything. It sounded like a chewing gum commercial. And why is he giving Chris Brown any exposure? If you’re going to sing a soul song by a domestic abuser, sing Fool In Love! (No change.)

8. Siobhan Magnus, aka Madame Medusa
Some serious throwing back going on here with an 80s Chaka Khan song, Through The Fire. Siobhan goes period with the sort of 80s lounge singing style wherein you can never let your mouth close for fear that the lipgloss will cement. I think they must have fixed her hair with a magical can of vintage Aqua Net to get her into character. Unfortunately she sound awful; more Wrath of Khan than Chaka Khan. I thought last week was her off week, so I wasn’t prepared for this. (Down 6.)

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7. Katie Stevens, aka Darth Mallrat
I said no Aretha. Didn’t I say, no Aretha? Katie has actually been at her best doing blues, which is inexplicable given that she has as much soul as a Pez dispenser. Yet this is not blues, this is Chain of Fools, and you don’t attempt to climb Mount Aretha without spare oxygen tanks. This girl has all the spare oxygen of a whoopee cushion. Watching her trying to give it some head bobbing sass is just cringeworthy. Don’t sass me, girl. If you haven’t done your homework, you’re staying behind. (Up 1.)

6. Lee DeWyse, aka Blue Collar Tofu
Lee sang Treat Her Like A Lady, and I don’t know where it’s from (it’s not the Celine Dion song, that’s for sure), but if this was ever an R&B song, he sanded off the sparkling blue paint, took out the white leather seats, and refitted it for the demolition derby. On the one hand, it was probably his best performance. On the other hand, I don’t remember any of his previous performances and I won’t remember this one. In a boring world, even hiccups seem exciting. (No change.)

5. Tim Urban, aka Mannequin Piss
You’re wondering what Tim is doing up here, aren’t you? It’s not because he was any good. It’s because he’s entertaining. I know he’s a troll, and I usually hate those (though he’s a pretty troll) - but it does make me laugh that Tim is still on the show. He never does well with the voters, but somehow he keeps scraping through, and his pretty little face and his weak little voice get flung at another genre that he doesn’t know, doesn’t feel, and cannot do. This week, hilariously, he sang Anita Baker’s Sweet Love, which is one of the great soul seduction numbers. Could he handle it? Not even close! Strained, tuneless and desparate. Let’s do opera next week! It can’t get any worse! In a year of duff contestants, Tim’s performances are now among the ones I most look forward to, and his upbeat responses to the judges’ brutal critiques are kind of charming. (Up 5.)

4. Aaron Kelly, aka the Second Trimester Kid
I literally forgot about the existence of Aaron Kelly. He was on last, and I nearly turned the TV off after Crystal. It was like the producers were telling me I could go home early. Kelly’s song was Ain’t No Sunshine, and the usher gave him some good advice; find something to do with the endless string of ‘I know’s, or we’re all just going to be sitting around waiting for you to unstick the needle. Kelly did OK. I have to start finding nice things to say about some of these contestants because I know I’m going to be stuck with them for a while, and I’m sure I’m stuck with Aaron for the long haul, so that’s the nice thing I have to say about Aaron Kelly. It was OK. A bit patchy. (Up 3.)

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3. Casey James, aka Thin White Earl
Casey wins major points for bringing Sam & Dave’s Hold On, I’m Comin’ to the Idol stage, but he loses points for a milquetoast performance that walks a delicate path between gritty and smooth without ever committing to either redemptive path. I don’t think that song has ever sounded so peaches n’ cream. I suspect that Casey is lazy, and it’s beginning to annoy me. And this was the third best performance of the night. (Up 1.)

2. Mike Lynche, aka Always Big Mike
Mike sings soulful R&B every week. Give him a Christina Aguilera song and it would probably come out as soulful R&B. He’s cheesy, but he’s good at it. Given that this theme is deep into his comfort zone, it’s striking that he chooses to sing an obscure modern song and not something from the Smokey Robinson songbook; Ready for Love by India.Arie. As a result, he’s not as good as he’s been in past weeks, but he is instantly more commercial and less of a caricature, so it was probably a good idea. Simon’s comments bear out my suspicions; this is what they want from Mike. Less talent, more generic marketability. (No change.)

And with that, we are done with all the insipid performances, and we move on to the good stuff, by which I mean…

1. Crystal Bowersox, aka Buskerella
Midnight Train To Georgia! MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA, MOTHERNUDGER! Pinned behind a grand piano (you can’t just wheel one of those down to the platform at Grand Central Station, you know), Crystal seemed rattled at the start of the song, but as soon as she knew she was ditching the piano, she was able to swagger into position and take the room. While my brain couldn’t quite accept the sight of the Reverend Dame Bowersox in a red dress and heels, she sounded as great as ever, and I think she finally understands that she’s in a singing contest, and that she’s competing, and that she’s winning. Let’s hope that Siobhan Magnus comes back next week to put up a fight. (No change.)

The score at the end of the night, by my count, was six proper R&B songs out of ten, which is not bad going, but one of them was Aretha, and I was very clear about that, and most of the rest were performed by terrible singers. I assume Tim will continue to hold steady in the bottom three, and he’ll be joined this week by Didi and Andrew, possibly Siobhan, whom the judges would surely save. I hope we lose Andrew. I’ll be sorry if we lose Didi. I’ll be devastated if we lose Tim.