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Idol 2010: The King is Dead

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

“I just like how he touches kids all around this world.”

No, this is not a reference to Simon Cowell. This is one American Idol contestant’s verdict on singer and domestic abuser Chris Brown. Truly, he is the new king of pop.

But Cowell is the one who has truly touched kids all around the world, often in cruel and harrowing ways, and now he’s touching us all again with his announcement that he’s leaving American Idol to bring the X-Factor to America.

simon-cowell

Some pundits are saying that this surely makes this the last season of Idol, but it won’t be. Idol still brings in better audiences than… well, everything else on Fox. If Fox can make Idol and X-Factor work side-by-side, they’ll do it; you know they’re at least going to try.

And Idol will probably fail without Simon Cowell, because although he’s not the whole show, he is key to the formula. Strong personalities and strong performances can provide some entertainment value, but there’s never any guarantee that those things will turn up. Cowell provides quality control, context, and the approval that contestants crave. The winner gets a record contract, but a kind word from Simon Cowell is the crucial milestone on that journey.

So this won’t be the last season of American Idol, but it’s probably the second-to-last season of American Idol.

(American audiences may wonder what the differences are between Idol and X-Factor. First, anyone above the age limit can audition for X-Factor, and that includes groups. Second, performers are split into girls, boys, over 25s and groups. Third, the judges each mentor one of the categories. It may also involve live audience auditions, as the X-Factor now does.)

Cowell has said he hopes to use this new show to find an American Susan Boyle. It’s worth noting, however, that a weirdo like Susan Boyle probably wouldn’t have got through on the X-Factor; she was on Britain’s Got Talent, and America already has a version of that and hasn’t found an American Susan Boyle.

Simon is going. Paula is already gone. Paula wasn’t a good judge, but her addled loop-de-loo happy ragdoll act will be missed. Her replacement, Ellen, doesn’t start until the live shows, so in the meantime we get a conveyor belt of music industry legends with time on their hands, like Mary J Blige, Katy Perry, one of the Jonas brothers, and Dame Victoria Beckham, who has come dressed as Po from Kung Fu Panda. Seacrest scrapes around for a relevant job description to give to Beckham, but never quite comes up with a reason why she would be a judge on a singing competition.

Speaking of singing, how is this season looking, based on the Boston auditions? Did any of those strong personalities show up? Did they bring any strong performances with them?

justin-williams

Justin Williams (above) must be an obvious early favourite, at least in my house; he’s glowingly healthy and handsome, he sings like he’s taking your knickers off, and he fought cancer and won, so he even has a story. We last saw him last year, where he was in the same Hollywood Week group as Kris Allen and Matt Giraud, but he wasn’t as good then, because he forgot to tell anyone about the cancer.

Other performers with potential include Maddy Curtis, the sunny, farm-built girl with a muscular voice and heartstring-plucking Downs syndrome brothers; Katie Stevens, who sings Etta James quaver-for-quaver and slightly over-chews it, but does it better for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s; and Tyler Grady, slick, confident, and stylish in his retro skinny jeans – but he only has two broken wrists, so he needs to up the life-is-hard ante if he wants votes.

Another of my favourites is Mike Davis, who says he’s an actor on a speedboat. That’s a job, apparently. Mike seems like a blue collar working class Boston boy, and is thus adorable, though ‘actor on a speedboat’ is not a blue collar working class job. He’s only an average singer, but he has lots of charm. I want to hear Mike say ‘retahded’. It’s a terrible word, but I love how Bostonians say it. (Simon inexplicably throws a strop when Kara flirts with him, and like a good lapdog, Randy follows him out of the room.)

leah-laurenti

Finally – after much build-up – there’s Leah Laurenti (above), billed by Seacrest as, “Astonishing talent like we’ve never seen before”. The second coming of Christ would struggle to live up to the hype lumped on her shoulders, and the audition doesn’t quite electrify through the television screen, but one can guess at what the judges saw in her. Her voice must have filled the room they were sitting in; she has a big, powerful Broadway voice. She could be a young Barbra Streisand – she has the look, the speaking voice, the singing voice, and even the nose (though she appears to be Catholic). I’d vote for her just to increase the chances of hearing her do ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’.

Tonight’s show was just the first of seven audition shows (the second is tomorrow), and you can rest assured that I won’t be blogging every one of them. The Hollywood rounds start in early February; we won’t get to the real show until late February, when it’s back to 24 semi-finalists and no wild card, because everyone now knows that was a shambles. They’ll find new ways to be shambolic, though. They always do.