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The Post-Game Show » randy jackson

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Idol: God, The Devil and Kris

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

American Idol is down to just three. Despite a performance so awful as to have already become notorious, Danny Gokey has survived, and poor Allison Iraheta has been given the boot. We now know that whatever Danny does, the judges will praise him and people will vote for him. As a consequence, we now have the first all-male top three in Idol history.

Last week’s final four saw two rock kids go up against two Christian music kids. It was a mini-referendum, and rock lost (and most of Allison’s votes should now go to Adam). If Kris goes home this week, as expected, we’ll have a final two of such blatant symbolism that the punditry will explode with glee.

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In the Red State corner: Danny Gokey. Church ‘worship director’. Tragic widower. Loves Jesus and talks a lot about heaven. His performances show a complete lack of imagination. He never does anything the least bit subversive or original.

In the Blue State corner: Adam Lambert. Musical theatre performer. Blatant homosexual. Loves eyeliner and lives in California. His performances showcase his tremendous range and presence. He is inventive, magnetic and shameless.

Stuck in the middle: Poor Kris Allen, a good-looking lad who has become the dark horse contender this year, but who realistically is expected to end his journey this week in the face of the warring fanbases digging trenches either side of him.

People hate Danny Gokey. They hate him because he’s dull. They hate him because he’s smug. They hate him because they’ve seen him dance, and, oh dear God, no-one should ever have to see him dance. They hate him because he auditioned with his friend Jamar, and Jamar was better but didn’t get through. They hate him because he gets praised by the judges every week despite being the musical equivalent of gruel.

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Mostly they hate him because, thirty days after his wife died unexpectedly from complications in surgery, he auditioned for this reality TV show. He also wept to the producers and sent them footage of his wedding day so they could tell his story. Then he gave a friend a photo of his wife to hold up during one of his performances. He has repeatedly made gestures of remembrance for his dead wife, or chosen manipulative songs like Hero, Jesus Take The Wheel, What Hurts the Most and Endless Love. He has exploited his wife’s death to win votes in a popularity contest, and that’s sickening.

And people love him, of course. He’s the only contestant this year never to have been in the bottom three, and, most times, that’s the contestant who wins. The judges love him; he’s the only contestant to get good comments every week without fail. Christian conservatives surely love him. He’s a good church-going boy, and he’s struggling on through the grief and hardship of his wife’s tragic death to become a success; an example of what a person can achieve with God on their side, no matter what life throws at them. And he dresses sensibly and talks politely and never tries to scare the horses. He’s intensely nonthreatening and middle-of-the-road. He’s Billy Joel.

People also hate Adam Lambert. They hate him because he shrieks and screeches. They hate him because he’s arrogant. They hate him because he’s over-the-top. They mostly hate him because he’s gay.

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That’s probably not fair to his critics. It is in theory possible to hate Adam Lambert for reasons other than his gayness, but in most cases I think what people object to is his… flamboyance. His theatricality. His loud, proud and unapologetic sense of self. His… how can I put this? His gayness. Even a lot of gay people hate his gayness, but it was ever thus. No queen likes to be out-queened, and Adam Lambert is the queen bitch in charge.

And people love Adam Lambert. Win or lose this competition, he’s a phenomenon like this show has never seen before; an Idol who already sells records, already sets the media afire, and already appears on magazine covers even before the contest has ended. But if he does win, then change has come to America.

Adam Lambert is secretly a handsome and wholesome pop star, but he’s also a subversive godless sinner. He sneers and writhes and glowers. He’s sleazy and sexual. It’s all in a safe, cartoon way, but still it’s all there. I’m sure there are people in the midwest who refuse to accept or even consider that he’s gay, but he remains a totem of gayness. It doesn’t matter if they don’t accept that Adam Lambert is gay; if America votes for Adam Lambert, they have already de facto embraced the gay.

Adam is the salvation! He is the promised gay messiah. Perhaps Adam is actually the new face of the divine, and menacing wife-slayer Danny is the devil preaching scripture?

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On to tonight’s performances:

Danny’s first song tonight, chosen by Paula Abdul, is Terence Trent D’Arby’s Dance Little Sister. If it has a melody, you wouldn’t know it. It sounds like a coffee grinder that’s been left to run with nothing in it.

Kris Allen’s song, picked by the count-as-one-choice budget judges Randy and Kara, is Apologise by OneRepublic; a popular contemporary ballad that fits well with the sort of soft radio hit you’d expect from Kris. Kris breaks out the grand piano in a bid to impress. It’s a fairly heartless performance, and Kris isn’t actually at his swoony best here - some of the low notes are too low, and he’s not entirely comfortable with the falsetto. But it’s better and more interesting than Gokey.

Adam Lambert is the chosen contestant, so of course Simon Cowell picks his song (and Simon has come right out and said he thinks Adam will win). The song is One by U2, which Simon tells us he personally got Bono’s permission for, because Simon is all-powerful. This is Adam’s ‘nude’ performance of the night - less make-up, no costume, lots of raw emotion. It’s an arrangement I’ve never heard before, and it’s impressive. The boy has an amazing voice.

Danny’s second song, chosen by himself, is You Are So Beautiful, by his soundalike Joe Cocker. No effort required there. He sings on a stool, with a string quartet. The song is actually a little quiet, a little delicate, for his voice, but when he gets into it it’s the same competent piano bar rendition we’ve come to expect. I simply can’t imagine anyone going out of their way to hear this man sing. Interestingly, Kara praises his second performance as if she had criticised his first performance. But she hadn’t!

Kris Allen comes back with Heartless by Kanye West. Two contemporary songs, Kris? This is unprecedented! And he’s singing with just a guitar! Which he’s playing! Playing two instruments in one night is also unprecedented. It’s a delightfully upbeat performance, great fun to listen to (and a bit incongruous given what the song is about), and probably the best he’s ever been. Great stuff.

Adam’s song choice is Aerosmith’s Crying. In two words; it rocks. It’s not actually as extravagant as I was expecting it to be. He must be saving something huge for next week.

So is Adam Lambert going to be in the final? It would be the biggest shock in the show’s eight seasons if he didn’t make it. Is Danny going to be there? Almost certainly. But I’ve been hoping to see him sent home for weeks now, and this week is no different. An Adam/Kris final would be a wonderful thing. But Jesus wants a Danny/Kris final, and you wouldn’t want to disappoint Jesus.

Idol: Can’t Polish A Third

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Can week three possibly be as bad as weeks one and two? It’s the least interesting of the three dozens. Thank God they’re wittling down so ferociously, because there’s a lot of crap and not much cream. 

But before we get to this week’s looosers, who were last week’s winners? Allison got through, to no-one’s surprise - every review I read said that she won the night, including mine. (Yes, I read my own blog. It’s the only good thing on the internet.) Kris Allen got through, to my considerable surprise - even in the repeat performance, when people are usually better because they’re less nervous and on a high - he was still shakey. I said he had an outside chance because Simon vouched for him. Apparently that carries a hell of a lot of heft. It saved Michael Sarver in week one, and now this guy in week two. Look out for his papal blessing this week. (Kris is also undeniably cute. I’m sure that didn’t hurt.)

The third place came down to a choice between two theatricals; Adam (musicals) and Norman (comedy). Thankfully - and none too shockingly - the slot went to Adam. America has finally found a theatrical it can love. Since then, photos have emerged of Adam kissing other boys! And wearing make-up! He’s not just a harmless, neutered, sexless homosexual; he’s a scandalous Weimar cabaret-rape-your-sons-and-turn-your-daughters-into-drug-addled-whores kind of homosexual! Oh, Adam, we barely knew thee. (Lambert is the one on the left.)

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Von Smith is the evil Adam Lambert. He has a similarly screechy voice and theatrical bent, but without Lambert’s charisma or range. His song is All I Need To Get By, which he starts in an ill-advised throaty whisper, but he soon remembers that the notes he can manage are a tad higher, and he heads up there with gusto. Doing Aretha is a bloody stupid idea for anyone, especially a screechy boy, but he’s not completely horrible, so already the bar is set higher than it has been in the last two weeks. I don’t think Von is going through, but he did put the work in. Simon says he reminds him of Clay - ‘your voice and the way you perform’. Simon never runs out of ways to tell gay people they’re gay. Usually he says it and follows it up with, ‘you don’t have a hope’, but this time he says that being like Clay will be good for him, so maybe Adam Lambert has opened America to a brave new world of gay possibilities?

Taylor Vaifanua does Alicia Keyes, which tends to mean having to sing up and down the piano keyboard, oh lord, why would she? At least it’s If I Ain’t Got You and not Falling. Taylor, looking like a middle-aged maid who stole her boss’s curtains to make a dress to wear to her second job as a waitress, does not have Keyes’ ability to effortlessly throw her voice around the room. She’s competent but unmemorable.

Alex Wagner-Trugman is the adorable geek with a sense of humour, so he has a good chance of getting through based on that alone. Ryan offers to spot him at the gym, so evidently Ryan’s over his infatuaion with Kris Allen already. The song, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, starts ropy, but he does his best to pummel it into submission with a few pained animal yelps. If he does get through, it’ll be entirely due to his likeability, not his singing.

Ariana Afsar is ‘cute’. All the judges agree on this. So she wants to get away from being cute. Silly girl. She gets massive points from me for singing The Winner Takes It All, which is the most awesome song she could have chosen, but her timing is way off. So way off that it might not even be her turn on stage. It’s hard to tell if the singing is good or bad, because my brain is reeling from the dissonance. She clearly can’t hear the official American Idol Bontempi organ at all. The judges seem to think this was the ‘arrangement’. God, I hope not.

Ju’not Joyner (pronounced ’shoe-know’, not ‘jew-not’, sings something about a girl named Delilah, but without the lyric ‘why why why’, so it is a crappy song. Shoe-know gives a confident, smooth, pleasant performance, but he is a big unattractive black man, and he needed to be amazing to win over Peoria. Shoe-know says something about a cortasone shot, and everyone reacts like he just said ‘look guys, it’s my penis’, so either something got edited or there’s something mischievously naughty about cortasone that I don’t understand. Apparently it’s injected into the buttocks. Well, there you are.

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Nathaniel Marshall and Kristen McNamara are grilled on the fact that they hated each other in Hollywood. Nathaniel tries his best to be diplomatic, but he can’t match Kristen for dead-eyed tooth-grinding insincerity. Kristen is the next to sing, and I always forget that Kristen has a better, grittier voice than her Barbie-doll looks would suggest. She also has the steely glint of ruthless ambition lurking beneath her false eyelashes, and she makes me think of Joy from My Name Is Earl. I don’t know the song, but apparently it’s Tracy Chapman. This girl has made Tracy Chapman sound like Jessica Simpson. That’s quite a skill. Not a good one, obviously.

And now it’s time for Nathaniel Marshall, who will be filling the role of gestalt Tatiana Del Toro and Norman Gentle for the evening - Noise! Hysteria! Flamboyance! Unbearableness! I applaud him for singing I Would Do Anything For Love, but I’d applaud him more if he was singing the “will you hose me down with holy water if I get too hot” part. Tonight Nathaniel has come dressed as Olivia Newton Gerbil. He seems to be enjoying himself on stage, but it’s sloppy and grating, and frankly I can’t imagine anyone liking him very much. If Tatiana couldn’t get through, this kid can’t. Nathaniel’s judging session goes on forever and ever and ever, and ends with Ryan trying to get Nathaniel to sit on Simon’s lap, and I think I’m going to vomit. Copiously.

Felicia Barton is the girl who didn’t make the final 36, and then one of the other girls was revealed to be Simon’s neice and Kara’s neighbour and Paula’s nurse and Randy’s actual honest-to-goodness dog, dawg, and Felicia got yanked back in. She’s singing another Alicia Keyes number. Could Alicia Keyes fund her existence on the royalties from reality shows alone, I wonder? This Felicia creature’s Alicia will reach ya! Well, no, it won’t, I just wanted to write that sentence. It’s a decent performance with moments of strain. Although the overall standard has been higher tonight, no-one is really standing out yet.

Blind Scott is next. Will Ryan attempt to high five him again? Scott brought us that moment of joy, and I thank him for that, and now he may leave. Scott is not a good enough singer, but hey, he’s blind, which is a bit like having a dead wife. Now, this will be a terrible thing to say (yes, this next bit, not any of the stuff I’ve said before), but watching him sing, you understand why blind singers often wear sunglasses, because it’s all a bit creepy watching his eyes swim in a void of nothing (not unlike the eyes of Kristen McNamara, now I think about it). The song is Mandolin Rain (my favourite of the Dulux colours), and the performance would get a seeing singer booted, but - hey - this guy’s blind! Triumph over adversity, Blind Scott!

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I’m really looking forward to there being less than 12 performances to sit through in any given week. It feels so bloody endless. Next in the endless drudge is some impossibly perky blonde little bit. Its owners call it Kendall. Honestly, she looks like she should be perched in Paris Hilton’s purse. She could also pass for Kristen Chenoweth’s mini-me, which is quite the miniest a me can be. Kendall sings… I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to guess it’s a Taylor Swift song. Let’s check. Darn it, it’s Martina McBride. So close. Anyway, a cute pocket blonde girl singing country could disappear without trace, or she could win the whole competition. Who the hell knows?

Jorge Nunez is a good-looking Puerto Rican boy with a big smile and a heavy accent. Hurray, West Side Story numbers all around! No? No. It’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, so he’s trying to dodge the Latin artist tag, leading me to expect one of the judges to say, “I see you doing more of a Latin music kind of a vibe, dawg, you know, dawg?” He’s a little pitchy (dawg - God, I have to stop that), but he’s got some pipes on him, and his performance is one of the most enjoyable of the night. It’s actually Simon who brings up the ‘Spanish’ artist thing (Simon never did quite get to grips with the concept of ‘Latin-American music’), but he gives Jorge the ‘likeable guy’ nod of the week - hallelujah! - and Jorge gets flustered and gives his reply in Spanish, ensuring that a whole heap of first generation immigrants will vote for him in their thousands.

The final slot of the night is the star slot, given to the anointed one in each group of 12; first Downey Gokey, then Adam Lambert, and now Lil Rounds. The song is Be Without You by Mary J Blige, which is not the best Blige song to do - not very ambitious or memorable - but doing Blige was sensible. Lil drops a shameless bit of pimping into her number and hits the big note, and she has those two things and the name ‘Lil Rounds’ and the love of Simon Cowell all going for her. Other than that, it wasn’t as stellar as I expected. She’s more amazing when you’re watching than when you’re just listening.

Even so, Lil is going through, and Jorge will probably join her. The third spot could honestly go to almost anyone, because although the standard has been higher, there haven’t been any serious stand-outs. Any one of Kendall, Felicia or Kristen could make the cut if the third slot goes to a girl. If it’s a boy, it’s either Blind Scott or Geeky Alex, neither of them for their voices. It’s the age of the geek, so I suspect Alex will claim that third spot.

Next week; the wildcards. There are four boys and only two girls in the final nine so far, which is not a surprise - girls vote, and girls mostly vote for boys. Even if two girls get through from this week, the boys will still be the majority, so expect to see some attempt to redress the balance with the wildcard picks. No non-white people have got through yet either. Lil and Jorge may change that, but it’s looking good for Jasmine Murray, and bad for Matt Giraud and Ricky Braddy. The only boy I expect to see go through from the wildcards is Anoop Desai.

Dance For Me! Dance! Dance!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I talk a lot on this blog about American Idol, but there’s actually another reality talent show that I’m much more impressed by, and that’s America’s Best Dance Crew.

Actually, the proper title is Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew, but what Randy Jackson contributes isn’t very clear. He’s not the presenter (that honour goes to AC Slater from Saved By The Bell) and he’s not a judge (that’s choreographer Shane Sparks, someone who calls herself ‘Lil Mama’, and ‘N Sync’s JC Chasez. Yeah, I know, but I’ll take All Day Long I Dream About Sex over anything by Timberlake. It has handclaps!). I don’t think Randy Jackson even produces or came up with the concept. He just stuck his name on the thing.

I only very recently caught on to ABDC with a marathon of the first season one snowy day over the Christmas holidays. It’s now at the end of its third series, and this week’s final is between Beat Freaks and Quest Crew, both of whom are amazing.

And that is why I love this show; the talent is unquestionable, and the performances show real passion and dedication. These guys aren’t doing this because they want to be on TV; they’re doing this because this is what they want to do. I wish I’d had that drive when I was a kid. Hell, I wish I had it now.

For your enjoyment, here are two of the best routines of the season, by the two finalist crews. The first is by Beat Freaks, the first all-girl group to make the final. This was from the week when all the groups had to incporporate magic into their routines.

The other finalists are Quest Crew, and this is their semi-final performance for the ‘Hip-Hop Decathlon’ routine (which had five required elements; apparently hip-hoppers aren’t familiar with the term ‘pentathlon’). The athleticism and precision on display is extraordinary, and the routine is ’sick’. (I’m told that’s a term of endorsement.)

For the record, I loved this routine even before the buff guy tore his shirt off.