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Idol: Don’t Forget the Motor City

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

It’s Motown week! To celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest record labels of all time, a bunch of hapless reality brats are going to do their own hand-clappy mayonnaise versions of some of the most amazing songs ever written! Happy birthday, Motown! I hope Megan Joy sings Al Green! Then I’ll know my life has hit its nadir and it’s all uphill from there!

Actually, I generally like Motown week, because it’s hard to pick a bad song from that catalogue. They do exist - Boys II Men is Motown, after all - but you’re not going to go there when you can pick from Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Jackson 5, are you? Are you?

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Matt Giraud goes first with the least sexy version of Let’s Get It On I think I’ve ever heard. The only ‘it’ I can imagine him wanting to ‘get on’ is a Christmas jumper with reindeer on it. This is a performance that immediately puts the lie to the idea that Matt has a white soul voice.

Kris Allen maintains his swoon offensive with How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. Here’s the thing about Kris: he can sing; he has a nice, palatable voice and he’s proficient in its deployment; but everything he sings sounds so neutered. He’s a child-safe and wipe-clean pop star.

Scott McIntyre is still here, everybody! And he’s wearing astonishingly ugly pink trousers with a brown jacket, because we must not forget that he’s blind. Never forget. His song is You Can’t Hurry Love, because Scott loves taking dynamic girl songs and turning them into dull Billy Joel numbers. This he promptly does.

A few words here on Kara DioGuardi, the new judge. Back in the auditions, Kara seemed like a welcome addition to the show. She was sharp, she was critical, and she said what she was thinking. I want to know what happened to her between the auditions and the live shows. Did she realise being brutal made people say mean things about you, and she wanted to be loved? It feels like she was lobotomised and can now only spew out recycled inanities from the last seven seasons of the show. Is it possible they brought Kara on to make Paula look smarter?

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Megan Joy, singing For Once In My Life. I’ve realised who Megan Joy reminds me of. You remember the movie A Life Less Ordinary? There’s a scene where Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz sing karaoke in a bar, and though Cameron has a flat, rasping voice that’s hard to listen to, she sings with great and painful enthusiasm. She loves singing, even though she’s absolutely no good at it. That’s Megan Joy, and somehow she’s ended up on TV. Paula gives her the ‘you look beautiful’ kiss of death.

I’m getting drunken office party flashbacks; visions of uncool men dancing badly. That can only mean it’s Anoop Desai time! (Actually, it could equally mean it’s Downey Gokey time, but it’s not. It’s geek o’clock.) Anoop’s song is Ooh Baby Baby, a very mellow and understated little nothing. It almost skates within Anoop’s grossly limited range, bar a few strained falsetto moments. Go back to being flamboyant, Anoop! You’re much more likely to get voted off when you’re being flamboyant!

Michael Sarver is not popular on the intertubes. He’s considered an also-ran, and one without the fanbase of a Scott or an Anoop. I can’t really dispute his also-ran status; he hasn’t had a standout performance yet. He always sounds the same. He’s not bad, but he’s not exciting or quirky, and he never does anything vocally dazzling. He’s aural porridge, without the brown sugar. He sings Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, but does it even matter what he’s singing? If he was ever going to give a performance some razzle-dazzle, I suspect he’s left it too late now.

All the better singers have sunk to the bottom of the cereal box this week, leaving us with a second half full of delicious dehydrated marshmallows. We start the main show with Ms Lilian Rounds, the only black singer in Motown week. Lil has to carry all the divas all by her lonesome! No wonder she crumbles under the weight, both of that expectation and of her cushion of Michelle Obama hair extensions, which, by the way, look like no Motown ‘do I’ve ever seen. The song is Heatwave. The performance is lukewarm. Lilian! Stop shouting! (“I can’t!”)

Adam Lambert’s song is Tracks Of My Tears, which is both an awesome song in its own right, and a great song for Adam to sing if he wants to prove he’s more than just a camp spectaculah spectaculah. To drive the point home, Adam has wiped off his make-up, donned a grey suit, and pomaded his hair into submission. The song is similarly stripped down, and he looks and sounds great. Motown is big on falsetto, and his voice is suprisingly well suited to the style. It’s brave, it’s bold and it’s ever so good. That should silence a few critics.

Downey Gokey is doing Get Ready, because it’s a “fun song” to “get you moving”. We’ve all seen Downey moving, and it’s not nice. He dances like he’s squeezing a brick between his arsecheeks. Like Michael Sarver, he trots out exactly the same performance every week, though people seem to like his version more. I am thoroughly tired of him, but we’ll be stuck with his church hall-brand of  ’rock ‘n roll’ for a few weeks yet.

Allison Iraheta ends with Papa Was A Rolling Stone, which is a good choice for the underappreciated rocker. It’s a little low to start, but once she gets going it’s stadium stuff. Small stadium. Local sports team. I think one of Allison’s problems is that she doesn’t come across as 16 when she’s singing, so she doesn’t get the cute vote. She’s already good enough that there’s no journey to cheer her on for.

Looking at the recaps, it’s pretty obvious that it ought to be Matt Giraud (howling dogs), Megan Joy (screeching cats) and Michael Sarver (raging bull) in the bottom three, but if Scott McIntrye stumbles his way down in there, I won’t be upset about it.

Idol: Deal Or No Deal

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

wild-card

I thought wildcard night was going to be next week, but those sneaky buggers at Idol snuck it out this week, so I suppose I’d better blog it. Damn you, American Idol; haven’t you punished us enough? I’ll try to keep it brief. 

Oh, but first, a word on this week’s results show. The group performance of Katy Perry’s Hot and Cold must rate as the worst bit of theatre in the history of the show. Shambolic dancing, awful miming, and all the boys forced to sit down throughout because of Blind Scott. And then there was the coronation of Lil Rounds. Oh, and Jorge (yay) and Blind Scott (boo) also got through. Now on to the wildcard performances:

Jesse Langseth kicked off the hour with a languid speakeasy rendition of  Tell Me Something Good. The notes were wild, but the vibe was good, and she was smart enough to try to be quirky, which is bad when the public is voting, but good when it’s just the judges. Suddenly I like her.

Matt Giraud also went retro with a smooth blues version of Who’s Loving You, and after his abortive Coldplay number it’s nice to see him remembering to do what he’s good at. If he’d sung this the first time around he’d have been voted through! Simon says, “I saw bits of Taylor Hicks”, and the other judges get annoyed with him for making that belittling comparison. Uh, guys; Taylor Hicks won his season. It’s a mystery to us all, but he did win.

Spaniel-haired Megan did more of her arrhythmic shimmying with Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, and she seemed more relaxed and engaged this time around. Again, she would have been wise to perform like this on the first show. Did the existence of wildcard night make everyone think they had a guaranteed safety net?

If there’s one contestant whose presence on wildcard night I do not understand, it’s Von Smith, who, when asked to tone down his shrieking vocal hysterics, was exposed as a singer with no range or vocal control. I forget what he sang. I don’t care. He hopefully won’t trouble my existence again.

I’ve been championing Jasmine Murray for a while, possibly becase she looks like a young Eartha Kitt, but her version of the Disney/Christina Aguilera song Reflection has none of Eartha’s purring black coffee vocals. She has a very sweet voice; she’s not quite mastered it yet.

Ricky Braddy sang Superstition, and he showed impressive vocal ability and stage presence. He really is the American Will Young. He wholly deserves to be in this competition, but it’s not to be.

It honestly sickens me that they brought Tatiana back. She’s not right in the head, and exploiting her for ratings is as low as this show has ever sunk. Her song was Saving All My Love For You - the same song she sang on the last live show - and again her voice conjures a mental image of a male Cybil Shephard tribute act. Since Jorge endeared the nation by talking in Spanish on Tuesday, Tatiana has developed a thick Spanish accent. This girl is as shameless as she is crazy. Ethnic gets votes, so suddenly she’s ethnic.

Finally, Anoop, whose smug self-branding as ‘Anoop Dog’, matched with his bad eyebrows and the lack of effort he puts into his stage outfits (you’re performing in front of millions! Pick out a decent shirt, for God’s sake!), has ensured that I will never like him. Anoop revives My Prerogative (or ‘Puuuh-rah-gah-tiv’ - does no-one know that this word has an R in the first syllable?), which got him a lot of love in Hollywood week, but you can’t be novel with the same act twice. Simon points out that he didn’t sing it very well, but prepares us all for the reality that Anoop is going to get through because they’re ‘casting’ the final 12 and they need some personalities.

And, sure enough, Anoop is through, along with Jasmine, Megan and Matt. That’s four people rather than three, which should be a big surprise, but, let’s face it, it really isn’t. Simon Cowell loves to pull this kind of stunt. For the record, from my initial prediction for the top 12, seven made it through, which is not too bad, though it is now out of 13.

Next week, I keep my fingers crossed that they vote out Anoop or Blind Scott! But they won’t, and I will be screaming at my television for the next several weeks, and I will be taking it all out on you.

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.

Idol: The News Is Not Fabulous

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I didn’t get around to posting my Idol thoughts after last week’s episodes because last week’s episodes were far, far too boring. There was an hour of people sitting in rooms weeping, and two hours of the judges sitting in big red thrones in a hideous Hollywood approximation of Versailles, and that was basically it. They barely even sent anyone home! They did get rid of the elevators, though, thank God. (Elevators are like lifts, except they never go anywhere nice.) 

The only notable moments were Simon throwing a hissy fit when a pretty but talentless blonde got the boot; Kara telling the blind guy, “we want to see you again” (high five!); and doolally devilchild Tatiana screaming, “I’m going to prove it to every guy who told me that I had to sleep with him to get my album out; this is for all of you”. I think not, dear. Also, Paula tried to do Simon’s “the news is not good… it’s great” swerve, but came out with “the news is not great”, realised her mistake, and had nowhere left to go but, “it’s fabulous”.

Today we get to the first of the live shows, and there’s been a change in format. For the last few years the show has had 24 finalists, whittled down across 14 weeks. This year the contestants are voted in to the final 12 from a pool of 36, divided into three groups. Three go through each week, and the final three are picked by the judges in the ‘wild card’ week. 

What does all this mean? Well, it means singers have very little chance to impress. At least a third of the finalists will only get to sing once before being sent home. There is no cushion for the merely so-so, because avoiding the bottom two is not enough. Only the top boy, the top girl, and whoever comes second or third will survive. Exposure in the audition shows will be a big advantage.

Hopefully that doesn’t apply so much to the contestants who got exposure because they were hideous wrecks. I refer, of course, to hellish Tatiana Del Toro and whiny drama queen Nate Marshall, whose only redeeming quality is the face of horror he pulled when he saw that Tatiana had been put through. The new format should prove an interesting test for Vote for the Worst, which has already given its endorsement to Tatiana for tonight’s show. The only reason anyone would ever vote for Tatiana is because of Vote for the Worst - even her own mother surely does not love her, which would explain a great deal about Tatiana - yet if ever there were a ‘worst’ to vote for, she’s it. 

The new format makes predictions tough - we don’t even know how the second and third groups of 12 will be broken down - but I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. Based on nothing more than my personal hunches (with consideration given to talent, memorability and screentime), here’s who I think will make the final 12, and the order in which they’ll be voted out:

Matt Giraud (first out)
Jackie Tohn
Norman Gentle
Mishavonna Henson
Michael Sarver
Taylor Vaifanua
Jasmine Murray
Scott McIntyre
Stevie Wright
Adam Lambert
Danny Gokey
Lil Rounds (winner)

If I’m even close to right, I’ll look like a genius. If I’m completely wrong, we’ll never speak of this again.

Footnotes:

Jackie Tohn is the ‘funny girl’ contestant, and while she’s an acceptable singer, she’s also extraordinarily annoying, and the sort of girl who hangs out with her brother’s friends and does not get on with other girls. Many voters are going to hate her.

Norman Gentle (aka Nick Mitchell, not to be confused with Nate Marshall), is the ‘funny guy’, who sings in comedy character mode. He’s a good singer, but not anywhere close to good enough, and he’s funnier than he ought to be, but also not funny enough. I’m putting him in to the top 12 as an outside bet, based on exposure alone - but I freely admit that it’s a slim chance. That he has got as far as the live shows at all is a surprise.

I’m hoping that Brent Keith will make the final 12, because he’s the best-looking guy left, but I don’t think it will happen, so that leaves oil rig lump Michael Sarver as the closest thing to man-candy with a plausible shot, and he’s really more ‘teddy bear adorable’ than ‘rock star hot’.

Scott McIntrye is the blind guy, and apparently that in itself is a sob story. He’s got a shaky voice, but I can see him doing well because, hey, he sure is a trooper!

Despite saying that theatrical contestants never do well, I’m putting Adam Lambert in my top three. Yes, even after he sang Cher in a shrill showtunes style last week. If he fixes his breathing and stops channelling Ethel Merman, he’ll be one of the better performers in the competition with a good chance of building momentum, and his theatricality will seem muted compared to the likes of Nate Marshall and Norman Gentle. He’ll be a wildcard pick, and go on to finish strong.

I’m already bored of smoky-voiced Downey Gokey - by the latest shows I actually thought his star was fading and his friend Jamar’s star was rising, but Jamar went home and Downey is still here. Like Eliot Yamin or Taylor Hicks, I predict he will develop an inexplicably strong fanbase that will carry him through to the final. Also, everyone loves Robert Downey Jr these days.

For a more scientific method; Based on the number of comments contestants are receiving under their photos on the American Idol website, the final 12 will actually be Adam, Alex, Anoop, Ariana, Danny, Jasmine, Kristen, Matt, Michael, Nate, Norman and Tatiana, but obviously there’s a lot of internet hating going on with some of those, and Adam only has so many comments because his photo is first. Worryingly, a lot of people actually seem to like Tatiana.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the person I think will win almost never does. Melinda Dolittle? Katherine McPhee? David Archuleta? No, no, no. That bodes ill for Lil Rounds. Usually the person I think will come fifth or sixth seems to win it, so put your bets on Jasmine Murray, kids!