Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Thrice as hard

It's schizoid final three night on "American Idol," when it's hard to figure out who's most determined to sabotage the finalists: Clive Davis, the judges or themselves. Two sensational performances in the middle surrounded by a lot of very iffy material. In order...

Elliott Yamin, "Open Arms": First of all, Clive, "Open Arms" is "a rock song" the same way "Man I Feel Like a Woman" is a country song. The choice does Elliott no favors, not just because Clay sang it back in the day, but because the verses invoke the worst aspects of his vibratto, and because he winds up shouting through the entire chorus. The person who goes first in this round has gone home every single year (you can look it up), and Elliott really needed to kick ass on at least two, if not all three numbers to overcome that curse, the Soul Patrol and the producers' obvious affection for Kat. Not a good start, and things didn't get much better for the guy.

Katharine McPhee, "I Believe I Can Fly": When I first heard the rumor that Clive picked this, I thought, "Why, Clive, why would you do this to Katharine and to me?" I thought for sure it was going to indulge all of Kat's worst instincts about belting her way into a range she can't handle, but for most of the song, she was on top of the music. I was pleasantly surprised. Then came that bizarre arrangement of the chorus, which was sung almost entirely by the backup singers (probably because Kat couldn't go that high), and then she started to get sharp on the big notes at the end. Still, she made passable lemonade out of a big honking lemon.

Taylor Hicks, "Dancing in the Dark": All of the "conversations" between Clive and the contestants felt fake, but this was the only one where you could practically spot the cue cards on the edge of the frame. I'm biased because of my love of Bruuuuuuuuce, but I could not get into this at all. Taylor has always had problems understanding the lyrics of songs (he thought "Levon" was about "family values"), and he was way too peppy for a song about a lonely guy in a dead-end life who just wants to go out and get laid. Plus, doing the finger holster gesture on the "this gun's for hire" line was unforgivable. Not a bad choice of Paula as the Courteney Cox stand-in, but one great big pile of meh overall.

Elliott Yamin, "What You Won't Do For Love": After Simon telling him to show more confidence after the first song, Elliott overdoes it, to the point where he needs a neon sign behind him reading, "Hey! See how comfortable I am! See! Can you look? You're not looking!" This song should be in his wheelhouse, but he gets drowned out by the band, and his voice loses the soulful tone it usually has on this kind of material. (It was back for the next song.) Strike two.

Katharine McPhee, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": Now that, ladies and germs, was a Moment. Simple, intimate, emotional, no unnecessary embellishments, the a cappella opening... perfect in just about every way. So brilliant that it oughta catapult Kat into next week, despite iffy performances at the start and finish of the show. And if she does make it to the finals, her creepy stage mom needs to strap Kat into a chair, clip her eyelids open "Clockwork Orange"-style and force her to watch this performance over and over and over until she gets it into her thick, perfectly coiffed skull that this is the style that works for her, not all the runs and glory-noting.

Taylor Hicks, "You Are So Beautiful": Nearly as good at Katharine, except for that awful "woooooo!" bridge in the middle that completely broke the mood Taylor had created up until then. (And you'll note how abruptly he was able to shift gears back into Sad Taylor.) Where he struggled to connect with the Springsteen song, Taylor completely nailed the emotions of this one (aside, again, from the "wooooo!"). I loved how parts of it were almost whispered, and this is the first time he's managed to be interesting while standing still at the mic. More stuff like this and "Something" and less of the pointless dancing, please.

Elliott Yamin, "I Believe to My Soul": And now the tone of Elliott's voice is back, but I don't know that the song (or, at least, the arrangement) was interesting enough to allow him to show off the way he needed to. On the other hand, Simon's sincere goodbye to him may fire up the Yaminions (or whatever they're calling themselves) enough to push him past Kat. After Chris went home, I think I've given up on predictions.

Katharine McPhee, "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues": I liked the idea of this (upbeat and brassy after two ballads) and the beginning was quite good (other than too much smiling), but somewhere in the middle it turned into a complete mess: too many runs and that pain-inducing falsetto.

Taylor Hicks, "Try a Little Tenderness": Now, this should have been a home run for him, and it wasn't. There may never be a more perfect song for Taylor than this, with the quiet, emotional beginning and the completely manic ending. He got the first part right, but like Kat, went off the rails about halfway through (during that bizarre '70s guitar portion). I don't know if he was off the beat or just trying for some kind of weird syncopation, but he completely lost the flow of the song and the interplay with the horns, and it wound up not manic or passionate enough at the end. Really, it just made me want to pop in my "Committments" soundtrack to listen to Andrew Strong do it.

Should go home: Elliott. Nobody had a perfect night, but Katharine and Taylor were amazing on at least one song, and he never got above average on any of them.

Will go home: Again, I have no idea. I think the fervor of the Soul Patrol and the greatness of that middle song will carry Taylor through, but it's a toss-up between the other two. Are the Yaminions stirred to action by Simon's comment? Is Katharine so hated for not going home last week that she goes home when she doesn't deserve to? Does the song order hurt her?

Really, I don't know, but at this point, what I want is a Kat/Taylor final, because as they've shown in the past ("Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and "Something") and as they showed tonight, they're capable of greatness. And Elliott hasn't really been great since "Moody's Mood for Love" in the semis.


Daniel L. said...

A couple of questions about Kat: Why does she always seem to do her best while prone on the floor? And if she ain't got nothing but the blues, why is she smiling so damned much?

I guess what bothers me so much about this season is that none of the singers seemed to understand a word they were singing. And if you can't connect with the lyrics, then you're not singing a song -- you're simply hitting notes. And if I wanted that, I'd watch reruns of Diana DeGarmo and Carrie Underwood.

undercover black man said...

Well, no goosebumps for me. Not even for Kat (though she did rock that Little Black Dress). I'm afraid I just don't get all the rapture over "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It didn't move me. I bet you Paris could've sung it better.

Like Alan said, Clive Davis didn't do any of them any favors. Best performance of the night was Taylor's "You Are So Beautiful"... and even that had some odd little things that irked me (the way he phrased "...to me" the first couple of times). But I felt his emotional sincerity. Taylor still ain't no pop star, but he'll probably win the whole thing, and deserve to.

Poor Elliott. Indeed, he peaked many weeks ago. (I'd say the same about Kat, whose perfect performance was "Until You Come Back To Me" way back on Stevie Wonder night.)

What an odd place I find myself at; I thought this was a great season for "Idol," only it's gotten less and less interesting as it's gotten closer and closer to the finale. I have a lot of affection for the Top Three, but after tonight, they seem like a weaker field than they did just a few weeks ago.

undercover black man said...

P.S. Having just read Dan Fienberg's take, it reminds me that I was also a tad put off by the fact that Kat, with "Over the Rainbow," was trying so self-consciously for her "Fantasia Barrino moment" (and simultaneuously, I would add, her Bo Bice moment, by beginning a cappella). When she starts right off by evoking memories of TWO of the greatest performances in "AI" history, she raises the bar even higher for herself. And I don't think she cleared it. A nice rendition, yeah, but by no means magical.

Daniel said...

I'd forgotten about Bo's a cappella performance last year, UBM. That was a great performance! That was exactly the kind of thing that nobody this year has come close to equalling. And you know who should have tried to do something about that? Elliott. He's had trouble singing over the orchestra all season long. He should have told them to take a number off and he should have done some high quality jazz vocals without a net. Given how badly the producers seem to want him gone that may not have helped, but it would have given everybody pause. And THAT might have been the big "moment" that Alan has been praying for all season long.

Harlan E. said...

With all the talk this year about the lack of "big moments," let's keep in mind that last year's moments belonged to Bo -- and he finished second. I can't think of a single memorable performance from Carrie.

Same goes for Season Two. It seems like Clay had the big moments, and Ruben had ... I don't know. The T-shirts?

To have a big moment, you have to be willing to take a risk, to just give yourself over to the emotion of a song, and that seems something that people have been less willing to do, particularly as Idol becomes more popular.

Elliott in particular would have benefited from at least one performance where he said "what the hell" and just went for broke. I think he almost did that with "Trouble" last week, and that's why he made the Final Three. He didn't this week, and that's why he won't make the Final Two.

kevbo nobo said...

Did you catch Kat's weird facial expressions on the last song? Was she auditioning for Gemini's Twin?

Adam said...

Carrie had one Moment -- her rendition of Heart's "Alone".

undercover black man said...

I agree, Daniel, that this was the night for Elliott to try something "outside the box." Maybe just him and a jazz-trio backing, upright bass and all. Then again, it's kind of remarkable that he's come this far, with some much prettier and stage-savvier contestants long gone. Simon shouldn't have necessarily brought mamas into it, but point taken... Elliott has done all of his fans proud.

Laura Ingalls Wilder said...

I was totally bummed that Elliott didn't give the performances he needed to. Seriously bummed. As for Taylor and Kat, I'm just not that in to either of them. Thought, Alan, I agree that a Taylor/Kat finale has the potential for greatness.

jaynee said...

ubm - I think Paris would have massacred "Over the Rainbow". She has a propensity to start her W words with "Hwa" sounds. So the whole song would have been like this...

"Some-huhwhere over the the rainbow, huhway up high..."

I think I would have turned the tv off if Paris sang that song.