Tuesday, February 17, 2009

American Idol: Semi-finals, week one

I don't have the heart or the patience to start doing singer-by-singer breakdowns of "American Idol" until the finals begin, but I'll offer some general thoughts on who did well and who didn't on night one of the semi-finals, after the jump...

Going into the night, everybody knew Danny Gokey was a lock to advance -- compelling backstory with his late wife, tons of screentime through his friendship with Jamarr, nice guy, killer voice -- and nothing that happened tonight changed that. As mentioned in many past "Idol"-related columns and blog posts, I despise the works of Mariah Carey, and Danny actually made me like "Hero." He didn't even need the pimp spot, but this was a case of the producers making it clear early on who the guy is to beat.

Beyond Danny? I initially looked at this particular semi-final grouping and thought it would be a reprise of the semi-final group from season two that featured Reuben, Clay and Kimberley -- who happened to finish 1-2-3 that year. We had not only Danny, but Anoop Desai and Michael Sarver the roughneck competing for at most two spots (one, really, since we knew Danny would get one), and the female half of the group featured a bunch of women with potential who had been heavily featured in earlier rounds -- though, admittedly, one of them was the possibly psychotic Tatiana Del Toro.

But if we went into the night with it looking like the producers had unfairly stacked the deck -- possibly to generate some early buzz for the return of the wildcard show -- we came out of it with these 12 looking much less impressive as a whole. After Danny, there were two other very strong performances, one male and one female, in Ricky Braddy and Alexis Grace. But even though Ricky did a very strong, Elliott Yamini-y take on "A Song For You," he hasn't had a lick of screentime before tonight, so he might have to wait for the wildcard, where the audience plays no role at all in who advances to the finals. Alexis was surprisingly strong on Aretha's "I Never Loved a Man," in that a little white blonde girl with pink streaks in her hair shouldn't sound so convincing on such a bluesy song, but she pulled it off.

As for the other early favorites, Anoop was solid but chose a blander song than I would have liked, and the judges rightfully called out Sarver for being too safe. Stevie Wright imploded with a painful, shrieky Taylor Swift cover, and Casey Carlson managed to out-pageant even Diana DeGarma with her smiley, pointy take on "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." I've already forgotten almost everyone else, and the show ended 15 minutes ago as I type this.

I know Danny's going through, and I feel reasonably confident about Alexis. So does Ricky somehow make it through on talent alone, the way a guy like Charles Grigsby did with this format back in season two? Do Anoop or Sarver ride their previous screentime in?

Or will the judges' desperate pleas for Tatiana to bring back the crazy at all costs resonate with viewers somehow? Vote For the Worst is already backing her (not that they matter), and you just know she'll be back for the wildcard if she doesn't go through tonight. But I have to have faith in the "Idol" viewers at large. If they're guilty of anything, it's putting too much stock in personality over talent/performance, but Tatiana sure isn't the kind of personality they've backed in the past. And her clip package was spectacular in its tone-deafness, as if she had watched all her appearances to date with no idea how terribly she was coming across on-screen.

So my hopeful predictions are Danny, Alexis and Anoop, with Ricky coming back and impressing in a couple of weeks for the wildcard. But I ain't sitting through an hour-long results show to find out if I'm right.

And speaking of padding, it was almost like the show needed to be two hours to squeeze in the comments from the new four-judge set-up. I was watching a lot of the episode on DVR delay, and after a while I lost patience waiting to get to Simon and started fast-forwarding through the other three (in addition to the appearances by the parents, the clip packages, etc.). I don't care if Kara is marginally more articulate than Randy; I don't want to have to sit through three people to get to Simon. And that's going to be a problem once the show condenses back to an hour in however many weeks' time.

What did everybody else think?

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Idol cannot and should not be watched live. Performance-Simon-Performance-Simon, etc.

Total view time? Approx 14 minutes. Recovering the remaining 106 minutes for your own life? Priceless

J said...

While I agree with almost everything you said (I don't think Gokey was amazing, I thought a lot of that song was very soft), I would really like the under-talented Tatiana to stick around. I know the reality show/serial killer combo has become a comedy cliche, but if anyone is going to help realize that situation it's Madame Loco.

Hard to criticize this show for wasting time because they do it so often (and those post-performance interviews were brutal time-sucks) but giving a solid 90 minutes to 9 singers who won't ever be heard from again? Brutal.

Bobman said...

Idol cannot and should not be watched live. Performance-Simon-Performance-Simon, etc.

Pretty much. You miss the occasional comedy gold with Ryan flubbing an interview, and you could easily get liver damage playing a drinking game by taking a shot every time Randy says "dog", but really watching the full Idol show is just unreasonable, and I LIKE the show.

Pretty much agree with the singing assessment, Alan. Aside from Danny and Alexis, there were some HORRIFIC performances. Stevie Wright in particular, WOW.

And it's really a shame Tatiana is OH so crazy, cuz she really has a lot of potential in her voice. Not that tonight's was anything amazing, but you can tell that without the crazy she could really be a contender.

Jenny said...

I'm not a regular Idol watcher and this was my first time watching this season. The best part of the show, for me, was the one second of footage when they cut to Neil Patrick Harris in the audience.

In other words -- this show is boring.

Also, are there usually as many tech/directing problems? It seemed like they couldn't mic the thing to save their lives, which I guess one can forgive on the first live show of the season, but they've been doing this for eight gajillion seasons already.

Lisa said...

I think you're right - I think the 4 judges are going to be a problem. I don't understand why Kara is there when she and Paula seem to be playing the same role, although Paula is definitely the nicer of the two. I might pull my hair out anytime Kara starts questioning what Simon knows about anything - as others have said, the only way to watch the show is Performance-Simon-Performance-Simon.

I think I can safely say it's going to be an interesting year...and not necessarily in a good way.

Nicole said...

I haven't watched AI this year, but the guy in the top photo looks like the first Canadian Idol, Ryan Malcolm, with just a tad smaller forehead. I don't know if that bodes well since Malcolm was essentially ditched by the CI people and started his own indie band a few years later.

Eric Fingerhut said...

I agree with you about the four judges, but they had four a lot of weeks in seasons two and three with the guest judge format and I don't remember getting that frustrated waiting for Simon--so maybe it won't be that bad. And Kara finally had some interesting comments tonight, after not adding much except insults of Bikini Girl in the early episodes.

Maura said...

I agree with pretty much everything you said, Alan, especially about Danny making me like "Hero". I also despise the Mariah Carey songbook, along with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. But I didn't want to put hot pokers in my ears when Danny was singing. He must be a witch or something.

The show was mostly a mess though. Poor Stevie Wright. I remember being impressed with her audition. She started out too low tonight and was lost after that. Casey Carlson was awful, and Jackie what's-her-name was a disaster in both her performance and her outfit. Shiny workout pants don't belong on a stage.

I put at least some of it down to first-voting-night nerves. Anoop didn't do well, but, like Michael, people seem to love him. Steven Fowler was off tempo and uneven.

Too much blabbing by the judges, although I like that Kara said there are some songs and bands you just don't touch. They should put together a list, and make it a hard and fast rule. Also, banning all Carey/Houston/Dion songs would be nice.

Lilmisshollywood said...

So... I am an avid Idol watcher but this season has left something to be desired. I don't mind the 4 judges (I think Randy needs to go) or the sit downs - whatever I am used to all of that but the disappointment falls in the voting situation. Tonights performances all around were disappointing (even from my "boyfriend" Danny). I feel like the people who are really dedicated to this show and vote every single week are being ripped off. I usually have a handful of favorites early on and I like to vote for all of them but I only voted for 1 guy and 1 grl and I am quite certain that many long time fans such as myself will quit voting all together until the top 12 is in place. The first mistake they made was not putting Jamar through. If Danny hadn't made it I would not be watching at all. I just hope they don't get so desperate for change that they lose what made them awesome to begin with.

BigTed said...

I actually thought Danny Gokey was pandering with that "Hero" song -- it was like all the times when the country-style singers have pulled out something with "America" in the title. It wasn't bad, but it seemed kind of cheap.

dvlman said...

Tatiana sang pretty well and wasn't crazy at all. In fact, she was perfectly normal.

I actually only liked one performance - Ricky Braddy. Gokey and Anoop were both disappointing, and they seriously overrated Alexis Grace (although all the other girls were horrible - or Tatiana - so she's a lock to advance).

Anonymous said...

I can't help but fear that Danny's wheelhouse consists of a lot of Creed and Michael Bolton.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who Ricky is. That doesn't bode well for him.

amysusanne said...

@Jenny: The technical difficulties were out of control bad last night. They've had bumps in the past, but last night was embarassing. And making it even more awkward was having Seacrest, the dude whose job it is to smooth over mistakes and act as distraction when the judges start beating up on a contestant unnecessarily, was upstairs for most of the night with a bunch of boring, awkward, weird parents. His ass should have been on stage with the contestants. I know that in these rounds there are many times when he is upstairs, but it sorts of alternates and he's never in one place constantly. They need to get him back on the floor because even though a couple of those contestants *sucked* (horribly) it hits a point where it's not fun to watch Simon twist the knife and Seacrest should be there to take the heat off of them.

I thought Danny was very, very good (though I do think he probably was pandering a little bit) and Anoop was great, if boring. I lost interest in most of the rest. Alexis was very good as well, but I was distracted by her makeover. She was a cross between a cleaned up Courtney Love and the second party girl in an SVU opening scene who explains that the last time she saw her dead friend was on the way to the bathroom. Not all that cute. And even though she is a seriously cute girl outside of the stupid clothes and hair, but she's not a knockout. So it sort of annoys me how much Simon adores her when he basically called the other cute, blonde girl with streaky hair ugly.

K J Gillenwater said...

Danny, Pink hair girl, Anoop. Anoop picked a bad song, but I've seen him perform in the past...and that dude can sing. I was really hoping he was going to sing "Prerogative."

I did like a couple others, but only for personality reasons and back stories more than their song choices and sing talents showcased last night.

I'm guessing some of those people will be back for the wild card round.

Anonymous said...

I was really dissapointed in most of the female performers (and the male performers to a lesser extent). Thank god for DVR... those interviews with the parents afterwards were just uncomfortable. The sound mix seemed off between the vocals and the backing music. No one really sounded too good until Danny. I thought they were pretty harsh on the girl who sang Natural Woman... I thought she sounded pretty good or perhaps it was just that the rest were so dissapointing. Overall, just a really dissapointing and boring episode.

Sonia said...

So we heard whitney, Mariah and Aretha (twice!) last night -- only think missing was Celine! Ugh!

Danny Gokey is advancing, duh. He could have sang Row Your Boat and advanced. But I actually like him. And Alexis Grace will advance -- she was really good -- her voice sounded good and her performance was believable. I couldn't listen to Stevie Wright (OMG) or Casey Carlson. Just awful. I think the 3rd to advance will be either Michael Sarver (he can sing better, but that roughneck back story is worth it's weight in gold records) or Tatiana (I have to say, she sang pretty well...oy). It SHOULD be Ricky Braddy -- what a beautiful voice!! But no one knows who he is.

This is how I watched the show...performance, back story (only if I never heard of the person), Kara, Simon, performance, Kara, Simon, etc. Kara is a more coherent, more articulate Randy/Paula, and Simon really tells the truth.

Chris the TV Sage said...

It's not as much of an issue when we get to this point in the competition, but I'd like to add to that list of banned artists "any previous AI contestant."

Will be watching this ep tonight - thanks for the warning in advance. I'll have my finger glued to the 30-second-skip. :)

dark tyler said...

Well, I really dislike Gokey (what's his story again? Could someone please remind me?) but at least everyone seems to like what to me was clearly the only amazing performance of the night, Alexis' take on an Aretha song. Which actually makes her the only contestant ever (bar The Clarkson) to touch Aretha and walk away a winner. Hence Simon's analogy was spot on. As were all of his comments; he usually is something like 70-80% correct, last night he was on fire. (He was also the only who didn't scream and cry after Gokey pulled a Mariah.)

Anonymous said...

2 things about the judges really bothered me last night.
Tatiana seemed to be making a real effort to stay under control, and the judges couldn't be bothered to discuss her singing much and kept trying to make her go crazy - that was just embarrassing.
And Kara has WAY too much arrogance - she did an eye-rolling thing in response to one of the contestants, acting as if they had told her off. I've seen her do it before and, frankly, Kara to the public is basically a nobody, so she ought to judge and keep her ego in check.
Agree with y'all, DVR is the ONLY way to watch this.

Bryan said...

GAGGGHH - maybe I don't usually watch this round, or maybe it's just the 4 judges or the lack of talent- but is this show always this freakin bad? Maybe I should've done what you did Alan and watched it on delay but my wife and I were watching it live and at 8:30 it occurred to me they had it timed out for 3 singers per half hour which would mean 6 hours of this garbage to get to all the singers.

This was the worst half hour of tv I've watched since... hell, I can't remember the last time I watched a half hour of tv this bad.

Initially I thought the fourth judge might help but she's quickly becoming as inane as the other two.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think if Danny sings nothing but inspirational ballads, he'll become as boring as Archuleta. But I like the quality of his voice, which sounds a lot like Robert Downey Jr, and I don't begrudge him the way the producers are milking his dead wife.

amysusanne said...

It's not saying very much since these rounds can be torture, but no...it's actually not usually this bad. The contestants sucked, the direction sucked, the judges sucked and Seacrest, while probably the most competent of them all for that particular two hours, was struggling. It was rough.

And even though I don't disagree with most of the opinions on the fact that we don't need Kara at all, it's Simon that's really working my nerves. The other two are just the same old, same old and Kara's a mixture of the two, but Simon seems to be actually working to be a pointless ass. His jabs aren't funny anymore and his criticism is pretty hollow and doesn't seem to be accomplishing much at all. If he wants to make them cry, fail. If he wants to make people laugh, fail. If he wants to offer genuine constructive criticism, fail. He alternated between being completely boring and actively irritating me. Plus, I don't think he's a stupid man. He's not an idiot. So, the "I don't know what you're talking about" whenever Ryan makes his dumb jokes is more annoying than the dumb jokes themselves. I'm a bit over Cowell right now.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tatiana seemed to be making a real effort to stay under control, and the judges couldn't be bothered to discuss her singing much and kept trying to make her go crazy - that was just embarrassing.

Yeah, that was one of the more pathetically transparent moments in the show's history, wasn't it? They may as well have told her, "Be crazier, and maybe we'll make you a wild card!"

Maura said...

It SHOULD be Ricky Braddy -- what a beautiful voice!! But no one knows who he is.

He's very good. And he sang a Leon Russell song. Points for that.

I was also irritated by how the judges, except for Simon, dealt with Tatiana. I am no fan, but they should have stuck with critiques of her singing, which isn't bad at all, by the way. Encouraging her to continue to act batshit crazy won't do anyone any good. Particularly me. :)

I think Alexis started out well but kind of fell apart towards the end. Even so, at least she wasn't entirely out of her element, unlike some of the others.

Jenn. said...

There wasn't a single great performance last night, which was disappointing. I thought that Danny Gokey was the best of the 12, but it definitely did not merit the screaming, jumping up-and-down, etc., of the Randy-Kara-Paula trifecta.

Mark B said...

The show should have a music adviser for the contestants to consult with. I'm tired of the judges saying "You picked the wrong song. Too bad. You lose." And stop offering them Whitney Houston songs only to tell them after it's too late that "you shouldn't try to sing Whitney."

It's a singing contest, not a song-picking contest. The eventual winner may have some say in what they will record, but a lot of it is going to be dictated by the people at the label.

I generally like Simon, but he seemed particularly mean, acting more like the caricature of him. He can offer constructive criticism, but he was just plain dismissive. "You're not going to win." OK, then you should have put someone else in the top 36.

Anonymous said...

I think the back up singing really affected the contestants performance last night, i hope they do somthing about it for the the other semi- finalist... i sure wouldn't want them messing up lilround.

AndyW said...

Sounds like Robert Downey Jr.? Gokey is his frickin' mini me. I have cognitive dissonance just looking at him. I keep expecting the orderlies from the rehab facility to drag him off stage... OK, that may have been unkind.

On the plus side, if Gokey has any sense of humor at all, he'll do "Iron Man" for one of the rock music weeks.

So Cal said...

i was shocked by how good Alexis was. That little white girl has some soul!

I do not know how anyone could watch this show live! I always record it and watch only the performances and Simon. It's awesome to be able to fast forward through all the worthless drivel from Seacrest and those interviews.

And luckily tonight, being a west coaster, i can just check anywhere online and get the results of who made it through by 6 PM

Ben said...

Agree with most of the previous comments about the episode itself and those likely to advance (something tells me Tatiana gets through; the fact the bar for her was so low and she cleared it pretty easily makes me think she gets in over some of the lesser known folks...too bad Casey Carlson blew it)...

- Alan, you are TOTALLY right about Damnny getting the pimp slot. Man, could the producers make it more obvious each and every season who they WANT to advance.

- With that said, I think this new format has the potential for disaster. IF only three of the nine advance, then we could easily have a Sanjaya/Scott Savol situation in which some lesser singers stay and more deserving folk don't. I know that is the case every year, but the variable for that to occur this time with only three of 12 getting in initially is much, much higher.

Even with wildcard week, they will only be able to get three deserving folk in...

Davy said...

Regarding all the live production screw-ups -- considering this was the first live show post-Nigel, perhaps it was a matter of producers being a bit more stretched than they imagined.

Chris said...

"She was a cross between a cleaned up Courtney Love and the second party girl in an SVU opening scene who explains that the last time she saw her dead friend was on the way to the bathroom."

Best. Comment. Ever.

dark tyler said...

I think if Danny sings nothing but inspirational ballads, he'll become as boring as Archuleta. But I like the quality of his voice, which sounds a lot like Robert Downey Jr, and I don't begrudge him the way the producers are milking his dead wife.
Fair enough. This whole thing just brings back bad memories from Simon's Idol Clone in the UK, where there was this guy whose wife had died, and he just kept reminding everyone, and kept crying on live TV, and kept singing ballad after ballad... This thing was just embarrassing and tacky. So, seeing now Gokey coming to his first live performance singing the mother of all sucky inspirational ballads (a song that also brings Cowell's The X Factor to mind) is just... It just feels way too calculated, this whole thing, and personal tragedies never should.

baggsey said...

I watch Idol for 2 reasons only:
1) Hopefully see some good amateur performers improve week on week through a combination of perseverence, hard work and talent.
2) Watching Simon Cowell make accurate observations on the performances that are relevant and straight talking.
We got a little of both, so it wasnt a total waste of two hours.

Contestants:
1) Best was Alexis, who established herself as the one to beat from this round. She showed that she could successfully re-invent herself and demonstrated a tough no-nonsense side to her persona that I liked. Real confidence and stage presence.
2) Danny second, although I was disappointed by Danny's performance ; expected more intensity. He's certainly talented, but underwhelmed me this time around
3) Couldnt care about any of the other contestants - didn't see the stamina and talent to make it through the long haul.

Format:
4) The four judge format is good. It can work if you have four articulate judges who can quickly evaluate check off (a)Charisma, (b) singing ability, (c) confidence, etc. This means having judges who know what they're looking for and how to net it down. I'd vote to keep Simon and Kara, and bring in Louie Walsh and Cheryl Cole from the UK X-Factor to replace Paula and Randy.
5) Interviewing the family members is a dismal idea. Ryan deserves a medal for managing it so well against a background of time slippage and technical glitches. He demonstrated that he's at the top of his game.
6) At its heart, the American Idol format is stale. It would cost Fox big money to transfer to Simon Cowell's X-Factor format, but they would benefit enormously from having judges who have a vested interest in coaching specific performers.

baggsey said...

Meant to add that American Idol has got a long way to go before it reaches the entertainment value of "Britain's Got The Pop Actor". I defy you to not watch this and bust a gut laughing...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJDQ4kN3czY

Anonymous said...

Best line of the night LOL

Simon," What ....?? What ever did become of Bucky?"

LA said...

I like Kara. At the very least, she's articulate, and that quality alone raises her a hundred notches above Randy and Paula.

dark tyler said...

It would cost Fox big money to transfer to Simon Cowell's X-Factor format, but they would benefit enormously from having judges who have a vested interest in coaching specific performers.

Oh, that would be amazing! But they'd definitely need better judges to pull this off; The X Factor had the perfect line-up this year. They should just bring them over as they were. (It would help Girls Aloud start a career in the US as well. :P)