Wednesday, March 18, 2009

American Idol, Top 11: Country/Grand Ole Opry Night

I was at the United Nations for most of this evening to attend the special "Battlestar Galactica" panel (to be blogged about tomorrow), and when I got home I raced through tonight's "American Idol," skipping over most of the judges' comments and other fluff and primarily just watching the songs. Song-by-song breakdown coming up just as soon as I catch the flu...

Michael Sarver, "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)": This theme should be right in the roughneck's wheelhouse, and if this is the best he can do on the theme, he should start packing his bags. This was karaoke Garth Brooks at best. Props for not running out of breath on some of the longer lines (which is more than could be said for the very next performance), but completely unmemorable.

Allison Iraheta, "Blame It On Your Heart": Okay, so she's not going to make everything sound like a Heart song. Presentation-wise, she was as cutesy and pageant-y as Randy Travis feared it would be. Close your eyes, and it mostly sounds good, other than the aforementioned breath control problems, but the overall performance was a turn-off.

Kris Allen, "To Make You Feel My Love": I want to commend him for doing a very simple, straightforward arrangement and a performance unadorned with runs and glory notes and all the other junk that gets Randy all excited. And this is the first time Kris has sounded like someone who could have a song on the radio. But it wouldn't be this particular song, which was fairly dull. I'd rather see this level of restraint applied to a tune good enough to need no garnish.

Lil Rounds, "Independence Day": I feel like we hear this one at least once or twice per season, and Lil's is one of the better renditions to date. She (mostly) reins in her tendency to shout, and she does it pretty straight. Not a stand-out -- which can be a problem on an episode this long, when you go this early -- but solid.

Adam Lambert, "Ring of Fire": Like David Cook last year and Blake Lewis the year before, Adam seems determined to bend the theme each week to his own skill set. Unlike those two guys, he can be really annoying when he does it. I don't object to the arrangement itself -- it's no more a reinvention of the song than, say, Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" -- than the random, self-indulgent belting and wailing at the end. It's clear that Adam has one of the better instruments of the season -- not to mention stage presence to spare -- but I have yet to really like anything he's done with that instrument.

Scott MacIntyre, "Wild Angels": He's still picking bland songs -- though you'll note he makes reference to losing some "hat picks," which suggests the list of possible songs isn't as huge as the show sometimes wants us to believe -- and still struggling to hit the notes, but at least the judges are starting to lose patience with him. He's just not very good, and being graded on a curve because he's blind (when that's in no way an impediment to singing) is insulting to him and to the audience.

Alexis Grace, "Jolene": This started out wonderfully and then sputtered to the finish line. Unlike smiling Brooke White on last year's Country Night, Alexis gets the plaintive tone, and I love her phrasing, but when the song started to go high as it went along, it sounded pretty rough. Alexis is still one of my favorites, but she's been better.

Danny Gokey, "Jesus Take the Wheel":
I really dislike this song, and Danny gives the kind of Archuleta 2.0 performance I feared from him after the semi-finals: sober, inspirational and snooze-worthy. The verses in particular had none of the gruff quality that made last week's "PYT" so great, and even though the growl returned on the chorus, the tune seemed a poor match for his voice.

Anoop Desai, "You're Always On My Mind": Apparently, the producers and judges have recognized that they've piled on Anoop too much the last few weeks with the comments and the number of times he's had to wait to be picked last, so he not only gets an apology of sorts from Simon, but the sort of split-screen production that the show usually saves for its favorite contestants. The vocal itself is very strong and soulful and totally worthy of the inevitable "Anoop is back!" woofing from the judges, and my only concern is that the last two weeks may have scared him out of having fun on stage. And what I want from the Anoop Dogg is fun, not above-average balladeering.

Megan Joy, "I Go Walking After Midnight": The snippet we hear her perform for Randy Travis sounds wonderful: sexy and yet goofy, with that Zooey Deschanel quality Megan has to her voice. What she does in the live show is more along the lines of her nervous semi-finals performances, possibly owing to the bad flu she's obviously suffering, and of course her movements are as spastic and amusing as ever. She desperately, desperately needs someone to coach up her stage presence, and hopefully she'll be around long enough to find that someone.

Matt Giraud, "So Small": In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I randomly drew Matt in our office "Idol" pool, and in this economy I have a vested interest in him somehow making it to first or second place. I think he has too much of an uphill climb to get past obvious favorites Danny, Adam, Alexis and Lil, but this confident Carrie Underwood cover is a step in the right direction. Go Matt! Alan needs a new pair of shoes! Literally!

Best of the night: No one was transcendent, but there were a number of very strong performances. I'd probably go with Anoop, even though I don't want him doing this kind of song every week.

In danger: Now that the obvious cannon fodder is gone, it's time to start applying some of the traditional "Idol" formulas for failure, and on a night when no one was brilliant and no one was godawful, I suspect those who went early could be in more trouble, most likely Michael. Hopefully, either he or Scott are going home Wednesday night, but I don't have a strong feeling about the boot.

What did everybody else think?

34 comments:

Sonia said...

I absolutely hated Adam tonight. Annoying doesn't begin to describe it...that song was so over the top it was a joke.

I thought Matt was great -- and you never know Alan...there could be some new shoes in your future! LOL

Jenn. said...

Great review, Alan. I think that you explained my Adam issues better than I've been able to. I liked Lil's performance less than you did and Matt's maybe a touch more.

Michael said...

Adam's rendition of "Ring of Fire" made me want to claw my ears off to stop the bleeding.

There's "owning the song" and "putting your own spin on the song" but this was Awful with a side of Cringeworthy.

Kelly said...

Count me in as one of the Adam haters tonight. Ugh - that was truly horrid. I cheered when Simon said it was self-indulgent crap. Ick.

Kris, Anoop and Megan Joy were definitely my top three tonight. Alan, did you really find Kris' song boring? I've always loved "To Make You Feel My Love" and thought Kris did a wonderful job of it and kept it from being dull.

Anoop was brilliant and Megan Joy was well.. a joy. I love her horrible dancing and hope they don't teach her how to act on stage. It's such an endearing part of her personality. I adore it.

Lizbeth said...

I thought Adam was so bad, he was good. He's clearly original and unlike the others, I actually remember his bizarre indulgent performance.

IDOLpeeps.com said...

Nice summary. Do you publish these in the Leger as well?

Did you know you can rate each idol in your twitter status on a 1-10 scale by including #lastname=x and/or visiting http://IDOLpeeps.com

amysusanne said...

I haven't had a problem with Adam in previous weeks. He's clearly got a good voice, good stage presence, seems likable...but, this week? I felt the same way I used to feel when Constantine would spend his three minutes staring into the camera: violated. If it had been good I might have overlooked the self indulgent BS surrounding it, but there was just too much. And, tbh, I hated his attitude. In years past with guys like Chris Daughtry (who sort of cheated his way through theme weeks he had no interest in) or David Cook (who found good arrangements or did his own) you had people who worked to bring the theme into their world when it wasn't something already in their wheelhouse. They didn't really have attitude about it or seem above the source. I never saw David Cook rolling his eyes at Mariah Carey or Daughtry bitching about Stevie Wonder. By the end of Adam's last "yeah, I'm not going to Nashville" I had had enough. At least *pretend* that you don't think that you're too good for the theme. You're supposed to be an actor, so act.

Still love Anoop and Megan, liked Chris and liked about half of Danny's performance. I thought Lil was way too average and she's better than that. It seems like she was going for a statement song (or putting a good spin on getting stuck with a song), but it didn't really work. I could have actually seen her singing one of Reba's big anthems over this one.

rhamilton said...

Man, "To Make You Feel My Love" is a good/great Dylan song. It's simple, but not at all boring.

Same with "Always on My Mind" and Willie - I've nothing against Anoop doing ballads if he's gonna do the best ones.

And I thought Adam was adorable, but I'm sure he'll see his slip in the votes and reign in his nonsense a little next week.

Kathy said...

Count my husband and me as "old fogeys" and we loved Adam! It's not our kind of music but we both appreciated the talent that went into his performance. Every time I see him I think, "This is what a modern day Elvis would be doing!"

lungfish said...

I like Simon's interpretation that it was Li'l, short for Little... much more interesting than plain old Lillian.

Anonymous said...

Can we send 2 home again this week?

Poor Scott has been soooo used by the Idol producers...all that chat from Kara & Paula about "we can't wait to see you back behind your instrument" before the top 13. Well, the piano, when he's used is, hasn't hidden that while he seems like a great guy, but he just doesn't have the chops.

And Michael, again, seems like a great guy, and he's a pretty good singer, but his performance was so boring!

What's next weeks' theme?

Adam said...

"Stay In The Box!" -- Lil, Matt

"Step Out Of The Box!" -- Scott, Allison

Also, as one of my co-bloggers noted, Lambert was doing Dilana's version of "Ring of Fire" from Rock Star 2.

K J Gillenwater said...

Adam was just horrible. And not just for the song choice or the arrangement....but because he really thinks all that high pitching screeching is his 'thing.' I wish for once he would just sing without the screech. Finding ways to use that horrid wailing every week is not doing him any favors.

My favorites were Kris Allen (which totally surprised me), Anoop, and Danny (just for the chorus, the verses were snooze-worthy).

I really really want to like Megan, but her last two song choice have just been, well, wrong. I want her to either choose songs that allow her quirkiness to work, or to choose better arrangements. Something is just not gelling for me. But I give her a pass based on Influenza-B.

Lil Rounds is sinking...why did she have to 'honor' country week by singing a country song straight and without her R&B flair?? I *wanted* her to have that R&B flair. That would've made her performance memorable and unique. This was just not good. Not only was her song choice wrong and the arrangement, but her singing was just not good.

Everyone else was pretty forgettable. However, it was a bad week overall, because there was not ONE song that I wanted to download from iTunes.

Katie said...

I was totally uncomfortable during Adam's performance (and at first I thought I hated it) - but we watched it twice and by the end all I was thinking was that he has an amazing voice. He needs a coach - but he has by far the best voice of the season. And I want to see him again. Also - having Matt on the piano and performing that well really makes it clear that Scott is out of his league.

amysusanne said...

Wow. I forgot that Dilana was a person. I watched her season (or at least most of it) but I don't remember that performance. Reality show contestants "borrowing" from other reality show contestants.

ex-mundelainer said...

Adam's performance was so weird it was mesmerizing. I, too, watched it twice, and decided only after the second viewing I liked it. He really does have an amazing voice -- on pure vocal talent, I don't think anyone in S8 can touch him. Then again, I am a musical theater FREAK, and theatrics/flamboyancy are right up my alley.

Forrester said...

Gotta say it, this was the first time I actually liked Adam. Still can't stand his overall look and MTV vibe, but at least his music is becoming more original. Up till now, I just thought he was the second coming of the Jonas Brothers.

I'm pulling for Matt to win also. I find that his songs are more mature. They stick in my head.

The only other singer to capture my interest is Megan who is obviously getting through solely on looks.

Bod Smell said...

Adam will shine when they do Jesus Christ Superstar week! I dont see him doing anything other than that kind of stuff (doing it well). Nothing wrong with that...

Mark B said...

Lil Rounds is sinking...why did she have to 'honor' country week by singing a country song straight and without her R&B flair?? I *wanted* her to have that R&B flair. That would've made her performance memorable and unique.

That's a tough call for me. I liked that she was willing to do it straight and show she could do it, rather than take the "black people should sing it differently" route.

On the other hand, in an elimination competition, contestants must stand out. Her "R&B flair" may well have served her better.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Re: whether Lil should have changed it up, in season three -- aka The Season of the Diva -- Fantasia and La Toya both knocked it out of the park by playing things relatively straight on Country Night, doing two of the songs from this evening: Fantasia on "Always On My Mind," La Toya on "Ain't Goin' Down."

So it can be done, and I find that approach a lot more interesting than the Syesha approach last year of just grabbing "I Will Always Love You" and doing the Whitney version of it to duck the theme.

Cool as it was last year to watch David Cook impose his will on the various themes, one of his best performances of that season was when he did a seemingly ill-suited theme (Andrew Lloyd Weber Night) entirely straight.

Lil wasn't on the level of any of those three, but I appreciated the effort.

Wordnerd said...

Thank you for saying what you did about Scott -- he is absolutely being graded on a curve, and it is absolutely insulting to him. He's just not that good. Take away his disability and he would have been long gone.

Adam has been a favorite of mine - until last night. His arrogance towards the genre was offensive. I didn't really have a problem with the arrangement - he sounded like a wailing Jeff Buckley in parts of it - but my problem with Grand Ole Opry night, or R&B night, or any other theme is that I believe you need to be true to the genre. In other words, if it's a country song, put your own spin on it, but make it sound at least a little bit country. His treatment of Ring of Fire was nothing more than thumbing his nose at a genre that he thinks beneath him. I'm not a huge country fan, but he lost points with me for that.

Larry said...

Wasn't "To Make You Feel My Love" originally a Billy Joel song Garth Brooks covered? The arrangement was so different than Billy's. I was impressed how much it was changed for Idol.

Kathy said...

I see Scott heading straight for a career in modern Christian music...no need for him to "prove" himself with anything else. He knows his audience.

I got the impression that Adam wasn't so much thumbing his nose at country music as he was acknowledging that he would never be accepted by Nashville.

And I remember how crazy everyone was about Daughtry's version of "I Walk the Line"!

amysusanne said...

It's a Dylan song. Garth and Billy both covered it, iirc, around the same time.

amysusanne said...

@Kathy:

I think it was a little bit of both, really. But, I also think he went in with a bad attitude and kept that bad attitude rolling through the show. If you don't think you'll be accepted by Nashville, that's fine. Be the underdog. He didn't do that. He was a little eyerolly and "oh, hell no" when Ryan made the crack about how he wasn't headed to Nashville anytime soon. His entire schtick, from start to finish, came off very condescending, which made his song seem even more of a thumb of the nose.

Larry said...

Thanks Amy! I'll have to check out the original, and compare it to the other versions.

Anonymous said...

Adam's performance reminded me of Jim Carrey's karaoke scene in "The Cable Guy." I don't even know why.

Anonymous said...

Adam's performance wasn't my thing, but it did remind me of that British band The Darkness. I just don't think he's the AI type.

I have no idea who will go home tonight. Do any of you?

Lisa said...

I think Adam's getting a bit of a bum rap on "dissing" country -- it looked like the first thing out of Randy Travis' mouth to him was "you're not going to be joining the Grand Ole Opry next week, will you?" Why should he pretend to be interested in a type of music he knows he isn't suited for, after being basically called a sissy by the big country star?

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I think you are right, but I also think Randy didn't like hi from the get-go based on how he looks (especially the nail polish, and I've always commented on his guy-liner). I don't think that's Randy Travis' thing, but I think high school girls love it.

Anonymous said...

Megan has got to put those boobs in some kind of restraining device - I wonder what you would call something like that? Oh yeah a bra - go buy one. My husband paused the tivo & said "Playboy". Not a bad career path, but maybe she can make it less obvious and pretend like she wants to be a singer, not a "model".

isaac_spaceman said...

For what it's worth, from the description that Lambert gave of the version of "Ring of Fire" that he was doing, I gather that he was more faithful to Dilana's iTunes version (more sitar) than to her Rock Star version. Still, how coy of AI to neglect to credit (or blame) either Dilana or the Rock Star band for the arrangement.

Kacie said...

You're right on the money about Adam - He's done well at being interesting and memorable and he has some amazing pipes, but I just don't LIKE him.

Anyways, I wrote about my thoughts on my site, but I gotta tell you, I find Matt forgettable. Good luck with those shoes though. :)

LA said...

I got the impression that Adam wasn't so much thumbing his nose at country music as he was acknowledging that he would never be accepted by Nashville.

I agree with this. Did you see Randy Travis' wife right after Adam sang? She didn't even try to hide her disdain when the camera was on her.

I thought Adam sounded great. Interesting to me that Dilana didn't get criticism for essentially the same arrangement, but I guess she didn't do it in the framework of country night. And I think Adam doing a country song in country style would have been awkward and painful. So really, he was between a rock and a hard place, damned either way he went.