Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American Idol, Top 11: Billboard #1 Hits Night

A review of last night's "American Idol" performances coming up just as soon as my gimmick is a carpet...

At one point, this was supposed to be Teen Idol Night, and for whatever reason - maybe because mentor Miley Cyrus objected to the idea? - it changed to Billboard #1 Hits Night, which is one of those amorphous "choose your own theme" nights that lets each contestant stay in his or her comfort zone. And that in turn makes for a much less interesting show than ones with more specific themes; even if the theme has no application to pop music and doesn't fit most of the contestants, it can be entertaining to see how they each try to make it work. This, on the other hand, was dullsville - as Simon said, bluntly, "Tonight, for me, was not a good night overall." - where even the one truly strong performance (Crystal) was exactly what you might have expected that singer to do.

In order...

Lee Dewyze, "The Letter": This song would have technically qualified for a Teen Idol Night, as Alex Chilton was only 16 when The Box Tops recorded this one. I don't know if DeWyze knew about Chilton, and I'm sure Simon neither knows nor cares (Big Star is the kind of cult favorite he has no use for), but the song has had an "Idol" presence since at least season four, and this was an odd arrangement of it. I never would have pegged Lee as a guy to go all lounge act, but it was, between the suit, the horns and his stage presence sans guitar. Not that interesting, save for a couple of big notes in the middle, and he lost the thread near the end.

Paige Miles, "Against All Odds": Speaking of songs with an "Idol" history, this one has been repeatedly butchered (here's Corey Clark killing it in season two), and Paige once again inflicted maximum damage upon the works of Phil Collins. Strained, warbly, and lifeless all at the same time. Even grading on a curve for her cold (which actually kind of worked for her last week), that was awful.

Tim Urban, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love": A few years ago, when somebody (Taylor Hicks?) sang this, I noted that the degree of difficulty is so low that it's the song I would pick if I somehow wound up on that stage (and I can't sing at all). Lots of big stage moves to play to the auditorium, but he was barely even singing for most of it. The reggae "Under My Thumb" was horribly ill-conceived, but at least he was trying something there. This was just lazy.

Aaron Kelly, "Don't Want to Miss a Thing": I haven't been a fan of Aaron, and I cringe every year when this song (my least favorite Aerosmith hit) makes its annual "Idol" appearance, but this was surprisingly decent - particularly if you grade Aaron on a curve for his double case of -itis. He strained in spots, but not as much as he so often does in the weeks when he's been healthier. And he's a damn site better than Tim.

Crystal Bowersox, "Me and Bobby McGee": Of course Crystal would sing Janis if given the chance. Of course she would. But unlike some previous Joplin wannabes on "Idol," Crystal has the voice and musicianship and stagecraft to pull it off. She's just operating at a much higher level than anyone else so far this year (even Siobhan) that it almost doesn't seem fair to give her such a fat pitch down the center of the plate like this. Just a pleasure to watch and to listen to, and she finally started showing some personality in her interaction with the judges afterwards. At this point, my only fears are that she's not current enough to win, and that the judges will start getting bored with her and playing the "you're our resident professional" card around Top 6 or 5.

Michael Lynche, "When a Man Loves a Woman": Kind of the quintessential Michael Lynche performance: solid, entertaining, likable, competent, but not that spectacular. (And I'm surprised he didn't use his falsetto more, as it's probably the one part of his range that sounds like more than just really good karaoke.)

Andrew Garcia, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine": When Miley told Andrew to ditch his guitar, I thought, "Well, if he goes home tomorrow, it's her fault." But I doubt the guitar would have improved things. Sure, his stage moves are mostly clumsy - save for the moonwalk we failed to see because bumbling "Idol" director Bruce Gowers once again cut away from the one interesting thing to look at on stage - but even with the guitar as security blanket, this was still a lifeless arrangement, and one that challenged Andrew vocally only slightly more than Tim. At a certain point, we've got to let "Straight Up" go and just accept that this isn't a particularly good venue for the guy.

Katie Stevens, "Big Girls Don't Cry": God, I hate this song (Fergie's a pox on modern music). Katie was okay, though she started out too low and there were the usual pitch issues. But overall, another really bland performance on a bland night.

Casey James, "The Power of Love":
This seems like kind of the quintessential Casey song, in that Huey Lewis and the News were essentially a kick-ass bar band that improbably hit it big for a while(*). Casey doesn't nearly have Huey's range, though (even if he'd had 30 more seconds to play with, I bet he would have skipped the "they say that all in love is fair" bridge to avoid the key change). Like so much on the night, Casey hit the marks and not much more.

(*) When the News were huge, Bobcat Goldthwait had this great bit in his act about how, if you saw Huey walking down the street, "You wouldn't go, 'Hey, isn't that America's #1 rock star?' You'd go, 'Isn't that a friend of my dad?'"

Didi Benami, "You're No Good":
Last week, Didi managed to sell the emotions of her song without coming across like an actress. This week, she pushed it too far; it was like a slinkier version of those artificial pageant-y performances that Diana DeGarmo used to give every week. And the song wasn't a good match for her voice.

Siobhan Magnus, "Superstition": The faux-hawk and the outfit made for probably her best look to date, but this was paint-by-numbers Siobhan: start out low (a bit too low this time), move around, then scream. The build up to the scream didn't feel as natural as it did last week, and this time it actually sounded like shrieking, where in some previous performances it just sounded like she had a really powerful upper register.

Best of the night: Crystal. Nobody else close.

In danger: Paige will be in the bottom three again, but under my "it's better to be awful than mediocre" theory of "Idol" eliminations, I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody like Andrew, Tim or even Lee (who was unmemorable and had to go first in a very long show) go home ahead of her.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Can we have a triple elimination please? Paige and Tim need to go now (I'm so glad they called him on the reaching out to the crowd nonsense) and I wouldn't be upset if Andrew went too.

This was the first time I didn't hate Lee; thought he sounded really good. And I usually hate the 16-year-old cute boy, but I really like Aaron.

I completely agreed with Simon about Casey; I have no idea what the other judges were raving about. He is completely uninteresting.

Anonymous said...

And what about the fact that Alex Chilton died just last week, before a Big Star panel/performance at the SXSW music festival in Austin? Was no one on Idol aware of this?? Might have been nice to mention...

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else find Miley Cyrus unlikeable? Granted, this was probably the first time I've ever heard her do anything for more than ten minutes, but she seemed just a tad obnoxious for me. Even if she wasn't obnoxious, there was something odd about the manufactured teen popstar giving advice to other people trying to become manufactured popstars. Smokey Robinson she ain't.

Adam said...

Yes, this is the tier theory at work: as long as Tim and Paige are the next two to go, the order doesn't much matter.

Hollywoodaholic said...

10 of these performers actually get to go on tour!? Who's going to pay for that and sit through such mediocre dreck just waiting for Crystal? And, inevitably, the judges (Kara) are starting to find things to criticize her for ... just to make the others not look so woefully unworthy in comparison. Through it all, Simon seems surprisingly calm and happy knowing he's gone after this. And Ellen's starting to bail on her comments, as well. I think my family will bail until the final three.

Anonymous said...

This is slowly turning into the worst season ever of A.I. The "talent" is terrible. The only reason why Crystal stands out is b/c the rest stink. There is no way this show can last without Simon. The judges are terrible. Ellen is awful and seems out of place, Randy says nothing but "dude, that was pitchy", Simon is the only judge who knows what he/she is talking about, and Kara looks good, but once she opens her mouth the contradictions fly. She always says, "Know who you are as an artist" then she tells Crystal to "lose her guitar" for a week. But isn't Crystal doing well b/c she knows who she is? Kara is dumb. Ellen Stinks. Randy is useless, and once Cowell leaves, the show will be fully dead. Right now, it's on life support.

Andrew said...

Easily the worst Idol in recent memory and probably the worst Idol ever. Outside of Crystal, it's a completely unremarkable group.

Oh, and we do need to fully acknowledge this and not just mention it in passing: Miley Cyrus was the guest mentor. Miley Cyrus. WTF.

Bad times for Idol.

Miken said...

Alan, I appreciate you finally bringing up the direction of this show. As someone who has worked on a live TV broadcast, Idol has the worst presentation of almost any live show I have ever seen! They miss anything interesting even though the people effing rehearse EXACTLY what they are going to do leading up to the performance.

And can we mention the stupid camera shot where they get between two people so there is fuzzy sides of people out of focus so we feel like a peeping Tom?

This has got to be the easiest show in the world to direct and yet there are 5-8 completely distracting shots every week. I understand wanting to be unique, but this show makes tens of millions of dollars every episode and we get issues every week.

As far as the contestants are concerned, can't we just have Crystal, Shioban, Big Mike and Lee just be the final four now? I like some other people left, but those 4 are the only ones who have a remote chance.

Miken said...

Also, Simon doesn't get to skate by here. The judges have not been good, and it has a lot to do with Simon.

Randy - surprisingly might be the best judge this season. I know he does the same "Yo yo yo, pitchy dude" but beneath that, he seems to have the least biases and gives fairly straight criticism.

Ellen - It's like she went to Idol judging school: song choice, clever joke, pitchy, you look beautiful, and I still love you.

Kara - Good lord where to begin? While I agree she has been better this season, her biases are CRYSTAL clear in terms of playing favorites. And if I hear her complain about the lyrics of one more song, I'm going to lose it. Aaron Kelly is allowed to sing a song about a family, Andrew can sing a song about war, the lyrics don't have to match the person's personality, that's just stupid. Simon called her on it, Katy Perry called her on it, it's just dumb.

Simon - Every comment is a subtle jab at Idol and a subtle endorsement of X-Factor. Also, it's irritating to hear him single out Crystal every week as the best and then call her out for over-confidence .

Also, if I hear them reference "Straight Up" one more time I'm going to lose it. Forget about the effing song and just tell him he did bad, you don't need to CONSTANTLY bring it up. I like Andrew, but that wasn't incredible.

Fred App said...

Kara's comments to Andrew Garcia were almost a parody. She told him that he seemed lost. Gee, maybe because he keeps getting four different pieces of conflicting advice each show? Then she told him that he seems to be trying to re-capture the magic of "Straight Up." Gee, maybe because the judges keep telling him that he needs to recapture it?

I mean, sometimes you even wonder if they listen to themselves.

Frankly, I think Andrew's problem is that he has a thin voice with limited range. He turned heads with straight up not because of his singing but because of the surprising and successful way he reworked the arrangement. But that's not going to carry you for a whole season.

Anonymous said...

I'm quitting this season of Idol. Feel like I'm still watching the was that bad last night.

Also, Crystal was solid (of course), but she lost a lot of credibility by having Miley sign her guitar. I mean, really? Miley Cyrus belongs with Melissa Ethridge and Bonnie Raitt (believe those were the other 2 autographs)?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I suspect that was one of those situations where Crystal really didn't have a choice. Miley sees the guitar and offers to autograph it, and what is Crystal supposed to do at that point? Offend the celebrity mentor, on camera and also alienate a whole lot of potential voters (either those who buy Miley's music or those who just would have dinged her for what they viewed as bad manners). She did what she had to do.

Miken said...

Could not agree with you more Alan. Crystal doesn't seem like the person who would ever do Idol, but now that she is doing it, why not go all out and do everything you can to win. I know most people like me will say, "How can she do that with a straight face?!" but America will be like, OMG she loves Miley too!

You know it's a weird night when most were bad, but about half are still better than the mentor...

Jin's English Tutor said...

"Fergie's a pox on modern music."

Just one more reason why I can't quit you, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's a build-up to the finale when Crystal smashes the guitar on stage after the last performance. Twist ending.

LA said...

You know it's a weird night when most were bad, but about half are still better than the mentor...


It was a gawdawful night, and Idol is toast without Simon Cowell next season.

As for who's going home, wow, so many are deserving, but it's gotta be Paige or Tim.

Compare Satellite TV said...

i guess tim and paige will be off soon :)

Pierre said...

Major mistake by AI producers to have Miley Cyrus as a mentor. She doesn't have the vocal ability or experience.

Maura said...

Anonymous @ 9:42 AM said... Did anyone else find Miley Cyrus unlikeable?

You can't even imagine how unlikeable I think she is. And *I* can't imagine why anyone in charge thought she should be a mentor. I usually watch the entire show, but thank technology for the DVR. I fast forwarded through a lot of what she said, because seriously, who cares. I also FF'ed through some of the judging. I couldn't listen to one after another contestant getting crushed by the judges, even if they deserved it.

Alan said: Katie Stevens, "Big Girls Don't Cry": God, I hate this song (Fergie's a pox on modern music).

One of the worst songs ever, I swear. I think Katie managed to make it almost listenable. It seemed more relevant for a 17 year old to sing it than a grown woman, which Fergie ostensibly is.

I really liked Lee last night. He has the perfect voice for "The Letter", and I like what he did with it. I think Simon was a bit too hard on him and Big Mike last night. I'm really biased towards Big Mike though. It's hard for me to be objective about him.

I love Siobhan like crazy, but she can stop with the screaming any time now. I didn't like it when Adam Lambert did it, and I don't like it now.

Allison said...

Maybe I shouldn't be shocked, but I was ...that American Idol is so casual about the history of music, that no one said a damn thing about Alex Chilton. Not even in the introduction where they could have said his name, however briefly. They have a bad habit of saying someone who's done a cover*, not the songwriter, and it was particularly bad here.

(*If the performance copies one particular version..they should say so. But they rarely do. Another problem.)

Anyway, I liked Lee's version far more than I expected. The style was fairly close to Joe Cocker's in parts. The arrangement was dicey , but the backup singers were awesome.

And a link to Joe Cocker himelf, circa 1970, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour with Leon Russell.

(Trying to imagine Joe on Idol..I can't. And I keep thinking of John Belushi.)

Paige was painfully bad but I just can't stand Tim Urban. It's like being trapped at a bad high school talent show.

Big Mike was pleasant which is more I can say for most of the rest. (Please...let HIM try "A Change Is Gonna Come".)

Andrew keeps missing the ball, altogether. Anyone who can't nail songs with unbelieveable power like "Gimme Shelter" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" just don't have it.

And of Simon keeps whining that songs are too old when they're classics and well done, I'm going to strike the TV.

On the other hand..Crystal was excellent. I worry a bit also that her style may not to enough to keep her in the competition for very long. If nothing else it's pretty awesome to hear someone make me feel like I'm seeing a rebirth of Janis Joplin in 2010.

As for Miley Cyrus, I sped through her parts on the DVR. I can';t handle it.

Anonymous said...

I worry about Crystal putting off some Idol viewers. I can imagine some uptight viewers hating the sitting on the rug thing at the end.

Casey must have no moves at all. It's like he's magnetized to the mike stand.

Speaking of Mike, he has a really weak voice I think.

DB Cooper said...

I personally enjoyed it when Simon called Karer on her idiotic advice to Crystal ("Ditch the guitar?!? Why would you get rid of something that's working?")

Al Hoff said...

When Andrew was singing, all i could think was: California Raisins.
Maybe it's just my demographic of aging hipster, but add me to those mystified that even Randy didn't get a prop in for fresh-from-the-headlines Alex Chilton. Randy seems to dig namechecking the obscure when he can.

ghoti said...

I didn't think Didi deserved to be slammed. I admit she could do just about anything and it would have -um- a positive effect on me, but still - she sang the song fine and I liked the arrangement. (I really liked the cute way she pronunced "good" Sigh...")

Katie, Mike, Aaron (!), Crystal had positive nights.

Andrew and Tim were disasters.

Paige had a historic level 5 meltdown.

Everyone else was mediocre to bad.

David8 said...

There clearly is something wrong with Hollywood week and the way it works if good singers are getting cut and this dreck is what makes it.

Another problem is the semi-finals. Last year they reverted to the original format which meant you had to be good to make it to the final 12 and so they had a much stronger final 12.

This year it was back to the other format where you just didn't have to be horrible. Going on last year's format, there is no way a singer like Didi makes the final 12.

If these 12 singers aren't that flash, then what does that say for the other 12 of the final 24 who already were eliminated?

Nick said...

I worry about Crystal putting off some Idol viewers. I can imagine some uptight viewers hating the sitting on the rug thing at the end.

Na. That was sweet and endearing. Crystal seems like the kind of person that you'd want to be with you if you got snowed in somewhere and were just hanging out by the fire all night.

Nicole said...

This was the first episode that I have bothered to watch and thank goodness I taped it. I had to fly by all the Miley parts because she is even less authentic than Britney, which is saying a lot, and she has a huge sense of entitlement based on very little. So having her give advice is pretty sad.

Also, most of these contestants are soulless little robots who have no clue what the hell they are singing. I really do think that this is the worst line up ever. Crystal and Michael were the only ones that I bothered to listen to all the way through. I don't know if I will bother watching the rest of this season.

Craig Ranapia said...

Kara's comments to Andrew Garcia were almost a parody. She told him that he seemed lost. Gee, maybe because he keeps getting four different pieces of conflicting advice each show?

Sorry for being brutal, but so what? If you're in the music industry, you're going to be getting conflicting advice every day of the week -- sex it up, tone it down, your material is boring and predictable, don't mess with a winning formula, etc. As my late Nanna used to say, you try to be all things to all people you just end up being nothing to nobody.

In the end, if you're going to melt down because four judges on American Idol aren't a Borg Collective God help you out there in the real world -- because nobody else is.

Dave said...

I'm coming in a day late on this but I've found the perfect way to get through this whole thing: Thanks to the wonder of DVR, I watched Tuesday and Wednesday back-to-back late Wednesday night and powered through the whole mess in slightly more than an hour.

Random Thoughts:
- Andrew is a likable guy but he's a straight-up novelty act. Pun intended.
- I had the same thoughts regarding the non-mention of Alex Chilton as everyone else.
- Savvy contestants really should study previous seasons the way football players watch old games. I am dead certain that Simon is on-record as hating Mr. Collins' "Against All Odds." Not that her performance wasn't one of the worst in Idol history but Paige's song choice certainly didn't help.
- Wouldn't it be cool if Crystal had the super-mind-powers to anticipate what Miley was going to try to do to her guitar and have a dry-erase marker handy?
- Did anyone else notice the person sitting next to Miley whispering to her a few times? Do you think he was telling her that the camera kept cutting to her with a bored look on her face and that she needs to act like she's having fun?
- I like Siobhan's kooky personality but this was the first time her performance seemed formulaic. I was sitting there waiting for the big scream at the end. Plus the white streak in her hair and the faux-hawk combined to make her look like the Bride Of Frankenstein.