Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Could you ever really love these women?

My daughter's been having some sleep issues the last couple of nights, and I spent a good 45 minutes to an hour in her bedroom tonight sitting silently as she moaned from the crib about not wanting to go to bed. Finally, Marian relieved me and I went down to watch "American Idol" -- where I spent most of the hour wishing I was back upstairs.

Shouldn't the show be getting better as we winnow out the weaker performers? On the one hand, I suppose I'm pleased I finally got the trainwreck I've been asking for for weeks, or at least half a trainwreck. But at this stage, I'd rather be dazzled than appalled, and between the theme and some crappy song selection within it, way too much ugliness. In order (and after the singer and song title, I'll be sure to list their alleged celebrity supporter -- or, at least, the celebrity the director cut to right after that performance):

Katharine McPhee, "I Have Nothing Except Sasha Cohen": Why, Katharine? Why? Why would you do this? There are exactly two singers in the history of this show who have sung Whitney and not come off looking like a fool. One was Tamyra, who actually had the chops to pull off a straight cover; the other was Fantasia, who had the charisma and savvy to change the song up to fit her. Kat doesn't have Tamyra's pipes or Fantasia's inner funk, so what we were left with was a very pretty girl in a very low-cut dress being overwhelmed by a song tailored to one of the great oversingers of our time. She deserved every second of that pile-on by the judges -- and, frankly, she should be grateful for it, because the only thing that could save her is the sympathy vote. (More later.)

Elliot Yamin, "A Song For You and Kevin Nealon": I've been asking for a goosebump-inducing performance for weeks, and this is the closest we've come since Mandisa on '50s Night. Great song, great voice, great arrangement (as we all know by now, Randy has a pathology about needing to hear note-for-note copies sung by contestants beating their respective gimmick into the ground, so he can STFU here), real emotion, just about perfect. And yet I didn't feel the goosebumps. Not sure why, other than that Elliot, for all his vocal genius, doesn't have the stage presence of a Kelly or a Fantasia. But close your eyes, and that was pretty f'ing great.

Kellie Pickler, "Sela Ward's Unchained Melody": Never has a guest vocal coach's commentary been more prophetic than David Foster (who was great all night) saying that if you sing this without passion, it's the most boring song ever written. And if ever there was an "Idol" finalist with a passion gap, it's Pickler. (Well, Carrie's version would've put me to sleep, too.) Couple the Sominex effect with her continued effort to invent new vowels, plus a deliberate sabotage attempt by the hair and makeup people (Pickler's not a supermodel, but she's a much prettier girl than they made her into here), and you have as big a mess in its own way as Kat's opener. Not that she's going home, but if she's not bottom three this week, you know she's winning it all, whether the producers like it or not (more on that in a minute).

Paris Bennett, "The Way We and Joely Fisher Were": She didn't take Foster's advice about starting softly, and pretty much bull-dozed her way through the whole song. Still, if there's someone in this field who can get away with that, it's Paris. I hate Streisand and I hate this song, but I enjoyed this. On the other hand, when you take her audience disconnect and then add some of the most lukewarm praise I've ever heard from the judges (some of it inspired by Simon's tantrum over being cut off while tearing Pickler a new one), and you have the set-up for one of those quintessential "shocking" boots. Say it long, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud... No, wait, that's not it. Say it again: On "Idol," it's better to suck than to be middle of the pack.

Taylor Hicks, "Just Once, I'd Like to Graduate with Tori Spelling": Geez, maybe he should go back to the stupid dancing. There were spots in here where his voice sounded great, but not enough of them. There has to be a happy medium between him looking terrified while standing rigid at the mike and him bouncing around like a Ritalin case, and the only time he's really hit it was with "Living for the City" on Stevie Wonder Night. He really seems to have peaked and is now coasting on an obsessive fan base's love.

Chris Daughtry, "Have You (and only you, and no Special Celebrity Fan) Ever Really Loved a Woman?": For a split-second, I thought I heard Chris say he was going to sing "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" by Derek and the Dominos, which would have been awesome in just about every way (great song, and anguished enough to merit Chris' usual Hillside Strangler intensity). Instead, he sings a cheery little ditty from "Don Juan DeMarco." Sigh... So let's see: Chris gets bottom two last week, and this week he not only gets to go last again (the first finalist to do so), but he gets another elaborate production number like on "Higher Ground," and another tongue-bath from the judges that's several degrees above a very solid but not spectacular performance... ya think they want him to win? There are a lot of things I like about Chris. He has a much better voice than you would think, given his influences and usual singing style. He is the only contestant who consistently carries himself on stage like a professional capable of being on the radio and MTV tomorrow. He has charisma to burn. But the type of music he likes to sing and that come-hither-so-I-can-kill-you look bores me after a while. When his coronation is complete, I think he'll be one of the more deserving winners, and I'll feel bad that he'll be stuck with this year's crap-ass ballad, but at this point I think I'm pulling for Elliot, who seems like the only one left capable of making me want to download his performance and put it into heavy iPod rotation.

Sorry, I'm rambling. To sum up:

Should go home: Either of Kat or Pickler, and preferably Pickler, since she's been awful for so long and since at least Kat has the potential to tramp it up next week if she survives.

Will go home: Kat or Paris. I have no doubt it's going to be one of those two, and I suspect it's going to be the latter, not the former.

What did everybody else think?


Betsy said...

I think Kat busted a button at one point during her performance. And I really, really, really, for the first time, want Paris to go home. She is the equivalent of a Hall Monitor: Good, Boring, and all Smarm.

Adam said...

There's one other performer who's nailed Whitney Houston perfectly: Trenyce. She had a remarkable talent for mimicry, and she covered "I Have Nothing" absolutely note for note, breath for breath.

I'm officially switching back -- starting next week, it's Top Model on Tuesday (the rerun from the prior week), Race on Wednesday. This show's dead to me.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope you're wrong about who's going home, Alan. If Pickler gets the boot, as should happen, then they've got the best Top Five ever on this show... any one a legitimate champion, and all others it'll be sad to see fall.

May have been a poor night for music, but a great night for nutty, electric, holy-crap! energy and drama. Paula crying and babbling while Simon sat there laughing at her... Simon getting cut short by the band... Kat's panty-flashing moment (which didn't register on me in real time; God bless the Internet!)... Foster's blunt commentary and facial reactions... the Pickler pile-on... Never a dull moment, except for the songs.

I have to give Paris best-of-the-night, just because she provided the only Butterfly Moments (or goosebumps, if you will) for me... I truly felt butterflies when she hit some of those notes (though there was something screwy about her last note). I even text-voted for the chick. I didn't feel the emotion from Elliott, though his singing was technically superb. Also, have you ever happened to notice that Katharine McPhee is hot as balls?

lady t said...

Pickler really butchered that song-it was so bad that my sister had to leave the room until it was over. She needs to go-not even Vote for the Worst can save her now.

Mcphee's performance was totally underwhelming and so was Elliot. Paula must be mixing pills with her booze to have that wacky crying fit(Simon tried so hard not to bust a gut laughing).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Adam, I had forgotten about Trenyce's Whitney impersonation. Vonzell also did a passable one last year (of course she sang Whitney; Vonzell always picked the most famous artists/songs). Still, after five years of Randy, Simon and even Paula dumping on people for daring to sing Whitney, Mariah, Celine or Christina, you would think the contestants would have realized they probably shouldn't pick something by the Four Horsewomen, no matter how confident they are in their own voice.

Adam said...

Found it online: link. That's how you do Whitney on Idol.

Here's the site. That same episode (season two: movie songs) also has perhaps the worst train wreck in Idol finals history. Be sure to stick with it to the bitter, screechy end.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thanks, Adam. Way to kill my afternoon. At least I can write it off to research for the no-goosebumps column I'm writing for next week. Off to listen to Carrie Underwood's "Alone" (maybe the only time I ever liked her)...

Laura Ingalls Wilder said...

I actually think this year's final 6 (minus Pickler) are all pretty incredible, or at least better in toto than any final 5 in season's past. But none is as good as Fantasia or Kelly or even Reuben. I was never a huge Carrie fan, save for her "Alone" rendition.

As for last night's performance,I totally got goosebumps when Elliott sang and was dialing as frantically for him as I was after Fantasia sang "Summertime." NO, I'm not saying it was on par with her rendition (which I still have saved on my Tivo), but I thought it was pretty awesome. And he's deaf in one ear and has diabetes for god's sake!

Adam said...

Alan, I'm not known for being bereft of procrastinatory tools.

For me, I don't know which Ruben ones make that list, because there may be at least 4-5, in addition to all the obvious Kelly, Tamyra and Fantasia performances.

Three non-obvious picks?

Fantasia's "Believe" -- the dorky Idol anthem in the finals gave me chills;

Constantine's take on the Patridges' "I Think I Love You", because he just seemed so in on his own joke that it was hysterical; and

George Huff, "Lean On Me", in the semis. Ridiculously charming.

Alan Sepinwall said...

While I loved Ruben, the only time I ever got goosebumps from him was the first time I heard him sing "Superstar" in the semis (I missed his audition). Lovely voice, incredibly boring performer with no personality beyond that big smile and his stupid area code t-shirts. I was going to ask people for their suggestions about great Idol performances in a separate thread, and I may still do that, but off the top of my head right now:

-"Stuff Like That There," Kelly Clarkson. No-brainer.

-"A House Is Not a Home," Tamyra Gray. Ditto.

-"Solitaire," Clay Aiken. And I don't even like Clay.

-"Summertime," Fantasia. (Also "You Were Always on My Mind" and "I Believe," the one and only time I didn't hate the coronation song, and that was entirely because of Fantasia being the best stage performer they've ever had.)

-"What a Wonderful World," Anwar Robinson. The best rearrangement of a classic song this show's ever had, and so great it carried Anwar through a couple of months of boring finals performances.

-"Whipping Post," "Vehicle" and "In a Dream," Bo Bice. Each brilliant in their own way, each the sort of thing you never, ever thought you would hear on this show before. As a friend put it, Bo's "Whipping Post" made it cool for guys to watch Idol.

-"Alone," Carrie Underwood. The one and only time she seemed like an authentic human being and performer. If she'd done stuff like that all season, I wouldn't have minded the result as much.

In listening to some of those old MP3's, I'm starting to re-evaluate Trenyce and Jennifer Hudson as being much better than I thought at the time, especially Jennifer Hudson (who's much better if you subtract all those surprised and/or angry faces). More to come.

Anonymous said...

Alan, see if you can revisit Kimberley Locke's "Where the Boys Are" or Elliott's "Moody's Mood for Love."

Adam said...

I can save this for another thread, but Ruben's "Kiss And Say Goodbye" is pantheon for me. Yes, it's just the smile and the embracing arms, but the first few times, it was still magical.

Hudson's "Circle of Life" was probably her best, but still not *that* good.

Also, sssh!, Justin Guarini knew how to sing Oleta Adams' "Get Here".

Anonymous said...

A lot of the great ones have already been covered in this thread, but one of my favorites is still missing: George Huff's rendition of Take It To The Pilot. It was the best use of his stylistic tics, and he succeeded in picking a lesser-known song during Elton Week (which I think was what Chris was trying to do with Queen, but failed).