Tuesday, March 18, 2008

American Idol, Top 11: Beatles night, take two

Spoilers for Beatles week, part deux, of "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I blow my mind out in a car...

"I'm not sure it was such a good idea doing Beatles again. We had such a good memory from last week, and this is all getting a bit strange."

Truer words may never have been spoken on "American Idol," a show that has never grasped the concept of too much of a good thing. Last week was one of the best "Idol" performance shows ever. This week was a mess. I don't know how much of that was the best songs (for the most part) being used up last week (even though they apparently expanded the list this week to include George Harrison-penned tunes, in addition to the Lennon/McCartney stuff), but after paying money to download several of last week's performances from iTunes, I can only think of one performance from tonight that I ever need to hear again, and it wasn't even that great.

In order...

Amanda Overmyer, "Back in the USSR": Leave it to Pauler to provide the most cogent critique (don't worry; she'd make up for it later) by noting that it took Amanda nearly a third of the song to get in sync with the band. It was hard to tell early on whether she was off the beat because she was trying for a dramatic effect or if she just couldn't keep up, but by about the 30 second mark, she had the timing down, and I think it was just a mix-up. That said, within Amanda's extremely limited range, this was another very entertaining performance; I'm not sure any contestant feeds off of the larger crowd as well as she does. I know the judges want to see her stretch herself, but I suspect that the second she follows their advice, they'll slam her for seeming uncomfortable outside of her comfort zone.

Kristy Lee Cook, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away": For the second week in a row, Kristy Lee goes for a radically different interpretation of the original. The Beatles version (from the "Help!" soundtrack) is the most overtly Bob Dylan-ish song they ever did, where this started off as some kind of Shirley Bassey number (it was very "I (Who Have Nothing)"), then drifted into this monotonous, melody-free thing that she tried to bail out in the end with a power note. Simon's right: the only time Kristy Lee has been memorable was when she was terrible last week. This was just dull enough to put her in danger again.

David Archuleta, "The Long and Winding Road": I figured he'd sing "Yesterday," but I knew that any song he chose would be a ballad, and one that he would knock out of the park for the inevitable "David Archuleta is back! We got a hot one here tonight!" narrative from Randy. I'm not a huge fan of young David -- even if he arguably has the best voice of any finalist, there are a half-dozen other contestants whose performances I look forward to more -- but this one was a fastball down the middle for him, and he knocked it out of the park. It's one of the schmaltziest songs in the Beatles catalog -- especially done up with the string arrangement that Phil Spector slathered on the original recording version (I much prefer the "Let It Be... Naked" remix), and with David's unfailing sincerity and clear, powerful voice, it was a natural fit. The kid's gonna win. No question. Ya think the producers wish they had saved his first pimp slot for this performance instead of last week's faceplant?

(Oh, and Randy? Shut up about your stupid love of stupid runs. Some of us just like to hear the notes as written, without all those Mariah vocal gymnastics inserted.)

Michael Johns, "A Day in the Life": Oh, Michael, Michael, Michael... I want to like you. I do. Your Hollywood performances (what we heard of them) were so strong and distinctive, but you coasted through the semi-finals, were good but unmemorable last week, and then tonight you go and give us this disaster. There's just too much going on in "A Day in the Life" to try to squeeze "the best parts" into 90 seconds. Beyond that, he messed up the high note going out of the first John Lennon passage (and you can see him, even from the distant camera angle, flinching at the sound that had just come out of his mouth), and he mashed up the lyrics of two different verses at the very end so that one line didn't rhyme with the next (and you could see him flinch again, too). The judges keep talking him up like he's one of the contenders, but it's been a long time since he's shown anything worthy of that status. I don't think he's in trouble of going home just yet, but his margin of error is getting awfully teeny.

(Also, on the list of all-time on-screen gaffes for Paula -- as opposed to whatever she did or didn't do with Corey Clark -- where do you rank her 18-hour rambling monologue about Michael's difficulty in adjusting to an ear monitor, given that Michael was not, in fact, wearing an ear monitor?)

Brooke White, "Here Comes the Sun": Brooke's been my favorite contestant this season, but I think we finally discovered her Kryptonite: she can't move. At all. Her four previous performances before an audience had her rock still, either playing the guitar or the piano, or one time perched on the edge of the stage. This was Brooke trying to dance around and be all flower child, and it was awkward. Beyond that, the song isn't very challenging vocally and also doesn't have any kind of dramatic hook to make up for that. It's just Brooke White smiling about how much she likes the sun. Bring back the piano or the guitar, stat.

(Also, she needs to be careful about interrupting the judges. At first, it seemed like she was trying to quiet the crowd from booing Randy -- you know, "It's okay, audience. The judges are right to criticize me." -- but she Just. Kept. Doing it, to the point where it seemed like she was trying to shut down Simon before he could say anything more brutal. Not cool.)

David Cook, "Daytripper": On the one hand, I appreciate a clip package that actually credits the artists who came up with a different arrangement from the original. On the other hand, Whitesnake? Really? I'm 100 percent with Simon on this one; the novelty of what David's been doing the last few weeks is starting to fade, and then you can't help but notice the self-satisfied smirk, or how shoehorned in the vocoder stunt was. I like David the singer, even though I suspect David the person would be insufferable, but unlike Amanda, I feel like there's more he can show us, and I'd like to see that soon. Also, the judges need to start calling the contestants on using their instruments as a prop. David barely touched those guitar strings (Brooke had a performance like that in the semis, too), but he gets away with standing still at the mic stand, where a non-instrument guy like Michael Johns has to struggle with moving around on stage.

Carly Smithson, "Blackbird":
First, a bit of housekeeping from last week. I gave Carly points for not making the "holds you in his armchair" lyric flub -- when, in fact, that's the actual lyric of the song, in keeping with all the other nonsense lines. So deduct points from me, if not from Carly.

As for her "Blackbird"... meh. Unlike Michael this week and Archuleta last, she managed to survive a lyric flub without completely losing her composure, and she's got a clean, powerful voice, but I could do without all the Celine flourishes, even though the crowd (and Randy) eats that stuff up. No idea what Simon was talking about with the song being self-indulgent; it's one of the prettiest that Paul McCartney ever wrote. I just would have preferred a simpler arrangement, and I think Carly has the voice to pull off a straight rendition. Also, she needs to have a talk with the makeup people, because I was afraid to look at her eyes whenever she was in closeup.

Jason Castro, "Michelle": This was the first performance of the finals (but not the last of the night) to remind me of a high school talent show performance in that very special Kevin Covais/John Stevens sorta way. The ladies love sweet, dopey Jason and his eyes and his dreads and all that, but I was embarassed to be watching him. Vocals were decent, but cheesey as hell.

Syesha Mercado, "Yesterday":
Who is this Syesha Mercado person and has she been on the show before? I honestly could not remember a single thing she's done previously, but this was arguably the best performance of the night (though not the one I'd want to hear again; we'll get to that in a moment). It was understated where it needed to be, but threw in just enough power notes to play to Syesha's strengths and get the attention of people like me who had no idea she existed.

Chikezie, "I've Just Seen a Face": Brooke better have a good comeback next week, because Chikezie is awfully close to becoming my favorite contestant of the season, if not one of my favorites ever. Yes, the Luther ballad into bluegrass jam transition was awkward and gimmicky as hell -- especially compared to last week's brilliant, organic bluegrass-into-rock version of "She's a Woman" (one of my favorite "Idol" performances ever) -- yet Chikezie's chutzpah and versatility again put an enormous smile on my face. He has a great voice (had he just stuck with the ballad arrangement, it still would have been one of the night's best), but he also knows that he has to go for broke every week or he's going to go home in a hurry. Previous borderline contestants who killed one week and then went back to mediocrity the next tended to go home immediately (think Amy Adams in season three), and Chikezie definitely doesn't plan on being forgettable again. And the deserved respone to last week's number has dramatically boosted his confidence. It may be gimmicky, but I want to see what trick he pulls out of the bag next week.

Ramiele Malubay, "I Should Have Known Better": The only thing I have to say about this performance (other than that it's the night's other high school talent show-level number) is to question how on earth it got the pimp spot. Has anyone ever gone home after getting the pimp spot? If not, Ramiele could potentially blaze a trail tomorrow night.

Best of the night: Chikezie, Syesha and Archuleta.

In trouble: My guess is a Kristy Lee/Michael/Ramiele bottom three, with hopefully one of the ladies going home. I'd like to see Michael get at least one chance to live up to the potential everybody saw in him, even though he's now in so deep a hole that it would take a miracle to get him into the top half of the finals.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

If last week didn't put Ramiele in the bottom (right in the middle of the 12, railed by the judges for being boring), then this week (somewhat praised by the judges, pimp spot) she should be fine.

Chikezie is your favorite? Really? Last week was the only week I liked him... this week it seems like he realized last week worked, so he tried to do it again, but it wasn't as good.

ITA about Brooke talking too much... although it was cute when she was like, "I have no idea where that 'Woooo!' came from, I didn't mean to do that." But then she wouldn't shut up.

K J Gillenwater said...

Still like David Cook and thought he did extremely well with "Daytripper." I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. I don't really see the smarminess that you do, Alan. But maybe it will come out in later weeks...?

"Yesterday," "The Long and Winding Road," and "Blackbird" were the only others I liked. The rest were dreadful. Either the wrong arrangement, bad singing, or stilted movements.

I expect Ramiele, Christy Cook, and Chikezie to be in the bottom 3 this week.

Chikezie's performance was identical to last week's...start off slow with some kind of bluegrassy thing and then speed up and rock it out. If he had done everything like the 2nd half, it would have been better. (just like last week when I would rather have had him do the whole song in the slow, bluegrass style). I don't understand who this guy is trying to be.

What music is up next week? Please tell me it's not MORE Beatles....

Anonymous said...


Last week I was surprised the show was as good as it was given what I was anticipated...however, this week was the real disaster.

I pretty much cringed through most of the performances...Jason and Brooke should just glue their instruments in front of them and never move.

A few decent performances but overall very uncomfortable to watch.

Nicole said...

I thought Chikeze was fun to watch and he was one of my favourites too. Syesha was better than in the past, but I don't like singers jazzing up Yesterday and so that bothered me a bit. I liked Carly but for the jazzing up too.

Ramiele is in real trouble and if she's not gone this week, then it will be Kristy.

Archuleta redeemed himself and I didn't think Michael was that bad. I want him to stay longer as well, because there are chaffier contestants that need to go first.

Anonymous said...

Chikezie's almost the only interesting thing going on this show, right now, and this week's performance was NOT like last week's (and not nearly as good). Though it had the same low-key to high-energy transition, its sucker punch was more effective: I just assumed he was going back to wallpaper. The ballad half was standard Idol schmaltz. But the harmonica came out, and he sort of poked you in the ear with it; he settled into the C&W version of the song solidly instead of spazzing out like he did the soul half of last week's.

In the space of 90 seconds, genre mash-ups might feel a bit much, and just the process of jumping genres might seem redundant. But most of the other contestants feel like they've been doing the same thing for x-number of weeks. Someone who's interested in messing around? I'm going with that guy.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, next week's Alice Cooper week.

Just kidding. ;-)

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Goodbye Kristy Lee or Ramiele. One of you is done.

Michael said...

Amanda happens to be one of my favorites on the show because I like the type of music she sings. However, I think she'll have a tough time when it comes to doing anything BUT that.

I also think David Cook is good at what he does but could have problems with anything else - can you see him do country? Anything he does will come out alt-rock, which is not my cuppa.

Agree with your bottom 3 this week. Sucks for the two who make it to the finals but don't get to go on tour.

Undercover Black Man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Undercover Black Man said...

Bad show. I imagine Paul McCartney watching that then beating himself over the head with one of Heather's spare legs.

But I do agree with Kristin. Three best of the night:

1: "Yesterday"
2: "Blackbird"
3: "Long and Winding Road"

Like you, Alan, Brooke is my fave contestant. Got that Nancy Travis look happening.

Now... why was Jack Black singing "Day Tripper"??

Anonymous said...

While I understand that it's partly a function of the contestants' youth, and partly the fact that many of them have never even heard these 40-year-old songs before, but there's a big difference between singing a song technically well and actually expressing it. So with "The Long and Winding Road" and "Yesterday," respectively -- two songs with a great deal of melancholy and yearning/regret behind their pretty melodies -- it was clear that David Archuleta didn't get this, while Syesha Mercado did.

David's got a beautiful voice, but if he wins he's going to turn into an even less soulful Josh Groban.

Anonymous said...

Next week: The Rutles!

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Speaking of missing the meaning, that prize goes to Kristy Lee, who chose one of Lennon's most bitter and painful songs -- "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" -- and understood none of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with bigted about David's performance. He may have nailed the technical side of LaWR, as per his training, but it was a dull, lifeless performance. The notes played by the band had more soulful relevance than his voice.

And while tonight was largely a disaster, I get the feeling that Simon is over reacting to the way these Beatles tunes are being flipped around to fit within AI performance needs. Everyone is stuck in a no win situation. If too many of the contestants perform the songs straight up they get bashed for not taking risks. If they take a risk with this particular library of songs it comes across as butchering the original 80% of the time. On top of that, so many Beatles songs simply cannot be cut down to ninety seconds while maintaining their essence through all the various shifts before reaching a satisfying ending.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

I didn't think David Cook was smarmy as much as just feeling confident in his performance. I enjoyed his song more than any other of the night. He's the only one in the top 12 I might even consider watching in concert.

The judges are right about Jason Castro. His singing last night was blah (though I've loved some of his other performances), but he has a quirky charm that makes me like him anyway.

I think Jason will be getting his fair share of the coveted young girl voters.

Definitely Ramiele or Kristy leaving.

Dan Jameson said...

I realize you love Amanda, Alan, but last night was bad. Even after the 30 second mark. Yeah, she plays to the crowd, but people at home hear her and know she is NOT a good vocalist. Nevermind the one-dimensional card....she's just not that good.

Bottom 3: KLC, Ramiele and (sorry) Chikeze

Wild Card: Amanda

Eric Fingerhut said...

Did anyone else notice--and were bothered by--the way they had miked up the audience last night so that crowd cheering seemed to almost drown out the singers at various points through the song (whenever they hit any kind of high note, for instance?) Do the AI producers think they're broadcasting a concert? I found it incredibly annoying and distracting.

Kris Eton said...

What I find annoying and distracting is Jason Castro breathing into the mike and vocalize his words very oddly. Am I the only one who hates this??

Alan Sepinwall said...

Chikezie is your favorite? Really?

What can I say? The guy entertains me, and he's actually a very good country singer (much better than Kristy Lee, that's for sure). Plus, I admire the fact that he's the first marginal contestant in a long time to figure out how to do more than just wait his turn until the axe falls.

He's not going to win -- really, the only people with even a tiny chance of beating Archuleta are Brooke, David Cook and maybe Jason -- but now I'm looking forward to seeing what weird mash-up he tries next week.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Everyone is stuck in a no win situation. If too many of the contestants perform the songs straight up they get bashed for not taking risks. If they take a risk with this particular library of songs it comes across as butchering the original 80% of the time. On top of that, so many Beatles songs simply cannot be cut down to ninety seconds while maintaining their essence through all the various shifts before reaching a satisfying ending.

You're right that it's a no-win situation -- especially since, as we talked about last week, most of the Beatles catalog isn't designed to showcase a soloist's voice. "Blackbird" is a gorgeous song, but it's so simple that Brooke and maybe Jason are the only people who could have pulled off a straight rendition without getting slammed by the judges.

Alan Sepinwall said...

For what it's worth -- and, again, that may not be much -- DialIdol has Archuleta, once again, as the only completely safe contestant, and Kristy Lee and Amanda way at the bottom, with Ramiele and Chikezie (noooo!!!) hovering a little above them.

Nicole said...

I too noticed the crowd screaming over the songs. It bothered me because the contestants weren't all that great and the audience is a bunch of trained monkeys to scream no matter what, or boo when Simon said something less than positive.

Castro's breathing makes it seem like he cuts off certain notes and I always initially think that he can't hit the note. It's hard to tell and I wonder if "Bird" is having a canary over his bad technique. He isn't the worst though and will be there for many more weeks.

As for Archuleta, I'm not surprised that he doesn't get the deeper meaning of LaWR, because he's only 17 and he's been a pageant kid for years. How can we expect him to have soul from singing on Star Search? He is just a male version of Britney pre mental breakdown and inadvisable marriages.

Alan Sepinwall said...

the audience is a bunch of trained monkeys to scream no matter what, or boo when Simon said something less than positive.

And, in the completely non-shocking department, all those waving hands during the ballad songs isn't spontaneous! Several reports from people at the tapings say that Nigel comes out before the show begins and gives the audience very clear instructions on when to do what, claiming that they're an important part of the show.

Bobman said...

Aside from 13-year old girls, I really don't understand how anyone likes Jason. Aside from his voice not being very good, which it really isn't, this week's performance was an EMBARRASSMENT. He was openly mocking the French parts on stage, making a silly face like "what am I doin' singin' this French nonsense?". It's such a beautiful song and he turned it into a joke, and somehow people found it charming. Blech.

Also, I like Chikeze, but that harmonica bit was horrid. Almost as much of a gimmick as the old Peter Frampton gag, aka the most overrated guitar accessory known to man.

Anonymous said...

Chikezie--my eight year old son has been a devoted fan for weeks now, and I've come around too. I think it would be great to have an airport security guy as the AI winner instead of someone who has already had a failed record deal. Like my son says, "he's the guy who tells you to take off your shoes at the airport but I bet he would be nice instead of crabby."

Nicole said...

Jason seems to make that "embarrassed" face for every performance. He doesn't bring anything special, and frankly seems a bit stoned or something. Dave Cook may be repeating himself, but at least it looks like he's trying. It was a bit odd at the end of his performance though, because Ryan seemed to not know what to do with the vocorder.. Is he a stagehand and host?

Anyway on to the next theme to be tortured.

Anonymous said...

-Michael Johns' performance & comments was the most entertaining thing I've ever seen on Idol. (1) Cramming "all the best parts" of 'A Day In the Life' does not make for pleasant listening. (2) his lyric flub was absolutely amazing and hilarious. "But having read the book/read the book!" I'm surprised he's not getting more slammed for that. and (3) Paula's 5-minute explanation that the reason he sucked was because of the in-ear monitors, then the reveal that he had no such monitors, was "curb your enthusiasm" worthy. My favorite part is that Johns sat there nodding to everything Paula said!

-Kristy Lee Cook is unfairly maligned. She's actually a good singer, certainly good enough for a pop-country career. She just has bad taste. She should stay past Amanda, who is just a self-parody now.

-"Hmmm...the Beatles are the best band ever. I'll do the Whitesnake version." WHAA?!?! Awful. David Cook is savvy, but he's a tool.

-Finally, Archuleta sang all the right notes and the right words, but that's about all. "Master class?" Come on. There was no connection; how much could a 17 year old connect with "The Long and Winding Road?"

Archuleta probably will win, but will he be a post-Idol success? Other than Radio Disney, I don't see a market for him.

J said...

Other than Radio Disney, I don't see a market for him.

Radio Disney is only the biggest market in the US, right now.

Anonymous said...

Radio Disney is only the biggest market in the US, right now.

Sorry, I guess I meant no market for people old enough to drink soda.

Scholar163 said...

Am I missing something with Archuleta? I guess he sings on-key, but I don't find his vocal performances to be any more memorable than Ramiele, who I feel constantly gets criticized for actually singing the songs (and not adding unnecessary runs or other vocal trips). The biggest issue for me is the lack of emotion on most if not all of the songs. Many times, it appears that the folks don't try to understand the songs. Castro was particularly egregious, singing "Michelle" without any of the melancholy present in the original tune.

dark tyler said...

Many times, it appears that the folks don't try to understand the songs.

Oh yeah. That goes for David Cook, too, who sang 'Eleanor Rigby', a song about a lonely guy who lives alone, works alone, eats alone, dies alone, with a huge smug smirk on his face. Dude, listen what you're singing about!

Castro did the same thing this week, but at least I can't hate the guy. I know he's not smug or obnoxious, he just doesn't seem like he is capable of understanding anything, really. He giggles at the funny-sounding French. Did anyone expect anything more?

As for Archuleta, I guess he's technically better than Zac Efron. That's good, right?

Anonymous said...

Nitpick: The thing David Cook was using was not called a vocoder. A vocoder is a studio device and creates that "Cher sound". You know, from that song that goes "Do you belieeeeeeeve... ".

What he was using was a talk box. Its a pedal with a tube and mic. Done to death in the 70's: that Peter Frampton song, Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith, Joe Walsh. Also in the 80's with Bon Jovi's 'Living on a Prayer' and 'Kickstart My Heart' by Motley Crue .

Anonymous said...

Scholar163 said...
Am I missing something with Archuleta?

I'm missing it, too. Totally agree with your comments about him.

I think dredlock boy is a whole lot of nothing, too. I don't understand why he's so popular with his "look-at-me,-I'm-on-stage" sh!t-eating grin. And what kind of idiot doesn't know "ma belle" is French? I guess the same idiot willing to admit that little fact to a worldwide television audience. Moron.

K J Gillenwater said...

They were wearing those ear monitor things last night. I didn't see Michael Johns wearing his, but I wasn't looking for one. But I did notice one on another performer. As much as Paula annoys me, I think sitting that close to the stage, she would be able to see them wearing it. So I believe her.

As for David Cook's version of "Eleanor Rigby," I thought the chorus part *did* evoke a sadness. A sort of angry sadness. When he goes into the higher register, there is a lot of emotion and power in his voice.

Every season there is always ONE contestant people believe will automatically win. And every year, that contestant eventually falls and gets booted in the top 4 or top 3 vote. It is always better to be the underdog at the beginning, rather than the expected winner. Once some of the other favorites are weeded out, voters will start trying to make sure that David A. *doesn't* win. Just watch.

Teen girl fans and grandmas only get you so far.

Joan said...

Alan: No idea what Simon was talking about with the song being self-indulgent; it's one of the prettiest that Paul McCartney ever wrote. I just would have preferred a simpler arrangement,

I think Simon meant the arrangement was self-indulgent; you noticed it, too. "Blackbird" is deceptively simple. It's not an easy song to sing at all, and she butchered it.

"Michelle" is not a beautiful song, it's adolescent dreck at best: "I have a crush on a French girl but I don't speak French so I'll just write this little song..." I have been a Beatles' fan since I was about 9 years old, and I have always, always hated this song.

As for DavidA: when I was 17, I had had my heart broken enough to know all about the L&WR... but the "LIB: Naked" version is so, so much a better arrangement.