Thursday, March 26, 2009

American Idol, Top 10: Motown Night

Spoilers for last night's "American Idol" Motown Night coming up just as soon as I give my wife a crayon mustache...

First of all, before I get into the song-by-song breakdown, I want to express my displeasure with doing this as a two-hour episode. I understand (sort of) the need to do it when you have more than 10 singers, but isn't this traditionally the point in the season where the performance show finally contracts down to an hour -- or, at least, 90 minutes? Traditionally, the show gets away with two different episodes a year (Top 9 and Top 3) where 9 songs are sung in an hour(*), so why can't they do it here instead of padding it out? And, yes, I know the answer to that is ratings/money/because they can/etc.

(*) Just checked the schedule for next week, and it looks like they're going to let the Top 9 show run an hour and 20 minutes. Sigh... Are they gonna do that again at Top 3? Or is "Osbournes Reloaded" so genuinely terrible that Fox didn't want to unleash more than 40 minutes of it on the world?

Anyway, song-by-song:

Matt Giraud, "Let's Get It On": Just as I was wondering if, like Scott, he was going to stay glued to the piano bench for the rest of the competition, he spends 20 seconds there and then gets up to dance for the rest of the song. The Mr. Rogers sweater looks goofy, but this was very much in Matt's faux-Timberlake wheelhouse, albeit not in a class with Marvin Gaye (or even Jack Black). I still doubt I'm going to win any money off him in the office pool, but I'm feeling more confident that he'll be around a while.

Kris Allen, "How Sweet It Is": Putting him back-to-back with Matt makes it more obvious that they're basically the same contestant: more comfortable with an instrument than without it, heavily modeling themselves after a contemporary artist (in this case, Jason Mraz, with a touch of John Mayer), non-threateningly handsome, etc. Where Adam and Danny are the more obvious favorites to win the show, these two sound much more like something you'd actually hear on the radio today. A solid performance, leaning more towards the James Taylor version than Marvin's.

Scott MacIntyre, "You Can't Hurry Love": I actually liked what he did with the arrangement, but I'm tired of hearing Scott smack up against the limits of his very modest vocal range. He was off-key several times, again strained to hit notes, etc. And unlike Matt in some previous weeks, his piano playing isn't so impressive as to make up for his other shortcomings. I'm ready to see him go.

Megan Joy, "For Once In My Life": This is two weeks in a row now where the snippet we heard of her rehearsing with the mentor sounded much more interesting than the actual performance -- and this time she can't blame it on the flu. I continue to believe that there's an interesting modern cabaret voice in there (again, ala Zooey Deschanel), but her nerves really seem to be getting the best of her on stage, even though she kept the spastic arm waves to a minimum. (She still wiggled, but it seemed more in the beat this time.) She has no shot at winning, but I'm hoping she sticks around long enough to find a theme/song that suits her, and that's able to stay calm enough to do it justice.

Anoop Desai, "Oooh, Baby Baby": This is two weeks in a row of Anoop slowing it down to show that he can really sing and isn't just the likable guy with the great name. And he can absolutely sing. His falsetto isn't quite as good as the one Adam will trot out later in the show, but it's better than Matt's, and most of the previous "Idol" men who think they can go up that high, and his a cappella group experience comes in very handy when it comes to blending in with the backup singers. It's not quite as passionate as last week's "Always On My Mind" (the studio version of which is awesome), but it should hopefully give him enough musical street cred with the judges that he can go back to being fun for a few weeks.

Michael Sarver, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg": When mentor Smokey Robinson, who effusively praised every other contestant, couldn't come up with anything good to say about Michael's interpretation, you knew this was going to be problematic. And, sure enough, Michael's attempt to "church it up" meant mostly that he plastered a huge smile on his face and stripped all the edge out of a song that Smokey tried to explain was a desperate final attempt to hold onto a departing lover. He has a better voice than Scott, but Simon was dead on when saying that Michael has no shot to win.

Lil Rounds, "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave": Has this song ever served any "Idol" contestant well? It put Kimberley Locke in the bottom three and put Jennifer Hudson in the bottom two. A quick trip through Wiki says that Vonzell Solomon got away with singing it during the season four semis without anyone complaining, but for the most part, the song seems like a trap on this show, as it encourages a singer like Lil to shout too much and race to keep up with the tempo. This reminded me very much of the performance snippets we heard of Lil in Hollywood, when I was baffled by why the judges loved what sounded like yelling. Cool flapper outfit, bad performance.

Adam Lambert, "The Tracks of My Tears": Nice. Very nice. I've been saying for a few weeks that Adam's clearly the most talented singer this year, but that I haven't yet liked anything he's chosen to do with that talent. Not anymore. After the beating he took for last week's sitar-inflected "Ring of Fire" cover (and shame on me for not pointing out how similar it was to Dilana's version on "Rock Star") and for his dismissal of the country theme, Adam goes into hero-worship mode with Smokey, then slicks back his hair and does a terrific, largely faithful cover of one of Smokey's greatest hits. Where that "Ring of Fire" arrangement largely amounted to ripping up the song and starting over from scratch, what he did here was to keep the basic framework intact and playing around with it in smaller ways (a tweak on the melody, a quieter and more introspective finish) to keep it from sounding like karaoke. Delicate, beautiful falsetto, and the kind of performance that's going to be remembered for a while. The only reason I can fathom for it not getting the pimp spot is that the producers are desperate to hold onto Allison so the last two months of the competition won't be Lil and a bunch of dudes.

Danny Gokey, "Get Ready": This is the version of Danny I prefer, him doing what the Thing Throwers have dubbed his "Robert Down Jr. Jr." thing instead of turning into Inspirational Ballad Man. Not a home run, but a solid double, and the sort of thing he needs to do every few performances so he doesn't become boring.

Allison Iraheta, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone": This is one of those seven-minute epics that seems weird squeezed into a 90-second "Idol" slot, though at least this is one where a good chunk of that extra time is instrumentals (as opposed to Michael Johns trying to do "all the good parts" of "A Day in the Life" in a minute and a half). I wasn't nearly as on board with this as the judges were, as I think Allison stumbled several times in the middle, either trying to remember the lyrics or trying to keep up with all the tempo changes, and that she just powered through it at the end to make up for that. Now, when Allison powers through, it doesn't sound like shouting in the way that Lil sometimes does -- after Adam, she's in that next tier of this season's stronger singers, alongside Anoop and Danny -- but it did feel more like showing off than trying to fit her voice to the song.

Best of the night: Adam, and it wasn't close, even though there were a number of other very good performances (Anoop, Matt, Kris, Danny).

In trouble: I'm hoping that either Michael or Scott's time is up, but I'm worried about Megan.

What did everybody else think?


Adam said...

Megan's not winning this competition, and she makes lousy choices. "Rockin' Robin," really? If she didn't have the tattoo-sleeve, there'd be almost nothing interesting about her.

Scott, Michael and Megan should be the next three to go, in some order; maybe Kris too, because I don't believe we've ever actually heard the guitar. After that, it's going to be fun.

Dan Jameson said...

Megan and Michael are locks for the bottom 3. But I'm throwing a wild card of either Anoop or Lil in there too. I think Scott is still feeding off, and I know this is horrible, but the votes based on his disability. I think the fact that Simon bashed him pretty good will get his fans off the couch and he'll make it at least another week.

Meanwhile, I think Anoop and Lil have been boring enough this week to slide under the radar and possible get bottom 3 votes.

Megan - Michael - Anoop

Michael goes home (hopefully).

Bobman said...

I would say Megan has more going for her than her tattoo and looks, but she sure has had a hard time showing it. Based on her decisions and performances she definitely deserves to go soon, but I so want to see her find something that showcases her odd but (to me) appealing voice and vocal style.

Agree with everyone else on who should go / who will go. It's gotta be either oil rigger or Megan tonight, with Scott as an outside option.

Anonymous said...

I thought Allison rocked it - and she's fast becoming my third top-3 pick (the others being Danny and Adam).
Other observations? Adam KILLED it. Fabulous. Danny was everything I expected him to be. Lil may have gone as far as she can go -- time will tell. Last night was her night to shine and she was just ok. Scott? Go. Please. Tonight.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Lil may have gone as far as she can go -- time will tell. Last night was her night to shine and she was just ok.

I think this kind of comment -- which Kara also made -- is unfair to Lil, who's black but isn't a classic Motown-style singer. Motown's singers, particularly the female ones, were more polished and gentler than their counterparts at Atlantic or Staxx/Volt; there aren't a lot of iconic Motown songs that really fit a straight-up belter like Lil.

She wasn't good, sure, but there were a bunch of contestants better-suited to the theme than her.

K J Gillenwater said...

Adam - screech = winner

Same thing for me, Alan. Tonight was the first time I liked what Adam did with his song choice. I know the guy can sing, but for me every week it's been over the top screechy awfulness. I hope he does more understated sexy kinds of performer of the night.

I missed the first half of Matt's performance, but from what I heard....very very good.

Liked Danny more for his stage presence and pure joy when singing that the way he sang. Loved that he jumped in with the dancers. When this guy starts having concerts of his own, he's going to be the type that brings it every night and is fun to watch.

Allison, although I thought she didn't enunciate some of her words clearly enough, did a great job of showcasing what she does best...belt out those rock tunes.

Anoop was wonderful. Did not hear more than 1 bad note (although judges weren't very nice at all, and I'm not sure why).

Lil was terrible. For me it is not song choice that is her biggest's her voice. It really is not as strong as I thought it was during her audition. It's quite thin and strained. I really did not get the judges constant praise for her talents. Hopefully, she will see the bottom 3 this week.

Megan - sigh.
Kris - cute, but a tad dull
Scott - go enjoy your Christian music career. Bye.
Michael - should've gone home last week

Benjamin Standig said...

Beyond the fact that Adam did a great job with his performance this week, he really separated himself from the others in terms of performance. Heck, he separated himself from nearly every other contestant who has ever been on the show. Most of the time, fashion changes are rather subtle or dramatic over time (Clay Aiken), but not in the chameleon like way that Adam brought to the table.

Going into this week, I liked Danny the best, and while he has a great voice, he looked very amateurish following Adam...

As for bottom three, yes Michael, Megan and Scott are probably there. I am rooting for Scott to go; I fear that he could stay a lot than he should because, like Jon Hamm's character on 30 Rock, he lives in a bubble and nobody (other than the balls-out Simon) has the heart to tell him the truth.

Unknown said...

I'm really confused as to what the appeal of Megan has been. Most of the folks I've chatted with about it couldn't believe she made it into the Final 13, though she was better than Tatiana.

Just to be clear, my discussions range with my teenage family members through the upper reaches of the demographic spectrum in the workplace. Consensus is that Megan is just awful, awful, and awful yet some more, and she has yet to get on board with any of the themes that are supposed to showcase various styles of music, instead merely squawking the song out with some sort of act. I'm not actually certain I've heard her sing in the competition yet, as every performance has been overly affected.

All the discussion of her "originality" is merely masking that she can't really sing well (but she's earnest!) and thus doesn't quite fit with the rest of the group - therefore, she must be "original".

Though my teenage nephews think she's pretty hot.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

Adam, to me, looked a little too Elvis. Elvis on the way to fat Elvis. Yeck.

Put back on the nail polish and eye liner and get that crap out of your hair!

The performance was spot on, but I couldn't look at him.

Michael or Megan will go, I think

J said...

Because life hates me, the only performances I saw were Scott's and Megan's. His "You Can't Hurry Love" felt like it was eight minutes long, but he's worth keeping around just because his judges' segments can be the most enjoyably uncomfortable two minutes on television (they should have Michael Scott sit at the table for a week).

And if that gal were a horse, they'd take her behind the barn and shoot her. Yikesville!

Anonymous said...

Well, I definitely liked Adam a heap better than most weeks, because he didn't hurt my ears. But are we ever going to see him not playing a character when he's performing? I actually put Allison ahead of him, and didn't notice any particular flaws other than a bit of shoutiness. Then again, this was yet another week that I felt absolutely zero need to rewind to watch a performance.

I'd say that those two performances were very good, and overall liked to some extent Matt and Kris, but still, I haven't seen a performance that I would term as "great.

I'm torn as to who was worse, Scott or Megan. Michael's got to be in that discussion, too. Even though I overall find this "cast" to be kind of disappointing, it is still the case that those three are leagues behind everyone else.

Anonymous said...

My ranking for the night.

1. Alison Iruheta did a phenomenal rendition of "Papa was a Rolling Stone." I can't believe she was in the bottom three last week because she is one of the best on the show, and she's only 16.

2. Adam Lambert- Completely changed up his look and vocal style and nailed a very hard Smokey Robinson song. The guy is a pro (and was the understudy for the lead in Wicked). He's very seasoned as a performer, and it's clear.

3. Danny Gokey- His vocals are unbelievable, and probably my favorite vocalist in the competition. But it was a bad song choice. You can't sing a very fast song because it leaves no room for originality. But he nailed every note.

4. Matt Giraud- Very solid Marvin Gaye performance. Though I don't think he will win, I do think he will be the most successful artist out of all of the contestants.

5. Anoop- He is a good singer, smooth voice, but pales in comparison with the bigger stars.

6. Chris- Decent. Forgettable to me, but I can see him being commercially viable with teen girls.

7. Lil Rounds- She blew it this week. She could have belted out a great R&B song, but instead sang something really fast that left her unable to make it original... similar to Danny Gokey. I wished she sang a song like "Midnight Train to Georgia," as it could have been fantastic.

8. Megan Joy- I have no idea how someone so gorgeous can look so unsexy.

9. Scott- Not a great singer, bad song choice, yet it wasn't the worst performance of the night. He would sound great in a small room, singing a pleasant song... he just doesn't have the strong voice for a stage.

10. Michael Sarver- Horrendous... Sanjaya-like.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see people finally getting on board the Adam train (this is your conductor speaking).

Scott, Megan, and Michael need to go NOW, and as far as I'm concerned, it can be a triple elimination. They are all way out of their league.

It is so awkward watching Scott, not because he's blind, but because he's being used for his disability by the producers, and it's horrifying.

Anoop's really full of himself, isn't he? I first noticed it a couple weeks ago, and he's getting less likeable to me with each passing show. He's a good singer, but his arrogance grossly exceeds his talent.

Anonymous said...

Wish they could send both Michael and Scott home tonight...Scott's voice is so weak, and he's so boring...Kara is pandering to him so hard, it is really annoying...just cuz a dude is blind doesn't mean he should be able to stay on's a singing competition!

Scott, Michael, Megan bottom 3

Anonymous said...

It makes sense that Adam would cover Dilana's version of Ring of Fire - they have performed together in LA a couple of times, so no doubt he has heard her sing that song, which she recorded onto an EP a while back.

Anonymous said...

Holy frak, Megan was bad. I can't even come up with the right words to describe it. I don't know if she's always been bad and I'm just noticing it now, or if she's getting worse by the week. If they wanted a woman with an off-beat voice, they should have gone with smart-mouthed, red headed Jesse.

I thought Danny was terrible. Not Megan level, but still really bad. I love the guy, and his voice is usually great, but when he's bad, I can't listen to him.

Adam shocked the hell out of me. I was really impressed and, after last week's trainwreck, I wasn't sure that would happen again.

Matt has become my favorite. I actually look forward to hearing him each week. Anoop was good, and I hope he sticks around. Kris seems to have a real knack for interpreting songs, and he knows how to make the right choices.

Like almost everyone else, I'm going with Megan-Michael-Scott for the bottom three. But you never know what the American public will do. If their faves get beat up too much by the judges, they'll vote until their fingers fall off and their phones stop working.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that Megan kicked Motown butt last night. I can't think of a better song for her to sing on Motown week than Papa Was a Rolling Stone. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

The contestants are good this year...

However, what was that banter between Simon and Paula. I find it distracting, self serving and extremely rude to the contestants.

American Idol more times than not, serves up true stars. However, if the judges continue to ruin it with their childish antics and counter productive exchanges amongst themselves, they are going to ruin it for everyone...we will be so distracted we wont be able to vote correctly. Crayons mustaches....seriously? Producers do something!!!!!!!!!!

lizkdc said...

Just in terms of the eternal mystery of self-presentation, I'm kinda fascinated that when you wipe away Adam's makeup and push back the hair, he's a pretty masculine looking, guy-ish guy. With the height, too, making Seacrest look tiny. He really has to *aspire* to androgyny!

But then again, the voice is a very unique thing, and this week was the first time I thought he used it in a lovely way, not a pyrotechnic way. He surely has one waiting to see what comes next.

Anonymous said...

I have a theory: after an elimination where people end up scratching their heads with why that person went "so soon," the American public self-corrects the next week and cuts a weaker performer, even if that performer was not the weakest that week.

Two examples from last year:

Michael Johns gets cut unexpectedly at Top 8. The next week, Kristy Lee Cook gets cut despite not being the worst performer.

Carly Smithson gets cut at Top 6, with Syesha Mercado standing next to her, despite the fact that those two performances were generally deemed among the three best of the night. The next week, Brooke White went home despite the fact that her "I Am I Said" was generally deemed one of the best of the Top 5 week. (Granted, I'm a Believer was hideous.)

So, it makes sense that one of the three worst performers will go home this week, after Alexis went home last week. But the American people will forget until the next "hey, that doesn't seem quite right" elimination, somewhere around Top 7 or Top 6.

Anonymous said...

Lil should have sung Gladys Night. Adam was great (and I'm not a fan, but he WAS great). Matt was really good. Megan was awful, but I really hope she stays b/c I keep going back to her audition and I just LOVED her cute quirky voice. I couldn't listen to Scott...but I did, and it was baaaaaaaaaaad.

Unknown said...

I've really enjoyed this season overall. Performance wise, this is probably my favorite since season four. I'm not saying the lows aren't low -- I think Scott is really bad, Megan is a trainwreck, and Michael seems to have no clue what's going on -- but I think the highs are pretty high. Kris, Danny, Matt, Anoop, and Adam make up a very, very, very strong top five, and I enjoy each of them every week.

I've been looking around other places to see if others have said it, and I can't find anyone who has, but do others think Kris looks like Greg Berlanti?

Anonymous said...

I want Megan off my teevee. Her performance last night was a crime against music. The "interesting" tone in her voice doesn't make up for the fact that she sings off-key. And shakes her breasts alot.

Michael was also terrible, but except for that last note he was not horribly off-key. He's my next choice to go.

Rounding out the bottom three, Scott's sell-by date has come. But I think Alan is right, his fans probably were energized enough to keep him from getting the boot for at least another week.

My picks for the best performances, in descending order: Adam, by a mile; Allison; Anoop (though a bit too staid); Kris and Matt.

Unknown said...

When you can't give a better rendition of Ain't Too Proud to Beg than Ethan Suplee's in Remember the Titans, it is time for you to go.