Tuesday, March 10, 2009

American Idol, Top 13: Michael Jackson Night

Spoilers for tonight's "American Idol" coming up just as soon as I keep my wife a secret to avoid alienating the 'tween demographic...

Before we get into the song-by-song breakdown, a few general thoughts:

1. This was an incredibly long show. I'm not sure I've ever felt more exhausted by the end of a two-hour "Idol" episode, even though I started watching 45 minutes in so I'd be able to fast-forward through commercials and some of the judge blather. Thirteen performances is just too many, and after a while I feel like I lost the ability to tell who was good and who was bad, who might be in danger and who might not be, etc.

2. Simon's just telling the truth right and left this year. First we got the comment in the wildcard show about the importance of casting the season, and tonight he warned Scott, "It's okay being artistic -- just not on this show." I love the lack of pretense, but I'm also kinda scared that it may be because Simon is feeling drunk with power due to...

3. I'm really nervous about the apparent twist coming up tomorrow night. Seacrest called it "A surprise change to the rules that could alter the face of the competition," and said it "kind of changed the entire theme and concept of the show." And Simon said, "It involves us." I have to assume that they're going to borrow the "So You Think You Can Dance" / "Rock Star" format where the public's vote determines who's in the bottom, and then the judges decide who actually goes home.

I like how that worked on "Rock Star," and I don't watch "SYTYCD," but if that's what they're doing, I think it's a big mistake. You don't fundamentally alter the way the show works eight seasons in. You just don't. I don't care if it means a Jennifer Hudson or Chris Daughtry or whomever goes home "early" -- you've been telling people for seven years that they get the final say, and you don't get to change that now. It opens the show up to even more charges of being fixed than before, it'll make people feel less invested in voting (which is bad news for AT&T) and maybe in watching, and it's just not something they should be doing.

And, of course, if it turns out to be Seacrest overhyping something -- which he's never, ever, never asked to do on this show -- then I'll be more than happy to retract all that tomorrow night.

Now then, on to the performances, in order:

Lil Rounds, "The Way You Make Me Feel": One of a bunch of performances on the night that felt competent but not a whole lot more. Lil knows how to work the stage (albeit not as well as some of the people who followed her), but this didn't give her much of a chance to show what she can do vocally, and with the chaff from her semi-finals group cut away, her professionalism doesn't stand out as much.

Scott MacIntyre, "Keep the Faith": I think I am going to get real tired, real fast, of some of the judges (*cough*Kara*cough*) not even discussing his singing and instead talking about what an inspiration he is. Grading Scott on a curve because he's blind is patronizing and it's irritating, and if Scott didn't want to win the show as badly as everybody does, I'd like to think he'd be annoyed by it, too. I thought he was all over the map vocally, and the falsetto didn't sound good at all.

Danny Gokey, "PYT": Brilliant song choice. Brilliant. It's like he was reading all the press clippings from folks like me suggesting he was going to be David Archuleta 2.0 and decided to show a completely different side to his personality. Uptempo, growly, in total command of the crowd on the call-and-response, and just a lot of fun. He could use some work on his dancing (if Anoop sticks around, maybe he can help him), but that was pretty flippin' great. This is not a guy who's going to give the same boring performance week after week like Young David.

Michael Sarver, "You Are Not Alone": Another one to file in the good-but-dull category. Michael has a fine voice, and he sang it well, but I can barely remember any of it a couple of hours later.

Jasmine Murray, "I'll Be There": The most predictable song choice of the whole night. Of course our wannabe diva was gonna pick the one Mariah covered. She continues her Christina Aguilera impression, and that froggy quality is the only thing making it less forgettable than Sarver.

Kris Allen, "Remember the Time": As implied by the spoiler warning, I'm with Simon on that clip package being the kiss of death for Kris. I thought he started off fine doing the John Mayer-meets-Timberlake take on the song, but he went off the rails after a while. This is the only performance of the night where I was tempted to take off my headphones to make the hurting stop.

Allison Iraheta, "Give Into Me": I said after she sang Heart in the semis that it's hard to grade her, since the Wilson sisters have been so kind to past contestants. After hearing her turn "Give Into Me" into a Heart soundalike song -- albeit a good one -- I still have no idea how to grade her. Is she going to do this every week? Allison has the pipes to bend the themes to this particular style if she wants, but I'd like to hear some variation soon.

Anoop Desai, "Beat It": Dammit. I like Anoop so much, and want to see him stick around because I think he adds an element of fun to the show that few of the other finalists are capable of bringing. But if I'm not grading him on a curve (and I really can't after what I wrote about Scott), then that was every bit the karaoke bar take on Michael the judges said it was. No edge, not challenging himself vocally, and if he wasn't so comfortable working the audience, it would have been a complete disaster. As it is, I'm hoping personality saves him; like Simon, I'd rather have personality than a good-but-boring singer, like, for example...

Jorge Nunez, "Never Can Say Goodbye": I have nothing to say about this one. See Sarver, Michael.

Megan Joy, "Rockin' Robin": Where I reluctantly have to agree with the judges on Anoop, I think they're nuts on this one. (And that's not even factoring in Simon's pathological hatred of songs about birds.) I love the sound of Megan's voice. It has a unique character and clarity to it that took an incredibly generic song that ordinarily would have been dismissed as too simplistic for a group-sing, and she gave it personality and energy. And to make sure I wasn't distracted by the dress, or the dancing (which didn't seem quite as spazzy this week), I listened to it again with my eyes closed. There are better technical singers this season, but she and Gokey and maybe Alexis are the only ones so far where I'd be interested in buying a record.

Adam Lambert, "Black or White": As Dan Fienberg put it, Adam is gonna kill it on Guns 'N Roses night, because that was a seriously late '80s hair metal take on Jacko. I agree that very few contestants in the show's history work that stage as well as he did tonight, and he's definitely got a lot of range and ability. I'm just not sure I like what he does with it.

Matt Giraud, "Human Nature": He went to the falsetto pretty early and stayed there, but unlike Scott or Kris (or past ear-assaulters like Ace Young), his falsetto sounds pretty good. I don't know if he has anything other than the Robin Thicke impression, but this was decent.

Alexis Grace, "Dirty Diana": By this point, the exhaustion hit, and I'm having a hard time mentally separating her performance from Allison and Megan, in that it combined elements of both (the rocker thing from Allison, and the quirkier vibe of Megan). I think it was good, but two hours in, I throw up my hands a little.

Best of the night: He went early and may have been forgotten, but I really dug Gokey.

In danger: Hard to say, especially since two people are going home tomorrow night. Anoop and Megan took the worst beatings from the judges, but that may wind up mobilizing their fans, assuming said fans exist (they were both wildcards). But in a show this long, and with so many performances hovering around mediocre -- which is always the most dangerous place to be on "Idol," almost anyone but Danny and Adam could go home. My hope is that it's some combination of Jasmine, Kris, Michael and Jorge, but we'll see. If the twist is what I fear it is, and Anoop or Megan are in the bottom group, they're screwed.

What did everybody else think?


J said...

This show was probably better viewed as the summary clips package at the end. There you could really appreciate just how much power (not accuracy, but power) Iraheta's voice has.

"Rockin' Robin" was so bad a song choice I thought that poor girl got it as a handicap or something. That was a sort of captivatingly awful couple minutes of music/television. The flute was amazing. I'm surprised she wasn't spinning a flaming baton and surrounded by cartoon animals.

Hyde said...

I thought Megan sounded awful on the night's worst song choice. But other than Anoop continuing to fade, it was a night where the favorites all held serve.

I think anything that eliminates "the person with the fewest votes is going home" will be a disaster for the show. Cowell really ought to know by now that this isn't the UK--we take our voting seriously, and we're not as amenable as the Brits to having the powers that be shove prepackaged pop down our throats. If the judges end up picking, one way or another, who ends up leaving tomorrow, I can guarantee you that Seacrest will never again announce a record number of votes cast, because phone calls are going to fall off a cliff next week and every week hereafter.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts:
A) Scott is EASILY the weakest singing talent, although I thought this was his strongest performance to date. But, come on, y'all. The pity party stops now.
B) Never was an Anoop fan, although I was always pleasantly surprised to hear that voice come out of him. "My Perogative" was a fave of mine back in the day, and he was a fetus when it came out, so I found that weirdly charming. But, seriously, dude..."Beat It"? Please. I said to my husband, "If he grabs his crotch, I'm done."
C) Seriously, Alan, you need to watch SYTYCD. Seriously.
D) I think that Alexis and Allison were excellent. Megan was good, and she sang that song well, but it was not a good song choice and the styling was completely distracting--very similar to how they always put Carly in random sleeveless outfits last year. There are sleeveless outfits that could compliment armfuls of tattoos and then there are outfits like what they put on Megan.

Theresa said...

This is the only performance of the night where I was tempted to take off my headphones to make the hurting stop.

Ouch. There were some sour notes, yes, but I didn't think it was that bad. In fact, despite the few sour notes, I thought it was pretty good. The guitar didn't really add anything (I couldn't even hear it) except perhaps confidence, but at least it was better than Jorge's snoozefest. (And I generally like Jorge.) My picks for the two going home are Jorge and Michael. I continue to think Megan is overrated, but at least she's interesting, so she can stick around for a little bit.

Anonymous said...

overall, better than I expected...though a lot of songs I didn't expect to be hearing...I guess nobody wanted to get stuck following last year's rendition of Billie Jean or a parody of Thriller (see Anoop's Beat It attempt)...but would have loved to hear a bit more classic Michael or classic Jackson 5

crazy unexpected song choice by Megan, but I thought her voice sounded great and she's the only female singer this season that my wife and I could see ourselves rooting for (she's still got tons to prove)

Alan, also agree with you about Adam...I was done with 80s hair band music a long time ago...and his giddiness after the judges' comments betrays the rock star persona...but he's clearly got majorly huge chops and is loaded with talent

Gokey was impressive...he's reminding me sort of Clapton...is that crazy? and my wife thinks he looks like Robert Downey Jr

speaking of look-alikes, are we the only ones who think Scott looks like a young, shaggy Greg Kinnear? its uncanny, right? I'm thinking he's going far in this thing because people are really inspired by him...my guess is we'll hear better performances from him too

Matt G came up big, I thought...but they rushed through his critique to get the show in roughly on time...and I hope that doesn't hurt him...this is nitpicky, but the dude needs to smile a little more...he's almost playing it too cool

my guess is the low vote getters are Jasmine, the young punk-red haired girl (bad sign I still don't know her name) and Kris

and I'm hoping the twist is something else...your guess would totally diminish the stakes of the show each week and take a lot of the gas out of the engine...no idea what else it might be though, as the same thought occurred to me while watching tonight

ghoti said...

Alexis "oversang", but Adam didn't? Please.

And I wonder if the out there number they had to assign to Alexis (36 instead of 13) will hurt her.

Why did Kris need a guitar to play his dance song? It was incredibly distracting and I didn't hear it once. Was it even plugged in?

No, Randy. It wasn't "Mrazesque", no matter how far ahead of time you wrote that commentary.

I agree that Gokey wins the night. I also liked Matt, Alexis and Allison - but I didn't love them. Everybody else either sucked or picked a song I just couldn't listen to.

Lisa said...

Like dvlman, I wonder if not having a regular number is going to hurt Alexis Grace? The show went long and my dvr cut off right as Ryan finished reading the number.

Anonymous said...

doesn't look like it...according to dialidol, Alexis is one of the four safe ones (along with Lil, Danny, Adam)

Anonymous said...

It should be Scott going home along with either Kris or Michael. But it will probably be the latter two. Glad the producers didn't mention Danny's dead wife this week.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this blog for a very long time and very rarely comment. I am doing so now to say Alan, you really should watch SoYouThinkYouCanDanceDanceRevolut

Anonymous said...

The reason for these comments is micheal jackson.

Because we all love him.

Anonymous said...

Voices, song choices, instruments, 36-not-13... all well and good, but the biggest topic of discussion in our house tonight was Paula's face!

Has there ever been a case of someone having work done during a show's active season? The pulled up eyes with puffy lids, the tight upper lip and cheeks, the return of the incoherent rambling (due to the pain meds, from the surgery, was our guess)? Far more memorable than any of the performances tonight.

Benjamin Standig said...

Alan, I am with you on Megan. Fine, the song choice was a little odd, but it also seemed to fit the 60's, quirky, granola girl vibe she sports.

I'm also with you on Danny. Regardless of his calendar age in comparison to the other singers, he appears to have miles and miles of professional maturity on them.

Chris, ugh. Jorge, worse.

I don't really get the Anoop love and Sarver...yeah, already forgot.

Lil is the fav girl with Alexis in second, but Allison showed me something tonight. If she can tone her voice on a ballad and at least a little bit in the interviews, she could be a player.

I'm guessing Jasmine and Anoop are out of here.

Anonymous said...

My Top 3:

1. Adam (yeah, he's a bit pretentious, but damn the dude can sing)

2. Matt G: perfect song for him i thought, and his falsetto was impressive

3. Gokey: Have gotten pretty tired of him with all the hype, but he brought it tonight.

The girls are just not good this year to me, save Alexis...and Megan when she doesn't sing a terrible song like tonight.

Looking like a Gokey-Adam final to me...

Bottom 2:

Jorge- couldn't be more boring if he tried.

Scott- yeah he's blind, doesn't mean he can sing

word verification is: Aresol..first time i've gotten an actual word

Anonymous said...

Last night was not a horrible night. I thought it was going to be scary, maybe because Micheal Jackson scares me. Lolz!

Megan Corkrey is cute and fun, but the way she is on stage is REALLY weird. She sort of yodels when she sings too. I like her personality, and I think other people do. She will make it!

I really love Allison, Adam and Alexis. Without them the show would die and so would everyone else from boredom. They are different and cool!

I don't get the big hype about Scott, I think people like him because he is blind. It's sad but true. He gets the pitty vote, but when it gets down to it, I don't think he'll make it.

Danny ROCKS, but I can't stand to look at him. It annoys me.

I wonder who's going home tomorrow? Can't wait!

Cait Hagar

Anonymous said...

I have good news: that first time still lies in your future.

Bobman said...

I am surprised by all the Alexis love. Her voice is fine, but she was so off the rhythm for most of the song it was horribly distracting.

Mostly agree with Alan on Megan; I still think it was a weird song choice and not the best performance but her voice is so cool and original, as well as her look, but the judges were too hard on her. But damn does the girl need some lessons on stage presence :)

Adam has a decent voice, but his emo / glam look coupled with the pure arrogance he exhibits is almost intolerable to me.

Glad Gokey finally lived up to some of the hype I didn't quite see; I thought he was great tonight.

And Scott... yeah. It's just embarrassingly patronizing. He can kinda sing, but he's not good (dawg).

Anonymous said...

I think Scott is a good singer, I just think that good singer is hidden under nerves, awkwardness and some insecurity. I think he's gotten better and better every week, I just don't know that I want to wait it out when there are people who are better and have been better since the beginning. I think someone like Scott, at least as far as my own personal viewing of the show goes, gets screwed by the shift back to the various rounds. Someone like him would either thrive or crash quickly with the top 24 system instead of the top 36 system.

If Idol's moving to the SYTYCD system, I'm really not on board. I've been annoyed/disgusted/bored with the judges for the better part this season (and when Randy is the least obnoxious, we have big problems), so I really don't need to see them with more power. Plus, um, do they really think the way to get rid of "THIS SHOW IS FIXED!!!" grumbling is by putting the big decisions in the hands of the judges and only the judges? Silly, imo. I don't have a lot of hope that the news will be different (or if it is, that it'll be better) but I guess we'll find out tonight.

Wrt Simon speaking the truth and all that good stuff: I find him so tedious this year. He's not nearly as funny as he thinks he is. His schtick is tired because I no longer see it as telling it like it is or offering blunt, constructive criticism, I just see it as being hollow and mean. His whole act is just pointless.

Anonymous said...

It may well be because I don't start watching until Hollywood Week, but I am baffled about this great personality everyone claims Anoop has. Every time I see him, he comes across (to me, anyway) as a smug jerk. *shrug*

Megan's "Rockin' Robin" was like a lost performance from American Juniors.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone clock how much time the judges were on-screen rambling versus the actual contestants? Idol always runs long, but I'm pretty over it...missing the big "reveal" at the end AGAIN because the dvr cut off due to Paula's nonsensical droning. Four judges - completely unnecessary & boring!!! FF to Simon.

Anonymous said...

At least Paula was vaguely constructive even as she rambled on and on. Simon spent more time being pleased with himself than actually offering up anything constructive or funny. You could see him patting himself on the back and giving himself a mental high five after the "Bad" snark. His one good line of the night was wondering what it was that Sarver did for a living. They all need to cut out the self indulgence by at least a couple of minutes, but they especially did last night since they had the added good times of having to explain to the audience what the 13th number was. If Alexis goes home (which she won't come even close to doing) my first bit of blame would go to a rushed reading of her phone number.

K J Gillenwater said...

Um, strange, because I actually LIKED Scott's performance. And I didn't think he was all that great before. Behind the piano he is much, much better.

"Alexis "oversang", but Adam didn't? Please."

I TOTALLY agree with this. It was like the judges and the audience were hearing something completely different than I was. SCREECHING all the way through. He can sing, but the dude needs to back off. But now that he's gotten such gushing praise, I think he will continue to sing like that.

I LOVED Matt Giraud. Loved him. Not sure why, but that version of "Human Nature" really did it for me.

DANNY GOKEY I LOVE YOU! And I agree with the commenter's wife...he looks like Robert Downey, Jr. so much, I remark on it every week. I would buy Danny's first album in heartbeat.

This is how I felt about David Cook very early on last season, so I'm going to say Danny'll win, unless he really screws something up.

Castaway said...

If they do change the voting format, I'm on board with everyone saying it's a mistake. It's amazing the show has stayed as popular as it has for eight seasons---little changes are fine to keep it interesting, but taking the power away from the fans is not a good move. We'll see what happens.

Honestly, it's not hard right now to say Danny and Adam in the finals, maybe Lil in 3rd. I think Danny has a better voice (better for me to listen to, anyway, as I think Adam is over the top) but Adam has a better "look".

The show takes forever with the four judges. I actually think Simon has been entertaining as usual this season. Eighty percent of the time he gives the best comments, then the 20% useless insults to be "Simon". He's still way ahead of everyone else's percentage.

By the way, whatever Paula was off of for most of the audtions, when she was pretty coherent, I think she was back "on" last night.

Anonymous said...

This is pure conjecture on my part, but what if the twist is that the judges can give someone immunity for next week's performance? That way they can reward someone for a good job, protect someone they know is a great singer but may suffer in one of the genre weeks and encourage them to take risks with their subsequent song choice. That wouldn't be so bad.

Alan Sepinwall said...

This is pure conjecture on my part, but what if the twist is that the judges can give someone immunity for next week's performance?

I think I could live with that, and I think the audience could, too. It's infinitely better than veto power, or a sing-off with the judges choosing, or whatever, in that all the votes for the following week would still count.

But it still opens the show up to more charges of being rigged, and it gives too much power to boobs like Randy and Paula.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be close. Ken Warwick was just on Seacrest's show and teased that it was something that they'd first tested in France and it worked. I googled the French rules and it seems like the judges have a veto power of some sort. I'm really not sure how that works since it sort of seems unfair to whoever ultimately gets sent home in place of the vetoed contestant, but I'm also going to guess that I'm oversimplifying it and there's more to it. Hopefully. He seemed to be confident that this new "twist" will solve some of the problems and help to address some of the complaints of previous seasons, i.e. they totally would have saved Daughtry and sent any of the other three home a few years back.

Adam said...

According to Wiki, that rule on "Nouvelle Star" was this:

"The judges this series were eligible to exercise a veto power on one eliminated contestant at any given point of the competition and spare them from elimination."

A one-time veto? I could live with that.

AndyW said...

I wonder if "My Prerogative" was as good as Anoop could get - a song he knew by heart and could focus on his performance. Still, you think he could have gone with "Smooth Criminal" and delivered exactly the same vibe.

Anonymous said...

FYI Alan, the reason they obstensibly do the "viewers pick bottom 2, judges decide who goes home" on SYTYC, and the reason it works, is because they dance in couples during the week, and are voted into the bottom 2 as couples... then when the judges are choosing, they dance solos to try to impress them..obstensibly, this means a great dancer could be dragged down by their partner, which the judges can then correct by keeping the strong partners of the two groups, and sending the weaker dancers home.. i do not think this makes much sense for a show where everyone performs solo in the beginning, though

Anonymous said...

I hated all the backstory crap.

Love Gokey. Adam had great stage presence too, but I've seen clips of him on YouTube where he played Fiyero in Wicked in LA. Come on - that is the male lead of a Broadway musical. He should have stage presence if people paid $150 to see him in Wicked. I've also seen other photos of him that let's say may not win him tween votes, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Adam has a decent voice, but his emo / glam look coupled with the pure arrogance he exhibits is almost intolerable to me.

Oh thank God, I'm not the only one that thinks this. He annoys me so freaking much I can barely stand to look at the tv when he's singing.

Anonymous said...

Dancing with the Stars is going to have a "dance off" next week for the bottom two. They haven't said whether it will happen every week, but fear it may have similar effects to what has been conjectured here on what they may be unveiling tonight for Idol. I agree with Idol, Dancing or any of these shows, changing the rules in the middle is a risky venture.

Anonymous said...

@ MikeF -- My wife agrees with your wife. We have taken to calling Gokey "Robert Downey Jr. Jr."

Adam annoys the crap out of us too. He is only going to get worse now that he's been encouraged. Terrible.

Anonymous said...

Team Megan! Totally agree, she has the most original voice on the show. But you don't win Idol by being original.