Thursday, March 11, 2010

American Idol: Big man's work

It was the guys' turn on the "American Idol" semis last night, and one man literally and figuratively towered over the rest. I'll have some thoughts on it coming up just as soon as I'm forced to imagine Randy in a bikini (thank you, Simon)...

Okay, as the intro and the picture suggest, last night there was Big Mike Lynche, and then there was everybody else. His "This Woman's Work" isn't the best version of the song I've ever heard, but it was technically very strong. More importantly, it was so confident, and delivered with more star power than any of the other guys could remotely muster. There were a number of performers last night who I thought were just fine vocally - Lee DeWyze, Alex Lambert, Andrew Garcia and, to a lesser extent, Casey James - but I fear that many of them (Alex in particular) will be swallowed up by the huge stage once they move on to the finals next week. Big Mike owned that tiny semi-finals stage, and if he can keep that level of confidence up, he's going to go much farther than the 9th or 10th place finish I pegged him for a few weeks ago when I assumed he'd make the finals largely on likability.

I disagreed strongly with the judges on a few performances. Aaron Kelly sounded awful, all warbly and strained, and I suspect if the judges refer tonight to having heard things differently when they watched the show at home, they'll be talking about him. Todrick Hall also doesn't have nearly enough voice for Freddie Mercury, though by that point you could tell the judges were just glad to not have another guy sitting on a stool and/or clutching his guitar like a wubby.

And I'm losing patience with the judges' loss of patience with Andrew. I get it: they've seen him do his one trick many more times than we have. But you know what? We haven't. And even if re-arranging female pop songs is the only club he has in his bag, I don't care, because his voice is so good, and because I'd rather hear him do his same thing over and over than hear a large number of the contestants of either gender try and fail to stretch themselves.

What was really interesting was how, for the second week in a row, Simon acknowledged that, "We're going to confuse these people so much" with their contradictory advice. Because Simon's leaving the show soon, and leaving it for another show that's largely distinguished from "Idol" by how the judges get to mentor contestants, Randy and Kara have been spurred to try much, much harder to give interesting critiques and advice. (And I've found myself shocked at how often I nod my head when Kara speaks now.) But because there are four judges, the advice is winding up all over the map, and you can tell some contestants (particularly the younger ones like Katie) are basically dooming themselves by trying to listen to all the conflicting suggestions. And I can't decide if Simon is now trying to put the brakes on the mentoring because he recognizes what they're doing to some of the kids, or because he's annoyed that "Idol" is trying to bogart one of the big gimmicks of "The X Factor."

As for who goes home tonight? I'm actually really worried about Andrew. I figure Big Mike, Lee and Casey are locks, and possibly Alex, too. Tim Urban made one of the canniest song choices on the show since Kristy Lee Cook sang "God Bless the USA." All he had to do was not fall completely on his face with "Hallelujah" (and he didn't, even if he wasn't especially good) to likely advance. So there may only be one spot left between Andrew (who's weirdly turned into the judges' punching bag) and Todrick and Aaron (who were both bad but got weirdly praised, owing partly to the horrid acoustics in the studio).

On yesterday's podcast, Fienberg and I talked about the awkward racial dynamics of the eliminations this season. So far, though, none of the eliminated minority contestants really deserved to stay. And if, say, Paige and Todrick are both eliminated tonight from the women and men's sides, those will be fair choices. But if it's Paige and Todrick and Andrew? i.e., not just the maximum number of minority contestants who could be eliminated this week, but including a guy who was easily the male frontrunner (if not the frontrunner of either gender) going into the semis? That's gonna be awkward.

My hope is that it's Aaron and Tim. Todrick hasn't been very good, but at least his performances are unpredictable, and a stylistic contrast to all the coffee-house types we have.

What did everybody else think?


LB said...

I don't have a problem with Andrew leaving because he isn't really living up to the promise of Hollywood week. If he did well even once in the semis, I think I would feel differently. I see what you mean in term of the racial dynamics but I'm not sure if anybody would be accurate in invoking that if Andrew left too. It would remind me of Sundance (Chris Sligh too) who had a similar strong start only to lose all support by the end of the semis.

To be fair, I'm okay with most of the guys except the three you mentioned as locks leaving (and even then I waver on Lee due to his truly questionable taste in music).

LB said...

Sorry, I meant to say Andrew reminds me of Sundance...not "It would remind me..."

Dave said...

Andrew's still my fave. He has talent, he just needs some guidance. I hope he stays. If he and Todrick and Paige go, I'm going to have some questions too about race.

black magic woman said...

The judges can successfully manipulate the voting public, it isn't a perfect process, but it is pretty clear. Their feedback has been completely all over the place and it was so weird last night that I'm trying to figure out what they are up to.

Andrew got slammed but Tim Urban was praised? Have I entered bizarro world? No WAY should Tim' performance been so praised if they were going to let loose like that on Andrew. Andrew's performance wasn't perfect, but I enjoyed it, he had fun and he was directly responding to the judges' critiques. He listened to them and got slammed again.

I enjoyed Big Mike's performance, but Kara crying was so over the top. Admittedly, I cannot stand her at all, but Big Mike was much too overpraised. He was the most enjoyable of the night, but he wasn't as good as Maxwell's in singing the song, wasn't as good as Kate Bush's original, but that's okay.

Kara needs to take her ego and need for attention down about 5 notches and stop sitting in Simon's lap. The judge crap is distracting me as a viewer from the contestants and their performances.

Miken said...

I can't believe you didn't mention when Simon called out Kara for telling the 16-year old that he can't sing a song because it's about a dude with a family. That's always the most ridiculous criticism. Is Andrew a genie in a bottle?! Do we need to rub him the right way?!

My favorite game to play now is when Simon is talking, see how many times you can insert, "which I can on my new show X-Factor, later this fall."

"I just wish I could've helped you with the song choice..." "which I can on my new show X-Factor, later this fall."

You'll be surprised how often you can get it in there. (That's what she said)

Dan said...

Alan, I can't share your enthusiasm over Andrew Garcia. I LOVED Andrew Garcia going into the semis, but I agree with the judges that his act is getting repetitive. That's fine, because it's generally a good act... but it means that he needs to knock it out of the park every week. "Genie in a Bottle" wasn't a home run, but merely a single... which makes it a disappointment compared to his previous at-bats.

Danny F. said...

I didn't even think Andrew sounded that good, and agreed with the judges that it was mediocre at best. He seems to think all he needs to do is play an acoustic version of a girly pop song and he has a sure hit, but he hasn't put any real effort since "Straight Up" into reinventing a song in a creative way like David Cook did so successfully with "Always Be My Baby" or Kris Allen with "Ain't No Sunshine." Wish the judges were better able to articulate this, but I can't fault them for slamming him.

If this is his idea of a home run (which is what we expected this of all weeks), I don't feel the need to listen to him every week.

Steve said...

oh, and by the way, never has a contestant been treated as unfairly as Andrew Garcia.

The judges criticize him every week because his performance isn't spectacular like his Paula Abdul show-stopper. Yet, everyone else is graded on a curve or at least independent of other performances.

It's as if Andrew were better off performing terribly early on, so that each week the judges would enjoy his performances.

Anonymous said...

The idea of dumping all the minorities before the top twelve has become a sick joke in my house. It's such a weak year that I don't genuinely think there's a true issue of race at play with the voters, but it's still kind of surprising to see how *white* the finals are clearly going to be. That said, I think there's always some race/age/gender split in the voting and I think that there have been a couple of similar people that may have split their own voting blocks. Annoying as he was, I think Jermaine deserved to make it longer than Todrick did, but I think there may have been some splits because they have a lot of similarities. Meanwhile, people like Didi and Lacey have similar voices, but aren't especially similar people, so they may not be attracting the same voters. If they make it to the top twelve I could see the younguns hurting each other with the tween vote going to Aaron instead of Katie (or puppy dog cute Tim Urban rather than *either* of them!)

I really thought Todrick was terrible last night and the positive feedback confused me. Aaron was awful too. I would really like to see both of them cut. Urban wasn't perfect, but he didn't suck and he has more promise than the other two, at least as far as this competition goes. Aaron is young and can grow. I don't think Todrick will. Either way, it's not going to happen in the next few weeks, so keep the guy who is improving rather than the ones regressing.

Benjamin Standig said...

The confusing comments from the judges have picked up in recent years. Why? Because historically, Simon was the only one giving any real critique, with Randy only if someone was really off and Paula occasionally if they were pitchy.

Now, with Kara doing her best to show she belongs at the big kid's table and Randy trying to not let her muscle him out of the #2 spot, there are often three detailed critiques. Heck, even Ellen often says a lot more than Ellen ever did.

Basically, everything on the show has taken a step down since Kara stepped in. No matter how much I enjoy looking at her, I can't stand listening to her, even if I don't disagree with her as much this year as last.

If there was not a 6-6 split between the sexes, not sure they guys would have more than three (Michael, Lee, Casey) in the final 12.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who can't stand Kara. Everything that comes out of her mouth is pretentious, annoying, melodramatic and maybe once in a while relevant to the performance. You just get this sense that its all about her. The amount that the judges speak has increased over the years. That's pretty much a bad thing, but particularly since Kara takes it as license to give a speech about herself after every song.

Hollywoodaholic said...

I don't think race is that much of any issue because so far the audience has been doing a pretty good job of weeding based on pure talent. And watch how far Big Mike goes. But I think Todric and Andrew get ousted this week for not matching up to their earlier expectations. One of the main things that seem to work on this show is witnessing progression. So a mediocre talent doing better scores better than a superior talent holding steady (or declining).

bakija said...

Is anyone else just completely baffled that someone sang a *Kate Bush* song on American Idol? I mean, really, how does that even happen?

a.e. said...

I too thought Kara had lost her mind and was kind of turned off by the whole thing till I read EW's "man on the scene" reporting about last night's show, and this part about Kara specifically:

"My snark demon Smirkelstiltskin started to smell blood in the water after Kara borrowed some kleenex from what seemed like a random woman — that is until Kara mentioned that, at 39, she’s been trying hard to have a baby of her own. Then it all made every kind of sense"

Now I just feel bad for being so cynical, after Conan's admonishment and all...

Fred App said...

As soon as Kara said something about understanding the song even though she doesn't have kids of her own, I turned to my wife and said, "She sounds bitter about that."

You may think that you're watching a singing competition. But in Kara's mind, the show is all about her.

Of course, that doesn't obscure the fact that Big Mike was brilliant.

Craig Ranapia said...

But I think Todric and Andrew get ousted this week for not matching up to their earlier expectations.

Sure, and I'm not seeing how that's unreasonable or unfair. If Idol contestants seriously want a viable, long-term career, they're going to have to cash the brutal reality check that audiences aren't going to give you a pass for a mediocre performance because you were brilliant weeks -- or months or years -- ago.

bakija said...

I wrote:
>>Is anyone else just completely baffled that someone sang a *Kate Bush* song on American Idol? I mean, really, how does that even happen?>>

Yeah, ok, this makes *much* more sense when one discovers that Maxwell did an R+B cover version of "This Woman's Work" in 2001. Although, I don't know that the song works from the perspective of a dude.

But man, was I baffled while watching TV last night.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Simon's been reading the interwebs. Every blogger, every message board has been littered with the conflicting advise message. I think it comes down to the difference between a "judge" or critic and a "mentor". The judges need to critique the performance they've just seen and stop talking about what they wanted to see. The X-Factor foloows the mentoring approach, Idol doesn't. Those poor kids look so confused and are falling apart trying to give the judges what they want.

Someone get Kara off of my TV.

OK, I guess it's just me but Big Mike can be so cheesy. The last two performances were a bit, uh, much. The falsetto start and end did not work for me at all. I like the guy but that was the ebst Simon has heard so far and BM's the one to beat? Really.

Anonymous said...

Peter D Bakija said...
I wrote:
>>Is anyone else just completely baffled that someone sang a *Kate Bush* song on American Idol? I mean, really, how does that even happen?>>

But I was totally annoyed that no one mentioned Kate. They all say it's a Maxwell song (I know his performance was based on the Maxwell cover) but never mentioned the fantastic Kate Bush!

bakija said...

Someone wrote:
>>But I was totally annoyed that no one mentioned Kate. They all say it's a Maxwell song (I know his performance was based on the Maxwell cover) but never mentioned the fantastic Kate Bush!>>

Heh. Yeah, I was just all like "Uh, wha? Where did that come from?" and deeply confused. Being someone who loves Kate Bush and knows very little about Maxwell, I had no idea. But once I figured out what was going on (i.e. R+B cover by Maxwell), I was vastly less confused. I mean, at first blush, it was kind of like if someone was singing, like, Captain Beefheart on American Idol or something.