Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Make It or Break It: "Hungary Heart"

[Make It or Break It SPOILERS ABOUND!!]

Whoa! So, I guess we figured out how they're writing Chelsea Hobbs' pregnancy into the show. I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed in this interesting turn of events, though. I mean, yeah, unprotected sex often has the very real consequence of, well, babies, but it seems a little unnecessary to go there with this character. There's something very icky and cliche about the teenage daughter of a "lower class" single mother who works in a strip joint getting pregnant. It seemed to me like, from the beginning of the show, we've been led to believe that Emily was the exception to the statistics, and that she was going to be the talented underdog with the heart of gold who worked hard to become the best in her sport. It's disappointing to see that aspect of her characterization get abandoned in a sweeping, no-turning-back turn of soap opera-ness.

The thing I've generally admired about the show is the way it has treated the dedication of this group of female athletes to their sport, even in spite of their catty infighting and general primetime teen drama silliness. It bothers me a little bit that one of the athletes might not be able to be an elite athlete anymore. Perhaps I underestimate the imaginative power of this show's team of writers. After all, Payson's spinal injury last season was supposed to be "permanent". While she wasn't able to participate, the character went through a kind of existential crises as she dealt with the reality of a serious injury, and now she's back and as strong as ever. Kayle also seems to be in a place where she really should abandon the sport for her own health and well-being, but I feel pretty confident that she'll be back.

Not sure where the show's going to go with Emily's character now that she's pregnant, but I'm not going anywhere as a viewer, which may be the point!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Parenthood's Season 2 Finale

I didn't post on last week's season finale of Parenthood, partly because I didn't know where to start. I'm sad that the show is leaving us for five long months, with no final word yet on renewal (sooo glad they didn't leave it on a cliffhanger...just in case), but I thought the finale was all kinds of fantastic, with the singular exception of the Jasmine/Crosby storyline. (Are we supposed to think they're getting back together? That needs to not happen.) After all the network teasers leading up to the finale, I'm really glad that the pregnancy test was Christina's and not Haddie's because we don't need another teen pregnancy storyline on network TV. (I actually called that little twist at the beginning of the season, but since I didn't write it down, I don't expect you to believe me.) My favorite central relationship on the show, though, is Sarah and Amber's fraught mother-daughter dynamic, and this episode gave it to us in droves. I love that they can go so quickly from "I'm sorry! I love you! You're great!" to "I hate you! You don't understand me! Why won't you listen to me?!", and so frequently. It seems authentic that these two personalities, which are alike in so many ways, would oscillate between harmony and discord. All things considered, I loved this show this season, and I really really hope it gets renewed, because with Friday Night Lights exiting this year, there aren't any more quality family dramas on TV. (Seriously, name one.)

Check out Margaret Lyons' New York Magazine article on the show for a much better analysis of the show's biggest strengths than I could give you. In case you've never read her articles before, enjoy this sentence as a sampler: "[Mae] Whitman in particular gets that adolescent frustration-cry exactly right, joining Claire Danes in the Teenage Weeping Hall of Fame." Yessss.

Best Examples of Idolestants Making the Most of Unlikely Theme Weeks: Why Creativity Should Reign Supreme

I have to apologize. When I started this post (yesterday, as a break from real work), I meant for it to be a top 5 kind of situation, but I got overly excited while looking up performances on YouTube, so it became a longer retrospective on the previous nine seasons of American Idol, and the potentially wonky theme nights that instead turned into what my sister calls Idol "magic". My point is that I think it's lame when Idolestants do the same thing each week instead of letting the theme week exhibit their creative strengths. Quick note: where available, I've found YouTube clips of said performances and attached them to the song titles, so you can see for yourself what I'm talking about. Without further ado, then, here are some talented Idolestants who made weird theme weeks work for them (and for us!):

Kelly Clarkson, “Stuff Like That There” (Big Band Night, Season 1): Big Band nights and Great American Songbook nights have been disasters for some Idolestants. It forces them to work in a genre that is (and I like this kind of music) dated and (usually) tied to a certain kind of voice. So what did Kelly do? She played to the strengths of the genre. Donned in an adorable 1940s-style polka dotted dress, she showed how confident a performer she could be, hitting all of her notes and maneuvering perfectly around the tongue-twisting lyrics. There's a reason she's the most successful winner ever, y'all! I know this is kind of sad, but every time I see Kelly in concert, I secretly hope she’ll sing this one (like she did at this Baltimore, MD concert in 2008. Dirty Baltimore. That's pretty much the greatest concert clip ever, yes?). I'm calling it: best wonky theme night performance ever.

John Stevens, “King of the Road” (Country Night, Season 3):
This kid took some serious, Sanjaya-level missteps during his hijacked run on the big stage against the likes of Fantasia, but even when he briefly forgot the lyrics (Hilarious. About 1:20 into the clip), he made the Roger Miller classic work for his (too) distinct voice. He was never going to win the show, but I include him on this list to show why lesser Idolestants can't blame the theme night for their performances.

Carrie Underwood, “Alone” (Billboard Number Ones Night, Season 4): Okay, so maybe “Billboard Number Ones” isn’t the most unlikely theme, but what made this performance special was that no one in their right mind expected countrified Carrie Underwood to sing (and I mean, saaaang) a song made famous by Heart when the contestants had the entire history of Billboard number one hits at their fingertips. From the beginning of her season, Carrie had a good sense of where she wanted to go with her music, but she still took risks, which made her more than just another gorgeous set of pipes and camera-ready face. This performance was the moment she left her nerves backstage and started to win the show.

Chris Daughtry, “I Walk the Line” (the 1950s, Season 5): I've got to admit that Chris was never my favorite contestant, but I liked what he did with his songs. "I Walk the Line" was an unlikely choice for him, but he didn't change the song in a weird enough way to make it unrecognizable from the original (like Adam Lambert did to "Ring of Fire" in season 8. Most awkward mentoring session since Gwen Stefani and Sanjaya, btw) and it seemed like he was paying attention to the lyrics. I usually give Blake Lewis and David Cook credit for turning the show into "Survival of the Best Song Arranger", but Chris got the ball rolling with performances like this.

Elliott Yamin, “If I Can Dream” (Elvis Presley songs, Season 5): Elliott made this song seem really contemporary, and even five years later, it’s really nice to listen to. Elliott was a classic R&B-type of Idolestant. His musical hero was Donny Hathaway, and he really hit his stride with songs like Hathaway's "A Song for You" (great performance, right??), so for him to make an Elvis song work so well was a treat.

Jordin Sparks, “I (Who Have Nothing)” (British Invasion Night, Season 6): The thing about this performance is that no one saw it coming! Jordin Sparks had been singing consistently well, but the story of the season thus far had (rightfully so) been Melinda Doolittle’s out-of-nowhere-ness, and the juxtaposition of her mammoth voice and her humility. While many of Jordin’s fellow Idolestants sang more obvious British Invasion tunes by the Zombies, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks on British Invasion night, though, Jordin chose a Shirley Bassey song that would seemingly require her to age about 15 years to nail. As it turns out, though, no one except Simon was really bothered by the seventeen year-old’s lovely (and mature) performance of the song. It was the breakthrough performance for Jordin that all other teenage Idolestants have struggled to live up to since.

Blake Lewis, “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Bon Jovi Night, Season 6): As I scanned through all the theme nights for season 6, I was reminded that there wasn’t even one week that stood out as a particularly well-suited theme for Blake. It would be interesting, indeed, if Idol ever decided to do an electronic or hip-hop night, but thus far Blake’s musical style has been marginalized at best. He is perhaps, therefore, the best example of the point I’m trying to make with this post: that it doesn’t matter which theme night the contestants are stuck with because a truly talented artist will make it work. Case in point: Blake’s awesome and highly original version of “You Give Love a Bad Name” that I’ve re-watched on YouTube many times over the years. Who would think to do that with a “classic” karaoke tune from 1986? But it worked so well! I think the reason Blake’s career didn’t explode (in a good way) post-Idol is because he’s so much more fun to watch rather than listen to, even though the exciting audio component that accompanies the visuals is pure vocal talent. If you didn’t think his voice was up to par during the season with such powerhouse voices as Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Jones, and even the underrated Gina Glocksen, you have to admit that Blake brought something exhilarating to the stage each week, and I think this performance was the best example.

Jason Castro, “Daydream” (the 1960s, Season 7): This was the perfect song choice for Jason Castro, who in this early semifinal round we didn’t even know yet. It suited his “chill” persona and his perfectly imperfect voice, and best of all, no other Idolestants that I can remember had ever covered a Lovin’ Spoonful tune (a band that my generation really should know better, in my opinion). Win.

David Cook, “Billie Jean” (Songs From the Year You Were Born, Season 7): Worst recurring theme night. Of. All. Time. But this is the best anyone's ever done with it, and it's pretty darn good.

David Cook, “Always Be My Baby” (Mariah Carey Night, Season 7): This could have been a single for him. David Cook and Blake Lewis (and arguably Crystal Bowersox) are probably Idol’s best examples of artists that were talented enough to make anything work. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that David was able to take one of the catchiest pop songs ever written (yeah, I said it) and turn it into a heartfelt goodbye song, while retaining its original melody. Seriously, Mariah Carey night ended up being one of the best theme weeks ever because of the way David raised everybody else’s game. Who would’ve put those two artists together on paper?

Carly Smithson, “Here You Come Again” (Dolly Parton Night, Season 7): You didn’t think I would get through this list without mentioning one of my top 3 favorite female Idolestants of all time, did you? (You read that right, “Top 3”. Hint: the other two have already been mentioned and are the most obvious). Here’s a sad factoid about Idol: female contestants never get credit for song arrangements. Never. Crystal Bowersox got about halfway through the competition before they gave her any credit for her fantastic, personalized arrangements. Song arrangement credit in season 7 always went to the inimitable David Cook, but I would argue that Carly’s beautiful, heartbreaking “Here You Come Again” was one of the best performances of the best Idol season ever. All you have to do is listen to an original version of the song to realize what Carly did with it. She changed the tempo and stripped away any of the musical excess that would take away from those sad, beautiful lyrics. Poor Carly never got the respect she deserved, and it turned out that Dolly Parton night, of all nights, was one of her best. (Note: Dolly Parton is AMAZING.)

Anoop Desai, “Always on My Mind” (Grand Ole Opry Night, Season 8): I like that Anoop Desai’s best performance came on Grand Ole Opry Night. It further proves my point about unlikely musical pairings. The song was written by Willie Nelson and was made most famous by Elvis, but Anoop’s performance worked because he didn’t try to do a weird copycat of either of those artists. He let the lyrics direct the performance, which is the key to besting an unlikely theme night.

Allison Iraheta, “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” (Motown Night, Season 8): Motown is usually a great performance night for Idolestants because so many of them fit into the wannabe R&B category vocally, but a less talented rocker could have royally struggled with Motown. Allison, on the other hand, rightfully goes in the Jordin Sparks Hall of Fame for Teen Idolestants with this performance...and with such a weird song, too. It gave her the opportunity to flex her vocal muscles with crazy-awesome phrasing and those perfectly raspy high notes, not to mention the emergence of some stage confidence we hadn’t yet seen from her. LOVED IT!

Kris Allen, “She Works Hard for the Money” (Disco Night, Season 8): I used to wholeheartedly believe that all disco-themed Idol nights were doomed to be disasters of “Jive Talkin’” proportions, but leave it to Kris Allen to re-write the Idol theme night rulebook. If you didn’t know that song and you didn’t know what the theme was, you might have assumed it was a contemporary song by what Kris brought to it. I think Kris’s win over the embarrassingly talented Adam Lambert that season was a big surprise to most people. When you look over his performances that season, though, it turns out that he earned every bit of that title.

Crystal Bowersox, “No One Needs to Know” (Shania Twain Night, Season 9): Controversal. This performance got mixed reviews from judges and critics, but it’s still in rotation on my iPod. I was a sold out Mamasox fan all season, so I would defend even her worst performances (let’s be fair, Crystals “worst” performances weren’t anywhere close to some other contestants’ “best” performances that season. That was an unfortunate season, really), but “No One Needs to Know” was cute and light, but not overly so, and full of that fun tongue-in-cheekness with which Shania infuses all of her upbeat songs. In short, I think Crystal “got” the artist-sponsored theme that week better than anyone else.

Crystal Bowersox, “Summer Wind” (Frank Sinatra Night, Season 9): Another controversial Mamasox performance. The main criticism for her performance that week was that she stripped it down too much, and for a song that is so familiar to people as a big band, Rat Pack hit, it didn’t work to do that to the song. Fair enough, I guess, but what we have here is a lyrics versus song feeling debate, and it seems to me like Crystal is a lyrics girl. The opening verses to the song are kind of sad and reminiscent, and as the song builds, you get a sense of the scars and repressed passion that were left by the other person. In short, I think what Crystal did with the song fit the lyrics. Underrated performance, but kind of brill in retrospect.

There you have it. Anyone have any performances they'd like to add to the list?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Friday, 15 April 2011

Idol: Down to 7

Idol is weird for me right now. The last two eliminations have touched to the quick, I'm a little pissed off that only two ladies remain, and three contestants that I think are just horrible still remain in this competition. Three! (In case you're wondering, it's the remaining men not named Casey or Stefano.) I loved Paul, but I'm okay admitting that he was never a viable contender for the crown this year. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think we might be looking at some combination of Scotty-James-Lauren in the finale. Therefore, I'm going to root for the Idolestants in the following order until they are eliminated:

1. Haley Reinhart: Crazy, right?! Just four weeks ago, I ranked her at the very bottom of my favorites list, and proclaimed her growl annoying and her attitude stank. It just goes to show what a couple of undeniably good performances can do.** I couldn't get her fantastic "Bennie and the Jets" performance out of my head, and she followed it up with a kind of brill Janis Joplin homage during Rock & Roll Hall of Fame week. Then this week, as I was starting to slip back into pre-"Bennie" Haley sentiments, she whips out my new favorite finals vocal of the season in her duet with Casey on "Moanin'". Seriously, I've watched that junk like seven times today! I've come to embrace her comical awkwardness and lack of bodily self-awareness as endearing traits, and the attitude that I once believed to be stank I now think is actually just silliness. I'm okay admitting I was wrong. I like Haley now.

2. Casey Abrams: I LOVED his "Nature Boy" performance on Wednesday. It was classic, musical, bassified (my word, but you may use it), and refreshing. It infused Wednesday's show with a different kind of vibe, stripping away its occasionally drab karaoke feel for a couple minutes. It's exactly the kind of performance I was hoping Casey would give us all season, in fact, hearkening back to his Hollywood Week performances. It's also a testament to the arrangement that it felt so complete and contained in only two minutes. I think Casey's big flaw is that his vocals aren't always spot on, or even particularly beautiful. Haley out-sung him note for note in their gorgeous duet on Thursday, even though he sounded fantastic on the harmonies. The raw talent with Casey is there, though, and when he has weeks like this, I'm sold.

3. Lauren Alaina: I'm really almost a bona fide Lauren fan. "Candle in the Wind" during Elton John week was the closest we've seen to heartfelt emotion from her, but it wasn't totally there yet. Her choice (or a producer's choice?) of "The Climb" this week was a perfect move, and I think she nailed the song. While it may not be a Herculean feat to sing it better than Miley Cyrus, it really did sound like the kind of song that could have been written for her. It was age-appropriate, with the right amount of emotional build for the teen. There were a couple of foul notes in there, but I think this performance was the first glimpse of Lauren as a real star. I also have to give her credit for tackling "American Honey" on Thursday's results show with such flair. She destroyed Scotty vocally in that song (who, to be fair, was shooting for some pretty tough harmonies), sounding like a real country star. Lauren Alaina in the season finale would not be a bad thing.

4. Stefano Langone: "90s cute" Stefano was, as you probably know, an early favorite of mine. He has a lovely range, a charming personality, and he absolutely nailed his wild card performance way back in the semifinals. I really wish he'd get off the ballad train, though. For crying out loud, he sang Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" this week (further confirming my theory that Stefano was born two decades too late to achieve his true purpose as a member of a 90s-era boy band, vis-a-vis New Kids on the Block). I was very surprised that Paul got eliminated instead of him this week, even though Stefano sang the song beautifully. I'll be interested to hear him do a more contemporary song next week when "Songs from the 21st Century" debuts as a potentially awesome or disastrous Idol theme night.

I can't root for the other three. Just can't do it. But if I had to choose, I think Scotty may be the lesser of the evils. James' "Heavy Metal" was just awful, like the sound of paint being stripped off a metal pipe, and Jacob's puke-inducing comment last week about America being "afraid to look itself in the mirror" was all I needed to permanently turn on him. All I need from Scotty is a post-Idol single worthy of a download. His Idol persona makes me crazy, but in five years, I could see myself liking his music.

**Side note: the same thing happened to me during season 7, when it became clear that my real favorite Carly Smithson was never going to win. David Cook had been on my annoyance list until his completely genius reinvention of Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby"*** (the download of which is still on my iTunes 50 most played songs). From that point on, resistance was futile. I'd now follow Cookie anywhere!

***One of the greatest pop songs ever written. I'm in earnest.

'The Kennedys' Miniseries

I'm four parts into the controversial miniseries called The Kennedys, and feelings are mixed. On the one hand, I can see why Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker panned the eight-part biopic, essentially calling it disjointed, "uncontrolled melodrama", and "mean-spirited" to boot. It's true: the structure seems a little all over the place, with flashbacks (the real f-word of dramatic storytelling...unless we're talking about LOST) running amok, and breaking up the flow from time to time. In short, it's certainly not comparable to HBO's fantastic John Adams miniseries, to name another recent presidential miniseries.

On the other hand, though, I'm not entirely sure why the miniseries has generated so much heat. The History Channel famously passed on it back in January, leaving the nearly completed project scrambling to find a network home. It ended up at the last minute on Reelz, a cable network apparently located somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the 450 channels on your channel lineup you don't ever watch. The History Channel's original statement about dropping the program passive aggressively read, "While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand." Not a promising start.

The series has thus far (I haven't watched the second half) depicted the family pretty melodramatically, as you would expect from a TV movie, with, I'm sure, many liberties propping up the story where necessary, but it's far from offensive, which seemed to be the rallying cry of its early detractors. If anything, Greg Kinnear's JFK is a sympathetic but flawed great man, almost an anti-hero, in spite of whom he is. It would be ridiculous in a jaded, post-Nixon presidential era to try to tell the story of the personal life of JFK without referencing his infidelity. Yet somehow, he still comes off well. There's sympathetic humanity in Kinnear's performance that's worth the price of admission.

The "melodrama" label is not off here, but in spite of an occasionally maudlin approach to the family, it's sucked me in. All of the performances are good, particularly Barry Pepper as Bobby, who is the real star of the show. (Sidebar: when placed next to his performance in last year's When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story, Pepper proves how gifted he is as an actor. I'm putting him on my list of Movie Actors Who Need to Star on TV Shows.) Even Katie Holmes' depiction of Jackie shouldn't be tossed aside. She's been criticized for a stiff performance of the former first lady, but, as Tucker points out in his review, her performance aims more at Jackie's "quiet reserve" than charisma.

After having seen half of it, I'm surprised at the level of controversy it garnered. It's not the historical train-wreck it was supposed to be. When you watch these things, you have to take the "historical accuracy" with a grain of salt anyway. The tendency to narrativise history shouldn't conceptually stand up to serious, critical historical investigation, anyway. How much of your life fits into a tidy narrative? I'm sure some of it is "true" and some of it isn't, but on its own feet, the series is at least worth viewing.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pia Toscano Post-Mortem

Check out this video interview between last week's Idol evictee Pia Toscano and TVLine.com's Michael Slezak.

I don't really know how to describe it, but this interview makes me retrospectively appreciate Pia's run on Idol so much more than I did when she was still competing. She strikes me as classy and down-to-earth, with a good sense of her own vocal capabilities. If the producers had given us any sense of this woman while she was still on the show, things might have gone differently for her. She probably should have won this season. Yipes!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Idol: The Woman Problem

After last week’s shocking (read: not shocking) display of anti-feminism, my sister made the suggestion that we start championing Idol contestants we hate so that perhaps the ones we like will stick around. Obviously this is a reasonable suggestion, since Pia’s performance of “River Deep, Mountain High” was my favorite of hers from the competition. So in order to help out my actual favorites, I now declare James, Scotty, and Jacob to be my favorites. So don’t get voted off, James, Scotty, or Jacob. No, really, guys, please oh please don’t make the show better by getting voted off.

After Wednesday's performance show, I was all ready to confidently declare Pia as the best of the week, and write an optimistic paragraph about her Idol chances. But we all know what happened on Thursday. The Voice actually gave us something up-tempo. And it was good. So to repay her for breaking out of her comfort zone and working it on a Tina Turner song, America decided to make Pia the fifth female (the fifth female without blond hair and blue eyes, I may add) in a row to get the boot. I don’t have to tell you what a fail this is. Yeah, the judges should shoulder some blame for giving everyone gold stars, no matter how they do, but don’t think you’re getting off that easy, collective American voting public. We’re all to blame for this unsettling display of lady-hating.

I do think there’s hope, though, and here’s why: last season’s So You Think You Can Dance. Yeah, we’re talking about two totally different shows, with Idol favoring personality and hit-making ability more than raw talent (usually), and SYTYCD placing insane athleticism and hard work at its center, but I think in both shows, we’re relying on a power-voting public that tends to enjoy cute boys more than strong, talented women. Last season, after a couple of shocking and a couple of not-so shocking eliminations, we ended up with two women and six men. It got even more bleak when one of the aforementioned women then had to leave the show because of injury, leaving Lauren Froderman as the lone female for the final four weeks of competition (if you didn't watch this season, the real entertainment was watching the choreographers try to figure out ways to have two guys dance together without offending the red states and Nigel Lithgow). It looked like a cute boy's season to lose. But in spite of the apparently anti-female odds, Lauren won the thing, snatching the title from presumed champion (and cute boy) Kent Boyd. It was a very interesting turn of events.

So how does this relate to Idol where it now stands? If Lauren Alaina has a breakout week, she could be Idol's Lauren Froderman. She's got the talent and the personality, she just needs to feel a song. "Candle in the Wind" was a step in the right direction, even if last week's "Natural Woman" was possibly the worst song choice for a young girl to sing on this show. She's probably got a couple more weeks of grace period from the voters, at which point we call this season a wash for women. I'd (amazingly!) love to see Haley beat the odds and become the first person to sit in the bottom three for three straight weeks and go on to win the thing, but I don't think it's going to happen. Feminists, don't abandon hope! (Unless another woman gets voted off this week, in which case, start preparing for X-Factor now.)

This week is soundtrack night, which has had it's spectrum of performances (including it's various Broadway manifestations) ranging from the best performance on Idol of all time (Fantasia's "Summertime" FTW) to legendary (Carly Smithson's "Superstar" and Kris Allen's "Falling Slowly") to kinda bad (Jason Castro's "Memory") to cringeworthy (Danny Gokey's "Endless Love") to full-on uncomfortable (Jon Peter Lewis "Jailhouse Rock". You're welcome). (That was fun.) In short, it's my favorite Idol theme week.

If an Idolestant ever sings one of the following songs, s/he will automatically gain Crystal Bowersox cred with me: "Long Ride Home" by Patty Griffin (Elizabethtown), "My Man" from Funny Girl, "Till There was You" from The Music Man, and "Man of Constant Sorrow" from O Brother, Where Art Thou (Scotty McCreery does not get a free pass, though, even if he sings this song).

If an Idolestant sings one of these songs, I will cringe, deduct 50 cool points, and envision a giant Vaudeville-style cane pulling them offstage mid-performance: "I Have Nothing" or "I Will Always Love You from The Bodyguard (everyone knows the Dolly Parton version is the superior version of the latter, anyway), "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins (Against All Odds), "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith (Armageddon) (I'm looking at you, Lauren Alaina), "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion (Titanic) (that didn't need to be said, right?), "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). HURL.

Should be an interesting week.

One other thing to mention: I'm a Haley fan now. She makes awkward cool. Chew on that.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

AI Revisits Elton John

This week's American Idol could've been a train wreck. Not only has Elton John recently publicly said that he dislikes singing shows like American Idol and X-Factor, but the first time Idol did an Elton John-themed week (way back in season 3!), two of the top 10 worst Idol performances of all time were spawned by poor, unsuspecting teenagers: John Stevens' "Crocodile Rock" went down as one of the worst song choices ever for a crooner, and Camille Velasco (God bless her) just loved "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" too much to realize what she was doing to it.

Fortunately this week, our group of shockingly talented and stage-ready Idolestants avoided those potential disasters, delivering another pretty darn solid performance show. Good for them! Despite what it may seem from previous posts of mine, I really do want them all to do well, but I want them to do well because they're legitimately talented, not because they're "cute" or whatever. This week, I have to say, the only performances I really didn't like were James' over the top "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting" ridiculata and (unfortunately) Naima's reggae-fied "I'm Still Standing". I also didn't care for Scotty's "Country Comfort", but I'll get to that in a minute. Everyone on that stage is dripping with talent, and it's really exciting this season to see what happens when there's so much jostling for position as "the favorite".

I am, of course, really sad to see Naima go, especially after proclaiming her as my favorite last week. I think she brought a level of creativity and experimentation to her songs that most of the other contestants are afraid to touch. I looked forward to seeing what she would do each week, for better or worse. I also thought this week was Thia's strongest week, but it wasn't the kind of performance that would win her any fans. I'm not ashamed to admit that I downloaded her lovely rendition of "Daniel". Two more ladies gone. Cue sad trombone.

One more thing, what did you think of the extra performances from our Idolestants during the results show, because I was loving that junk?! Lauren and Scotty's duet of "I Told You So" worked really well, and made me remember Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis' excellent debut of that fantastic duet from a results show in season 8 (remember the episode when Adam Lambert made us all feel weird -- especially Randy Travis -- with his strangely sexual performance of "Ring of Fire"? That was that week!). I also loved seeing Pia sing something upbeat and current (seriously, she should go the Katy Perry route again this season. "Thinking of You" would be right up her alley, I think), and of course I loved that fun man band, which I hope we haven't seen the last of.

Here are my favs as they currently stand:
1. Casey Abrams: YES! I loved seeing a humbled (and trimmed) Casey sitting on a stool, thinking about his lyrics, and singing, not growling. It wasn't the most technically proficient vocal of the night, but it felt authentic, which is what I loved about him in the first place.

2. Paul McDonald: I loved his performance of "Rocket Man"! I enjoyed seeing him perform with his guitar and a less overpowering arrangement from the band, but the thing that strikes me most about a good Paul McDonald performance is that he makes me hear the lyrics differently. I've never paid attention to the verses of that song before, but they're fantastic, right?! Great choice for Paul this week.

3. Stefano Langone: I'm choosing to ignore the last two weeks of performances for Stefano because his Wild Card performance was so remarkable. In other words, we know what he's capable of, in terms of connecting to a song. Randy's advice for his to "open his eyes more" and "connect to the audience" is exactly what I hope he doesn't do. It may be more fun for them in the room when contestants make eye contact with the audience, but as a TV viewer, I'm much more impressed with a performer that is clearly so connected to his song that he can't see anyone in the room, and that seemed to be the case with his "I Need You Now" during the semi-finals. More of that, Stefano!

4. Lauren Alaina: Lauren and Pia keep jostling for position on my list, but neither of them has given a performance that makes me really excited -- except for, strangely enough, their performances on results night. This week, Lauren chose a song that shouldn't be sung on Idol (I cringed at the choice) and almost made it work. She's still not totally connected to her material, but I think she's getting better at it. Again, I can't fault her for delivering a near-perfect vocal, but it's that maturity element that seems lacking in her performances. That said, her overall performance during her duet with Scotty was seriously fantastic!

5. Pia Toscano: Man, I want to like her, but she doesn't strike me as particularly creative with her songs. Each week, she's sung straight cover after straight, boring, balladic cover, even though she's obviously a RIDICULOUSLY good singer. Come on, Pia: give me something I would actually want to download (like your performance of "Teenage Dream")!

6. Hailey Reinhart: Okay, even a Haley naysayer has got to admit that she blew it out of the water this week! Her cover of "Benny and the Jets" just worked for her, and, as my favorite Idol vlog "Idoloonies" has pointed out, she's kind of got a sense of humor about herself. This was a really fun performance, and I [gulp] liked it a lot.

7. Scotty McCreery: Just as I was complaining about his cheesy performance antics (e.g., turn head to the side and smirk) on his uninspired cover of "Country Comfort" and his lack of growth on Idol in general, he whips out that amazing duet with Lauren. I don't know if I was just surprised to be seeing a bonus performance of one of my favorite country duets on the results show or if I saw legitimate musical chemistry between Scotty and Lauren, but this was the most genuine, cheese-less, and well-sung performance of his Idol journey. One of my problems with Scotty this season is his apparent lack of growth. They praise him to the high Heavens every week, so he doesn't push himself. The results-show duet with Lauren pushed him to a new place with his performance, and that is something to get excited about.

8. Jacob Lusk: I think this was his best performance of the season. Last week's Motown performance was good, too. I just don't see him as a contemporary artist, whose album could be viable in today's pop market. He gave a good, thankfully restrained, performance this week, and actually seems to be growing as a vocalist. I love seeing that!

9. James Durbin: As I stated last week, I get why people like him, but I just don't care for his whole adolescent boy performance. I've begrudgingly had to admit in the past that some of his performances have been kind of decent ("I'll Be There for You" and "Maybe I'm Amazed", in particular), but "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" was all kinds of shrill and over the top. I really could not wait for that performance to end.

Thoughts? Comments?