Tuesday, March 10, 2009

American Idol- Top 13

At this stage in the competition, it would become very easy for me to ramble on endlessly about all the performances and my thoughts, but I hope to be as concise as possible, without being overly disjointed.

Some random thoughts to begin:

Throughout the semi-finals, I had said that this overall group of contestants was really lacking compared to Season 7, but all in all, I think they put on a very strong performance tonight as a group. Nobody was truly horrible, although I still think there is one contestant who has yet to justify a place in the Finals, while some others tonight I believe exceeded my expectations, at least a little.

After tonight, I am very much over the American Idol judges; all four of them. They have the right to their opinions of course, but after seven seasons with most of them, I am going to not be persuaded by them and will instead try to make up my own mind. It very much seems, especially when watching the end of the show recap, that they may have been offering their comments on what they (or somebody) observed (backstage on televisions most likely) from the dress rehearsal. Often, they make good points, but I found quite a few disagreements tonight and there definitely seemed to be an agenda on who was pimped and who was de-pimped. But as the Finale last season proved, there might always be an ulterior motive behind the comments declaring "knockouts" or throwing others under the bus or Paula Abdul already declaring a Danny Gokey vs. Adam Lambert Finale.

The theme tonight was the music of Michael Jackson, the self professed King of Pop, and one of the weirdest humans to ever live. His influence is course legendary and I have to admit that at the age of six, I was wearing one glove and trying to do the moonwalk as well. But a few years later, Jacko went really wacko with all the plastic surgery, odd behavior, and that pesky pedophilia too. But tonight was not the night to focus on any of that of course, at least from the perspective of American Idol. Can they get R. Kelly to perform on the Results Show? After all, he has been acquitted as well.

In the days leading up to this kickoff event, it was really fun to speculate on song choice and who would sing what. There were indeed a lot more Jackson Five tunes, which were perhaps safer, than MJ's solo work, than I expected. As for the songs that were not covered by the 13 (and perhaps will be part of the cheesy group number tomorrow), we did not hear "Billie Jean", either the original version or the Chris Cornell as covered by David Cook rendition which captivated so many last season on Idol. Since Kris Allen wasted his chance to do "Man in the Mirror" during his semifinal performance, we did not get to hear that one either. Also, no "Bad", nothing I do believe from the "Off the Wall" album, and to my disappointment no "Smooth Criminal" or "Wanna Be Startin' Something." It might also have been hilarious if Normund Gentle had been around to do a Weird Al Version of a Michael Jackson song.

So, this is how the performances went down, and as always, I am writing these before hearing any other blogosphere opinion or checking Dial Idol, so if I am way off base in how I saw all this, please comment and let your voice be heard as well.

1. Lil Rounds- "The Way You Make Me Feel"

Starting off as the first performer on the Finals each season is always a tough task. I thought Lil sounded really good on this song, but I was far from blown away, and it just felt like a pretty safe selection. In many ways, it reminded me of exactly the same spot in the same round last year when Syesha Mercado was the first to hit the stage with a competent but not great performance of a Beatles song. Again, Lil was good (and did not take the opportunity to work her own name into the song) but it just did really seem to be her vibe and for me, it always feels a little awkward vocally when contestants have to change the lyrics around to make it most appropriate for their own gender.

Lil received good comments from the judges and I think she should be safe this week, but going first on a two hour show is never what anyone wants and I think that when the votes are tallied, she will probably be in the lower half of all the singers.

2. Scott MacIntyre- "Keep the Faith"

I really do not know this song at all, but the songwriter was conviently sitting in the audience and Paula seems to know her. The more one sees Scott in interviews or learns about his personal history, the more respect and admiration one will have to find for him. We saw him play piano in his performance tonight and he seems to be quite talented at that. I would perhaps even claim that Scott is maybe the best instrumental musician ever to compete on Idol.

But it is a singing competition, and while Scott's performance was decent and heartfelt, I just think his voice is a little below par with many of the others and he struggles to hit some notes. Also, in a season where sounding like a "white guy" is really out of the ordinary, even for the other male contestants who are white, but try to sound more Soul/R&B, Scott comes across as really, really white. Like Mr. Rogers at a Country Club white. That may be a niche for him to an extent with the old white folks who watch the show and vote, but it is eventually going to catch up with Scott.

I would be surprised if this was his week to go, and I think he will probably make the summer tour, (which Scott is seeming to say is his only true goal in this) but once people accept what an inspiring person he is and are able to see past his blindness in a purely sympathetic way and realize he will not be crushed if he is eliminated, his time left on the show will be short.

3. Danny Gokey- "P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)"

I went into this expecting Danny to sound good, but also expecting to be turned off by him and perhaps rooting for that prophecy to be fulfilled. In what was probably a surprise to many Idol junkies, his recent status as a widower or his church background were not featured in his video introduction piece. Instead, it was just some boring nonsense about his parents and siblings. However, that is probably exactly what Danny needed, as to not generate the backlash over a perceived manipulation and over emphasis on the deceased wife. This was in spite of the fact that many of the other early singers got their backstory sobbish stories highlighted in their video. Either Danny of someone on American Idol got the message, and thus, I think it might be a long time before it is alluded to again. That could be enough to cause some people with short memories to look past what we have seen about him before and maybe even give others a chance to give him a second look.

I have said before that I think Gokey is praised far beyond what he deserves and while I have found him "creepy" before, I think he has been unfairly attacked in some quarters as well. Tonight, I did not find him all that creepy and I thought he sounded very good too. I did not know he had this sort of performance in him.

I do not think it was a perfect vocal, and I thought I caught a brief stumble in the beginning, but I was impressed with his uptempo version of PYT and how he was able to suit it to his voice, almost in a Gospel way. It certainly was a wild deviation from how he sang an inspirational ballad during the semi-finals. The dancing may have been a little dorky at times (remember when Justin Guarini did this same song with all sorts of dancing late in Season 1?) but it also added to the performance from an entertainment perspective. Unlike my criticism of Lil, I think Danny did not play it safe, but did something pretty bold and it might have paid off.

4. Michael Sarver- "You Are Not Alone"

The blue collar Texan, whom I did not think earned a spot in the Finals, impressed me a little bit more than expected on a song that I have always absolutely hated. It sounded good and he did seem to not be playing it too safe, although he has some weird facial expressions when he sings. I also sense that he might run out of gas vocally in his performances as I felt the beginning of this performance was better than the end.

All in all, it was good, but like with Scott, you sort of forget about Michael's performance by the end of the show and have to really try to remember exactly how it went.

5. Jasmine Murray- "I'll Be There"

Someone recently commented to me that Jasmine looks like a young Janet Jackson, and I guess I can sort of see that. Perhaps if they ever redo the '80s sitcom classic Diff'rent Strokes, Jasmine can play Charlene. I sort of actually see Jasmine maybe going into the acting field after Idol is over. She was lucky to get the wildcard spot as she did, perhaps because Kara DioGuardi is so convinced how "commercial" her "package" is, or perhaps because they did not want Allison Iraheta as the only teenager in the whole Idol School thing too early.

In many ways the two teenagers Allison and Jasmine, who seem to be good friends, could not be any more un-alike in demeanor or on camera poise, but Jasmine may come across as being too much of a Miss Teen USA hopeful rather than the next big singing sensation. Some might also sense a bit of a Stage Mom vibe surrounding Jasmine's mother. One really does not know if that is fair, but we saw how much focus the public perception of a parent was given to one young contestant last season.

It is also worth noting that these two teenage girls are the only females remaining who are not mothers. In fact, the other ladies in the Finals seem to have all first gotten pregnant when they still may have been teenagers. Last year, there were no parents at all in the Finals, but this year has several (including Michael Sarver). Maybe that is why Felicia Barton or Jesse Langseth did not go through as a wildcard.... too many offspring this season.

Back to Jasmine's vocals, she did a decent job on this well known Jackson Five song, which was later covered by Mariah Carey, and always seemed to just barely hit the right notes, while teetering on the edge. I do not see Jasmine as the next Rihanna or Beyonce, and she seems to not be very musically defined yet, but maybe she could the next Vanessa Hudgens on Disney or some sitcom. Jasmine's vocals could sound better with some studio engineering and if that is done, she could get into something like High School Musical and make a lot of money that way. Just look at Miley Cyrus.

6. Kris Allen- "Remember the Time"

Kris was the only contestant to play a guitar tonight and while it did not really seem to fit into the overall performance of the song, it was probably a smart move. While I thought he sounded pretty good, it was a bit rough around the edges vocally, but still, he brings a vibe musically that may not really have ever been seen before in any season. A lot of people were probably surprised he went the way he did on this after his somewhat boy band-like semifinal performance. Apparently, he plays a whole bunch of different instruments, so he can really keep surprising people. All in all, I thought he took a Michael Jackson song that I dislike, and changed it around to make it seem different and more relevant. I do not know if Kris is too much like a Jason Mraz or a John Mayer but he may be the closest thing Idol has had. I think he will wind up sticking around longer than many now expect.

The most interesting part though was during the judging when Simon Cowell told the recently married Kris (probably at least somewhat in jest) that it might have been a mistake for him to admit he was married or show his wife on the show. I knew exactly where Simon was coming from there (thinking that the young girls and maybe not so young who might have crushes on the youthful looking singer will feel less enamored once they learn that he has a wife) but that was not really explained at the time. Kris's lovely wife Katy, who was sitting in the audience, looked absolutely taken aback and horrified by Simon's comments, as if he was suggesting there was something wrong with her or that she had done something bad in the video. I really hope someone was able to quickly explain to her what the comment was about, because she really seemed hurt. As a guy, I have absolutely no problem with them showing as much of Katy as possible though, especially since we are all being deprived of Kendall Beard.

7. Alllison Iraheta- "Give In to Me"

I think I may have heard this song just a time or two before, but once again I was extemely impressed by Allison's take on it and in one of the few right on judges comments of the night made by Randy Jackson, "When you got it, you got it." I think Allison may really have it, both as a singer and a stage performer. There really is not much more to be said. The girl can rock, and yes, it is hard to believe she is only 16. If Jacko was watching, she may have scared him and rocked what could be the rest of his face off. I do not know if Joan Jett, Lita Ford, or the rest of The Runaways were this good when they were 16, many years ago.

I also really like the fact that Allison is so genuine and not scripted in her discussions with Seacrest. She may come across as being awkward or nervous, but that seems like a refreshing change of pace. Simon told her she needed to lighten up (not on that song she didn't) and she made a comment that it was not like she is a cutter or anything. She looked a little sheepish at perhaps insulting all of the Emo Cutters out there, but I thought that was great.

8. Anoop Desai- "Beat It"

Before they went to the commerical break, they showed Noop Dogg practicing the infamous "Thriller" dance and I thought that was a preview of his song selection, but alas, it was not, although he might his he would have picked it instead.

Talk about de-pimping! Did the judges really think he was that bad or are they just trying to set him up as the stealth Chosen One, who keeps improving and all that? Am I just biased because I want him to do well? I think he sounded very good actually for the most part.

Yes, he did look a little out of place with his particular outfit and I still think that of all these singers, he may have some of the least experience in performing as a solo artist, and not just with a cappella group of over a dozen guys. He still needs some refining and on these upbeat numbers;he maybe gets a little overheated performance wise (Taylor Hicks would do that too), but I enjoyed what he did, more so than "My Prerogative" last Thursday.

Paula Abdul even criticized him as being "karaoke" and saying that this was a Michael Jackson song that should not have been touched. That really confuses me. Did they really think we should have had a week of 13 MJ songs and not pick one of the more well-known? Yes, Anoop did try to act a little like Michael Jackson in the performance (but without the moonwalking and the crotch grabbing and the "heeeee-heeeeee's"), but if the song is not going to be re-arranged, how can you not do it in a semi-snarky way? I also did detect some vocal nuances that Anoop threw into it to make his own, but the judges absolutely hated it and threw him under the bus in a big way. It all seemed a little contrived though as Seacest instantly asked Simon if it were a mistake to have made it a Top 13 (as if Anoop was the reason for 13 and as if he would not have been a sure thing in the Top 12 with the wildcard) and Simon said that based on that, it was a mistake.

Anoop's video package piece focused on his Indian heritage and the reaction he got from the judges was similar to what Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal received after giving the GOP Response to the quasi State of the Union last month.

Who knows the true motivation for being so brutal to him, but it will almost certainly get Anoop's Troops motivated to pick up the phone and save him for next week. It also almost ensures, that Anoop will probably sing some sort of boring ballad next week in order to best showcase his vocal skills. That's the route David Archuleta took last year after seemingly striking out in Top 12 week.

9. Jorge Nunez- "Never Can Say Goodbye"

Jorge also got some harsh criticism of his song choice and performance, but I actually think it was better than I expected. I definitely have not gotten on the Jorge bandwagon thus far, and still do not think he should necessarily be in the Finals, but it was the best that I thought he sounded at least.

This is why I think the judges are going based on the rehearsals more than anything, because in the recap clip of Jorge, it sounded horrible, and different, at least to me, than what he did live.

Jorge could be in trouble this week, but I think I need to realize he may have a larger fanbase than expected. He certainly will have Puerto Ricans on the island and in the mainland, squarely behind him, although other Latinos may be more motivated to vote for the vocally superior Allison, a child (or grandchild?) of immigrants from El Salvador. There certainly was a lot of ethnic identification as part of these video introduction pieces.

Finally, did Jorge piss off the producers by seeming to claim he was basically told to sing this song this week? That's one of those Idol Secrets.

10. Megan Joy Corkrey- "Rockin' Robin"

I am confused to an extent because I thought it was said she was dropping the last name (she really seems to have it out for the estranged husband) and just going by Megan Joy, which is how she is now billed on the AI website. However, she was still Corkrey this evening, and her video package focused on her background and her young son. Who has custody while Mommy is on American Idol, the estranged husband or the hot Grandma?

MJC has a sort of a Kristy Lee Cook with a ton of tattoos a la Carly Smithson thing going on, and I can certainly see why she may be a favorite of straight males and of Idols' burgeoning lesbian fanbase, who are overlooking vocal talent, but I have to be fair, and judge her on that alone, and based on her vocals, she just does not belong in the Finals. I probably would not have even put her in the Top 36. Yes, she is quirky, and different, and perhaps "current", but her singing may get old for people, really soon. Last season's Brooke White and Jason Castro may not have had the best chops, but I think they could sing circles around Megan Joy and also were able to play instruments.

Ironically, I think my ears were less offended by her singing tonight than they have been on the two previous numbers she did during the live competition aspect. I really do not know why they would have let a Jackson Five cover of the '50s ditty "Rockin' Robin" count as a Michael Jackson eligible song, but I guess rules are the rules, and she would have had a really hard time doing anything else.

Megan's singing was definitely subpar, but at least it seemed like she was actually trying to sing (and move around normally) more this time than previously. And she probably hated every second of it. She did sort of resemble a children's performer, like I could see her doing this at some sort of community library event or something. I might have missed it, but I think at the end, she made some sort of bird noise. If so, that was probably the highlight of the evening. Does she have the endorsement of Vote for the Worst for this week yet? She should.

11. Adam Lambert- "Black or White"

So many better song choices that I think he could have done (Anoop as well), but the judges absolutely loved it and Paula Abdul literally needed to be hosed down. I mean, it was good. He is a true performer and has one hell of a vocal range, but I don't think it was amazing by any stretch and I certainly do not understand why Paula is surprised he does not have multiple number one records already.

Of all the singers, Adam is one of the oldest, and I think it is fair to say that he has been singing on stage, in front of more people, for a longer time, a great deal more than anybody else. So, he should be more expected to be able to raise his game.

I just do not see why they loved it as much as they did. Are they really maybe trying to build both him and Gokey up so much, only to eventually see them be torn down? At the beginning of the song, it was hard to understand what Adam was singing, and while I think it got better, it did seem to be exactly what Anoop (and to some extent Danny had done), which is sing a well-known Michael Jackson song, basically without re-arranging it, but adding a lot of guitar into the arrangement and doing it sort of over the top. Adam pulled that off reasonably well I thought, but I do not see how it was all that different than Anoop or Danny, at least vocally. I think we all knew that Adam was capable of doing something like this, but so what? He is capable of being far crazier than this.

During the comments he received though, the "glam rocker" started to hold back the tears. Why Adam? Were you really that surprised or touched that you did what you did to Paula? Even Syesha waited many more weeks to pull out the dramatic crying card.

12. Matt Giraud- "Human Nature"

Playing the piano, Matt gave one of the more restrained performances of the evening on a pretty ballad from the "Thriller" album, and vocally, gave what seemed to me to be one of the least imperfect performances. It was not a song to get anybody jumping out of their seats, but I think Matt did exactly what he wanted to do and should be given the appropriate credit for it. It also seemed like he was able to put a bit of a more current vibe (he is often compared by the judges to Justin Timberlake) on the song.

There really is not much more to say thankfully, but it has finally ocurred to me that when Matt is not speaking or singing, his face always looks like he just sucked on a lemon.

13. Alexis Grace- "Dirty Diana"

I was hoping someone would do this song, one of MJ's only real rockish numbers, and I guess it was fitting that the song be done by the contestant whom the judges seem to think is at her best when she is "dirtied up." (Is she ever going to be able to dress non-slutty?) Adding to the irony of the song choice is the fact that Idol's first ever 13th singer really better hope that people were paying attention to the numbers and did not simply dial 1-866-IDOLS- 13, because they would have instead not cast a vote for Alexis or Dirty Diana, but instead of gotten a message from "hot, horny girls" who may or may not be named Diana, and who want you to spend $1.99 a minute to discuss American Idol or Michael Jackson with them (or something else perhaps...... please no "Beat It" jokes).

As for the singing, I thought Alexis once again exceeded my expectations and I really really liked it, and the edgy desperation she put into it. With time running out though on the show, some of the judges briefly said she oversang it, and after watching the recap clip, I can see why they said it, but during the live performance, I really liked it and felt that the two females whose names started with A really were able to rock it tonight. To think, I was convinced a guy was guaranteed to win this season (and yes, they probably still will).

But while the pimp spot is always a good place to be, this time, because of the phone number issue (Idol does not own the rights to the 13 number as alluded to above), Alexis might really be at a disadvantage. Seacrest went to great lengths to tell people to vote at number "36" instead, but I wonder how many people will forget or how many kids (though Alexis's fan base may be a little more mature) will call that number and how many parents will complain. How many will dial "13" just out of curiousity?

Could tomorrow's twist be that if enough votes for it are cast, "Hot, Horny Girls", will earn an additional spot in the Finals? It's bad enough having to watch Paula and Kara freak out over Gokey and Lambert.

So, to rank 'em:

1. Allison Iraheta
2. Alexis Grace
3. Matt Giraud
4. Danny Gokey
5. Anoop Desai
6. Adam Lambert
7. Kris Allen
8. Jorge Nunez
9. Lil Rounds
10. Michael Sarver
11. Jasmine Murray
12. Scott MacIntyre
13. Megan Joy Corkrey

All in all, a pretty strong night I think, with only Megan being out of her depth from my perspective. But the show has told us that there will indeed be a double elimination and I suppose we will not be subjected to a mid-season surprise double elimination or a three person Finale.

There is also going to be a twist though. I expect it will be that during this season the bottom two will have to have a sing off and the judges will vote off the loser... perhaps with Simon casting the tie-breaker. That could be good in a merit sense, but I am also disturbed how it just gives more power and influence to the show and less to the fans. Maybe this week, we will see the Bottom Three all have to sing, with two people going home (or the judges can "all of a sudden" decide they need to keep two people).

If as I suspect, there is a Sudden Death Sing-off, I will judge it myself tomorrow night after the fact, but for now, the two people who most deserve to be eliminated based on tonight's vocal performance alone are Megan Joy and Scott.

However, I think both will be safe... for now. The two that I most expect to be eliminated are Jasmine and Michael. The third undeserving person in the bottom three (and perhaps featured in a sing-off), could possibly be Jorge or even Lil, but I think because of the "Hot, Horny Girls" debacle, it is most likely to be Alexis.

Congratulations to any person who read this whole thing through (don't you have anything better to do) and feel free to let me know what you thought about the episode.

Until tomorrow, please remember to be careful with your chimpanzees, don't set your hair on fire, and for the love of all that is holy, do not dangle any babies over the balcony!