Tuesday, March 17, 2009

American Idol Top 11

This was country week on American Idol featuring music of the members of the Grand Ole Opry and considering how little of a fan of that particular genre I am, I went into the show wishing instead it was the music of members of the Grand Ole Party. Think about..... Orrin Hatch, John Ashcroft, Sonny Bono, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, etc... it could have been a hot show!

Thankfully though, while it had some slow moments for me, it was not as boring of a two hours as I might have feared. I think there were about five very good/interesting performances, five other decent/competent ones, and again, one pretty poor one. It was noteworthy to me how many of the songs done tonight had previously been performed on the American Idol stage, and two of them were even from one of the Idol winners herself.

Is it bad that I was so distracted throughout the night by Randy Travis's freakishly thin cranium? I cannot decide if he looks more like a fetus or a horse. As for the more svelte of the two Randys tonight, he seemed to really be taken aback by a few of the contestants and their song choices. I guess that is better though than pretending he loved everyone and that they all deserve to win.

On that note, it really is remarkable that this season, things really do seem more wide open with as many as four or five of these remaining contestants who could actually win. Last year at this time, it was almost a given that the eventual winner would be one of the two remaining singers named David. There was a gossipy report though today in which somebody associated with the show has said to claim that a Final Four of Danny, Adam, Lil, and Alexis may be all but a given. If it turns out this show and the voting is fixed, it will make Watergate look like a tea party. It is not a huge surprise that The Powers That Be would want to push those four contestants, even though I think that Allison, Matt, and perhaps Kris are possibly the only ones this season who could actually make an impact on the mainstream charts.

Here is a rundown on the performances:

1. Michael Sarver- "Ain't Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up"

For weeks now, Michael has been compared to Season Two's Josh Gracin, who finished fourth back then and has since gone on to achieve moderate success in the country industry. Michael has seemed to fight the country label, at least to this point, but he had a chance to impress with tonight's theme in a season that for the first time in many years, does not have a genuine country singer (poor Kendall).

If Michael's only chance of being famous though is to embrace the country genre, he may have a change of heart. As for tonight, he sang exactly the same song that Gracin sang back in 2003 on country night and may have done it better. I happen to really hate this manic Garth Brooks song. For some reason, it makes my blood pressure higher, but it has a lot of words to remember and thus is pretty challenging in that regard. It does not really show off a singer's voice though. It's almost more like a rap in a way. I think Michael did a credible job on it with perhaps one botched enterance spot on a verse, but otherwise managed to pull it off.

As always, it is really a disadvantage to have to sing first on a two hour show, and realizing that American Idol is probably desperate to see one of the males be eliminated tonight, they could have been intending to toss Michael aside as fodder. He really needs to hope that because of tonight's theme, more Texans and perhaps more country fans in general were tuning into the show than may otherwise be the case.

2. Allison Iraheta- "Blame It On Your Heart"

I have really liked Allison throughout the competition thus far. I could see her maybe becoming a younger version of Pink, but even better. I had never heard the song she did tonight and it's already impossible for me to remember how it went, but I did think Allison sounded really good and continued to show she knows how to work a stage and perform. It was a different style than she has shown thus far, so that is a good thing to show her versatility, but I still did prefer her singing rock. I wonder if a lot of rock fans or maybe casual younger fans made the decision to sit Opry Week out, and if that could hurt Allison, as well as her going so early in the show. I very much hope not because she deserves to continue and I do not know if the judges would ever agree to "save" her, if the worst should come.

3. Kris Allen- "To Make You Feel My Love"

First of all, why do Kris and Allison always wind up singing back to back somehow? That's three times now. They also seem to have some sort of arm wrestling feud, not seen since the '80s movie "Over the Top."

Thus far, I have sort of appreciated what Kris brings to the Idol table, (even overlooking the singing out of the side of his mouth) and have tended to like it more than some of the judges might have. Tonight though, they seemed to feel him a little more than I did. I had never heard of the song and was not even sure of the title of it until I just looked it up. It was a little boring to me. Kris certainly did not sound horrible, but a couple notes sounded off. The song was far slower than anything we have seen him do on the show before and he choose to not play the guitar but to sing it while sitting on a stool... a la Jason Castro. Kris looked really nervous to start off this week to me. In many ways though, he is similar to Castro vocally (though perhaps more naturally talented and experienced as a singer.) Due to the vulnerability of the song though, Kris really had to rely more on the vocals itself tonight than his stage mannerisms or personality. That is something that often helped Castro sell some performances in the earlier portions of last season, but because of that, it seemed like Kris's vocal imperfections were more apparent tonight.

The judges, especially Simon (who even applauded), very much liked it though, which came as a surprise to me. Maybe they feel like they need to save him or maybe Simon feels bad about the comment about Katy Allen last week. Perhaps because I am not a girl though, I just found it sort of boring this week. If not for the judges' comments, I think Kris could potentially be in more danger, but I do think he has a large fanbase, perhaps due as much to his personality and looks as anything else, and will continue to be a darkhorse in this competition to go far.

4. Lil Rounds- "Independence Day"

Here is another one where I disagreed with the judges, because I thought it was quite good. Lil got into the GOP spirit of GOO night by singing a patriotic song and one that which Republicans and Red State voters might recognize as the opening theme music to the Sean Hannity radio show. That could helps her expand upon her base and gain her some votes.

I liked the way she changed up the two verses she did before really showing off her pipes on the chorus. It was good that she did it a bit differently than the Martina McBride original or how Carrie Underwood covered it on Idol. I thought it all built up nicely and I far preferred it to what I thought was too safe of a performance on that Michael Jackson song last week. Lil got into a little bit of a back and forth with the judges after the song (which was sort of a theme tonight, as if the kids were told to defend themselves forcefully) and once again managed to work in a way to refer to herself as "Lil Rounds" which I always enjoy. Simon also seriously seems to think that she is like Lil' Kim and that her name is short for Little. That really was a bit disrespectful on his part.

5. Adam Lambert- "Ring of Fire"

During this performance, it occured to me that those who sort of hated Adam going into this week would really hate it and those that loved him already would tend to really love this. I feared that all sorts of middle aged women who think he is the greatest thing ever would start ovulating on cue. One thing is for sure at least, Adam can "play the role" of a rocker/type far better than Constantine Maroulis ever did, and perhaps the best thing to come out of that may be that Constantine's musical career can see the final nail put into the coffin.

For some odd reason, my parents have jumped onto the "Glambert" train, so I did my focus group with them and my mother did not like it much and may be re-thinking Adam to an extent while my father still loved it. As for me, judging on the vocals alone, I still tend to have some issues with his style (while recognizing his obvious vocal skills), but I actually thought this was better than what he has done so far. Simon really hated it this week though and said it was way too self-indulgent. Hello! That is what Adam has been doing from the beginning. It's his shtick.

He certainly did not try to tone down his wardrobe to appeal to country fans tonight (and in honor of St. Patrick's Day appeared to have some green in his hair... the boy certainly does love to dress up). I thought his take on a well known Johnny Cash classic was pretty interesting though with a sort of Middle Eastern feel. I wonder if he "borrowed" the arrangement though from somewhere and if some rabid right-wingers could think that Al Qaeda put him up to it. They may also take note of the "flames" associated in the song both in the lyrics and on the video screen behind him. Randy Travis certainly seemed to have some issues with the whole thing. True Johnny Cash purists may have disliked it in the same way that many disliked what Blake Lewis once did on a well known Bon Jovi song.

There was an odd moment at the end when Simon was giving his criticism, when he said that Adam should definitely not go to Nashville, as if he would be subjected to a hate crime or something there, and Adam seemed to say, "Yeah, not planning to." Big mistake there Lambert! You just pissed off a lot of people.

(I interrupt this review of Adam to write that I just watched the USA defeat Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in walk-off fashion to avoid elimination. It is a proud moment for our country, but another part of a bad week for Jorge Nunez.)

So, back to Adam, I sort of thought it was better than I thought it would be, but still nowhere deserving of the adulation that many give him. I think he is going to start to be more polarizing, especially if that was his ex-boyfriend "Cheeks", the guy who is in some photos with Adam, sitting in the audience. I am not sure if that was him or not, but I certainly am not anxious to know how he might have gotten the nickname "Cheeks."

6. Scott MacIntyre- "Wild Angels"

I really like and admire Scott so I have to try hard to avoid all the jokes (such as saying he should have thought about singing "Jesus Take the Wheel" because he isn't able to drive.) It was sort of boring again tonight for me (though perhaps not as much as last week). Scott has a good voice but struggles at times to hit the right notes and I just do not think that vocally he is up to snuff with maybe becoming the "American Idol."

Paula sort of threw Scott under the bus tonight with her comments, referring to his reliance on the piano, as if the producers put her up to it and then Simon sort of took some amusement in disagreeing with Paula, perhaps for the sake of it alone, and the names Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles were bandied about. It was a little awkward for Scott all around, and he didn't seem too thrilled at the end and was non-committal on whether or not he intended to use the piano next week. To me it makes sense that Scott feels most comfortable and is at his best at the piano. He certainly does have some disadvantages due to his disability and should be applauded for probably having to work harder than anyone else, but this should be a show based on merit, and his voice just is not as good as almost all of the others, and he his musical style is just not very current either.

If I had to guess, I think American Idol probably most wants to see him get the boot this week (which would be controversial and good for buzz), perhaps because he would then not have to go on the tour and that could help them logistically with the cheesy group song and dance numbers they may have in mind and because it would cost more money to have Scott's brother (or someone else) have to be around at all times to help him out. I think though that because of the long discussion after Scott was finished performing and the criticism that he did receive from Paula especially, his fan base is going to be pretty motivated to vote and save him in order to get him on tour, and thus, Idol may have overplayed their hand.

7. Alexis Grace- "Jolene"

Is anyone else sick of the girl crush that Kara seems to have on Alexis and her insistence that she be "dirty" every week? It's just so weird. Apparently, Alexis was not "dirrrty" enough this week, and promised to bring it back next week, but to me that was not the issue.

I thought Alexis sounded pretty good singing the same Dolly Parton song that Brooke White sang last season which at that time involved some out of place smiling, but it did seem a little bit off at times tonight and was not Alexis at her very best. For some reason, it was said that Alexis resembles Dolly Parton. She looks far more like Josie Bisset from Melrose Place to me.

Alexis is a really good singer and has been pretty consistent thus far, but I do not know if she should be considered totally safe this evening. There may be something about her personality that is either too bland for some or too self-confident to others that may be unfavorably compared to the other three remaining females. I think she could have a hard time making connections with viewers on a personal level.

8. Danny Gokey-"Jesus Take the Wheel"

Considering the controversial nature of Danny's Evangelical church background, I can only imagine the wretching reactions of all those lefties who despise him at his song choice. That makes me feel quite conflicted because I also still find Danny to be sort of creepy myself, especially on the Results Shows, or this YouTube video I saw of him talking on the phone to a fan this week in which he invited them to come meet him (and the overlooked Michael Sarver) at some Cheesecake Factory in Orange County. He also did not seem to be wearing his wedding ring for the first time this week, which could create a bit of a controversy among his own fan base.

As for the singing, Danny sounded good again for the most part, but better on the soaring chorus than the build up lyrics. He definitely has talent, but tonight seemed a little more forced vocally than in the past, as if he was trying too hard to create a "moment." I think I might have preferred when LaKisha Jones covered this Carrie Underwood song a couple years ago, which was panned at the time by the judges. As usual, Paula and Kara loved it, but I think Randy Jackson was a little iffy, and Simon would have some mild criticism as well, and later on would tell the final contestant that he managed to "outsing" perceived front-runner Danny.

9. Anoop Desai- "You Were Always on My Mind"

On the heels of last week, people were really worried about what Anoop would do with country music, but I knew he would do a ballad and I knew chances were strong that the judges would like it and go on and on about how he "redeemed" himself.

It was a very good vocal. Anoop has a great voice. He may also be a good entertainer, as I found him in his last two performances, but his vocals were much better tonight. I still have a hard time seeing him making an impact in the actual music industry at this time, but his voice itself should not be denied. In reading about Idol this week, I came across a recording of him singing along with an acoustic version of the Aerosmith song "Angel" and I thought it was superb. (Please let us one day have Aerosmith Night on Idol!) The problem with Anoop I think has been that it is far harder for him to showcase his vocals when he is jumping all around and trying to act like a thug or a goof. He also does not sound as good with a large, noisy band behind him. He just is far more used to singing in a-capella groups and was far better with minimal accompanyment, as seen tonight, and should try to utilize that on the show as much as possible. If he wants to do an up-tempo song, he should perhaps consider doing something creative like just having a guy doing some sort of specialized drum kit thing.

Noop Dogg got Mad Love from the judges tonight. Simon said he went from "Zero to Hero" and it just sort of makes everything all the more intriguing, considering the treatment he got last week. But I think Anoop deserved the praise he got tonight and then when asked by Seacrest if he were surprised, he said something like, "No, I always expect to be at my best." I guess the honesty and self-motivation is good, but I wonder how that came across. Anoop seems very competitive and in the spirit of March Madness, gave a Tyler Hansbrough like fist pump when given his first compliment tonight. He also used a big fancy word in his banter, a la David Cook.

Will some find Anoop's approach to the competition a little odd though? Personally, I don't really have a problem with it, but it is sort of the anti-Doolittle/anti-Archuleta approach. Those two were bashed by some for being too humble. I hope those that did will not also hate on Anoop for not being surprised to be good. There was an interesting moment last week that I neglected to write about when just after he finished "Beat It" and before he was beaten on by the judges, Anoop sort of gave a really arrogant look to the audience like, "yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about biyatches." I totally think it was just him still being into the persona that the song called for, even when the music was over, but it probably turned a lot of people off.

10. Megan Joy- "I Go Walking After Midnight"

The Corkrey is finally gone but Megan Joy lives on, despite missing the dress rehearsal because of the flu. Look, I believe she really is sick, but I just may also be a cynical bastard, because I also think she was acting a bit to emphasize that and the judges were definitely willing to play along. At the opening lineup of contestants, she looked miserable about something, and then as soon as she finished her singing, and the first judge was about to speak, she immediately began coughing, as if on cue. During the closing lineup of contestants, when the camera was on her, she turned away, and I was not sure if she was coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. She looked good of course despite her illness, but I still think she sounds terrible, and was especially off tonight in some spots. Despite that, the judges gave her basically good comments and seem to be intent on saving her and making sure that she, as one of the four remaining girls, makes it on tour.

Of course, I hate this song, and even did when Kellie Pickler did it on Idol. Unlike Pickler though who took the "walking" aspect literally by walking around, Megan stood in one place and did her all too familiar dance moves or whatever she wants to call them. I actually find her interesting as a personality when she is not singing, but I just continue to not get her voice or her style. She may be a big Bjork fan, but that kind of style is just not everyone's cup of tea, and if she continues to survive in this competition (as I fear), I would be very surprised if there is ever a single week where I would not have her at the bottom.

Hopefully she feels better soon, but she should feel fortunate that Paula made such a big deal about her being sick. They never mentioned it about David Archuleta last year during a performance or two or apparently about Anoop last week.

11. Matt Giraud- "So Small"

For the second week in a row, I found Matt's performance to be quite good, but yet I just do not have much to say about it. I do not know this Carrie Underwood song at all, but Matt, once again playing the piano, seemed to put his own spin on it and I think succeeded to do what he wanted to do. Of course, Paula did not say anything about the fact that he, like Scott, also played the piano two weeks in a row. Considering the poor reviews he got for that Coldplay number during the semifinals, Matt may really still need to prove his versatility to an extent. He may have the most natural musicality of any of the contestants this season though and I think his fan base is likely to grow rather than shrink.

So, to rank 'em up:

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

This is a very important week to survive on Idol. If they make it, they have summer plans to visit many cities all across the continental U.S. (although attendance may be down from last season's tour), and if they get cut, they miss out on that experience in what will have to be heartbreaking fashion.

I think it is hard to predict who is going to go home this week. I do know that everyone associated with Idol really hopes that it's not one of the ladies. I will join them in hoping that Allison and Alexis as well are safe, but before I check Dial Idol, that could be far from certain.

I really wish merit would dictatate that Megan would go, but I just do not see that happening, especially because she got all the sympathy because of her flu. Kris could be in danger, but he has a lot of fans, and the judges really liked him this week. Scott could be in danger, but his fans really are motivated to save him, but after he makes it another week or so, a lot of people will feel liberated to drop him from their voting regimen.

This is tough, but I am going to have to be forced to say (once again) that this is the end for Michael Sarver. He could skate by because of the increased country music attention tonight, but he did go first, so that's my rationale.

Carrie Underwood (mentioning her a whole lot this year... she really seems to love the Idol Nest) is said to be performing on the show tomorrow before the results are given. Maybe she will give her take on how Gokey and Giraud did on her original songs and how Lil covered one she did on the show.