Wednesday, March 25, 2009

American Idol- Top 10

The economy of Michigan may be in the crapper, but it was once again Motown Week on American Idol featuring the classic sounds of Detroit, and some of the most popular and enduring songs this country has produced. I did note that all of the tunes performed tonight were oldies and although Motown is celebrating it's 50th Anniversary, the show must steered the contestants away from attempting anything from less than maybe 35 years ago.

The kids may have been somewhat grateful for an extra day of practice and rehearsals this week because of the mesmerizing press conference by the President of the United States and his magic LCD teleprompter upon which he is so dependent. To get all political (for a change), was there really anything Obama said last night that could not have been covered in an weekday morning or afternoon press conference? The ratings for it were down, so maybe it was not the best idea for him to screw with Idol. I do wonder how many people were expecting the show to be on last night though and how many did not realize it did happen to air this evening at 8 pm Eastern. The extra day in this round though is going to perhaps come back and haunt the Top 9 next week though as they will now have a day less to rehearse and practice for next week's Tuesday show.

Perhaps because of a slight headache or due to the fact that I have some other things on my mind, it was hard for me to really get fully into the show tonight. Thus, I may not have as much to say as usual, which should be a relief to whomever attempts to read this on a weekly basis. Smokey Robinson seemed to do a good job as this week's mentor, and for the most part, the kids did not really deviate too much from the way the songs were originally done, and that could be to the detriment of a few of them. It could have something to do with the decision to release the I-Tunes studio versions of the songs sung over the original Motown instrumental tracks and thus it could be hard for them to really be rearranged all that much.

As always, I have ranked the performances based on vocal performance for this week alone. I am trying to remind myself of that because I happen to feel a little guilty, icky even, over how my final rankings stacked up, especially on who I have as numbers one and two, specifically the former. But I had to be fair, and that is what I did.

Regarding, the 10 singers, I said last week that a case could be made for why seven of them either should or could win the whole thing. In what was not much of a surprise to me, this week I found a big gap between those seven and the other three, who I had at the bottom. The top three this week were very good. Four others were pretty good. The bottom three are simply out of their depth and if there is any fairness, they will find a way to say a gracious goodbye the next three consecutive weeks. I do think that Alexis Grace could have been very strong on this theme this week.

In order of performance:

1. Matt Giraud- "Let's Get It On"

Since moving on to the big stage, I have found Matt to be consistently effective and impressive, but I just never really have much to say about him. That could be a thing for if he remains non-polarizing. Tonight, he surprised me by once again starting off at the piano, but soon into this Marvin Gaye song, he got up and started walking around and playing to the audience. He sounded good as usual, but I detected a few off notes (to my ear at least) at the beginning, and at other times, he seemed to be trying to do too much with vocal runs. Going first in a two hour show is never good (Matt did happen to go either last or second to last the first two weeks, so this was quite fair to put him first), but Matt should be ok. People will like what he did with the song, although to me singing "Let's Get It On" on American Idol can be a little cheesy.

2. Kris Allen- "How Sweet It Is"

Of all the contestants, Kris seemed to do the most to try to make his performance more contemporary, including playing the acoustic guitar once again. It was decent to be sure, and Kris has certainly been gaining new-found respect among the Idol chattering class over the past week, but I could not help but hear a few bum notes. Maybe that is part of his charm though. He can be very reminiscent of Jason Castro in some ways, although Kris likely has the better voice. There was just something about the arrangement of this song and hearing it different that seemed a little, just a little, weird to me. If I heard it again a few times, I would probably dig it more. The judges all tended to really like it, although Simon told Kris he needed to act more conceited during and after his performances. That just does not seem to be his style though and if he did, he probably would not have many of the fans that he has already gained. His lack of arrogance is one of the things that made me respect him way back in the semifinal rounds. Kris went near the front of the show for the second week in a row, but he probably should be safe. I bet he has the pimp spot next week.

It was sort of interesting to see someone (perhaps a friend of Kris) scream "Arkansas!" as Seacrest was giving the numbers or something. It is good for the Razorback State to have someone like Kris (and Katy) to be proud of after all the damage the Clintons inflicted on their reputation. In it's history, American Idol has never had a winner who did not come from a "Red State" and Kris is now really the only chance to keep that trend alive this year, at least as far as the states that went for McCain in '08.

3. Scott MacIntyre- "You Can't Hurry Love"

Scott's video package made note that it would be unusual for him as a guy to be taking on this Diana Ross classic. There was no mention though of the fact that Phil Collins had a hit remake of it back in the'80s. Scott stayed in his comfort (crutch as some may call it) zone at the piano and began the performance by making it a really sappy ballad, such as what he has been criticized by some for doing in previous weeks, but then fairly quickly picked up the tempo and gave a somewhat different style of performance with his voice and the piano, while also relying on the three background singers who were also standing right there.

It was at least an attempt for Scott to do something a little different, but the vocals still had plenty of problems. Additionally, it seemed like he was singing different lyrics to the song at points in the melody that varied from the original. I am sure that was by design, but it seemed sort of weird to me, as if he was getting messed up with what lyrics were supposed to go where.

The judges, especially Simon, were more critical this week, and it does seem like he is one of three they are now trying to push out the door. He was told that he has consistently picked the wrong songs. Last week, Scott offered that he had lost some "hat picks" to other contestants on his first song choices. For his sake, I hope that either the names of the songs were written in braille or people were honest with him about who actually won those draws. Finally, Scott's wardrobe this week was really pretty hideous with pink pants and some sort of paisley shirt. The saving grace for him in that regard is that he could not have possibly picked it out himself.

4. Megan Joy- "For Once in My Life"

So, it turns out that Megan Joy is also the name of a current porn star. I was hoping she would once again change her name this week, perhaps to Megan Joy Cougar Mellencamp. What can I say? She continues to have her own unique style, but as promised, I just do not think I can ever really enjoy that style of hers vocally as well as the stage movements. It started off horribly and probably ended that way too. In the middle, there were a few seconds at least that I thought were less sucky, but still it was the wrong kind of song for her to do. In order to best capitalize on her quirkiness, she would have totally needed to rearrange and slow down this song. I really do not know how different it has been from last week or any of her previous weeks, but this time the judges did not like it and she received some pretty harsh criticism. Simon Cowell, who seems to be the responsible party for putting her into the Finals, is now saying she is in real danger of going home. Go figure.

Megan was also photographed by the paparazzi this week leaving an eatery, hand in hand, with a woman in flannel. That could be the kind of publicity she needs to stay around though.

5. Anoop Desai- "Ooh Baby Baby"

There was a moment here and there during this performance when I did find it a little boring, but technically, it seemed to me at least to be pretty flawless. Noop Dogg likely accomplished what he wanted to do which is rely on his natural vocal ability and not to be drowned out by "Bandzilla." In that regard, it was a very effective laid back version of what seems like a simple song, but one the judges pointed out is hard to sing because it alternates between head voice and chest voice....whatever that means. Anoop's many female fans will certainly appreciate the tender and romantic spin he put on it. The Smokey Robinson penned song itself may not be a crowd-pleaser per se, but it was one, like last week, that allowed the audience to witness and appreciate Anoop's singing ability.

But now the judges are telling him to not be as low-key next week and instead "party" it up a little more and it is almost certain Anoop would do so. Funny that it was just a couple of weeks ago, when the wrap on Anoop was that he was a weak singer who was simply a goofy, but entertaining frat-boy like performer. Killing off that stereotype, at least for the time being is probably not horrible for him at all, even if he might get talked about for a week as one of those somewhat boring ballad singers.

6. Michael Sarver- "Ain't Too Proud to Beg"

For the second week in a row, the Texan picked a song title that begins with the word "Ain't." If he survives into next week, I really hope it is not show tunes and he does not do "Ain't Misbehavin." Perhaps because he followed Anoop's low key, but very good performance, it was sort of a nice change of pace to see Michael do such a classic upbeat crowd-pleaser. The judges really did not like it though and he was compared unfavorably to an old time Vegas lounge act. In some ways, Sarver ought to take that as a compliment. I maybe even liked it a little more than the judges did. I think it had its moments, like a good karaoke performance, but it still was quite rough around the edges and is not Idol worthy, compared to most of the others this evening and this season.

7. Lil Rounds- "Heat Wave"

As the only remaining African-American singer, (although I believe Matt Giraud is said to be a quarter black), Lil was really expected to shine this week, and she clearly was quite moved by the experience of visiting the old Motown studios in Detroit. To be sure, I thought she sounded energetic and competent on this Martha and the Vandellas classic, but at times she seemed to be trying too hard and was overly shouty. I cannot recall exactly who did it, but I know this song has been done on American Idol before by another black female singer, who happened to do a much better job. Frankly, while I think Lil is extremely talented, I think most of the so-called "divas" who have been on in past AI seasons could have done this number more justice.

Paula still liked it though, while the other three judges were not feeling it as much. Lil then gave a diplomatic like response and Ms. Abdul remarked that Lil could run for President. Then, to my great dismay, instead of giving a shout out to herself as she sometimes does, Lil gave a shout out to Obama and held up the number one finger. Blech. His poll numbers may be slipping a bit earlier than most expected, but Lil can probably get away with that gesture. Now in two more weeks perhaps....But still, the Republicans who may have voted for her (and her Dial Idol numbers looked a lot stronger than the criticisms of her last week would have indicated... and I thought she got a raw deal from the judges last week) because she sang a song that some know from the Sean Hannity Show may now not be as eager to do so.

8. Adam Lambert- "Tracks of My Tears"

This week, "Glambert" really went a different direction for the most part not only in hair, makeup, and wardrobe, but by the way he sang a song. And I really thought it was very good. While I think his risky take on "Ring of Fire" last week was better than many thought (though not up to the level of how Dilana did the version on "Rock Star:SuperNova", where I knew I had heard a similar take before), I think Adam's sensitive take on the nice ballad by Smokey Robinson will win him back some voters (at least for now) that were totally freaked out by him last week. That shows that Adam is still willing to play the game and is not just in this to make a name for himself and be uncompromising. If he ever releases an album, he is not going to be doing songs like this on it though, so it is a bit of a sell-out to an extent, and thus I am not sure why Simon thinks a "star" was born tonight, but this week, he did earn at least some of the zealous praise he has gotten in the past.

If I am to be consistent, I have to take at least a point or two away from Adam for the gasps between verses that I could not help but notice tonight (and which some noticed in past seasons about other competitors on some songs that were also widely praised), but all in all it was a very good performance and similar to the sort of vibe that Anoop delivered the last two weeks.

9. Danny Gokey- "Get Ready"

Performance wise, once again, I found Gokey to be more than a little hokey, and unfortunately, there are still aspects of his personality that I find sort of weird, but I have to be fair and say that vocally tonight, I really do not have anything at all to criticize him on. He did not get much in the way of judges' criticism (although Simon did not like it and may now be BFF with Adam) because they suddenly realized the show was going long, but I suspect to the dismay of many and to the delight of his own fans, Danny will once again be at the top of Dial Idol when I go to check it in a few minutes.

Again, like with Sarver earlier, maybe because he followed a strong version of a stripped down ballad with an energetic crowd-pleaser, my ears could have been deceived to an extent, but this was the perfect song for Danny to do and it really does fit his soulful, somewhat gruff voice, and because I did not hear any gasping, I have no choice but to put him narrowly ahead of Adam. I really tried to find a loophole in my mind around that, but I could not.

For some reason, I pictured a singer like Danny doing this at a Republican National Convention, perhaps right when the nominee officially is put over the top, and the crowd is really pumped, etc. etc. Michael Steele and the RNC should put out an invitation to Danny to do it for 2012 perhaps. That might be another reason why I thought it was good, the association with GOP conventions.

10. Allison Iraheta- "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"

Finally, Allison is given the recognition she deserves with the pimp spot, as the producers clearly want to keep her out of the bottom three for at least a few more weeks. I still am more than impressed with her awesome voice and also continue to like the authentic, unaffected way she presents herself when not singing. She was really good tonight, and while I think she was probably miles better than what David Hernandez did on this song last season, I just am not a fan of this particular tune.

Allison showed some more of her vocal versatility tonight and received all sorts of props from the judges in the brief time they had left to talk about her. It almost seemed to me that she was mumbling the song a little bit at times, as if she was not entirely sure of the lyrics, as hinted in her intro. If that was the case, she covered it pretty well, but it was almost a little bit of a flashback to the vocal stylings of Amanda Overmyer. So to summarize, I thought Allison did a fine job as usual, but I still like her more doing rock. It will be really interesting to see how she does when she has to sing a genuine ballad.

So to rank them, and remember this is for vocal ability alone (and not total performance) for this week:

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

I am used to going against the grain of my peers and age-cohorts on politics, but I feel a little ashamed almost to have Danny ranked #1 and less so to have Adam ranked as high as well. Again, I tried to find a way around it, but I have to be fair. Adam and Anoop had the closest thing to a "moment", but Danny did not seem to have any purely technical flaws and delivered in that regard.

If Michael, Scott, and Megan are not all in the bottom three, something is really rotten in Denmark or at the AI stage at least. I do think they will be the bottom three. Who will be the one to leave is harder to predict though. They all sort of were given the write off by the judges, but that can also serve to motivate their voters. Since Simon was so specific though about Megan being at risk, that might be enough of a motivating factor for people to save her.

So once again, and I will finally be right one of these days, my pick to leave is Michael Sarver, even though I think he was the best and is the best singer out of the obvious bottom three. If he would have done what many expected this week and sang a pretty ballad, it might have gotten some more praise by the judges, but he still would have been in as much risk. He was very polite and even folksy in chatting with Seacrest after he got the bum reviews, but he indicated that while he really wanted to stick around, he was happy just to be in the Top 10. That hedging might be enough for some of his voters to let the quixotic quest go.

The sing for your life aspect should be awkward as always tomorrow. There is no chance the judges will save anyone. If its Scott at the bottom, somehow a Baby Grand piano and the background singers must be quickly assembled. If it's Michael, he will have to show the judges that he "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", but those pleas will fall on deaf ears.