Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Idol- Top 9

This week the contestants were without a mentor and were said to sing something related to I-Tunes or top downloads or something like that. It does not seem there was any actual real criteria though, so they could all sing basically anything they wanted to. So, this was a good chance to show how "current" or marketable they could be in today's music world. Basically, I found some fault with all of the performances and thought that many of the contestants picked the wrong songs for themselves while tunes would have fit their abilities better. At least there was no music by Panic at the Disco, on a night when die-hard Republicans like myself were exhibiting some Panic at Tedisco, in regards to a special election in New York. (To make a long story short, most went into the night thinking the Democrat would win a close one, then Republican Tedisco looked to be on his way to a win, then the final votes came in and the Democrat is ahead by something like 59 votes. So, with recounts and absentees to be counted, it will be a few more weeks before the actual result is known or before the Democrats steal it.)

Anyways, back to Idol. I am just finding the judges comments so weird this year, and it seems like they are trying to manipulate the voting at levels we have not really seen before. It seems clear who the "Chosen One", at least at the moment is, but some dark horses may shake things up before all is said and done. As mentioned, I was not overly crazy about most of the performances tonight, but still think that eight singers were at least decent, while one is just far and away the worst singer of the lot and deserves very much to go home.

In order of performance:

1. Anoop Desai- "Caught Up"

From the beginning of this season, I have found myself sort of rooting for Noop Dogg, but you know, I may be backing away from that now. There is no doubt that he is a very talented singer, which he proved the previous two weeks on songs that some may have called "boring ballads" but I thought were extremely good. I also think Anoop is a good entertainer on more upbeat numbers such as his take on this Usher song tonight, and all things considered I though he sang it pretty well. It just was far from perfect though. Some of his Clefhanger buddies from UNC (who must be thrilled about another Final Four appearance) were in the audience this week and it just makes those who have seen Anoop and that acapella group do their thing on R&B or hip hop stuff on YouTube take some things into consideration.

To me, it's just more impressive to maybe see it on YouTube than on American Idol. Maybe it is because it just seems "cooler" to see a bunch of college kids in tuxedos or dorky outfits demonstrating such musical skills, especially an Indian-American singer like Anoop, who is sort of a novelty to an extent in that genre. When Anoop is on the big stage by himself with backup singers and a band, and with some sort of "hip" outfit on, it does feel a little more forced. I cannot put my finger on it because I do not think his vocals were at all bad tonight, but it just felt a little more inauthentic or "middle of the pack." The producers also did him no favors by putting him in the first spot (contrary to the rehearsal spoilers I saw) so he may really not be the "Chosen One."

I do not think Anoop is going home tomorrow night, nor should he, but he may be in real danger of hitting the Bottom Three. Here is where I may get a little political.... I was looking at the Idol website today and they had some Q&A for the contestants and three of them (Matt and Lil being the others) including Anoop said the person they most want to meet is Barack Obama. I guess it's certainly normal to hope to meet the President one day and I have to really try to put my Republican biases aside, but its hard for me to not take that as some sort of political endorsement that Anoop is maybe a die-hard Democrat. I sort have gotten that sense before (and have noticed how his street team has buttons of him in the same style as that ridiculous Obama "Hope" design thing) and while I appreciate his singing ability and will try my best to "judge" him fairly, it does make it a little harder for me to root for him to be the American Idol. I am sure other fans have looked at real or perceived conservatism on behalf of Idol contestants and could not help but that against them too.

The worst thing for Anoop tonight was that after his performance and after getting some less than stellar comments from the judges (some accurate and some not), I think he really did cross the line into appearing arrogant for the first time. He talked back a bit and just seemed a little surprised and dismissive of getting bad criticism. It was honestly reminiscent to me of how prickly Obama himself sometimes gets with the media when anyone dares to question him. So for some reason now, I am starting to associate Anoop too much with Obama, and that is not good in my mind. Both have obvious talents that are impossible to deny but both may really rub a lot of people the wrong way in an attitude sense if they look long enough. I hope Anoop was just having a bad night in that regard.

2. Megan Joy- "Turn Your Lights Down Low"

I think I would have rather turned the volume on my television down lower. One would think that with her choice of songs to sing, she maybe might have used her quirky and "current" image to better use in trying to convince her critics, but she just sounded terrible on this song, with the typical horrible phrasing. I had never heard before. It was boring and out of tune, and at the end she sang like a Muppet. For some reason, I still think she should go into novelty children's' music.

Also, I am finding her less and less likable. She is the least talented contestant of the group, but I think she may have the biggest ego. Watching these people week after week, I have the sense that this whole experience of now being a sudden celebrity has gone to her head and she thinks she is far better than she is and that anyone who disagrees with her on that is just wrong. Megan seems convinced that her fan base is large enough and forgiving enough to not care what she sounds like. She could be in for a surprise tomorrow.

3. Danny Gokey- "What Hurts the Most"

Oh great, another contestant that really irks me on a personal level. Fans of the show learned that his "guilty pleasures involve pedicures and facials." How very metrosexual. That sounds sort of creepy to me, but if that is really what he enjoys, perhaps he should have kept that one a bit of a secret or maybe just have something to talk about privately with Ryan Seacrest.

First of all though, let me begin by saying that I read that his grandfather recently passed away and that he actually missed a couple days in Hollywood in order to return to Wisconsin for the services. Assuming that is true, I of course feel nothing but sympathy for him and also realize that it might have given him a serious disadvantage in terms of lack of practice time. This was not mentioned on the show though, perhaps because of the backlash involving how often the tragic death of Danny's wife had been talked about early on.

So tonight, Danny sang a well-known Rascal Flatts song that I personally really did not know, and for the most part, he sounded reasonably good, and he obviously has talent. It was a good thing for him to sing a bit of a different style of song than what he had done before and also good for him to really scale back on the frantic stage movements. Fans of Danny may have made a connection to the emotional song about loss and what Danny himself may be feeling the past few months and that could have really helped them connect. When he tries to talk though, such as after the performance, it comes across as really awkward.

While vocally decent, it did sound a little bit breathy in parts to me and I do not know if I can see Danny's style as neomg anything remotely country music. Paula definitely overpraised it, while Simon may have been trying to now knock Danny down a few pegs last week was far more charitable this time. Danny certainly has a very good voice, but I do not see him as being remotely marketable in Top 40 or other popular genres. His future may really like with Christian Contemporary music and he could be very successful in that field.

4. Allison Iraheta- "Don't Speak"

The young rocker really took a bit of a risk by bringing out the guitar for the first time this season to accompany herself on the first verse of this song by No Doubt and their lead singer Gwen Stefani. Allison looked a little more nervous than usual at first, as I think she is not completely confident yet with her guitar skills on this song, but you have to admire the guts it took to give it a shot. Her vocals may not have been perfect or her best yet, but I still found it very impressive. The imperfections on a song like this may even make it feel more authentic. Maybe she would have gotten better comments from some of the judges if she would have done a predictable Pink song, but I really do think she can sing almost anything. I still think thought she will need to prove herself eventually on some sort of vulnerable ballad.

The bulk of what the judges had to criticize her were on her choice of wardrobe and hair, which resembled a bit of a 1980's Pat Benatar/Cyndi Lauper hybrid. I did not find anything objectionable or distracting about the look and in fact felt it was in character with her style and her personality. If that's the worst they can criticize her for, she must be doing something right, but I felt the judges dwelled on it too much.

5. Scott MacIntyre- "Just the Way You Are"

This week, the Idol stylists did something about Scott's 1970s-like Mike Brady perm and instead gave him a bit of a 1980s mullet. In any event, it was an improvement, as were the clothes, in comparison to last week's paisley shirt and pink jeans. The outfit did look like it might have been borrowed from whatever Adam Lambert wore on the show a few weeks back.

When I heard that Scott was going to be playing the piano (of course) and singing another ballad, this time by one his heroes Billy Joel, I expected it to be pretty boring and in line with all the other similar Adult Contemporary like songs he had done so far. Vocally however, he was by far the best he has been this season. Oh, it certainly had some flaws and a few bum notes, but he at least proved he is a decent singer. Older voters will probably really like it.

All things considered, I thought Scott really did surpass expectations for this week, and that might be enough to save him. However, let's be honest that we all do judge him on a curve to some extent because of his blindness and the fact that he seems like such a nice guy. He can sing, but he's not qualified to be the American Idol because of his skills and it will be unfair if he winds up outlasting some really superior voices.

6. Matt Giraud- "You Found Me"

This week, Matt did not play the piano, but instead the keyboard (as if there is a huge difference.) What might have been more different is that they allowed him to literally do what Scott had joked about a couple weeks ago and "moved it closer" to the audience, as Matt did his thing in the mosh pit with teenage girls all around him. It seemed a little "off" to me as he went about that set-up and sang a rockish song by The Fray.

Matt's voice is good, and while I thought it started off shaky, it got a little better at the end. Still though, this was not the kind of song he should be singing and it seems like he gets too nervous at times, especially if he knows things may not be going as he planned. The judges mentioned it, but they were right this time, that he would have been far better off doing One Republic's "Apologize", (either with piano or without.)

A few weeks ago, Matt was being proclaimed as the stealth "Chosen One" and a possible front runner to take it all. Then, he sang last week, got good comments, and wound up in the Bottom Three. This week, the judges were far less kind to him, and Simon even made mention of the "frown" that Matt seems to sometimes have on his face when he is upset. I really do think Matt is probably a decent guy, but he comes across at times as needing to try too hard to be likable. He could be in some trouble this week, unless his fan base, after their scare last week, was really mobilized this time around.

7. Lil Rounds- "I Surrender"

I am not an expert nor do I take these things into consideration in my rankings, but I really did not care for her hair or dress this week. Anyways, I was really surprised to hear that she would dare to take on a Celine Dion diva ballad such as this song. It could have really been terrible and I imagined all sorts of judges' comments like "why in the world did you try to take on Celine, etc", but it did turn out to be pretty good vocally, even if I did like it a bit more than the judges did. I give her points for moxie in choosing it and delivering relatively well.

After she was done though, there was what seemed to be an obviously pre-planned segment with Seacrest going over to Lil's two young daughters and trying to interview them. Then her adorable little tyke wound up in Randy Jackson's arms, hugging him tightly. All together now..... awwwww. There is no way she would be voted off after that, especially as Lil shed some lil tears. I was sort of hoping for Lil's little girl to bite Randy.

8. Adam Lambert- "Play That Funky Music"

Now, this white boy is certainly the Chosen One. Two weeks ago, I gave far more props to Adam's semi-original take on a Johnny Cash song than many did, and I certainly thought he was extremely good last week with an unplugged take on a Smokey Robinson ballad. This week, I think he was way over pimped by the judges, especially Paula who already has taken to likening him to being a superstar like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler (apparently she must have had lips on her mind). Then the malpropism friendly Kara DioGuardi said it reminded her of "Studio 57." I think she meant Studio 54 unless she had Ketchup on her mind.

Adam can sing in tune, demonstrate impressive vocal range, and knows how to work the stage and camera like a pro, but this was not spectacular by any means. It was good to be sure, but it felt a bit cabaret to me, as if I could picture it being sung that way at some sort of drag show (hey, if Simon can use those analogies in the past, I guess I can too.) Adam probably did the right thing by finding a middle ground between "safe" and "out there", but it just felt more like an overly rehearsed production to me than a song that could be sung by a successful recording artist or performer.

Finally, I still remain somewhat disturbed by the love that both my parents, especially my father, are showing for Adam this season. I don't really know what to make of that, except they tell me it is in large part due to his hair and how he reminds them visually of a young Elvis (my parents have two shrines to Elvis in their home). I should maybe tell them that many of the pre-Idol photos of Adam have him looking more like a young Priscilla.

8. Kris Allen- "Ain't No Sunshine"

For the first time, the "pimp spot" went to Kris and well deserved. I am not 100 percent sure if he used a piano or a keyboard for this performance, but I do not think it matters. I give him points for pulling a Brooke White and being the first this year to play a second instrument on the Idol stage.

I saw some promise in Kris way back during the semifinals and was very happy when he made the next round. Others have said that he is a little too bland vocally and personality wise to really have a chance to win it, and the past few weeks, I have had a bit more of a hard time really warming up to his performances. This week though, it was just really, really good, and while Kris may not be as colorful as Adam or some others, that is part of the appeal and why perhaps in comparison to all others, I can see him (and Allison too) possibly achieving mainstream success after this show. This week, he very much earned the fawning by the judges and he really is a "dark horse" to watch in this competition.

To rank them from best to worst this week based strictly on vocal performance:

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

To reiterate, I would only want to listen to the performances of the top 2 again this week. However, spots 3-8 definitely do not deserve to go home. Being in last place, this week and every week, I once again have to really hope that Megan's time has come. There was a big gap this week between 8 and 9.

I do think Megan will make the Bottom Three for the first time and while this is risky, I have a hunch that going early in the show, her boring song choice, and what could be perceived as a self-righteous atttitude afterwards, will get her the boot.

The other two of the bottom three should be composed of Scott, Matt, or Anoop. Any of those combinations would not surprise me. Scott is living on borrowed time, but had a stronger performance this week which could motivate people to want to save him again. Matt really struggled this week and has some major downward momentum, but his fan base may be ultra-motivated to save him. Anoop has a very large fan base, but he had the bad break of having to go first and I do not think did himself any favors by the way he came across attitude-wise tonight. I really do hope that the three gentlemen will be safe and that the two actually good female singers get to Idol Mansion girls' bathroom to themselves. (I guess Allison's mom also has to stick around if the contestants are truly living there.)

In a larger sense, this year is harder to predict a winner or a Final Two even at this stage of the game than ever before. Clearly, the main buzz will continue to be about Adam Lambert for at least a little longer. The lofty expecations for Gokey, Lil, and also Matt and Anoop may also have taken some hits the past couple weeks.

Instead, the two contestants who performed back to back in Group 2 of the semifinals, and who had received almost no Idol screen time previously, are starting to show, at least to me, that they possess the combination of musical skills, relevance, and likability to perhaps go all the way.