Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American Idol Top 8

It is quite a balancing act this evening between Idol, sports, and local politics. So, I may need to be more concise than usual, although perhaps not as brief as the judges were forced to be in critiquing the final two singers this evening, as the show was running long. By the way, I really am starting to feel like the judges are on crack tonight. I disagreed with them on almost every performance this evening. I do not know what many others think though, so there is quite a chance that I will be in the distinct minority in how I wound up ranking them.

Almost every year, American Idol does a theme where contestants are to sing a song from the year they were born. It is depressing to realize that not only is this the second year when I am older than all of the singers, this is the now the first year where none of these kids were even born in the same decade as I was! I absolutely love '80's music though and had high hopes for this evening. I enjoyed all the speculation about what songs they all may choose, but for the most part, I was a little disappointed with them tonight. Once, again, there were so many better choices. To think that three of the singers were born in 1985 and none of them chose to go with "The Super Bowl Shuffle" by the Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew.

Incidentally, here a list of fake song "spoilers" that I wanted to try posting. I wonder if anyone would have taken them seriously:

Danny Gokey- 1980- "Sailing" Christopher Cross
Adam Lambert- 1982- "Pacman Fever"
Lil Rounds- 1984- "99 Luftballons"
Matt Giraud- 1985- "Oh Sheila"
Kris Allen- 1985- "Private Dancer"- Tina Turner
Scott MacIntyre 1985- Axel F leading into "Strut"- Sheena Easton
Anoop Desai- 1986- "Rock Me Amadeus"
Allison Iraheta- 1992- "2 Legit 2 Quit"

There was one singer this evening who I feel was far and away ahead of the field. The other seven all had flaws, but none were terrible. There is no Sanjaya this season and thankfully, no more Megan Joy, so it was good to see competence at least from them all, but it just felt like something was missing from almost all of them. Even the one that I have ranked the best and who I felt clearly was tonight (and really does deserve to win at this point), I feel could have picked an even better song and really had an amazing "moment."

So fake spoilers aside, here is how the night really went down:

1. Danny Gokey- "Stand By Me"

In 1980, America was in the final stages of the Carter Days of Malaise and it seems to not have been a great year for song choices. With that in mind, I was thinking that maybe the producers would allow Mr. Gokey to instead pick a song from the year was he "born again." I did not realize that a version of this song was done in 1980, and I thought it was maybe a risk for Danny because David Archuleta did a somewhat original version of it late during the last Idol season and later would perform it on tour. Since they likely share some of the same fan base, a lot of dedicated "Arch Angels" might wind up feeling that Danny did not come close to matching the standards and thus could take it out on him with their lack of votes.

The judges seemed to love what Danny did, but while I felt it was very proficient technically, I really was not feeling it and felt the arrangement was very boring at the beginning. Then, when it started getting upbeat, I felt like Danny was not really connected emotionally to what he was trying to sing. He seemed a little unenthusiastic right when he was finished and then of course looked smug, as he often does, when he received glowing comments from the judges. If not for those judges comments and his large fan base, I would think he could wind up in the bottom three.

He never sings badly, but this felt sort of like a cruise ship performance to me. Just nothing special at all. I am surprised the judges thought it was so good. Maybe my perceptions of all these singers on a personal level are subconsciously influencing me, as much as I try for that to not happen.

2. Kris Allen- "All She Wants To Do Is Dance"

I think most people would recognize going in, that last week's "breakthrough" performance would be a tough act for Kris to follow. That is typically how it goes all throughout the history of American Idol, but one would think that Kris has now picked up enough new fans to be safe.

I could probably name about six other songs from 1985 that he could have done better, even if they were more in the ballad niche or considered a little cheesy. He could have at least gone one more week of a song in that same style before being warned by the judges to shake things up. I have never liked this Don Henley song he did, but all in all, I could not find much to criticize about it vocally. It sounded pretty competent, but it was a little bit overwhelmed by the whole setup of Kris playing the electric guitar in the "mosh pit" It seemed like he could not get the microphone set up perfectly at first.

After playing acoustic guitar and the keyboards, it probably is a plus for Kris to continue to show his musical abilities by this time playing an electric guitar (or "axe" as Paula Abdul might say.) It did show another side of him that appeared to be believable as a performer, but it just was not amazing, to say the least.

3. Lil Rounds- "What's Love Got To Do With It"

I have tended to be a little more generous towards Lil than the judges and most Idol blogging types tend to be. For whatever reason, I think the judges are too tough on her when she does not sing a song by a black artist, as if they are trying to keep her in a musical box. With that in mind, I think Lil picked the most obvious song from 1984 that could have pleased the judges and I thought she could do really well with this Tina Turner number.

I do not think she did what she needed to do though and I now do think she may have hit a wall in this competition that she never will be able to get over and the frustrations might be starting to set in, as she clearly looked quite upset after hearing some bad reviews from the judges.

There were moments in the song that sounded pretty good, but others where it sounded to me at least, like she was off key or straining. Lil really does seem to have an affinity for wigs (which could turn some people off I suppose), but did not go with the classic Tina Turner 1984 look. She did try to mimic the way Tina would always saunter around the stage or in the music video at the beginning of this song, and Lil looked a little too unsteady doing so.

The vocals are the most important though of course, and on this performance at least, I have to sort of agree with Simon when he characterized the performance as a second or third rate version of Tina Turner.

4. Anoop Desai- "True Colors"

It's too bad for Noop Dogg that he was not born in 1987, because then he could have maybe done "Angel" by Aerosmith, which I have listened to his version of, and felt it was extremely good. Instead though he did this 1986 sort of boring Cyndi Lauper song and sounded pretty good for the most part and I do have to give him credit for "making it his own."

His voice is extremely good and for most of the song, he was able to recapture the moments from this season on ballads where he gets the most praise. Perhaps his future could be in the Michael Bolton/Josh Groban balladeer avenue instead of his trying to be the next Ne-Yo or Chris Brown (minus the domestic abuse.) Interestingly enough, that is what many critics of last season's David Archuleta said. I disagreed then and still do now, because since Idol has ended, Archuleta has proven that he can handle contemporary material. I also think that on a simple ballad like the kind Anoop did this evening, Archie could have still sung circles around him, because there were a few notes where again, it seemed to me like Anoop was a little bit off his game.

All in all a nice job by Anoop though. It has probably been a nice 24 hours for him after watching his UNC Tar Heels win the National Championship of College Basketball in a blow-out. Seacrest got to point that out and Anoop got to celebrate, which means that very few people from the state of Michigan will probably vote for him this week (good news for Matt Giraud potentially.)

Also though in the pre-song chat with Seacrest, there was some damage control done as Anoop was able to sort of give a non-apology "expression of regret" by the way he reacted last week to a comment by Kara DioGuardi and how his demeanor might of come across as being overly arrogant (which I think it did.) I said last week that Anoop reminded me of how Barack Obama gets snippy and snooty when he is criticized or uncharacteristically challenged by the press and when Anoop said that his behavior last week "wasn't me", that also reminded me of how Obama would often throw people under the bus during his campaign by saying "that's not the (fill in the blank) I know."

5. Scott MacIntyre- "The Search Is Over"

I definitely had lower expectations for Scott this week over everyone else and have long since believed he was out of his depth at this stage of the competition, and have started to fear that he will unfairly make it all the way to number five perhaps. Maybe my mind is just completely biased by my odd love for '80s power ballads, but I really sort of like what Scott did this week. He definitely exceeded my expectations for picking this really cool Survivor song, the way he went about doing it, and how I thought he at least somewhat pulled it off. I thought the judges would fawn over him. Instead, they sort of really disliked it.

Vocally, it certainly was not on par with the original and I do concede that there literally hundreds of bar singers who could have rocked this out more. I just don't know. I kind of got a kick out of it, including Scotty Mac taking a risk by coming out from behind the piano and playing the electric guitar. His guitar playing looked pretty basic and that might have made the overall performance look more awkward, but Scott always looks sort of awkward and I think he might score some points with people for proving he can also play the electric guitar... at least a little. The people that have been voting for him thus far are going to find it hard to stop after this week.

This may have been an appeal to solidify the VFTW vote, but I also thought it was pretty funny that the lyrics of the song make direct reference to "seeing forever" and "right before my eyes", etc. Scott also talked back to the judges tonight far more than anyone else did, but his personality (and disability aspect) make it hard for him to come across as an ass when he does so.

Again, it was far from a perfect vocal, but I thought it had some moments, and Scott really did sound less Adult Contemporary than he ever has before. I thought it was easily his best performance, but I have a hunch that I really out on a limb here.

6. Allison Iraheta- "I Can't Make You Love Me"

She sounded great, as usual, and I think easily the best of the night. As she needed to do, she did pick a vulnerable ballad and proved that her vocal skills and stage presence are already at a superb level. I was a little bummed when I found out she would be doing this song, because while it's very pretty, it is a little maybe a little too slow and some of the lyrics may not be completely appropriate/believable for a 16 year old girl to sing. After the performance though, I really do not think those were issues. She delivered in a big way and while I was not jumping out of my chair, I was very impressed. I think it was the smart thing for her to do instead of trying to do "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

However, I have to go on record, as I have been telling people for days now, and say that the perfect song that Allison could have done (for all I know it was not able to get cleared for her to sing on the show) would have been 1992's "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" by Patty Smyth as a duet with Don Henley. That would have really suited her voice and had the same sort of tearjerker ballad feel. That could have even been a standing ovation moment for her.

Finally, I just do not understand why Simon says that she comes across as "dark" or not likable and that she needs to "talk more" and act younger, especially since he has recently criticized her for acting "precocious." I think her personality on the show is quite good. She doesn't seem like an immature kid by any means, but has also been pretty fun by the way she cawed in homage to Megan last week and said "Hello, familiar chair" when she was unfairly sent to the Bottom Three once again. What else could or should she do? She may not be getting as many votes from teenage girls as she might need to be a front-runner at this point, but that is because she is not a "cute boy" and not because she comes across badly. Maybe Miley Cyrus's endorsement of Allison will get those teen and tween girls calling and texting away for the singer whom Kara did correctly say was ready to go into the studio and record now.

7. Matt Giraud- "Part Time Lover"

I was practically shocked, as the judges had to rush through their comments for Matt and were in love with what he did. I really need to disagree in a big way. I thought it was quite substandard. Matt has definite vocal skills and I imagine is amazing in a studio setting when he can do multiple takes, but something seems off to me when he sings live, especially without his piano, as the case was this evening. Whether it's nerves or just trying to do too much with runs and vibrato (amazing how much I learn about music from following this show), I really felt like he was off his game tonight. I detected on more on than one occasion during the song, his sounding way off on a note and even perhaps trying to sing a word and completely not having anything come out of his mouth.

I thought for sure the judges would notice that or would think that perhaps his take on the Stevie Wonder song seemed a little too "wannabe" or lacking in authenticity, and on par with the Kevin Covais Idol version of this number, but instead, Matt was fawned over. Maybe my ears were just off tonight.

8. Adam Lambert- "Mad World"

All the singers had video packages talking about how they were as children, and it's clear that Adam was gay as a kid back in the '80s too, way back before George Michael came out. The show was already running several minutes long when Adam took his "pimp spot" and in somewhat of a first, the only judge who had time to comment was Simon Cowell, who managed to give his first ever standing ovation as part of his critique. Dog... not even Randy Jackson does that anymore!

What is with this show and how badly they want to prop Adam up? The lighting treatment he received was pretty unique as well, as he appeared on television almost in black and white (perhaps a favor to Adam in some tight shots) He can sing very well and sang well tonight, but it was also quite gaspy in parts and I felt sort of boring throughout. I really do wish he would have done a Journey song, even if it would have involved Adam's frequent theatrical screaming. I would have been more entertained.

Of all the songs done tonight, this one by Tears For Fears was the only one I was not familiar with. Apparently though, a version of it is in the Donnie Darko movie, so a lot of young people would know it. I am not sure though if it was at all the wisest choice. The song was just so incredibly emoish. It made David Cook's Idol performances from last year look like the Partridge Family or something. I think a lot of older Idol viewers may have found the song too depressing and boring to really appreciate Adam this week as the "next Elvis" or whatever they seem to look at him as.

Again though, I am probably way in the minority on almost everything tonight.

To rank them:

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

Predictions from me this week are virtually useless, but I am going to give them anyway, before I check Dial Idol or read other thoughts on tonight's show. For example, never in a million years did I think I would ever have Scott MacIntyre at number three. Most will expect him to be in the Bottom Three at least this week, but I think he may be a Survivor again this week, and could potentially do "Eye of the Tiger" next.

While Anoop is very good and was good tonight, he is splitting votes with a few of his opponents, and has seen his casual fan base seriously evaporate. He was in the bottom two last week and I think will be back in the bottom three this week. Joining him for the first time might be Lil Rounds, who had another tough week. Last year, Syesha Mercado, the only African-American female in the season, made several appearances in the bottom three before lasting all the way to third place. Lil just may not be as good of a performer or even singer as Syesha though and while I think she will not be eliminated because, like Syesha, she is not splitting votes with anyone, she might make the silver stools this week.

Who else will be there and who might go home? Probably way off here, but I am going to say that like Anoop, Matt is splitting votes with others. I thought he was far worse this week than the judges said but because of those comments his fan base may be a little too complacent, which would be a complete switch from last week when they were motivated and it was Anoop's fans who might have been slacking. This time this complete reverse may be the case.

To go extremely out on a limb, I think we could see a "shocker" with Matt Giraud receiving the lowest amount of votes. The judges will say they will consider saving him. He will sing for his life. There will be a spirited fake debate between the four of them that will last for several seconds, while the audience behind them pleads to save Matt.

Randy, Paula, and Kara will all pretend that he should be saved and will be yelling at Simon to agree with them and make it unanimous. Simon will sit quitely with a smug smile on his face before finally... saying no.

At least that is how I would script it.