Tuesday, April 14, 2009

American Idol Top 7

Another Tuesday of Idol performances have come and gone. Like the past couple of weeks, I certainly did not think anyone entered train-wreck territory tonight. Once again however, there were simply no performances that really made me say "wow, that was amazing" (not that I would be the type to actually vocalize as much.) Lest I complain too much though, I think back to last season's Top 7, and while I have always maintained that Season 7 was a really good one filled with all sorts of talent, I found the Mariah Carey ballad-fest incredibly boring that week.

Tonight was a decent show all around, even if I did not like some of the songs that were sung tonight. I just do not know how much I have to say about it all. So, hopefully for my sake (and whomever is reading this), my comments will be more concise than usual. Of course, I may surprise myself and ramble on.

Speaking of rambling, the big development this week, is after the show ran several minutes late last week, and the final performance was cut off from all sorts of unsavvy DVR users, who did not think ahead to manually extend their recordings, the judges tonight were to only speak two at a time in review of the performances.

As much as the judges annoy me at times, especially this season, that feels like a bit of a ripoff, and my cynical mind points out how much more manipulation they can put into things by who speaks about whom and what is said or not said in regards to the performances. Things like that definitely matter to the casual voters and thus some singers were done a favor or a disservice tonight, and American Idol is probably just fine with that.

There has to be some way to keep the judges' comments on task and not run over time. Perhaps a buzzer, a la the Presidential debate. Maybe a whole lot less banter at the beginning of the show would help them out. Maybe the show should just be at least 90 minutes each week anyway. It would be nice to hear more than 90 second versions of songs. The whole Quentin Tarantino introduction video tonight seemed like it lasted forever.

Famed movie director and creepy looking individual Tarantino might seem like an odd choice as this week's "mentor", seeing that he is not a singer or a musician. He does seem to be a bit of an Idol junkie though, having followed the show for many seasons, and thus I was pleasantly surprised at how credible his suggestions for the contestants were in the mentoring sessions. I guess there is always a possibility that somebody wrote the lines for him.

Here is the show rundown for the theme of "Songs of the Cinema", a theme that did seem to be fairly well limited to songs that were best known from movies, because almost every famous song has been in some movie sometime, and that could have been overly broad, not that I would have personally cared:

1. Allison Iraheta- "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"

Firstly, darn, why did they have to make her go first? Are they trying to get her kicked off? She certainly has been done some disservices by the judges already. I was also a little surprised she picked this song, which has been done on Idol a few times previously. I happen to have always liked this Aerosmith song (I believe the only number 1 they ever had), but other "rock fans" consider it overly cheesy and too "mainstream."

Going into this week, I wondered if maybe Allison should try to pick something to endear herself more to the casual Idol voter, who may tend to be older, such as Flashdance's "What a Feeling." I also wondered how she might sound doing The Bangles' version of "Hazy Shade of Winter" from Less Than Zero.

So, already I was concerned with Allison considering her song choice and her position having to kick off the show. I do not think this was her best performance, but still was pretty good all around. The first verse sounded pretty off to me, but then as she got more into it, especially the belting on the chorus, her natural talent shined through and she rocked as usual. It seemed to me though like her voice might be getting a little tired for the first time. This is certainly quite a workload for these kids and it would be hard not to show some strain, especially when one sings in the style Allison does. I remember back in Season 1, when Kelly Clarkson could hardly talk, but still scored on her performances. I also think it is worth keeing in mind for Allison that like David Archuleta last season, she is the only minor left, and has to do daily schooling as required by California law. That has to add even more stress and cuts back on the time she gets for rehearsal and arrangement sessions. She did seem to get the same sort of arrangement with the orchestra that David Cook got when he sang this last year, but I am pretty sure the strings and all that were present for all the performances.

Having said all that, I really hope Allison is not in danger this week. To my surprise, she was treated far more charitably all around by Simon this week, who did get to critique her performance. He did not exactly go out on a ledge, but he did say she was the best remaining hope for the girls. Well, it is down to just Lil Rounds and her representin' the ladies.

2. Anoop Desai- "Everything I Do I Do It For You"

I have always found this Bryan Adams song to be a little on the boring side, and it has also been done on Idol before, especially during Season 7 Hollywood audition round, when we saw it over and over. Nonetheless, I think Anoop was almost technically perfect on it tonight and it was probably his best performance this season.

Going into this week, Anoop was considered the most likely to be eliminated, and it seemed obvious that the judges were wanting to keep throwing him under the proverbial bus. I am sure that his fans were royally pissed he had to sing second and not toward the end of the show. Anoop was really good this week though and definitely deserves to stick around. Perhaps this performance will generate greater enthusiasm for him, especially since he has been splitting votes in a big way with Matt Giraud and Kris Allen. However, it is also possible that the dye has been and it will prove to be too little too late, to continue my string of dumb cliches.

3. Adam Lambert- "Born To Be Wild"

Basically, the general perception over the past week at least has definitely been that Adam is going to run away with the crown this season and that it's a foregone conclusion. He certainly is the front runner and certainly is the "Chosen One", but I still wonder if a backlash factor might eventually kick in or if America will embrace the "underdog" in a potential Finale. In short, I think it's too early to say that anything is a foregone conclusion. I can understand why Adam has made so many fans, but the behavior of some of them online, in which he is fawned over in Obama like proportions is already starting to get really annoying to me.

This week, Adam was a little more true to his freakish side with his wardrobe, hair, and makeup choices. He did a sort of interesting techno/rock fusion mix of an old song and I certainly do feel like he gave a good performance and was as impressive as usual in hitting some very hard notes. But it just feels so much like a performance though, or Adam acting out a role as a "rock star." Simon was right when he compared it to musical theater. It just feels and sounds very dramatic and contrived to me. One cannot honestly say that Adam is anything but a strong singer (though his breathing between verses can be pretty noticeable at times) and I have to stay true to my standards by judging him on vocal performance alone. It just felt sort of fake to me and if people are impressed by the good job Adam does on screaming and hitting those high notes, I wish they would instead check out some Hair Metal from the '80s and early '90s with Axl Rose, Sebastian Bach, that singer from Steelheart, and a host of others, who can do that sort of thing even better than Adam, and be more convincing as rockers too.

4. Matt Giraud- "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman"

Another boring Bryan Adams tune (and I really like a couple of his songs), this one even worse than the one Anoop did.

This week, Matt was back on the piano and the mole on his forehead was back in full view. I am noticing that Matt seems to be more comfortable with cameras being around him so much the longer the competition goes on, and thus has shown more of a likable personality the past few weeks.

I think it sounded ok for the most part, but there were some notes he struggled to hit live once again. Like many of the contestants this week, I think it started off a little rough (where it seemed like Matt was trying a little too much to sound like Justin Timberlake) and got better. It just did not leave that much of an impression on me, and it seems like we might have all seen Matt do songs like this a few times already before and that can hurt him in the voting.

5. Danny Gokey- "Endless Love"

With all the buzz around Adam, Danny really needed to do something to shake things up and not get lost in the background. So, he ditched the glasses and I assume was wearing contacts. Many of his fans probably wanted him to do such a "bold" move, but I bet that Sarah Palin would have stayed true to her eye wear convictions. Maybe because he looked a little different without them though, some people could think he would come across as less of a "tool."

Vocally, again, I think it started off a little rough, and then got better towards the end. Danny can sing, especially when he does that whole gravelly voice thing, but all of his performances are sort of starting to sound the same. There were definitely some notes they were missed, but they were not really pointed out by the judges I do not think. Instead, Simon had some mild criticism and then subtly brought up the widower factor and congratulated Danny for the performance. That sequence seemed a little odd.

6. Kris Allen- "Falling Slowly"

This was the only song tonight that I was not familiar with, and if others have the same perspective, that is always a little dangerous. Quentin Tarantino told Kris to consider doing this ballad with an instrument, but Kris opted to not incorporate one. That was probably a smart move, since he had played one for at least the last two weeks.

Honestly, I felt the song was kind of boring, and Kris had a few vocal hiccups in the song, but I still think he was able to pull it off. While I would not choose to listen to this song on the radio, I had the impression tonight that his song would best fit in today's music industry. Kris may not have the best voice in this competition but for some reasons, performances such as tonight just seemed more heartfelt or authentic or whatever than what Adam and Danny did.

7. Lil Rounds- "The Rose"

The pimp spot went to Lil, the woman of a thousand wigs. Her plan to put a soulful gospel spin on a slow Bette Midler song sounded really good in theory, but for whatever reason, Lil has hit a wall in this competition. It had a couple of good moments tonight, but not many. Pitchy dawg. Definitely pitchy. While she was singing, I was thinking that Season 6 divas Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones would have just slayed this song in an awesome sort of way. Lil is not in their league.

After their last two Fails, Lil is now the candidate of the people at Vote for the Worst and while they may have cheered this part, I do not think they are the reason that Lil got really defiant and talked back to Simon at the end after he criticized her and basically made it seem like he was done with her. Paula also got to talk about Lil, but was really confusing in the overly neutral way she talked about the performance. She acted like she thought it was good, but basically only said that Lil sang "beautiful lyrics." Did she like the singing or just the lyrics?

So, the pressures of the competition may really be getting to Lil, a mother of three, and the only remaining parent this season. We saw last season how much pressure can affect the psyche of some contestants and frankly, it is starting to look like Lil could be close to a meltdown.

She definitely is in trouble and I think will surely be in the Bottom Three again, but I do doubt she will get the lowest amount of votes. Idol junkies are looking at Lil's performances and the fact that she seems to have so few fans online and are asking themselves who exactly is voting for her. To be perfectly realistic, I think it all has to do with racial identification. That's probably not the greatest thing for someone to vote on (especially in this supposedly post-racial political era), but it also is that Lil's vocal style may just be more appealing to many African-Americans. If I had to guess as to who is voting for Lil, I would say that 90% of the people that are voting for her are black, and that 90% of black American Idol voters are voting for Lil. That could be enough for her to survive a little while longer, but it certainly will not get her close to finishing first.

To rank them from best to worst, and this was a little tough this week:

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

As mentioned, I think Lil will certainly be in the bottom three, and very well might be in the bottom two. At least one of the Anoop/Kris/Matt "soul boy" troika will join them. It could really either be any of them, but if I have to guess, I will say that because of the song choice and maybe not living up to expectations, it will be Matt. Adam is obviously going to be safe, and Gokey's base should keep him out of the bottom three for at least one more week to. So, with the process of elimination, and because of having to sing first, I think sadly it will be Allison once again. I wonder if they will do the old Idol Top 7 trick of breaking them up into two groups of three and then telling one of more "innocent" Idols to pick which group is the top three. Of course, that person usually refuses to play that game and just sits down on the floor or something. If that happens this year, and Seacrest tells them to go over to the group that is not going home, I hope they jump off the stage and sits on the judges' table, since we are stuck with them.

If I absolutely have to wager a guess, I would say that Matt will get the lowest number votes. I know, I know, I said that last week, and he was not even in the bottom three.

It's going to be really interesting though as far as how the "save" comes into play now. I think they only have three more weeks to utilize it and the producers and judges may consider it to be a waste of their power and influence if it does not get used. Therefore, I have a sneaky suspicion that it just might get used this week.

Ironically enough, Lil would probably be the toughest for them to save now, especially considering what Simon has been saying about her the past couple of weeks. The "save" does supposedly have to be a unanimous decision.

If it's Allison, Matt, Kris, or maybe even Anoop at the bottom though, they really may use it this week, just to give folks something to talk about at the old water cooler.