Tuesday, May 05, 2009

American Idol- Top 4

My first thought about the show this week is that I guess I was expecting different songs for this "Rock Week" featuring Slash. I did not hate any of the songs done tonight, but all, or almost all of them were from the '60s and '70s. I was sort of looking forward to hearing some '80s and late '90s hair metal and we just did not get that at all. I would have been far more entertained if all of them picked different songs for their solos, and also for those relatively impressive, but bad idea in a competition, duets.

My next thought is that while American Idol has always featured a good amount of manipulation by the show's producers and by the judging panel, they are taking things this season to an entirely different level. That is evident both in the order the contestants performed this week (and in all the previous weeks) and the whole concept of adding duets as part of the competition. All of that, plus the judges' comments, particularly by Simon Cowell, seem completely geared towards pushing ahead who they want to win and derailing the hopes of who they want to see eliminated this week. It is also pretty sad that instead of each contestant singing two songs, as has always been done in this round in previous seasons, they really only had one and a half, with the main reason being the four judges do not know when to shut up.

The duet pairings have a part in that, as contestants can more easily be compared to one another. While I thought the two duet numbers were some of the stronger parts of the show, I think it was unfair to do. However, they should have at least been done in order, and not in the staggered way they appeared tonight. All of these factors just went towards the hard to ignore objective of sanctifying Adam Lambert (whom Simon mentioned in every single critique he gave tonight) and throwing Kris Allen under a big ole' bus.

Adding to the weirdness tonight was that there was some sort of accident on the Idol stage which prevented a full dress rehearsal for the contestants, spoilers being leaked to the internets, and the judges (especially Paula) knowing what they were going to already say ahead of time.

How should I have judged things on such an unprecedented night in Idol history? In the past, when there is more than one round, things are easier. This week though had duets in between the solo performances. Since this is not really a team sport and there will only be one Idol, I had to judge them individually on the duets, and not on the entire performance. Since we did not have the duets one right after another, I decided to not jump around in the show sequence and instead just considered the first round the first time all four of them sang and the second round the second time.

So, for the "First Round":

1. Adam Lambert- "Whole Lotta Love"

I detected a vocal similarity between Adam and the Robert Plant led Led Zeppelin back when Adam performed "Ring of Fire." So, it was not very difficult to picture him singing this song in the way he did. It was good, as Adam always is. He is a seasoned performer and I did not detect any spotty notes. Still though, it felt like something was missing, and I could not help but roll my eyes at the way over the top praise he received from the judges for performing what felt more like a "paint by numbers" rock song. Adam has a very good voice, and is very gifted at doing the whole rock wail thing. Had something like this been on the first three seasons of American Idol, it might have been mind-blowing by comparison in how different it was. That was a long time ago though now, and after Bo Bice, Chris Daughtry, and David Cook, is Adam Lambert really as much of a rocker as they say?

When he performs, even as it relates to the vocals itself, it still does not seem very genuine to me. I look at him and I hear him as an actor pretending to be a rocker, as if he were on a stage in a theater singing to well-dressed, older patrons and not at the Roxy or Whisky in Los Angeles, say in the 1980s. Kara said that nobody can do what he does and he should make a classic rock album. I am pretty sure that win or not, when his post-Idol album does come out it will be far more techno/Lady GaGa than rock/Led Zeppelin.

2. Allison Iraheta- "Cry Baby"

Now, Allison I think is a true rocker, but that might work against her sadly enough in appealing to the more casual Idol voter. This Janis Joplin song might not have been a real crowd-pleaser, but I think Allison sounded great on it. The strains I had detected in her voice the past few weeks did not seem to be as evident this evening. While she does not have the greatest enunciation when she sings, that only adds to her rock aura.

As good as it was, I still have to wonder how things might have been had she saved a performance of a well-known Heart song (which is how she made people take notice back in the semifinals) this week. Compared to the judges' comments that Adam received, Allison might as well have been in a different zip code. There was an awkward exchange with Simon over another song that she had considered doing that week. In the mentor video piece, it was referred to as "Somebody to Love", so Simon thought it was the Queen number (never having the Freddy Mercury/Adam Lambert comparisons too far off the brain perhaps), but it was actually the Jefferson Airplane song which may or may not be called "Don't You Want Somebody to Love." Simon even rolled his eyes at one point in the exchange, but Allison actually got in a pretty good zinger about how she was taking his advice and talking more.

3. Kris Allen & Danny Gokey- "Renegade"

This could have been a disaster but I actually thought both did a pretty credible job and managed to not make it look very weird in a duet setting. The first few notes that Danny sang had him sounding and looking nervous but then he pulled it together and put his gravelly voice to good use. I also think Kris, who does not exactly have the image of a badass, but wore a black leather jacket for this song, also sounded pretty good.

The duo of church worship leaders received some mixed comments from the judges, and Simon did not pass up an opportunity to say that Danny was better than Kris. Both Danny and Kris looked pretty uncomfortable standing there together after the song. I do not think it is because of any personal tension between them, but it just felt like an awkward moment and Kris's body language quickly resembled a mixture of being sad, defeated, and maybe a little angry. Something seemed off with Kris's mood tonight, when he was not singing, and that could have an adverse effect with those casual voters. When they showed his section of the audience, I did not see his wife or parents there, as they always are, so maybe something was up that was on his mind without them there, but it just seemed like something was going on there, even after the first song.

To rank them on the vocals in their first go-around, as unfair as it may be to compare solos (which could either be easier or tougher to impress on) and duets:

1. Allison Iraheta
2. Kris Allen
3. Danny Gokey
4. Adam Lambert

Round Two:

1. Kris Allen- "Come Together"

As mentioned, Kris already looked to be a little ticked off after his duet, perhaps because he saw and felt the bus coming for him.

I think it was quite unfair to have him have to sing back to back in effect (with at least somewhat of a wardrobe change), sandwiching both of his numbers in the middle, when it might be easier to forget. Looking at Adam Lambert, we saw that he may have had to sing first for the first time , but they also found a way once again to have him in the "pimp spot" with his duet. How completely obvious can you get?

It was probably a smart move for Kris to use an instrument, his electric guitar, on this Beatles song (which was covered by Carly Smithson last year), but in somewhat of a surprise, both in this song and his part on the duet, Kris did not try to re-arrange anything to be more acoustic or more in his style, but instead made a valiant effort to try to legitimately rock out on it.

By and large, I think he did a good job singing this tune, but there were a couple of off notes at the beginning and it did seem like he may have been trying too hard. Kris has been willing to admit that his voice is not as rangy or powerful as some of the others and that might have been somewhat apparent tonight. During his second consecutive judges' comments portion, he really looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.

2. Danny Gokey- "Dream On"

Perhaps the one song this evening that I am really a fan of, but my first thought was that this was also the song that gave Michael Johns his surprise exit last season. Perhaps though because I was pleasantly surprised by Danny on the duet, I thought this could have potential. Then they showed him rehearsing with Slash and trying to hit the big note at the end and it was a horrible, screamy mess. I was wondering if he would really attempt to do it in that way or would remain oblivious to his vocal shortcomings.

The actual performance was pretty shaky in my view. Danny has a good voice, but this was just so not him. The screaming at the end was horrific and uncomfortable to watch. Both Steven Tyler and Michael Johns might have slapped him across his bespectacled face for trying it. So, just when I thought that I was underrating Danny and it could be good, he gave by far the weakest performance of the evening.

I should also mentioned that Kara continued her impressive collection of Bidenesque gaffes by saying that she sees Danny more on "old" Aerosmith such as "Cryin'" and "Crazy." Of course, she was totally confused about what Aerosmith songs came out when. When it was over, Danny seemed a little surprised by the bad comments, and I do not think came across very well. Simon though told him he would still be safe, and I do not think he was trying to bring about complacency on behalf of Gokey fans. The more I see Danny, I continue to be annoyed by some parts of him, but I think he is just far more naive about how he comes across than someone who is deliberately a tool.

3. Adam Lambert & Allison Iraheta- "Slow Ride"

This was pretty good and reasonably entertaining, although it seemed most like one of the group performances we typically see on American Idol. Both vocalists performed very well and seemed at ease working the stage together. Adam did his usual vocal things, but I did not mind it as much here. I think it just seems more fitting for him to do something sort of light-hearted or campy such as this duet than trying to act like some sort of serious "rock god" on a Led Zeppelin song.

Afterwards, Adam and Allison looked pretty happy to be standing together, as opposed to the more awkward pairing of Kris and Danny. The whole duet dynamic probably most favored this twosome, out of any possible combination, and gave them the best chance to succeed. As to be expected, they received great comments from the judges, and Simon, still in manipulation mode said that singing with Adam might be enough to save Allison for another week. I guess he did not realize or was not willing to accept that Allison was the one who received more votes than Adam in the previous week.

My Round Two rankings (in which for the first time ever, I have a particular person at top) :

1. Adam Lambert
2. Allison Iraheta
3. Kris Allen
4. Danny Gokey

In order to get cumulative rankings, I have to average the two rounds together. As often happens, I had a tie, this time between who should be second best and who was third best. However, it was a pretty easy tie-breaker for number two.

Overall rankings, with lowest number being best:

1. Allison Iraheta (3)
2. Adam Lambert (5)
3. Kris Allen (5)
4. Danny Gokey (7)

Rock week did pay off most for the two "rockers" from Los Angeles, while the church boys had a tougher time. Maybe if they had run the risk of the Wrath of Slash and tried to not rock quite as hard things might have gone better.

I definitely feel that Allison, Adam, and Kris, (all from Semifinal Group 2) would be the most deserving Final Three, and that is probably also a popular opinion among those who offer as much on blogs and internet sites.

However, I am afraid that both Kris and Allison are at greater risk than Danny of being voted off, and I am not happy about the fact that we might lose both of them over the next two weeks before the Finale.

After the scare his increasingly obnoxious fans received last week when Adam was either in the bottom two or bottom three, I think a lot of vote splitting will end tonight which should solidify Adam's survival but really harm Allison and Kris.

Danny's fans are nowhere near as vocal online but I do sense that there is quite a bit of behind the scenes organizing going on for him in church communities (a la Mike Huckabee) and the one contestant who has never met the Bottom Three is going to be hard to dislodge.

Tomorrow night, it is likely to come down for an elimination between Kris or Allison. There is irony of course there in that Allison, as impressive as she has been, is sort of blocked out of some votes she needs because Adam is also perceived as an edgy rocker type, and is even from the same metropolitan area as her. Kris has an All-American wholesome image and a strong church background, but yet he is not going to be getting a lot of those votes because that base has committed more to the more polarizing Danny.

In a way, you can maybe flip a coin as to if it would be Allison or Kris. He has fared better with the voters in several weeks though prior to the most recent one, when Allison received more votes than him. She was better than him tonight, both vocally and performance wise, and for whatever reason, Kris did not appear to be himself tonight either away from the microphone. If I have to guess, it will be him to have to listen to a rearranged version of a hard rock power ballad called "Home Sweet Home" and some will probably wonder if things might have been differently if he had decided to re-arrange a rock song also.