Tuesday, May 12, 2009

American Idol Top 3

I missed about the first three minutes of the show tonight, that would have involved the introduction of the four judges, who I wish would all be replaced next year, so it is possible, but not very likely that I might have missed them making some sort of statement as to how the performance order was picked by random chance, or something like that. Otherwise, it was just another example of American Idol going to incredible lengths to have Adam Lambert close out every show. Trust me, I am as opposed to Danny Gokey being in the Final Three as almost anyone, but he got the lead off position tonight, and has never, ever, been given the "pimp spot" in the Finals. That seems a little unfair.

Right when I began watching, the three dudes walked out on stage and it seemed like something was missing. Where were the ladies? In particular, where was Allison? It's hard to imagine the remainder of this season without her, but that is what we have. She should have been there.

In watching and "judging" the six performances this evening, I really had to remind myself to try to be as fair as possible. The manipulations and exaggerations are so overdone this year, that I am in a position of rooting for Kris Allen and actually almost rooting against Gokey and Adam Lambert. It's not that I think that Kris Allen is the greatest singer around, but I have simply preferred him this season to both of them, often like to root for underdogs, and wanted to see him fight back against the proverbial bus that for the second straight week was going to be sent to run him over.

In seasons past, this round would feature the three contestants singing three songs each. One would be picked by one of the judges, one by the contestants himself or herself, and one by either the geriatric Clive Davis, or the "producers." This year though, because the judges like to talk a lot and engage in foreplay. The direction of the show and who makes the Finale can of course be influenced by the song choices, and there were definitely some intentions along those lines this evening. In seasons past, it seems like contestants were given the song(s) that were chosen for them, and then had to make their own pick after that in order to not have everything be too ballady or too uptempo. Paula though made a comment tonight which seems to indicate that she picked her song for Danny in order to make a contrast with what he had already chosen for himself.

Anyway, on to the performances:

1. Danny Gokey- "Dance Little Sister"

First of all, after last week's "Dream On" debacle, Danny probably did not have anywhere else to go but up, and he was much better on this song. I had never heard of Paula's choice before though and I find it odd that so many seconds of airtime were given to discussing the musical legacy of Terence Trent D'Arby of all people. When the news of this leaked from Danny's visit to Milwaukee (where he spent far too much time fraternizing with Packers and Brewers to ever get on my good side, and I personally hold him responsible for Aramis Ramirez dislocating his shoulder at Miller Park on Friday), I almost had to wonder, (also knowing what Kris's assignment was) if perhaps they wanted Gokey gone after all.

However, the song was pretty well suited for Danny's voice, and even though he was said to have been struggling with his voice at the Milwaukee performances (which included an absolutely embarrassing attempt to sing "Billie Jean" without having a clue of the lyrics), it was a credible performance. Still though, there did seem to be a couple points where Danny lost the words (not very surprising given what seems to be a pretty limited knowledge of music, and of course this is a pretty obscure song) and seemed to not exactly be in sync with the background singers the entire time. Other comments were made by some of the judges about Danny's typically dorky dancing, but he mostly got good comments.

2. Kris Allen- "Apologize"

In the competition part of this season, Kris has played both the electric and acoustic guitar as well as the keyboard. This time, he borrowed a page from Matt Giraud and Scott McIntyre and did the performance with a regular piano. Randy and Kara (the least important judges) gave "the least important" contestant a pretty good song, and a popular one at that. Unlike Danny's number, most viewers would have been likely to have heard this one. (I had to shake my head a bit though when they showed Kris in Arkansas and he was still wearing nail polish from Rock Week on his thumb. We certainly know where he got that idea.)

There were a couple less than perfect notes, and the falsetto parts song may not be greatly suited for Kris's voice, but all in all, I think he gave a very good performance, and managed to appear genuinely connected to the music. That is not to say though that his vocals were as good as the versions of this song done by David Archuleta last summers on the Idols tour (based on what I saw on YouTube) or Archie's "duet" on the Season Finale last year with One Republic. Kris better hope that Archuleta fans do not take some sort of weird offense by the song assignment given to him and withhold voted in that matter. He is going to need all the votes he can get.

Kara and Simon did make an attempt to drive the bus at Kris, but perhaps not as much as could have been expected. Kara said that instead of the piano, he should have played a rearranged acoustic (is piano not considered acoustic?) on the guitar. Simon then got into a bit of a tiff with Kara over whether or not she picked the right song or if she should have also picked the arrangement for him, and weirdly seemed to indicate that he had not only picked the song for Adam, but might have also directed him in how it should be sung. Very interesting.

As Seacrest gave the numbers tonight after the first songs by both Danny and Kris, Simon and the two female judges were very grabby with each other. That was particularly evident on this supposed family show, after Gokey had sung and Paula and Simon appeared to be engaged in some very questionable behavior. Great way to show respect to the contestants on one of the biggest nights of their lives. They certainly do not molest each other in such a way when Adam sings. I think it is clear what they think and want others to think about Adam's competition.

3. Adam Lambert- "One"

When Adam returned to his boyhood home of San Diego on Friday (and keep an eye out for him singing "The Star Spangled Banner" in front of a ginormous flag on a military base tomorrow in the montage in an attempt to bolster his "red state" credentials), it was reported that he was given both this song by Simon as well as "Wicked Game" by Chris Issak. What? Was Simon actually giving Adam a choice? Perhaps, but Simon made it appear tonight that there was some clearance issues and that the song did not formally get cleared until Saturday when Bono of U2 personally phoned him. I have suspected that the contestants have always known the "judges' choices" ahead of time and had begun rehearsing before the public reveal, but I wonder how that affected Adam this week. The show just seems to be bending over backwards to make things easier for him.

Anyway, I like this song more than the boring Chris Issak tune, so I expected that Adam would have the potential to have a "moment" with it. When he began singing the first verse, in a quite and understated way (a la "Tracks of My Tears"), I thought it was very good, and I expected that Adam would easily take this first round. Then, he shifted gears and got really screamy and dramatic and at that moment, he lost me. We all know he can scream, and he certainly can scream far better than Danny Gokey, but it did not fit on this song. I was surprised he went that route, considering I expected him to do a screamy rock number for his personal choice anyway. At least the usually useless Randy Jackson pointed out that Adam seemed to go off melody at that part. For the rest of the song, I think Adam was going over the top in making a pretend sad face. I realize that acting is often a part of singing, but Adam's performances just almost always seem to lack in genuineness to me. This had potential to be really good, but I totally did not like the direction he would take it in. It reminded of when Adam sang the Cher song in the Hollywood rounds, and a lot of people did not like that at the time. To mention David Archuleta yet again, on his recent tour, he did a version of this same song, that I would have found superior.

Of course Simon, being the pompous prick that he is, congratulated himself on the song choice, and because he picked it, and because Adam is his pet, found nothing to take issue with on the vocal or performance. If there was ever a number on American Idol that Simon could have criticized as being "indulgent", it should have been this one.

So after Round 1, I had the first two spots very close, but somewhat of a surprise in third.

1. Kris Allen
2. Danny Gokey
3. Adam Lambert

Round 2:

1. Danny Gokey- "You Are So Beautiful"

The poor man's Taylor Hicks attempted to do a song that Mr. Soul Patrol had once done on the show and I do not know what the judges were listening to (especially Simon, who typically did not like Taylor but loved this) but I thought it started off horribly.

To Danny's credit, he did avoid a train wreck by getting the song back on track towards the end, but he started off singing this Joe Cocker number in a very soft voice, and I detected some obvious vocal straining, and at least one really bad note. Most of all though, I thought it was pretty boring. Then, as Danny has been known to do, he gets more intense towards the end of the song and picked up the energy and the volume. I thought that was better, although I have a hunch he was making up his own lyrics to this song at that point.

It was definitely far from a "masterclass" as Simon proclaimed, but the very positive comment by the judges made it seem like they definitely wanted him back next week as the hapless foil to Adam. When goaded by Seacrest, Danny can never resist the opportunity to talk about himself though, and I just find him so uncomfortably unaware of the way he comes across. Plus, I totally am sick of seeing him do those ridiculous LensCrafter hand hearts.

2. Kris Allen- "Heartless"

The very quick segue after Danny finished was made to Kris. Of course that means that a commercial break would follow, so that Adam could bask in the glow of the end of the show by himself.

I did not have time today to pursue the song spoilers for this round, so I was pretty surprised by the bold choice that Kris made to cover Kanye West, who is a renowned hip hop artist known for his ego and innovation, but not exactly for his singing chops. I suspect that there may have been a YouTube version of someone singing this Kanye song on acoustic guitar that Kris may have seen somewhere along the line, but I absolutely loved what he did in this round.

Not only should he get credit for the acoustic rearrangement (which was perfect with just him and his guitar and no band playing along), but he succeeded in pulling off a large amount of the lyrics in a hip hop cadence. That takes talent. Kris may not have the best voice, but when it comes to musicality and making interesting song choices, he is definitely the best one. Also, there is absolutely no doubt, that among the three remaining contestants, Kris would easily be the most likely to find short-term mainstream success in today's popular music market. Isn't that sort of what American Idol is about to many?

I think it was a bold and impressive moment for a contestant who knew that he was in the cross hairs of the judges. It was great though to see Kara's criticism of the first song be trumped though and also even though you can tell that Simon was desperately trying to rev up the bus (and spent most of his commenting time re-hashing what he said in criticism of the first performance), he could not exactly muster up too much to attack here and had to proclaim that Kris was not dead in the competition as he expected after all. It was a risk that Kris took and it paid off and was one of those "underdog" moments that make for good television. I think besides for Allison's "star is born" performance of "Alone", it was my favorite performance of this season.

3. Adam Lambert- "Cryin'"

For some reason, I was listening to this song earlier today and have always liked it. I think it is perhaps the only really good song to come out of the entire Clinton Era. It was definitely an interesting song choice, and picking Aerosmith after last week is one that some will interpret as an "in your face Gokey" gesture.

Adam has been compared for most of this season to lead singers from the Hair Metal years and I have been curious to see what he could do on a song like this, and thus I sort of expected to find it one of the performances of his that I would like the most. Using his screaming skills are far more appropriate on this song than what he did in the first round.

At least I was entertained by this. I think it was good, but honestly, I might have expected that Adam could have done even more. Allison might have really killed this. Perhaps because the song is too long to really condense into a two minute performance, and all the guitar solos and harmonicas and all that need to be cut out, but it did seem a little disjointed. I think Adam had some very good moments, but there was also one part where I did not think he blended very well with the female background singers. Still though, this one of the few Adam performances this year that I would want to see again. When he sang it though, it still felt more like a really good performance at a cabaret club or on a theater stage, instead of a legitimate rock show at an arena. To reiterate, Adam can absolutely pull of Aerosmith beyond what Danny Gokey could ever dream to, but he was nowhere close to Steven Tyler.

I think he is almost certain to be in the Finale next week (and Simon did nothing in his critique of this song except to literally ask people to vote for Adam) but I wonder if the casual viewer will like both of the songs he did today as much as his die-hard fans might expect. The other three judges were predictably fawning, and placed Adam in the Finale, but I noted that the ladies remained seated the whole time. I guess Paula and Kara were not able to muster up quite the reaction that they have demonstrated before.

Round 2 rankings:

1. Kris Allen
2. Adam Lambert
3. Danny Gokey

When the rounds are combined, I once again had a tie for second (or third) place, but like last week, I did not have to have too much of an internal debate as to how to break the tie.

1. Kris Allen (2)
2. Adam Lambert (5)
3. Danny Gokey (5)

Since I am rooting for Kris to deservedly (since Allison is gone) be crowned the American Idol, it would be in his best interest to see Danny survive and Adam to be the surprise boot. I would also get quite a quick out of seeing the furor that would erupt if that result were to occur, but I just do not think it will happen.

It will come down to either Danny or Kris as the "conservative" alternative to Adam and Idol Whipping Boy in the Finale. Conventional wisdom will be that because of his stealth fan base, Danny will live to see another week, but because of what I thought was a strong night and a motivated fan base of his own, I am going to maybe foolishly put hope in front of logic and say that Kris will advance and Danny will be eliminated. I fear I may be wrong, but I have to go with my hunch there.

I think Danny has a good voice, might find success in the Christian Contemporary or Gospel markets, and I legitimately wish him much happiness in his life, but I do not think there is anything left he can do that would actually entertain me next week.

Adam vs. Kris would be quite entertaining.