Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol- Final 2

After having watched the Finale performances, it can be sort of difficult to organize and articulate all my opinions, but I wanted to go ahead and get this post over with, before I read any other blog coverage of the performances or predictions as to what may happen. Thus, this may be more disjointed than usual.

In many ways, this season of American Idol has been inferior to past ones, particularly last year, in regards to the rules established by the producers and even somewhat based on the level of talent of the singers. However, I think both Finalists did themselves and their season proud tonight by giving strong performances on the biggest stage of their lives. None of the vocal performances may have been completely flawless, but like last year's Finale, you cannot help but be impressed by the effort. In terms of my enjoyment of the actual songs, I would probably pick either Carrie Underwood's or Motley Crue's version of "Home Sweet Home", but I still think it will be the kind of night that people will be talking about in future years.

I do not think there were any blowouts this evening, in any of the rounds, from a vocal perspective, and I sense that others will share the same characterization. At this point though, it's all about personal preference, in regards to whose style is more appealing to each individual viewer, and who they have been rooting for throughout this season. While I am not approaching this stage of the competition in anywhere near as serious a manner as some Idol fanatics, I definitely do have a strong preference for one contestant over the other and that probably has influenced my thinking, at least on some level. Nonetheless, based on the vocal performances given tonight, either gentleman would be deserving of being crowned "American Idol." Nobody will be getting robbed tomorrow night.

Last Wednesday, I explained in some detail, why I thought the trends were such that Kris Allen should defeat Adam Lambert. I really think I examined that in a logical way, but still, most Idol "pundits" have continued to think all week that Adam is the heavy favorite and some even expect him to steamroll over Kris. In that sense, Kris entered the evening very much the underdog, and while he has his share of devoted fans, in my personal view, it's almost laughable the levels that some of Adam's most ardent online fans go to in approaching this match-up. They simply think that Adam is the greatest thing to ever hit music and humanity itself and that is a hateful insult to even consider that Adam might lose to Kris. So, that obviously really wants me to see Kris win even more.

So tonight, unlike last year, there were no boxing montages, or lengthy video pieces about how the Finalists prepared. The contrasts were still drawn out though and implied in regards to style, personality, and musical tastes of the two guys. In the media there has of course been more written and said in regards to cultural, religious, and lifestyle differences between Adam and Kris, as well as the whole Blue State vs. Red State dynamic, which has traditionally favored the more conservative South in American Idol history.

There may not have been as much focus on those factors though, as say an Adam vs. Danny Gokey Finale, perhaps because that Kris and Adam, roommates throughout the competition, genuinely do see to like and respect each other, and have shared many of the same fans. One prediction I will make though, is that regardless of who wins tomorrow evening, much of the talk, perhaps starting in the press conference after and continuing throughout Memorial Day weekend will involve how Adam is likely to first be presented with the "gay question" in a direct manner and how he will choose to answer it. Then, Kris will be asked both if he knew that Adam was gay (duh) and how that affected their relationship. It will be a little awkward for both men, especially Kris, but I think the media is going to be pining to write a story about how a down-home married religious Christian from the South "overcame prejudices", etc., to forge a friendship with a religiously secular, and flamboyantly gay man from Hollywood. I just hope Kris does not feel the need to put the nail polish on again.

At long last, on to the singing:

1. Adam Lambert- "Mad World"

Like almost every season of Idol, Finale night featured the contestants being told to reprise one of their favorite performances of the season. I believe it was only last year that contestants were given the option of doing something new all together. At that time, David Cook picked a new song, which Simon Cowell criticized him for doing, but a lot of voters gave him credit for. After reportedly having some new song choices rejected by the producers or failed to be cleared, David Archuleta chose to reprise one of his "moments" with "Imagine."

So, while some viewers were probably wishing to hear as many new songs tonight as possible, we instead got reprisals, which of course involved somewhat less work for the contestants, even though both did make some subtle performance changes from their original performances.

For example, Adam entered the stage in a different way to this emo anthem, and was clad in a long black trench coat while performing amidst fake fog. It was very "Twilight", which will appeal to a lot of people, but I still think, has the potential to leave some other casual, perhaps older viewers, a little cold.

When Adam first sang this song, I was not too familiar with it, and felt that it might cause him some problems with those casual voters. Adam's most devoted fans though absolutely loved it, and I sense they will love it again this evening. The vocals were pretty strong this evening. I will admit to having Adam's original performance be more appreciated by me after I had heard it more than once and became more accustomed to it. So, because of that, I was able to admire his vocals more this evening.

While Adam is no stranger performing in front of crowds, he has never faced anything like the spotlight that this evening in the Nokia Theater brought. He did not seem to have much in the way of nerves at all though. Not only is he a very good singer, but he is also a skilled actor. That's really what it comes to for me with him. I tend to appreciate his talent, but I just always see him more of an actor than someone who is going to be musically relevant over the long term.

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

I believe Kris's reprisal choice was one that he did on the show a week before Adam did "Mad World." The difference for Kris this evening was that he played the piano instead of an electric keyboard. While this is a singing competition, it should not be unmentioned that Kris played two instruments this evening and has played one so often through the season, while Adam did not.

I was very impressed when Kris first did this back in the Finals, and was very impressed again tonight on the Finale. He also appeared to not let his nerves be visible. He does not have the greatest voice I have ever heard (and Adam, who has a greater range than Kris, had a couple breathing issues in his first performance), that is in some way negated to the viewer or the listener by the way that Kris is able to interpret the music and connect with it. He really never seems like he is acting, but that he is really feeling the words and the music he is performing.

The casual viewer will probably still be more familiar with the song that Kris did and might like it more than "Mad World." I find it a little ironic though that both songs in this first round were thematically depressing.

As he usually does in the Finale, Simon gave his opinion as to who "won the round", and he actually gave it to Kris, after saying that he had finally proven that it was not a mistake that he was where he was. Simon always has an agenda and has his words prepared very carefully. Did he really think Kris got the best of the round? Was he trying to rile up Adam's fans? Was he setting the stage for a back and forth "big ding dong?" One can never really be too sure.

As for me, it was extremely close in this round vocally. Perhaps because I like his song more and perhaps because he went second, and perhaps because I am simply rooting for for him, I give Round One narrowly to Kris Allen.

Round Two- songs chosen for the future American Idol by British television producer Simon Fuller:

1. Adam Lambert- "A Change Is Gonna Come"

I am almost certain that there is YouTube footage of Adam singing this same song in his pre-Idol days in a completely glammed up and over the top way at one of his cabaret gigs. Perhaps there were even sheep or goats on stage.

So, Adam definitely knows the song and the lyrics, but he chose to pretty much play it safe in terms of delivery and wardrobe, and if he wants to actually win, that was the right thing to do. Since Simon Fuller picked this song for Adam, I realized he would probably not get an opportunity to do any sort of real rock number this evening, but it did seem like something designed to put Adam in the best possible light with the undecided viewer. Many of his fans will also feel a connection to the "socially conscious" lyrics and the unspoken subplot of Adam's quest to break the Rainbow Ceiling of American Idol.

Now, for some reason, just before he began singing, I hit something on the remote control and lost the coverage for a good fifteen seconds or so, but then I eventually got it back, and when I did, I was once again very impressed by Adam's vocals. He was seeming to infuse a kind of soulful vibe into the song, that he had not showcased previously this season. Towards, the middle he incorporated his more traditional rock scream and I thought it worked at that point. However, I then think he went a little overboard with the wailing runs and his facial expressions. He had the right plan to showcase his range in an effective way, but in my view, overdid it a bit.

2. Kris Allen- "What's Going On"

My first thought was that Fuller had given Kris the screamy Four Non Blondes song from the early '90s which Adam had covered in his past, in an attempt to sabotage him. Then, as it began, I noticed that the producer was pretty much on the same theme of "Message Songs from the Civil Rights Era." After Kris was done, Randy Jackson mentioned how the anti-war song was relevant for "the times we live in." Perhaps the song is appropriate to all those left-wing Democrats who foolishly thought that the party was really intending to end military tribunals and close Guantanamo. Not exactly "change they can believe in", but I digress.

While not every note was perfect, I think Kris once again gave a very solid performance, with an interesting acoustic arrangement that had him strumming the guitar along with some minimal percussion accompaniment. All in all, I liked it, but Cowell thought it was something along the lines of "too soft" for Finale night. What did he want Kris to do? Scream the lyrics and incorporate electric guitars, drum machines, and more cowbell? Of course, Kris was not the one who picked the song and I thought that he did a very good job of making it more current. It sounded like something that you can hear on the radio by a John Mayer or Jason Mraz type of artist. Simon also criticized (whether he truly meant it or not) David Cook last year for a similar type of unplugged performance on Finale night, but the viewers tended to like that at the time.

Once again, I liked both performances, but neither was perfect. One again, I narrowly give a round to Kris Allen.

Round Three- typically cheesy coronation song that we will all be sick of hearing constantly on the radio this summer, but this time co-written by Kara DioGuardi:

1. Adam Lambert- "No Boundaries"

The song is called "No Boundaries?" Isn't that the line of neck wear that Rush Limbaugh had going on back in the '90s? Even more ironic, I was just thinking of those ties earlier today because I saw the Governator of California at the White House wearing a loud tie that looked like it might have come from that collection.

Adam sang parts of this song well, even though it seemed like it was really not something he would have ever chosen for himself. In other parts, it was perhaps a "hot mess." Randy The Dog Jackson even said the pitchy word in his comments, along with the obligatory phone book reference. I trust that people are not going to like this song and Kara is probably going to be feeling a little sheepish over it. Adam probably did the most he could with it, and as I said, showed his range, but during the performance, it was almost like he was rushing through it and could not wait for it to be over. His face was especially pained and he seemed to be overcompensating on the acting thing in order to sell the performance. I simply cannot imagine hearing Adam's version of this tune on the radio for months and months. But if he wins, that is what is going to have to happen. Plus, he will have to sing it every night on tour.

2. Kris Allen- "No Boundaries"

The final performance of Season Eight. As he was singing, I definitely did not think it was a flawless vocal, which based on the comments after was likely due to the key being too high (I know nothing about the technical side of music), but still, I think Kris maybe had a bit of a "moment." Reportedly, he was not allowed to use an instrument for this song, but he did have it arranged in a different fashion that what Adam had done, and Kris had to do something he did not really have to do much this season. He had to just stand there with a mic stand and work the crowd. In contrast to Adam, while it still would never be a great song for me, I can absolutely imagine Kris's version on the radio. He also appeared once again to be genuinely connected to the lyrics of the song and the music as well.

It was a very different take than Adam's version of the deliberately emotional song, but I think it was "more honest." Due to that factor and because he was lucky enough to win the coin toss (despite the ridiculous claims by some Adam fans that Kris made a mistake since nobody could ever hope to follow Adam and look good), and perhaps because it was a little rough around the edges, I think Kris managed to get the greater emotional impact out of the song.

Both singers would probably have been able to deliver this better with some more preparation, but all things considered, I give Round Three to Kris Allen.

Thus, it is clear with me having awarded him all three rounds, I think Kris Allen deserves to win American Idol and I very much hope he does. However, as I mentioned from the start, this was a very competitive evening, perhaps the most so since Season 2 and Ruben vs. Clay. Everybody wants their favorite to win, but both did decent enough this evening, to hopefully cut back on the angry freak-outs if the other dude wins. (Although I will enjoy watching the reaction videos of those angry people on the internet.)

In a couple minutes, I will take my first look at Dial Idol. Perhaps, like last season, I will find that the person I did not want to win and did not think won the night, will have an insurmountable lead. After all, I do tend to be going against public opinion in my prediction last week that Kris would prevail. However, based on tonight, and based on all the factors I took into consideration last week, I am going to stick with my prediction of a Kris victory.

One factor that could be in Adam's favor though is that of the "power voter." I absolutely think that individual voters will go for Kris, but among those who have the time, wherewithal, and motivation to send hundreds and hundreds of votes over four hours, that could benefit Adam and his somewhat more maniacal cougar fans. Kris's voters are going to perhaps be the more casual voter who will call once or twice or ten times or youngsters whose evil parents are making them do things like homework and going to bed, instead of allowing them to spend hours and hours on what to them might feel like the most important decision in the history of the American democracy.

After having declared Round 1 for Kris and giving Round 2 "a million percent" to Adam, the always devious Simon Cowell did not give a winner for Round Three, although he did seem to have been pimping Adam a bit and gave Kris some faint praise. Perhaps he does not want to have the impact he had of last season of giving one side overconfidence and having the other fan based riled up to vote even more. However, he could just really have no idea which direction this is going to go and he wants to have the right tomorrow, once he knows the results, to make the pre-show interview rounds and say what he thought after he "watched it back later." That should be the first indication of who will be crowned the winner after the Finale marathon tomorrow night.

After living through the 1992 and 1996 Presidential elections, as well as the 2008 Republican Primary season, I am just glad to get to finally support a candidate from Arkansas.

Allen '09!