Saturday, April 10, 2010

American Idol Top 9 Part I

Tuesday night saw this season's batch of Idols sing selections from the songbook of legendary Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney. One of the songs done was even a non Beatles Lennon solo number, but to my surprise, Siobhan Magnus did not attempt to do anything from the Plastic Ono Band, complete with Yokoish screaming. I found the episode pretty good overall, but I detected a theme of how every song that had been done back in Season 7, was done better at that time. Weird night though. Really weird. The didgeridoo, a lone bagpiper, hecklers being called on the stage to hug contestants, and Danny Gokey babies!

Results night on Wednesday opened with Seacrest tipping us off to "surprising results" , which made it a little easy to determine what would happen. I was pretty surprised and disappointed with the results that night, but have mixed feelings about the ultimate outcome, a thinly veiled arranged "save" choreographed and scripted (at least by the producers and judges) before the cameras started rolling. Thus next week, everyone in the Top 9 will be back to be mentored by that musical icon Adam Lambert, the runner up of Season 8, who hopefully will be on his best behavior and will not encourage the kids to partake in "fun" recreational drugs or do anything untoward with his crotch.

By this time next week though, two singers will be voted off and the "save" is no longer on the table. The person who got saved this week is probably more likely than not to not be in the Bottom Two next week, and thus summer tour performance slots, paychecks, and lifelong American Idol also-ran bragging rights will be affected. First though, let's look back to this week's performances.

Aaron Kelly- "The Long and Winding Road"

His fellow contestants compare High School student Aaron to Yoda. I am not sure I get that. Yoda is supposed to be really, really old. I did not think he did horrible with his song this week, but once again, but it was extremely boring and Aaron has lost some momentum in the past couple of weeks and earned his first slot in the bottom two. With two people being voted off next week, he has a lot to worry about, especially if he continues with his recent habit of covering songs other Idol contestants had done (better) in previous seasons.

This week's example was especially illustrative. Two years ago, on Beatles' night, another youthful looking Idol hopeful named David Archuleta sang the song and while I did not find it a very exciting performance then, I felt he deserved the praise he received, when Simon Cowell referred to it then as a "masterclass." Aaron sang the same song in what seemed to be the exact same arrangement and it paled in comparison... big time. I also sort of rolled my eyes at the way he justified the choice as an homage the long and winding road of Idol. He should have made it more country and is now promising to do something more uptempo for Elvis theme or whatever it is going to be next week. Lambert better behave himself! Aaron is still underage. Grade B-

In regards to the aforementioned Archie, it was good to see him back on the Idol stage, though I might have preferred to see him do something other than "Imagine" for the third time on the show. Still, it was a stellar performance, and I think the best one of this song that he had done yet, even though they made him sing the atheistic and communist portions of the song. I will maintain that he is a better singer than anybody else this season and I hope his upcoming second album is a huge success.

Katie Stevens- "Let It Be"

Next up was Katie, and it appeared as if the contestants on Tuesday might be singing in order from youngest to oldest. While I might have preferred Brooke White's heartfelt rendition of this classic song from Season 7 or Jennifer Hudson's stirring recent rendition from the big Haiti earthquake telethon thing, I thought Katie did a really good job, and it was certainly her best performance of the season. It probably is comparable with the "Let It Be" version done by Kris Allen on the Idol semifinal stage a few weeks ago.

It was the type of performance that probably won her over a lot of new voters, and kept her out of the Bottom Three. If she is to survive the cuts next week though, she will have to continue this momentum. Since "Glee" is returning to the airwaves on Tuesday on Fox after they somehow cram 9 performances into 90 minutes, I wonder if that might affect the voting, especially for someone like Katie who reminds many of the annoying Rachel character from that show. Grade B+

Andrew Garcia- "Can't Buy Me Love"

Last week, I surprised myself from moving Andrew from worst to first on my weekly performance rankings, but this week, he slid right down to the bottom again. I thought this performance was just Corny with a capital C and just reminiscent of a bad lounge act. The hair was quite distracting too.

I think there are a few songs that Andrew can sing really well (such as the Chris Brown number from last week), but I really question his versatility. Up-tempo numbers are really not his thing. It's a shame he wound up with more votes than the far superior singer who was voted off this week before getting his stay of execution. Grade C

Michael Lynche- "Eleanor Rigby"

His family performing group was known as the "Lynche Mob?" Really? I think this is a weird Beatles song. I thought it started off a little iffy for Big Mike, but as he got into it, got much better, and while it might have been considered "over-dramatic", I think it was good how he changed it to more fit his style. All things considered, I thought it was his usual consistent strong performance.

So, I was quite surprised that he wound up being the lowest vote getter of the week. Going into this week, I still thought he might surprise people by making the Top Two, and potentially even winning it, as someone who appealed to people outside of the Idol blogosphere chattering class/Hollywood NYC entertainment writing elite. His performance style may come across as cheesy and people may be a bit off put by perceived "arrogance", but that just has not bothered me about him. Now, he has been saved by the judges, and might even survive next week, but there seems to be little chance of his taking the Idol crown now. More about him towards the end. Grade- B

Crystal Bowersox- "Come Together"

I think Crystal has been great all season, but for you for me (channeling Randy Jackson), this was her least strong performance, and while I think she is incapable of being horrible, the last couple of weeks have shown maybe a little overall movement backwards (though potentially setting up a redeemer arc in the audience's subconscious. ) That might be tougher though as the judges gave her a ton of praise again, which surprised me a bit. In Season 7, I thought Carly Smithson actually was better on this song, and Crystal may not have even known that last year's winner Kris Allen did it (though not his best either) as well on the Idol stage.

Do not get me wrong, it was a fun performance, with or without the didgeridoo dude sharing the stage with her throughout the judging portion. This week was Crystal's turn for the pre-song mention of being under the weather. Maybe that affected her a bit on the performance, because she really did seem mess up the lyrics at one portion, repeating a previous verse, and seemed to sheepishly look down at her guitar. The judges did not catch it though but lavished praise on the performance. I think she is capable of a lot better. Despite being a fan of her singing for a while now this season, and finding her pretty cool personally on television, I also did read this week about one of her pre-Idol original songs being negative towards President George W. Bush. While I did not really have her pegged as some great conservative, I will have to fight hard to not have that negatively influence me against her. I still think she is the best singer this season, but I just may not cast a vote at all this season now. Grade B

Finally, I have to give props to Crystal by providing the line of the night in regards to her hopes for the bromance of Andrew Garcia and Lee DeWyze to continue to blossom and produce "Danny Gokey babies." The humor of that has sort of lost its luster by now, but at the time, I found it pretty damn funny!

Tim Urban- "All My Lovin"

I still think he is definitely one of the weakest singers this season, but he gets shrewder and shrewder by the week with his song choice. Vocally, others may have liked it more than me (I still found plenty wrong with it), but Tim successfully pulled off some sort of '70s teen idol thing meets the Jonas Brothers, insomuch as there were not great vocals, but it appealed to its target audience, who were not focused on how well each note might have been hit. I agreed with Randy. For Timmy personally, it was a good performance. The judges seemed to go out of their way to compliment him. Maybe they think if they are nicer to him, the fans will vote him off eventually.

If next week is Elvis week, he probably will take on "Hound Dog" or "Viva Las Vegas" or something like that. I fear he will make the Top 5 or better. Also, how is he from Texas? He sounds sort of New England when he talks. Grade C+

Casey James- "Jealous Guy"

Up to this point, Casey has been decent enough vocally, but has played it very safe and has seemed pretty disconnected emotionally from his performances. This week was a big breakthrough though for him and he had what would pass as an "Idol moment" and should now once again be considered a real contender.

I had heard this John Lennon solo song before, but a lot of casual viewers may not have been familiar with it. I thought Casey gave a strong and even intense performance of the number, even seeming to shiver, when the lyrics called for it. For some reason, it reminded me a late '80s/early '90s hair metal acoustic power ballad, and I just love that stuff, so I thought it was a job well done for Casey. Grade B+

Siobhan Magnus- "Across the Universe"

After being pretty bad last week, Siobhan attempted to play it a little safer this week with a more restrained performance than she has been known for, while also in a seated position. She has a good voice of course and did reasonably well on this, but as mentioned by the judges, it was maybe a bit too "sleepy", sort of like a lullaby and I have issues with Siobhan's lower register. She sounds congested.

When the song was over, Simon gave Siobhan a chance to appeal to the audience by talking about what the song meant to her and she got sort of emotional talking about her little sisters or something like that. Why do I always think these things are staged? Grade B-

Lee DeWyze- "Hey Jude"

The suburban Daily Herald (and hey I just noticed the official AI graphics as well) are now spelling his last name with a capital W, so I guess I better do so as well. We learned he is a persistent pessimist who always thinks the end is near. He has to be a fellow Cubs fan. Last week, Lee had a real breakthrough with a not very well known soul song, but this week took on a Beatles' song that is very well known, but maybe one that is hard to do live without a bit of a sing along atmosphere and one that is hard to condense into a shorter performance.

It started off good enough, until Lee started hitting some bum notes, sort in a bad Neil Diamond impression sort of way, and then, oddly, a single bagpiper, in full regalia, ascended down the Adam Lambert Memorial Staircase. Ellen DeGeneres (maybe Lee has changed his last name in homage to her) made a crack about the guy being separated from his parade. It became really distracting at that point and sort of took away from Lee's vocals (or lack thereof.) Some people might not have minded though. I even saw some wacky comments speculating that Lee fought his stage fright by getting drunk before this performance. If he is singing for the Idol trophy at the Nokia Theater, there may be even more bagpipers present. Grade B

To repeat my Tuesday rankings:

1. Casey James
2. Katie Stevens
3. Michael Lynche
4. Crystal Bowersox
5. Lee DeWyze
6. Siobhan Magnus
7. Aaron Kelly
8. Tim Urban
9. Andrew Garcia

Who should have been eliminated: Andrew Garcia
Who I predicted would be eliminated: Andrew Garcia
Who had the lowest number of votes but was saved by the judges: Michael Lynche

What was up with these results? Is it a racial thing? What do people have against a large black man manhandling people and hoisting them into the air? It's just part of his shtick. Relax America. He is actually a pretty good singer. People just must not like him though or his attitude and seeming abundance of confidence. I sort of appreciate his passion and intensity. I guess it's a bit like the Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah, who fans everywhere probably hate, but Chicago fans have come to really appreciate for how hard he competes and how badly he wants to win. So, I really do not mind Big Mike's chest pumping or looking pissed off to be in the position that he is in. If everyone was as humble as Melinda Doolittle or David Archuleta, things could get a little boring.

For the "save", big Mike reprised "This Woman's Work" , which had induced an estrogen laden meltdown from Kara DioGuardi the last time he did it and perhaps because I was disappointed at the results and wanted him to do well, I once again found it a very good performance. It certainly made for some emotional and dramatic television. Mrs. Big Mike was crying. Crystal was teary. Lee looked indifferent. Kara, the daughter of a politician, was faux lobbying her fellow judges to save him... Grade A-

I had mixed emotions about the whole thing though. Without a doubt, he deserved to have had more votes, but I am very iffy about the whole save thing in general. Once again, America should be forced to own the poor decisions they make. Voting Big Mike off American Idol is definitely less of a national tragedy than having elected Obama, but yet, if anybody in the first two seasons of this save business deserved the honor, it was probably him. The fact that there was no time left in the hour for the goodbye video package to end and the fact that Simon appeared to be reading or looking at notes in how to "announce" the decision to Big Mike and the audience absolutely convinces me that the choice to save him was known before the show started to air.

So, Big Mike will live to sing again, as the night ended with the rest of the kids walking over to congratulate him. Compared to last year's mad rush to embrace the saved Matt Giraud, they all looked a little circumspect about what to do. I do not know if that means they really do not like him much or immediately are calculating about how America voted him off and yet he is likely to outlast two of them next week, or simply that they were scared that in his post-save "attack mode" he might have hurt of one of them.