Saturday, April 17, 2010

American Idol Top 9 Part II

I felt this week's Elvis addition of American Idol was maybe just ok. I still enjoy the show, but I think I am already ok with this season starting to wind to an end next month. With band leader Ricky Minor leaving to join the Jay Leno Show, and of course Simon Cowell leaving as well, will next year's Season 10 be the end of the road? Could it even possibly end after this year?

Focusing though on Tuesday, I suppose Adam Lambert did reasonably well in his mentor role, though I still think that by the end of this decade, he will be the subject of a "Where Are They Now" feature of some sort. The pressure was on the Final 9 though, as the judges' save was off the proverbial table and two of them would be going home, while just seven would remain for the return of "Idol Gives Back" and the chance to sing songs of "hope and inspiration."

Quickly, and just quickly because so much has already been said and written about this, but what the heck is up with Ryan Seacrest?

Crystal Bowersox- "Saved"

Consider this an Elvis Presley song I had never heard before, but I suppose the title of it is fitting after the Save of Big Mike last week. The Season 9 front runner had to sing lead-off for the first time, but she could probably afford to take that risk.

I certainly thought she had a strong performance, fusing her electric guitar playing with an upbeat, gospelish number. It's just that her performances seem to fade together week after week, where she is always good, but is having a tough time establishing an identifiable arc on the show. I have seen her trajectory compared to that of Melinda Doolittle who wound up finishing in third place a few years back. It's basically a foregone conclusion that Crystal will be the top finishing female this year in what was supposed to be the big "Girl's Season" but could that even mean an overall finish as low as fourth? I sure hope not. Grade B+

Andrew Garcia- "Hound Dog"

The only way this could have gotten any cheesier is if Andrew sang it to an actual canine, as Elvis himself was once made to do in a '50s tv appearance. While the arrangement was somewhat original, it just felt extremely karaoke and I though it was really just annoying.

Andrew has seemed resigned in this competition for some time, even after having a very strong performance on "Forever" a couple weeks back. As I suspected at the time, that was a mirage though, as Andrew just never found himself capable of delivering on anything other than a dialed down acoustic performance. He should have stuck with what he did best far more often rather than attempt things such as what he did this week. At least it made it easy to predict he would be one of the two to be eliminated. Grade C-

Tim Urban- "Can't Help Falling in Love"

First off, it was really awkward to have to see Timmy sing this romantic song to the cowering Adam Lambert during the mentoring session, but he soldiered through it and probably was wise to overlook Adam's suggestion to end the song with a falsetto, which he just does not have.

Vocally speaking, I thought less of the performance than many others have, and found plenty wrong with it, but I guess you have to take in mind that Tim held it together despite the weirdness of Seacrest slow-dancing dancing with some beefy dude right next to him during the song, after introducing him as "Turban." The people who have been voting for Tim throughout the competition were certain to have loved this and it was another shrewd performance. Tim has been alternating every week between doing more serious ballad type songs and more upbeat numbers. That means he would be expected to go uptempo next week, but how will that work with the Idol Gives Back theme? I am predicting he will be doing "Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. Grade C

Lee DeWyze- "A Little Less Conversation"

This is the song that got both Chris Daughtry and Jackie Tohn kicked off American Idol, but Lee chose to do it anyway and did a fairly decent job, while singing quite loudly. Afterwards, Lee went to great pains to try to show himself as a happy guy who knows how to smile, and not his usual taciturn self. It might be a tough week now though for Lee without his bff Andrew around. The Danny Gokey Babies will have to be on hold.

I probably would have thought more of the overall performance had it not been for an obvious mess up of the lyrics early on that Lee had to improvise over until he found his spot again. None of the judges seemed to notice though or felt the need to mention it, as they did not with Crystal last week either. The judges liked it and felt the vocal was "fire", but Kara DioGuardi has advised him to go a little lighter. Lee should attempt some Christopher Cross next week. Grade B+

Aaron Kelly- "Blue Suede Shoes"

When it comes to Aaron, it is a situation of where if you just listen to the vocals, it is more impressive than watching him perform, which can really be sort of weird and uncomfortable at times. This week, his hair and outfit made him look like it was 2000 and he was the lost Backstreet Boy. I agree with Simon that it did feel very High School talent show like. Vocally, it seems like illness or wear and tear have been having an adverse affect on Aaron's voice. He always seems to be coughing after the performances.

Aaron pointed out during the pre-song video piece that it might be the "wrong" song for him at later on, he said he had reservations because of a line Elvis sang about drinking liquor from an old fruit jar or whatever it is, that the youngster changed in his performance to drinking cider. How nice of him to want to keep his wholsomeness on the Idol stage, but then I am confused where there are videos of him pre-Idol prancing around some county fair stage of some sort singing the Kid Rock song "All Summer Long" complete with lyrics about "drinkin' whiskey out the bottle" and "smokin' funny things." Grade C+

Siobhan Kelly- "Suspicious Minds"

Every week, Siobhan manages to look a little bit different with her hair and wardrobe choices. This week, she really reminded me of that actress from the 1985 cinematic classic "Just One of the Guys", after character played by Joyce Hyser (yes, I had to look it up on Google) had gone back to being a girl after having pretended to be a guy, etc. The resemblance was uncanny, and then after Siobhan got some critical judges comment, she shot a look of pure evil while turning her head toward Seacrest. I have sort of gotten over my first impression about how creepy I found her, but it's lurking under the surface. She may be quite dangerous!

Anyways, parts of her performance on Tuesday were good, and parts were not. She still has problems with her lower register, and hitting some bigger notes helps her leave a bit more of a positive impression on voters, but for how much longer will that be enough? There was a portion towards the beginning when I found her sounding a lot like Kathie Lee Gifford and there was a bit of a musical theater vibe. Then, it got better as she got more soulful in the second half. Siobhan took umbrage at the judges saying they found her musical identity confusing. She does not want to be put in a box and got a little snippy with them. Grade B-

Michael Lynche- "In the Ghetto"

Now matter how he performed this week, the judges were likely to praise Big Mike, as if to justify their decision to save him. I am just grateful that nobody considered the song he did this week and played the race card. I do actually think though that because of the song choice and a bit of an extra-appeal to African-Americans, and the fact that many would have been extra motivated to save him from the bottom again, means he probably finished in the top 3 of voting this week.

Vocally, I thought he gave a very good performance, though it was maybe a bit more low-key than we are used to hearing it, either by Elvis, or by Taylor Hicks on the Idol stage. Big Mike remained seated throughout, seeming to occasionally strum a note or two on the acoustic guitar. While talking to Lambert, Mike had made it clear he was worried about coming across as too theatrical. Grade B

Katie Stevens- "Baby What Do You Want Me to Do?"

This is another song I head never heard before. The title of it reminded me of both the Lambert screamfest on his single "What Do You Want From Me" and a familiar refrain of frustration that is heard from Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella.

For the most part, I thought it worked vocally for Katie (much better than Ellen DeGeneres's dumb joke about the horns in the song) and I was impressed that a 17 year pageant contestant from Connecticut has that much soul in her voice. The orchestrated neck snapping throughout the song though could be a bit off-putting. I knew that the final elimination spot would come down to either her or Aaron this week, but I did predict she would survive on the basis of having built up a bit of momentum, after her rendition of "Let It Be" last week while Aaron had taken some steps backwards. However, I think about 75% at least of all Idol voters are female and the "cute boy" usually gets the benefit of the doubt, and that is why there are only two girls left now. Grade B

Casey James- "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"

I had heard of this song before and knew that it must have been an R&B number from an early '50s black artist that Elvis would later cover, but I do not know how it was supposed to go, and I imagine that Casey really did a lot of rearrangement to suit him and his blues rock style.

I tended to rank this a lot better than most, perhaps because I was just disappointed with the night as a whole, or because I still had positive feelings about Casey's song the week before, or might likely because I just prefer the musical style of the number most compared to the others, I thought it was the best of the night. Having just watched it back for the second time, I found it a little on the boring side. Oh well, I just found it hard to find any vocal flaws there. I also advise all future contestants to not sing a song down in the "mosh pit." Those performances always get panned. Grade A-


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

Who Should Have Been Eliminated: Andrew Garcia and Tim Urban
Who I Predicted Would Be Eliminated: Andrew Garcia and Aaron Kelly
Who Was Eliminated: Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens

For weeks now, ever since he replaced the luckless Chris Golightly, Tim Urban has been crushing the dreams of superior singers, and now Big Mike is sort of in the same boat due to having been saved. While I certainly do not think he should have been voted off last week, that was (we assume) the legitimate voter outcome and I believe elections should have consequences. Being saved on Idol means that not only do two people go home the next week, but that the person who saved almost gets a free pass the next week too. If the Matt Giraud precedent holds though, this week could spell the end for Big Mike.

So, if Idol were not playing with the save rule, Mike would have been gone last week in 9th place, and this week, it would have probably been Andrew going in 8th place, with Katie still in the game, instead of finishing 8th herself. Now, we can assume that Mike will singer later on the tour and make a bit of a higher paycheck for that than both Andrew and Katie. They will have to live with that for the rest of their lives, but it might probably wind up eating away at Katie more than Andrew.

Next week, Alicia Keys will be around to mentor the Idols on their songs and I will be paying close attention to judge just how hopefully and inspiring the choices really are. Later on, (not even sure if Idol will be on three nights next week), there will be a big telethon like event sponsored by AI's greedy capitalist corporate sponsors, that will raise money for good causes, but I imagine I will be fighting the urge to recoil a bit when a famous merchant of "hope" and "inspiration" gets some screen time.

Like all the American Idol contestants though, the voters will eventually have their say on him too, presumably without the "save rule."