Saturday, April 24, 2010

American Idol Top 7

Idol Gives Back. Songs of Hope and Inspiration..... proudly sponsored by Exxon Mobil and their friends in Big Oil. How is that even allowed in Barack Obama's America?

Casey James- "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"

Two weeks ago, Casey had a breakthrough performance with "Jealous Guy" that I thought would perhaps make him a force to win the competition. I also thought he was really good vocally last week on a little known Elvis song. This week however, while the vocals itself were decent, it was sort of an ironically uninspired performance that earned Casey a spot in the Bottom Three (perhaps Bottom Two) and has him flirting with elimination as the ranks for Season 9 contestants get smaller and smaller.

In dealing with this Fleetwood Mac song, I have to always work very hard to put away all the bad memories of 1992 that I associate with it. My GOP devotion does not make it a very inspirational song, unless I can link it to the upcoming 2010 midterms and the coming Republican Renaissance. Back to Casey, it was a decent enough, to use a cliche on here, but there were parts where his voice sounded a bit off. There was some cool guitar playing though. Casey does that each and every week and can really play that instrument (certainly a better skill set for him than his Wednesday night lip syncing on group numbers.) Perhaps, he can get a gig in a few months as Crystal Bowersox's guitar player. Grade B

Lee DeWyze' "The Boxer"

I had heard this song before but never knew it's title and am not quite sure how it related to the whole "inspirational" theme, but Lee did very well and at this point is looking like he might somehow walk into a spot in the Finale. I am not sure if he messed up any words this week, like he did on the Elvis song, but it might have been tougher for me to miss if it did happen, since so much of the song consisted on "la la la". Ironically enough, his performance of "Hey Jude" a couple weeks ago had a lot of "na na na" going on . Does Shania Twain have a song with a lot of "ba ba" or "da da" throughout? What the hell is Lee going to do with a Shania Twain song?

Lee's vocals are rarely without a glitch, and I thought there were a couple bum notes at the beginning, but in contrast to Casey who had preceded him on the stage, he was able to generate an emotional connection to the song and the performance, while also playing the guitar. That earned him all sorts of praise from the judges and puts him in a good position as the competition unfolds (at least up to #2 I guess.) Grade B+

Tim Urban- "Better Days"

For weeks now, I have been saying Timmy was the worst singer in the competition and deserved to go home. I have been a bit surprised to see others start to praise him more and more, while I was still thinking he was pretty bad I do not know what it is, because on the week others thought he was pretty bad again and that would see him voted off, I actually thought it was one of his better performances.

Maybe I've been brainwashed by Urban and his blinding smile. He seems to be at least a slightly better singer than Joe Jonas or Justin Bieber and they are pretty rich. I definitely did not think it was anything American Idol worthy on the Goo Goo Dolls song but he did seem emotionally connected and it seemed "current." Go figure. Grade B

Aaron Kelly- " I Believe I Can Fly"

Aaron Kelly shares a surname with the original artist of this song R. Kelly, and might possibly share an affinity for teenage girls with him, but somehow I do not see the two of them dueting on this song at the Finale. Before the performance began, we learned that Aaron has been believing he can fly, via this song, since the age of 5. That sort of puts me off a bit whenever I hear that. I do not blame him for picking a song he was comfortable with, but if they are going to advertise that, I would hope the performance was really worth it.

It wasn't a horrible performance and you can tell that young Aaron was really trying to impress and that might be a part of the problem. On the Idol stage, he sometimes seems as if he is trying too hard. His best Idol performance of "Angie" did not seem to require as much effort. As usual, some vocal turbulence but he got through it. I think Seacrest should have asked flying expert and audience member Captain Sully just how well Aaron could fly. Grade B-

One final comment about Aaron that I have seen mentioned elsewhere. Considering the season, and based on how far he has already gone, I am surprised he is not just appealing to a core audience and just singing country. He could have done Rascall Flatts this week or maybe "Jesus Take the Wheel", and probably would have stayed out of the Bottom Three. At least Shania week may work a bit in his favor, if he can do one of the two big radio ballads that she had hits with.

Siobhan Magnus- "When You Believe"

It was quite a risk for Siobhan or any female singer to take on a song by the two divas Whitney and Mariah. It's also not that great of a song period. I found it pretty boring when done a couple seasons ago by the vocally masterful David Archuleta and it was pretty boring this week as well.

Still though, it might have been one of Siobhan's better performances in recent weeks, and she seemed to succeed on hitting some difficult notes. As usual, she relies on impressing with the hard stuff because the "regular" notes seem to be a bit more questionable at times. Another thing is that Siobhan is becoming a bit annoying with the talking back to the judges in a defensive matter each week. She had a soliloquy this week in response to criticism she received that seemed rehearsed and something she had intended to give, regardless of what she said. There is lots of potential for her as a singer, but every week on Idol, there is nothing to indicate that she can fit into today's current music market. Finally, having just watched it back for a second time, I was extremely generous late Tuesday night when I watched it and gave her a Grade B+

Michael Lynche- "Hero"

At least it was not the Mariah Carey song by that title, but instead that from the Spiderman movie. My favorite song with the word hero in the title is "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler, but Fantasia tried that once on the Idol stage and it did not seem to go very well.

As usual, I thought Big Mike sounded pretty good, and connected as a performer. I am less sure on what the guitar does for him besides being a prop in his massive hands and the lip lick at the end was perhaps odd, but overall I thought it was strong. I realize though that so many other Idol watchers really seem to have it out for him, and after having been "saved" a couple weeks earlier, one always has to think he is at risk of getting the least amount of votes. So, since he was not even in the Bottom Three this week (which logically must mean he was in the Top 4), his fans must be more motivated than ever after his surprise slot at the bottom. I keep going back and forth on this, but it is not inconceivable that he could still make it to the Finale. Grade B+

Crystal Bowersox- "People Get Ready"

For the first time this season, and in a smart move, Crystal took to the Idol stage for an entire performance without an instrument. She also wore an evening gown and with the date being 4/20, seemed to sing into some sort of microphone/bong hybrid.

As for the performance, I simply feel it was the best thus far in Season 9 from anyone, though I am sorry to say I do not think I am familiar with the song. Crystal started off singing completely a capella and was off to a great start. Then, the song kicked into another level and it was pretty awesome stuff. Grade A

As I watched it, I was completely in belief that she would wind up winning American Idol, especially after how she broke down in tears at the very end (I suppose I had to deduct at least a couple vocal points for that), in what was probably a genuine display of emotion, but which cynics would say was some shrewd acting on her part. There must be something about the pimp slot on Idol Gives Back performance night that makes it clear someone is destined to win the season. The same sort of vibe was around Jordin Sparks when she sang in the same spot in her season, and if I am not mistaken, she started crying at the end too.

I have talked about how as good as Crystal is every week, she has been lacking a dramatic arc to help Idol voters feel motivated to support her and "get on board" with the journey. A story then appeared last week saying how she had been ready to quit the show and head back to her home and family, but was talked out of it by Ryan Seacrest with the realization of how she could make a better life for them by following her dreams. The conventional wisdom is that the story was fed to TMZ by Seacrest's people to change the subject from his odd behavior that previous week, and then Crystal was said to have texted "Betrayed by Seacrest" to a former contestant. The story of the parking lot discussion between them has probably been blown out of proportion and we may never really know how close Crystal came to leaving, but the story probably works to her advantage.

For one thing, it makes it look like she is not just in this thing to be the "winner" but more importantly, it garners her sympathy, as a small town girl with a very young child, who is out of her element in Hollywood, despite her great talent. Everyone needs to have a narrative and that's what is likely to work for her. It is one that makes her more appealing to both male and female Idol fans, as well as both the musical hipster types and mainstream America.

As I briefly blogged Tuesday night, Crystal was clearly the best, while the others were fairly well bunched together, but I ranked them as:

1. Crystal Bowersox
2. Michael Lynche
3. Lee DeWyze
4. Siobhan Magnus
5. Tim Urban
6. Casey James
7. Aaron Kelly

Who Should Have Been Eliminated: Aaron Kelly
Who I Predicted Would Be Eliminated (though I was a little surprised they would go through with it): Aaron Kelly
Who Was Eliminated: Tim Urban

The two and a half hour Idol telethon on Wednesday (which I tried to watch late on DVR, but I am afraid I might have dozed through a segment or two) did indeed produce an elimination. I thought they would do what they did in Season 6 and give all the clad in white youngsters (are they supposed to come across as angelic on the evening?) a free pass and have the votes carry over with two singers being kicked off the next week.

But nope, it was time to say goodbye to Tim Urban, and since the show was running so late, he did not even get a sing-off, which might be an Idol first. That might have been for the best though, as it would have been really weird to end such a long and at times emotional telecast, featuring memorable performances by the likes of Mary J. Blige and Elton John, with the vocal styling of Mr. Urban as the last moment.

Tim, who was never even supposed to be in the Top 24, got more than a few breaks, and played the game shrewdly. Now, he has earned a spot on the summer tour and the potential for other career opportunities, be they singing or otherwise. I suppose one has to admire the way he always seemed to approach everything on the show so positively, though, I have thought a bit of acting was involved.

Even as he was being told his time on Idol was over, Tim was all hair and smiles. Speaking of hair, for some reason, the cheerful, jaunty way he dealt with the end, reminded me somehow of Rod Blagojevich being filmed by television cameras inside the federal courthouse for pre-trial appearances.

Next week will see Shania Twain mentor the Final Six and they will sing her songs. This is somewhat weird to me, but has to be great news for my mother, who totally jumped on the Shania Express about ten years ago when the country star crossed over into the pop world. My parents' garage wall features posters of both the late Patrick Swayze and Shania Twain (Mom, you know what I think about those.)

Just about anyone is at risk of getting voted off this coming week, with the exceptions of Crystal and Lee. The two of them might struggle the most in finding a Shania Twain that is best suited for them.

A few times this season, Big Mike has followed the theme of singing tunes that can be considered pro-female. If ever there was a week for him to burst out that well-known song of estrogen empowerment, get ready! Man, does he feel like a woman?