Tag Archives: American Idol

American Idol Season 7: And the Winner Is…

I went into last night expecting to be disappointed, not because I felt Archie had more fans than David Cook, but also because season 7 of American Idol has been so crappy that it would have been poetic to have it end in tragedy too.

But alas, it did not. In fact, they really made me look foolish by giving us several gifts.

Let’s review: first, David Cook’s fun “Sharp Dressed Man” with ZZ Top. The performance itself wasn’t so great, but it was fun, which was nice. Also, good to see that ZZ Top is still alive and that Sharp Dressed Man is still a good song, and that American Idol didn’t remove all of the instrumental bits.

Then came a real gem, the second “gave me chills” moment of the season, when Brooke White delivered a gorgeous rendition of “Teach Your Children” with Graham Nash. Nash was humble and restrained, White was on-key, confident, and natural. The entire ballad was not only beautiful, but also well captured. The mix favored the harmony over the melody by just a little, just enough to highlight Brooke – after all, it was her performance – but not overdo it. All in all, it was a home run, and it was so easy to enjoy a connection with Brooke’s entirely sincere happiness at having just performed with Graham Nash.


In case anyone forgot, the best part of the night – by far, in my book – was the fantastic Ben Stiller/Jack Black/Robert Downey Jr. skit as backup singers to Gladys Knight. Jack Black can be a comic genius at times, and his overplayed backup singer was classic, especially when he went off-stage to tend to Downey and return with his pants down – inexplicably. Also, his facial expressions were key to delivery. Well done producers, well done.

Now, as you might know if you’ve read my blog, I am not a David Archuleta fan. I find him to be a singer without a niche, lacking finesse; he has the instrument, but doesn’t know how to control it. He can’t sing a melody without peppering it with runs and vocal tricks. His music is lite FM adult contemporary blandness. His interviews tank consistently as he can’t form a sentence beyond the general “It feels so cool” boringness. And his eyes scare me more than a little. There’s just no substance there to like. My opinion only. This is what bothered me so much: the judges, especially worthless Randy Jackson, with the only exception being Simon once in a while, were unable to offer a single bit of criticism on his last 5 performances. The gave him a free pass most of the season, even when he flubbed lyrics.

So imagine my surprise when during the finale, he came out and capably sang OneRepublic’s beautiful “Too Late to Apologize.” I take that back, it wasn’t just capably, it was flat out great. It was actually better and more controlled than the lead singer from OneRepublic himself! It was really a good note to end on, no pun intended.

And then came the last few moments, when the more deserving David Cook was crowned Idol and began crying. The touching “This is your fault!” he yelled at his brother.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was still the worst season of Idol, but David Cook may be my favorite Idol yet – the only one whose record I might actually consider listening to. So I have to say, it ends on a high note, and despite my threats, I’ll probably be watching next January.

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American Idol: Worst Season Ever

Must the judges continue to lick David Archuleta’s balls after every single song this “Aw shucks!” nerd delivers? His silky smooth voice hasn’t found its niche, except perhaps as a second rate Michael Buble/Josh Groban. Archie never met a run he didn’t like, I can’t remember the last time I heard the dude sing a melody. Is he so “cute” and non-sexually threatening that no one dares critique his completely boring adult contemporary ballads lest he not become a marketing machine to pander to 14 year old girls? Yuck.

The reason I think this season stinks is because through the entire season, I have only had one “gave me chills” performance: David Cook’s take on Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.” Everything else pales in comparison.

Usually, there are songs that make me shut up and songs that can give me pause as I think “this is awesome.” There were several great moments – I loved Carly’s “Crazy On You,” and I really dug Jason Castro’s “Hallelujah.” Many will rally for some of Chikeze’s performance during Beatles week, but for me, I can count the “Wow, cool!” moments on one hand, and the “gave me chills” moments number just one. And while Syesha gets better and Cook solidifies his fan base, tweenage girls everyone should prepare to be let down by AI7 Idol winner David Archuletta’s utterly dismal first album.

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The Problem(s) With American Idol

EW.com is running a piece on possible changes to American Idol. American Idol is – as we speak – jumping the shark. Everyone is trying to predict why. I’m going to give you all the reasons right now.

## 1 ##
First and foremost, as Howard Stern said in his broadcast yesterday, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Idol used to be one hour for the contest, 30 minutes for results. This season, it was 2 hours for the performances, 1 hour for results. The results shows are way too long, way too cheesy, the divisions are contrived, the call-taking is stupid, the banter is obnoxious and worthless, and the results are purposely not revealed until the last 2 minutes. In the beginning of the season, it aired thrice a week in 2 hour specials, requiring a SIX hour commitment. And most of the funny “bad” auditions are now from actors trying to be bad to get on TV, making it mostly worthless. Recently, the performance shows have slowly scaled back in time, but should just be performances. Which leads me to…

## 2##
The guest judges are mostly worthless. It used to be they were actual judges. Now they are “coaches.” But those bits are worthless to me, because I’m judging the singing, not the singer, and the producers are making the contestants into people, thereby making the show a popularity contest. That means the winner is not the best singer (as evidenced by Carly’s recent ouster), but rather, the one who inspires the most phone calls. And since it’s mostly younger people calling and texting, the winner is really just whomever 14 year old girls like, explaining the continued success of the entirely mediocre, completely clumsy “Close-eye” Archuletta, a semi-decent singer who continues to receive over-lauded praise for completely average performances, frequent lip-licking, and lots of awkward laughing. Time to return the general themes like “the 1990s” or “country” or even “anything at all written in this decade.” But instead, we get “Mariah Carey.” Yuck. You do not need a special coach every week. In fact, I’d like to see a singer sing something like they might release. I don’t see most guys singing Mariah Carey songs on their albums. Certainly Andrew Lloyd Webber was a fun coach, but what does being able to – or not being able to – sing his music have to do with being a deserving Idol?

## 3 ##
The judges are completely worthless, even Simon. The judges ought to offer CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Unfortunately, this is what we typically get:

Randy: “It was only a-iiight fah me, dawg. It was only a-iiight. It was pitchy in the front, but you kinda worked it out in the middle, I don’t know if it was your best performance.”
Paula: “Blah blah blah, I’m @#% crazy and make no sense. You look pretty. Blah blah blah.”
Simon: “Dreadful.”

Entirely worthless. I can’t remember the last time I heard something like “you need to focus on annuciating better” or “you should try listening to the words of the song a little closer to get a better connection.” How about “You project really well. I’d like to hear some power in your higher notes though”? The judges should be wholesale replaced. They all are completely and totally tired, boring, and empty. They do no good. Their only job, it appears, is to pimp the producers’ predestined candidate.

## 4 ##
Stop allowing unlimited votes. Period. Limit it to 10 votes per number. Or 1 vote per household. Or 2 texts per phone. Something, anything, to prevent speed dialing tween girls from monopolizing the vote. I know, I know, they are your target, since they are the only ones dumb enough to buy your pre-packaged, vanilla, over styled, dumbed down package you’ll eventually call the Idol, but you condescend to us and we lose interest. We all know when someone has been chosen by the producers to fail and when someone has been blessed by Mr. Lythgoe to succeed.

## 5 ##
Last but not least, get rid of your silly “mosh-pit.” The screaming and over-abundance of teenagers just reminds me, and a large part of your audience, that we are not your target, and we should really be moving on to a new channel IINS.

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American Idol: The Most Talented Season Ever

I’ve been sick for over a week now. A nasty bug has been going around my office, and last Friday I started developing a fever. I slept for 3 straight days. A week plus later, I’m still with fever and now bronchitis and pharyngitis and I’m on antibiotics and narcotic cough syrup, my chest and arms are sore from coughing so much, I’m a wreck. Yesterday I stayed home, and one of the habits I have is turning on the TV and then sleeping with it playing in the background.

It just so happens that I have the American Idol season 5 final still on my DVR. So, since mid-day TV generally stinks, I put that on. For those who can’t place it, season 5 included Taylor Hicks and Katherine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Paris Bennett, Kellie Pickler, Lisa Tucker, Ace Young, Mandisa, among others. Let me tell you: these kids could sing. They put this year’s crop to shame with their tight harmonies. When the women did their medley, I was seriously impressed. In retrospect, even guys who weren’t even front runners still had some serious pipes.

I also decided that despite the fact that I railed on Katherine McPhee recently, she really should have won season 5. She was – or rather, is – an outstanding vocalist. She truly outsings everyone in season 7, including the very entertaining David Cook, powerhouse Carly, and even the “can’t-do-no-wrong-but-ever-so-awkward-lip-licking” David “Archie” Archuletta. The power and grace she displayed in the finale (and what I recall her displaying the rest of her season — but then, those memories are a few years old) are really of professional quality.

Take a look at the American Idol website and peruse the past seasons. I think it’s a safe bet that season 5 included the most talented singers. Obviously, we’ll never know what kind of musicians many were, since until this season, one wasn’t allowed to use instruments. I also think it’s safe to say that without the use of instruments, people like Brooke White and Jason Castro might have been voted off the island weeks ago, since they both have displayed a propsensity for massive awkwardness without an instrumental crutch.

In reviewing the seasons for the “most talented season ever,” I also think it would be neat to have an American Idol “all star” bracket. If I were to compile a list, my top 12 might include Katherine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, Trenyce, David Cook, Kelly Clarkson, Anwar Robinson, Carrie Underwood, Paris Bennett, Elliot Yamin, Bo Bice, and Clay Aiken; I think it would be hard to leave Clay Aiken out, despite my general reaction to him – measles, a dry heave – you can’t deny his killer voice.

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The Precariousness of Covering the Beatles

Having had a chance to reflect on Tuesday’s American Idol Top 12 performances, featuring music from the Lennon/McCartney songbook, I feel I can now properly and more accurately express myself. The Beatles are likely the most covered band of all time. But for some reason, some covers just work and others just don’t.

Take, for example, Katharine “Kat” McPhee’s take on George Harrison’s Abbey Road masterpiece, “Something.” No doubt McPhee can sing, she can actually hold a note in tune longer than most the “most talented top 12 evar!” But the song was scary bad. Why? First of all, she committed the cardinal sin of adding her own lyrics to a Beatles by closing the song with “…it’s in the way he moves” over the song’s signature lick. Secondly, she changed “she” to “he,” which is another no-no. And lastly, she kept the song mostly the same while changing some of the intonations punching different syllables. In a package, it was painful.

On the other hand, Ramiele Malubay’s take on “In My Life,” universally panned as “boring” was actually a nice, albeit unadventurous and sleepy. It was unintrusive. Compare that to David Hernandez, whose run-infused, manic take on “I Saw Her Standing There” was anything but vanilla – it actually hurt my ears to hear it. Kristy Lee Cook – aka “Wide Stance” – took on 8 Days a Week in a manner I thought might have suited the song well if the particular arrangement wasn’t so frenetic. In exchange for the disasterous tempo and insane over-country-tude, she delivered a performance so embrassing that YouTube ought to ban it as “offensive.” The only redeeming quality was that she let the song end with its signature guitar outro instead of assaulting that piece too.

David Cook’s “Eleanor Rigby” – no doubt slightly flavored by the version by Thrice – was inspiring. Much like his masterful redux of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” it was a mostly fresh and experimental take on a song, done in a different light. Likewise, Chikezie’s interesting take on “She’s a Women” was a blast, and really let him shine as an artist.

Elsewhere in the crowd, Carly Smithson showed again that she really can sing like Ann Wilson with her caffeine-infused version of “Come Together” and Syesha Mercado gave us an uneventful performance of “Got To Get You Into My Life” that committed no crime other than being forgettable. Meanwhile, Jason Castro’s understated “I Feel Fine” was solid enough to remind us it’s a great song, but not astound.

What do we see? Someone who tries to stylize a Beatles song as is will never do it justice. It’s either you add your own layer or it flops, because no artisrt will ever do it better than the Beatles, if only because the Beatles version is the definitive version stuck in everyone’s head. Doing a Beatles song as they did it with only minor variation will never bring you success. In the case of Malubay, it led to a dreary take of a great song. In the case of Hernandez, it led to his ouster. But with Cook and Chikezie, the rearrangements led to universal praise.

Covering the Beatles is one of those operations that can go either way. A re-envisioning of a song is often rewarded (D. Cook), but not always (K.L. Cook). A simple recreation can be successful (Castro, Smithson) or sleep-inducing (Malubay, Mercado).

No doubt that a live concert is a great place to recreate some Beatles magic – in front of fans and crowds. But when it comes to impressing on a mass scale, your best bet is to leave Beatles songs in someone else’s head – I promise, they’re almost always better there than your version will be.

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5 Reasons America’s Got Talent is Better Than American Idol

America’s Got Talent, a show that is in its second season here in the US, is a much better reality competition show than ratings juggernaut American Idol. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. The “nice judge” isn’t useless
Sharon Osbourne, who has replaced Brandy as the middle judge, is generally the “nice” one on America’s Got Talent. Space Cadet Paula Abdul serves the role on Idol. The thing is, Abdul is useless. Abdul is a cheerleader at best, and utterly worthless at worst. When pressed, she offers up condescending comments like “Pretty girl!” She generally has no constructive criticism for the contestant.

Osbourne on the other hand isn’t as much nice as ladylike and tactful. She’ll gently offer a “no” with a “thank you,” and you’d believe that even though she hated your act, she’d be happy to serve you tea. She’s a breath of fresh air, and she’s likable, and most of all, she’s able to form complete sentences.

2. The “mean judge” isn’t so mean
Cranky Simon Cowell is part of American pop culture for good. But in recent season, he’s just as useless as Paula Abdul. Cowell usually conjures up comments like “utterly horrendous” and “dreadful” without so much as a blink. But that offers NOTHING to the show. A judge OUGHT to say something like “Your high notes are off pitch” and “when you focus on melody, you lose your connection to the audience.” It’s rare he offers up legit critique, and when he does it, it’s snotty, such as his comments about season 6 contestant Chris Richardson’s nasally vocals.

Contrast that with grumpy Piers Morgan, who is often a disrespectful, snobby jerk. The thing is, more often than not, he can at least offer up some justification for his pissiness.

Where Cowell seems annoyed to be there, Morgan seems like a harsh critic, which is okay in my book.

3. AGT showcases the good, AI focuses on the bad
The endless auditions of American Idol are entertaining, and many people tune in just for that part, often because it’s so funny. But isn’t it telling that America Idol, a show dedicated to finding the greatest singer, spends so long and so much camera time on cretins who can’t sing a note? With the rise of douche bag Ian Benardo (who is such a putz he doesn’t even get a link!), it’s become fashionable to ham it up to get on camera. What a sad state. Idol spends very little time on discovered gems and very much on asshat contestants who couldn’t get a tuning fork to ring on key.

American’s Got Talent, on the other hand, focuses primarily on people who actually have talent. There are very few people who are terrible, and those that are are usually either people with weird or unconventional talents – arguably, still talented – and are generally still entertaining. Take last week, yes, we had to deal with “guy who breaks things with his butt,” but we got ubercool singer/beatboxer Butterscotch, whose audition song has been in my head all week.

4. AGT has variety, AI has little
American Idol has no variety at all. They tried to use a “rocker” with Bo Bice three year ago and Chris Daughtry last year, and they try to always have a soulful black woman and a few other stereotypes need annual reps. Too often, like this most recent season, Stephanie Edwards, Sabrina Sloan, Melinda Doolittle, and LaKisha Jones were all competeing for the uncoveted title of AI “diva.” As a result, the audience revolted, and eliminated the two former names early. Thankfully, by making everyone sing similarly styled songs, you grant an advantage to people who can stand out. However, you also lose your edge. It forces people like Chris Daughtry to reinvent themselves when they don’t need to. Daughtry’s multiplatinum album does not feature a broadway cut, a country cut, etc. AI is about singers performing outside their range. But ultimately, it’s just people recycling other songs, usually in a way that pales to the original.

America’s Got Talent, on the other hand, doesn’t force people outside of their comfort zone. The goal is simple: showcase what you can do. Yes, you must continually step it up if you want to continue to impress. But isn’t that good?

5. Contestants aren’t ridiculed (as often)
The biggest downside of American Idol recently has been the way they have not only made fun of people that deserved it. There was “The Hotness.” There was the kooky Darwin Reedy. But what of poor Nick Zitzmann? Here’s this poor sap’s myspace page. Did he deserve the “ultimate nerd” treatment? How about Jonathan Jayne and Kenneth Swale, aka the “bush baby?” Is it really ok to make fun of people who are honestly nerds or possibly even have some sort of syndrome or disease? Is that what we’ve come to, mercilessly making fun of people for cheap entertainment?

This isn’t just a search for a great singer, it’s a search for entertainment at others’ expense. You could argue that if you try out, you deserve a response. But I’d say that if you aren’t offering anything constructive, a “no, thank you” would suffice. I’d suggest that it’s ok to tell a dancer “you’re too heavy and you don’t get enough height when you jump” but it’s not ok to say “you look like a bush baby” to a singer in a singing competition.

America’s Got Talent is about finding the best talent. Aside from the obvious zaniness, in most cases, the people actually have talent, and it’s just a case of “is it interesting enough?” What you’re watching, even through auditions, is people trying their hardest and doing something well. It’s all entertaining.

Conclusion
America’s Got Talent is, for the most part, positive TV. American Idol professes to be about offering someone an amazing chance. And while it’s great TV, AI is really, at best, a sham. It’s not a “singing competition;” the judges critique the dress, the contestants’ looks, their hair, their audience connection. It’s not about singing. America’s Got Talent is, mostly, about talent. Yes, it’s true, when the audience connects, that bodes well for you. But in the end, Talent is better, smarter, nicer TV. And despite two British judges, I’d venture to say it’s actually more American.

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Suckered!

Am I the only one who felt gypped by last night’s American Idol? The premise of the show is that they sing on Tuesday and someone goes home on Wednesday. I understand that last night was taken over by a two hour telethon, but to lead us on all night just to screw us felt wrong. It would have been much more appropriate – and much less cruel to poor Jordin – to let us know up front the results and let the show stand on its own instead of treating the audience like a bunch of suckers.

The second to last episode of The Apprentice pulled a “Don’t fire anyone” moment, and I wonder if this is a trend in reality TV – keep ’em hooked longer.

Frankly, it pissed me off. The result will likely NOT be the same next time, and whoever would have gone home last night might not go home next week. Certainly, that’s possible.

I find the whole thing objectionable. This from someone who was wholeheartedly rooting for Sanjaya!

Update: I am told “gypped” is a pejorative slang form of the word Gypsy, which is the common name of the Roma. Being part Romanian – but alas, not Roma – I would like to apologize to any Gypsies who may be reading my blog and were offended by the term “gypped.”

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American Idol: The Sad State of America

Last night, millions tuned in for the first installment of series 2 of reality show #768: American Idol. The first show, which is much more “America’s Funniest Home Videos” than “America Idol,” is a crack up. It features the brutally honest Simon Cowell, the sweetheart Paula Abdul, and the smooth Randy Jackson judging a number of tone-deaf idiots and a few decent singers along with the occasional exceptional voice.

Despite illustrating that most people have no business even trying to sing, there is a single lesson to be learned: if you don’t want to be judged, don’t friggin try out! How many people need to call Simon an asshole? How many need to tell them they’re wrong? If you have a shitty voice, why go to the AI try-outs in the first place? Is it because too many of your “friends” have encouraged your crappy crooning and led you to believe you could carry a tune? Because most of these people couldn’t carry a tune if they had a backpack to put it in.

I was most impressed by two individuals – one guy who clapped off the Sinatra classic “Fly Me to the Moon,” did a fantastic job. Another girl sang the Toni Braxton number “Unbreak My Heart” and did a swell job. I was also glad to hear a girl try the song “Fever,” which was a very hip square.

Most TV is utter crap, and yet, I’m drawn. American Idol is even worse, because it painfully showcases the delusions that most Americans harbor – that they are talented, that they have some right to succeed, and that they are better than average. If you want to feel good about yourself, watch Meet My Folks, where they dig up scandalous little vixens. If you want to feel smart, watch Fear Factor, where you can bet some idiot is eating a pile of squid poop for the chance to bungee from a blimp into a poolfull of hydrochloric acid, and if you want to feel stupid, watch Jeopardy. But if you just want to feel good ol embarassed for your fellow countrymates, watch American Idol.

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