Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Idol" cleans up nicely

Thanks to Tuesday's "American Idol" clip montage - or perhaps a good memory, depending on how old you are - we know this much: If guest coach Rod Stewart, a man who once leaped, rolled, writhed and twirled around stages worldwide wearing tight fuschia suits and low-cut orange shirts (often together), can don classy attire and ride interpretations of great American standards to renewed success, then surely the remaining seven "Idol" contestants can do the same. After all, they don't even have to live down "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy"!

Sure enough, opening the Great American Songbook proved to be the dose of medicine "Idol" didn't quite know it needed, the cure to the malaise that had been ailing the show of late. This week, when faced with classics of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, most of the contesants chilled out, backed off and sang well - which is what we're looking for when we watch them in the first place, right?

If the idea of an aging Englishman like Stewart showing "the American Idols just how an American classic should be performed," as a voiceover noted, seems more than a little off, remember that "Idol" itself is based on a British show and has a British star, Simon Cowell. And if you're wondering how Stewart, who first built his repuation as a rocker, could possibly provide any insight into American standards, well, let's face it - during his more than 30 years in music, the man has never shown much shame about jumping on whatever gravy train he felt would serve him best (disco, adult contemporary, etc.) and has always survived with his pop instincts intact. Accordingly, the whole evening worked better in practice than in theory, with the good-humored Stewart hamming it up practically nonstop. He mugged for the camera. He saluted Paris. He belted out "There's No Business Like Show Business," dancing like a chorus girl. He fumbled through music with Kellie. He - well, enough about him. Now, on with the show.

So wait, what have we been watching the rest of the time? "Tonight, American Idol is going smart," Seacrest intoned at the start of the show, introducing the "Great American Songbook" theme.

And tonight's winner for "Most British first name" is...Rod Stewart and girlfriend Penny Lancaster's adorable baby boy, Alastair, who was shown in the introduction. Try finding that one in an American nursery!

Wherever did we put that kitchen sink? See if you can follow Rod Stewart's logic regarding how American standards led to, uh, rock 'n' roll - otherwise known as the music that, as far as pop culture was concerned, kicked the standards to the curb: "If you look back, we wouldn't have rock 'n roll if it weren't for these songs, because first we had blues, and then, you know, jazz came out of blues, and these standards came along with the jazz era, and jazz eventually turned into swing music, which eventually turned into rock and roll, so it's all connected."

Activities Rod Stewart mentioned doing - aside from singing - when he was the same age as some of the contestants:
1) Going down to the pub for a few drinks
2) Digging graves (?!)

17 going on 40: Wearing a businesslike red suit, Paris described how over the weekend, she got an Easter basket from her mom and went rollerskating with friends. Then, Seacrest made an odd comment about Simon dressing up in a bunny costume and laying eggs. "Sank like a stone" doesn't even begin to describe how that one went over.

Yes, acknowledging the famous "woo-clap"! Apparently, "Saturday Night Live" recently parodied Taylor and, well, what I guess you'd call his dance moves. "Yes, I saw it," he excitedly told Seacrest, "and I fell out on the floor. They did a great job. Woo! Well, you know, they didn't do the clap. I got the clap, hey, woo, yo!"

Weirdest sign of the night (by far): The cameras spotted this one in the crowd before Elliott performed. "Ryan, will you be our brother?"

Can you say "awkward"? "Well, you took a load off my chest," Kellie said after Stewart complimented her rehearsal. "Well, ha ha ha ha," Stewart laughed semi-lasciviously.

Kellie's down-home wisdom, volume 458: "When all else fails, ya better have great shoes, right?" Pickler said after Randy and Paula criticized her woeful version of "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered," but complimented her fashion. Girl has a point, but wouldn't singing on-key would have been a better plan than sporting sparkly silver heels?

Please tell me you're kidding: "I'd like to hear you sing a whole song in (falsetto), dude. False is your money, baby!" Randy enthused after Ace broke out into a bit of his crutch - er, trademark - falsetto. "That's your back-pocket token to whatever you want," Paula added. I don't even want to know what all that implies.

Best: Katharine and Taylor, each for different reasons. Katharine, because her beautifully phrased, sublime "Someone to Watch Over Me" was the class of the evening. (And at long last, her outfit - a black suit and a bejeweled necklace - looked great, too.) Taylor, because his soulful breakdown at the end of "You Send Me" made me want to leap up, shout "Woo!" and clap, too. Plus, the gray-haired dude is just so darn goofy and gleefully infectious - though I understand how the same things I love about him could also rub some the wrong way.

Very honorable mention: Chris, because his "What A Wonderful World" actually provided convincing proof he can do something other than modern rock. Not that he should be commended solely for trying something other than rock, mind you, but he pulled it off. Paris, because her composed, controlled "These Foolish Things" showed that even at age 17, she possesses an innate sense of how to interpret jazz standards. Her slicked-back long ponytail, red suit and heels lent her a somewhat matronly look, but for me it worked in this context, serving as a complement rather than a glaring fashion distraction (hello, last week's Biker Gang ensemble).

Bottom three: Ace, Kellie, Elliott.
Sure, Ace's take on "That's All" wasn't that bad. You could even say it had some endearing moments. But by now, that shouldn't be enough to cut it. It just can't be. Only Kellie's flying bellyflop into the pool of song kept this mediocrity from being the night's worst, and that plus Ace's past sins should be enough to punch his ticket home Wednesday. If you're still looking for reasons he should go, consider his crimes of fashion, such as: The decision to sport slicked-back hair and a suit, which should have looked sharp, in theory, but instead came off as part Mafioso, part high school jock on the way to the prom. And the hair. Oh, the hair. Was it in a ponytail? A bun? I'm still not entirely sure.

Elliott, meanwhile, again did admirable work, with a great song ("It Had To Be You") and a butter-smooth vocal. But is just being a good singer, perhaps even a really good singer, enough to keep him from the bottom three? I'm afraid not, not when Simon got it right in saying the performance lacked "a degree of personality." The comment visibly wounded Elliott, whose awkward outfit - was that really a normal button-down shirt underneath a tux-type jacket? - didn't do him any favors, either.

And if, after a performance like Tuesday's, Kellie doesn't get to finally experience the bottom three for herself, we might as well just all throw our CD collections into a bonfire and give up. Sure, she looked like a living doll of sorts, wearing a magenta prom-style dress, and she displayed a winning humility in accepting the judges' harsh (but accurate) comments about her off-key, off-beat, off-everything take on "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered." "I butchered it!" she exclaimed to Randy, throwing her hands up to her eyes. But at least she was willing to admit her mistakes, instead of getting all petulant 'n' sassy (Kevin Covais, we're calling your name!) or just plain delusional (now, for some thoughts of Ace applauding himself after last week's embarrassing performance).
"You didn't even need to bother with the Bewitched and Bothered, did you?" Simon asked, his almost-smile a testament to Kellie's likeability. "You could have just done 'Bewildered.'"
Worse still, all this came just one week after Kellie ripped up the stage with a blistering, weirdly good "Bohemian Rhapsody." Such maddening inconsistency may be enough to doom her chances, particularly if boring, tentative performances result every time she's forced to sing an uncomfortable or unfamiliar song or genre...


Anonymous said...

It was so sad for Kellie that on the recap of the night's signing at the end, they closed her bit with the worst sour note of the night. Ouch. Only her personality gives her a chance tonight. Katharine's perfecto performance gave Kellie a wicked body blow, and she is reeling. Kellie vs. Katharine: NO CONTEST.

Maggpi said...

Hi again.... I predict ACE, PARIS and CHRIS for final three. And here's why...

ACE: Falsetto. Hair. Ewww. And just a general "please America?" and a fervent hope that this week is THE Week I personally have been waiting for...

PARIS: I thought the song was sloppy and confused. She had some really weird notes and I don't think it was her best by far. Paris can sing, but the song last night was not "all that". Plus, there's still that something that is out of place with her. I don't know what it is.

CHRIS: GREAT VOICE. And while I loved his version last night, it was a bit boring. It was not changed up at all; he just sang the song to sing it.

Why NOT ELLIOT: I thought he did well, and I even commented on how alive his eyes looked when he was singing that song and how he looked like he was truly enjoying it. But, I don't think the fan base is there. he won't go home, tho, and won't even be in Bottom Three.

Why NOT KELLIE: Fan Base. Big.

Katherine and Taylor: BEST BEST BEST BEST BEST. Woo! Yeah! Katherine brought me to tears and Taylor made my heart go pitter-patter and thump-a-thump! Woo!