Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Idol enters bland country

Thank goodness for Kenny Rogers. No, not for that delicious but now-vanished rotisserie chicken chain (alas! Roasters, where have you gone?), but because he was the best, most sane thing about Tuesday's "American Idol," which otherwise offered mostly the musical equivalent of warm beer. Warm, non-alcoholic beer.

The now-white-haired, still-bearded country great, a fairly - perhaps unnaturally - youthful 68-year-old, provided contestants and viewers alike with helpful advice and insightful criticism. For instance, he advised Elliott not to oversing, saying "You're not trying to impress (people), you're trying to make 'em cry." He also proved his voice was still in fine form as he joined the nine remaining contestants for a spirited version of "The Gambler" at the beginning of the show. After all these years, it appears he still knows when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em - well, you get the picture.

When it came time to perform, though, the contestants only knew how to play it safe - the opposite of gambling, if I'm not mistaken. They chose mostly boring songs, delivered them in mostly boring fashion and often failed to enunciate, leading to a whole bunch o' muddle. It's especially disappointing considering they had the whole of country music to choose from. Where were Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, the Judds or even newer artists like the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith (and yes, I realize juxtaposing those two is less-than-ideal)? Nowhere to be found! Surely, past "Idol" country nights weren't this dreary. Were they?

Tuesday, we had Taylor - generally-awesome Taylor! - starting the show with a tepid, forgettable "Country Roads, Take Me Home." From there, well, much of the singing was nothing to kick up your boots over.

The judges and host Ryan Seacrest, on the other hand, appeared to have entered an alternate universe where:
1) Randy wore a glaring red vest that made him look "like Cupid," as Seacrest quipped.
2) Paula actually - and accurately - criticized a contestant (Paris, whose hair finally looked normal! yay for the sleek bob!), then got booed by the audience. Afterward Simon complimented the same performance, starting his remarks by saying "Paris, I have to disagree with Paula." (Then, following some wild applause: "Oh, I am loving this.")
3) Seacrest, Mr. Hyper-Groomed Poster Boy himself, sported dark, haggard stubble. Get this man a razor!


Low praise: Randy said he liked the last four bars of Mandisa's "eh, ok" version of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine." "The last five seconds were great!" he remarked.

Clash of the metrosexuals:
Simon: "Ryan, with respect, I'm not the one trying to look like someone out of Desperate Housewives."
(Seacrest, who is reportedly dating DH star Teri Hatcher, angrily rests his chin on his hand and glares.)
Randy: "Whoa, whoa, don't go there! Whoa!"
Simon (gesturing, to Seacrest): "Lose the beard."
Seacrest (bitterly, rattled, spluttering): "No, Simon, but you definitely fit the bill in that baby blue powder tight sweatshirt sweater cashmere garb you've got."
Mandisa (waiting for Seacrest to read her phone number): "Whoa, where's the love tonight?"

Paula, here's looking at you! "For sure, someone at that (judges') table has a flask," Seacrest said, following the above-mentioned contentious exchange. I think he directed that comment at Simon, but didn't you think Paula's eyes appeared weirdly shifty and guilty?

So that, uh, explains? Kellie told Ryan that she mangled the word "salmon" because "There's an L in it, so I thought you pronounced it."

The one-woman Southern welcoming committee:
Kellie ran up to Rogers in the rehearsal session, exclaiming "Haaay, it's so good to have a familiar accent!"

Least valid point of the night: "Remember Simon, you're here to judge the singing, not the songs, with all due respect," Seacrest said snarkily, with no due respect. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but Seacrest, of all people, as a DJ - a pop DJ, no less - should know that within reason, songs are usually a lot more important than the singing in determining musical success, especially in the pop world.

Best: Chris, who abandoned modern rock for a night to deliver a subtle version of Keith Urban's "Making Memories of Us."

Semi-decent: Ace, because even though his voice isn't overly strong, his song, Keith Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry," was a good fit. ("Ace matched with this song is the best combination of music and singer of the whole bunch," Rogers noted.) Kellie, for her convincing performance of Reba McIntire's "Fancy," which appears to be about a self-proclaimed poor, white-trash girl whose dying mother saves up, buys her a saucy dress, dolls her up, and sends her out into the world to make her way, advising her to "just be nice to the gentlemen...and they'll be nice to you." Well, you know how that goes. Katharine, but only for the way she sang the chorus of Faith Hill's sassy "Bringing Out the Elvis" - the rest was kind of hard to hear. Her singing can be so hot and cold in the same song! Paris' vocals were ok, too, but seriously, how many times over the years have we heard "How Do I Live" on "American Idol"? Blech!

Bottom three:
Sort of tough to call this week, but my wild, weird guess is that maybe Elliott and Mandisa will face some pressure. Neither deserves to go, but Mandisa's only so-so performance was further overshadowed by the Ryan 'n' Simon sideshow that came afterward, and Elliott's nervous, shaky take on Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes" did him no favors, even if he finished strong and earned some praise from the judges. And who knows? Maybe irony will make an appearance and decide it's finally Bucky's week to go, even though he's as country as they come.


Anonymous said...

Wow. CHRIS was best? No, my tone deaf dear. Chris was so weak and dull that only Taylor's imitation of the living dead kept him Chris being the worst guy. Clearly, you don't listen to country music. Clearly, you hate Bucky and Kellie, who were easily the best of the night.

Maggpi said...

Totally agree with Anonymous there. Kellie stole the show last night - she was great. And Bucky did really well. I was surprised. I adore Taylor, but he was horrible last night and did not even seem liked he cared that he was there.

My bottom three:
1. Mandisa (She didn't change a thing about that song)

2. Taylor (Sorry, Man. It's still all good, dude.)

3. Ace. Just because. He needs. to. leave. (Staring at monitor and pointing at YOU).

Anonymous said...

Chris was not the best last night, but Kellie in no way "stole the show" or was even one of the best. She'll last a few more weeks, only because there are still some weak folks left in this thing. The only 2 who have a chance to be stars after Idol are Katherine and Chris. The rest are good amateurs but not pro quality, including Kellie. You can't even compare her to Katherine, who is miles ahead of Kellie "I'm just a good ol' country girl who gets $300 haircuts" Pickler. And to clear it up, yes - Kellie is really dumb. But she's not AS dumb as she plays on TV. She's overdone it to get votes and everyone sees through it.

Jen Aronoff said...

Yow! Fair enough, I'll take that criticism. And I appreciate the comments! But I should note...

1) My bottom three isn't made up of who I think should go, but who I think WILL go. Believe me, even though I thought Ace was ok last night, I'd be the last person to shed a tear if America decides to say farewell to him and his falsetto.

2) I do not hate Bucky and Kellie. In fact, I probably should have given Kellie a bit more credit - her performance was one of the night's best. Bucky was ok, and I generally like his voice, but he's never going to be the American Idol.

3) I'm standing by my assessment of Chris as one of the night's best, even if - as the judges correctly pointed out - his song wasn't exactly the most exciting choice.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on Chris. Nice to be reminded that he can flat out sing.

As for Bucky, I was shocked that during country week he would pick about the least country song of the group (except for Paris). In fact, I've heard Bucky's song alot of times, and don't listen to country radio. I didn't even know it was a country song. Maybe I missed something, but I thought Bucky played away from his strengths and did a poor job when he should have had a cake walk.

As for the eventual winner, it's between Katherine, Chris and Taylor (even after Taylor's weak performance last night.

Anonymous said...

Bucky's song last night struck the "where have I heard that before" chord in my brain too. It was done by Vertical Herizon a few years ago and that is where you have probably heard it to, it was redone by Gary Allen to fit into the country genre last night. :-) I thought Chris and Kellie were the best last night and hope that Ace is the one to go home, just as people are sick with Kellie's "stupid blonde" act, I am sick of Ace's "I am such a heart throb" performances.

Anonymous said...

I love their criteria for "genre"

If a song was originally in the genre you can do any remake of it (I walk the line)

If a song was originally out of the genre but was remade by someone in the genre, you can also perform it. (Bucky and Verticle Horizon)