Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Love, "Idol" style

Love. Sure, it's the most popular subject in the history of music, recorded or otherwise, but when it comes down to it, well - as Howard Jones sang in the 1980s, "What is love, anyway?" In the case of Tuesday's "American Idol," it sure wasn't a many-splendored thing. It was, however, alternately frustrating, boring, overwrought, ill-conceived and, yes, occasionally decent. Still, to have such results when the contestants had their pick of pretty much any song out there? Er, um, how do we get an "Idol" from that?

The supposed adults on the show didn't really bring the maturity Tuesday, either, save for classical crossover star and guest vocal coach Andrea Bocelli, who really played more of a figurehead role, anyway. Everyone else opted for claws-out cattiness, with Simon pissed off and terse, Ryan Seacrest sniping, and Paula swinging from pole to pole, alternating (believe it or not) insightful, accurate criticism - I know, I'm as stunned as you are! - with wild gestures and tearful declarations. Meanwhile, seeing guest coach David Foster - superproducer, songwriter and winner of 14 Grammys, as the "Idol" bio clip helpfully noted - provided telling insight into how exactly it is so many of the soppy, sappy, fists-punching-the-sky Celine Dion-type power ballads (his specialty) get made and top the charts. Foster, I should note, knew plenty about music and turned out to be cool. But still. The man needs to be held accountable for some of that Celine.

As for the contestants, well...
Katharine's take on Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" - which Foster wrote - was just too much on every level, from the way she stalked the stage in a yellow, cleavage-baring dress with a slit uptohere, to her manic oversinging and the range of uncomfortable facial expressions displayed during and after the performance. She decided to go for broke and hit us over the head with her vocal talents, when less would have been a whole lot more - a lot more subtle, a lot more sublime and just plain better. She's still one of the best in the competition, but McPheever ought to cool a little after that.

Then there was Elliott, ah, Elliott. I like him, I really do (really!) and I enjoy his singing. But despite that, he just doesn't interest me - and no, it's not a looks or appearance thing - and I suspect I'm not the only one who feels that way. I can't hop onboard the "E" train, as one sign in the audience encouraged viewers to do. At any rate, judges showered accolades upon his version of Donny Hathaway's "A Song For You," though Randy correctly noting that its overly complex arrangement diluted the power of Elliott's performance. "You move me. You - celebrate what this competition is all about," Paula said, wiping away tears as Simon attempted not to crack up. Simon, meanwhile, called the rendition "superb" and "a vocal masterclass."

Now, here's Kellie, all blonde and smiling, wearing some shade of pink, looking like she just stepped out of Barbie's Dream House. Unlike a whole lot of other "Idol" contestants, she actually has a personality, so it's easy to see how she's proven so popular. But after a string of emotionless, disconnected, flat-out off performances - interrupted by only a few gems - it's a lot harder to understand why people keep voting for her. Pickler's personality has evaporated nearly every time she's opened her mouth to sing - witness Tuesday's thin, Stepford Wife-style performance of "Unchained Melody," which Foster correctly noted "can be one of the most boring songs on the planet" if "it's sung without passion." How right he was! It dragged on forever. This, possibly one of the greatest, most haunting pop songs of all time, sung with none of the feeling of the original, not even of Clay Aiken's version from season 2. And this has happened before: Any time Kellie ventures outside her fairly small comfort zone, her limitations are painfully evident. She likely has at least another good week left, but people haven't won "Idol" based on how well they banter with the judges, semi-flirt with Seacrest or dispense homespun pearls of wisdom. And, they shouldn't. Or as Paula - yes, again, Paula! - put it: "I don't see you raising the bar each week. I adore you. I think that America has fallen in love with you. But at this point it is about greatness, and I didn't feel that from you." To be fair, few other contestants really emanated greatness Tuesday, either, but Kellie was farthest from the mark.

Paris, all of 17 years old, bizarrely thought Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" was an appropriate song choice based on her age. "The Way We Were" when? In kindergarten? Despite that choice, on stage, she has "it" - great control and comfort, and a tremendous voice. Talent? Oh, yes, she's got that in spades. But "it" wasn't enough to overcome a molasses-like arrangement and ill-fitting song. Like a lot of Paris' other performances, I found I'd already forgotten it by the time the show ended. Alas!

And then came Taylor, who - well, oh, boy, what was he thinking this week? Will he ever again deliver on his obvious promise, or will he just continue to frustrate us (particularly those of us who love him)? First of all, there was the suit - black velvet, with tuxedo pants and a red handkerchief stuffed in the jacket pocket - that made him look like he'd just defected from a wedding band and was heading out back to hang out with the catering crew. And the song, James Ingram's "Just Once"? Argh! Misfire! Mostly because he seemed just...on edge. "I think Taylor potentially has the most charisma, which is a very, very important part of being a star," Foster noted. True. But I fear he can squander it with bad, bad song choices.

Which brings us to Chris. After five performances, I still felt like Foreigner: I want to know what love is! Especially beause I haven't seen it tonight. But if anyone can salvage the proceedings, it's Chris, he who emerged safe from last week's bottom two. Sure enough, he pulls it off, flanked by acoustic guitars, singing Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?" His admiration for Adams is not entirely encouraging, but as he sings, sincerely gazing at the camera, hitting all the right notes, at long last, something about this night rings right. So, in some ways, I guess, Love won out in the end - even if it didn't conquer all.

Now, for...

Yes, but great news for eardrums! "Last week it was bad news for the ladies as we bid farewell to Ace," Seacrest said at the beginning of the show. Ah, but as anyone unfortunate enough to catch Ace's performance on Regis & Kelly this week knows, we haven't seen the last of him quite yet.

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours? "Andrea Bocelli truly is one of the greatest singers that have ever walked the face of this planet," Foster said. "I think that David is the greatest producer in the world," Bocelli said a few minutes later.

Foster's laws: Early in the show, Foster offered these cutting remarks. Judging by the show's performances, I'm not quite sure they sunk in.
"If you can't cut it in my studio, you're gone. Period. It's hardball. It's not softball."
"If you can't bring something new to the table, you're gonna die in the real world. You can't just copy."

Wait, where does that leave the Idols? "You become great only if it's your destiny," Bocelli noted.

Yes, Idols, there is such a thing as "taste in music"! Props to Elliott for paying respect to Donny Hathaway, saying he was performing "A Song For You" in part because he loves the R&B legend's music and wants to help bring it back to the forefront. "I've been waiting my whole life to sing that song on a stage like this," he said."

The weekly Seacrest-Pickler gab session:
Seacrest (tongue sure looking like it was in cheek): "So, Pickler, love songs tonight. Are you dedicating your song to anyone special?"
Kellie: "Um, well, thank you, Ryan, for reminding me that, um, I don't have a boyfriend. I'm lonely. So, no. Maybe to a future boyfriend. (eagerly, leans toward him.) You know the movie Ghost?"
Seacrest: "I do."
Pickler: "I'm singin' 'Unchained Melody.' Yay! The little pottery scene, the little pottery, I don't have anybody to play pottery with."
Seacrest (dryly): "By the end of the season you'll find a pottery playmate, I'm sure."

Wild guess? "You probably haven't sung much classical in your life," Foster said to Chris. "Ah, no sir, I have not," Chris replied with a smile.

This is a compliment, right? "Chris sings great. If he delivers the performance of his life, he'll do amazing," Foster noted after the practice session.

Best: Chris - not only because he chose an appropriate song and delivered a heartfelt performance, but kind of by default. After all, he sang last, and by the time he rolled around, I think we were all feeling kind of desperate for something decent to latch onto. The judges, accordingly, heaped praise upon him. (Paula. Seriously. There is no need to get up and start flailing your arms around, repeating "LOVE YOU" like a fat opera singer about to launch into something big.) And that clip of Chris lying down on the practice-room floor, trying to improve his singing technique, as his shaved head got ever-redder? Priceless!

Bottom three: Ok, I admit I have no idea. Except for Chris, no one should be immune from joining this unfortunate trio. Kellie gave the night's worst performance, but she was the worst singer last week, too, and we all know how that turned out. Yep. Not even in the bottom three. This week she deserves to know what it feels like - although weirdly, despite her subpar singing, a part of me isn't quite ready to say farewell to her just yet. Something about her just screams "one more week." I guess we'll see, eh?


Maggpi said...

Okay. Bottom Three from the voters:


To go home: Paris.

THat's my prediction.

Anonymous said...

I read that Taylor Hicks was requested at the last moment to change his song selection and had only a day to rehearse? True or something the GrayCharles want to propagand?

Anonymous said...

As much as it was nice for Elliott to want to honor Donny Whoever, "A Song for You" is NOT his song, no matter how many times he's done it. It was written AND performed by Leon Russell, and should have been acknowledged as such since now bloggers everywhere are calling it Donny's song.