Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Queen for a night

American Idol, consider my mind blown. You tell me the theme this week is "The Music of Queen," and immediately I suspect the worst - and expect the absolutely absurd, figuring few "Idol" contestants will be up to the challenges posed by the legendary British rockers' hard-to-sing, quirky songs. And then, Tuesday night happens, and not only do the contestants not bomb, but most of them are actually really good - in a way that's beyond weird, mind you.

Instead of the last few weeks' cheerful guest coaches, we also had the Idols attempting to rip it up out on an arena stage with semi-cantankerous old British men. At times, surviving original Queen members Brian May (guitar hero, curly hair) and Roger Taylor (drums, white hair) looked uncomfortable, like they didn't want to be there. But as it turned out, they liked most of the contestants, loved Chris, Taylor and Paris, and had little patience for things like Ace and, oh, Ace trying to get them to change their classic songs to suit his needs. Didn't they know what they were getting themselves into? It is "American Idol," after all! And does this mean we won't be seeing them hawking their wares on tomorrow's results show?

Anyway, without further ado, here are three of the most insane things about this week's show, in the order they happened:

1) Ace's festival of awkward. Everything about Ace last night was painful, painful, painful. First, he tries to convince Queen to alter their arrangement of "We Will Rock You" to fit his concept - which includes "an army beat," apparently - and is summarily rejected. "I don't think we're gonna play your arrangement," May says coldly. Later, Ace is shown trying again, expectantly. Again, he falls flat. "That I can't do, not to my own song, I can't do that," May says. What, an artist trying to protect his work from the likes of Ace? Guess he can't be blamed for that. When Ace and his dark, shiny locks take the stage, well - "We Will Rock You" has been played so many times, it's practically impossible to put a new spin on it, and whatever Ace had in mind doesn't pan out, even if he does triumphantly hold the microphone aloft when he concludes. Randy calls the performance karaoke, then later says, "I was trying to be kind." Paula tries to be nice, but nonetheless uses the word "bastardized." Simon calls it "a complete and utter mess," saying "it didn't work" and was "all over the place." "It was 'We Will Rock You' gently," he says. "I really, really, really hated that. Sorry." Ace politely thanks him for the tongue-lashing, and then, when prompted by Seacrest, says, "You know, I think I rocked. I had fun." He claps for himself. He asks the crowd for approval - and receives it. But he's totally transparent, his forced grin a sign he's trying to compensate for getting slammed.

2) Kellie's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Going into tonight's show, I wondered which contestant, if any, would be daring enough to take on the mother of all Queen songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody." And like Randy and Simon, I was more than a little skeptical when I heard Kellie was going to take the plunge. Boy, was I off base. In some ways, this kind of wonderful insanity is what "Idol" is all about. First, Kellie knows the song and knows there's no way she'll ever sound like Freddie Mercury, or that she can try to sound like him - so it's already clear her version won't come off as some hollow imitation. Then, she starts singing and stalking the stage, wearing a whole lot of black; looking and sounding like Britney Spears, Tanya Tucker and some '80s rock band all rolled into one; and condensing a six-minute opus into a bizarre, completely entertaining minute and a half. You could even call it, yes, ballsy - and now, even Kellie knows what that means.

3) Taylor being Taylor. So we start with a clip of Taylor on stage with Queen, wearing a zebra-print buttondown (where does he get these shirts?!) and belting out "We Are The Champions" like a man semi-possessed. "I love 'We Are The Champions,'" he says, wide-eyed. Indeed, he strikes you as the kind of guy who would love "We Are The Champions," even after hearing it at approximately five million sporting events. But wait - he's decided that instead, he wants to do a song that will be more entertaining. A song that will let him dance. Don't say you weren't warned. So he strolls into the rehearsal room:
Guy at piano: "What's up, T?"
Taylor: "We're not the champions anymore."
Sure enough, he's changed his song to "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a choice that caused me to whoop right there in my living room. Hurrah! It's not exactly a run-of-the-mill Queen song, but its shuffling '50s feel struck me as perfect for Taylor. When he hits the stage, he's wearing a jacket that (again!) matches his gray hair, and he ebulliently shakes and shimmies around the stage, sort of building up to something vocally. Toward the end, he lets loose. "I don't know whether we should give you a record deal or a straitjacket," Paula quips. "Taylor, are you drunk?" Simon asks. "No, not at all!" he replies. "I thought it was ridiculous," Simon concludes. But when he says that, he's smiling. Because it was ridiculous in a good way - after all, the sight of a goofy guy with prematurely gray hair leaping around a stage tends to be - and that's part of what Taylor is all about.

Now, odds and ends:

Of course not, Seacrest! "We've pushed the contestants to their limits before, but tonight their talents are stretched further than ever," Ryan Seacrest intones at the beginning of the show. "Can anyone measure up to (dynamic, flamboyant and deceased Queen singer) Freddie Mercury as they take on the music of Queen?"

Did she know the ax had fallen? The Idols performed with Queen before last week's results show, so...anyone else notice the blink-and-you-missed-it shot of Mandisa in the audience as Bucky sang with the band? She looked highly skeptical, that's for sure.

It's just a saying: Seacrest asked Bucky how he felt about performing a Queen song and received this reply: "Good, good, it was fine. Playing Freddie Mercury, ain't nobody to wanna jump up behind, but, uh, ya take what you're given." To which Seacrest said - with a semi-mystified look on his face - "You can say that again." AND BUCKY ACTUALLY SAID IT AGAIN! "You take what you're given," he repeated. He was grinning, though, so perhaps he was in on that humor...

Inappropriate juxtaposition, anyone? A voiceover montage about the history of Queen included a shot of American Idol 4 contestant Constantine Maroulis', uh, memorable performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody." Somehow, I reckon that's not exactly what the Queen boys would pick as a shining moment in the band's history...

The weekly Pickler-Cowell exchange: You didn't exactly ask for it, but here it is:
Simon, after Kellie's performance: "Kellie, you're a very brave girl, very brave girl. Apart from the fact that it started, I mean, the whole look of it was like 'Night of the Living Dead,' you know, with the eyes and the lights, but actualy, I kind of agree with Randy and Paula. On paper, it should have been completely hideous, and I think a lot of people will think it was hideous - "
Kellie: "Huh? On paper?"
Simon: "Well, you know, the idea of you singing - oh, it doesn't matter."
Kellie: "I'll take it!"
Simon: "Kellie, I think it worked, you did good."
Kellie (to Seacrest, about Simon): "He has the weirdest terminology."

Best: Elliott (his "Somebody to Love," well, that's quality for ya), Kellie, Taylor. Katharine's singing wowed too, but her song choice - "Who Wants To Live Forever?" - was just eh, ok.

Awesome singing, now pick better songs: Chris. Here's a guy who rules the stage with arguably the most powerful voice on the show - and taste in music that's a little worrisome. A few weeks ago we had Creed, and Tuesday we got a song that, ominously, Queen has never performed live: 1991's "Innuendo." Chris made the song fit his modern rock sensibility, so I can see why he chose it, and he tore the house down belting it out. But after Randy's enthusiastic response and Paula lapsing into utter incoherence, Simon got it right: "Chris, they don't perform that song live because it's not a very good song. Look, ok, I wil grant you, the best vocal tonight, the best believable vocal tonight, but I just think it's a shame you didn't decide to entertain the audience at home with one of the great Queen songs, because you could have had a moment tonight, and...once again, the song was too indulgent."

Bottom three: Ace, Bucky, Paris. Bucky, bless his heart, sang a countrified - or country-fried? - version of "Fat Bottomed Girls" that weirdly worked. Paris looked preposterous in her rocker-chick gear - just stop it with the different hairstyles every week, already! - but hit a whole bunch o' big notes during a powerful rendition of "The Show Must Go On." In fact, only Ace was truly outclassed. He's been lucky for a few weeks now, but it's time his hopes of "Idol" glory bit the dust.


Anonymous said...

I think you got it right this week.

Anonymous said...

Now way does Paris belong in the bottom three. No way! I thought she was scary powerful. She can take on any kind of music. Yeah, she is young, but plenty brave too. I guess you call that showmanship. Bucky, Ace and TAYLOR belong in the bottom three.

Maggpi said...

Paris has this "thing" about her that leave me cold. I don't know what it is. When we watched her in the auditions, I was jumping up and down saying "That's Her! That's our next AI!", but ever since then, she's either been trying too hard or something because it's .....WEIRD..... We both used that word last night WAY before Simon did...

Just like I stood up and yelled (yup, yelled it right out!) "YES, TAYLOR IS BACK!" during his song. That man rocks, souls, dances, and OVERJOYS the audience. He is just amazingly entertaining.

And whoa...Kellie.... great job! But then, I'm a fan of the ole Pickster.

ON the other hand..... please put America out of it's misery and put Ace down tonight.

My bottom three: Ace, Elliot, and Chris. I think Chris is using up the rock card too much and isn't mainstream enough for Idol. He's a GREAT Singer, and should be huge. But that song last night was awful and I think it'll show in the rankings.

Rebecca said...

I think you're totally on target, but I predict tonight's bottom three will be Ace, Bucky and Katharine. I agree that Elliot gave the best performance, although Chris was amazing. I didn't mind his song choice at all. In fact I found it refreshing. I have to say, however, that the contestant who stretched the most...who took the biggest chance and successfuly left her comfort zone...was Kellie. Yes it was a "ballsy" choice, and the minx did it proud!

Anonymous said...

I find it very difficult to believe that Chris and Kellie were eliminated from the "Idol" competition,and find those voting results suspect.My concern is,I tried for the two hour voting period trying to vote for these candidates(using redial and both numbers for each candidate)and constantly got nothing but a busy signal.If I could not get through,how many others had the same experience?