Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A gang o' twang

About halfway through Tuesday's "American Idol," Simon Cowell had just called Chris Richardson's performance "inconsequential" and Chris, after snottily attempting to defend himself, dropped a sudden reminder of how ultimately inconsequential the whole show is, however popular it may be: Mentioning that he had lots of friends at Virginia Tech and was praying for them. Sure enough, you could see it - the real world, poking its head in, awkwardly pricking the "Idol" bubble, reminding us, however briefly, that there is so much in life that matters so much more.

Like other so-called reality shows, "American Idol" isn't usually that real at all, existing to a large extent in its own peculiar universe where true reality rarely intrudes. But as a live television broadcast that's ostensibly a reflection of all of us, a celebration of normal people and the rare sort of program that brings a huge swath of the country together, the show has to acknowledge an outside event as compelling and horrifying as that at Virginia Tech this week. And so it did, and even if the contrast was often awkward, it was better than pretending nothing had occurred. Seacrest starting the show before a darkened background, somberly mentioning the tragedy, and Simon interrupting his comments to Blake provided further jarring reminders.

Yet as much as national grief made it hard to fully revel in Idol's ridiculousness, the show in a way fulfilled its role more than ever, providing a needed sort of fizzy pop culture escape/communal bonding experience, and reinforcing why we seek such entertainment in the first place. If we can still laugh and get a kick out of teens and twentysomethings attempting glorified karaoke, then I think it's a good sign. Anyway, if you're the most popular TV program in the country, the show must and with few exceptions should go on - hey, there's always cable for all news, all the time, and besides, "Dancing With The Stars" forged ahead, too - and so we ended up with last night's "Idol." If the mood was perhaps tempered slightly, with all those proclamations of "dawg" striking an even sourer note than usual, the theme was totally appropriate: Country. And we're not talking outlaw country and the likes of Johnny Cash. Oh, no. With help from guest coach Martina McBride, the contestants largely stuck to the earnest, unironic, radio-friendly variety, with songs about missing Mayberry and Jesus taking the wheel. Though none of the Top 7 had previously expressed much love for the genre overall, they acquitted themselves surprisingly well, giving us what was probably among the better performance shows of a generally underwhelming season.

Dude, why didn't you say so before? "This is my genre, this is what I want to do," Phil said after his well-received performance of Keith Urban's "Where the Blacktop Ends." Um, refresh my memory, but has Phil previously expressed any sort of interest in country, or performed in a country style? I guess his "Tobacco Road" might qualify, but otherwise...

Speaking of, you're just now realizing? "This is the first time since we have met where I actually believe, based on that performance, you could win 'American Idol,'" Simon told Jordin after her, like, tenth consecutive really awesome performance.

Yep, they totally showed Constantine sitting in the audience before Sanjaya took the stage:
Oh, Season Four's resident greasy-haired, sorta-slimy rocker dude, I have but one word for you: Ewww.

Next up, "My Favorite Things," "I Feel Pretty" and "Walkin' on Sunshine"?
"If you could make one of the judges sing a song, who would you pick and what would you make them sing?" a viewer asked Sanjaya, who was ready with a reply: "Um, I'd make Simon Cowell sing (R.E.M.'s) "Shiny Happy People" so he could show his true personality." The remark, needless to say, prompted major-league grins from both Simon and Sanjaya.

Yep, he's in on the joke, part 56: "I chose this song because I often give a lot of people something to talk about, and I thought it would be fun to actually say that," said the show's Mr. Self-Aware Entertainer himself, Sanjaya, before taking on Bonnie Raitt's, uh, "Something To Talk About."

That'd be the "I'm twice your age, strange child" look: How ridiculous was it when Sanjaya went over to the backup singers and gave the one closest to him a saucy look? Not as funny as the expression she shot back!

I often ask myself the same thing: I give you Randy's comments to Sanjaya, verbatim: "Alright so check it out, dawg, check it out, man, just keeping it most real, you know the dawg always keeps it real, man, that was really just like karaoke, dude. Vocally it really wasn't good at all. It was very bland and boring for me. Just to be honest, I mean, to be honest, come on, what are we doin' up here? Paula, what are we doin'?"

Petulant, meet poignant: One minute, Chris Richardson was trying to make the case to Simon that "I don't know if you knew that or not, (but) nasally is a form of singing." Uh huh. And then he abruptly leapt to the other end of the spectrum, saying that he was sending prayers to Virginia Tech, where he has a lot of friends.

Top of the heap: Jordin. Elegant in a long red dress, with her hair elegantly swept up, she delivered Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing" with total conviction, hitting plenty of huge notes along the way. And, yeah, as Randy is fond of mentioning every week, she's just 17. Melinda. Goodness, all I can say is "about time." Finally, she put it all together and really capitalized on her considerable talent, looking her age with stylin' clothes, hair and makeup, picking a fun, modern song, and singing it with sass. As if that wasn't enough, in his remarks afterward, Simon spoke for many with his priceless admonition: "You have to lose this 'Who? What? I'm a great singer?'" Oh, so very true! My pet Melinda peeve for weeks now! (Anyone else seen the "The Soup" parody of Melinda's many expressions of humility? Please, tell me you have!) She took the comment well, and did appear to contain herself after that, offering a kind smile instead of the usual display of "ohmigosh, this is all so shocking!"

Eh: LaKisha. Though her take on a past "Idol" winner's song - in this case, Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take The Wheel" - wasn't abysmal and didn't evoke thoughts of "oh, crap," unlike, say, when Lisa Tucker attempted Kelly Clarkson last season, it wasn't the greatest fit. True to form, she really belted out parts of the tune, but there wasn't any middle ground; she was either demure and quiet or on the verge of shouting, with little transition to speak of. So when Simon told her she was once the one to beat, the one who blew everyone away, and now must choose better songs if she hopes to recapture that, well, he hit the mark. Blake. His choice of Tim McGraw's "When The Stars Go Blue" was a good one, and he did try to really sing it (which isn't always the case in the land o' Blake). The problem was, that exposed some of his vocal weaknesses - ooh, those high notes could be mighty shaky - leading to a performance that was just ok. I do love his continuing commitment to plaid fashion, though (this week's entry, a black-and-white sweater vest)!

Bottom three: Seriously, did you remember Phil by the end of the show? Because I sure didn't. To be sure, he was plenty better than last week - in fact, this was probably one of his better nights overall - and actually seemed to have a genuine connection to the song he was singing, even if he did look like an "Addams Family" castoff, with his all-black outfit and gleaming bald head. But on an absolute scale, he's still mired in forgettable territory. Chris Richardson, meanwhile, may also be in trouble after following up last week's surprisingly good performance with a version of Rascal Flatts' "Mayberry" - a decent song, mind you - that mostly served as another reminder of how bland and unimpressive he can be. In the clip before he took the stage, he reminded us he was from Virginia and grew up in North Carolina, "so I have those country roots." But I don't care where you're from - "nasally" is not really a desirable form of singing. And then there's Sanjaya. Dare I say it, but could it be his week to go? "My goal this week is to just do Bonnie Raitt justice," he said. Dude, justice was not served, though I guess it still could be if Sanjaya ends up getting the boot. Even if his performance wasn't quite as poor as the judges described, it in no way fell into the "good" category, either. Try as he might - and he did seem to be trying this week - he has no range. At the same time, based on sheer entertainment value, I still think I'd rather see another week of him than of Phil, but based on singing alone, it's no contest.


Anonymous said...

Excellent style. Your writing is awesome. You really should do something else with it that will touch the adult masses. Don't waist it on a bunch of 16 year old girls who watch "Idol" and will never comment.