Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ocho is enough

Ay caramba! Tuesday, as "American Idol" attempted Latin Night, the beat wasn't the only thing that got turned around and upside down. More like the whole show: How else to describe an evening when Chris Richardson and Sanjaya (!!!) delivered the best performances?

On a certain level, "American Idol" and Latin Night go together like Seacrest and Dunkelman - that is, really awkwardly. I can't remember the show's powers that be even attempting the theme since Season Three (oh gosh, excuse me while I shudder, remembering John Stevens attempting to feel the rhythm) and after that excruciating evening, who could blame them? That said, last night wasn't so much flat-out bad as just...weird.

I was not at all prepared to like guest coach Jennifer Lopez, but she totally won me over with with her enthusiasm (she watches the show at home!) and surprisingly down-to-earth demeanor - both qualities that put her head and shoulders above Gwen Stefani as far as Idol appearances are concerned. (Even though I praised Gwen's coaching stint a few weeks ago, in hindsight, she came off as kind of cold.) Given that I like Stefani's music about 100 times better than J.Lo's, that was a strange position to be in - an argument for remaining open-minded, I guess. That said, the reality of J.Lo - no great singer, by anyone's definition - advising contestants in a singing competition was, uh, interesting. (Good thing a lot of them asked her for dancing advice!) But at the same time, you don't necessarily have to be an amazing singer to be able to advise people about songs, so...

On a related note, I confess, my knowledge of Latin music isn't exactly prolific, but I'm thinking the genre must include albums beyond Santana's "Supernatural" and "Gloria Estefan's Greatest Hits" - something only Melinda, Sanjaya and Blake appeared to comprehend. As a result, the night ended up a less-than-compelling argument for the richness and variety of Latin sounds.

Melinda managed to choose a song that again made her sound old, boring and incredibly proficient, all at the same time. LaKisha at least displayed more personality, and looked vibrant in a saucy red dress, but, I mean, even Paula called her take on "Conga" "very safe" - which it was. "I feel like it's now time to really bring out the very best, because it's getting down to the wire there," Paula said, making a surprising amount of sense. If LaKisha continues sort of coasting, she might end up coasting right off the stage, which would be unfortunate, given the quality of her voice.

Haley, meanwhile, continued her unrelenting quest for shorter hemlines, storming out onto the stage amid synthesizer riffs and flashing lights, as if prowling a catwalk, and then strutting about in hot pants and towering heels as she performed "Turn The Beat Around" in rapid-fire fashion. The girl already appears to be single-handedly keeping the Daisy Duke industry afloat; if her pants got any higher, she'd be wearing underwear. Is it too bold to suggest she might just try wearing, like, a leotard and tights next time? After all, she does have experience, given her past in gymnastics. Anyway, the whole charade just keeps on inviting comments such as this one, from a laughing Simon: "I think you have a very good tactic at the moment, Haley: Wear as least amount of clothes as possible, because look, I'll be honest with you you can't do well in this competition based on your voice because there are much better singers." Afterwards I think I noticed her shoot the judges the look of death, but, um, given her own conduct, I'm not sure she's really entitled to be pissed when the likes of Simon critique her based on her looks. Did I mention I missed Gina this week?

As has become his pattern, Phil turned in another vocally competent yet unoriginal, emotionally staid performance - this week to "Maria Maria." To be fair, he was a lot better than he was last week (and he sported a nice cap!), but that still wasn't enough. Even though he's a nice enough guy, I guess I'm just not a Phan. Nor is Simon, apparently, considering he said Phil evokes "nothing I can get too particularly positive or excited about." Joining him in the "eh" bin this week was Blake, semi-surprisingly, whose version of Marc Anthony's "I Need To Know" earned raves from the judges, for reasons I had a hard time comprehending. Never before had I stopped to contemplate or appreciate Marc Anthony's range, but Blake's performance made me do just that; although it wasn't a bad choice of song, it sure did expose the fedora-wearin' beatboxer's limited range.

In the end, the only three performers who really appeared to deliver were Chris, Sanjaya and Jordin. The latter's infectious energy didn't come as a surprise, nor did her warm, fairly assured version of "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You." And though I kind of groaned when Seacrest promised that "after the break, Chris Richardson gets Smooth" - when hasn't the guy been smooth, after all? - his firing-on-all-cylinders version of Santana and Rob Thomas' "Smooth" was probably the performance of the night, from the song choice on down.

Which leaves us with - well, really, two different people. Let's call them "Ponyhawk Sanjaya" and "Actually Trying Sanjaya." In an uber-meta moment that would have caused the spontaneous combustion of thousands of Idol watchers everywhere, Ponyhawk Sanjaya would have chosen to perform Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," looking as absolutely outrageous as possible. Actually Trying Sanjaya, however, finally showed his face, and selected the lovely part-Spanish/part-English ballad "Besame Mucho"- which he sweetly sang sitting down, with his hair kind of done normally, accompanied by flute. The performance was kind of hard to reconcile with visions of Sanjaya The Water Cooler Phenomenon, but once I put that out of mind and realized Sanjaya wasn't leaping about like a teen possessed, I began to, uh, appreciate it. Could it be that Sanjaya was, yes, still entertaining, except this time in a sane way? Could it? I wasn't the only one who pondered that point: The judges praised Sanjaya, too - yes, even Simon, with all-too-apt remarks: "Right, I couldn't undestand a word of it, you sang like a 14-year-old, and - I'm gonna hate myself for this - it wasn't horrible." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the joy of "Idol."

Seacrest's got your number: Oh no, he didn't start the night by calling the contestants the "top ocho"...did he? Oh, but he did.

Beatboxing to the, uh, rescue? "I totally need a beat," Haley said as she practiced "Turn The Beat Around" with just J.Lo and a piano. "Why don't we get Blake? Where's Blake,?" an amused J.Lo asked. And then, as if on cue, the beatboxer himself arrived from the wings. And, yes, beatboxed as Haley sang.

Fill in the blank: "Alright, yo, you know for me man, just keeping it honest and real dude, that was really karaoke for me tonight. I'm sorry. I just didn't get that one at all. I could have been anywhere. Any bar, any whatever," Randy informed Haley. So, wait, by "whatever," did he mean "pageant"? Or "strip club"? Or...well, you know, as the man said, whatever.

So he approved of her coaching? "I'm sittin' there trying to sing this song, and I keep glancing over and it's like, Jennifer Lopez is sitting there watching me or something. then I'm like, wait, it IS Jennifer Lopez, so all of a sudden I'm like, wait, what am I singing?" Phil observed, rather hilariously. And, I mean, he was right. She was sitting there, watching him.

More endearing adorableness, coming up: Responding to a viewer question, Jordin said that if she could pick next week's theme, she'd choose '80s music, "because I love it!" As a connoiseur of '80s music cheesy and serious alike (haha, or, given some '80s songs, both, all in one tune) and fan of broad "Idol" theme weeks, I agree wholeheartedly. Producers, take the girl up on the suggestion!

Now, how would she know that? "This week I'm singing 'I Need To Know,' by Jennifer Lopez's husband, Marc Anthony," Blake knowingly cracked as he introduced his performance, putting J. Lo in the interesting position of having to judge some punk kid's take on her husband's big English-language hit. Among her comments: "When you're listening to Marc Anthony sing this song, it's like he has this different type of voice, it's like really big and everything..."

Inkin' a (great) deal: The prize* for "most tattooage ever displayed on the Idol stage"goes to Blake, or more specifically, his right arm, if last night was any indication.
*(What is the prize, you ask? I don't think I'll be giving away too much if I disclose that it's a mention in a blog produced by a large North Carolina newspaper. I know, a highly coveted reward! Competition was fierce!)

Signs...of the apocalypse? The audience definitely came up with some gems Tuesday, including "Shake 'n' Blake" and "Don't be fooled by the votes that he's got, he's still...he's still Sanjaya and he rocks."

Bottom three: As much as I'd love for Haley to get kicked off, I fear she may have punched her ticket to next week just by being, well, her. That said, I'll offer two bottom threes, the one I'd like to see, and the one probably more likely to materialize. I claim no powers of prediction, but I nonetheless give you... My ideal Bottom Three: Haley, Phil and some high-flyer (Blake? LaKisha?) who did poorly, with Haley sashaying on home. The Bottom Three we have a better chance of actually seeing: Phil, Sanjaya, LaKisha. And not that I'm saying it will happen, but wouldn't it be just a cruel fate if Sanjaya bids adieu after finally deciding to take a performance seriously and doing well in unironic fashion?


Anonymous said...

I don't think Haley's outfits are all that bad. She at least tries to be entertaining.

Melinda and Lakisha both have big voices that would work great in the recording studio, but they seem stiff on stage.

The youngster, Jordin, is the one I want to see win.

Her few shortcomings -- lack of experience, mainly -- seem to grow less noticeable for me every week.

Jordin's got the best overall package of talent, voice, charisma, energy, etc.

Jen Aronoff said...

While I try to stay open-minded and am kind of reluctant to call things too early - and am not too fond of the judges doing the same - I've got to say, I'm with you on Jordin. At this point, no other contestant compares, even if - as you note - there are some other proficient singers on the program.

And indeed, it's true, Haley can't be faulted for not trying. Whatever her other shortcomings, she certainly puts in quite an effort.