Wednesday, April 29, 2009

episode 8-34 (April 29): Top 5 results

"But who will get the shock... tonight?" Probably either Taylor Hicks fans or Taylor Hicks detractors. Who knows, maybe he learned to sing in the last two years.

I'm pretty much used to idea that the Ford videos will be mediocre at best. But the song choices themselves have been just dreadful lately, "Energy", an ironically energy-less piece of jangle-pop is no exception. As Jack Donaghy said to Liz Lemon, "This is not open mic night at the Bryn Mawr student union." Why bother bringing these five great singers into the studio if you're going to make them sound awful? Isn't the studio the place where you make awful singers sound great, not the other way around?

A medley of "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "I Got Rhythm" is so much better than anything we heard last night. A ton of energy in this set, and regardless of the vocal consistency (Samantha thought it sounded bad from another room), it looked like an absolutely joy on all of the competitors' parts (and the band's). The "doo-wa doo-wa doo-wa" in the refrain of "It Don't" was more interesting than the entire Ford video, and landing on a lydian chord at the end, while obviously impossible individually, was icing on the cake. What a shame they weren't this good last night.

One additional thing we're reminded of tonight: a lot of great jazz standards are usually famous for their refrains and not their verses for a reason. The verse of "It Don't" kinda rambles on in harmonic no-man's land. And the lyrics are obviously tossed off, probably because the refrain-- written by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, no less-- is going to be the ultimate focus anyway. "It ain't the melody, it ain't the music / there's something else that makes the tune complete." Er... isn't rhythm part of the music? That's like saying "It's not the color of your shirt that I like; it's the fact that it's red." Huh?

(Samantha and I, by the way, found the mansion food-fight video in very poor taste. "What is this about? They're ruining the house with tasty food while people are starving?")

Natalie Cole's "Something's Gotta Give" is like a bad musical theater song. Nothing says class like beating the listener over the head with the irresistable force paradox. Oh, and she sounded like she was out of breath. Ryan: "You guys enjoy that?" Audience: silence... then "oh right, we should applaud now..." **applause**. More grudging kudos to the band, though, who cooked throughout.

And now, after the umpteenth promo for Glee (featuring an a-cappella arrangement of "Don't Stop Believin'" that sounds suspiciously like my band's), we come to Taylor Hicks. If you haven't guessed already, I was not a fan of his weak and scratchy voice in season 5, and his Soul-Patrol-enabled victory over the smoother (and yummier) Katherine McPhee still sticks in my craw. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to hearing this.

"Seven Mile Breakdown" seems like a nice and jaunty enough song (with some interesting and expected use of the ii chord in the choruses). His voice is... pleasant at best, and he reveals the weakness I remember him for when he reaches for high notes he doesn't have; instead of taking the easy way out and going into falsetto, he strains upward, and it ain't pretty. New Taylor, same as the old Taylor.

Taylor's advice to the Top 5: "Right now it's about song choices." Um... haven't we been talking about that since Hollywood week?

Alright. I've had enough of the live auto-tuning. If Jamie Foxx is as great of a singer as he wants us to think he is, does he need to do this? Kanye West (who is legitimately talented), T-Pain (who might be talented, it's hard to tell), and now Foxx (and many others) have fallen victim to the temptations of sounding like you're singing underwater. Why?! Why?!?!

Interestingly, Kris is sent back to the couch to join Allison (good) and Danny (even better), which leaves Matt and Adam. We suspect that Matt is going home, as Adam appears to have a more consistent following... and so it goes.

But do we have to hear this awkward pinched version of "My Funny Valentine" again. He eviscerates it all over again; sounding like Al Jarreau holding his nose. He hits a great note on "stayyyyyyy", but ruins it again with that over-the-top final note. He's going out with a bang, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

episode 8-33 (April 28): Top 5 performances

Holy crap! It's a big band! The rays of hate for Rickey Minor will be abated for the evening.

Jamie Foxx is an interesting choice for mentoring Rat Pack night, as he's best known musically for R&B, and also apparently a T-Pain impersonation. He's also introduced as having a classical background, as he also of course has his Oscar for his performance in Ray. An impressive range, but not one that immediately lends itself to being an expert on the Rat Pack style... and yet he gives some killer advice and gets great performances out the competitors. It's the out-of-left-field mentors (Foxx, Quentin Tarantino) who are doing the best mentoring, probably because they're not stuck in their own parochial musical worlds (Randy Travis, Andrew Lloyd Weber, etc.) and are more concerned with what makes for a great overall performance. The singers know how to sing, but how to translate that singing into an overall performance requires the Big Step Back that Foxx and Tarantino have provided.

Kris Allen starts "The Way You Look Tonight" (one of Randy's "favorite joints") in super slo-mo, but thankfully picks up the pace aftert he first refrain. There's nothing bad to say about it-- he's smooth, dead in tune, and makes some great choices. But that's it; it's like jazz oatmeal.

Is it a bit odd how the fangirls in the crowd start cheering when Kara says he's "set the technical bar so high"? Nothin' gets the great unwashed goin' like complimenting the technical aspect of a performance, huh?

Allison Iraheta may be a bit out of her depth on "Someone to Watch Over Me". Not performance-wise-- her focus and connection is still impeccable-- but her vocal tone is just not appropriate for a jazz ballad. Not that jazz vocals should be limited to one particular tone-- Ella vs. Billie, e.g., or even Darmon vs. Peter-- but her otherwise fantastic grit is a distraction here. I'd still vote for her, just to keep her in the running so she can return and kick everyone's butt once again.

I'm really annoyed how they cut the second 8 out of the song. We get it, the show is running long every time, but taking a full quarter out of a 32-bar form is insulting and makes it feel odd. (I mean, it's called the freakin' 32-bar form for a reason! 'Cuz it's 32 bars long!)

Foxx (and the anonymous vocal coach at the piano) gives the first indication of transposition consideration this season, implying that Matt Giraud might be taking "My Funny Valentine" up or down a key. I'm guessing they took it down, because this mostly sat in a terribly uncomfortable and Dave-Matthews-esque part of his range, which was exacerbated by the ballad tempo, just for the sake of trying to hit a mythical money note at the end. And said money note was belted at full volume, completely out of character with the rest of the arrangement. I'm in rare disagreement with Simon tonight; this was a badly thought-out performance after all.

Danny Gokey is singing yet another ballad... and then the feel picks up like crazy. At first he seems to be coasting on his breathy-dreamy voice, and then he amps it up (backed with, I'm reluctant to say, a killer performance from Rickey Minor's band) to another level entirely. Out of control. If he (or Allison) doesn't take this competition, America is officially as stupid as the rest of the world already thinks we are.

Adam Lambert doesn't seem to get much coaching from Foxx for "Feelin' Good". He plays it safe, so to speak, at the beginning, by having the Rhodes piano come in to accompany his histrionic-by-default voice, reminiscent of Supertramp or other '70 arena rock, which is his strength. But when it goes into jazz mode, it doesn't work; his voice, like Allison's doesn't fit. And the screaming, the theatricality, the sneering, the smarminess, the strutting... as Simon likes to say, this was terribly indulgent.

Tomorrow, Taylor Hicks returns... to... do... whatever it is he's doing nowadays. Singing, I suppose.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

episode 8-32 (April 22): Top 7 redux results

As I'm watching the opening credits, I have a sneaking suspicion that a chicken is coming home to roost tonight. The judges saving Matt last week was an ultimately silly move, as he is not going to make it to the final four. And if he does, it's because Allison and Danny seriously shank at some point.

During the group number, the enormous screen looming over the stage urged us all to "DANCE! SHOUT!" In Comic Sans typeface. Classy.

Holy cow! This is a long group number! It's an obvious lip-sync operation, but man, this is admittedly very entertaining, probably because it was conceived as an actual production number. Samantha and I, while watching the making-of video, being to reflect on the amazing influence that Paula Abdul had on the music industry in the late '80s, not only obviously as a solo artist, but dramatically raising the bar for choreography in music videos (most famously Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation"). Just amazing stuff 20 years ago, and a great job this week too, given the "dancers" she has to work with.

Someone's got a sign that says "Vegans [heart] Simon". I'm confused as to the Simon-vegan connection; anyone?

"I'm Good I'm Gone" is one of the worst-written songs I've ever heard. If Ford is willing to pay extra cash for these God-awful videos, then the auto industry must in be in better shape than we thought.

Ryan makes short work of Lil, giving her the boot immediately. Suddenly she's a bundle of energy, absolutely ruling the stage on "I'm Every Woman" like this was the performance that matters. The contrast was stunning.

Freda Payne struggles her way through her 1970 hit "Band of Gold". This was one of those performances where we're supposed to forgive the performer because we accept that he or she is not at the top his his or her game, but this was just inexcusable. We had the wonderful guest spot from Frankie Avalon, as well as more formal performances by previous Idol champs and prominent performers, and this was so uncomfortably inferior.

Thelma Houston fares much, much, much better on "Don't Leave Me This Way", taking over the stage with her energy and absolutely killing the final passage. My Lord, she is good.

K.C. (of the Sunshine Band) whispers his way through his evergreen "Get Down Tonight". He was lifting and lowering his mike like he was trying to pump water out of the stage, usually resulting in being barely audible, which is odd because when wasn't pulling back (or ogling his backup dancers) he doesn't sound much thinner than on the famous recording. Surrounding a paunchy older man with four much younger and lither women was just unfair too.

Danny, thankfully, doesn't need to be saved tonight. But Allison might. That is... just... unconscionable. Allison is the most powerful singer of this season, and her being in the depths of the vote is ridiculous. The Judge's Save from last week is starting to look like a terrible mistake.

David Archuleta continues his streak of adolescent-crush songs with "Touch My Hand". (Wow, an untucked grey button-down shirt with a black-and-white tie. Never seen that before.) I loved his performances last year, and this... was the worst I've ever heard him. What is he doing sitting on all of these low notes? He's trying to feign power down there, and ends up bleating like a sheep instead of belting like the runner-up of season 7 of Idol. What an odd, odd performance.

I literally held my breath waiting for Ryan to reveal . Turns out Anoop, an early favorite of mine, was in the voting basement. During his farewell song, unlike Lil, Anoop wasn't much better than he was last night, and in fact had the same shakiness in the exact same spot at the end. A shame he had to end an amazing run on that note.

As the closing credits ran, Samantha and I reminisced about Alexis Grace, and how she probably would have held her own in the Top 13, had she not been eliminated too early to be strategically Saved by the judges. Meh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

episode 8-31 (April 21): Top 7 redux performances

The producers have opted to go without the introductory videos this week. Much has been made in the press about how poorly time has been managed on the show, and how poor the producer's attempts at fixing the problems have been. It's odd to not have that transitional material between interview (if there is one) and performance. (Samantha got caught off guard in the middle of Lil's song-- "Wait, was that song, like, the song she's doing for real?") Obviously the preset hour-long time slot-- scheduled with six singers in mind, not seven-- would've been too short to hear everyone sing and for the producers to lard the show with the usual nonsense, but it does feel very seat-of-the-pants without the videos.

Lil Rounds gets through Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" without any of the grit we fell in love with back in January. Still, though this was a less-than-stellar performance, I'm a bit shocked at how negative the judges were; likely it came across even "smaller" in person. It's odd to say, but perhaps Simon is correct in portending her doom; she was a front-runner in the good ol' free-wheeling days of Norman Gentle and Nathaniel Marshall, but now in the harsh comparative light of the finals, she's not pulling her weight.

Kris Allen makes an interesting choice with Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money". (The producers also make an odd decision to allow this song in a disco-themed show, as it's decidedly an early '80s tune.) This was a pretty brilliant reimaging of the song. This may be the first time I've actually enjoyed his performance... which is not to say I think he ever truly deserved to be in the Top 13 to begin with, but he made a good case for staying.

Danny Gokey is a little disappointing-- not as a vocalist, but as a performer (and Simon says so too). The whole stationary dancing thing seemed very forced. He was, as usual, a stunning singer, but he was simply not in his element, particularly in comparison to prodigies like Allison and hams like Adam. He even looked down mid-song! I've never seen him lose focus like this before. (Simon in fact called the performance "clumsy", which seems extreme from my living room, but perhaps came across stronger in person.)

"Hot Stuff" is a little disturbing sung by a 16-year-old. Allison Iraheta has the vocal chops, to be sure, but I felt uncomfortable watching her in a skin-tight outfit, stretched out on the stairs, singing about she's "gotta have some hot stuff, gotta have some lovin' tonight". Ick. Getting past that aspect of it, it was a great performance; when she commits, lord does she commit, and she can scream with the best of them. I'm confused as to how Simon considers her to be an "underdog," as she's consistently the best singer in this competition, and arguably the best singer of the last four seasons.

Adam Lambert slow-jams "If I Can't Have You", an already mediocre song. Why, why, why? When he went on his tangent, he sounded like Family Guy's parody of Christina Aguilera, and it was super short to boot. This was almost as bad as Kelly Pickler's performance a couple of weeks ago. (The vocals were "immaculate"? Really, Simon?)

Matt Giraud is finally coming out of his vocal shell. He somehow coasted through most of this competition without really demonstrating-- at least to the viewing public-- outstanding vocal chops. This time, an R&B take on "Stayin' Alive" really works for him. (Samantha wants to interject that she thinks "he's awesome and hot and awesome.") Great arrangement, with some killer reharmonizations in the stabs in this chorus ("ah, ah, ah, ah..."); I don't know how Randy, formerly of Journey and The Time, could have found that arrangement bad.

Anoop Desai, presenting a ballad version (another one?!) of "Turn On The Lights", put me to sleep for the first time, and it pains me to say that. And that ending passage was just miserable. This was easily not just the worst performance he's done yet, but possible the worst performance since the top 13 was chosen. Making it worse, it's another easy listening arrangement of an already mediocre song.

Of all of the songs in the disco repertoire, why didn't more of them pick songs that are actually interesting? While it's debatable whether "She Works Hard For The Money", a drum-machine-driven song from 1983, qualifies as disco, it was actually a good choice for energy and melodic reasons. When I think of the disco era, the songs that immediately come to mind are brilliant dance grooves like "Staying Alive" and "I'm Every Woman", or impossibly funky earworms like "September" and "Shining Star", or impossibly lush ballads like "How Deep Is Your Love", not middling easy-listening fodder like "If I Can't Have You" or "Turn On The Lights". Were these the only songs they could get licenses for?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

episode 8-30 (April 15): Top 7 results

In retrospect, Quentin Tarantino wasn't so odd of a choice to coach a singing contest. It worked because he's not stuck "in the weeds" of vocal technique or musicality; he's just concerned about how they come across, and that's been the biggest problem amongst the contestants this season.

This week's Ford video makes me wish J. Geils had never met his Band. Seriously, with of that septet of powerhouse singers, the producers couldn't get any more vocal energy out of them? Or was it just the worst audio mix ever?

Michael Sembello's "Maniac" (from Flashdance) is actually a great choice for a group number; it's a well-written song (harmonically, anyway), and it gives an opportunity for multiple solos alternating with group harmonies.

Jennifer Hudson continues to have a voice to die for, but this song is such a generic matchup for her. "Put your hands up"? "I know I ain't trippin'"? Her voice is better suited to grand melodies (most famously "I Am Not Going"), not this kind of repetitious Ne-Yo-eque range-lessness.

When the Bottom Three is settled, Danny and Allison are not in it, which is for the best; it'd be a shame for the judges to use an obligatory Save on them this early. Anoop also escapes the Bottom Two, which is good for sentimental reasons, but he doesn't stand a chance in a three-way matchup with Danny and Allison.

For some reason, Miley Cyrus is playing "live"... last month. (That article implies that this happens regularly; does it?) Yikes, she sounds like she's holding her nose. Oh, and her high notes are painful and bleaty. Oh, and she's flat and out-of-breath half the time. Samantha asks: "Is she even singing in English?" Why is she famous for singing again? I get it, she's Disney's meal ticket and family-friendly, but her singing ability is set in stark relief compared to the talent already on that stage. (Or would be on that stage if she was live. Wow, this really awkward to listen to and write about!) Making the whole thing more awkward is the transition back to the live feed, where Ryan obviously can't do his usual post-performance interview due to the non-existence of the performer and has to make a non-sequitur back to the Bottom 3, further trivializing the whole ordeal.

So Lil is saved, leaving Matt to sing the Desperation Song du jour. Hmmmmm. Samantha suspects that Matt may be the beneficiary of the Save that Simon mentioned he'd give; I have my doubts, given that better performers (IMO) are still in the running. In his Desperation Song, though, he's got vocal issues: the beginning of "Loved a Woman" sounds like a bad Peter Gabriel imitation. On the flip side, this performance is so much better than last night's by virtue of his ability to actually walk around and connect with the audience. I wish the Save had been saved for someone more worthy, but Samantha points out that the Save was used for the exact right reason: Matt isn't a fan favorite by virtue of being on the bottom of the vote on a regular basis, and the judges want to save someone they feel deserves to make it to the Top 4. even if they recognize-- as Simon did-- that he or she probably won't. Good for them; let's just hope Danny or Allison don't shank horribly next week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Episode 8-29 (April 14): Top 7 performances

"And this"... is a little disturbing. Quentin Tarantino lords over the introduction like he's about to take Ryan Seacrest hostage. Man, is he tall.

Rickey Minor is now on the stage. I'd pay $20 to see Stevie Van Zandt slap him after we're subjected to another performer singing at the very bottom of his or her range.

Allison Iraheta, the most consistently killer performer on this show, lost me this week. "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" (from Armageddon) is an unfortunate choice, because it involves those low notes at the beginning ("I could stay awake..." etc.) that are a twelfth(!) below the eventual high notes, and since Allison is more known for alto belting than actual high notes, that's a recipe for disaster. I could tell it from when she started singing in the setup video, and again when she started live. Good thing she's built up some good will already this season, or I'd seriously fear for her. I don't quite follow Paula's and Simon's gushingness; again, we're getting a different show on TV.

Anoop Desai, inevitably it would seem, chooses "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" (Bryan Adams' monster milquetoast hit from Robin Hood). Tarantino makes a great point about maintaining intensity... and then Anoop starts with the breathiest note imaginable. Fortunately, the rest of sits really really well in his money zone.

Two things, though:

1) The whole song ran 1:51, and that's from the first piano chord to Rickey's cutoff, thanks to cutting off a verse and the entire bridge. If the producers are that concerned about running on time, and they think that the remedy is to eviscerate the structure of songs and make them as short as possible, and make the judges' role smaller and smaller every week, then... um, what's the point of this show? (Oh, and making Ryan's say his post-song disclaimers at lightning speed makes it even more odd.)

2) "Look into my eyes / and you will see / what you mean to me." Is that even English? If a song doesn't make any logical sense and is in fact bad out of artistic negligence, does it really deserve a position in the pantheon of great movie songs, where you'd expect to find songs that further the plot or set a scene well with lyrics that aren't distractingly bad?

Adam Lambert appears to get no real advice from Tarantino on "Born To Be Wild" (from Easy Rider), which seems a shame seeing as how cinematic Adam's performances tend to be. For once, I do dig the unexpected switch to IV in the chorus to accommodate the harmony in fourths (I wonder which came first).

I listened to this show through headphones for the first time tonight, and noticed that the audio of one particular chunk of he audience appear to be isolated and panned hard left. Interestingly, It's most obvious when they're booing. Hmmmmmm. Did Fox learn to do this from NFL stadiums that pump crowd noises through their PA systems?

("Fortune rewards the brave." Or the bold, Paula.)

Matt Giraud gets some decent advice from Tarantino on "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman": don't lose the lyrics! Also in the setup video, Matt insist that he's going to try to "have an emotional connection"; alas, he chooses to be behind the piano this time, so... way to sabotage yourself there. He lost some control in the bridge (Randy noted that too), and it was rather odd of him to go off on melodic tangents, after he talked in the video about his admiration for how well-written the song is. All-around a solid vocal performance though; killer falsetto at the end.

Danny Gokey makes a killer call with "Endless Love". The harp was a regrettable choice for an instrument on stage, but his voice cut through the cheese and, as Paula said, he slayed it. These arrangements may be short this season (this one was just 1:43!), but this is first time I've actually wished the song was longer. Wow, was this heartbreaking.

Kris Allen chooses "Falling Slowly" from Once, which is quite a bold choice considering the relative obscurity of the movie (Academy Award notwithstanding). A gorgeous song, to be sure, but another slow song and an unfamiliar one to boot? And with such an inconclusive ending? Hate to say it, but having a guitar on stage actually would've made it more exciting. "Exciting" being relative in this case, of course.

Lil Rounds is singing... "The Rose"? Seriously? Is this a ballad competition? I must say, Tarantino has been making some killer comments. Unfortunately, it doesn't help Lil that this arrangement omits sections to the point where the structure starts to feel off. She (and Ricky Minor) makes it feel even more off by not transposing up a bit, and so she has to sit in that awkward low part of her range again, where she sounds hoarse (in a bad way, not in a Gokey way) and uncontrolled. Ricky makes up for it a bit with some killer gospel chord changes, though.

This was overall a very dull show, and the fact that they still ran a minute late-- even after all of the changes they made-- underscores that there are fundamental issues with the way the show is being run. I shudder to think that they may pare down the structure of the songs even more than they already do.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

episode 8-28 (April 8): Top 8 results

Frankie Avalon surprises everyone (well, everyone's grandma) and doesn't sound bad, either. I'm willing to overlook his limp, because he has the air of a guy who's been doing this forever, and singing alone on stage on the top-rated show on television doesn't faze him one bit.

So Kylie Minogue from 2002 is now nostalgia music? "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" is, of course, a song with one brief catchy passage and lots of two-chord time-killing. Fortunately, it felt less cheesy than usual, because at least the singers were blocked in a way that let them interact-- you know, like people. Scott MacIntyre, as usual, is painful to watch, because he not only has no idea how he appears on stage, he likely can't see what everyone else is doing too; is nobody helping him out in this respect?

Another change: This actually sounds not lip-synched at all. How do we know? Because... it sounds kinda awful. Which means that either they had a really awful pre-recorded vocal track (not likely), or Idol (and Rickey Minor) is throwing criticism over the recent lip-sync controversy back in the viewing public's face. "See, public? It would suck if it weren't lip-synched!" But that's putting the cart before the horse: how about not putting these numbers on at all?

Most pointless Ford video yet. Sam, who works in television, points out that this video likely took hours to shoot-- to set up the empty theater, to do makeup and costumes, to move the cars in and out, and much more-- and this 30-second video was... pointless. Sound and fury on the set, without any sound or fury as a result.

(We're 17 minutes into the show, and we're deathly bored.)

Enough with the gushing over Adam's supposedly brilliant performance last night. It was... competent. And twee.

It's a little odd that Idol keeps showcasing guest artists who don't perform in any genre that's ever performed by the contestants. Flo Rida's "Right Round" is a high-energy R&B/dance hybrid, and was all-around fun to watch for what it was; Lady Gaga did a similar song (not identical, of course, but close enough) last week, and put on a hell of a show. So is this music chosen specifically for cross-promotional pay-for-play purposes, or because it reflects the overall ethic of the show? If Flo Rida were a contestant, would he have been able to perform that song and not scared the hell out of the judges?

Kelly Pickler is screeeeeeeeeeechy. It doesn't help that the song is poorly straddling the line between mid-'80s hair metal and mid-'80s fake blues-rock.

Ryan's fakeouts with the reveals are no longer suspenseful; is he just contractually obligated to make every day Opposite Day? It's just irritating.

Deep down I admit I'm sad to see Scott have to go, but he shouldn't by any rights win this competition. The judges are split? With Allison and Danny sitting there on the couch, staring back at them? Seriously? Thankfully, Simon lays down the law and calls it an end to Scott's roller-coaster. I'm sure Scott will not lack for work after this show is over, but probably not primarily as a live performer. If he does end up on stage again, he should take a cue from Andrea Bocelli, who doesn't try to fake an hyperactive stage presence; he stands there with dignity and emotes like hell, and it works.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

episode 8-27 (April 7): Top 8 performances

After much fussing with baby photos, we get on with "Songs From The Year You Were Born" night. Time to make me feel ancient. I can hardly wait!

Danny Gokey starts an R&B version of "Stand By Me" really disappointingly. He's got a whole lot of fast standing going on tonight, and does little to show us the amazing voice he's shown us before. Things picked up in the last coda, though. Paula makes reference to the chord changes and how it was a good reflection on him, which again begs the question: who does the arrangements? The performer or the musical director? (He's looking very Clay Aiken-ish too, no?)

Kris Allen gives us an interesting take on "All She Wants To Do Is Dance". Fascinating funk arrangement, considering how very '80s the original recording is (when i hear the original I can't help but also think of Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible" for some reason). And he sounds... okay. I still don't quite get his appeal. And again, we've got a guy stuck on a mini-stage in the middle of the crowd; even in a medium camera shot, he looks like he's trapped in a sea anemone made of people. Kara makes an interesting comment about it sounding like "jazz-funk homework", which I disagree with for the most part, although I understand her point. I do agree with Simon and Randy that the arrangement was more of a distraction than anything else, and his in-crowd performance tipped it over the edge into lack-of-connection oblivion.

Lil Rounds semi-powers through "What's Love Got to Do With It". If I were Paula, I'd stamp this song untouchable on behalf of Tina Turner. While Lil channels Tina Turner very well, this song was a poor choice, because she's shown repeatedly that she doesn't have control over the lower half of her range. It's not until the bridge that she starts to reach into the meat of her range, and that's too short a time. Combine that with a mid-tempo song done exactly the same mid-tempo way as the version, and you have a disappointing performance from an early-favorite.

Paula takes a roundabout swipe at Rickey Minor, which somewhat clarifies the issue: perhaps the contestants are responsible for their arrangements. But that makes for a disturbing proposition. This is the highest-rated show on American television, as Ryan so kindly reminded us earlier. Isn't in the producers' best interest to put on a more interesting show? And can they leave the kind of quality in the hands of the contestants? And if they can, then is "artistry" the new voice, as opposed to, you know, the voice?

Anoop Desai bolts out of the gate-- so to speak considering the slow-jam feel-- with a Brian McKnight-ish "True Colors". His voice sounds fantastic, and while down-tempo usually means death, he goes less-is-more on us and doesn't bring in excessive frilly nonsense like certain other singers. (Samantha, however, moaned "Boooooring" near the end.) I couldn't put a finger on why I liked it so much until Paula remarked that the song sat in a "magic" part of his range, and that was it: it sat just on the cusp of his belting range, and it worked so, so, so very well.

Scott MacIntyre will bring us the histrionic arena-rock ballad "The Search is Over"... please no piano, please no piano... finally, no piano. Guitar is actually a good prop for him ("prop" as in something to hold, not that he wasn't playing it), because it allows him stand up while also giving his arms to do. For once it wasn't uncomfortable to watch him... but his voice is sounding thinner in relation to the competition each week, and . Randy says "It didn't show you as a star, as one of the best undiscovered talents in America," but upon further consideration over the past few months... is he? Really?

"I Can't Make You Love Me" was popular when Allison Iraheta was born. Good Lord, do I feel old. It's annoying to hear another slow song, but I can't hold that against her after this powerhouse performance. Her choices are so ridiculously... mature. Such an amazing palette of tones. Paula makes the great comment that it doesn't matter that the arrangement was the same as Bonnie Raitt's, because she killed it in her own way.

Matt Giraud half-times Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover" (which is The Jam as it is), to really impressive effect. This is the first time I've been truly impressed with him, and his voice in particular. The rather big He cops out with a falsetto on "by day" and the, um, high parts. I definitely love when he dips into his lower range, which was thicker than I'd realized. Alas, the judges are pressed for time and have to give a series of hyperbolic sound bites, instead of explaining in detail to the voting public why they should keep this guy in the competition.

Aaaaaaand then my DVR cut off. Nice, Fox. Why is it that the smaller the group of contestants, the more off-schedule they get? Fox can pretty much schedule the show for as long as it needs the show to be (and indeed it has before, making all of the other networks scramble to accomodate it). Fortunately, I've got the Internet and other obsessive bloggers to make it all better.

Adam Lambert's performance of the Donnie Darko arrangement of Tears For Fears's "Mad World" (let us briefly recall some other auditionees' take on that song earlier this season, shall we?) begins in a chair, lit from behind for maximum broodiness and wheezing out high falsetto notes like Mr. Herbert on Family Guy. Man, Fox will do anything for a promotional tie-in, won't they? There's no doubt that he's got a killer falsetto, but, again, so does the "frosty mountains" guy. He hits one really impressive note near the end, but all in all, that is the performance that got Simon off his butt for a standing ovation? Really?

Allison nailed it, and deserves every save the judges can give her. They should make a special save just for her. Will tomorrow night will be the night Scott finally goes? Please?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

episode 8-26 (April 1): Top 9 results

So... the Ford video ("Mixed Up"). Um... what was that? It featured very little actual singing. I'm sure it was fun for the nine of them to mug in front of a green screen, but shouldn't some singing enter into it?

Allison is a great choice to open "Don't Stop Believin'". Man, Danny and Allison should've just done the whole thing, because they just nail it every time the camera focuses on them, which oddly enough iturns out to be most of the time anyway. Samantha is convinced the whole thing was lip-synched, but I don't think so, and my lip-synch radar is pretty strong. "Hot and Cold" those many weeks ago absolutely was lip-synched with a vengance (if both an Idol spokesman and Justin Guarini says so, it must be so!), but tonight I don't think so.

In the extended hangout-at-the-house clip, Matt's imitation of Danny turns out to be one of the most entertaining things we've seen this season. (When they talk about the chefs and pull out the menu, what does "Scotts" in quotation marks mean? Do the conventions of proper punctuation not apply in the holy Idol house?

Oh my lord. This initial separation of the "safes" from the "maybe-safes" from the bottom three is like watching paint dry. And not fun, day-glo paint either.

Season 7 champion David Cook (my pick from the beginning, thank you very much) presents... a rather dull song. I'm a little surprised that this was his choice for his return engagement, considering he was supposed to be the less boring of the two Davids. There were moments when he added some grit to offset the blandness, but it didn't work.

Megan makes crow noises on her way to the Chaises du Bottom Three, and it didn't sound much different than her singing last night. ("Tuuuuuuuurn your lieeeeeets dowwwwwn lowwwww.")

Allison and Adam look like twins! Who's styling these people? Allison was sent to Les Chaises as well, which is disappointing, but hey, someone's got to be there. But Anoop too? Seriously?! Enough, folks. We get it. Scott is a sentimental favorite for overcoming his disability, but how does he sing?!?! How. Does. He. Sing. Like that guy who sang "Silent Morning", that's how.

Lady GaGa, playing the world's brightest piano (and very well to boot), performs her hit "Poker Face". I find it fascinating that a well-trained musician is going the dance-club route. At least it's a fairly well-written dance-club song, though the vogueing started to give me a headache. Seriously, will go out of style already?

Yay! Megan is gone! And they gave her the ironic dignity of singing for fun this time, as there was no chance for a Save for her. But instead of standing like a stringless-marionette, this time she dances like Kermit the Frog when they do a full-body shot on Sesame Street. I hate to ask this of a woman who will be returning to her baby, but... is she under the influence of something? Or is she really just that odd? We see in the goodbye clip that Simon liked what he heard from the start, and the appeal is still a mystery to me.

Next week: songs from the year the contestants were born. 1983 is, in my opinion, the greatest year for pop music ever, and I feel pretty secure that Adam won't ruin it for me, but pity the poor fool who has a sentimental attachment to the music of 1986, 'cuz Scott's got your number. I forsee a nasal and awkward rendition of "Back in the High Life" in our future.