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?

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