Tuesday, May 12, 2009

episode 8-37 (May 12): Top 3 performances

And this... is a sham without Allison. Six days later, I'm still shocked that Kris is about to perform for America to prove his worthiness and not her. What away to celebrate a 300th episode: with a dark cloud of WTF.

Paula chooses Terrance Trent D'Arby's "Dance Little Sister" for Danny Gokey. In retrospect, it's shocking we haven't heard a TTD song from him yet, considering the similarity of his voice. This song starts off absolutely kicking butt, perfect for his voice, a great groove to match his tone... and then the chorus gets really shouty and hoarse, and not in a good way. I'm starting to hear what Samantha heard last week, in terms of his creeping (and creepy) vocal similarity to Taylor Hicks (although Danny is in far more control; Hicks' hoarseness is more of an affectation). In terms of his much-maligned "dancing," he certainly looked like he was having a blast, although it was a goof-fest.

Kris Allen gets the text message from Randy and Kara to perform One Republic's "Apologize". Oh good Lord. Really? Could a song be more half-assed than this song? Or are they bringing it onto the show to finally eliminate the ass entirely?

The grand piano makes its return for the first time since Scott MacIntrye's elimination, and now we remember why we hated it in the first place: single performer + seating + enormous looming piece of furniture = disaster. Luckily for us, the cameras swoop in and out and around, but from the audience's point of view he might as well be wearing a mask, for all of the connection he's making from behind a piano sitting perpendicular to the judges. After practically making out with the mic for the first verse, Kris's limitations shine through as he's unable to make the strong leap to falsetto for the hook ("it's too laaaaaaaaaate" and such); by the second chorus he isn't even singing the melody! I can see Simon nodding off as they pull the camera back. What a waste of time this imitation of a recording was.

Simon puts the smackdown on Kara for what he sees as hypocrisy in her comments. Wow. Just... wow. It's a shame to see this happen, as I'd seen Kara as the anti-Paula from the beginning.

Adam Lambert has the heavy duty to sing "One", as chosen by Simon. Uh oh, he's blue-lit from behind like when he sang "Mad World". But hey! He sounds really good and smooth on this! And not at all showy! And it's a tasteful arrangement! And then... everything goes to hell in the last verse, and it's back to screaming, screechy, out-of-tune run-heavy Adam. Of course, the great unwashed will eat this up, because screeching really high somehow equals good. Ugh.

Danny is up again, and we can see a string quartet set up on stage as he's talking to Ryan. He says he'll be singing "You Are So Beautiful", and my first reaction is: great, another ballad. And then my second reaction is: actually, finally, an actual ballad. "Apologize" and "One" are just middle-tempo songs with no drive or "sweep" to it; this should be good, and will probably get the hausfrau vote back. But he starts so low-- "to me" was uncomfortable to listen to. The chord changes at the end of the first refrain were quite gorgeous, and then the final refrain kicks in, and HOLY CRAP is this powerful. You can't avoid the obvious undercurrent of the loss of his wife with this song (and, previously, "Endless Love"), and whatever fake energy came from him in the first song was negated by this powerhouse performance. What a perfect choice.

Kris has the misfortune to follow that. Kanye West's "Heartless" is actually a really interesting choice; its melody feels really repetitive at West's tempo, but it's original enough that it could stand on its own if you slowed it down... and Kris does, and it works. And then... oh, right, there's the chorus, which isn't written particularly well-written, and it's awkward to listen to. This is like the Quentin Tarantino episode all over again for him; a boring mess. And naturally, the judges are falling over each other to praise him. Is it "brave" to perform in this manner on this stage? Sure, but that doesn't make it good.

Adam makes the obvious choice of an Aerosmith song, "Cryin'". Man, does he look angry. Those backing singers are really doing him a disservice with their intonation on the first chorus. And then he does himself a disservice on the bridge-- "making loooooove" and some other inscrutable run both sounded like a wounded cat. It's a shame, because he's seemed like a very musical guy throughout this season, and then he makes such odd choices for performance purposes. I get it, he's charismatic and a has a great range... but that range should be used in a way that doesn't involve screaming.

Alas, Adam and Danny are falling into the same trap, conflating soul with straining. Will the world ever learn?

By the way, tonight I listened to the show through headphones (for the second time this season), and kudos to the audio staff. Between the hi-def signal and the audio mix, It's just like being there. Quite stunning, actually, particularly in the intro of the Angola sequence.

Tomorrow we'll be seeing Jordan Sparks (yay!) and Katy Perry (yiiiii). Perry put on one of the most awkward performances I've ever seen on live TV at the Grammys this year; we'll see tomorrow if she's been putting in as much effort into her live act as she's put into her photo shoots.

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