Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Talent Pool is Tapped . . . .

. . . . or Thoughts on Last Night's American Idol.

So the sis and I settled in last night to watch the first round of semifinals for American Idol. We entered with high hopes. After boycotting almost all of last season in response to Melinda Doolittle's ouster (and the nausea-inducing crowning of Jordin Sparks), we had rekindled our love of the show over the course of the past couple weeks -- remembering just what it had been that made us love the show to begin with: the drama, the humor, even the talent. We have our favorites; we have the contestants we loathe. Last night's round looked to be highly competitive with a lot of people we had grown to like a lot during the auditions and Hollywood episodes. We were psyched.

And then the music started. SIGH! This is the best we have to offer, America? I'm not saying that every single performance was bad or cringe-inducing, but there wasn't anything that gave me the same sort of visceral reaction that I can remember having when watching Kelly Clarkson during this stage of the competition or Tamyra Grey or Clay Aiken or Fantasia Barrino or Jennifer Hudson . . . the list goes on and on. At best, we saw a lot of Kimberly Caldwells and Ryan Starrs and Gina Glocksens and RJ Heltons -- good, but just not quite good enough to be the American Idol.

Here's a rundown on the performances in the order that they were performed:

1. Jackie Tohn: Going into last night, I really liked Jackie. I liked that gritty, bluesy sound to her voice. And even though my sis keeps reminding Jackie that "Janis died almost 40 years ago!", I'm ready for that sort of whiskey-soaked soul to make a comeback. Last night's performance, however, was just kind of sad. First off, BAD song choice. While I love "A Little Less Conversation," it's not really a song to show off your singing ability. There's no real range to it. While I liked the sort of sexy soul vibe Jackie tried to inject into the song, it just didn't work and just didn't show off her talent. On top of it, her ridiculous "dancing" (which my sis said looked more like Elaine Benis than Janis Joplin) and that horrific outfit (that I thought looked what Minnie Mouse would wear if she were to become a prostitute) came together to create a performance that just didn't do Jackie any favors. By the end of the two hours, I'd kind of forgotten she'd even performed -- and then the recap at the end brought it all back to me like a bad nightmare. Sad.

2. Ricky Braddy: Whom my sis and I keep referring to as Ricky Bobby (and then we launch into a ton of jokes from Talledega Nights). Ricky is cute enough and has a nice enough voice, but he's that sort of voice I kind of hate in men -- that sort of high, nasally thing. It works with Justin. And that's it. I'm sure Ricky will get some votes, and if he doesn't get voted in tonight, I'm sure we'll see him back as a wildcard since Paula has gone on the record as saying he is a top contender to win in May. I just hope he picks some better songs and gets a little personality.

3. Alexis Grace: Hands down, this was my favorite performance of the night. Even though Alexis is scarily pale and looked a little bit like she had a case of the scoliosis during her performance, I LOVED her actual voice. She is also rocking a grittier, bluesier vibe -- just with a little less Southern Comfort mixed in. Her take on "I Ain't Never Loved a Man" was pretty darn perfect. Rock on, Alexis. Here's hoping America loves you as much as I did!

Okay, now my memory is failing me on who came next, so bear with me and spare me the comments telling me the order is all messed up!

4. Anoop Desai: I love the idea of an ethnically diverse American Idol. In theory, I like Anoop Desai. Unfortunately, I did not love or like or much care for Anoop's performance last night. "Angel of Mine"? Snore!!! I was hoping he would come out and tackle something fun like "My Perogative" like he did during Hollywood Week. The internet buzz is pretty hot on Anoop (EW has him ranked at #1 on their Idol Power List this week), but last night just left me really cold.

5. Stevie Wright: Oh my gosh. Without a doubt, this was the most painful performance of the night for me. Stevie is so cute and so charming and then she came out and gave this ghastly performance of some Taylor Swift song. (Shocking confession of the day: Um, I kinda love Taylor Swift.) It was off pitch, her nerves were palpable, and her breath control was non-existent. I felt bad for the poor kid, but man, that just really was not good.

6. Brent Keith: And the shit parade continues! Brent, who came in 6th on Nashville Star, came out and did some country atrocity called "Hicktown." Okay, right away those of you who know me should know that this performance would not work for me. First of all, with a few exceptions (and primarily those exceptions are the country-pop crossovers divas like Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood), I can't stand country music. Add to that the fact that the song is called "Hicktown." PUKE! (Although the idea of a town where all the hicks live is kind of appealing -- let them live in their town and away from me! While my sis pointed out that this idea sounded a bit like a concentration camp, I'm comfortable with that.) Brent's performance lacked any real soul or energy -- he was phoning it in. Plus, if you can only muster up a 6th place finish on Nashville Star, you are not going to see much success on American Idol, pal.

It was about this point that we were shown Ted Danson sitting in the audience with Neil Patrick Harris. WHAT THE WHAT?!?!? From there on out, my sis and I became obsessed with wondering what Neil and Ted were thinking. (And I believe I saw Mary Steenburgen there as well) My sis wondered if Neil went up to the judges and, pointing at Danson, said, "Haaaaaaaaaave you met Ted?" ala Barney Stinson.

Back to the performances.

7. Casey Carlson: And it just keeps getting worse. Casey chose "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," changing it, of course, to HE. While the band kept the original Police punky-reggae vibe that makes the song such a class, Casey came out and sang it like she was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club, stripping any emotion or punk from the song. It was beyond bad. It just plain sucked.

8. Stephen Fowler: My sis and I have sort of hated Stephen since he got through to the semifinals after not just forgetting his lyrics during Hollywood Week but freakin' WALKING OFF THE STAGE rather than faking his way through. When talented guys like Jamar Rodgers, Michael Castro, or that cute little horror movie kid (Corey?) are sent packing in favor of a douchebag like that, it makes me start to remember why I had issues with this show. Stephen's performance of "Rock With You" was pretty abyssmal. I have to agree with the judges when they encourage contestants to stay away from Michael Jackson. For all of his eccentricities and proclivities, there's no denying Michael's style is pretty unbeatable, particularly early stuff like this -- when he was still young, black, and gifted. It's arrogant to think you can match that -- and the truly talented know better.

9. Ann Marie Boscovitch: Ann Marie was one of my favorites coming into last night, even though my sis argues that there is no way that woman is 22 years old. 42, maybe! Anyway, Ann Marie's performance of "Natural Woman" just left me flat. Aretha is one of those artists that maybe shouldn't be touched unless you really have the chops or have a good spin to put on it. Think Kelly Clarkson or even Alexis Grace from earlier last night. Ann Marie did a pretty karaoke take on the song and just left me pretty flat. Too bad.

10. Michael Sarver: I get this guy and Brent confused, and last night didn't help. Michael chose the pretty overdone "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin DeGraw and really didn't add anything knew to it other than being slightly off rhythm and pitch at the beginning. Snooooooooze.

11. Tatiana Del Toro: Perhaps the performance many of us were waiting for. Tatiana made a name for herself during auditions and Hollywood week, but I doubt it was necessarily the name she intended. Even though Psycho Del Toro has a nice ring to it. Anyway, last night, we saw a significantly more subdued Tatiana. Clearly, Tats has been doing some 'net surfing and has seen public opinion -- the Facebook groups devoted to her elimination from the contest (of which I am a member), the Vote for the Worst movement to insure her survival, etc. The thing is, to me, Subdued Tats was even crazier than Diva Tats. When Tats was playing the Diva, I was just afraid she was going to have a stroke or something from the emotion of it all. When Tats was subdued, I was waiting for her to pull out the gun and open fire. To make matters worse, her performance wasn't half bad. She picked a somewhat less divalicious Whitney Houston song ("Saving All My Love") and did a pretty decent job -- although she did get a little pitchy at the end. Tats just might survive. Sigh!

12. Danny Gokey: Good lord the producers want this man to win. He's been perhaps the most featured contestant up to this point in the show. Someone pointed out that the camera spent more time on Danny's reaction to Jamar's performance during Hollywood Week than on Jamar actually performing. To make the point more obvious, they gave Danny the coveted final spot. We all know Americans have a short attention span -- the later you perform in the show, the better your chances of survival. And so there was Danny performing (gag!) Mariah Carey's "Hero" as we approached the end of the show with that sweet, Robert Downey Jr.-esque face and those glasses and that sad looking friend in the audience and the video to remind us about the dead wife, and Paula up and bouncing as only she can to a song that's not really all that danceable. When he was finished, the judges just about clawed each other's eyes out with the sheer joy of what they had seen. The thing is, I wasn't THAT impressed. I mean, yes, Danny probably was the best male performance of the night (with Ricky Bobby, er, Braddy a close second), but it certainly wasn't a performance that left me in tears or inspired or anything like that. Danny will make it to the final 12 and probably deserves to be there, but I kind of wish the producers would trust us to make that choice rather than essentially making it for us.

My prediction is that Danny and Alexis will get the gender-reserved spots with the next top vote getter being either Ricky, Anoop, or (gulp) Tatiana.


Mike said...

As I repeat over and over again (and try not to sound like too much of an ass when I do -- because it's not a judgment, just a taste issue), I don't watch Idol. But do you think Danny Gokey murdered his wife to improve his chances to eventually make it on the show. That's what folks on other websites are saying. Or that his first single will be called "I'm Christian and my wife's dead."

Anyway, really just wanted to say that I enjoyed your post...because even if I don't watch Idol, I LOVE reading about it...which I think, if one were to pass judgments, is much more judgment worthy.

Mel said...

HA! You're totally onto something, man!! And last night, when the "family member" was holding up the picture of the Dead Wife and pointing up as if to heaven, it was really just a warning, "We killed one to get here; we're ready to kill more."