Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Usher-ing in a New Idol

Last night was R&B night on American Idol. While many performers gave some pretty forgettable performances, there were a couple shockers as one "mediocre" Idol made the first real case that he could challenge the Mighty Bowersox, one powerhouse Idol fell with a crashing thud, and I considered a restraining order against Ms. Bowersox.

For the most part, Usher seemed like a relatively competent mentor, but anything is an improvement over Hannah Montana last week. I grew frustrated with the overabundance of talk coming from the judges since a lot of it boiled down to them arguing over who was giving the best advice. It's a wonder the kids' heads don't explode from the conflicting advice that they must sit through each week. For the most part, Simon was in the right more often, although I am not so sure Katie Stevens is a country artist. I know he's desperate to discover the next Taylor Swift, but Si-Si, Katie Stevens is NOT Taylor Swift.

Before I move onto my rankings, I'd also like to ask the producers to please stop with the backstage "Idol Cam" to usher us back in from commercial breaks. It's uncomfortable in some cases (seeing Siobhan skulk through the green room after being torn apart by the judges) and downright cheesy and self-indulgent in others (like whenever Mike grinned and posed for the camera). It's bad enough sitting through the weekly torture that is the group numbers. Please don't make us sit through this. Thank you.

1. Crystal Bowersox -- Last Thursday, I wrote the following: "I'd LOVE to hear her do Gladys Knight. Since Crystal is stalking me, I wouldn't be surprised to hear her tackle 'Midnight Train.'" Guess what Ms. Bowersox did last night . . . yup, "Midnight Train to Georgia." If I go missing, please send police to question Crystal Bowersox. Please. Crystal broke from her norm last night, setting aside the guitar to play piano a little and then singing on her own. Yes, it worked, but I agree with Simon that she shouldn't mess with a good thing. Bless him for defending her in the face of the other judges harping on and on about her personality issues and the need to change things. Crystal has a good thing going. It works for her. It sets her apart. This is the artist that she is and she will be, so stop making her dance your little puppet dances, Kara. (Additional props to Simon for telling her she should have 86'ed the backup singers. Those bitches attempted to drown out more than one performer last night and should have been kicked to the curb. It's American Idol, not American Back-Up Singers!)

2. Lee Dewyze -- Lee pulled away from the pack last night and made a real play for Crystal's throne with his rock-fueled, energetic performance of "Treat Her Like a Lady." It was the first time Lee's given solid evidence that he could be a potential challenger. His gruff mellowness, if that is such a thing, is appealing, and he's a talented kid. He's like a slightly dirtier Kris Allen, and maybe once we finally get smart and get Tim Urban off the show, he can score some more of the bubblegum voters.

3. Michael Lynche Thank you, Michael, for setting aside the grinning and pointing and jazz hands for a week and reminding us that you are actually a talented singer when you're not hiding behind the "Hooray for Everything" dance moves. Michael benefited the most, perhaps, from Usher's mentoring in that he stripped India.Arie's lovely "Ready for Love" down to its purest form and just sang. He connected with the song and respected the song to be enough without the grinning and pointing and kicking. (And shame on you, Kara, for not knowing this song!)

4. Casey James Casey's "Hold On, I'm Coming" was rockin' and infectious and fun. The problem is that he was outsung by the backup singers. Their mix was significantly higher than his, which meant he was often lost on the chorus of the song. Despite that, though, he gave a solid performance. The problem with Casey is that he's not a great singer; he's a potentially great musician. He really could, with some work, be the new Jonny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd -- guys who are great musicians but not necessarily great singers. The problem is that the kind of fan base that a Lang or Shepherd (or even, dare I be so bold to say, Stevie Ray Vaughn) aren't the kinds of people who will necessarily embrace a dude from American Idol no matter how mean his guitar playing skills are.

5. Andrew Garcia I can't comment a lot on Andrew's performance as the only thing I know of or about Chris Brown is that he beats his girlfriends. I did like Andrew's performance despite not knowing the original. I'm glad that Andrew seems to be willing to put up a fight through this thing rather than just shrugging and giving up ala Paige Miles last week.

6. Katie Stevens I was really disappointed in Katie's choice last night. I really thought this would have been the perfect week for her to skew young and really showcase what kind of pop/R&B artist she could be since she claims that is what she sees for herself. Instead, she pulled out "Chain of Fools," a song that is 3 times older than Katie and a million times too mature for her. Come on, Katie! You're working the main stage on a cruise with shit like that. Grow a set and tackle something contemporary! Katie's performance was competent but it was like watching a precocious child entertain Mommy and Daddy's friends before being hustled off to bed so that the key party can start. And while we're talking outdated references -- Katie . . . the outfit? Seriously? A dull grey onesie over shiny, shiny black tights? Do they not have mirrors backstage? Sweetie, that was NOT flattering. When in doubt, break out a pair of jeans and a cute top. And lose the accessories.

7. Aaron Kelly Earlier this week, Entertainment Weekly printed a list of 20 songs that should be banned from Idol. I'd like to add "Ain't No Sunshine" to this list. First of all, it's a tough song. But more importantly, there have already been two, yes two, stunning, iconic performances of this song performed on the Idol stage. Season 1's Christina Christian gave her finest performance on the Idol stage with this song during 1970's week, a performance that briefly made her seem poised to present a real challenge to Tamyra Grey and Kelly Clarkson. And then there was last season's performance from Kris Allen during iTunes Download week. That was the first week where Kris really seemed like he could take down Adam Lambert . . . which he did. Aaron's version lacked the heart and passion of Christina and Kris and instead, again, seemed more like a kid performing for Mom and Dad's friends. Like Katie, I wish Aaron had picked something that skewed a little younger, because, sweetie, you're not going to become a superstar performing like that.

8. Siobhan Magnus Yes, I am ranking Siobhan in the bottom three this week. Let's be honest; her performance was a hot mess. From her selection of "Through the Fire" to her outfit, it was just not right. Not helping Siobhan was that she was the first singer, which often can lead to being completely forgotten. The judges were careful to point out that this week was a mis-step rather than a reason for her to be sent home. The truth is that Siobhan is still the strongest non-Bowersox performer in the show and losing her now would be a real blow to the competition. I just wish Siobhan had not gone such a staid route. I mean, it felt like the anthem from a bad 80's movie rather than a contemporary performance. I love that Siobhan had the nerve to tackle Chaka Khan, but why not "Tell Me Something Good" which would have allowed her to play a little more with her dark and funky side. And yes, Siobhan, let's retire the scream for a week and see what happens, 'kay?

9. Didi Benami Well, Didi did take my advice by performing "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" I guess I had hoped she'd do a little re-imagining of it -- bringing out her guitar and giving it a delicate, folksy feel. Instead, she came out dressed like a refuge from a 1970's cruise ship and did a so-so karaoke take. She was overwhelmed musically by the song and the arrangement. The song served to shine a big, fat spotlight on not just the fragility of Didi's voice but the limitations of it as well. If Didi survives this week, which I'm worried she may not, I do hope that she goes back to that Cobie Callait vibe she was working back during Hollywood Week. If next week is Country Week (like I'm kind of thinking is the case based on Casey's promise to go acoustic next week), it would be great to see Didi take a Patsy Kline or Dolly Parton tune, strip it down, and go for it rather than doing this sort of Love Boat schtick. (Again, props to Simon for his dig at Dancing with the Stars and the poor performance skills of the singers on that show. Priceless!!)

10. Tim Urban Okay, this next post is for the girlies out there. Girls, I get it. Tim is adorable. He is! He has a face made for plastering on bedroom walls. If I were 20, 25 years younger, I would be crazy about that kid. But here's the truth of the matter, ladies . . . Tim is not a good singer. His performance of "Sweet Love" (yeah, seriously, dude sang "Sweet Love") was painful -- to us and clearly, judging from the look on his face, to him, too. He has no charisma to compensate for that lack of ability the way Sanjaya did. I'm also beginning to think the guy is either extremely arrogant or extremely stupid after watching him laugh through his entire critique last night. The judges kept giving him some pretty decent constructive advice and expressing their concern that he doesn't seem to be listening to things that could help him, and he just laughed. Either way, he needs to be sent home. Please, please, please, girls, do the right thing. Vote for Aaron. He's cute. Or how about Lee. That's the guy you'll fall for in college. Just please let Tim go.... for America!

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