Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thoughts of an Idol Nature

Yes, I know I promised I would blog more when the musical was over. I've been lax. I've been a bit swamped. My external hard drive decided to crash over my spring break -- my external hard drive that pretty much contains my entire teaching career. I've been scrambling to re-create lessons and activities. It's sucked. The musical ending also brought an end to any excuses I may have had to not go to the gym and workout, so a lot of hours have been spent trying to get my sorry butt back into some semblance of shape. A lot of my silence, though, has stemmed from Idol itself. Writing about Idol is a lot more fun when it's a ship of fools, but this season? Um, you guys, it's really good.

It's time, though, for me to suck it up and get back on the train because there really is a whole lotta Idol to chatter away about.

Let's skip back a couple weeks to the judges using their save to prevent Casey Abrams from going home in 11th place. I have never made it a secret that I have issues with the save. Even though I have cried and thrown fits and even given up the show for nearly an entire season in reaction to eliminations I deemed unfair, the fact is that part of the drama of the show is those very eliminations. It is good tv when Chris Daughtry leaves about three weeks too early. To me, allowing the judges to rescue one person gives them a little too much power and takes away the very heart of the show -- that people at home ultimately have the power. The set-up of the save would not have allowed the judges to correct some of the truly horrendous errors the American people have made. The save would have not rescued Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry, or Melinda Doolittle. I would argue that the judges would not have used that save to rescue Jennifer Hudson. (Am I the only one who remembers what jerks they were to her? Talk about revisionist history!! Ryan actually referred to her as an Idol winner a couple weeks ago when she appeared.) Let's look, too, at how the save HAS been used. In its two seasons before this one, the save was used to rescue Matt Giraud and Michael Lynche. Did anyone really think either of those guys stood a chance of actually winning? Seriously? Okay, MAYBE Michael Lynche had a shot at the finale, but Matt Giraud -- in a season that featured Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, and Danny Gokey?

Which brings us to Casey. I've made no secret of my adoration for Casey. I think he's a gifted musician. While I wasn't overly surprised to see him land in the bottom three, I was a bit shocked to see him eliminated. I, however, was never for a second worried because I KNEW the judges would save him. Had the save not existed, yes, I would have been angry at America for once again letting their middle-of-the-road tastes deny a truly gifted artist a victory. I probably would have fired off an angry, sarcastic, pithy little post here about how stupid people are for letting him go. And then a week later, I would have tuned in again because the level of talent still around makes it impossible to stop watching. Once we got rid of a couple Snoozin Luccis (I'm looking at you Ashton and Karen), the truth of the matter is that anyone left is capable of winning this thing, and the real drama is going to be in watching these tremendously talented people duke it out and pick one another off one by one. While I'm glad that my favorite was saved (and that the possibility of a save has been taken off the table, making this now a true musical thunderdome), I also hate the fact that the result of that save is that Casey has played it increasingly safe, deciding that riding in the middle of the pack and staying in the show is a better option than continuing to take risks, even risks that don't quite pay off, and be sent home. I miss dangerous, sexy, unpredictable Casey, and the save has taken that guy away from us.

And that brings us to Pia's elimination this week. Yes, it was surprising. Pia had never before been in the bottom three, she's had tons of praise lavished on her, and was quietly emerging as the one to beat in a season without a truly clear frontrunner. I was surprised, particularly with her standing next to Stefano who is probably the weakest link left in the competition at this point (more on that in a bit), but I was not disappointed. I've been pretty honest up to this point that I didn't quite "get" Pia. Sure, she's pretty and has a lovely voice and perfect pitch and all that jazz, but she's also pretty bland and lacking in any sort of flavor. She is a perfect representative of what Idol USED to be -- pretty kids singing lots of big notes with pretty smiles on their faces. Pia would have been a sure thing in Idol's early years. Imagine the run she could have given Ruben or Fantasia. The thing is -- Idol has kind of moved beyond that sort of Star Search approach to a talent competition. While he may not have won, Chris Daughtry changed this show forever by thinking outside the box, taking big chances, and embodying the definition of "making it your own." The years that have followed have found performers who take that Daughtry approach to the competition finding great success, if not ultimately winning. David Cook and Adam Lambert took this lesson to heart and have helped make it impossible for the Pias of the world to find success unless they're willing to push and take risks. Standing on stage, looking pretty, and singing a ballad is not enough anymore, and I am grateful for that. It has allowed Idol to become more interesting, more creative, and more daring and keep me much more invested ten years later. While it is unfortunate that a very talented singer was sent home, Pia learned a hard lesson that we need more than pretty smiles and big notes. We want artistry, and Pia, sweetheart, that is a word I would never use in association with what you showed us onstage every week. (PS -- It is unfortunate you were eliminated the week you DID try something new and went with a more upbeat song because it was the first week I actually enjoyed you, but as my sister would say, "Too little, too late.")

So now there are eight left, and with an exception or two, I think it is completely reasonable to think that any one of the eight kids left could be the recipient of a confetti shower in eight weeks. From here on out, just about every elimination will be a shocker. While I'm not a fan of all eight left, the fact is that there is a lot of talent on that stage every week. I just wish that the judges would let go of their fears and actually offer some truly constructive criticism. Yes, they are clearly getting plenty of critique and feedback from Jimmy Iovine and the producers who are serving as their mentors this year (a change that I absolutely applaud and adore). Jimmy is willing to tell them what's not working, and they need to hear that. For them to get in front of an audience and be continually told they are brilliant is not helping them, nor is it helping the viewers at home know how to vote. The judges need to step up with some honesty and not be afraid of the boos from the audience. Otherwise, in all honesty, why are they there?

While it's a total guessing game at this point to try to figure out how the finale is going to shape up, here is how I would rank the performers who are left in the competition at this point:

1. Casey Abrams -- I'm honestly not sure Casey can win at this point. It's gotta be a crushing blow to your ego to know that America wanted you to go home third, that America preferred the song stylings of Thia Megia to you. I still think, though, that Casey has the most interesting stuff in him, is probably the best artist in the show, and if he gets brave enough again to let that out, he will be tough to beat. Bring me back the Casey of "I Put a Spell on You" PLEASE!! That's the Casey Kelly Clarkson and I crush on, not this sort of cleaned up, sanitized version who gives us CCR covers.

2. James Durbin -- This kid really touches my heart. We know from his audition that he's dealing with a lot of demons emotionally, medically, et cetera. I love that he doesn't trot that out. We know this show means a lot for him, but I appreciate that we don't have to hear every single week about his medical issues or his need for financial security. Classy, James. Really. As a rock fan, too, it's nice to see someone go out there and just rock out with his, well, you know, out. Slowing it down this week for a lovely "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was absolutely brilliant and moving and let us see that James has a lot more range than we may have originally thought.

3. Scotty McCrery -- I still struggle with Scotty. It's tough in that I am really not a fan of country music, and Scotty embraces a style of country that I probably loathe more than any other. He has proven, though, over the course of the past couple weeks that he is able to function within the constraints of Idol themes, and that he is able to make wise choices. Bless him for not going with Johnny Cash last week and giving us a fun, rockabilly performance instead. When you add to it the fact that the key Idol voting demographic seems to love this kid, and he's probably safe until May when the cougars come out to support Casey and James. This kid has a career waiting for him regardless of what happens. I have a hard time imagining that the country music industry is going to let this kid get away, and the country music industry has proven itself adept at helping Idols become Nashville stars. (PS -- Could you do me one favor, though? Could you please stand up straight? I'm sort of confused as to why you seem to be perpetually slanted sideways onstage. Also, my sister thinks you remind her of George W. Bush. She's not yet decided if that's a good thing or a bad thing.)

4. Paul McDonald -- I know Paul will likely end up going home sooner rather than later, but I want him to stick around as long as possible. And it's not just because he's flipping adorable. There is a quirky artistry at work with this guy, and I think there's a market out there for him. He's also the choice for Vote for the Worst which will likely help him stick around at least a little longer. (Does VFTW still have the power it used to?)

5. Lauren Alaina -- Oh, Lauren, you are so sweet and adorable. I look forward to your performances every week if only to see what completely age-inappropriate gear your mother will be rocking out in the audience. (I swear that the week is going to come when Mama Alaina will be out in the audience in a bib and onesie!) You have, though, not really ever been able to live up to that audition episode hype. Steven Tyler may have cursed you when he proclaimed to the camera, "I think we found the one today." The truth of it is, sweetheart, that you're just a little outgunned here. You don't quite have the experience that some of these other kids have to really sink your teeth into a song and find a creative and unique spin on it. You've given us lovely, country-lite covers of some great songs, but I'd be hard-pressed to remember what you have done on stage outside of your questionable choice to do "Natural Woman" last week. (Oh, the Internet was ablaze with smirks about you declaring yourself a "woman.")

6. Jacob Lusk -- I was not at all shocked to see Jacob in the bottom three last week. I've struggled with Jacob the last couple weeks. In short, I think his gimmick is wearing thin. That sort of bombastic, possessed by the power of the music tremor he works....over it. The guy has some serious articulation issues (says the speech coach). He still seems uncertain of pitch at times. And when you add his self-important "I'll be in the bottom three because America sucks" Jacob, honey, no. Brother is skating on thin ice. While I understand he apparently had moral issues with singing "Let's Get It On", choosing "Man in the Mirror" did him no favors. Seriously, there is a whole catalog of Marvin Gaye stuff that would have worked better. Or what about some Al Green? Of course, choosing to go with Marvin or Al might make us realize that Jacob is merely a pale imitation of those soul legends, so it's much safer to go with one of Michael Jackson's most treacly ballads and then use it to shame people into voting for you. Americans do not shame easily, Jacob.

7. Haley Reinhart -- Haley has no fans Chez Mel. In fact, my sis asked me this week if we could buy a bottle of champagne to have on hand to help us celebrate Haley's ouster. As for me, while I love the blues rock vibe Haley has (finally) decided to embrace (after soul and country divas didn't prove successful for her), I don't love Haley. She lacks the authenticity of, say, Allison Iraheta (whom I adored) or the power of Carly Smithson. She feels like she's PLAYING rocker chick rather than BEING rocker chick. And she's over the top in her playing. She growls every other note, stomps around like she's wearing her first pair of big girl shoes, but lacks even a modicum of authenticity. She wants to sing songs that are full of pain and emotion (the very definition of any Janis Joplin song), but it's pain and emotion she's never legitimately felt. Like Pia, Haley is technically proficient, but there's a spirit that's missing here, a spirit that may send her home sooner than she'd like. Add to it the fact that she always comes across like a snotty, petulent teenager whenever Jimmy Iovine offers her any sort of constructive criticism, and there will definitely be no tears shed at my house when Haley is sent packing ... unless you count drunken tears of joy as we sip our champagne.

8. Stefano Langone -- We all know that Stefano is living on borrowed time, right? It's not that Stefano is bad. I just think that, like Pia, Stefano is an Idol that the show has outgrown. Imagine how this kid would have done in an early season, when that sort of earnest and safe sort of pop idol was all the rage. Stefano doesn't seem clean enough to be attractive to the legions of Justin Bieber fans, but he isn't gritty enough to appeal to the girls who have forgiven Chris Brown for being an abusive douchebag. I'd like to see Stefano tackle some contemporary stuff -- some Bruno Mars or even, yes, Chris Brown -- to prove that he is marketable and isn't working a decade behind the times. The fact, though, that it was Stefano sent to safety last week while Pia stood alone. I would expect some sort of Stefano backlash since the general consensus was that it should have been him...and I could also imagine that getting a stellar performance out of the kid after America literally booed his success will be a Herculean task. He seems like a nice enough kid, but nice enough is not enough anymore.

Like I said, any elimination from here on out is likely to be shocking (with the exception of Stefano). Any elimination is going to be removing a really talented kid from the show. And yet there's something really exciting about that, about seeing American Idol be the talent juggernaut it always could have (and should have) been. Who knew that it would take ten seasons for this show to put together this deep field of talent? And who knew it would be so much fun?

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