Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rock Out With Your X Out

So last night was "Rock Week." I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm not particularly fond of Idol's adherence to "theme weeks." I get that it allows for a pool of music, narrowing the choices of a performer, but it also can prove deadly to performers who've found a market and then are asked to fit into a style that's wildly different. (Think Josh Gracin on "Disco Night.") While "Rock Week" is a relatively broad category, it was a bit frustrating last night to see judges ding performers for picking songs closer to their personal styles, songs that could technically be considered "rock" but which weren't, you know, Bon Jovi or something ridiculous like that. To me, rock embraces so much more than heavy guitar riffs and thrashing heads. Rock is just as much about soul and attitude and passion. And so yes, Simon, Bob Marley is a rock artist. And yes, L.A., "Everybody Hurts" is a rock song. So get off your damn high horses, stop griping at each other over petty stuff, and judge these kids on their merits rather than nitpicking over whether they've "cheated" by finding a song that allows them to maintain their artistic identity.

It's becoming clear that there is a definite dividing line emerging amongst the performers with a handful of them pulling away from the pack and another group of them falling further and further behind. Once mighty powerhouses are now seeming weak and desperate as dark horses begin to find their mojo. There's still a tiny (and shrinking) group in the middle trying to decide which part of the race it wants to land in, although my gut tells me that as this "lead pack" gets stronger and stronger (and the weak ones are picked off by America and the judges), those middle performers will start to fade, too.

So how do they stack up? Wait no more, friends.

1. Drew -- U2 is one of my all-time favorite bands. I sat through Rattle and Hum THREE TIMES in the theatre in the course of one week. So I get a little dubious when someone tries to tackle U2 because for me, there is only one Bono and duplicating the power of his voice is nearly impossible. And yet Drew's performance last night was mesmerizing. It gave me chills. "With or Without You" became so haunting. Yes, I, too, was waiting for her to kick in a little there at the end, but I admire Drew for sticking to her guns, for knowing the artist that she is and finding ways to bring that to the stage every week. I can't imagine her voice going uptempo. There are certainly plenty of artists who have stuck within their niche. (There are frequent comparisons online between Drew and Sarah McLachlan. I would encourage Drew fans to also take a listen to Tori Amos and Kate Bush...artists who've worked with the same sort of canvas beautifully for decades without compromising.)
2. Astro -- As soon as they announced it was "Rock Week," my sis and I both were like, "Crap. Astro is screwed." There was no way Astro was going to come out and do Bon Jovi. My prediction was he would go with "Walk This Way" which was that first real mash up of hip hop and rock, but his choice of Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" was terrific. Turning the lyrics into an ode to old school hip hop was shockingly moving (I teared up. Seriously.) Add to it that last night, for the first time, Astro seemed genuine and even downright humble. The fact that he calls LA and Simon "Sir"...that kid kind of touches my heart. He is smart, he knows who he is, and he could have a future in the business.
3. Rachel Crow -- It's kind of unfortunate that Rachel went so early in the show. Her "Satisfaction" was pretty killer. She was able to play up the bluesyness of that song and still turn out a pretty rocking performance. The problem was that a lot of good stuff came after she did, so it was easy to kind of forget how good she had been by the time some of the others rolled around. Her growth, though, is pretty spectacular, and she maybe puts on one of the best shows of anyone else up there (with the exception of Astro). Plus, it was just nice to see her actually MOVE last night.
4. Josh Krajcik -- Josh was probably the truest rocker out there last night. He chose a current, legit rock band (Foo Fighters) and picked one of their hardest rocking songs ("The Pretender"). I think if I had liked the actual song a little better (I was hoping for "Everlong"), I would have ranked him higher on this list, but Josh is clearly in that lead pack that is jostling for supremacy. Honestly, this top four could be in any order and I'd be fine, and I can't imagine the finale not involving two of these four. The sad thing is that it will only get to be TWO of these FOUR. (PS -- Baby Nicole probably bugged me more here than any other time last night with her ridiculous head banging and rock posturing. Get over yourself, B.N.)
5. Melanie Amaro -- For me, Melanie falls in that middle pack, that pack that has to decide pretty quickly whether it wants to surge and join the lead pack or whether it's content to finish in the middle. There was nothing particularly WRONG with her "Everybody Hurts." It was actually quite lovely. REM is not really a "singer's band". Michael Stipe knew what his voice could and could not do and wrote pretty vocally simple stuff to meet the abilities of that voice. Melanie was able to find some nuance and add some gymnastics that felt organic to the sound and made it her own. The problem is that, while it did have that soaring passage toward the end, it was largely relatively dull. Melanie is a gorgeous TECHNICAL singer, but she lacks that spark that makes Drew, Astro, Rachel, and Josh so unforgettable. At this point, though, I'm having a hard time imagining Melanie finishing better than fifth.
6. Marcus Canty -- The same is true of Marcus. Truthfully, outside of the general showmanship, his performance of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" (one of my all-time favorite songs) was kind of lackluster. Yeah, he crawled under girls' skirts and shook what his mama gave him, but vocally? Yeah, not so much. The rawness and the passion of that song were completely lost, and it became just a touch Kids, Incorporated for me. That being said, I really like Marcus and think he has the potential to surge up into that lead pack, but he has to find a way to make his vocal energy match his physical energy. Otherwise, he's just a really good back-up dancer who somehow got stuck singing lead because the "real" singer was sick.
7. LeRoy Bell -- If they're going to call out Drew for giving the same performance every week, it's time to call out LeRoy, too. Again, there was nothing technically WRONG with his "We've Got Tonight," but it was dull and just more of the same. I like the guy, but when he's onstage, he just seems a bit lazy. There's a passion missing, and I would not be surprised to see LeRoy in the bottom tonight even though I've got him in the safety zone. (It doesn't help that he had to go first and was completely forgotten by the end of the show. That first slot is a killer at this stage in the game.)
8. Chris Rene -- I am still completely defending Bob Marley as a rock star, and I think it was perfectly acceptable for Rene to pick Marley's "No Woman No Cry" last night. The problem is that it just wasn't all that interesting. The limitations of his voice are becoming more and more apparent as the show goes on, and at this point, his tearjerker story may not be enough to keep him going much longer, especially when there are so many really great performers taking the stage every week. He slips further and further behind every week. The clock is ticking, Chris. Make up your mind. Are you in this to win it, or are you just banking on it to open some doors?
9. Lakoda Rayne -- Even though I am not ranking them last, I would not be surprised to see Lakoda Rayne voted off this week. Their mashup of the Outfield's "Your Love" and Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" was shrill and just a mess. Add to it that the attempt to give the girls personality in their introduction video really just made them seem kind of bitchy, and I can't imagine America voting for them. The only way Lakoda Rayne is not in the bottom is if people feel a tremendous surge of loyalty to Paula and vote for them to keep Paula from having a complete nervous breakdown. And it helps that there was one performer significantly worse last night, one performer who absolutely deserves to go home, and that would be ....
10. Stacy Francis -- Holy shit! Talk about a hot mess! I'm not sure I've ever sat through a performance quite so painful. It was like the train crash scene in Super 8 ... only ten times worse. It was shrill and screechy and completely out of her zone. Add to it the fact that my sis and I were completely frustrated that NO ONE called her out on the fact that, essentially, she was doing a Celine Dion song. (Yes, Meatloaf covered "It's All Coming Back to Me" ... AFTER Celine. Yes, the song was maybe technically written FOR Meat. But come on, that's a freakin' Celine Dion song. If they're going to ding Chris Rene for Bob Marley and Melanie Amaro for REM, they need to call Stacy out on freakin' Celine!) In all seriousness, if Stacy is not sent home, America needs to have its ears examined. I was literally cringing watching the whole performance as she hit rotten note after rotten note. It was self-indulgent and out of control. And Stacy had to know that. Thank God the judges last night were willing to be honest with these performers on more than one occasion and tell them that they had made giant mis-steps. (Why LA was so gentle with Stacy, I don't know....she does seem like the kind of chick who would get voted off and then go backstage and blow her brains out, so maybe LA doesn't want that on his conscience. Simon and Paula clearly don't give a shit. Bravo to them.)

Another judge is going to have to be on the chopping block tonight now that Paula is down to one act left. If there's any justice, it'll be Stacy and Lakoda Rayne standing up there (and my fear is that the judges will save Stacy even though her last several performances -- ever since the show went live -- have been mediocre at best, excrutiating at worst), but again, I wouldn't be surprised to see LeRoy there instead of Stacy. (And I could imagine the judges cutting LeRoy loose to spare Paula's psyche for one more week.) But we also know I'm kinda lousy at this whole prognosticating thing, so.......

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