Okay, I'm talking to the Gen X-ers out there (and older). Do you guys remember the episode of The Love Boat when the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders showed up on the boat? It was a very special episode -- one of the best episodes ever.
Last night's episode of American Idol kind of reminded me of that -- not because it was the best episode ever but because it kind of felt like an episode of the Love Boat from about 1978. With a couple exceptions, things just felt ... dated. I kept waiting for Ryan Seacrest to walk onstage accompanied by the lovely Julie McCoy, who would tell you about all the cool activities planned, while Isaac mixed us a swingin' mai tai. You had Reed Grimm's Ledo Deck take on "Moves Like Jagger." There was Adam Brock's 70s soul-ified "Think." DeAndre Brackensick threw out a falsetto-heavy version of Earth, Wind, and Fire's "Reasons." You had little Eban Frankowitz stripping all the grit and pain from Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" so that it became an Up With People number. By the end of the night, we had added covers of the Jackson 5, Luther Vandross, and Cyndi Lauper, to name just a few of the moldy oldies trotted out for our enjoyment. And the sad thing is that the performers got to pick their own songs. THEY PICKED THIS STUFF!!!
Thank God for Colton Dixon who gave us a Paramore song that actually felt like something that might be on the radio now. Thank God for Phillip Phillips who took Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight" and reinvented it for a modern audience. (He's getting the Dave Matthews label, but I also get a nice, healthy Keller Williams vibe from this cat.)
The thing is that there wasn't necessarily anything inherently BAD about last night's performances. In fact, many of them were downright good. They were just downright dated. If American Idol is seeking a relevant artist (a word that Stevie and JLo kept trotting out all night between stints where all three demonstrated how much they had learned at the LA Reid School of Appreciative Music Listening), then they are in trouble if Colton and Phillip aren't voted in. If it's a season of moldy oldies, the show is in trouble.
And maybe it's appropriate. Idol is now the veteran music program. As The Voice and The X-Factor trot out big, splashy production numbers and spinning chairs and songs performed in boxing rings, Idol starts to seem downright conservative and old fogey. If the show wants to stay relevant itself, it needs to push its artists to be relevant. Let them be gay (gasp!), let them tell their stories of redemption through the healing power of music, let them be odd and complicated and passionate. Don't let them die with the music in them!
With that said, here's how I think the voting is going to pan out. My understanding is that America gets to vote through five guys and the judges will pick wild cards from both the men and women to give us a top 13. (Not a superstitious bunch, those Idol producers, eh?) So these are the men I think have been saved by America:
1. Colton Dixon I'm sticking with my prediction that this guy is your winner this year. He's young, he's exciting, he's a "safe" (read: straight) Adam Lambert. I think Colton has a lot up his sleeve that will keep us watching ever week. (PS, though, hate the skunk stripe, bro.)
2. Phillip Phillips Again, this is a guy that's going to keep us entertained. Between his audition "Thriller" to last night's "In the Air Tonight," this guy is a cooler, chiller version of David Cook who will come out there and make every song his own. He's gotta be a sure thing, right? RIGHT?!?!?
3. Chase Likens This one kind of kills me to say since it's a country artist, and I'm sure we all remember my breakdown at the country finale Idol foisted on us last season. As my sis pointed out last night, though, Chase was the only country artist on stage last night. While I didn't particularly like his song (something called "Storm Warning"), his voice itself was pretty decent. And he's cute. And there's a HUGE demographic of tween country fans just looking for a cute new guy to crush on. SIGH! Chase won't make it far (says the woman who predicted Scotty McCreery would crash and burn...), but he surely garnered a lot of votes last night.
4. Joshua Ledet Joshua probably gave the best performance last night with Jennifer Hudson's "You Pulled Me Through." It was pretty damn electric. It might have felt a touch dated (What happened to those big, bombastic soul daddies??), but there was a power and restraint there that was mesmerizing to watch. This guy could solve Idol's "black guy" problem and actually be someone who could go the distance.
5. Jermaine Jones This one, I'm less certain of. It helps that Jermaine has the whole "saved by the judges" story. It helps that he went last. It helps that he has a good voice. (Although between Creighton Fraker trotting out "True Colors" and Jermaine doing "Dance with My Father", I was pretty miserable. Those are two songs I hate more than anything ... well more than anything except No Doubt's "Don't Speak." If one of the girls pulls that crap out tonight, I'm going to start to think maybe Idol is gunning for me, trying to drive me into the arms of Adam Levine -- yes, please! -- and Cee-Lo.) Jermaine also seems like a genuinely decent guy for whom being on that stage was a dream come true. As he finished last night and basked in the applause from the audience, I said to my sis, "You know -- that's what American Idol is supposed to be about" -- giving an average yet talented person a shot at the spotlight. I'm thinking America had the same thought last night.
Candidates for Wild Card Spots:
DeAndre Brackensick I didn't necessarily swoon over him, but apparently the judges thought he was brilliant. He's pretty to look at. That might be enough.
Heejun Han My boy gave one of the weakest performances last night, but a lot of that stemmed from a weak song choice. The judges were keen to point out that he was brilliant despite the song he chose, and they might give him another shot at redemption if American memories don't extend back to the audition rounds....and his adorable cowboy hatred.
Reed Grimm Again, Reed is creative and interesting (the drums are getting a bit old, though, bro) and could give Idol a little cool cred. A little.
The ladies take the stage tonight, featuring three -- count 'em, three! -- country chicks and a buncha chicks who think that a bluesy voice will get them farther than third place. Should be fun!