Friday, April 13, 2012

Idol, We Have a Problem

I didn't blog about Wednesday's Idol, mostly because my Thursday was just jam-packed, and by the time I could have sat down to write, it was time to actually watch the elimination episode. I went into last night's episode thinking that Hollie Cavanagh was likely on the way home. There was no doubt in my mind that she gave the weakest performance of the night. While I'm not a huge fan of Joshua or Jessica, I thought they were likely safe and that Hollie would be joined in the bottom three by Skylar (there is a real risk in going first, especially when the night is as solid as Wednesday's was) and (sadly) Phillip. When a group formed on the right side of the stage with Hollie, Phillip, and Colton, I honestly thought, "Yeah, that bottom three makes sense." Colton's performance of "Love the Way You Lie Part III" was okay but not particularly exciting. Colton seems rather content to float in the middle and never seems to really PUSH himself the way I think he could. Plus, his mushy articulation is really starting to seem affected and annoying. (Sorry ... I'm a speech teacher/coach!)

When Ryan announced that the bottom three was, instead, Joshua, Jessica, and Elise, the first thing I said was, "They're using the save tonight." There was no doubt in my mind that the judges would keep any of those three around. While Elise's performance wasn't the best of the night, it was strong enough to make a case that she should stick around. Yes, she's been a bottom three dweller for a couple weeks, but there's no denying the chick is terrific. Steven pretty much let the cat out of the bag before the announcement that Jessica had received the lowest number of votes; he told Ryan flat out that they were using the save. Boom!

What last night did -- other than giving Idol the shocking jolt elimination my sis argues it needed (and she's right on that -- we need those shockers to get the phone lines humming again) -- was prove that there are some real problems in the Idol machine, and they are problems that I'm not sure can be easily fixed.

PROBLEM #1: Teenage girls vote with their....hearts.
Look at how last night played out. You had a top four that consisted of two very cute guys, a perky little blonde underdog who'd been kind of brutalized the night before, and a country ass kicker with whom many girls out there can identify pretty powerfully. It seems pretty clearly understood that the majority of Idol votes tend to come from young girls. They're the ones spending hours power dialing and flooding the Internet to vote for the hottie or defend the honor of the girl who nearly cried onstage.

Teenaged girls also don't always respond well to a perceived perfection in someone else. I work with teenaged girls every single day. Nothing will turn a girl on you faster than doing well. I've seen friendships fall apart when one girl gets a boy's attention or when one girl gets a lead part in a show while her friend is cast in the chorus. In Jessica Sanchez, you have a pretty, skinny, crazy talented girl who probably is loathed by a lot of girls who deem her "stuck up." They'll vote for Hollie or Skylar (who seem either flawed or at least relatable to them) over Jessica any day of the week.

PROBLEM #2: Teenaged girls don't always have the best taste in music
Once again, last night, you had a top four that gave the demographic what they wanted. You had Hollie singing a Pink anthem of empowerment. Girls love empowerment anthems. You had Colton singing a love song that was JUST sexy enough to make them feel funny in their no-no places but not sexy enough to be creepy. You had Skylar singing a kickin' country tune. (Girls like country music.) You had Phillip being just really cute.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, you had Jessica singing a song that was waaaaay too old for her, Joshua singing a song that could easily be played over the closing credits of Mad Men, and Elise rocking out. Girls don't like soul music unless it's autotuned by Rihanna. Had Joshua done one of Bruno Mars's more romantic songs (like "Grenade" or "It Will Rain"), he might have had a stronger chance of escaping the bottom three. Girls don't respond well to female rockers -- which is interesting considering what is more empowering than a chick rocking out? If you look at the history of the show, especially over the course of the past couple seasons (particularly since this run of cute guy winners has taken over), strong females don't play well on this show -- Carly Smithson, Allison Iraheta, Haley Reinhart were all incredible performers who probably should have made a stronger run at the title before getting kicked out waay too soon.

PROBLEM #3: Girls don't like other girls
This probably feeds into number one and the whole jealousy thing, but man, girls can really hate on each other! It's been years since an American Idol winner was female, and isn't it sort of telling that the last female winner was Jordin Sparks, who was this totally relatable, not-at-all perfect teenaged girl? Crystal Bowersox made it to the finale but lost to the cute paint salesman. Lauren Alaina made it to the finale last year but (mercifully.... I think) lost to the cute baseball player. Jessica, Hollie, Elise, and Skylar should all be a little nervous, particularly with two very cute guys still hanging around (and Joshua is pretty cute, too).

It kind of makes you wonder what's happened to Idol. Look at the first couple seasons of the show. Do you think Kelly Clarkson could win now, especially if she was still going up against the undeniably adorable Justin Guarini? Would the teen girl demographic allow Ruben to beat Clay? Could Fantasia or Carrie have carried the day? Good Lord, what about Taylor Hicks?!?!? Jimmy keeps telling us that the finale is going to come down to Jessica and Joshua, and on sheer talent alone, he's probably right, but neither Jessica nor Joshua seem to sing music that appeals to that teen girl market. Their voices and song selections skew much older to songs that are not things girls are clamoring to download on iTunes the next morning. It's becoming less and less like a true TALENT competition and more like a beauty pageant or Teen Choice Awards race. The problem then becomes that Idol loses its credibility and allows itself to become a joke -- more than it is already.

Is there a solution? I don't know. Somehow, Idol has to find a way to get more adults to vote, to get people with actual incomes to start deciding who gets to release the albums and who doesn't. Of course, it's easy for me to sit here and point that finger, but I'll be honest with you -- I've not voted once this season. Not once.

I'm part of the problem.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gag Me With an Idol

Last night was 80's night on Idol. I know over the past few years I have railed against the show for asking these kids to present themselves as current, viable, contemporary artists while forcing them to sing songs older than their parents, and yet, for some reason, 80's Night seemed less ridiculous to me than some of the other anciently themed nights. Perhaps it's because the 80's seemed like a time when music really started niche-ing itself a little more clearly, where the roots of so much of our own contemporary pop music can be found. There seems to be a wealth of styles and options, and for the most part, the Idols embraced that rather nicely.

Not that there weren't mis-steps (oh, little Hollie!), but there were some moments that definitely had be a little more excited than I've been lately. Of course, some of the reactions I had verge wildly from what the judges saw and felt, but for the most part, this seems like a pretty tough competition.

The rankings....

1. Phillip Phillips Yes, Skylar closed out the night in a really lovely, powerful fashion, but seriously, it was "Wind Beneath My Freakin' Wings." Who COULDN'T hit that out of the ballpark? What I loved about Phillip's performance was that he took a song that people may recognize but a song that's not necessarily a huge part of our pop culture landscape (although "That's All" by Genesis is a song I've always absolutely adored), added just enough of his own flavor, and gave a killer performance. When you factor in his amazing duet with Elise on "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," there's no denying this kid is the shizz. "That's All" became this empassioned, almost creepy song of betrayal that left me more than a little unsettled. As my sis said during the bridge, "Yeah, they'll be together 'til the end because he's going to freakin' KILL HER!" I know the judges want us to invest in a Jessica-Joshua finale, but come on! Phillip is definitely the more viable contemporary artist up there because he's ACTUALLY AN ARTIST rather than a really good karaoke singer. (Yeah, I said it!)
2. Skylar Laine Yes, Skylar was good. She was gorgeous. But again, "Wind Beneath My Wings...." SIGH!
3. Colton Dixon I'm not going to lie. Colton's appeal is waning for me. He seems like he might be a little arrogant. He seems like he's trying just a little too hard. It doesn't help that I've never been a huge fan of "Time After Time" (GASP! I KNOW!), although I did think it was classy for Colton to ignore Ryan's question about his new dye job to give props to the artists whose arrangement for the song he stole. Also, is it just me or is Colton's enunciation borderline drunken vagrant?
4. DeAndre Brackensick I know -- shocker! But I have to say that I thought DeAndre's performance was pretty decent. It helps that he didn't sing the entire song in his falsetto range, allowing his lower range to really shine. Seriously, if this kid had a little time, he could be a superstar, but he needs time for his voice to marinate -- time he's not going to get on this show. Had DeAndre entered this competition as a 21 year old, he'd be poised to become the next Justin Timberlake. As it is, he's probably going to be one of those "Oh, yeah! THAT guy!" types of guys.
5. Joshua Ledet You know, I get that Joshua is talented. I get his voice is amazing. But good Lord! It's just so MUCH! I get a little tired of the screaming and the wailing and the vocal gymnastics. Where does that fit in in today's market? WHERE!!?!?!? (Props, though, to the person brave enough to break into the local country club and steal the arm chair that was used to create Joshua's blazer last night.)
6. Elise Testone Bad song choice. Plain and simple. I had big hopes for Elise on 80's Night. Good Lord. There are SO many amazing female artists from the 80's to tackle -- Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Pat Benetar, Lita Ford, Heart. And yet there was poor Elise taking on Foreigner's treacly "I Wanna Know What Love Is." Snooze. She had some pitch issues. She had some performance issues. Here's hoping her amazing duet with Phillip will save her because that was hot!
7. Jessica Sanchez It's time to call shenanigans on this one. I thought Jessica's performance of "How Will I Know?" was pretty terrible. There were all sorts of pitch issues -- issues that were NEVER called on her. When even your backup singers are giving you the stink eye for hitting wonky notes, you know you're in trouble, and yet all we heard last night from Randy and the gang was how brilliant Jessica was. Please!
8. Hollie Cavanagh And then there was poor little Hollie, pitch issues flying left and right as she wiggled her way around the stage in her little flapper dress trying to inject something interesting into "Flashdance (What a Feeling)". Oh, I was feeling something all right -- embarrassment for this poor, sweet little girl who is now SO out of her element. SIGH! Bye bye, Hollie. I don't think there's anything that can save you now -- not even Jane Fonda's old costume from 9 to 5 that you were forced to wear for your painful duet with DeAndre.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Idol Reflections

Obviously, I've been a little lax in my Idol blogging lately. I've even missed a week or two while in the throes of launching the musical and subsequently recovering from my Post Traumatic Show Disorder that followed striking our set. I'm bummed I missed Billy Joel week; Billy is probably one of my all-time favorite singers. But I'm back. I did tune in last week to watch the Idols be mentored by the amazing Stevie Nicks, but I didn't have a chance to reflect promptly enough to weigh in on who I thought would be sent home. (I did kind of figure it would be HeeJun...for real!)

I'm not going to lie; I've been feeling my Idol passion waning a bit lately. Maybe it's being inundated by so many other singing shows. Maybe it's the formula finally getting a bit stale. Maybe it's having the reminder last fall of just how much I missed Simon Cowell and resent how watered down the judging has become in the hands of Randy, JLo, and Steven. In all honest, ten years is a long time to follow one show, particularly one that offers no real original content from week to week outside of wondering what songs people will sing. I mean, at least with The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, there's something truly DIFFERENT every week. Well, generally different.

And yet, I can't just quit Idol. I stick around despite the fact that I sometimes find myself bored, that I often fast forward through the critiques, and I don't feel the same passion that I once felt sitting on the living room floor of my old apartment watching Kelly Clarkson become a star.

With all that being said, there is definitely something to be said for this season. The show has, of late, done a good job striving for some variety. That doesn't mean the winners have displayed such variety, but we've had weeks of covering a musical spectrum. Creativity seems to get a little bit more play as the blander elements of the competition get picked off a little sooner. There are several performers that I like quite a bit on the current season, several performers that I could imagine downloading . The problem, of course, is that those more creative elements don't often survive to the finale ... and don't land those dreamed-of record deals.

Of the eight left, here is how I would rank them. This doesn't mean that my top choices are necessarily going to win, but it does mean that I think they DESERVE to win. It's up to America, and we all know America's taste can be pretty suspect.

1. Phillip Phillips -- I know Phillip probably can't win. He's probably too niche, but damn, that kid is amazing. The way that he's able to massage melodies and turn every song he sings into his own very groovy tune is incredible. Of all the performers, he's the one I look forward to the most because I know it's going to be entertaining and unique.
2. Elise Testone I have a long history of supporting the chick rockers. Okay, maybe that's not 100% true. I was a passionate Allison Iraheta fan. Had I watched that season, I would have been all about Carly Smithson. It did, admittedly, take me a long time to warm to Haley Reinhart last year. I'm not making that mistake again. If Elise's powerhouse take on "Whole Lotta Love" didn't rock your freakin' socks off last week, then you maybe need to call a doctor and make sure that you are actually in possession of a beating heart. Again, we know that the odds are against women in this competition, and they seem to be even more stacked against women who rock rather than women who sing treacly ballads. But this chick deserves to go the distance (or at least crack the top five).
3. Colton Dixon -- Okay, I'm sticking by my prediction from a couple weeks ago. This guy is going to win. The narrative is being perfectly laid out for us. The problem is that Colton feels just so darn safe and predictable at this point. I wasn't particularly enthused by his Lifehouse song last weekend. I'm a little nervous by that choice. We'll see if he's able to finally embrace that inner Lambert and be the exciting performer that I think lurks inside him.
4. Jessica Sanchez -- A lot of critics are pointing to Jessica as the big chance for women to finally reclaim a title. I'll be honest -- I'm not convinced. I thought her performance of "Beautiful Nightmare" last week was labored and a bit self-indulgent. I'd like to see her try something other than a big ballad and show some real grit and soul. Otherwise, she's just a tiny version of Pia Toscano.
5. Skylar Laine -- I like Skylar. I don't particularly like country music, but there's something about Skylar's spunk and spirit that makes me smile every week. I kind of like how she sings every song like she's freakin' MAD at it. She won't win, but she'll be entertaining, and isn't that just as important as anything else?
6. Joshua Ledet -- I don't get Joshua either. Like Jessica, I just feel like he's trying too hard. I thought his "Without You" was kind of bland and despite his tears, a bit soulless. Give me Kelly Clarkson's version any day! When he starts screaming and jumping around, I just kind of tune out.
7. Hollie Cavanaugh -- See above -- boring, soulless. Cute isn't enough.
8. DeAndre Brackensack -- There's no denying this kid is cute. He's ADORABLE! But man, the falsetto thing is really tired. It's not impressive to sing an entire song up in that falsetto range. The sad thing, too, is that when DeAndre goes down into "normal" range, there's a beautiful richness to his voice that gets lost when he goes to vocal outer space. I can understand girls voting for him like crazy, but this one trick pony really kind of needs to go home....soon.