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by Steve Leftridge

10 Mar 2010


The girls are down to eight and looking to cut two more this week, merging with the boys for the Dirty Dozen. Michelle Delamor was cut last week, after failing to connect with audiences, perhaps because everyone hates Creed. Haeley Vaughn was also shown the door, to great relief, but not before delivering one of the most skin-crawlingly awful performances in Idol history. It’s one of the show’s most peculiar rituals—making the contestants sing immediately after voting them off the show. Such a tradition is simultaneously compassionate and cruel, leading to a flood of emotions that often leads to bizarre final performances like Haeley’s and to melodramatic tears from the remaining hopefuls. (Haeley was endorsed by Vote for the Worst, by the way, so so much for that group. If they can’t even concentrate enough votes to save a singer when there are ten to choose from, then VFTW has, without question, no real impact on results. But I’m sure it’s time well spent.)

Tuesday’s Ladies Night was a tight show—eight songs in an hour, which, by Idol standards, is flying. The judges still took up a majority of the airtime, and most of their commentary was typically redundant. They did, however, find plenty to admire as the girls, for the most part, continue to improve. After Tuesday, a clear favorite and a clear clunker had emerged among the women. The other six are all knotted up together, but one of them has to go, so we’ll be saying goodbye to a worthy singer no matter who gets sliced. I’m in a bad mood, so for these awards, let’s focus on the worsts.

by Steve Leftridge

4 Mar 2010


The big question on the minds of Idol Nation all day Wednesday was whether or not Crystal Bowersox would be cleared to perform. Bowersox was hospitalized for an undisclosed malady on Tuesday, and if she were unable to perform, she would be, according the show’s rules, disqualified from the entire competition, a fate that Tuesday night’s boy-girl swap was an attempt to avoid. The show’s producers, though, must have been dry heaving. Had she not been able to sing Wednesday, the show would have lost its most promising contestant, and it can hardly afford such a setback as weak as the overall field is.

On Wednesday, the girls were, like the boys the night before, typically hot and cold. Randy Jackson was exasperated all night, offering identical responses to nearly every contestant: “Uhnnghh, I don’t know, dude; you didn’t bring anything new to it. I don’t know. What do you think, E? [Enjoys a swig of healthy and delicious Vitamin Water Zero]”. A couple of times, Randy did provide his highest compliment: “That was hot”. It’s one of the show’s most reliable broken-record catchphrases along with “If I’m being honest” (Simon), “You’re adorable” (Ellen), and “There were a couple of little pitch problems” (everyone, ad nauseam). So to work it out with the Dawg, here are Wednesday’s Hot Awards:

Hot Performance: Crystal. She didn’t just show up against the odds, she killed it, leading off the show with a version of CCR’s “As Long as I Can See the Light” that slayed the field before the competition had even begun and made all of the others look like little girls. Bowersox may be saving a sinking-ship of a show, if only by reshaping the show’s archetypes. She claims that she’d never watched American Idol before auditioning, and you can believe it since she’s like no contestant before her. Bowersox brings elements of hard-singing folk-soul singers from Janis Joplin to Melissa Etheridge with terrific natural instincts for rhythm, nuance, power, and taste. If her own songs are good, it’s easy to see her attracting an enthusiastic crowd at next year’s Bonnaroo Festival, something you can’t say about any former Idol contestant.

by Steve Leftridge

3 Mar 2010


Will this season be looked at, months or years from now, as the one that killed American Idol?  Certainly, the writing is on the wall, given the heavy drudge of this season’s pacing, with Ellen’s squirmy rephrasing of the other judges’ opinions, the mind-numbing domination of the judges’ endless blathering, and the cold, ugly set redesign.  None of that would necessarily put a stake in Idol’s heart if they had found a group of singers worth celebrating, but so far we’ve watched a lifeless, forgettable group of pretenders get dismantled by the judges, who seem beside themselves with disappointment.  How long before all of this collective headshaking leads to a ratings plunge?  It’s still too early to tell, but Idol already took a thumping from the Olympics, the first time another show has whipped Idol in six years.  At this point, it’s unthinkable that the show can survive next year without Simon, but that’s a point that may prove irrelevant if it can’t even outlive the Paula era. 

Speaking of those singers, last week the voters got it half right while jettisoning two boys and two girls, cutting the field to a cool 20.  The good news:  Gone are Tyler Grady and Janell Wheeler, low-grade vocalists with no chance anyway.  The bad news:  Ashley Rodriquez got no love from voters (although she did from me last week).  I revisited her performance of “Happy” two dozen times, running it through my pitch-checking software and bringing in a team of PhDs to analyze tone, intonation, rhythmic integrity, fluency, breath control, articulation, diction, phrasing, dynamics, etc.  Rodriguez’s performance was imperfect but very solid.  However, between Simon’s critique (the only negative one among the four) and perhaps the failure of Rodriguez’s overall stage appeal to resonate with callers, off she goes.  Where was Ashley’s Latin support, by the way?  Apparently, the same place Joe Munoz’s was.  Joe didn’t deserve to leave this early either, even if he wasn’t a likely Top Tenner (or tenor); he was one of the few bright spots from last week.

But, hey, voter chaos and injustice is all part of the fun.  And you never know about the Vote for the Worst factor.  The show’s producers have dismissed the effect of VFTW, a website that encourages people to call in and vote for the show’s worst singers in order to spoil the show and frustrate its fans by evicting a more deserving singer.  Such juvenile perversity is sadly pathetic, obviously; Vote for the Worst is comprised of the same miserable dregs who in high school tried to elect an unlikely class president in order to embarrass the earnest and humiliate the unsuspecting.  Perhaps Idol reps are correct that VFTW has little impact, but the group takes credit for the Sanjaya aberration in Season Six and Kris Allen’s win over Adam Lambert last year, and the popularity of VFTW’s website is proof enough that plenty of bitter folks out there are motivated to the point of obsession by the disruption of anything popular.  In any case, here are last night’s awards:

Best Curveball:  The boy-girl switcheroo.  It was announced that Crystal Bowersox was hospitalized (she’s diabetic, but it’s unclear exactly what happened), causing the show to call a late audible and flip-flop the boys to Tuesday and the girls to Wednesday.  The boys battled it mostly to a draw on short rest.

Best Pariah:  The guitar.  Three pervious axe-wielders went stringless last night—Mike Lynche, Andrew Garcia, and Lee Dewyze all sang for the first time without their guitars.  The move worked best for Lynche, who covered James Brown and exhibited far more flash and charisma than last week.  A guitar looks odd around the neck of an NFL defensive tackle like Lynche, anyway, and while Big Mike can’t bring as much soul as the Godfather, he came closer to finding a style and voice that could move a crowd.

Worst Performance:  Todrick Hall’s abysmal version of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was his second harebrained rearrangement in as many weeks.  Hall is a gifted vocalist and mover, but he’s exposing a fatal flaw: Crap taste.  He’ll be lucky to survive this week’s cuts.

Biggest Letdown: Casey James was a snooze.  He showed up with a Stratocaster, playing sloppy runs through thick flanger effects, but he sang Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” like he was half-asleep, as was much of the audience.  It was a pretty weak vocal, and James did not attack either the microphone or the guitar with any real swagger or rock-star magnetism.

Best Judging Moment:  Putting a kink on the VFTW mentality, Simon praised Tim Urban, the season’s longest odds.  Urban has awkward instincts as a vocalist, but Simon was right about his improvement and attitude.  He wasn’t the worst of the night, which, for Urban, counts as a victory.

Heatseeker:  Alex Lambert.  This guy is turning into the boys’ most likeable contestant.  The smoky-soul tone, the bashful sincerity, the mullet—it’s not hard to imagine the Uggs Nation rallying behind the Little Lamb. 

Weirdest Contestant:  Jermaine Sellers.  After his version of Marvin’s “What’s Going On”, during which he just couldn’t resist those falsetto screams, Simon told him he thought he was likely to be voted off.  “I know God!” Sellers protested.  Simon’s return was perfect:  “Don’t even bother with the phoneline then”.

One Judge Too Many: 4.

Most Overrated:  Lee Dewyze.  Are they serious about this dude?  Sure, he has a strong, recordable voice with a decent range and a rock edge, perfect for pedestrian sludge-bore malaise-rock.  Besides his predisposition for pitchiness, Dewyze has the charisma of Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest after the lobotomy.  Sure, Chris Daughtry sells records, but he always cultivated a marketable style (and sang with control).  Remarkably, Dewyze was given the pimp spot last night and received uniformly high praise from the judges.  Look for that bubble to burst.

Biggest Bust So Far:  Andrew Garcia was the frontrunner at the Caesar’s Palace sportsbook before the Top 24 started competing, but his stock is now crashing hard.  His attempt at soul crooning last night was a close-to-awful bore.  Voters have started to realize that Garcia doesn’t much look like a star, and last night he didn’t sound like one either.  PS: Enough already with talking about the brilliance of his “Straight Up” cover.  At this rate, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t come out with a version of “Rush, Rush” next week.  Better yet, do you think MC Skat Kat is available?

Next: The girls tonight.  Will Crystal make it?

by Steve Leftridge

25 Feb 2010


After what was generally perceived as a lackluster performance from the girls on Tuesday, the Top 12 boys took the stage last night in hopes of infusing American Idol’s ninth season with some excitement and energy going forward. Unfortunately, at least half of these guys bombed. However, a few came out firing, with the kinds of song selections and lively performances that suggest high stakes and last chances, a marked difference from the girls the night before. The boys’ stories were already tangled with drama, given the plot twists associated with Mike Lynche (reportedly kicked off, but apparently not), Tim Urban (a last-second replacement for Chris Golightly, who was kicked off for (allegedly) lying on his application about a recording contract), and Todrick Hall (criticized last week for (allegedly) abandoning his childrens theatre company, leaving several kids and parents with unrefunded fees). Simon was in a particularly nasty mood last night, thank god, and he unloaded ruthlessly on almost all of these guys, but there were sings of life in this particular minefield. The awards:

Best Performance:  Cay-Jay!  Should we just give him this thing now?  Andrew Garcia may have been the frontrunner going into the evening, but Casey James‘s breezy version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” made him the early man to beat. His performance was nothing earth-shaking—what might have been nerves translated into uncontrollable smiling—but James has a clean, pure tenor, and he corners a market like no one else on the show. Much has been made of Kara’s crush on Casey, and certainly James’s looks aren’t going to hurt him at the polls, although that Lady-and-the-Tramp hairstyle was a tad rigorous last night.

by Steve Leftridge

24 Feb 2010


There are those out there who prefer the audition shows to the actual American Idol competition, and tonight’s first live broadcast, on which the Top 24 girls competed, proved that those audition lovers might be on to something this time. Oh, yes, it’s ladies night, oh, what a night… if you enjoy maudlin, uninspired singing over lugubrious arrangements, followed by awkward prattle from the judges. It was a very disappointing night from the girls, especially since the ladies are, by and large, a far stronger collective than the boys and Simon had made news this week by predicting that one of the girls would win the whole thing. And what’s up with the tacky set changes, with the judges sitting in front of an under-the-sea backdrop that cuts out the audience?  Boo. Then again, perhaps that nautical motif is appropriate, if only because the evening indeed felt like watching a sinking ship. In any case, here are the evening’s awards:

Best performance: It’s tough to come up with anything here, as none of the 12 singers flashed anything truly special. The night was dominated by mid-tempo songs and, call it nerves, every performance was oddly distant. I’ll give last night’s edge to Ashley Rodriguez’s version of Leona Lewis’s “Happy”, although with reservations. She’s one of the only girls who has the chops, the performance skill, and the presence to be taken seriously as a potential star. If anything, she pushed a little hard last night; if she relaxes, she’ll be a standout. Runner-up: Crystal Bowersox has a chance to catch fire. Advice: Lose the harmonica. She can’t really play it, and it just got in the way when she needs to be leaning into that mike and belting with power.

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