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?