Wednesday, May 05, 2010

IDOLatry in Action

My thoughts on American Idol last night, as posted stream-of-consciousness to Facebook and now revised and extended:

:: Sinatra night on Idol! Time to document the atrocities.

I was a bit nervous about Sinatra night, and my fears were ultimately born out. My concern was that the contestants would stick with the Sinatra Cliche, rather than try to grapple a bit with Sinatra the Artist. What is the Sinatra Cliche? It's the guy in the dark suit, loose tie, and maybe the hat, standing at a microphone, singing a swing-style song with a jazz band or combo behind him as he's snapping his fingers. Sinatra was so much more than that -- he left his mark on most of the genres of popular music over his years, but sure enough, the show stuck with the Sinatra Cliche.

And then I had a minor computer issue that required doing a System Restore, so my computer was doing its thing while I watched the show. When I finally got on again I started to catch up. Aaron had started the show:

:: So: Aaron. Picture a 16-year-old kid who's on the small side, putting on a tie and trying to belt out some Sinatra. That's exactly what it was. Nobody in their right mind would pay to watch him.

It's exactly what he was: a kid trying to croon. Utterly, utterly lame and forgettable -- but the judges praised him as they do each week. For some reason Randy seems convinced Aaron is a country singer, even though there is absolutely nothing in his voice or what little style he has to indicate any country chops at all.

Next came Casey:

:: Casey: My God, what happened there?! Was he forced to sing a swing-style arrangement with a band? Couldn't he say "You know, this style isn't in my wheelhouse and I'd like to do it a different way?" (News flash, folks: Frank Sinatra was SO MUCH MORE than finger-snappin' "Mr. Cool" jazz-band stuff.)

Casey had been pretty good up 'til now, but last night's performance was a train wreck. I honestly wonder if he was basically forced into a style of singing he simply is not cut out for, as from what I've seen of Casey this season, I think I'm safe saying that in an entire musical career, there is zero chance he would ever elect to sing a swing-band song with a jazz band. Harry Connick Jr. or no.

Casey's performance also exposed Kara Dioguardi's total uselessness as a judge. I've heard all season that Casey has a pretty strange warble for a vibrato, and I wager he knows it too, because he has steadily avoided big notes and long sustains that would put his odd vibrato on display. Last night, with the style of song he had, he had no choice but to try for a big held note, and the results were not encouraging. This was when Kara noticed his odd vibrato. Finger on the pulse, that one has.

Batting third was Crystal:

:: Crystal: Best yet. Not HER best, but she was still better than either of the two who came before. And unlike the happily-departed Siobhan, she was able to disagree with Simon without sounding pouty or whiny and actually make a point.

What impressed me about Crystal is that she really seems to think through what she's doing. It's not always perfect, it doesn't always work exactly well, but you can always tell that she's got an artistic thought process for each song. When Simon critiqued her, she was able to respond to him with an actual intelligent statement about the song itself. Contrast that with Siobhan, who would pout and sulk her way through her responses to Simon. Crystal's performances aren't just good, they're smart.

In the power slot was Mike:

:: And now Mike. Aside from "New York New York", that may be the most clicheed song from the Sinatra songbook, and he did a purely clicheed version of it. He's got a good voice, but that didn't impress me all that much. (Still liked it more than Aaron or Casey.)

He did "The Way You Look Tonight", complete with fedora. Nothing about it stood out in any way to anyone who's heard (a) any number of Sinatra imitators, or (b) Sinatra himself. The judges sure gushed over it, though. The theme this whole season seems to be "Judges divorced utterly from reality".

It was about this point in the show that I started to tire of Ellen Degeneres's jokes directed at Harry Connick Jr. One joke was funny ("I think the piano was a little pitchy") but the rest was dull overkill.

And then it was time for my least favorite contestant, Lee:

:: Lee: He's trying to act the song. He's trying to swagger like he's had four martinis. HATE HATE HATE this. (To be fair, I've never liked this song, even when The Chairman of the Board sang it.)

The judges adored this performance, and in one of the most inexplicable displays of judicial nonsense ever uttered on IDOL, someone -- I believe it was Simon, of all people -- said that Harry Connick Jr. had actually managed to unlock Lee's real personality, or some such nonsense. My jaw hit the floor, because the performance was hammy, fake, insincere, and completely unconvincing. It was as if Lee had specifically planned each and every hand motion or stagger-step he did beforehand. There was nothing, nothing, real or convincing about it. But for some reason, the judges are as sold on Lee as they were on David Archuleta (who has now disappeared into the same oblivion that awaits all IDOL runners-up who aren't named Clay Aiken).

:: Wow, folks -- Paula Abdul leaves, so now we apparently have FOUR judges who are stoned as opposed to just one. But again, why did everyone have to go big and swing with every song tonight? Where were the quieter songs, the ones with strings? I've lived to see Sinatra become a big cliche, and that saddens me. (Oh, and Lee SUCKED.)

Just had to get that last in there. But really, where was the sensitive Sinatra who could record an album like Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely? No one could manage "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)"? "Love's Been Good To Me"? And aside from Crystal, no one even tried to do what really set Sinatra in a class by himself: to approach each song as a story and tell that story.

One final complaint that I didn't air on Facebook: Five singers, and they're still only doing one song each? Really? Time was when they'd do multiple songs at this point. (One great moment of Paula Abdul-on-drugs came in an episode where the contestants were doing two songs each, one now and one "later". So when David Cook finished his first song, Paula said some stuff and then continued, "And as for your second song...." Simon had to point out that he had not, in fact, performed two songs.) More music and less judges and padding would be welcome. (Or, actually, given this batch of contestants, maybe not. I'm sure not looking forward to Lee's three songs in the finale.)

By way of predictions, I honestly expect Crystal to be sent home either this week or next. I don't think she reaches the finale; I'm expecting a Lee-and-Aaron showdown. Will I watch something so awful? Doubtful, but who knows. This is IDOL's worst season.

No comments: