Wednesday, February 23, 2005

American Idol: Kick 'Em While They're Down

I had a tough time deciding what the subject line of this post should be. Other ideas included:

Elimination Humiliation
Let's Rub Salt in the Wound and Pour Lemon Juice Over It
Cry, Baby, Cry
A World of Pain

American Idol is in its fourth season, but it's still fairly new to me. Something tells me the writers and producers had only one goal in mind for this stage of the contest:


Why? Because they can! Blah blah blah, you know, this is the reality of competition -- there's only one winner and a season full of losers. To put it into perspective, there are thousands of losers, but this week the objective is to ensure the losers get plenty of opportunity to bow out in spectacular Fox fashion -- with ample close-ups and white-knuckle drama. Suspense music and all that, too.

We had the foresight to tape all three episodes this week so we could skip the commercials and review the performances. I made some comments on Monday's and Tuesday's shows, and wondered how the two dozen contestants would fare with the TV audience as their panel versus the Armchair Critics (us).

Let's back up a bit.

Monday: The Guys

The Snoozers:
Travis Tucker - "My Cherie Amour"
David Brown - "Never Can Say Goodbye"
Anthony Fedorov - "Hold On To The Nights"
Jared Yates - "How Could I"
Joseph Murena - "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You"

I am predisposed to disliking anyone who sings Michael Bolton. WHY? WHY? WHY? The only thing worse than Michael Bolton is impersonating Michael Bolton.

Travis Tucker looked like a wedding singer, pointing and winking at the girls. (Or Simon.) A lounge act, David says. C'mon, "My Cherie Amour"? Put that finger away.

OK, I take that back. There is something worse than singing Michael Bolton. That's singing Richard Marx. Shame on you, Anthony Federov. At least Anthony stopped impersonating his favourite Latin singers. Last week he was channelling Jon Secada, but I would've preferred "Just Another Day" to the Richard Marx song.

Reaching Above Mediocrity...
... we have the likes of Nikko Smith doing a pretty good mimic of Stevie Wonder, singing "Part Time Lover". But hey, this isn't Love Boat karaoke! Since he was the first out of the gate, the judges weren't too harsh on him.

Scott Savol sang "You Are My Lady" and received the most backhanded compliments I've ever heard. All three judges harped on his looks -- or rather, the lack of them -- and Paula even said, "People won't expect that voice to come out of you." Gee, thanks! David thinks Scott looks like he belongs in jail, but personally I think he just needs to jazz it up with a pair of funky glasses or something, a la Anthony Federov. If you removed Anthony's glasses, he'd blend into the walls with his blond, pale pallor.

Memorable People
Anwar Robinson - "Moon River"
Judd Harris - "Travelin' Band"
Bo Bice - "Drift Away"
Constantine Maroulis - "Kiss From A Rose"
Mario Vazquez - "Do I Do"

I really liked Anwar Robinson and wanted him to do well, so when I heard the first few sappy bars of his music, I cringed. Was I ever surprised to hear him begin singing "Moon River" and I went OH NO! Kiss of death! I might've even shut my eyes for a moment. Then Anwar got up off the crooner stool and belted out the rest of the number with increasing power in a different key and brought life to the song. It was original and his voice sounded great.

Unfortunately, Judd Harris' version of "Travelin' Band" was a surprise, too, but a bad one -- lots of energy, but like David said, it's a SHOUTING song. It allows you to jump around the stage just like John Fogerty and there's really not much singing going on. I liked him more than David did, who said he was pulling an Elvis the Pelvis mid-song, but my prediction was that his resemblance to Joey from "Friends" would help his cause.

Bo Bice singing "Drift Away" drew praise from all the judges. We thought he sounded terrific. The other rocker, Constantine, picked a TOUGH gig with "Kiss From a Rose" -- whoa high notes -- but as Simon said, even though Bo had a better voice, he had more charisma. Both David and I like Constantine and hope he pulls through.

The show rounded out with Mario Vazquez, and he closed with a bang. The guy picked a difficult song and grooved across the stage like Prince while hitting the notes. I won't be surprised if he wins -- the guy's a natural.

MY ELIMINATION PICKS: Anthony Federov and Joseph Murena

Tuesday: The Girls

The Snoozers:
Amanda Avila - "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You"
Celena Rae - "I Will Love Again"
Melinda Lira - "Power Of Love" (Celine Dion)
Lindsey Cardinale - "Standing Right Next To Me"
Janay Castine - "I Wanna Love You Forever"
Sarah Mather - "Get Ready"

Notice how my snoozer girls list is longer than the guys'? CELINE DION. And oh my gosh, Jessica Simpson, Janay??? They actually pick these songs themselves? Or, do their moms??? So much bellowing!

Amanda Avila obviously didn't learn from Joseph Murena's spanking the previous night -- she sang "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You" AGAIN. So, there is something worse than Michael Bolton and impersonating Michael Bolton.

Reaching Above Mediocrity...
Carrie Underwood - "Could've Been"
Jessica Sierra - "Against All Odds"
Vonzell Solomon - "Heatwave (Your Love Is Like A)"

I don't understand why the judges are so uniformly keen on Carrie Underwood. I find her Underwhelming. Maybe it's because she doesn't go for the power ballads, she's a country girl. All the same, she was definitely bellowing at the end of "Could've Been".

Vonzell Solomon started the show movin' and groovin', which might've thrown off her singing a bit, but at least we didn't go to sleep or be forced to listen to Celine Dion.

Memorable People
Mikalah Gordon - "Young Hearts Run Free"
Nadia Turner - "Power Of Love" (Ashley Cleveland)
Aloha Mischeaux - "Work It Out"

Mikalah Gordon was channelling Barbra Streisand in "Young Hearts Run Free"... David thought she looked like a lounge act, and I don't know if it's her makeup or what, but she looked so odd! Her mouth was going a mile a minute -- singing and talking and whooping and hollering. I agree with Simon: she's going to have a totally polarised audience, a style people could only love or hate. She definitely stood out, though, she's hyperkinetic.

The biggest standouts were, for me, Nadia Turner doing a rock number, and secondly Aloha Mischeaux shimmying to "Work It Out". Nadia was totally confident, dynamic, and had her own look. Aloha's voice reminds me of Aretha Franklin -- rich and smooth.

MY ELIMINATION PICKS: I'd like to say all the snoozers, but I'll go with Amanda Avila and Lindsey Cardinale

Wednesday: SOUR GRAPES

There's losing, and then there's being told the American public thinks you were the worst performer while a camera is shoved in your face. The show is designed to crack people's composure.

I should've known they'd eliminate a girl first. Why? Tears. The way they booted Melinda Lira was meant to eke out the most drama out of the four sent home: first of all, they put her on stage with someone (Janay) who looked so convinced she would get sent home. Melinda's reaction was so painful I could barely watch. She looked so shocked and angry, I thought she wasn't going to leave the stage. I could not believe it when they asked her to sing. Talk about adding insult to injury:

"You're the worst singer, but hey, sing us one last number!" Of course, performing is all about smiling under pressure and plastering a grin permanently on your face, but Ryan Seacrest makes a point of fingering the audience for singling out the "losers":

"America! YOU voted who would be eliminated!" (That is, it has nothing to do with us! We just put people in front of the camera, but they screw up!)

There is incredible emphasis on this idea of "loser status". American Idol doesn't let the losers off gracefully, or send them directly to a crying room with a box of tissues. Nooooooooo, that would be missing the squirm factor. Milk it for all it's worth. David and I felt like we were watching lambs sent to slaughter with each of the four eliminated having to sing AFTER being informed of their loser status.


FIRST, they're told that they have to go home. Oh, but WAIT! They can't home yet, because...

SECOND, each judge is forced to rehash the criticism ad nauseam and stick the knife in a little further. Randy and Paula usually say it's because of song choice.

THIRD, they have to sing the song again. You know, the one they couldn't sing properly the first time around. Not only do they have to sing it again, but with the feeling of shock and shame, after getting their hopes royally trampled, and this time it doesn't count!

I felt SO HUMILIATED for these people. Except for Melinda Lira, the rest had to sing the song that got them eliminated in the first place. The worst was Sarah Mather -- all three judges told her both nights that she made a terrible decision to sing this song, and Ryan Seacrest says, "Guess what song you have to sing? It's the one we've got ready." What a setup! The song is called "Get Ready"... but now it's "Get Lose". David described it well: "She just phoned it in." She made no bones about the fact that she didn't want to sing it. She didn't even finish the song. Oh man.

This is who got the boot, in order of booting:
1) Melinda Lira
2) Judd Harris
3) Sarah Mather
4) Jared Yates

I didn't think any of these people were the absolute worst of the bunch, so obviously I don't share the views of the American Idol-watching public.

OK, it's a competition. There's only one winner, and everyone else is a "loser" -- but leave people with a shred of dignity! It's a singing contest, so why spend a WHOLE HOUR focussing on the "losers" and making people sit and squirm and cry and feel like a bug that's about to get squashed underfoot? Is this really necessary? There were four songs in this show, and NONE for credit -- in fact, they were for discredit!

American Idol should promote an analgesic during the commercials for all this pain: American Midol, perhaps?

(David: PMS - Pop Music Syndrome)