Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Backstage at American Idol

The folks at American Idol came to their senses this week and cut our torture in half. Elimination Wednesday was only half an hour instead of an hour. So, there should be far less crying than previously, right? Dunno 'bout that... maybe more drinking, instead.

We watched Monday's performances later that night, and Tuesday's and tonight's together. It was easier to make observations, and spared ourselves from the ad schlock.


Monday: The Guys

I think this bunch had a group prayer after last Wednesday, then each went his own way... the ones who squeaked through on a nice word from Randy or Paula watched some Tim Robbins motivational videos and the guys who did OK or better went on a pub crawl bender.

Improvement Award Nominees
Scott Savol - "Never Too Much"
Nikko Smith - "Let's Get It On"
Joseph Murena - "Let's Stay Together"

Scott must've read my blog last week (har har), because he took it up a notch: funky glasses, moved around a lot more, and got into the song, which was pretty challenging. I'll even forgive him for wearing a pink shirt. I think his momma would be proud. The judges even laid off the digs about his appearance, including Simon!

Nikko and Joseph both sang much better, moved much better, but Joseph was sporting this AWFUL fake bottle tan he must've borrowed from George Hamilton's medicine cabinet, and Simon slammed Nikko for looking too much like Bobby Brown... cheap shot Simon, Bobby looks more like a thug! I think he's even missing teeth!

Uh Oh, You're in Trouble
Constantine Maroulis - "Hard To Handle"
Travis Tucker - "All Night Long"
David Brown - "All In Love Is Fair"

Constantine's credibility took a steep, steep dive trying to emulate Chris Robinson of the Black Crows, which was worsened considerably by the crappiness of the American Idol band. Did they not PRACTICE rock and roll, or did they push a button called "American Idol arrangement" in GarageBand and hit play? It's a great song, and they did a hatchet job on it! Constantine's singing hit an all-time low when he screeched midway... even the cat ran off!

David called David Brown's singing "flatter than a pancake"... Stevie Wonder is blind, but he ain't deaf -- hope he doesn't watch American Idol and hear his song get butchered. If David Brown doesn't get booted off this week, I'm calling the producers.

Travis Tucker has this... KNACK.... for resurrecting songs best left buried. Last week he sang "My Cherie Amour". This week, LIONEL RITCHIE?? "All Night Long"? Was Travis even alive when this song came out? I'll say this for him, though: the boy can move.

You Still Stink, But Why Are You Still Here??
Anthony Fedorov - "I Want To Know What Love Is"

I thought Anthony dug his own grave singing this Foreigner song. Stop ruining the '80s for me, Anthony! And why is he being compared to Clay Aiken, who I think has a much better voice??

Consistency is the Key
Anwar Robinson - "What's Going On"
Bo Bice - "Whipping Post"
Mario Vazquez - "I Love Music"

I don't know if it's because we're watching old-technology cassette tape with rather lousy sound quality, but Anwar Robinson sounded terribly mediocre. I love Marvin Gaye, but "What's Going On" indeed...

Bo's pre-performance interview didn't do him any favours (here's a tip, Bo: don't mention collecting unemployment... shut up... just sing). In fact, it made him look like a hick, but obviously this didn't affect his ability to sing, because he belted out "Whipping Post" -- a song David knows, but I don't. It's another one of those YELLING songs that I think covers up a bad singing voice, like Judd Harris singing John Fogerty last week, but the judges loved it. Go figure. But, he flung his long hair around satisfactorily like the rocker guy he is, and completed his signature style with his wardrobe of country-meets-hippie, which counts with Paula.

Mario Vazquez started off the evening in his characteristic high-energy way, but I didn't think it was as good as last week. Simon totally disagreed with me, and added that Mario looked like he'd been doing it for years. If that isn't a rousing, full-bodied endorsement, I don't know what is.

AN ASIDE: Was it just me, or did Paula look like she was on drugs? She was out in space, especially commenting on Anthony Federov's performance.

MY ELIMINATION PICKS: Anthony Federov (please! please!) and David Brown
DAVID'S ELIMINATION PICKS: Constantine Maroulis and Joseph Murena

Tuesday: The Girls

Improvement Award Nominees
Amanda Avila - "Turn The Beat Around"
Jessica Sierra - "A Broken Wing"

Jessica Sierra was far more dynamic this week, and the judges LOVED her performance. We were bullish too, but less so than the judges... our tepid response to her singing may be attributed to our old-school technology, the videotape, but clearly she pulled the rabbit out of the proverbial hat this go 'round.

Amanda Avila, who I never thought would even make it this far with her stinker of a song last week (Michael Bolton, remember?) must've seen a spike in her votes when Simon added that he'd like to come back in the next life as her microphone. But she managed to get over that comment and watched some Gloria Estefan videos to pump herself up for "Turn the Beat Around", obviously a highly motivational song and more effective than Tim Robbins. I don't think Amanda is going to win -- heads should roll if she does -- but she picked a song much more suited to her voice.

Uh Oh, You're in Trouble
Carrie Underwood - "Piece Of My Heart"
Aloha Mischeaux - "You Don't Know My Name"
Celena Rae - "When The Lights Go Down"
Janay Castine - "Hit 'Em Up Style"
Lindsey Cardinale - "I Try To Think About Elvis"
Vonzell Solomon - "If I Ain't Got You"

There are so many girls in trouble, they need to call in the therapists.

Carrie Underwood took some bad advice from someone and attempted a LeeAnn Rimes-ish version of Janis Joplin. Oh dear. First of all, she barely moved onstage, just lots of finger wagging and hip movements and head turns. Perhaps Janis Joplin's drug-fuelled rocker legend looms too large in the collective consciousness for a wholesome Oklahoma farm girl to take on, but GIVE US SOME EDGY ROCK 'N' ROLL, girl!! None of this LeeAnn Rimes crooning business. For her efforts, Paula Abdul said the harshest words I've heard pass from her lips: "That wasn't believable... that didn't prove versatile to me..." Uh OH.

Aloha Mischeaux and Vonzell Solomon sang Alicia Keys songs, and weirdly, Simon said something later very similar to what I said to David as we were watching it. I think they made it unnecessarily hard for themselves by choosing songs that are still current in people's minds. There's just too much heavy rotation in pop music for the public to disassociate the treatment by American Idol singers from the original musicians. It's kind of farcical to reach back for the cheese like Travis Tucker did with Lionel Ritchie, but at least pick songs people would have some nostalgia for and be happy to hear, without the burden of the artist's memory on their minds. My two non-vocalist Armchair Critic cents, anyway.

How weird would it be for people to perform Paula Abdul songs? Has anyone tried it? Somebody SHOULD!

Celena Rae looks good, but has zero charisma... I'm surprised she made it as far as she has. I feel the same way about Lindsey Cardinale, who pumped things up with her hoedown song, but these two are grasping at straws.

Let's not forget the gratuitous full-body camera pan on Janay Castine, who steeled herself against the judges for her rendition of "Hit 'Em Up Style" by Blu Cantrell. Somebody should've talked her out of it... seriously. Janay has a great voice, but she's far too young to successfully carry off a song about a woman taking revenge on her cheating lover:

While he was scheming
I was beamin' in the Beamer
Just beamin'
Can't believe that
I caught my man cheatin'
So I found another way
To make him pay for it all

Even when Janay was singing, she looked like a deer in headlights. It was as if all her nervousness from last week travelled to her eyeballs.

Are You the Same Person From Last Week?
Mikalah Gordon - "God Bless The Child"
Nadia Turner - "My Love"

In the first instance, it was a good thing for Mikalah Gordon to do a 180-degree turn. She was on the verge of getting electric shock therapy to calm her down. Her eye makeup is still a little scary, but she wasn't wearing the hula-hoop sized earrings from Monday's show, her hair was tied back, and her clothes were all of two colours. It matched her voice, which in turn matched her jazz number. It was a perfectly co-ordinated package, and totally blew away the competition.

Nadia Turner, on the other hand, turned the volume down and the power went off. The clothes, the song, her voice... nothing matched. Paul McCartney, Nadia? It was hurting us to watch her take the same steep dive as Constantine.

MY ELIMINATION PICKS: Janay Castine and Celena Rae
DAVID'S ELIMINATION PICKS: Janay Castine and Carrie Underwood

Wednesday: On the Chopping Block

The atmosphere seemed far different this week going into this elimination round, probably because of the change in format. A half hour show allows less time for cheesy suspense tricks and head games with the contestants.

However, the host script for Ryan Seacrest (Captain Obvious) remained as horrendous as ever:

"See who pulled the... (insert dramatic pause here) LOWEST... number of votes..."
"One of you pulled the LOWEST... number of votes... and one of you pulled the SECOND LOWEST... number of votes..."

Oh, puh-leeze...

Another annoying tactic that has remained from last week is that the FIRST person to get eliminated is the one allotted the greatest share of shame time onstage alone. Poor Celena Rae, who at least half-expected to get sacked, accepted her fate gracefully and to her credit didn't break down in tears. She probably breathed a sigh of relief she wouldn't be forced to sing again.

Hey, we're ALL thankful for that -- those forced songs were an exercise in unnecessary cruelty (as opposed to necessary cruelty -- the competition itself).

I noticed some major bumbling jobs by the camera crew, though -- what was up with that? Maybe half an hour doesn't warrant an attention span.

This week seemed to devote much more time to constructive criticism. More of the contestants were allowed to speak their minds and actually engage in some discussion, despite Seacrest's banal line of questioning --

"You did great in rehearsal, why couldn't you perform it on Tuesday night?"

If I were a contestant, I'd want to clobber him over the head. There's this small matter of being on TV with a panel of judges and millions of people watching, moron!

Cue suspense music. Cue more head games. Finally, Aloha and Vonzell get dragged onstage and this is when they get their tonguelashing about choosing current pop music. I was quite surprised to see Aloha get the heave-ho, but apparently, the judges were, too. They all expressed the opinion that she was robbed of at least one more week in the competition (i.e, there were worse performances). I definitely thought Lindsey Cardinale or Janay Castine would get cut before she did. But she took it quite well, considering, and even had parting advice with a smile on her face. Hats off to Aloha for maturity.

The guys, on the other hand, were spared most of the scrutiny and dissection. I suspect the producers ran out of time. They were summoned onstage as a foursome, and David Brown and Joseph Murena were eliminated as a pair. David Brown didn't look too surprised, but Joseph Murena was in a state of denial.

Personally, I don't think these people should take American Idol to heart. Sure, take it seriously as a competition, but this is not the be-all and end-all of opportunities. As far as Simon's cracks about singing in hotels, don't all the greats end up at the MGM Grand in Vegas at one stage or another?