American Idol Last 10 (review)
"Bobby Bennett's Opening Act in Las Vegas 2031"
After my wife and I finished watching American Idol a couple weeks ago, I decided to put on a beanie and sing about butterflies in falsetto to her as we headed to the bedroom. She hasn’t laughed at me in quite that way in a long time. I wound up putting the beanie away and gave up all thought of singing any more Michael Jackson to her, but by morning she was going “Hey Ace, how about loading the dishwasher and folding the towels.”
I yelled back, “Dear, I’m not your father figure.”
Then she started begging me to do that thing where I run a hand through my hair and stare longingly at the security camera in our neighbor’s driveway but then she started laughing some more. This weekend though, I’m going to do stuff like hammering shingles and staining doors also while staring at the camera, humming Stevie Wonder, and steadfastly not complaining that I’m missing the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. My wife insists that gets her way more excited than smoldering stares and hand through hair moves even in the still of the night and if I finish cleaning out our garage too, it’ll get me out of her bottom three.
Someone needs to pull Ace aside and say “Hey, beanie boy. You want to do the heart throb thing? Why not think Elvis, Marvin Gaye, maybe even Nellie? Yes, I know a long time ago girls might have fantasized about Michael Jackson but that was before it come out that he wasn’t fantasizing back about them.”
My wife got back at me though, I came home a couple Wednesdays back and she said she was making this new recipe for something called “Callamurray,” (a sea creature that has the head of one of the characters on the Mary Tyler Moore show) which she followed with “Salmonella” (apparently that’s where you sing scat while cooking fish). Anyway, she affected this strange accent halfway between Dolly Parton and Paris Hilton. I went to the living room and put on a Beatles disk, the real ones not as covered by American Idol contestants, to drown out the twang. She responded by saying, “I ain’t never heard of no Beatles. Are they like Garth Brooks?”
To which I said, “You know dear, I saw a picture in the National Enquirer of Kellie Pickler reading Wittgenstein while dressed in one of Jennifer Lopez’s old awards show outfits. I think she’s faking it. You might as well pretend to be Mandisa.”
“Are you saying that I’m fat?”
“No no, dear, Mandisa’s a very dignified spiritually-centered individual with a great voice, not some blonde with a backstory who pretends not to know what “ballsy” is.”
I then started chasing her around the living room with a tarantula, but because of the Mandisa thing I still spent two days sleeping on the couch anyway. Our fifteen year old daughter then came home to announce that she wanted to find a boy just like Kevin Covais.
“Why like Kevin?”
“I wasn’t expecting much from you anyway when I told you that, Dad,” she snapped.
For about five minutes we talked about whether Kevin Covais looked more like Chicken Little or Stuart Little then we told her, “When you fall in love at this age, don’t let it be forever or we’ll vote you out of the house.”
Our family counselor recommended that we stay away from American Idol for a couple weeks. In his words, “Dawg, it’s okay if you don’t write about it. You’ll work it out and to be honest it wasn’t that funny anyway.”
I told him, “Thanks, that was hot. Even if your advice started out a little bit pitchy.”
So here I am, life is back to normal. We have forgiven America for evicting Gedeon Mckinney from our living room. I say that picture he drew of the earth evoked Al Gore too much with his being from Tennessee and all. Same thing with Ayla Brown. She was the daughter of a politician from Massachussetts so when America voted they thought she was Michael Dukakis or John Kerry. The daughter now wants a nice boy who dresses like Ryan Seacrest. My wife now pretends to be Katherine Mcphee studying for her Smoldering Look 385 final at the Boston Conservatory. I shaved my head, act humble, and cover alt rock covers of old songs while pretending they’re my own arrangements.
Last night, Clay Aiken’s father sang “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” on our tv set. He seems like a nice enough vocal coach for the contestants, but actually hearing the guy sing reminded me that there are a lot of folk who make it big in the music business without necessarily singing better than a lot of the contestants on the show. Of course, I wasn’t much of a fan when the guy was actually writing all the songs that made Simon Cowell insult two thirds of the singers on Idol.
I really did like seeing Bobby Bennett get to meet Barry Manilow, there’s something about this AI extended universe that makes reality tv feel like one big happy family. Even the people who don’t make the top 12 keep reappearing on the show in this strange dilated relativistic timeframe. I mean we last saw Bobby Bennett something like four weeks ago and instead everyone was acting like he'd been on some island talking to a volleyball for seven years.I’ve also heard that William Hung is in negotiations to be the next Bachelor.
So now that there are nine singers left and one extra from the revival of Hee Haw, how’s it look? First, I had thought Lisa Tucker would do better on this show than she has. I think the turning point was when she revealed that she’d been in the Lion King starting at an age when other kids watch the dvd. At that moment, she shifted from talented unknown teenager to singing version of Keisha Knight Pulliam. America doesn’t like child stars as teenagers unless they ‘re forced to be Danny Bonaduce for a few years of their life. I also think that she may suffer from one of those she’s been on stage so much so early that when the Idol people said “Now go show America who Lisa Tucker is.” She just went “Whoa, not sure who that is.”
Worst of all, she just doesn’t look she’s having fun.
With Bucky, I just never realized that they had that many cell phones at diners serving chicken-fried steak in wite gravy. He’s genuinely likeable and he sings okay but shouldn’t he have been able to do Buddy Holly? I do hope Buck stays on long enough so they get to feature him with Kellie, Taylor, and Paris singing in four part hominy.
Elliot Yamin apparently has the best backstory of any of the contestants. I have no idea why it’s never mentioned. To me, he looks vaguely like Jim Nabors and seems to be the contestant who’s making the fewest attempts to play a “character”. I loved the fact that he said that he honestly wasn’t a Barry Manilow fan, talked about actually doing Karaoke, and appears to be what Idol is supposed to be about, the every day guy who America discovers by “Phoning Home Elliot”. Maybe in two weeks, give him a finger that lights up and have Drew Barrymore in the audience.
I know that a lot of people insist that Taylor is some sort of original, but I wonder what would happen if they had Blues night and made them do the real thing a la Muddy Waters. Mandisa would kick his twitchy harmonica playing self from Beale Street to Natchez. Of course, I would have loved to see Kevin Covais take on Howlin Wolf. I actually think that even Katharine might out blues Taylor who strikes me as more bluesy than blues man , someone who can squeeze a lifetime of pain into twelve bars. As he says himself “He’s all about having fun and entertaining people”.
I keep thinking that Chris Daughtry should have been on that show where Inxs picked its own lead singer, though it would scare the heck out of me to have to replace some guy who hung himself. It’s a bit like getting cast as Superman, one of the Hope diamond roles in the entertainment world. The judges keep saying how much they love the fact that Chris seems to know who he is and that for me is the paradox. If you’re an alt rocker and you really know who you are, what are you doing on American Idol? It gives me these weird visions of Kurt Cobain singing Smells Like Teen Spirit to Paula Abdul and actually listening while they tell him about being a little more upbeat if he really wants America to vote for him. It’s a weird line to be walking, but he’s still managing it pretty well if you can imagine an alt rocker that grandmothers would vote for.
While I thought that Mandisa did Dinah Washington well, it brought home something that makes me hesitate about Mandisa. Dinah Washington was one of these undeniably distinctive singers who sings two bars and leaves no doubt about who’s singing whether it was What a Difference a Day Makes or the even more pop stuff they pushed her into to broaden her career. She sings well, has the personality, but for some reason the music doesn’t stick with me. I may well be in the minority here though. It’s unfair to compare any female singer to Sarah Vaughan, a singer from the last generation who became a star from winning the Apollo Theater talent contest over and over again ( a la Idol), but even if Mandisa had two names, I’m not sure she pulls off that “Oh my God, wow” thing that Sassy, who never had a hit record fwiw, managed on a regular basis. Mandisa makes me think less great singer and more one of these individuals who could do those old sitcoms then at the end of the show she would come out and sing.
It’s embarrassing to confess this, but I had an MP3 of Katharine Mcphee from Stevie Wonder night and my wife walked by and said “Wow, what’s that?”
Watching her, there’s something a little stagey about her performances as if she were trained for Broadway, but when she sings well I find myself remembering what Katherine Mcphee sounds like on Thursday and even into Saturday. I do think that the storyline America craves in this sort of show is the spectacle of a performer “growing” into stardom as he/she moves through the eliminations. Chris and Taylor give more of a sense that they’re trying to be discovered but already know how they want to sound. Katharine’s either a very skilled manipulator of her own image or she’s actually finding her way of doing things as the show unfolds. If this actually happens, it’s a much better story than any backstory. I do think that’s part of why America took to Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson so well, both seemed to grow into Idolness as the show progressed. Katharine has the inside track on that particular storyline this year. The hard thing will be actually having to appear to get looser, warmer, and more idiosyncratic as a performer over the next several weeks. On the other hand, if it gets revealed that the special person she chose to sing "Come Rain or Come Shine" to was L. Ron Hubbard, then I'd say all bets about her winning would be off.
Television tends to be a very revealing medium which happens to be part of why reality tv often works much better than it should. There’s something about being on a smallish ( I know this is changing in America but our house has a set with a 27” screen and a tube still) screen and being expected to do new material every week. That doesn’t mean that you can’t create a character for television, but people have to believe that that character is an extension of who you really are. In varying degrees, I think this is the basic challenge for Paris Bennett and Kellie Pickler. Each has established a personality in the show. It helps that Paris can actually sing, but I believe they’ve painted themselves into an HDTV corner. Is the Idol audience going to buy that each performer is who she’s been projecting.
Kelly’s pushed it with the I come from some sort of Redneck Brigadoon in a town smaller than Bucky’s and missed the whole last thirty years of yankee culture. Dolly Parton has a schtick, but she’s always matched it with Dolly knows she’s not Dolly and in fact she’s really smart. I’ve never heard of Stevie Wonder and I don’t know what “ballsy” means just may have pinned the “she’s faking it meter”. I also have to say that after all that talk about understanding the lyric of Walking After Midnight with Barry Manilow, she missed the underlying loneliness that Patsy Cline put in it and that Jessica Lange who’s not a singer caught much better.
Paris has a similar kind of forced giddy teenager thing going- She has a big voice-Randy worships her grandmother. There’s just this bit of doubt that it’s a bit more calculated than that .
I do sometimes wonder what we’ll think about Idol in 30 years, well it likely won’t be me doing the thinking. I looked up Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour which started on the Dumont Network to see who its most famous alums were and came up with Gladys Knight who was on the show at age seven and Wayne Newton. If anyone remembers Star Search which actually gave America Dennis Miller, Martin Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Lee Ann Rimes, and Rosie, and almost outlasted the publisher’s clearing house sweepstakes is that most of the people who became stars from the show didn’t last that long on the show itself. Could you imagine a conversation that went like this, “Do you remember Idol?”
“Oh yeah, that was the show that had Scot Savol and Jasmine Trias on it before they married and had their own reality show. Right, and wasn’t Kevin Covais on the show before he became president? Yes and the Brittenum Twins too before they solved the question of how to travel faster than the speed of light. Didn’t Ryan Seacrest used to be on the thing before he took over the Tonight Show fifteen years ago? Do you remember how Paula went deaf for the last five years of the show and no one noticed until late in the fourth year?
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