Archive for April, 2009

Idol Thoughts — 04.28.09

I’m not sure what Frank Sinatra would make of Adam Lambert. Or maybe I know EXACTLY what he’d think. I say they have more in common than Ol’ Blue Eyes would want to admit. The fact is they both bring swagger to their worlds of refinement. There’s never been an American Idol contestant like Adam, so completely confident and comfortable to do his own thing. Adam shakes up the Idol formula.

The Rat Pack also shook things up in their day. They were more than crooners. They were “rock stars.” They were “Diddys.” Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were singers by trade, actors when they felt like it, even comedians when it suited them. In other words, entertainers. They were also rebels in who they associated with and the way they lived their lives.

So it was “Standards of the Rat Pack Era” Night on American Idol. And Jamie Foxx mentored the finalists. It was an insipred choice! Foxx broke through and connected with the finalists in a way we haven’t seen recently. How many times have we seen the contestants go glassy-eyed while the mentor’s working with them? That didn’t happen last night.

Now, just because it was “Rat Pack Week” didn’t mean all Rat Packers would be represented equally. Just like it was in life, most of the attention went to Frank Sinatra, with the first four songs performed last night being ones largely known for their Sinatra recordings.

KRIS ALLEN, “The Way You Look Tonight” – Kris opened the night strong. He showed he could ballad AND swing with this arrangement. This was a huge performance for Kris. Maybe a little more Dean Martin than Frank Sinatra. But Kris raised his own bar. I’m still trying to figure out what Simon’s criticism was when he said it was a “wet” performance. I have to assume that Simon’s mission last night was to motivate by being contrary.

ALLISON IRAHETA, “Someone To Watch Over Me” – Great song choice for her. Allsion brought a raspy tenderness to this one that went down like grape soda for the ears. The only thing for me that prevented this from being one of the night’s best was her phrasing. I don’t think Allison’s phrasing (and thus, the ability to interpret and bring meaning to these difficult songs) was as advanced as the other finalists.

MATT GIRAUD, “My Funny Valentine” – It’s a song I always like to hear, lol. Go figure. So I have a vested interest in it being sung well. Two things about Matt were very apparent last night. He loves jazz and he’s schooled in jazz. But hey, I love money and took a business class. That doesn’t make me a millionaire! For my money, Matt tried to do too much with this. And while he was showing off his chops, he started to swerve all over the place and got pitchy. So yes, it was the performance that felt the most authentic. It was also the one I don’t want to hear again.

DANNY GOKEY, “Come Rain Or Come Shine” – I think Danny benefited the most from Jamie Foxx’s advice. Something Jamie said connected with Danny, and Danny connected with the audience on a whole new level. Danny was in-control, let the song simmer then boil, and told the story with his eyes as much as his voice. It was Danny’s best job yet of “selling the song.” A powerhouse performance. One that I watched again this morning and upgraded (slightly) in my rankings.

ADAM LAMBERT, “Feeling Good” – Leave it to the guy that always does something different to be the one that does something other than a Frank Sinatra song. Sammy Davis Jr. is the Rat Packer that recorded “Feeling Good.” Nevertheless, the version we watched last night is more based on a remake by the alternative band, Muse. Because it was Adam’s voice, this was the only song last night that felt contemporary. Was it showy almost to the point of cabaret? Yeah, a little bit. But there’s something transcendant about anything Adam sings. Amazing last note ranks amoung the greatest notes hit on Idol ever. Downgraded (slightly) after re-watching this morning.

Last night’s performances ranked:

1 – Danny Gokey (tie)
1 – Adam Lambert (tie)
3 – Kris Allen
4 – Allison Iraheta
5 – Matt Giraud

Bottom Two tonight: Matt, Allison

Going home: Matt

That’s what I think. You?

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 04.21.09

Okay. So not a single song I suggested got performed tonight. For the most part, I appreciate the choices that were made during this disco-themed night on American Idol. The contestants actually dug a little deeper into the genre than I did. And “September” is a MUCH better song than “Disco Infrerno.” So good on ya, Danny. How’d they do tonight? And who’s going home tomorrow? Let’s groove on this recap (and peer into the crystal disco ball).

LIL ROUNDS – “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Kahn. Lil sounded better tonight than in any recent week I can remember. And she played the role well (of “Disco Diva”), giving the audience a fun, more confident and energetic performance. Too bad the vocals weren’t totally on point. The judges hammered her and I think Lil’s getting frustrated. At least that’s what I see in her eyes. The theme alone this week should have saved her. I don’t think it did.

KRIS ALLEN – “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer. I had a feeling we’d see Kris with his guitar this week. He’s not exactly “Mr. Disco.” Smart choice. And this was a great re-vamp of the song. He really told a story. And props to Paula for identifying and acknowledging the Santana vibe. And even though Simon was mystified, I understood her comment about shopping from the women’s department. Nice job, Kris.

DANNY GOKEY – “September” by Earth Wind & Fire. Weird dancing, great vocal. Here’s a thought that may or may not mean a damn thing. But why do I sense that Danny could be the biggest-selling gospel artist next year (if he wants)? His vocals and performances always make me feel like I’m in church. Not a bad thing! The cool church. The one with the awesome gospel choir.

ALLISON IRAHETA – “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer. So much for my feeling that some disco content was too suggestive for 16-year-old Allison, lol. Allison grabbed hold of one of Donna’s naughtier classics and, dare I say, made it even sexier than the original (thinking of the way she opened the song). Personally, I loved this rock-splosive re-working of the song. I hope voters did, too. But I wonder. When Allison’s gone too “hard rock” in the past, it’s landed her in the Bottom Three.

ADAM LAMBERT – “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman. There’s any number of songs Adam could’ve taken and re-intrepreted and made it great. And if this wasn’t exactly the perfect new arrangement, it certainly was the vocal of the night. Adam also knows how to really sell a song. Which makes him a great performer, in addition to a great singer.

MATT GIRAUD – “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Simon said “desperate” about Matt’s song choice. I think it’ll work. I see voters getting behind Matt, now that the “The Save” has made him the official underdog. I think they’ll want him to “stay alive” another week. I liked some things about his performance tonight. But it didn’t totally come together for me.

ANOOP DESAI – “Dim All The Lights” by Donna Summer. Fitting that the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer would provide three of the songs tonight. I gotta say, I don’t know what Randy, Kara and Paula were listening to (maybe a replay in their heads of a much better Anoop performance in dress-rehaersal?). But I’m with Simon. I thought this was bad. Really bad. And that’s not saying Anoop can’t sing–cuz he can. He just turned in a mediocre performance this week. Bad time to do that.

Top 3: Adam, Danny, Kris

Bottom 3: Lil, Anoop, Allison

Bottom Two (and both going home): Lil, Anoop


Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 04.14.09

9:04. That’s the time the show ended tonight on the East Coast. And that was with just half the judging!

To move things along, and to avoid the “running late” problem they had last week, American Idol producers decided each contestant would get reviewed by only two of the four judges. One of the worst Idol missteps in a while. Seriously. People want to know what Simon thinks. And considering what they pay Simon, producers should really think this through. Goodbye Kara next season. But that’s a whole other blog!

Here’s some quick thoughts…

Allison Iraheta: Big priaise from Simon for her version of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” His and Paula’s praise must’ve been cumlative and rewarding for previous weeks. (Meaning that they see it like I do — Allison’s a top-two of top-three finalist.) But tonight, the first part of the song didn’t resonate with me, and it seemed to me overall that Allison wasn’t as comfortable inside the song as we’re used to seeing. Middle of the pack this week.

Anoop Desai: Strong performance. Anoop’s finding his ‘jam’. And looking at all the performances tonight, Anoop’s rendition of Everything I Do (I Do For You) really fulfilled the promise of the night’s theme, “Songs Of The Cinema.” If Anoop ends up in the bottom three, it won’t be for lackluster singing (the last two weeks have been his strongest). It’ll be because he doesn’t have enough fans. Which is a big problem, indeed.

Adam Lambert: Gave us an unabashed and unapologetic “rock star” performance of “Born To Be Wild” tonight, complete with heavy metal high notes that will make Sabastian Bach wish he was a young man again. Yes, the downloads will bare out one of Simon’s observations (last week’s “Mad World” will out-sell this week’s rocker). But Adam sold a lot of future concert tickets tonight!

Matt Giraud: Matt made changes to “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman” that didn’t work. As a whole, the song went flat. And the judges nailed him for it. Nothing worse than being the second-best “Bryan Adams” on the show. Ouch.

Danny Gokey: Yeoman-like performance of “Endless Love.” Which is to say, solid as usual. But a recurring comment here. The quieter moments of Danny’s performances don’t resonate with me as much as when he “turns it on.” Voters will remember his singing tonight, though. And that’s good. Because “sans glasses” as he was, he was kinda unrecognizable.

Kris Allen: Did the song “Falling Slowly” (don’t know it) from the movie “Once” (never saw it). He got a little whiny, and in a couple parts, out of tune. Far (far!) from his best.

Lil Rounds: Here’s the issue with Lil. And it’s just an itty-bitty thing. She doesn’t know how to pick songs (tonight, Bette Midler’s “The Rose”). And doesn’t sing the ones she picks very well. Itty-bitty… not!

Top Three: Adam, Danny, Anoop

Bottom three: Lil, Matt, Kris

Bottom two: Lil, Matt

Going home: Lil

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 04.07.09

Okay, here’s the DVR tip somebody should’ve given us before last night’s American Idol: be sure to record the show after Idol. Or risk missing the performance of the night! Yes, Idol ran long on the East Coast. I have to assume some jibber-jabber was edited to bring the show in on time for West Coast viewers. But eight minutes over? Face it, Idol is the NFL. It’s the Academy Awards. It ends when it ends.

I’m sure someone at FOX this morning is complaining to Idol producers about the overage of TV’s #1 show. But not too strenuously.

The performances:

Danny Gokey: “Stand By Me” by Mickey Gilley. I’m not sure why Danny decided to do a remake of a remake and put his own rearrangement on the previous rearrangement. The classic song that is “Stand By Me” was in there somewhere (struggling to bust out). And while Danny was using the opportunity to show off his vocal chops, the actual performance was not one I’d ever want to hear again. If the mission is to create songs people want to listen to, I’d have to say mission NOT accomplished.

Kris Allen: “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” by Don Henley. “Oh Gawd…” were my exact words when Ryan Seacrest announced that Kris was about to do this song. “This could be cheesy” is how I finished that sentence. Cheesy it was not. In fact it was kinda fun. A cool little jazzy-bluesy jam session. Randy Jackson nailed what the problem with this performance was: “Kris the singer” got lost.

Lil Rounds: “What’s Love Got To Do With It” by Tina Turner. Seemed like it’d be a great match of singer and song. It wasn’t. My high hopes for Lil were dashed from the get. She started the song seemingly out-of-breath, unable to hold the quieter, sexier notes. Then proceeded to turn in a flat, unoriginal, and mannered performance that only came alive when she finally went for the big notes. Lil’s performance not only didn’t make me forget Tina, it made me forget Lil! Her failure to live up to her hype is the biggest disappointment of the season.

Anoop Desai: “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper. Big improvement for Anoop… on his attitude and outfit! Oh, and the singin’ was better this week, too. A nice version of a great song that puts him squarely in the middle of the pack this week.

Scott MacIntyre: “The Search Is Over” by Survivor. Scott performed this justly forgotten power-ballad standing in the middle of the stage in front of a mic and strapped into an electric guitar. Later he declared he wanted to show off his “punk side.” Somewhere, Jello Biafra is rolling in his grave. (Jello who? And he’s not even dead?) Even so, it was one of Scott’s stronger vocals on what was a horrible song choice. Scott’s sounding to me more and more like one of those singers who gets played on radio stations with names like “The Fish” or “The Dove.” This is not a knock on those kinds of stations (nor an invitation to be struck down by a mighty and vengeful lightning bolt). I’m just sayin’.

Allison Iraheta: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. Well, I love this song…and I dig Allison. So what would you expect me to say? Yeah, I loved this! I will download this. An iPod keeper. But it bums me a little that Simon Cowell is on-the-money about Allison: she really needs to build her following, become more “likeable.” Because she’s one of the best on the show, and yet she’s logging a lot of steps across the stage as the bottom three contestant that always gets sent back to safety.

Matt Giraud: “Part-Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder. How Matt Got His Groove Back! Matt did an awesome job playing to his strengths and reinvigorating this song. Matt was able to do to the Stevie song what Kris wanted to do to the Don Henley song. One of the best of the night.

Adam Lambert: “Mad World” by Tears For Fears. The only thing that could derail Adam at this point and land him in the bottom three is if, like, the show carelessly ran, like, you know, overtime and many people who were DVR-ing missed him and didn’t see his number to vo…. OH, SNAP!!! It was a bring-down-house performance of a bold song choice (meaning pretty obscure to most people watching). All while looking like k.d. lang. Only question about the Idol finale: Adam vs. who?

Top three: Adam, Matt, Allison

Bottom Three: Lil, Scott, Kris

Going home: Lil Rounds

Greg Valentine
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Busting The Myth: American Idol Is A Singing Competition

It’s been said. You can hear it in your head. Whether it’s coming from one of the judges. The contestants. Or The host. “This is a singing competition.”

It’s become one of the cliches of American Idol. And it’s also a myth. American Idol is not a singing competition. It’s a very successful television show whose SETTING is a singing competition. Yeah, I know. Seems like the same thing. Not quite. And I say understanding the difference is the key to understanding American Idol.

All the elements of “story” are found in the television show that is American Idol. Yep, the same ones that make your favorite book or movie your favorite. And the same story elements your english teacher made you examine in book reports. Starting with “Setting,” a nationally-televised singing competition. The “Plot” of course is the one-by-one elimination of the Idol hopefuls, their efforts to make it through the minefield of competition, all leading to the crowning of a the new Idol. As with most stories worth following, there’s “Conflict.” On Idol, conflict can be literal — like judge vs. judge. Or more figurative — like a performer against themselves, always pushing against their limitations to rise to the next level.

Stories have “Characters.” And American Idol is nothing but characters. Randy’s your buddy. Paula’s your fun, wacky aunt. Simon’s the cold dose of reality (sometimes referred to as “the mean one,” but not by me). And of course, the contestants are “characters.” We learn their backstories and watch their personalities reveal themselves. And contestants who fail as characters, ultimately fail on the show. Was Chris Daughtry’s “character” too dour and serious against the fun and goofy Taylor Hicks and sexy diva Katherine McPhee? It kills me to say it (because Chris is one of my two all-time faves from the show), but yes. Understanding American Idol as a television show helps to understand this great injustice.

Stories have a “Point Of View” from which they’re told. I didn’t do as well in english class as I pretend I did. So I don’t know what Idol’s POV is. But I know there is one. And stories have a “Theme.” I guess the theme of American Idol is that if you’re talented enough, work hard enough, get people to love you enough, you can make your dreams come true.

So is American idol a singing competition? No, because it’s so much more.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 03.31.09

So let me try and understand this. It’s iTunes Week on American Idol. And apparently, you can pick any song you want. “As long as it was a popular download.” And your choice is, “Turn Your Lights Down Low” by Bob Marley? Yes, Megan Joy, we’re throwing our Nerf Balls at you on the TV. Remember, the theme is ANY song. Not “Reggae Songs Nobody Knows.”

Song choice. Song choice. Song choice! It’s the Golden Rule on Idol.

But dumping on Megan’s become easy sport. So who else failed the Golden Rule. Lil Rounds. “I Surrender” by Celine Dion? I don’t know it. And I make a point of trying have at least some familiarity with every song out there. Lil, is that how you view yourself as an artist? Will “I Surrender” be on your first album? Oh? No, it won’t? Then WHY would you choose it when you can pick ANYTHING? I’m just saying. And I have a quibble with my fave, Adam Lambert, about his song choice. But it’s a different objection. Because from what we’re seeing, Adam can LITERALLY sing anything and make it “Adam” and entertaining. So why not something a little less “novelty” than “Play That Funky Music”? Adam should start shooting for songs that people will download and still be listening to a year from now. Like last week’s, “Tracks Of My Tears,” an iPod keeper.

As for the performances last night, here are a few notes:

Anoop Desai: “Caught Up” by Usher. A serviceable version. Looked like he was trying too hard (the opposite of “effortless”). Needs to find “a look.” Anoop looks like the guy who sold me this computer at Best Buy. Doesn’t take criticism well. Yeah, your fans might save you… this week. But will you improve is the question.

Megan Joy: “Turn Your Lights Down Low” by Bob Marley. It’s becoming obvious that “off-key” is her default position. Bob Marley not “Jammin'” in his grave! Judges railroaded Megan into this competition, then proped her up when it was apparent she sucked. That all ends tonight. Goodbye.

Danny Gokey: “What Hurts The Most” by Rascal Flatts. Great song. Good singer. Good performance. But not great. Should’ve been a home run. Wasn’t. Danny’s awesome with the big notes, but less skillful on the quieter parts of songs. His phrasing needs improvement on these quieter sections if he truly wants to be a great interpreter of songs. More nuance. Yes, I’m sayin’ some stuff about one of your faves. Got a problem with that?

Allison Iraheta: “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt. The second I heard she was doing this song in the video piece before she sang, I was convinced this would be the performance of the night. Well. The first half of her performance lived up to that. Once the music kicked it up a notch, she lost it. So I was surprised–because that’s normally what she does so well. Great promise as a future recording artist. But sub-par (for her) last night.

Scott MacIntyre: “Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel. The surprise of the night. I’ve been less-than-generous to Scott in the past. Brilliant song choice. He “got it” when they said pick “anything”–and knew exactly the song that’d work for him. And while the “new hair” might not be 100% where it needs to be, I appreciate the (somebody’s) effort. Even so, Scott’s gonna need to step it up if he wants to stick around.

Matt Giraud: “You Found Me” by The Fray. A disappointment. He tried a different arrangement on the song, and I found it distracting. Especially the beginning–seems he got off on the wrong foot and was trying to recover the rest of the way. Matt has a great voice, but lacks confidence. What he needs to do is become more clear to himself what he’s all about musically.

Lil Rounds: “I Surrender” by Celine Dion. I liked this performance better last night than I do this morning. In the moment, I got caught up in the last part of the song where she was belting it out big and soulful. I watched it a second time, and realized a couple things: some flat notes, and my sense that she should’ve picked another song. This is a couple/few weeks in a row that Lil hasn’t lived up to the high expectations on her.

Adam Lambert: “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry. It was Adam. Wild. Fun. Over-the-top. Indulgent. And I liked it.

Kris Allen: “Ain’t No Suinshine” by Bill Withers. Great job. Something about Kris that’s been true from day one is that he KNOWS who he is as an artist. That gives Kris the comfort to be himself that Matt Giraud is missing at the moment.

Top three: Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey

Bottom three: Anoop Desai, Megan Joy, Lil Rounds (yes, I’m trying to predict “the shocker”)

Going home: Megan Joy

Greg Valentine
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