Archive for May, 2009

Idol Thoughts — 05.20.09

Welcome to the American Idol “post-game show.” Yes, Idol IS sports. And the finale is it’s “Superbowl.” And there’s been “an upset” (presumably). So that’s even better–more stuff from “the game” to analyze. Let’s break this one down.

So why did Adam Lambert lose? That’s what a lot of people are asking this morning. Of course, that question doesn’t give Kris Allen the credit he deserves for having the most points at the end of the game. So in all fairness, why did Kris Allen win? It’s definitely easier to see the answers after the fact. Here are a few, in no particular order:

“NO-MENTUM” – Going into the finale, my feeling was that Kris needed to dominate the night in order to win. That was based on the hype that Adam was the front-runner. I now believe the opposite was true: Adam was the one who had to kill it, convincingly and decisively, Tuesday night. And Adam did not. Starting with his last song on final three night (Aerosmith’s, “Cryin'”), Adam was off his game during the finale. Not a lot. But it’s the biggest night of the competition. So a little IS a lot. Was Adam a little vocally strained or fatigued on Tuesday (the possible side effect from some of the screams and shrieks)? Maybe. But song choice didn’t help matters. One thing that was glaringly missing Tuesday was the “Oh Wow!” performance we got from him almost every night the rest of the season–those amazing and re-inventive performances, totally fresh takes on old songs, that everybody chatted about the next morning. The format of finale night was also no friend to Adam, cornering him into a somewhat ho-hum trio of songs. Here’s a crazy what if: what if the finalists could perform ANY three songs they wanted on finale night? As much as I love Idol, THAT’S an Idol I’d love even better! That would be the true “No Boundaries”!

KRIS KONNECTED – Kris clearly connected with a majority of voters in the home stretch. I say in two crucial ways. First, musically. Kris did a better job in recent performances of getting inside the songs, connecting personally with them, then skillfully sharing that connection with the audience. Adam has that side, too. It was best displayed when he kept things smaller and more intimate (“Tracks Of My Tears,” “Mad World”). That side was less-heard recently, as that big voice took over. And while I’m a huge Adam fan, I can see why some of his vocal quirks (the screams and shrieks) were polarizing to Idol voters. Not everybody liked ’em, plain and simple. We heard a lot of chatter about it (the Adam Lambert “backlash”). Especially the closer we got to the finale. Second, Kris was more accessible personally. Seems like a genuinely great guy, and very approachable. People like that. They want to root (and vote) for that. Adam was more mysterious and larger-than-life (by Idol standards). That can be seen as “aloof” by some people. And those people are less likely to give you their vote.

FRONT-RUNNER CURSE – Is there a curse on being the “front-runner” on American Idol? Yes, I believe so. Because people love to root for the underdog. It’s another of Idol’s many Catch-22’s. Being a front runner gets you the momentum you want. But that spotlight makes it clear who’s “Goliath.” And when you have a “David” as likable as Kris, the ingredients are there for the myth play itself out as written.

BUT WHO WAS THE REAL UNDERDOG? – Here’s a question: was Adam REALLY the front-runner going into the finale? One thing that frustrates me to no end is not knowing the vote totals. I finally figured out why Idol doesn’t reveal them. If they showed us the vote tallies, like we’re used to seeing from any other election we participate in, Idol ratings and viewer voting would drop. If we knew the tallies each week, results night would no longer be full of mystery. We could look at previous weeks’ numbers and make educated guesses about what will happen next. People might see that the competition’s a blow out, and not watch as much. Or see that their favorite was millions and millions of votes behind and give up voting for them. So we’ll never see the actual numbers. But occasionally, they give us clues. On final three results night, Ryan Seacrest pointed out that “only one million votes separated the top two.” I think most people assumed Adam had a million more votes than Kris. It’s just as possible that Kris went into the finale with a million vote win over Adam the previous week.

THE UNSPOKEN – Finally, did Adam’s (presumed) sexual orientation play a role in how things turned out? I’m sure it’s a discussion some people would prefer to avoid. It shouldn’t matter whatsoever. But it’s a relevant question. The fact that I can ask the question without hesitation makes me suspect that there’s something here. Pair that factor with Kris being the cute, straight guy, and the impact on certain voting blocks seems clear to me.

So, there you go. Whatta show last night, too. Loaded with surprises and massive stars. Best finale ever! I’m curious what you think. Let me know.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.19.09

Damn. Idol finale, already! This means when I wake up tomorrow, I will be an empty, lost man with nothing to obsess on or talk about. I’m joking, of course. Right there–saying “I’m joking” IS the joke! If you want skip the rest of this blog, here’s the nutshell. Close finale. Terrible ‘first single’ song. Adam will win.

ADAM LAMBERT: “Mad World” by Tears For Fears – Adam kicked the night off with the smartest choice he could’ve made. The finalists have to pick a song they performed earlier in the season. Adam went ballad. The results were haunting and exquisite. Adam reminded viewers and voters about this side of his talent, something that he’d gotten away from in recent, more rockous, weeks.

KRIS ALLEN: “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers – But whoa, nelly! What’s this? Kris nailed this one. His at-the-piano rendering of this classic was “Allenized,” from the soul, and BETTER than the first time he performed it on the show. Great job of connecting with the song and connecting that song to all of us.

Round One: Kris Allen. Although scoring the Idol finale by “rounds” is one of the most irrelevant Idol traditions. Crowning an Idol is culmulative of what’s happened through the entire season, in addition to what happens on the finale.

ADAM LAMBERT: “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke – Now for the producers’ picks. Really? This song for Adam? I know what the producers doing–and I “get” the statement he’s putting in Adam’s mouth. And I support it 100 percent. But I wanted Adam to rock tonight. Seems to me, Adam’s been neutered for this finale! Nevertheless, Adam was strong on this one. There was a moment toward the end where he overstayed his welcome in “Shriekyville.” But Adam achieved the gravitas the producers were undoubtedly hoping for.

KRIS ALLEN: “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye – Kris was definitely in his groove for his for two songs last night. Enjoyable performance of a song that’s hard not to love. Transcendent, like his first number? No. But so what?

Round Two: Gravitas wins the round for Adam, not whatever bullcrap the judges were putting out there. In my opinion, the judges critiques were unfair to Kris in order to heighten the drama of the finale. Oh, Kris wins first! Then Adam comes roaring back! The fact is both rounds, very close.

ADAM LAMBERT: “No Boudaries” written for the finale by Kara DioGuardi – Disappointed in this song. Disappointed to hear Kara thank her co-writers, one of which is the great Mitch Allan from Baltimore. Mitch, I have to assume your ideas must’ve been the ones that got left out. Lyrically, blah. But most of these finale songs have been no better. On the whole, Adam delivered the song. A couple pitchy moments.

KRIS ALLEN: “No Boudaries” written for the finale by Kara DioGuardi – Something was wrong here. It seemed (and sounded like) Kris was singing a a higher key that doesn’t work best for his voice. My guess is that the finalists aren’t allowed to play around with the arrangements of the song that was written for “them.” (Wait, they BOTH sang it. How can it be written for “them”??) Ironically, the song suits Kris’ voice better. If he could sing it his way. And I’m guessing the recorded version sounds a lot better. As performed last night, Kris was straining.

Round Three: Adam Lambert. But a disappointment. The song didn’t work that great for either.

If you want to hear the finale songs one more time, here they are:
Adam Lambert, “Mad World” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o4oc
Kris Allen, “Ain’t No Sunshine” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o4ro
Adam Lambert, “A Change Is Gonna Come” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o4z9
Kris Allen, “What’s Going On?” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o55e
Adam Lambert, “No Boundaries” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o5dk
Kris Allen, “No Boundaries” ♫ http://blip.fm/~6o5jk

Last night’s performances ranked:
1 – Kris Allen, “Ain’t No Sunshine”
2 – Adam Lambert, “Mad World”
3 – Adam Lambert, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
4 – Kris Allen, “What’s Going On?”
5 – Adam Lambert, “No Boundaries”
6 – Kris Allen, “No Boundaries”

The next American Idol is: Adam Lambert

Well, that’s what I think. What are your thoughts?

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.12.09

Let’s get right to it. How’d they do last night on American Idol? No, not the “they” you’re thinking of. I mean, the judges. We’re down to the final three. And for last night’s show, Idol followed the formula from previous seasons. The finalists performed two songs, one of which was picked by the judges. So were those judges picks home runs? Or infield ground-outs? Uh, well, to continue with the baseball analogy, it looks like these judges need some steroids!

But what a compettion this has turned out to be. A super-talented top three (just as we had super-talented top four). Each with seemingly solid fan bases. Predicting how the votes will go tonight isn’t a no-brainer. But I’ll give it a go-go-gokey in a moment. First, the performances.

DANNY GOKEY: “Dance Little Sister” by Terence Trent D’arby – Paula Adbul selected this soulful rave-up for Danny to sing. Right idea, wrong song. While the song definitely lives in the sweet spot for Danny’s voice, it’s kinda lightweight. And it seemed to me, Danny had little connection with the song. Simon was on-the-money when he said another Terence Trent D’arby song would’ve been a better choice (“Wishing Well” or “Sign Your Name”). But Danny made the best of it. In other words, Danny’s performance was better than Paula’s song choice.

KRIS ALLEN: “Apologize” by OneRepublic – Another fail by the judges. Randy and Kara co-picked this one (yet another awkwardness created by having a fourth judge: “sharing” picks). Awesong song! But here’s the problem when you make Kris Allen sing it. There’s not a lot of places for Kris to take it. So what we got was a performance that was very good, but not as good as the original. Kris did sound great, and was definitely more connected to this song than Danny was to his. The thing Kris could’ve done to spice this one up was unfortunately something he really couldn’t do: strip it down and do an acoustic guitar re-interpretation. The reason obviously being that Kris had a better acoustic re-vamping planned for later in the show!

ADAM LAMBERT: “One” by U2 – Finally! A pick that demonstrates what it’s supposed to–that these judges know what they’re talking about. Then again, Simon had the easiest job, choosing one for Adam. Whatever was picked, Adam was going to take it, make it his own, and deliver something special. And he did. The quieter vocal parts of the song were actually beautiful. I preferred the more tender vocals to the powerful screams later in the performance. At least I did last night. I listened to just the audio a few times this morning and it all works as far as I’m concerned. Performance of the night. But just barely.

DANNY GOKEY: “You Are So Beautiful” made famous by Joe Cocker – Picking his own song, Danny went for, in my opinion, one of the most over-done songs of all time. But one on which he obviously felt he could stretch out vocally. And after that first song, Danny was wise to go sentimental and try and tug a few heartstrings. (BTW, where did THAT phrase come from? Strings attached to a heart? Huh?) Danny’s vocals were mostly on point. He made some melodic changes that bugged me. Just a personal thing, but when people make changes that don’t sound better than the original, I tend to ask, “why?”

KRIS ALLEN: “Heartless” by Kanye West – The revelation of the night. This choice by Kris was bold and inspired. Out-of-the-box and off-the-hook! Kris used his acoustic guitar and voice to tranform this hip-hop track into a singer-songwriter confessional. Nearly THE performance of the night. Certainly the most original of the season. American Idol would benefit from more efforts like this one. A performance that if there’s justice should put Kris where he belongs–in the finals.

ADAM LAMBERT: “Cryin'” by Aerosmith – Well, here it is. Finally an opportunity for me to demostrate that I’m not an Adam Lambert “Kool-Aid” drinker. I usually have much (deserved) praise for Adam. Fact is, this was a disappointment. The song choice seemed lazy and obvious. The performance was less-controlled and screechier than we’re used to hearing from Adam. Ironically, by picking a huge hit song from a band so universally loved, Adam probably won over a few new supporters. Question. The reason we haven’t seen Adam sing Guns ‘N Roses, “Sweet Child Of Mine” is: a) Axl Rose won’t “clear” the song for use on Idol. or b) Adam’s been saving it for the finale. I’m hoping the answer’s “b”!

Ranking and predictions (altered slightly from my Twitters last night):

Performances ranked:
1 – Adam, “One”
2 – Kris, “Heartless”
3 – Danny, “You Are So Beautiful”
4 – Kris, “Apologize”
5 – Adam, “Cryin'”
6 – Danny, “Dance Little Sister”

Performers ranked:
1 – Adam (tie)
1 – Kris (tie)
3 – Danny

Viewers sending home tonight: Danny

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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Idol Thoughts — 05.05.09

Okay, so the thing that rocked the hardest last night was…the commercial for “Star Trek.” And I’m sure a lot of rock purists were pretty skeptical that there should even be a Rock Week on American Idol. Clearly the show has excelled at producing pop and country stars. Chris Daughtry being the one credible rocker to emerge. Nevertheless, some things went right last night. Not all of them were planned.

The show opened with Ryan Seacrest relating the news that a couple of stage mishaps had occured at the start of dress rehearsal. A stage manager was injured on the staircase, and one of the two side towers that hold the giant AI logos toppled over. End result, one stage manager shuttled to the hospital, one tower haphazardly repaired with upside-down logo, and no pre-show run-through (which Idol does before every show). So, yeah, VERY rock and roll!!

The fact that things would be less rehearsed could only help on Rock Night. That, and snagging Slash as this week’s mentor. I’m not sure the full extent of the guitar hero’s interaction with the finalists. His on-camera mentoring was less about “advice” and more about “jammin’.” But that felt right. Especially cool for Idol was getting the finalists out of the mansion, hooking up with Slash at the Roxy, one of L.A.’s most fabled rock clubs.

Take all that, and add the new twist of pairing finalists to perform duets, and there was a good amount of new stuff goin’ on last night.

About those duets. I like the idea of them. I liked watching them. But I try not to think about the implications on the competition too much. Because the duets seem unfair. How were the duet partners chosen? By random drawing? Doubtful. Pairing Adam and Allsion, the duet that made the most sense, the one that viewers probably wanted to see the most, conveniently took place at the end of the show, the “big finish” spot. That hardly feels random. Big win for Adam and Allison. Big win for AI ratings. Fair to Danny and Kris? I say no. And that’s coming from someone who’s favorites are Adam and Allison.

The performances:

Adam Lambert: Led Zeppelin’s, “Whole Lotta Love” – Clearly the right song choice…for Adam to sing. Is it one of the viewers fave songs to hear? We’ll know better during the results show tonight. I say a portion of the audience doesn’t “get” Led Zeppelin. And a “safer” classic rock song might have been a smarter choice. I hate being the guy suggesting taking the safe route. And I only reason I do is to speculate on the best road to take to win the show. The high praise from the judges felt a little like they wanna make sure he makes it through after last week’s appearance in the Bottom Two.

Allsion Iraheta: Janis Joplin’s, “Cry Baby” – Wow. I’m totally NOT vibin’ with the judges on this one. I felt that Allsion did everything right this week. Starting with the taped segment, she was more lively and persoanable than she’s ever been. Big improvements on hair, makeup and outfit. And she sounded great. One of her best yet. The judges tore her apart. I say I’m right. Guess they all dipped into Paula’s pill stash.

Danny Gokey and Kris Allen: Styx’s, “Renegade” – Sorry, guys, this did NOT blow my mind. Not your fault, though. These two were forced together as duet partners — and it showed. I actually dissent for Simon on this one, too. Kris sounded better. Danny’s not a rocker. Kris looked unhappy afterwards. I don’t blame him.

Kris Allen: The Beatles’, “Come Together” – Kris delivered a easy-going, funky-lite, rock-substitute version of this classic. It was…”pleasant.” On Rock Week, that’s not the biggest compliment.

Danny Gokey: Aerosmith’s, “Dream On” – Gokey had the ball (best song choice of the night), was running for the end zone (a chance to show off a full range of singing talents), and he fumbled (he just didn’t sound good). Another sports analogy, Danny failed to “stick the landing” on the famous high notes that bring this rock classic to a crescendo. Good thing for Danny that he appears to have the fans to get him to the final three.

Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta: Foghat’s, “Slow Ride” – It wasn’t perfect. But neither is the best rock and roll. But it kicked butt on the night’s other duet. I wondered if these duets would impact voting in any way. I think they will. Helps both Adam and Allison. Allison more so.

The night’s performaces ranked:
1 – Adam
2 – Allsion
3 – Kris
4 – Danny

The duets:
1- Adam & Allison
2 – Danny & Kris

Bottom Two tonight: Danny and Kris

Viewers sending home: Kris

That’s what I think. What about you? Let me know.

Greg Valentine
check me out on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gregvalentine

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