Archive for January, 2010

Idol Thoughts — 01.27.10

What’s the hardest thing about trying to blog on these early-season, audition episodes of American Idol?Attenetion span. Or I should stay, the wandering of that attention. It’s not easy staying focused on every audition with open mind and open ears, and giving each contestant equal consideration as the possible next American Idol.

Especially once you realize that what you’re seeing is only a fraction of the whole picture. The Dallas auditions produced 31 Golden Tickets–contestants who are advancing to the next round, Hollywood Week. The only reason we know that 31 is the number is because Ryan Seacrest says so, summing up at the end of the episode. For the rest of us, the people who just watched the whole hour, we only saw nine tickets handed out.

Obviously, because of time-limitations, Idol chooses to focus on a mixture of contestants with compelling backstories, a handful of colorful wackos, and a couple that simply have talent. So who are the 22 singers that advanced that we didn’t hear from? What do they sound like? Some of them must be contenders, right?

There’s actually a partial answer. The American Idol website has video interviews with every contestant heading to Hollywood. But no footage of their auditions. So we still don’t know what they sound like. And who has the time to hang out on the Idol website watching dozens and dozens of interviews? (Okay, I watched a couple.) So, as in the past, we’ll meet some of our eventual favorites for the first time during Hollywood Week. Or maybe even later.

So, as I write this morning about chicks with whips and dudes with Tourette’s, I have to wonder if singers with better chances of going far in the competition went unseen.

Now, about that chick with a whip, Erica Rhodes. In her child acting days, she appeared on Barney and Friends. So to get away from that squeaky-clean image, she came to the auditions squeezed into black latex and brandishing a whip. The judges dug her moxie. (Really? Moxie is the best word I came come up with today??) I felt it was a bit contrived. And I actually preferred her voice when she sang the Barney “I Love You” song to her version of En Vogue’s, “Free Your Mind.” Her voice sounds a little thin and limited. But, maybe because of the “moxie,” worth a second listen.

Full of all kinds of joy last night was dock worker, Lloyd Thomas, who turned in some nice phrasing on Stevie Wonder‘s, “Overjoyed.” A big guy and family man, Lloyd’s got the Ruben Studdard “teddy bear vote” locked down if he advances past Hollywood.

Stage actor Todrick Hall, who appeared in The Color Purple with Fantasia Barrino, effortlessly impressed the judges with an original ditty about, well, trying to impress the judges. Todrick was slick, natural, personable and talented–all the qualities that undoubtedly got him work on Broadway. Okay, he’s not exactly “the talented unknown with no other place to get discovered” that is the implicit American Idol premise. But he shined.

There were several last night that I’d like to hear more from before I get on their bandwagon. Kimberly Carver is going to Hollywood for a second shot. She sang a jazzy original. Nice jazziness–but what else can you do, Kimberly? Also advancing is Dave Pittman, the guy with Tourette’s Syndrome. He seems to gain control over the ticks and twitches that he can’t at other times when he sings. Great phrasing on his version of Sam Cooke‘s, “Bring It Home To Me.” If I were a cynic, I’d say Dave is this season’s Scott MacIntyre (blind guy, Season 8). But cynicism sucks.

Stephanie Daulong is another I wanna hear more from. Partly because she got scant seconds of airtime last night. She sounded a little Shakira-esque. Maegan Wright (“To Make You Feel My Love”) has a commercial look and a nice, controlled, powerful voice. And who doesn’t want to root for 16-year old Leukemia survivor Christian Spear? She showed promise, singing Etta James‘, “All I Can Is Cry.”

So those are the prospects from last night. Yes, prospects. Like in baseball, “spring training” is coming for these hopefuls. Hollywood Week being spring training, where we’ll get a better look at everybody’s strengths and weaknesses.

A final word about last night’s guest judges, Neil Patrick Harris and Joe Jonas: More Doogie! Neil (or are we supposed to call him Neil Patrick?) had ‘tude, involved himself and really seemed to get under Simon Cowell‘s skin. They tried to make a storyline out of it on the show. I wish they would have gone deeper into it. I wanted to know what was going on between those two. I suspect that Neil championed the more Broadway-esque performers, while Simon’s looking for a pop star. Joe, on the other hand, should have stayed home. What was the point? Knowing that his group is beloved by young fans was there any chance that Joe would say anything remotely mean or even constructively critical about anyone? He didn’t. And it seemed to me he had nothing to contribute.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Yours? Let me know.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.26.10

Separated at birth: Sideshow Bob and Chris Golightly

Wow. Who knew Sideshow Bob could sing like that?

Last night’s American Idol auditions were held in Los Angeles, where we met 25-year old Chris Golightly, who delivered a strong version of “Stand By Me,” channeling the original by Sam Cooke. We also learned Chris’s compelling backstory: since age 18-months, he bounced around from foster home to foster home. That he shares a hairstyle with an evil genius on The Simpsons unfortunately went unaddressed and remains a mystery.

Chris got a “yes” from each of the four judges. But Simon Cowell and Katy Perry emphasized that theirs were “yes with a small y.” Katy went as far as to say that Idol isn’t “a Lifetime movie,” as she reluctantly agreed to move Chris on to the next round. Looks like Chris will need to show he’s contemporary and relevant to win over all of the judges.

“You’re going to Hollywood! Which is, uh, ten miles from here.”

And how ’bout that Katy Perry? I’m a big fan. But depending on your point-of-view, as an Idol guest judge she was either a straight shot of music industry truth–or a cynical pro who’s forgotten what it was like breaking into the biz. I say it was a little of both. The guest judge duties were actually split over the two-day audition between Katy and Avril Lavigne, whose approach was similar.

The other big audition came from Andrew Garcia, who’s a kind of Latino Danny Gokey. Andrew gave what was probably the best vocal of the night on Maroon 5‘s, “Sunday Morning.” He’s got a look that stands out (cool glasses). He’s a devoted family guy. And has a backstory that will earn him fans (his parents were gang members who moved to the ‘burbs to give their kids the life they didn’t have).

Others moving on to Hollywood: Jim Ranger, another dad who sang an original song (“Drive”), which almost never impresses the judges, but this time it did; Mary Powers (“Love Is A Battlefield”), who’s edgy voice and looks got punk rock props from Avril, even as Simon suggested she didn’t need the costume; And Tasha Layton, who sounded a lot her idol, Joss Stone–maybe a little too much.

It’s early in the process. But as always, carving out their own identities will be crucial to sticking around.

On the freak show side of the festivities, I gotta bestow a few words upon the following.  Austin Fulmer, who was like Mick Jagger without the swagger. Austin sang Cheap Trick‘s, “Surrender,” and has apparently mastered a dance move that I can only describe as “sitting down jumping jacks.” The judges didn’t go for Austin’s tricks, nor did they surrender. Early in the show, Neil Goldstein sang a Meatloaf song and matched the notoriously glistening Mr. Loaf bead of sweat for bead of sweat. And then there was the mess that is Jason Green, whose long locks, feminine mannerisms, and scary, Broadway take on the Divynals, “I Touch Myself,” made Katy feel “dirty” and Simon “uncomfortable.” I gotta a feeling if Katy kissed this guy–she’d still be kissing a girl.

That’s what me thinks this morning. Your thoughts?

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.20.10

Rebound night. Coming off Tuesday’s lackluster episode, American Idol‘s was looking for a little redemption at the Orlando auditions. They found it.

Redemption in the form of reformed Matt Lawrence, who spent four years in the pokey after robbing a bank with a BB Gun at age 15. Let’s look past the stupidity of that for a second, and just acknowledge that you have to have some giant cajones to pull that off.

So with a bank heist as a backstory, it was fitting Matt chose to sing “Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne. He owned it and had no trouble winning over the judges. There’s an authenticity to Matt’s vocals–soulful and effortless as he reaches for those power notes. Look for this laid-back country boy to stick around for a while.

The other big notable last night was Jermaine Purifory. This guy’s got a lot going for him. If he can put it all together, he could be the singer from the Orlando auditions that goes the farthest. Got the looks. Ladies will love that. Entered the audition room with personality and a big smile. And sang a sweet, natural and effortless version of “Smile” (Jermaina apparently knows the Tony Bennett version–but it’s the classic written by Charlie Chaplin).

But it wasn’t all smiles last night. Especially not for Jarrod Norrell, who was removed in handcuffs after he refused to leave the audition room. His rendition of “Amazing Grace” made us all feel like wretches! It sounded like a billy goat getting the Gitmo treatment. Actually, Gitmo’s probably the right place for this guy after the sonic terror he inflicted.

At this stage of the show, there’s something I’m going to call “The Free Pass.” Hollywood Week is a whole lot more interesting to watch if there are some underdogs, screw-ups and other reality TV character types in attendance. Watching the undeserving go home, the undisciplined waste their opportunity, and the dramatics of the various hot messes always makes for good television.

Yes, a few of these Free Passes who given out last night. Benefiting were the Disimone Sisters, who were seemingly advanced to Hollywood by FOX central casting who wouldn’t mind a little “Jersey Shore” on Idol. Big-haired Bernadette (blue dress) and Amanda (yellow dress) will be back at their jobs in mom’s salon soon enough. Very average voices. Yes, blue dress was a little more passable than yellow dress.

I’d almost put Shelby Dressel into the Free Pass category. She’s the 18-year old who can’t move the right side of her face due to a birth defect. Who doesn’t want to see this underdog do well? I know I do. And based on her audition, she deserves another shot to impress (Simon Cowell liked her, not her singing so much). I did some checking around, and it looks like Shelby’s pretty serious about making it in music. She already has a band, and you can hear some of her country-leaning tunes on her website.

That’s all I have time write about today. So apologies to Kristin Chenoweth, who only had enough free time to guest judge one of the two audition days? And Seth Rollins (dad of autistic son) who auditioned nicely with a soulful “Someone To Watch Over Me.” And Jay Stone, really? No one on Idol‘s ever sang and done beat box (as you tried to claim)? Umm…Blake Lewis ring a bell? Jay, I’m just sweatin’ ya. Good luck in Hollywood. (The disclaimer is in case I bump into Jay, who lives here in Miami.)

Those are my thoughts. Let me know yours!

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.19.10

Paula Adbul, you were missed last night.

We could have used a downpour of Paula tears. Or Paula trading barbs with Simon. At the very least, some garbled, unintelligible reasoning why she says “yes” to someone going to Hollywood. Something to fun up the proceedings on American Idol.

Instead, we got one of the more lackluster audition episodes in recent memory. Contrived crazy (Brian Krause, an obvious put-on who sang Tiny Tim), boring backstories (Divorce? Asthma?), and only a small handful of standouts. The math tells the story. Twelve thousand people waited in line to try out. Just 13 walked away with Golden Tickets.

In Chicago, the hometown of Barack Obama, the uplifting slogan, “Yes We Can,” became a resounding, “No You Definitely Cannot!”

Among the interesting hopefuls: Katelyn Epperly (“Syrup And Honey” by Duffy), an Earthy-voiced original; Charity Vance (“Summertime”), who has been able to mold her limited vocal range into something unique that works; And John Park, for lack of a better description, an Asian soul singer, whose “bottom end” Shania simply had to compliment (the first in string of musical comments that sounded dirty). Ah, to be John Park!

Then there was Angela Martin, who demonstrated her ample skillz (again) on Mary J Blige‘s, “Just Fine.” Anglela showed she deserves another shot. She’s been cut the last two seasons–last year after making the Top 50 (something about a traffic ticket). We’ll see if the cloud that’s been following her around has made way for blue skies.

Finally, and very briefly, there’s Keith Sample (“Heaven” by Bryan Adams). I say briefly because that’s how much screen time he got last night. Something about his voice caught my ear. Sounded fresh. Of course, that’s based on the tiny portion the Idol folks served us.

So, hey, those are my thoughts. What you thinkin’? Let me know!

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.13.10

“Pants on the ground. Pants on the ground. Looking like a fool with your pants on the ground.” Okay, so General Larry Platt is a few years over the cut-off age. Thirty-four, to be exact. But despite age, and dubious vocals skills, this guy was the big hit on American Idol last night.

The Atlanta auditions were more freak show than talent show.

And that’s not a diss. Some funny shiz went down. A few contenders were discovered. And guest judge Mary J Blige was excellent. Gotta love anyone that works the word “anointed” into her assessment, as Mary did when she weighed in on Jermaine Sullivan‘s re-working of Joan Osbourne‘s, “One Of Us.” Jermaine’s great vocal range and control earned him a Golden Ticket.

But about that freak show. First up on the show was Dewone Robinson. He claimed to come from a family of famous Motown musicians. If that’s the case, they’ve disowned him! Then there was Christy Marie Agronow, the host of something called 411 The Show, whose slogan is “keeping you in the know.” She got a big fat, “No!” And how ’bout Jesse Hamiliton, who says he’s almost died three times? Well, last night he almost died again. Minus the “almost.”

I’m not sure what to make of the train wreck that is, “Skiiboski.” And yes, the double-i after the k is the correct spelling, despite what it said in big yellow letters on his own damn red shirt! This dude was thrownin’ every thing at the wall hopin’ something would stick. American Idol logo fade haircut. Street hustla ‘tude, ala Snoop Dogg. The thing is, the dude turned in a solid, soulful “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which was totally unexpected (and at odds with the rest of his persona). Simon Cowell dissented. But Skiiboski’s off to Hollywood. Probably going to be a quick trip to Cali. Gimmicks usually don’t play well during Hollywood Week.

Hmmm. Except last season’s annoying Norman Gentle. Skiiboski, you have shot!

Finally, there were a few last night that might survive Hollywood Week. Vanessa Wolfe (“Wagon Wheel”) is an unpolished small town girl from Tennessee with a quirky, authentic country sound. She’ll need a confidence upgrade and a bit of a makeover to make the “aero-plane” (her word) trip to Hollywood an extended stay. Holly Harden (guitar dress) is a doofus with a decent voice. Lose the gimmicks, Holly. Malorie Haley sang “Piece Of My Heart,” and got over-praised by the judges. I thought she was just OK–sounded a little pinched, her range seems limited and she needs to work on her technique.

Finally, we met this season’s Michael Sarver. A cop from Tennessee named Bryan Walker. Nice blue eyed soul version of “Superstar.”  Fans will love this guy. Who doesn’t want to root for a small town cop? Same appeal propelled Sarver into the Top 10.

Those are my thoughts. Chime in! Let me know what you think.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 01.12.10

Seems to me, after this season, all American Idol winners will need to have an asterisk by their name. They didn’t have to face the judgment firing-squad of Simon Cowell.

The journey began last night to crown the last “real” American Idol, just one day after Simon announced that Season 9 would be his last.  The timing was not a coincidence. Might as well juice the ratings for this season (the first without Paula Abdul).

Last “real” American Idol? Okay, it might not be fair to dismiss future Kelly, Carrie and Krises like that. But there are big unknowns. What effect will Simon’s departure have on the show? Can it survive without him? Is American Idol the kind of franchise that will span the decades? Is it like the Tonight Show (56 years) or Saturday Night Live (35 years), able to continue and prosper even as it changes hosts and cast members? Or is this the beginning of the end for television’s number one show?

I have no doubt they’ll hire someone new and move forward without Simon next season. I have no idea how viewers will respond to that. But, hey, at least Idol’s not on NBC, whose current crop of execs have made a debacle out of the television institution that is the Tonight Show.

So, about last night. Auditions in Boston. Victoria Beckham guesting as “The Fourth Judge.” Beckham didn’t add much to the festivities, except to mix it up with Simon in a good ol’ fashioned duel of British accents. That’s probably why she got the call.

We know the formula for these audition shows. A whole lotta crazy and bad singing sandwiched between some talent and compelling back-stories. All of these were in play last night.

I’ve always said it’s hard to gauge too much from these auditions. After all, contestants come in with their best material, stuff they’ve practiced over-and-over. What separates the real talent is the ability to take on new material, rehearse it on a tight schedule, and sound great doing it. I defy anybody to re-watch last season’s auditions and declare, “Oh, yes! There’s the winner!” Only a few seconds of Kris Allen‘s audition aired, and none of his Hollywood Week solo performances made the cut.

But a here’s a few thoughts on some of the people who stuck out last night. Early on, 16-year old Maddy Curtis (Downs Syndrome brothers) nailed her audition, a mature-voiced version of Leonard Cohen‘s, “Hallelujah.” Unfortunately for Maddy, she wasn’t the best 16-year old female singer of the night. Enter Katie Stevens (with the Portugese grandmother) with the whole package–looks and personality, and unleashing a big voiced rendition of “At Last.”

Around the Idol water cooler this morning, people are probably mentioning “The Italian Dude,” Amadeo Diricco. Seems like a nice guy, great old-school Italian personality. Belted out some blues, brother. Fans of the show are going to like this guy. But I suspect there’s a wall. And if blues is his one trick, he gonna smack right into that wall. So here’s hoping he knows more than Muddy Waters songs.

Also notable were Tyler Grady (70s rocker looks, smooth vocals), Leah Laurenti (jazzy “Blue Skies”) and Justin Williams (NextGen Buble).

And finally, Ashley Rodriguez got major kudos from the judges. Great look, nice job on Alicia Keys‘, “If I Ain’t Got You.” Still, I wanted to hear more. So I did a search this morning. Turns out she’s got a bunch of stuff on YouTube. Search her stage name, “Ashley Makailah.” Here’s her version of a Sara Bareilles song called, “Gravity.” She’s the real deal. Definitely look for her to make the Top 12.

As always, I’m curious how you saw things. So lemme know your thoughts!

Greg Valentine
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