Archive for March, 2010

Idol Thoughts — 03.30.10

It was Soul and R&B night on American Idol. Yep, “timing” can be a cruel jokester; The season’s last remaining black female contestant was sent home last week. So it was up to “Big Mike” and a bunch of white folk to bring the Soul.

R&B singer Usher mentored this week, promising the contestants tough love. And he was in the audience last night to watch his students’ efforts. How’d they do? Here are the performances ranked:

1) Lee DeWyze – “Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – When you add all the crucial elements up, Lee takes the top spot this week. And what are those crucial elements again? Vocals, performance, song choice, and what I call “The iPod Factor” (would I put this on my iPod?). Lee gave a strong rock vocal and is stepping up his game on the performance side of things. He makes better song choices than most of the others this season. And he did Soul last night his way–which is the artist test of all these theme weeks on Idol.

2) Crystal Bowersox – “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips – Crystal promised a surprise this week, and made good by starting this song singing and playing the piano, then getting up and singing with just the mic, no guitar to hide behind. So how’d that work out for her? Pretty good. But not perfect. She’s far less confident, and proficient, on the piano. The attention required to actually play the right notes distracted from singing, and selling, the song. But Crystal made a good move mixing things up. Viewers want to see the contestants grow and stretch. Despite marking her down a tad on performance, this was the best pure vocal of the night.

3) Casey James – “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam & Dave – This was the most joyful effort of the night. Great song choice for him. Both Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi felt it was too similar to his recent song choices. But here’s the only thing that matters: Casey did this song much better than those others! This one I’ll put on my iPod. Casey’s best performance yet.

4) Michael Lynche – “Ready For Love” by India.Aire – A solid effort that worked its way higher on this list as other contestants last night dropped the ball. I was a little bored by the song and sit down performance. But “Big Mike” got the message of last week’s critique: less can be more. So he scaled back on the riffing, turned in a sweet soulful vocal, and did a much better job of connecting with the song and audience.

5) Andrew Garcia – “Forever” by Chris Brown – Okay. What a difference a week makes. The fact is this is what this guy does: intimate, acoustic new interpretations of songs. Andrew should have never gotten away from that. I’ve written honestly about how awkward he’s been without his guitar. But with it…it’s a night and day difference. Does that mean Andrew’s a one-trick pony? Personally, I think so. But it’s a nice trick.

6) Aaron Kelly – “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers – Not his best. Just OK. I wouldn’t have picked this song for him. For starters, Kris Allen did it (much more) memorably in last season’s finale. Still, one of my fave voices this season.

7) Katie Stevens – “Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin – Katie ranked higher than Siobhan Magnus? Yep. And quite simply, being able to stay in key for the whole song is the reason. It’s a nice step forward for Katie, who up until now, hasn’t made it through an entire song without hitting a number of off notes. The performance suffered a little from her trying to mimic Aretha’s sass. Katie should watch for that–and make sure her on-stage persona is more organic to the 16-year old she is.

8 ) Siobhan Magnus – “Through The Fire” by Chaka Kahn – Because we like Siobhan, I wonder if many people today remember this one a little rosier than it really was. I listened to it again this morning and it was all kinds of wrong, starting with being a poor song choice for her. Her lower-register didn’t carry the parts of the song that needed it. Then she belted out some high notes that were painful (especially when you hear them again). At the moment, Siobhan’s trending down. She could use a home run next week to regain some mo’.

9) Tim Urban – “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker – Wow. There hasn’t been a soul-sapping, white bread R&B effort like this since…Pat Boone changed “Ain’t That A Shame” to “Isn’t That A Shame.” Yes, the “dot dot dot” back there was me Googling music history to come up with the Pat Boone reference. Like a Vegas lounge singer. Tim’s vocal tone was decent. But, yuck.

10) Didi Benami – “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin – The 1966 original of this song is on my iPod. And I love it! A total classic. That may be partly why this was the performance last night I’d least like to ever hear again. Her voice and this song–not a good match. And yes, Simon Cowell‘s right. Didi’s lost her singer-songwriter vibe. She’s diving into these theme nights entirely wrong. She’s trying on the various musical styles–and losing her own style. This would have never happened to Lilly Scott. I’m just saying. For that matter, somewhere last night, I’m thinking Paige Miles was watching Tim and Didi struggle with Soul and R&B. And I’m thinking that had to a rough night for Paige.

Here’s what I’m feeling for the Bottom Three tonight: Katie Stevens, Tim Urban and Didi Benami. But as a wild card, Michael Lynche‘s unfamiliar song choice could land him in there. Katie will be sent to safety. And between Tim and Didi, Tim dodges yet another bullet, and Didi Benami goes home tonight.

We’ll see what happens. Your thoughts today? Let’s hear them.

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

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Idol Thoughts — 03.24.10

You have work pretty hard if you wanna “out-cheese” Wham!’s version of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” So you gotta give the Top 11 credit for their group-sing effort on last night’s American Idol results show, which was apparently brought to you by new sponsor…Velveeta.

Written all across Crystal Bowersox‘s face: “Why am I singing this? WHY am I dancing? And how does someone ‘Go-Go?'”

It was a night of Disney ballads (Miley Cyrus and Joe Jonas & Demi Lovato). But no fairytale ending for Paige Miles, who was not rescued by her prince. In fact, Simon Cowell told her straight up: “We won’t be saving you.”

So it was a preempt on the “Sing For The Save.” Now, that’s a poison apple. Paige has the dubious distinction of being the contestant that made it the furthest who doesn’t get to go on tour. But, if you’ve read my recent blogs, the outcome last night was not a surprise.

The Bottom Three was also a just one: Katie Stevens (which I saw coming), Tim Urban (I said Andrew Garcia), and Paige Miles.

While Tim’s coalition of supporters is clearly not growing, Andrew continues to enjoy much goodwill with voters, probably the residual of that great version of “Straight Up” from weeks ago. For that one whole week when AI9 contestants were allowed to have individual Twitter accounts, Andrew had the most followers. He also enjoys huge support in his hometown, Los Angeles, which has the second-largest population in the country. So I suspect Andrew can continue to be less and less dazzling while sticking around for a few more weeks.

That’s all for today. Time for me to Go-Go.

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

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Idol Thoughts — 03.23.10

I don’t have much to say about the night’s biggest story on American Idol. The “mentor” is Miley Cyrus? Just so you know, Crystal Bowersox, it’s not normally like this. I have to say that since Crystal apparently never watched the show in the past–and was a surprisingly good sport about the whole thing, even asking Miley to sign her guitar.

Hey, things could’ve been worse. The mentor could’ve been Miley’s dad!

So, once again I’ll attempt to rank the performances. Last night, they breakdown into two categories:

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX:

Crystal Bowersox – “Me And Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin – This performance had everything you’d want from a version of this song: vocal nuances ranging from the subtle to the explosive. Just fantastic, like she always is. It also had something I didn’t want: that guitar in her hands. This would’ve been the perfect song, with its quiet beginning and rocking end, to get out from behind that guitar, and open herself up to the audience, connecting even more. But it sounds like Crystal’s aware of the situation, and we can expect her to do that next week. Leave it to Kara DioGuardi to bring up ditching the guitar; it was really the only note I wrote down during Crystal’s performance.

EVERYBODY ELSE:

2) Aaron Kelly – “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith – I’m using the iPod test again to rank the performances (“Do I want this song on my iPod?”). I mean, the search on Idol is for the next big recording artist, right? So what they do on the show should make me wanna buy and listen to their music. Aaron’s got a very recordable voice, and he sounds good live, too. Yes, I think this song was a little “bigger” than his voice (mainly in the second half of the song). But he made this work.

3) Lee DeWyze – “The Letter” by the Box Tops – Simon Cowell said he was surprised Lee chose this song. Yet nobody mentioned the singer of the original, Alex Chilton, a hero to some in the musician world, died in the last week. I can’t confirm that’s the reason Lee picked it; but my guess is that it is. The re-arrangement of Lee’s funky-swing hybrid version didn’t impress me much. It was all over the place. And I actually would not iPod this one for that reason (last week’s “Beast Of Burden” is on there). But vocally, he was on point. And his performance had more energy and personality. He’s stepping up his game in that department–which he needs to.

4) Siobhan Magnus – “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder – Not her best vocal. And the “funk” felt a little forced. Then there was that big, screaming note at the end (again). Fun to hear and watch. But also getting predictable. So I’m suggesting Siobhan gets back to chalkboard and looks for some new ways to wow us. That said, based of her look (tonight sporting Sheena Easton’s 80’s hair), attitude, and vocal daredevil antics, she’s the one I’m starting to like the most. I always look forward to seeing what she’s up to.

5) Michael Lynche – “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge – If this song ended at 1:18, it would’ve been one of the Top 3 of the night. But it went a full two minutes, and those last 45 seconds were full of the over-indulgent riffing that the judges were right to spank him for. (By the way, spank “Big Mike” at your own risk!)

6) Casey James – “The Power Of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News – Casey continues to define himself as an artist. At the moment, I’m going to say the definition appears to be: a great blues-rock guitarist who can sing pretty well. Vocally, I’d say Casey turned in a 7 on his own scale of 10 last night. Maybe it was the song, but Casey didn’t hold any notes; they mostly felt short and choppy. Even so, there was something fun about his performance.

7) Didi Benami – “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt – Didi’s having a hard time getting used to the big stage and performing in general. I sense that she’s searching for something to do out there on stage. But I’m worried for her she’s heading in the wrong direction. What she did last night felt…uncomfortable. Kind of “Broadway”–the whole “acting out the song” thing. And she lost some of her unique sound “trying on” whatever this new persona was.

8 ) Katie Stevens – “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie – Kudos for being the only one to pick a song from the last decade. But I’m feeling that there’s a ceiling for Katie. She just can’t seem to hit her notes. As likable as she is, without some sudden improvement, she’s on track to finish somewhere between 8th and 10th place.

9) Tim Urban – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen – I wish this song would stop popping up on Idol. There’s really nothing you can do with it–except look like the life of the party at karaoke night. Ironically, this was more in Tim’s vocal range and he sounded OK. But so what?

10) Andrew Garcia – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye – Not good. This guy has the judges all up inside his head so much he’s lost who he is. Also, having watched him sing without his guitar that last two weeks, I come to a conclusion. I don’t think he sings well without it. When he’s out there sans guitar, he does this odd thing with his vocals where he sings way too carefully, over-enunciating and “punching” certain words–never to the benefit of the performance, very unnatural sounding. He didn’t seem to have this problem with his guitar. Miley’s advice was to lose the guitar. I disagree.

11) Paige Miles – “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins – Great ballad. But she really screwed this one up. She was off-key and flat, and the judges roasted her. “Against All Odds” suddenly describes her situation!

So here’s what I’m thinking. The Bottom Three tonight will be: Katie Stevens, Andrew Garcia and Paige Miles. Andrew gets sent to “safety.” And between Katie and Paige, Paige Miles is sent home.

Thoughts?

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

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Idol Thoughts — 03.17.10

It’s still early in  the game for American Idol‘s Top 12. Some viewers have picked their favorite; but many have not.

I have a theory that at this stage, the boys have an easier ride. The boys seem to build a following quicker. Maybe picking up support from female viewers? And not just viewers–but the “active” viewers, the ones most likely to vote.

So it seems to me on Top 12 results night, a female that’s not a front-runner has a “X” on her back. That’s why I predicted Lacey Brown would be sent home last night–even though I felt strongly that Tim Urban was awful this week.

Anyway, it’s just a theory. A guide I use when I watch the show. Unfortunately, it proved true for Lacey. And for Paige Miles, who ended up in the Bottom Two. And for that matter, proved true for Tim Urban, who landed in the Bottom Three–but was quickly sent to safety. Tim has a coalition of voters behind him. For now. He better get better. Or viewer patience won’t be on his side.

Last night’s results show was a winner, largely due to a hot lineup of music guests.

Idol producers dropped the “group sing” with the finalists, and brought on Season 7 winner David Cook, whose performance of the Rolling Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” seemed almost like an “apology” for the non-rockingness of the previous night. Now, that’s how you do some Stones!

Later, Orianthi sang her song “According To You” and showed off her blistering guitar skills. We didn’t learn to much during the quickie interview with Ryan Seacrest. Instead of just acknowledging that she was set to go on tour with Michael Jackson, I wish Ryan would’ve asked what it was like rehearsing with Michael and get Orianthi to elaborate on some of the incredible footage we saw in the documentary, This Is It.

And, the hot mess that is Ke$ha performed her latest single, “Blah Blah Blah,” with the guys from 3OH!3. Solid track–but no “Tic Tok.” There’s not a lot of singing goin’ on with this chick. Just those electro-vocals. But I say you gotta love her “doesn’t give a f*** about anything” attitude. I’m on board. Even if it means having to always hit the shift key in the middle of her name.

Finally, the Judges’ Save is back this season. One time, and one time only, between now and the Top 5, the judges have the option of saving someone who’s been voted off. (“Hey thanks for voting, America. Now, we’re just gonna do what we want.”)

This early in the game, the odds were about nil the judges would use the save. Nevertheless, we got to see the judges huddle and talk to each other while Lacey “sang for the save.” What were they saying? As Randy Jackson leaned into Simon Cowell, I’m guessing he was saying, “Yo, Dawg, where we goin’ to dinner?” Kara DioGuardi whispered into Ellen DeGeneres‘ ear: “We have to look like we’re really talking about this even though we know we’re not. Now you say something back to me.”

You got any thoughts today? Let me hear ’em!

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

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Idol Thoughts — 03.16.10

I recently added some Rolling Stones classics to my iTunes library. This was a few weeks ago. I didn’t know American Idol was planning a theme night for them. I just realized that I needed to hear these guys again.

I’m listening to the Stones as I write this. And one big thing is clear about last night’s Idol. The musicians that back up the contestants, led by Rickey Minor, were a disappointment, lacking the vitality and energy of these original recordings.

But, what did anyone expect? The Rolling Stones are considered one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all-time for a reason. The contestants have no control over the band behind them. So let’s look at what they do control–their performances. I will attempt to rank from best to worst.

Best of the night:

1) Aaron Kelly – “Angie” – I’m as surprised as anyone to be typing Aaron’s name at the top of the list. The standard I’m using to determine the best performance is this: What song from last night do I want to hear again the most? This is it. Plain and simple. It’s a case of a contestant landing the perfect song among the choices available, and nailing it on show night.

2) Siobhan Magnus – “Paint It Black” – Of all the Top 12-ers, Siobhan is one the that convinced me she “gets” the music of the Rolling Stones the most. Looking great and sporting Jennifer Grey‘s Dirty Dancing hairdo, the Idol folks threw all their support behind this performance; Siobhan got the best light show. Even so, she needs some more time on that big stage to work on making every move seem effortless. And watch out on these massive notes she’s hitting to end songs. Last night’s got a little screechy.

3) Lee Dewyze – “Beast Of Burden” – Yeah, this was a safe choice. I suggested Lee should sing “Gimme Shelter” in my previous blog. Instead that song got mangled by someone else. But the fact is Lee’s Dave Matthews Band take on this song sounded great. And better each time I re-listen to it–which is why Lee’s name is here and not one slot below.

4) Crystal Bowersox – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Good stuff. But I expected more from her because she’s so talented. To resurrect a complaint from earlier in the season, Crystal’s performance last night was a little “coffee house-ish.” Especially those funky little phrases Crystal tossed in between lines of lyrics that Ellen DeGeneres applauded as “showing her personality.” I disagree. That crap is lame and hacky.

Middle of the pack:

5) Didi Benami – “Play With Fire” – A great vocal that was downgraded by a tentative performance. I mean, there were split seconds where it felt like she was going to stop due to forgetting the words. Didi’s another one who’ll need some time to learn how to use the big stage. Overall, it seemed she needed some more rehearsal time.

6) Casey James – “It’s All Over Now” – Does it bug me that this isn’t a song written by the Stones? Yeah, a little, cuz I’m a geek like that. But it was a smart song for Casey. Every several years comes along a young, good-looking guy that makes blues rock “cool” again. Casey the latest “that guy.” He was very comfortable and in his element last night. And is clearly the best musician on the show–by far.

7) Michael Lynch – “Miss You” – Okay. I suggested this was a Stones song that would not be performed because it’s not a great showcase for the vocalist. So “Big Mike” made a good move by changing the arrangement, giving himself more room to “sang it.” But for me, I didn’t really like the new arrangement as much. Otherwise, I’d be rating this higher. One thing was clear, though. Big Mike is definitely at home on the larger stage; he’s one of the show’s most natural performers.

8 ) Katie Stevens – “Wild Horses” – This performance won’t make fans out of Lilly Scott fans, who probably feel Katie should be watching the show in her family’s living room. But Katie made something of a comeback. Solid version. I heard the potential in her voice last night to record country music, if that’s something she wants to do.

Lagging behind:

9) Paige Miles – “Honky Tonk Women” – Paige revised the lyrics (the song’s about honky tonk women, she sang it as a honk tonk woman). I’m not sure the song made any sense. But it did make sense for her to sing one of these rockin’ bluesy Stones songs. Paige was back in her comfort zone, and turned in a capable vocal despite some serious laryngitis.

10) Lacey Brown – “Ruby Tuesday” – I’m not sure why I’m rating Lacey so low on the list. Maybe because of the original of this song is just gorgeous. Lacey’s version seemed a little “precious.” Don’t ask me to define what I mean by that. I’m simply typing the word that best reflects what I felt.

11) Andrew Garcia – “Gimme Shelter” – Not good. A big disappointment. This song needed a bigger voice behind it. Lacking that, Andrew needed to take another route with the song. Instead, he went straight at it. And hit the wall.

Worst of the night:

12) Tim Urban – “Under My Thumb” – I hated this. Tim revamped this one in the style of some Jason Mraz acoustic reggae. The whole thing was a disaster…and came off a little creepy. I warned against doing this song in my previous blog. The only question in my mind: will general “adorableness” save him with voters this week? I say it will.

So, who will be in the bottom three tonight? I’m going with the three at the bottom of my list: Tim Urban, Andrew Garcia and Lacey Brown. Although, I’d hardly be surprised if Paige Miles landed in there.

Who’s going home? My feeling is Lacey Brown.

Thoughts?

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

PS: Oh. And my prediction for the group sing tonight? “It’s Only Rock And Roll.”

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Idol Thoughts — 03.11.10

It’s funny how often the Top 12 on American Idol seems like it was determined by central casting. Take last night, for example. Based on their performances, this week and recently, if you had to pin me down on an exact prediction, I would’ve said Paige Miles and Katie Stevens would have been sent home last night.

Paige and Katie made the Top 12. And…the Top 12 is actually better for it. It’s the most diverse line-up of females in the Top 12 it could be under the circumstances. One problem the show’s been having this season is that there were too many similar-sounding female singers. Last night was like weeding your garden; you give the remaining sensitive girl singer-songwriter contestants a better chance to flourish by eliminating the ones who are similar, but less likely to survive.

Funny how Idol viewers voted to cast the Top 12 exactly how Idol producers would have cast it themselves. Funny how it works out that way.

The four sent home last night: Katelyn Epperley, Todrick Hall, Alex Lambert and Lilly Scott.

The Top 12: Crystal Bowersox, Michael Lynche (“Big Mike), Siobhan Magnus, Lee Dewyze, Didi Benami, Casey James, Lacey Brown, Aaron Kelly, Paige Miles, Andrew Garcia, Katie Stevens and Tim Urban.

As I said, I would’ve been 0-2 on predicting which girls were leaving. As for the guys, I would’ve nailed that. I suspected Aaron had the votes, being the cute young guy the ‘tween girls are going to support. Tim’s been improving, and has a similar appeal to Aaron. So they were safe.

I wasn’t impressed by Todrick’s vocals and have been saying so for weeks. Clearly, it had to be the end of the road for him. And Alex was simply the odd man out on this one. Just no room in the Top 12 for him. Too bad for Alex; he has a great voice. Alex is going home because he was uncomfortable on stage. Plain and simple. If he’d even shown a glimmer of improvement in that area, he’d be listening to Rolling Stones songs right now, deciding what to sing next week.

Finally, we saw the welcome return of last season’s Matt Giraud and the…umm…return of Scott MacIntyre. They duetted on Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It.” To which, I asked, “Why??” Matt sounded great. Scott…well, I’m not a fan. So I literally gave it one-handed applause when they were done. I’m not making that up.

Thoughts? Leave a comment.

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

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