Archive for April, 2010

Idol Thoughts — 04.28.10

If Siobhan Magnus had the personality of Lacey Brown or Didi Benami, she would’ve been voted off American Idol weeks ago.

There, I said it. Somebody has to step up with a reality check.

In the blogiverse this morning, I’m seeing a lot use of the words “shocker” and “shocking” to describe last night’s ouster of Siobhan. Unexpected, yes. But hardly “shocking.”

If you were gonna make a wager, you probably would’ve felt safer saying it’d be Michael Lynche, Casey James or Aaron Kelly. But the here’s the deal. Siobhan’s performances have been uneven, self-indulgent, and have failed to show growth. These are all the ingredients that lead to someone getting voted off.

“Paint It Black” was Siobhan’s “Straight Up,” to compare her fate to this season’s Andrew Garcia. Her version of that Rolling Stones song was the shining moment that earned her the goodwill with voters that sailed her through the weeks that followed as she floundered.

In my opinion, “Paint It Black” also revealed the correct musical road for Siobhan, a road she seemingly didn’t want to travel. “Punky” and “rocker” is who she is a person. And that’s what she sounds the best doing. But for some reason, Siobhan sees herself as an R&B diva. I think. I’m a little unclear, because over the last several weeks, it’s been clear Siobhan herself is not clear who is she as a recording artist.

So, I’m OK with last night’s verdict. I won’t be joining the hysteria. This was not a “shocker.” It was just. Even so, Siobhan’s personality will be missed. She basically was the only finalist with one this season! She was an Adam Lambert “lightning bolt” in a cast of Kris Allen “nice guys.” Unfortunately, Siobhan didn’t have the vocal prowess or nuance of Lambert–or Allen. Or we’d be seeing her next week.

(Add unnecessary, self-indulgent, long scream to end blog here.)

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

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Idol Thoughts – 04.27.10

Shania Twain. Country crossover superstar who’s lived for years in a chateau in Switzerland and seemingly “retired” from music way before her time. Meanwhile, we’ve since learned her husband and musical partner, producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, was having an affair with their secretary/chateau manager. Mutt divorced Shania to be with his mistress. Then Shania started dating that woman’s ex-husband!

Damn! What was really going on at that chateau? Sounds like that would’ve made a hell of a reality show.

As for the “Songs of Shania Twain” episode of American Idol last night, it wasn’t nearly as compelling or intriguing. But it was great seeing Shania again, who mentored this week and who was a guest judge earlier this season during the Chicago auditions. Yes, since her divorce, we’ve seeing much more of Shania than in recent years–which is always good news for my eyes.

So let’s go to the rankings and see who impressed me much, and the ones that don’t:

1) Casey James – “Don’t” – Casey got the message. That appearance in the Bottom Two last week was America saying, “Give us something different, change it up!” The thing that pushed Casey to the top in my rankings this week was “salesmanship.” He really reached inside and sold this sit-down, acoustic-guitar ballad. Yes, the song challenged Casey’s vocal limitations. He made sure not to push too hard for notes that are beyond his grasp. Smartly executed. This one goes on my iPod.

2) Lee DeWyze – “You’re Still The One” – Love this guy’s voice. That’s the only reason I’d rank this performance this highly. Lee stayed kinda close to the original arrangement. Even so, I thought he struggled a little to stay in key. After hearing the nice changes he made to the very end of the song, I kinda wished he would’ve re-vamped more of it. This was not his best, and I wasn’t entirely sold on Lee as “The Love Song Guy.” But tonight, it was good enough. The others listed below could’ve stepped up on this list. But didn’t quite get there.

3) Aaron Kelly – “You’ve Got A Way” – Finally a theme week that plays to Aaron’s strengths. And Aaron delivered a solid version of this country ballad. Of course, that was to be expected. This is exactly the kind of music he should be recording. Aaron will snag a few extra votes this week by making sure everyone knew that he was “thinking of his mom” when he sang. Based on a couple recent Bottom Three appearances, those extra votes will probably come in handy.

4) Michael Lynche – “It Only Hurts When I Breathe” – Big Mike went “Luther Vandross” on this song. Nice-sounding results. Well-played. I’m rooting for this guy to do something that I want to put on my iPod. Hasn’t happened yet.

5) Crystal Bowersox – “No One Needs To Know” – Yeah, wow. I thought this was a mess. And Crystal’s usually at or near the top of my list. Some of the problems were out of Crystal’s control. The group of musicians performing with her didn’t seem to be on the same page. The playing was sloppy and the background vocals were doing their own thing, not following Crystal’s lead. Nevertheless, Crystal’s responsible for the song choice, which could’ve been much better. Honestly, too bad for Crystal she didn’t get to “Don’t” before Casey did. Crystal needs a song like “Don’t” that reveals some vulnerabilities–that something matters to her on a personal level. I think Crystal’s going to need a moment like that to keep the momentum going before the inevitable anti-Crystal backlash kicks in. And believe, it’s coming. This is Idol. And that’s how this thing goes.

6) Siobhan Magnus – “Any Man Of Mine” – Overpraised by the judges last night. It’s like the judges were told the show’s running late, be quick with your comment, and just decided to say, “Yeah, whatever, it was good.” It wasn’t. I think Siobhan’s performance, while more fun to watch than Crystal’s, lacked the sass of Shania’s original. Lately, Siobhan’s vocals haven’t been living up to what I originally thought they were. And the return of the screaming big note at the end of the song? Totally unnecessary. But, I suspect there’s a ton of Idol viewers who are not country music fans. For a bunch of those people, I’m guessing Siobhan’s was the performance of the night.

It’s interesting that the guys fared better with the Shania songs, and that the two women came up short. That’s counter-intuitive. But that is what is was.

Now for some predictions. I honestly forget if they do a Bottom Three this week. I think so. With only six left, that’s half of them in “the bottom.” So I think this week in particular, almost anyone could end up in there. Here’s what I’m feeling. Bottom Three tonight: Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly and Siobhan Magnus. Siobhan gets sent to safety. Between Big Mike and Little Aaron, Michael Lynche exits.

Of course, this is the third time this season I’ve predicted a Big Mike/Aaron Kelly showdown, and it hasn’t happen yet!

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

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Idol Thoughts — 04.21.10

When America gets it right and I get it wrong…well, it’s hard to be upset about that. The man they call “Teflon Tim,” Tim Urban, was eliminated during last night’s Idol Gives Back charity event.

My own rankings had Tim at the bottom almost every week on American Idol this season–including this week. Even so, I felt his Teflon-mojo would slide him through another week.

Why Tim got the ax last night, during a stretch where’s he’s been improving, instead of weeks ago when his performances were especially weak, will have to go down as one of those Idol “Unsolved Mysteries.”

The other big story last night was the appearance of Casey James in the Bottom Two. I wrote about this yesterday, saying Casey would take a big hit with Idol voters. I happen to dig the blues-rock that Casey’s been churning out week after week. He’s consistently good, and his performances generally go on my iPod the next morning.

But in the Idol-verse, here’s the problem. Casey’s song choices look lazy and repetitive–like he’s not progressing. Never mind that what that what he’s doing he’s doing very well. Viewers (and the judges, from the feedback they’re giving) want to see other “layers.” The solution: do some more ballads, like his recent heartfelt “Jealous Guy,” or take a page from the David Cook playbook and surprise us by re-inventing a well-known song. Casey’s needs to show some other sides. Or else the opportunity to be in the Top 5, which I feel he deserves, will slip through his guitar-virtuoso fingers.

Other than that, a tip of the hat for bringing back Idol Gives Back. With the show being a cultural phenomenon, American Idol is in a unique position to really raise awareness (and money) on the issues of children in poverty, world hunger and malaria. It’s the kinda thing only Idol could pull off on this scale. And it’s cool that they choose to do it.

That said, might I suggest that the time to alert viewers that the broadcast will run over-time would be the night before, not an hour into the night of. Grrrr. That’s two nights this week I’ve had to go hunting on the web for the material my DVR didn’t record because Idol went too long.

Or maybe that’s their revenge on us for skipping through the commercials. Hmmm. Topic for a future blog, perhaps.

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

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Idol Thoughts — 04.20.10

Seems like Songs of Inspiration Week would be the perfect time for the Top 7 to step things up on American Idol. Well, with only a couple exceptions, there wasn’t much “climbing the highest mountain, swimming the deepest ocean” going on last night.

Inspired was the choice in mentors, though. Alicia Keys! A true artist assisting on the season with the largest number of finalists who seem to know “who they are” as artists.

Here are last night’s performances ranked:

1) Crystal Bowersox – “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield – So, why was this the standout performance of the night? Was it because Crystal broke into tears at the end of the song (photo)? No. But that doesn’t hurt her cause. Crystal’s kept her emotions under wraps all season. So much, you have to wonder if Idol voters believe Crystal even wants to win. When the report came out this week that Crystal almost quit the show a couple weeks ago, I’m thinking most Idol fans said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Never has there been a front-runner who seems so reluctant. A sign that all this matters is what the audience wants to see from Crystal. So the tears last night were a good thing. So was losing the guitar. The instruments, whether it’s her frequent acoustic guitar or the piano a couple weeks ago, have unintentionally been another barrier between Crystal and the audience. And looking ahead to the finale, where she’d be performing three songs, Crystal’s going to need to mix things up (maybe a song on guitar, another on piano, the other as front-woman sans instrument). So it was a big night for “Mama Sox.” But why was it the standout? Because it sounded the best. An effortless greatness that also was the most inspirational.

2) Lee DeWyze – “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkle – This was something special. Lee continues to make inspired song choices. One of his best performances this season. And as my girlfriend said last night, Lee is “getting cuter and cuter.” I suspect that means the Idol stylists are doing their jobs, the makeover tweaks preparing Lee for a possible finale showdown with Crystal. But I’m not saying that’s a done deal. A big part in determining who makes the finals is popularity (naturally). There’s five weeks of competition between now and then. Still time for others up their games, make fans, and earn votes.

3) Casey James – “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac – I think Casey’s gonna take a hit this week with Idol fans. Yes, Casey critics, I agree with you. We’ve heard the song Casey did last night several times this season. Yeah, the song has a different name. But it’s basically the same song, right? Well here’s the deal. Casey was full of energy and joy and sounded great (again) last night. Sure it was another missed opportunity. Casey would benefit from another ballad moment like his “Jealous Guy.” And Inspiration Week would be an obvious time to pull that off. But despite its not being what we were hoping for, Casey’s “Don’t Stop” simply out-shined the four less-inspired efforts listed below.

4) Aaron Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly – Looks like Aaron Kelly has a new strategy: sing songs by artists with “Kelly” in their names. Next week, some Kelly Clarkson? I say this song with too big for Aaron’s voice, and another in an increasing long list of “hacky” song choices. But Aaron still has a voice I like listening to. He’s going to sound great in the studio. Not crazy great last night. But on a night with few home runs, this effort put him solidly in the middle of the pack.

5) Michael Lynche – “Hero” by Chad Kroger featuring Josey Scott – When they said Big Mike was singing “Hero,” I was like, “Which one?” There’s, like, 50 songs called “Hero.” So, it was the Spider-Man song.  I’m cool with that. Simon Cowell wasn’t. But c’mon, Simon. What’s more inspiring than Spider-Man? And in those months after 9/11, I remember our audience really responding to this song when we played it on the radio. Anyway, Big Mike’s version was just OK. From the way it started, I thought he might take it in a “Seal” direction. Maybe “Kiss From A Rose” the song up. I think Mike should’ve done exactly that, instead of retaining the original’s rock structure. To my ears, Mike didn’t have the fullness of voice to pull it off. But I am impressed that Big Mike has a “playbook,” a list of songs he’s been keeping in case he ever made it to Idol. That shows a desire to win that we haven’t been seeing from front-runner like, well, Crystal.

6) Siobhan Magnus – “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey – Gotta give Siobhan props for guts. Idol contestants don’t usually do well singing Whitney songs. Or Mariah songs. Siobhan did the one that’s by both! Here’s the best way I can explain what Siobhan’s problem is: during her song last night, she hit an especially bad note, then immediately followed that with one of her best. That inconsistency and unevenness sums it up. Siobhan has a big voice. But the way she uses it isn’t always pleasing to the ears. Sometimes I love what I’m hearing. Other times not. And lately, it’s been both of those in the same song. Ultimately, I can’t put half-satisfying performances on my iPod. Siobhan has got to put it all together.

7) Tim Urban – “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls – This was a step backwards for Tim, who’s still striving for believability and credibility. To be fair, it was a step down from his performances the last couple weeks, still a step up from his early season efforts. Tim had trouble staying on-key last night. And the song was a little larger than what he bought to it. I’d say Tim should stick with the intimate ballad interpretations he’s had the most success with, like last week’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

So, how will things go down tonight? It’s a week ripe for surprises. Before I pick a Bottom Three, let me say who won’t be in it and why. Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, because, well, duh! Also Siobhan Magnus and Tim Urban. Their fans have bought tickets to ride their respective trains. Those people are now “invested” in Siobhan and Tim, regardless of their weekly performances. And the numbers of those fans are big.

So, here’s what I’m feeling. In the Bottom Three: Aaron Kelly, Michael Lynche and…Casey James. Casey gets sent to safety. And between Big Mike and Little Aaron, Michael Lynche gets the ax.

Where’s Spider-Man when you need him?

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

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ldol Thoughts — 04.14.10

It seems like every time the judges on American Idol tell the contestants to “be an artist” and “take these old songs and make them contemporary,” the next night AI producers force the finalists to sing the cheesiest, Cheez Whiz medley imaginable.

We learned that again last night. But I’m guessing Elvis Presley wouldn’t have minded. He probably loved him some Cheez Whiz on those days when the provisions were running low for peanut butter and ‘nana sandwiches.

So, we found out the names of the two finalists heading home last night, in addition to learning that driving a Ford hybrid will actually lead to trees growing in the middle of city streets. Who knew? For that matter, who was the wicked genius that decided to call what’s basically another television commercial “the Ford Music Video?” Brilliant!

But I digress. Yes, it was two that had to leave, as result of “The Save” being enacted by the judges last week. And just minutes into the show, BANG! Andrew Garcia, you’re going home. Guess producers knew that viewers kinda sensed Andrew would be one of them–might as well get that out of way early.

They waited til the last minutes of the show to send Katie Stevens home. Katie was paired with Michael Lynche as they awaited news of their fates. We’re used to seeing them next each other as the “Bottom Two.” So for a moment, many people probably wondered if Big Mike had come up short in the voting again. He didn’t. Ryan Seacrest announced Big Mike wasn’t even in the Bottom Three this week.

Somebody lucked out last night. Because of the way the results were announced, nobody other than Andrew and Katie bears the stigma of being in the Bottom Three. We all have our best guesses who that third contestant might have been. But we don’t know for sure. So it’s a nice, clean slate for the remaining seven going into Idol Gives Back week, where the show may or may not eliminate another contestant. In 2007, they didn’t because of the charity nature of the week; but in 2008 they did.

Other than that, last night saw the welcome return of Adam Lambert to the Idol stage. Wearing a shiny silver suit jacket that The King himself would’ve worn, were it not for the pointy metallic studs, Lambert gave a smoke-and-laser performance of his hit, “Whataya Want From Me.”

And Season 7’s Brooke White returned for a duet with Nashville Star wannabe, underwear model and former Miley Cyrus boyfriend, Justin Gaston. They performed a version of Elvis’ inspirational tune, “If I Can Dream,” which is (apparently) available for free download on iTunes. Don’t all y’all run away from this blog at once to get that, lol.

Actually, I was wondering why none of the contestants performed “If I Can Dream.” Now I know. Too bad. Great song, well-suited for Siobhan Magnus‘ big voice. Even Katie Stevens could’ve done enough with the song to save her own butt this week. But hey, free download.

Those are my thoughts today. Yours?

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

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Idol Thoughts — 04.13.10

Tim Urban had the best performance of the night? Yes. And also in today’s blog, up is down, right is the new wrong, and we’re now encouraged to mix stripes and plaids.

It was Elvis Night on American Idol, and the contestants went last night where, well, Idol has gone several times before. Last season’s runner-up, Adam Lambert, was on hand, the first former AI contestant to mentor the finalists. Acknowledging to the contestants that he’s at the beginning of his own recording career, Lambert mainly focused on encouraging the contestants to make their performances more interesting both vocally and visually.

The case can made that Elvis Presley was America’s first idol. He was part rocker and part crooner, part rebel and part choir boy. Musically, there were a lot of flavors in the Elvis catalog to choose from–a little something for everyone. As usual, the finalists’ choices ranged from inspired to hackneyed.

Last  night’s performances ranked:

1) Tim Urban – “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – Yep. Tim’s breathy and tender acoustic take on this classic wasn’t perfect. But it was the performance most people will remember from last night. Tim’s tweaks were spot-on and he made the song feel “new.” Anyone who reads my stuff knows I haven’t been drinking the Tim Urban Kool-Aid. I’ve been pretty critical. That’s because I call it as I see it. Last night, what I saw was a guy with the most memorable and satisfying performance.

2) Lee DeWyze – “A Little Less Conversation” – I can’t help but say that I’ve always blamed this song for sending Chris Daughtry home prematurely because he performed this song that ill-fated week. Of course, Daughtry tried to play it straight up Elvis-style. Lee made it his own, giving one of his strongest, most confident performances.

3) Crystal Bowersox – “Saved” – Leave it to Crystal to stump me with her song choice. I thought I had a pretty good overview on Elvis tunes. But Crystal strayed from the hits most people have heard, and dove into his Gospel catalog for this one. It was something different and authentic from the woman who’s known for that. (Known for being different? That sorta makes anything “different” not different, yes?)

4) Michael Lynche – “In The Ghetto” – You had to think that this would work even before you watched him do it. And, it did. Nice, acoustic-driven interpretation of this classic, validating the judges decision to “save” Big Mike last week. Hey, maybe Crystal should’ve let Michael sing “Saved”!

5) Casey James – “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” – Another good vocal. But a missed opportunity. Felt similar to the blues rock he’s churned out in the past. This is one of those times I wish I could pick a song for a finalist. I would’ve suggested Casey do “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,” a lesser-known Elvis nugget that Casey could’ve owned. But “Lawdy” was not interesting enough to make my iPod this week. I make a point to say that only because Casey performances the last two weeks have been showing up in shuffle.

6) Siobhan Magnus – “Suspicious Minds” – Loved her look again. Never a good thing when I mention looks before vocals. This was really two performances. The first half of the song stayed true to the original. It was okay, but she looked uncomfortable playing it straight. On a second listen, I realized I originally liked that part mainly because I love Elvis version. The second half of Siobhan’s split-personality performance had her slowing it down and pushing herself to some of those vocal histrionics we’ve heard in past weeks. This half actually worked better. But here’s the deal on Siobhan lately. She’s like a boxer who swings wildly and repeatedly, whose punches aren’t connecting.

7) Aaron Kelly – “Blue Suede Shoes” – Difficult week to be Aaron. He’s done so many ballads lately, he kinda had to go upbeat this week. But an Elvis ballad would’ve been the better choice (just ask Tim Urban). Aaron looked to me like he was in his high school’s production of “Grease.” And Aaron was shooting for Danny Zuko. But came up Kenickie.

8 ) Katie Stevens – “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” – After last week’s top-notch “Let It Be,” this uptempo, lesser-known Elvis song was the fall of the week. As a performer, Katie generally feels a little contrived–like every move had been carefully thought of in advance. I actually prefer her on the ballads, in part because she stays put. Overall, she hit some bad notes last night, and sounded to my ears a little weak-voiced.

9) Andrew Garcia – “Hound Dog” – Awful vocal. Horrible performance. I tried to listen a second time to verify my original reaction, and couldn’t even re-watch the whole thing. “You ain’t nothin’ but a…goin’ home tonight!”

So, thanks to “The Save” last week, tonight two will be packing their bags. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a complication–a “wildcard”–when it comes to predicting what’s going to happen. Predicting the one who’s the most likely to go is pretty easy (did it…see above). But that other is the harder one to nail.

Here what I’m feeling. The Bottom Three will be: Aaron Kelly, Katie Stevens, and Andrew Garcia. And heading off to Heartbreak Hotel: Katie Stevens, and Andrew Garcia.

Whatcha think about that?

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

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Idol Thoughts — 04.07.10

So, the will of the voters was overturned by a group of judges, who changed the outcome to one more to their liking. But, hey, enough about the 2000 election (ba-dum-CHING!).

When it comes to our American Idol, we actually look forward to this moment. I think the reason is this: anybody who’s watched more than a couple episodes has recognized that…sometimes “America gets it wrong.” So starting last season, the show instituted “The Judges’ Save” to right one (and just one) of these wrongs. It can only be used once, and only between the Top 12 and Top 5 episodes.

Last night, the judges saved Michael Lynche (“Big Mike”). It was unanimous. And it was the right thing to do.

Let’s face it. Looking at the Top 9, Big Mike is hardly a ninth-place finisher. This was probably the moment to use the save. In the coming weeks, it’s unlikely a bigger, more glaring injustice will happen. Of course, if it does…tough beans. But clearly the judges wouldn’t have used their one and only save to keep Tim Urban around. Based on his inconsistency, I don’t believe they would’ve saved Andrew Garcia (who was in the Bottom Two last night). Or even Aaron Kelly (Bottom Three last night), if he goes home in the next few weeks.

The Save is for eliminations that just don’t feel “right.” The judges must feel pretty confident that Crystal Bowersox, Lee DeWyze, Siobhan Magnus and Casey James will make the Top 5. So last night made sense. It was great TV, too. Big Mike singing almost heroically for his save, with plenty of cutaways to his wife in the audience streaming tears down her face, as he repeated his best performance to date, “This Woman’s Work.”

So next week will be a double-elimination. That’s the “hangover” to last night’s good times. Two people will go home. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects Tim Urban, who avoided the Bottom Three altogether last night, but who manages to “Brer Rabbit” himself out of the Bottom Two most weeks. If he lands there next week, it’s over.

Thoughts?

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

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