Posts Tagged Danny Gokey

Idol Thoughts – 05.12.10

So, last night Michael Lynche was eliminated (again) on American Idol. Here’s a few thoughts this morning, to use Ryan Seacrest‘s careful wording from last night, “in no particular order.”

First off, those Seacrest words were kinda an important detail last night. If you missed them, you might’ve assumed Crystal Bowersox was in the Bottom Two. We really don’t know. The finalists were sent to safety (and the Top 3) one at a time, starting with Casey James, then Lee DeWyze, then Crystal Bowersox.

We don’t know who got the most votes. We don’t know who got the second least. All we know is Big Mike got the lowest amount. Some Idol fans might be frustrated by that. I’m not. In fact, I kinda like knowing that I don’t know. It adds an element of surprise to the two upcoming weeks.

This brings up another thought. Is a Lee-Crystal finale a done deal? They seem to have been the front-runners for a while now. Is there anything Casey can do next week to change that? I don’t know the answer to that. I’d be curious what others think.

I see two sides. On the one hand, yes, they’re the front-runners and it makes sense. Casey’s been in the Bottom Two a couple times. Lee and Crystal have never been. On the other hand, the last two seasons have had guy vs. guy finales, making it seem the block of females who simply vote for their favorite “cute guy” have taken over once and for all. (And c’mon, you know that block of voters exists. Don’t hate on me for pointing it out.)

And let’s not eliminate one other scenario. Casey delivers an amazing performance next week, and America responds with well-deserved votes, sending him into the finale. I honestly like all three. So whatever happens, I’ll be sad to see one leave, but happy for the other two.

Nevertheless (here comes another thought), I think I’m on board with the growing number of voices out there saying this is one of Idol‘s most boring seasons. No Paula Adbul. Simon Cowell seems like he’s already moved on mentally to his next show, the U.S. version of X Factor. And after a season featuring contestants with pipes and big-to-solid personalities (Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta), this season’s Top 12 are a bit dry.

But I think it’s too easy (and too “fashionable”) to say this is the most boring season. The fact is Crystal Bowersox is unlike any Idol contestant before, not unlike how Adam Lambert was in his way last year. In some previous seasons, the likes of Bo Bice and Diana DeGarmo made it into the finale. Heck, Taylor Hicks won the thing! I’d hope even the biggest Crystal hater would agree she’s more talented than the likes of them.

Another thought, what’s the real point of the “Judge’s Save?” Is it to give a performer another chance to win the show? I say no. I don’t think anyone who gets saved will ever win Idol. There’s some fundamental reason why people weren’t voting for that person that won’t go away just because the judge’s override America’s decision.

Clearly, the save is a ratings gimmick for the show, thought of in some brainstorming meeting as producers looked for ways to freshen the show as ratings began to dip. Whether it’s helping ratings remains to be seen. The one thing The Save does do is help a performers recording career. No doubt Michael Lynche will sell more music now then he would have if he’d gone home six weeks ago.

A couple other things we learned last night: winning American Idol doesn’t guarantee you’ll sound great my to ears six years later (Fantasia Barrino, who wowed me back-in-the-day, but not-so-much last night); Finishing fourth on Idol doesn’t mean you won’t go on to be the show’s third biggest-selling artist (Daughtry, my fave then…and now); And that Bon Jovi rocks. I guess that last one was never really in question.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 03.04.10

Another results night on American Idol. At the top of the show, Simon Cowell makes an admission that after watching the show at home, the judges gave some compliments last night that were undeserved. Naturally, he doesn’t name names. So let the speculation begin.

The group sing tonight? “I Got A feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. The special performer? Last season’s Danny Gokey, singing his country single “My Best Days Are Ahead Of Me.” Hopefully for Danny, better (and more personal) singles are ahead of him. This one’s kinda “paint-by-the-numbers.” But country music is the right place for Danny, and his obvious vocal talent. I said several times last season I didn’t know if there was a viable marketing road for him on the pop side of things. So good on him.

Dismissed from the competition tonight were: John Park, Jermaine Sellers, Michelle Delamor and Haeley Vaughn.

As much as I appreciate Michelle’s attempt to surprise us by doing a Creed song last night, and acknowledge just how likable Haeley is, I’ll just say I Got A Feeling that America got it right tonight.

Whatcha think? Leave a comment.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 02.09.10

What was the most satisfying thing about last night’s episode of American Idol? That’s an easy one for me. How quickly the pretenders were identified and eliminated.

It was this season’s first Hollywood Week episode. The task: turning the number 181 into 24. As in, reducing the 181 contestants invited to California to the 12 women and 12 men that will make up the Top 24.

Entering stage right to help with this “mathematical problem” was the  night’s biggest story of all: the debut of Idol‘s newest judge, Ellen DeGeneres, who appears more contender than pretender. Aside from making Idol the television show with the highest percentage of stars with capital “G’s” in the middle of their last names, Ellen quickly offered this zinger (sure to be the first of many): “Hollywood is disgusting. You should put on some shoes.” With that quip to a barefoot contestant, an interesting irony became apparent. Idol replaced someone unintentionally funny (Paula Abdul) with someone intentionally.

Much of the discussion today will be about how Ellen did last night. I haven’t been a big fan of messing with the original chemistry. But change is inevitable. So Paula is gone. Simon Cowell is going. And Kara DioGuardi is just…there. From what we saw last night, Ellen was honest and direct (but kind with her criticism), nurturing, and above all, funny. Ellen says she wants to be the voice of the fans. She has the potential to genuinely bring something new and entertaining to an already successful formula.

That should be a big relief. We’ve seen situations like this go bad before. But Ellen’s no Dennis Miller, a seemingly unwelcome guest in the booth at odds with the viewers needs during those Monday Night Football broadcasts.

Now, to the singin’ from last night. Let’s start with those “pretenders.” I’ve tried to tag them in these blogs through out the auditions: people who were advanced based on personality and backstory over their abilities. Well, the deadweight was cut loose. Goodbye Motown-singing, street-hustla Skiiboski, Italian lug Amadeo DiRocco, Miami beatboxer Jay Stone, and grown-up Barney and Friends cast-member Erica Rhodes. And, no, Jersey Shore wannabes Bernadette and Amanda Disimone, the show doesn’t, as you claim, “need you.”

And it’s not Hollywood Week without some chokes and fails. Vanessa Wolfe, the small town Tennessee girl who demonstrated some country quirkiness in her Atlanta audition couldn’t find the confidence I suggested she’d need to advance, sounding nervous and not too great on an almost unrecognizable version of Blind Melon‘s “No Rain.” Vanessa got the slo-mo, dragging luggage, walking-away montage.

And there was Maddy Curtis, who I pointed out was the second best 16-year old at the Boston auditions. Well, that sadly proved true as poor song choice and a tentative performance detracted from Maddy’s otherwise pure singing voice. So Maddy goes home while the better 16-year old from that Boston audition, Katie Stevens, advances, turning in a smokey rendition of Stevie Wonder‘s “For Once In My Life.”

Several singers have excellent shots at the Top 24. Andrew Garcia, “the Latino Danny Gokey,” performed my second favorite cover-version of Paula Abdul‘s “Straight Up” (check out punk band Halifax‘s version for a transformational experience). Casey James, who took off his shirt in auditions at Kara’s request, is turning into the ringer I suggested he might be. Turns out Casey’s a pretty solid blues guitarist and vocalist. Lily Scott, who we apparently saw for the first time last night, gave a genuine and original take on Ella Fitzgerald‘s “Lullabye Of Birdland.” Jazzy and quirky, is Lily another Megan Joy from Season 8? Well, Megan was annoying as hell. So, no! I say Lily is probably everything Megan was supposed to be, but wasn’t.

Also with great odds of making the Top 24 are waitress Didi Benami, who sang a Kara DioGuardi song. (How soon before Idol contestants show up doing Ellen Degeneres dances? I’m just sayin’.) Janell Wheeler, who transformed Estelle‘s “American Boy” into a convincing earthy, country ditty. And Crystal Bowerson, the dreadlock chick from last week’s Road To Hollywood audition episode. This is a real singer. Great vocal on Aretha Franklin‘s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Crystal has her own style. But that doesn’t mean she couldn’t benefit from a little makeover. And teeth whitening. I hate picking on something like that. It’s just…really noticeable.

They weren’t shown last night. But they did advance, and I say Ashley Rodriguez (pretty singer from Boston auditions who sang Alicia Keys) and Todrick Hall (The Color Purple) are likely Top 24-ers.

Anyone else from last night’s episode not mentioned by name here is in my “on the fence” category, and still has stuff to prove during Hollywood Week to advance. At least, that’s what I think. How about you? Leave a comment.

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 — 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
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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
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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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