Posts Tagged Hallelujah

Idol Thoughts — 05.25.10

It was a night Crystal Bowersox did everything she needed to and a night Lee DeWyze did somewhat less than he could have.

It was the night American Idol‘s Top 2 went head-to-head at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

And it was a night that I give to Crystal Bowersox. But who’ll get the Idol crown tonight? For that prediction, stayed tuned until the end of this blog.

Each singer sang three songs last night: one of their favorite songs from earlier in the season; one picked by Idol producer Simon Fuller; and a song that’ll be their first single if they win.

I’m not sure who picked the third songs (probably also Simon Fuller). But this is where Idol producers diverted from their formula of past seasons. The single has always been an original, although often schlocky, song written for the winner to sing. The songs in the past have been fairly “cookie-cutter” and not necessarily the best jump-off point for a singer’s new career. So I’m glad to see the show trying something different. Even so, the idea of a “first single” has become less meaningful ever since the show started selling studio versions of all the Top 12 songs. The real excitement for Crystal and Lee comes in about six months when the first single from their first album gets released.

Here are my rankings of the last night’s finale performances

1) Lee DeWyze – “Beautiful Day” by U2 (Lee’s single if he wins) – Right from the get, I have to admit my bias. My pick here is heavily influenced by my work in the radio biz…and my personal taste. This was the performance last night that I’d most enjoying playing on the radio. For that matter, the song last night I’d most want my iPod to shuffle into. On Lee’s third song of the night, he finally got his nerves under control, which were noticeable and palpable up to this point, and things came together. Lee stayed true to the original while hitting some nuanced vocal differences that spotlighted both Lee’s unique sound and the gorgeous arrangement of the song. The only downside, I couldn’t feel Lee’s connection to the song.

2) Crystal Bowersox – “Up To The Mountain” by Patty Griffin (Crystal’s single if she wins) – Okay, to be totally honest, my first reaction when this came on last night was, “Huh? Did someone die?” It seemed a little light on levity and heavy on gravitas–especially for a “single.” But with subsequent listens, this has become one of my favorite Crystal performances. She delivered a controlled yet nuanced vocal and seemed really connected to the song. Not to be Debbie Downer. But I still prefer Kelly Clarkson‘s version with Jeff Beck from Idol Gives Back in 2007.

3) Crystal Bowersox – “Black Velvet”  by Alannah Miles (picked by Simon Fuller) – I’m with Simon Cowell on this one. I kinda dread this song–for being so obvious, such a “bar band/audition” kinda song. But Crystal did something with it, made it her own and gave us her most confident guitar-less performance of the season. Yes, she looked a little uneasy at first as she attempted to descend the staircase in her L.B.D. as she sang. But by the end, she seemed to be having fun and interacting with the crowd, which is important because there’s been plenty of times this season when it’s been hard to tell if she’s been enjoying this whole process.

4) Crystal Bowersox – “Me And Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin (Crystal fave from earlier this season) – Crystal’s first song of the night showed that she was comfortable and confident in front of the 7,000 people at the Nokia (significantly larger than the usual Idol audience at Television City). This was solid, if, literally, something we’ve seen before. I gave the edge to her “Black Velvet” for showing us something different.

5) Lee DeWyze – “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel (Lee fave from earlier this season) – This was the first indication Lee might have an off night. Nothing wrong with this version. Except that it wasn’t as good as the first time he sang it on the show. I went back and “A/B-ed” both versions. Lee sang this with much more passion and purpose during “Inspirational Song Week.” This was a good song choice; the song’s kinda his “underdog” theme song. In a way, the song here should’ve been “Hallelujah,” if the idea is to go with a singer’s best effort of the season. But that would’ve meant ended last week’s show and starting this week’s show with the same song. I’m sure show producers either did or would’ve put the kibosh on that.

6) Lee DeWyze – “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. (picked by Simon Fuller) – Uggg. Terrible song choice for Lee by Simon Fuller. The result was an ill-fitting, low-energy effort that played into the general criticism that this season has been nothing spectacular. Lee seemed to be inside his own head as he performed this. I wouldn’t want to say I know what was going on inside. But on the outside, it seemed like Lee wasn’t enjoying the moment.

So, who wins tonight? One of my contentions (I have many, mind you) is that people watched the show last night already knowing who they’d be voting for. That’s a good thing for Lee, who definitely had an off-night, because his fans will remember “Hallelujah” and not “Everybody Hurts” when they vote. I also suspect Lee’s a bigger hit with Idol‘s notorious “power” voters and texters–people who vote hundreds of times compared to more casual viewers. The fact that the judges seemed to pummel Lee, while praising Crystal, will actually energize his supporters to vote hard. I’ve also said in this blog that going into last night, Lee was the actual front-runner. (That’s contrary to what most of the media has been reporting.)

Tonight, Lee DeWyze is crowned the new American Idol. It will not be an “upset,” as many will call it tomorrow. However, there will be a perception that Crystal Bowersox was the better “artist,” and with these people, a sense that she was “robbed.”

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

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Idol Thoughts — 05.18.10

Hallelujah! Someone finally answered Idol fans’ prayers for an “Oh, Wow!” moment, something that had been sorely missing this season.

That all changed last night on American Idol when Lee DeWyze took Leonard Cohen‘s song “Hallelujah” to the promised land. Lee’s epic performance solidified him as the front-runner going into next week’s finale.

Last night was crucial. I think the week before the finale is just as important as the finale (maybe more), and here’s why. When people watch next week, they want to know who they’re rooting for. So most people’s minds will already be made up. So last night was the last chance to really change some minds or win over new fans. Lee picked the best time of all to be peaking!

The Top 3 finalists performed two songs each last night: one they picked themselves; the other picked by one of the judges. I say each finalist did better on the song picked for them, which is telling. Even at this late stage, this year’s finalists still have some things to learn about how best to position themselves as artists.

Lee took a moment after his season-stealing performance to thank Simon Cowell for choosing “Hallelujah.” It seemed Lee may have had some initial reluctance about the song. Ironically, the thanks should be mutual. Simon owns the rights to the song. One U.K. news outlet even calls the song “Cowellelujah.” The song’s already put boatloads of cash in Simon’s bank account. Finalists on Simon’s U.K. show, The X Factor, have performed and recorded it. And Lee’s version will undoubtedly add to Simon’s “cha-ching.”

So “Hallelujah” for both of them: win-win.

It’s interesting. “Hallelujah” is one of those songs that has a larger-than-life reputation, but surprisingly little airplay on the radio in America. I’m not sure if I’ve even heard Leonard Cohen’s 1984 original of the song. There’s been notable cover versions by Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and k.d. lang. Yet, for the most part, radio silence. Maybe, this is the moment for that to change. If I was running a radio station, you’d be hearing Lee DeWyze’s version today.

So here we go, last night’s performances ranked:

1) Lee DeWyze – “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen – Reviewing what I wrote above, it seems I’ve already said quite a lot about this. Let me add that Lee got a ton of help from the Idol crew. The arrangement, the choir, the strings and the horn-section, were all spot-on. With the buzz trending toward the negative about this season, I’m guessing it was just important for the show to have this moment as it was for Lee.

2) Crystal Bowersox – “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney – I was glad Ellen DeGeneres picked this for Crystal. I remember singling out this song after the Lennon-McCartney Songbook Night a few weeks ago as being a song that should’ve been performed. Crystal, performing without her guitar, used this opportunity to demonstrate her full range, hitting big notes, raspy notes, and soft and sweet notes. Bonus points for not changing the gender references in the song. For starters, the word “man” needs to hit a single beat for the best emphasis. If she’d sang “woman” instead, the extra syllable would’ve made a mess of things.

3) Casey James – “Daughters” by John MayerRandy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi chose this one. Give Kara some credit; if she were Simon, she would’ve picked a song she wrote herself and earned some extra royalties! Casey turned in a solid, nice’n’soft version that featured more piano than guitar. As a song choice for Top 3 Week, Randy and Kara were able to insure Casey focused on his sensitive side at this crucial moment. The downside was the song’s not designed for a big vocal moment. So instead, Casey had a big “quiet” moment.

4) Lee DeWyze – “Simple Man” by Lynyrd  Skynyrd – When I went to bed last night, I actually had this ranked above Casey’s version of “Daughters.” When I listened again this morning, I revised my rankings. But it’s a close one. Lee picked this one himself, and I think it was smart move. The idea that Lee himself is a “simple kinda man” doesn’t hurt his case with Idol voters, who I suspect approve of his no ego, nice guy persona, much in the way the audience responded to Kris Allen last season.

5) Crystal Bowersox – “Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge – So all through this song Crystal had one of those harmonica holder/harness things around her neck. She blew a few notes at the beginning. And a couple at the end. Seemed like a long way to go for the little use it got. Meanwhile, I’m guessing Idol cameramen were running around trying to find an angle to shoot Crystal’s whole face. Ultimately, Crystal might’ve had a more transcendent performance with this song if she’d gone even more acoustic with it (even used that harmonica more) instead of staying close to the original. Crystal sounded better on the quieter beginning of the song. By the chorus, Crystal was, as the judges pointed out, “fighting the arrangement.”

6) Casey James – “OK, It’s Alright With Me” by Eric Hutchinson – Song choice. Always so crucial. Especially on the week before the finals. I don’t see any benefit to picking this song. Strike that. No benefit to Casey. I’m sure Eric Hutchinson couldn’t be having a better day today! The judges said Casey was “playing it safe,” probably because this was similar to a lot of songs Casey’s done this season. I think “safe” is the wrong word. “Risky” is more like it. The week before the finals is not the best time to give the audience a song that manages to be both unfamiliar and more of the same. That said, no complaints on the vocal. I’m a fan.

Casey James goes home tonight. Lee DeWyze vs. Crystal Bowersox in next week’s Idol finale.

Those are my thoughts. Yours? Let me know!

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

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

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