Posts Tagged Janis Joplin

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
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Idol Thoughts — 05.11.10

I’m surprised by this. But as a theme week on American Idol, “movie songs” doesn’t hold up very well for me.

Sure, it’s a way to put some limits on what song the contestants sing. But genre-wise, movie songs can be every and any genre. So musically, it really isn’t a “theme” at all.

On top of that, I never feel any connection between the performance on the Idol stage to the films the songs are from. Maybe they could show some footage from the movie on the screen behind the singers as they perform? Just thinking out loud. I’m sure that costs money Idol producers would rather not spend.

For that matter, it’d be somewhat dubious to resurrect some of last night’s movies. Helping a giant killer whale find freedom? The second worst Batman movie? A 40-year old AFI Top 100 classic–that 80% of Idol‘s audience has never seen?

Jamie Foxx returned last night. With success in both the films and music, you couldn’t book a guest mentor that makes more sense. Even so, there was a tinge of “been there, done that” seeing that Foxx was on just last season. Foxx got in the finalists faces (literally) and pushed them to be “artists,” not “contestants,” even bestowing tee shirts to the singers with those words on them at the end of his time with them. Big Mike seemed a little put off when Foxx tried to hand him the “contestant” tee. Mike said no, he wouldn’t take it. Foxx didn’t argue. Hey, it’s “Big” Mike…probably wasn’t the right size, anyway!

In addition, the duets were back last night. To save the night, I should say. They turned out to be the highlights. I guess I’m not surprised. On a season where there’s been a shortage of personality, there’s a better chance of getting some when you double these finalists up. Here’s everything ranked, individual and duet performances all together:

1) Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox – “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (from the film Once) – Probably my favorite performance of the entire season. This really worked. Lee and Crystal sang as if something really mattered. Not that they don’t on their own. They do. But the passion was stronger here than ever before. I’ve always felt the best duets allow the individuals to spotlight their vocal strengths while finding some shared, harmonic area. Lee and Crystal nailed that. They made a strong argument for a Lee-Crystal finale.

2) Casey James and Michael Lynche – “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman” by Bryan Adams (from the film Don Juan DeMarco) – Another solid duet with some tight harmonies and skillful guitar-work from Casey. Although after singing the opening verse, it seemed to me Casey became Mike’s back-up singer; Casey sounded lower in the vocal mix. That said, “Big Mike” was clearly better suited vocally for the song. And Mike made the most of it, getting more mileage out of his singing here than on his solo song.

3) Crystal Bowersox – “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins (from the film Caddyshack) – Hey, at least it wasn’t “Footloose.” Can you imagine someone doing that? I can. He name is Tim Urban, and he got voted off weeks ago. So, this was kind of a cheesy song choice for Crystal. I’m guessing Crystal loves the comedy goldmine that is Caddyshack (as should everybody!!). As such, Crystal probably has fonder thoughts about this song than are really deserved. On a night where the other finalists’ solo efforts came up short, Crystal made the most of this one, giving it an energetic, bluesy-rock, Janis Joplin vocal.

4) Casey James – “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel (from the film The Graduate) – Oh, c’mon! You know Casey was talked into performing this song by someone behind-the-scenes, right? So the show could play up the whole “Kara DioGuardi is Mrs. Robinson” storyline. Hey, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But outside of that particular  storyline on AI9 (like in, you know, the real world), I’m not sure how Casey doing this song is relevant. At least that’s what I was saying as I was tapping my toes and diggin’ this sit-down, ukulele version. It all came together and worked.

5) Lee DeWyze – “Kiss From A Rose” by Seal (from the film Batman Forever) – This is a complicated song to sing. If you don’t believe me, you try and sing it! The vocal range needed is huge. Bigger than what Lee has. So he did what he could. I happen to love his voice. So I enjoy even a lesser Lee performance. This was a lesser Lee performance. Good thing for Lee he had the duet tonight.

6) Michael Lynche – “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson (from the film Free Willy) – My problem with Big Mike is this. He usually sounds good. Just fine. Nothing really wrong. And yet, I’m just not excited by it. Ever. Well, maybe not ever; “Woman’s Work” was great. So my problem with Big Mike seems to be…I’m not a fan. And it’s beginning to look like that’s not gonna happen. But there’s absolutely nothing about what he’s doing that offends my musical senses. Odd moment: we learned that Big Mike’s goal is to make the Top 3. Really? Not…to win this?

Here’s some predictions. Yep, I continue to make them, even after three consecutive misses! Hey, Shaq doesn’t stop shooting free throws, does he? The Bottom Two tonight seems clear: Casey James and Michael Lynche. Not making the Top 3: Michael Lynche.

Greg Valentine
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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 – “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.


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.


Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 02.03.10

So I’m writing this more than a week later, well after the show aired, using notes I made when I watched it at a hotel in Orlando. So this will be a quickie. But looks like I need to scratch the completist itch that’s been buggin’ me all week as I debated “missing an Idol blog.”

It was American Idol‘s final audition episode this season–a bunch of tryouts taken from the seven cities they’ve visited this year. Something they called, “The Road To Hollywood.”

I wondered in one of these blogs who are these people they’re not showing that are making it through. Surely some are contenders, yes? Well, yes. And in this episode, we met some of them.

Jessica Furney – She sings a song Simon Cowell co-wrote. Who knew? Guess people are going to Wikipedia for inspiration these days. She sounds nice. Definitely deserves to be heard again. And onward to Hollywood she goes.

Amanda Shectman – This one does weird little voices, like a cartoony take on Britney Spears. She sounds theatrical, but okay. Judges say she needs to “connect” better. She gets through to Hollywood after basically begging.

Lee Dewzye – Does a nice, soulful job on “Ain’t No Sunshine” and gets a Golden Ticket to sunny California.

Crystal Bowersox – This dreadlocked, Bohemian singer, the kind you normally see singing down at the public market with an open guitar case for coins, knocked Janis Joplin‘s “Piece Of My Heart” out of the park. Hollywood.

Lacey Brown – We’ve seen her before: Top 50 from last season. The judges advanced Megan Joy instead of Lacey. What a mistake that was–and not because Lacey’s so amazing. Arggh! Megan Joy still irritates me! Lacey’s got some chops. Nice tone on her version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” She’s on her way to Hollywood, where if history repeats, they’ll pass her over again in some new travesty.

Three quick “yeses” went out in a montage that was designed to show that some of the best 16-year olds Idol‘s seen have auditioned this season. They are Rachel Hubbard, Thaddeus Johnson, and Genesis Moore. Interestingly, no hoopla is made over Genesis, who’s another black female singing country (like Haeley Vaughn).

Michael Lynche – We met “Big Mike” in this episode, a personal trainer with some huge guns…and nice pipes. His version of “Unchained Melody” gets him a Golden Ticket.

Didi Benami – She does a cool version of “Hey Jude.” Some nice, jazzy phrasing. Hollywood.

Aaron Kelly – Girls, my nieces in particular, are going to love this kid. Good-looking 16-year old boy…in touch with his sensitive side enough to audition with Miley Cyrus‘ “The Climb.” Where are the next Jesse McCartneys and Justin Biebers coming from? Maybe from here. Although Aaron’s sound is a little deeper.

Hope Johnson – Great audition song, Lee Ann Womack‘s “I Hope You Dance.” Hope’s got some nice tone. But needs to complete her phrases–holding those notes. Judges point that out. Nice smile. Likeble. On her way to Hollywood.

Greg Valentine
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