Posts Tagged John Mayer

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
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Idol Thoughts — 03.02.10

I don’t remember this happening before on American Idol; In a last-minute switch, the guys are performing tonight instead of the girls. Crystal Bowersox is in the hospital and wouldn’t have been able to perform. Something to do with diabetes.

Hopefully, it’s not a serious thing for Crystal. She’s on track to do very well in this competition. But how will this play out tonight? Will the guys’ performances suffer in any way by going a day early? Let’s find out (all comments live blogged during the show):

Michael Lynche – “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown – We learn more about “Big Mike” in his video piece. The football playing, not surprising. The musical theater, maybe a little. Tackles the song right from the beginning–more determined than we’ve seen him. Nice vocals again. There’s a few phrases he stops short on–a couple notes he could’ve held longer. But some great soul going on here. Judges praising Mike’s performance. And it does feel like he’s stepped up his game–a lot! Good move.

John Park – “Gravity” by John Mayer – John Park’s backstory is still boring. Video piece not resonating. The singing isn’t doing it for me. Seems a little contrived and too “breathy.” How you do that with a deep voice, I’m not sure. But he manages. Ellen DeGeneres is right, though. Better song choice than last week. Simon Cowell says he’s in trouble, and that sounds about right.

Casey James – “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw – From the video piece, we find out that lighting hit their house and blew out the T.V. a while back and they didn’t replace it! Casey claims to have never watched American Idol…or much television at all. Playing some tasty licks on that electric guitar tonight. The vocal is not my fave from him. Despite saying he wanted to do something different, it feels about the same, but not as good as Gavin. But here’s the deal, with his guitar skills and a clear musical mission, this guy’s going to make music people buy. Just needs to settle into that musical mission, whatever it is. He’s close to it now.

Alex Lambert – “Everybody Knows” by John Legend – “I was trying to be so likable, that I wasn’t likable at all.” A good analysis from Alex’s video piece of his performance last week. Playing his acoustic guitar tonight. The prop is helping with the nerves. The vocal feels okay. Great, unique tone. But something about it’s not quite 100 percent for me. Seems like the potential’s there. More work with the vocal coaches will undoubtedly help.

Todrick Hall – “What’s Love Got To Do With It” by Tina Turner – Video piece gives us more info on his theater background–he started as a kid. Todrick’s version is another re-vamping of the original. He slows this one down. A better move than his Kelly Clarkson re-working last week. Here’s the thing, though. These arrangements are all over the place and this one’s showing Todrick’s vocal limitations. So he’s not helping himself. He’s not the strongest guy singing tonight. And that’s that.

Jermaine Sellers – “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye – His video piece reveals that Jermaine “rocks his Onesie.” The silliness of him jumping around in a frog-green Onesie will earn him some votes. The song choice and arrangement won’t silence the judges that this guy is coming off “too old” for this competition. I actually don’t think he’s very good. If Jermaine’s your fave, I say you’re giving him too much credit. Kara DioGuardi‘s got it: He’s doing too much. And all that “over-singing” is making it hard on the ears.

Andrew Garcia – “You Give Me Something” by James Morrison – We learn that Andrew’s a breakdancer. Guitarless tonight. This song’s not suiting his voice. Not working. Love this guy anyway. Great tone. Sounds very recordable. Randy Jackson‘s on top of it: Andrew’s not wasn’t doing his thing–he’s more of a guitar-playing, Jason Mraz-kinda guy. Judges are letting him know.

Aaron Kelly – “My Girl” by the Temptations – The song choice is kind of “talent show.” But his fans will probably dig this. He’s got some vocals in there. But still waiting for him to put it all together: the vocals and song choice. Seems comfortable performing, though. I agree with Simon. I think they could’ve made the arrangement on that more contemporary, and it would’ve had the potential to be much cooler.

Tim Urban – “Come On Get Higher” by Matt Nathanson – Video introduction shows how the judges have been piling on this guy. Tonight, he’s better than last week. That’s not saying too much. His voice seems a little lost inside the song. From the screams in the crowd, it’s clear the ladies love them some Tim Urban. I suspect the votes are there to move him forward. So he’ll get another chance to improve. Good on ya.

Lee Dewyze – “Lips Of An Angel” by Hinder – Lee went to “alternative school” during his high school days, according to his video introduction. I think he sounds great. Just a couple pitchy moments. Lee’s version is more tender than the original and his vocal more nuanced. Judges want him to be more comfortable while he performs. And that’s seems like good advice. Good stuff.

Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 02.10.10

We learned two things last night on American Idol: 1) Group Day, where the contestants team up and sing together in small groups, is actually the easiest day of Hollywood Week to survive. More on this in a moment. And 2) Gwen Stefani‘s “The Sweet Escape” is apparently the quadruple axel of group vocals and should never again be attempted on this show!

The Group Day episode is usually filled with plenty of (often manufactured) drama and interpersonal conflict. It’s always chaotic and entertaining, even if the stakes are lower than producers would like you to believe. The night started with 96 contestants and ended with 71. That’s 25 people getting the ax. Or roughly 25 percent. For some perspective, the night before saw almost 50 percent of the Idol hopefuls packing their bags and heading home.

I’ve heard people ask why Group Day is necessary if American Idol is an individual competition. I guess the simplest justification is because later, when the show gets to the Top 12, Idol does those choreographed, group performances to kill time during the results show–not to mention several group numbers during the summer concert tour.

But there have been plenty of hopelessly flat-footed and awkward contestants in those group performances over the seasons. So for all its hoopla, Group Day is really about shining individually–and trying to lock down your place in the Top 24.

So who helped themselves last night? Well, generally talented singers who surrounded themselves with other talented singers. I know, it’s another one of Group Day’s contradictions. Even though contestants want to shine individually, performing next to lesser talents doesn’t make them look better. It actually makes them seem less bona fide and able.

Team Awesome, with Michael Lynche (“Big Mike’), Michael Castro, Tim Urban and Seth Rollins, is a perfect example of this. Big Mike’s been getting a lot of screen time, with his wife literally in the hospital giving birth to a daughter as her husband prepared with his group. Big Mike turned in a strong version of John Mayer‘s “Waiting On The World To Change” Tuesday night. But Team Awesome was merely Team Adequate on last night’s Motown classic, “Get Ready.” Big Mike and Tim Urban made it though. But Big Mike seemed less impressive.

Ashley Rodriguez, Michelle Delamor and Charity Vance performed early in the show as the group, Faith. Despite some heavy talent, I thought their version of Beyoncé‘s “Irreplaceable” was just pretty good, not fantastic. Theirs was a case of the parts being greater than the sum together. Great individual vocals that didn’t mesh as well as I would’ve thought. So much for team work. Anyway, they’re all through to the next round.

Much was made last night about the “showdown” between Neapolitan and Destiny’s Wild, who both chose to sing Lady GaGa‘s “Bad Romance.” Neapolitan featured Paige Miles, Thaddeus Johnson, Jessica Cunningham and Liz Rooney. Despite all of them being advanced to the next round, I didn’t hear a single Top 24 performer in there. They all seem like Hollywood Week fodder. Destiny’s Wild, with Siobhan Magnus, Jareb Liewer, Theri and Todrick Hall, represented the song better. It certainly was the most creative, with backflips and some sense of costume. But it was hardly the vocal standout of the night. Todrick Hall sang well. Everyone in Destiny’s Wild was also advanced to the next round.

Group Day rule: A really solid group effort can advance lesser singers (see paragraph above), while a really, really bad group performance can eliminate a good singer (see next paragraph).

I don’t know what these groups were thinking. “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani? It’s a hard song to master quickly, with its rapid-fire delivery and tongue-twisting lyrics. The job of pulling all this together and looking good on Group Day is hard enough without adding an extra level of difficulty. But apparently several groups chose the song, and from the montage we saw last night, and failed massively–including Big Dreams, which featured Matt Lawrence, who sounded great at the Orlando auditions (“Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne). Uncomfortable in the choreography, and singing a song that was all kinds of wrong for him, Matt, and everyone in his group, were dismissed. Matt’s not-so Sweet Escape maybe being the biggest surprise of the night.

For future reference, groups should also not attempt Barenaked Ladies “One Week” and R.E.M.‘s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Just puttin’ that out there.

The Mighty Rangers, Phoenix and the Dreamers all got plenty of airtime last night–mostly thanks to juicy internal conflicts that made for interesting television. Their actual group performances were largely forgettable. Not sure what we learned from these three. Except that rocker Mary Powers (Dreamers) is pushy and probably not as good as she thinks she is.

The best groups of the night got the least airtime. I guess getting along and working well together to achieve something good isn’t as interesting as the histrionics of group dysfunction. Middle C, with Janell Wheeler, Jermaine Purifory and Casey James did a great version of Ne-Yo‘s “Closer.” And early standouts Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens led the group Three Men and a Baby through a tasty version of Alicia Key‘s “No One.” Proving this point: surround yourself with other talented people. Best move you can make on Group Day.

Those are my thoughts this morning. What are yours?

Greg Valentine
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Idol Thoughts — 02.02.10

Zig-a-zig-ah! With a second-helping of guest judge Posh Spice, American Idol returned to Denver last night for one of this season’s more satisfying audition episodes.

Maybe it was the change in the “menu” that tasted so good. After six audition shows with tons of freaks and horrible singers, last night Idol shined the spotlight on the Golden Tickets. Of the ten people featured, seven were sent to Hollywood. They are:

Mark Labriola – A self-proclaimed Jack Black lookalike who sang “Tempted” by Squeeze. I like him based on song-choice alone. Never heard anyone do that one on Idol. Sounds good, and we know he’s got a personality and self-depreciating sense of humor. Did I mention he admits he looks like Jack Black?

Kimberly Kerbow – A single mom and college student with a great smile who I think was wearing a wig. Judges wonder, too. A little distracting. And a little odd when she sings she’d buy Rogaine for Simon Cowell. But her sweet version of Ingrid Michaealson’s “The Way I Am” gets her an invitation to Hairywood Week, er, Hollywood Week.

Danelle Hayes – A karaoke host from Seattle. She delivers a raspy, bluesy rendition of Melissa Etheridge‘s “I’m The Only One” that sounds not unlike, um, Melissa Etheridge. Simon makes some observation about Danelle arriving on Idol‘s doorstep at a key moment in life before she’s about to be “broken” by the corporate world. Huh? Anyway, Danelle’s got something–as long as she remembers there’s a fine line between “raspy” and “yelling.”

Casey James – This guys got “ringer” written all over him. Good-looking guy with long hair in pony tail. Posh, aka Victoria Beckham, wants to see his hair down, and somehow that degenerates to Kara Dioguardi getting him to remove his shirt. Simon says the whole thing’s embarrassing and that his audition was “boring.” Randy Jackson says Casey needs to take some “personality pills,” but votes yes. Casey’s on his way to Hollywood, where all the ingredients are there for him to step up his game and “show” Simon that he was wrong. Possible storyline. We’ll see if it plays out that way.

Tori Kelly – A pretty 16-year old student who’s either “sunny” (Posh’s word) or “a human orange” (Simon’s). Posh points out that looks are “part of this,” presumably meaning success in the music world. Posh would be the expert in that. Simon was annoyed by Tori’s version of John Mayer‘s “Gravity.” My ears disagree.

Nicci Nix – I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on with this girl. She flew all the way from Italy. Is she from there? Like an Italian citizen auditioning for American Idol? Or an American who happened to be over there? I’m confused on this point. I’m guessing rich parents, either way. She spoke with a bit of a foreign accent. Not that you’d notice an accent. Hard to hear anything else than her cartoon, Jennifer Tilly speaking voice. She sings with deeper tones, auditioning with something by Girls Aloud. Here’s my feeling: this chick’s got something interesting vocally going on that’s very recordable. Get her into a studio and I got a feeling you could create some successful pop music.

Haeley Vaughn – Her storyline is this: Haeley wants to be “the first black, female country star.” Well, my friend Rissi Palmer‘s already doing a pretty good job on that front. But this is an awesome storyline! Haeley sang Carrie Underwood‘s “Last Name,” and sang it well. Great smile, infectious attitude. Haeley’s going to Haeleywood!

Them is my thoughts. If you got some yourself, love to hear them. So leave a comment.

Greg Valentine
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