Posts Tagged R.E.M.

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 — 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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