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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Some thoughts on American Idol's Top 12

Hey everybody (i.e., my many readers)! I'm back with some new things to say about Season 9 of American Idol (because I feel that there aren't enough people blogging about it already). Actually, this post really took shape because I wanted to say a couple of things about my girl Crystal Bowersox, but I kept finding more and more things to comment on, so I decided to just review the whole Top 12. I'll save the best for last, just like the show did.

First of all though, I have to express my disappointment with last week's results, when four of the wrong contestants were sent packing. The wrong FOUR. That's every one of them. Every one of the four with the least amount of votes (assuming the voting process is honest and accurate, for which I have reasonable doubt) was undeserving of the loss. Not that they were all the best of the bunch or even great, or even favorites of mine (two were), but they all offered something positive to the show that many of the other contestants do not.

Todrick Hall was no great singer, but as a decent singer with a background in dance, he was bringing something interesting to the show. Alex Lambert was just starting to blossom, and despite my prejudicial spite of mullets, the boy had an interesting voice. These two were the only male contestants, after Michael Lynche (whom I'll talk about more in a minute), who were not bland and forgettable. I am honestly having a hard time remembering the other five guys' performances, or even names, week to week.

The girls' results were trickier, as there is generally much more interesting talent amongst them, but even more egregious. Katelyn Epperly was far from being the best, but she was consistently more listenable than Katie Stevens, Paige Miles, or Lacey Brown. Shock of the night, however, was when Lilly Scott was given the boot. She was, after clear frontrunner Crystal, the most unique contestant, picking interesting if not spot-on songs every week, and had a voice that hardly ever missed a right note.

Lilly was clearly as confounded as everyone else and didn't shy away from saying so on the air: "I don't know what America wants to hear." She obviously doesn't listen to the stations playing "today's best music," because what America wants to hear is usually pretty awful. But I share the sentiment. It's not that we don't know what America wants to hear; we know. We're just frustrated about the why. And our frustrations with today's music will never be allayed, because we refuse to accept such terrible music as worthy of being referred as "today's best." I feel your pain, Lilly.

Last week was the most emotional I've ever seen things get on this show, as these results were just as big of a shocker to the rest of the contestants, and as Alex and Lilly's departures were particularly difficult for their colleagues to bear. But let's put the past in the past and move on to this week's performances.

The contestants performed covers of Rolling Stones songs this week, and somebody in the writers' room thinks highly of the Stones. The opening tribute video gushed with phrases like "without a doubt the most iconic band" and "the best rock band in the world." I know, I know, it's the Stones, and yes, they've got one of the most impressive songbooks in rock-n-roll history, but let's dial it down a notch.

First performer of the night was Michael Lynche. He is the best male singer in the competition by a mile, as Simon might say. Not only does he have a great voice, but he really feels it when he sings, and thus the listener does too. He's got to cut down on the falsetto, but he's the only guy there who deserves to reach the Top 3, if it's not composed entirely of women. His more R&B-heavy version of the Stones' "Miss You" was a great kick-off for the evening.

This is the only comment I'm going to make about the show that doesn't focus on the contestants and the music: Seacrest needs to focus on doing his job and stop trying to do Simon's. He's the host, not a judge. Nobody cares about his opinion of music. I don't care if he's a DJ, especially since that makes him one of the people peddling all the crap music to the masses, and since mainstream DJ's are, I say with a sad sense of irony, one of the least musically attuned groups of people on the planet. I swear, Seacrest is becoming more obnoxious every season, though perhaps his latest trend of second-guessing Simon's critiques is a symptom of separation anxiety. Moving on.

I have to admit outright: I am crushing on Didi Benami beyond reason. I know she's not the best singer, and she hasn't quite gotten the hang of picking the right song. But, well:

Tonight she picked "Play with Fire," which doesn't seem to fit her personality at all, but then again I only get to see her for an hour or so every week on a heavily edited reality show, so what do I know. She sang it pretty well anyway.

Casey James broke out the electric guitar and performed "It's All Over Now," which isn't actually a Stones original but a cover of a Womacks song from the same year of 1964. I'm not a fan of Casey. For some reason it annoys me just to see him take the stage. But maybe I'm just jealous of his hair. He actually did a pretty good job this time around though. It was his best performance so far, in my opinion, though still pretty forgettable. I don't think he's ever going to surpass this Bo Bice Lite thing he's got going on.

Next up was Lacey Brown. I truly like Lacey, but she's already gone further in this competition than she deserves. She probably should have been voted off instead of Lilly or Katelyn. Her performances are just sleep-inducing. I imagine her voice is well-suited for a more intimate setting, like a coffee house, but when she's got that big stage to fill, she disappears. I guess I might as well report that she sang "Ruby Tuesday," though it hardly matters. Also, if I may say so, she's really a beautiful girl, naturally, so I don't get why she wears so much makeup. But then I have this same problem with a lot of girls. Makeup isn't supposed to cover beauty, is it?

Andrew Garcia performed a terrible rendition of the awesome "Gimme Shelter," one of the Stones best songs. There was absolutely no feeling in it. It's like he didn't really listen to the song before he sang it, didn't feel the violence and tension behind it, didn't hear the intense passion in Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton's voices. I doubt he even took the time to learn anything about it. This is the guy who made it through when Alex Lambert got voted off. Shame.

Next was Katie Stevens performing another of the Stones' greatest songs, "Wild Horses." Katie is immensely likeable, but her performances are nothing special. Katie was the one who made it through when Lilly got voted off. Shame again.

Tim Urban is the one they're calling the "comeback kid" because he originally did not make the Top 24. The guy he was brought back to replace was Chris Golightly, and I don't feel like taking the time to go back and find all the details, but that boy got the short end of the stick. Something about a prior contractual obligation that they thought conflicted with his American Idol contract, but actually turned out to be fine after it was already too late and he'd been sent home and replaced. I'd hate to be Chris. I doubt very much he's going lightly these days.

Anyway, Tim Urban. I never remember this kid or anything he performs. Apparently he did a light reggae version of "Under My Thumb" (good thing I took notes), which is a pretty dark song about sexual power. Another fine job of not paying any mind to the actual lyrics. He seems like a nice kid, just like Katie, but they are both going to be crushed under the weight of the ones in the competition who know how to bring a song to life.

This brings us to Siobhan Magnus, who is one of the best singers in the competition and also knows how to make a song her own, as evidenced by her rendition of "Paint It, Black," but my goodness, is she an odd duck. I cannot get her figured, and that's a good thing, because she constantly surprises. I read a comment  by someone somewhere who referred to her as "the one who sounds like she sniffs glue," which gave me a good laugh, because that is a good way to describe her cadence, demeanor, and behavior--but she's likeable, too, and seems to have a better grasp of the classics than most of the rest. "Paint It, Black" is another very dark song and another of the Stones' absolute best. I wouldn't say Siobhan nailed it, but hers was by far the most intriguing performance of the night.

Next up was Lee Dewyze. According to my notes he sang "Beast of Burden." As you can probably tell, Lee is just another member of the bland Top 6 guys (with the exception of Michael, of course). What I can say about Lee, now that I remember who he is again, is that he always, always, has the look of a man who fears he's being hunted for sport.

I never cared much for Paige Miles until tonight. Paige was one of three girls that I thought deserved to voted off last week, but I'm actually glad she was till around this week because she was definitely the most pleasant surprise of the evening, giving maybe my second-favorite performance of the night. She took "Honky Tonk Women" and, as the judges would say, made it her own. You could tell she was into it, and she sang it nigh perfectly. She was rockin' the look and rockin' the song, and it was one of maybe two performances of the night that I would actually like to have on my iTunes--and that is rare for me to say about an American Idol performance. (The other, you won't be surprised to discover, is from Bowersox at the end of the show.)

Aaron Kelly just looks and sounds like a kid that some recording studio would mold into a pop star, which makes his presence mildly bothersome every week despite his easy-going demeanor. No offense to the boy, and I realize this isn't his fault, but I have had all the references to Justin Bieber that I can stand this season. I think I just have a vague moral issue with such young people becoming pop icons. But I won't even try delving into that right now. Aaron did a slightly better-than-expected performance of "Angie," a song to which I'm sure he relates at his ripe age. My cockatiel Charlie seemed to be diggin' it though, bobbing his head to the music, so points to Aaron.

Okay, I'm about to get to the main event, but first, I need, I need to say something about this stupid Bing commercial. Some of the Bing commercials are decent, and the one with the yoga is particularly funny, but this one with the vampire is awful. Awful. And lazy. And the execution doesn't make a lick of sense. The girl's sitting on the motel bed looking for places to eat on her laptop, and this guy's flitting around the room drawing the curtains, berating her inability to search quickly and whining about how hungry he is. (Not using Bing apparently warrants such verbal abuse.)

Finally she uses Bing. Suddenly he sits down and looks directly at the TV audience but he's still addressing her. Why? No reason. Then he says they'll just stay in. "But I thought you were hungry," she says. Then he, still looking out at the TV audience and smiling, with her sitting on the bed in background, says, "I am." Then sharp canines pop out of his mouth to the sound of knives being pulled from their sheaths (?). Then there's a distant, muted sound of some woman screaming (??). He's still smiling at the TV audience. Then she laughs. WTF? Awful.

Okay, back to the show, and let's just face it, it's The Crystal Bowersox Show. Her singing, her playing, her sense of arrangement are all so effortless, and the girl has been sick, and has looked really sick while on the show, but still performs circles around the others. She does need to have a little more fun with her performances, but I think she knows it, and hopefully now she's healthier and will be able to deliver. She did my personal favorite Stones song, the daunting "You Can't Always Get What You Want," but she did it damn good, and I wish she could've performed all seven-and-a-half minutes of it.

Crystal's the one this season; she's my new Melinda Doolittle. Head-and-shoulders above. But here's the thing: I don't want her to win.

Crystal is sorely out of place on American Idol. She doesn't care about the all the hype, she looks really uncomfortable during the packaged group performances they're forced to do, and she's pretty much flat-out said she doesn't care much for the show. She sees it as her opportunity to perform to a larger audience and make a bigger paycheck so she can support her family doing what she loves and was created to do. And I say, more power to her. But I hope she doesn't win.

She's never watched the show, she says? Then she has no idea what's waiting for her at the end. If Crystal wins, she'll be contractually obligated to record some terrible pop single, and I see her having a real hard time reconciling that reality with who she is as an artist. So what I'm really hoping is that she'll come in second or third, after which she'll still get a decent recording contract, but one that will hopefully allow her to make music that is more on her terms. Like Daughtry, except she'll be recording good music.

So here's hoping. Oh, one more nice thing to say about Bowersox: the peacock feather was a classy shout-out to the unjustly cut Lilly Scott. Seacrest pointed it out, so I guess he ain't all bad.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Geckos, Geese & Loons

I've got a few things to share tonight.

It's no secret that the Government Employees Insurance Company is a marketing machine with a relentless and often brilliant advertising campaign system. I believe they currently have no less than four separate television ad campaigns running. These include:

1) the GEICO Cavemen, still a well of creativity despite an ill-conceived attempt at expanding its schtick into a sitcom;

2) the ongoing shenanigans of The Gecko and the Goofy Old CEO (coming soon to ABC, no doubt);

3) the headache-inducingly awful "that's the money you could be saving" series with that googly-eyed banded stack of cash, the blandest non-character since NBC's casting department hired Justin Bruening as the hero of their terrible Knight Rider sequel series, which thankfully quickly went the way of the cavemen; and

4) the latest, in which an affectedly serious Robert Stack type asks "Can switching to GEICO really save you money on car insurance?" and answers with "Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?" (he does), or "Did the Waltons take way too long to say goodnight?" (they did), or my personal favorite, "Does a ten-pound bag of flour make a really big biscuit?" (which I love because just a five-second shot of a little boy frosting a giant biscuit and his mother's reaction of resignation relays a world of information about this family's home life).

But recently, GEICO overlooked an obvious opportunity to employ their little gecko mascot. There is a radio commercial in which a voice states that humans blink something like 17,000 times a day. How that relates to car insurance, I don't recall. (Is it really important for me to remember anything about the actual product?) However, the voice in the ad is not the Gecko's voice, and it totally should be! Because then he could have said something like this (and remember to imagine this with the proper accent):

"The average human blinks once every five seconds. Well that's, what, more than 17,000 times a day! It's an awful lot o' blinking, i'nt it? Now just imagine, in the space of less than 200 blinks, you could save 15% or more on your car insurance. I don't have much personal experience on the subject, o' course. I haven't got any eyelids. I have to clean my eyes with my tongue, which is a bit more painstaking of a process, let me tell you."

To make it worse, another commercial followed which did feature the Gecko. Oh GEICO, you are getting sloppy.

On a related note, I was watching The Office tonight. During one commercial break, I was organizing my iTunes, as I obsessively tend to do. One of The Gecko and the Goofy Old CEO commercials came on, and I turned in my chair to return my full attention to the TV because I thought the show had come back on. It literally took me that entire motion of turning and staring at the screen, watching an animated lizard standing on a desk, to discern that I was, in fact, not watching The Office but a GEICO commercial. The realization process took waaaay too long. Maybe that little gecko just fits into that world so well. Or maybe there's an exposed wire in my brain. 

Or maybe it's time for a little shake-up in Scranton. Maybe it's time for a CGI lizard to join the cast. He can be voiced by John Oliver. Why not? Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and Larry Wilmore are all a part of the show. Why not one more Daily Show correspondent?

Now that I've written way more about that subject than I'd intended, let me switch gears. I went for a walk in the woods today, and as I was sitting by the lake, a couple of geese flew overhead. It made me think how fascinating geese are, how they always use the buddy system. If one has to separate from the rest of flock (or the skein, as it is called when a group of geese are in flight), another will go with it. Geese have such an amazing social structure.

This just in: Pat Robertson has just scientifically proven, after much research and controlled testing, that playing hand-held video games while sitting in the backseat of a car is a gateway drug to becoming addicted to pornography! (Either that, or, in the space of two sentences, he made a mental leap of what has only the barest resemblance to real logic. This is what I get for channel surfing at five in the morning. On the plus side, I was introduced to Cousin Larry, who had me entertained and delighted as he demonstrated his cousin's amazing cutlery. Yes, he was introduced as Cousin Larry. Yes, he was actually fun to watch. Yes, those knives do look awesome. Yes, I was watching this through bloodshot eyes at five in the morning.)

I leave you with this: