Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Adam Lambert Must Pay

Yikes! Country night was interesting this year, as it always is. There were more than a few safe choices -- every week it seems no matter what the genre is a few balls roll into the beauty-pageant "American Idol" gutter -- and some pleasant surprises. But a night that continued a trend of massive improvement since the semifinals was marred by one of the ugliest battles between an unstoppable force and an immovable object in contest history. Adam Lambert's abuse of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" was so jaw-droppingly bad that it simply cannot go unpunished. The judges have been finding new positions in which to contort to praise Adam every week, and the inflated praise has finally popped Adam's ego balloon. His Boy George/Bond villainess harem croon was like torture.

Otherwise, it went pretty chalk -- good ol' boy Michael Sarver was the most in his element, big voices like Lil, Allison, and Anoop proved able to adapt, Danny continued to be the most successfully manipulative and Matt Giraud the least, and Megan Joy was at once terrible, mildly offensive, and strangely compelling. I'll spoil the ending for you now: Adam has to go. has to! This evil cannot be allowed to stand!

Michael Sarver The judges entered a bizarro world about a half-season ago where they assumed they had the ability to reshape reality with their own critiques. They love to criticize contestants who don't have sufficient it factor for picking easy songs or making lots of pitch mistakes -- while praising contestants who do, for picking easy songs and making lot of pitch mistakes. I felt bad for Michael, who picked a fast, crowd-pleasing song with a ton of words, sort of Garth Brooks' answer to "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and only missed about two of them while he was slapping his harmonica player on the back. Michael was dead on target in that a big part of country music is having a good time, and I had a better time while he was singing than anybody else on the night. The judges might not be hip to it but what's commercial among male country singers right now is a lot of hunky guys who aren't great singers but deliver witty songs well with a lot of personality. Michael Sarver could be the next Trace Adkins, for all they know. 9

Allison Iraheta It could have gone either way for Allison, who's a rock belter at heart but a skilled enough singer to more than fake it in other styles. She did a little bit of both for country night. Her instincts betrayed her at times, as she didn't really sync up to the beat in the slow part and she was off on more of her power notes than in past performances. She's getting more coherent in her interview clips, probably after long hours of laborious coaching. I love her raw power and her prospects for continued success in a thin eighth-season "Idol" field. 7

Kris Allen I don't have much of a bead on Kris, flying under the radar for most of the season so far. He has bad luck choosing when to set aside his guitar and when to pick it up again. I think he might have found more of a connection to his number this week if he'd played it solo accompanying himself, as doing "To Make You Feel My Love" with the band in karaoke-CD mode sounded very sappy. Although his look and vibe are street-busker authentic, his voice does play well in the pop ballad idiom. If you saw the brilliant recent "South Park" with the Jonas Brothers, Kris has some of the same marketability -- a stealthy, wholesome way of selling sex to tween girls. If he goes that way, he won't have to become a better singer. He was flat and guttural on his low notes and his falsetto was pretty weak, atonal, and pathetic. 7

Lil Rounds Lil is either pretty bad at playing the "Idol" political game, or quite brilliant. She seems to keep slightly missing her target, which gives her a place to go from here in the weeks to come. Other real great voices of past seasons have peaked too early, from Jennifer Hudson to Melinda Doolittle. I thought Lil could have done worse than "Independence Day," although in parts it approached cruise-ship territory. She let her instrument do the work over a very bland backing, which is the safe play. Her verses never quite gelled but she was in her usual fine form for the heavy-lifting section. 8

Adam Lambert Adam sneered at Randy Travis and leered at the girls in the pit, piled the foundation on in big scabby cakes and just sucked all of the heart out of "Ring of Fire." It's funny, if Adam had taken a straightforward approach and just tried to sing the song a little like the Man in Black, it might have been a shocker highlight. He's got range to spare and he's certainly no stranger to drama. But instead, he pulled some sitar-lite lounge arrangement off a "music for strippers" website and wailed ghoulishly (and in no relation to pitch). Dress sense and attitude go a long way in "Idol," but the line has to be drawn somewhere. The line must be drawn here! Here and no further! 1

Scott MacIntyre Apparently Scott spends every waking moment of his unsupervised "Idol" time painstakingly working out his own arrangements. That's charming, but is it really helping his cause any? He seems to have pretty Utah music tastes, and let me tell you Scott, Hollywood ain't Utah. Maybe he should let the experts do the arranging, and spend that extra time sleeping, or practicing his vocals, or shopping for sunglasses. Scott's unique problem with stage presence has a simple solution -- he just needs to hold on to his piano for dear life. His "Wild Angels" was earnest enough, if a bit broad, and I liked his musical ideas. His execution however was wanting. 6

Alexis Grace Alexis's dress was short enough to be a nightgown, but apparently it wasn't low-cut enough for the judges. Kara and Paula were all over her to dirty it up. Like for a single week she can't put on a classy outfit? Alexis did "Jolene," a great song, but not one to approach lightly. I don't know if she came off as insincere exactly but perhaps a bit defensive. It was technically solid, but I didn't ache for her, and if you're going to sing a weeper like that, you can't leave a dry eye in the house. The performance itself was safe, but it was the kind of song that really exposes lack of commitment. 8

Danny Gokey Danny knows where he's coming from. How can you root for the guy who has the dead wife and a song for Jesus in his heart? Danny has no level of pandering to which he won't sink, but as prolonged exposure reveals more of his weaknesses, it may not be enough to sustain him. His verses on "Jesus Take the Wheel" were goony and poorly sung, and his cracked yelling for the choruses was not at all special. He's beyond average on stage... but with enviable intangibles. 5

Anoop Desai Anoop seemed nonchalant in his semifinal and first final-round performances, but it's funny how the difference between lazy and crafty can all boil down to song choice. "Always on My Mind" is one those melodies so powerful that it transcends genre, and Anoop was definitely in no danger of drawing comparisons to Willie Nelson. He brought the goods with a solidly melodic, confident performance that was a fine showcase for Anoop's soulful side and his voice's natural presence and sustain. By dressing more casual and keeping his profile low, Anoop made his song choice a sort of apology to his "Idol" fanbase for taking things too lightly earlier on. Now he's going to be around for awhile, assuming he works this hard every time out. 8

Megan Joy Now without the awkward "Corkrey," Megan is that least little bit more commercial -- and still can't really sing a lick. Her "Walking After Midnight" had so many tics and hiccups that it was sort of its own little work of art. I usually hate Megan, but even though she was doing a Caribbean accent for some reason and her "jazz" accents were minstrel show-level, it was at the very least distinctive. Her falsetto leaps were fifty-fifty, and her out-of-control tremolo was awful-sounding (but kind of impressive). She was suffering from the flu, Ryan Seacrest was careful to disclose. 4

Matt Giraud Matt is obsessed with being commercial, only he's too naive to exercise this desire in any kind of constructive way. His Coldplay thing was his low point so far, but he's always in danger of screwing himself over. As a bar pianist and soul merchant, it seems like his connection to and knowledge of music ought to go deeper. He did look very slick in a three-piece suit, but he didn't put enough of his own stamp on "So Small" and his final high note was woefully off. I really think that he's more talented than he's shown, but he has a little bit of a tiny idea in his head of how to sell himself and it's throwing him off. He'd be better off if his head was completely empty of conscious thought, like Allison. 7

Adam goes. He has to. Maybe if I feel it strongly enough it will come to pass.


  1. Alexis! Bit of a shocker. I'm not terribly surprised the judges didn't exercise their "save" on her as 1) it's a bit early and 2) it's highly likely she'd just get voted off again in two or three weeks. I guess she never built up popularity on a level equal to her screen time, which means perhaps I'm giving the American public too little credit. She was never that much of a singer, although she knew her limits better than some others. But then take that Allison, and not Megan, was in the bottom three along with Alexis.

  2. I wasn't all that shocked to see Alexis go. She just never made much of an impression on me and doesn't have the upside of someone like Allison. I thought Sarver was going home since - aside from the token eye candy (aka Megan Joy) - he's the worst singer of the lot.

    Overall I was bored to tears with country week since I absolutely despise the genre. I found it funny that the judges heaped praise on Anoop for picking a song that's maybe 10% country to begin with and then stripped any semblance of country off it. I liked his performance, I just think he cheated a little.

    I'm with you on the Lambert hatred. The guy's got a serious set of pipes but absolutely no musical sense. His "Ring of Fire" was just downright creepy which isn't usually what you're going for in a song about falling in love. If the producers can somehow get him to use his talents in a more restrained way then he would be a worthy contender, but as it is he is as overrated as Gokey without the sob story.

  3. The trouble with this season, and I think the elimination of Alexis is one of the signs, is that the judges have been playing favorites from the very beginning -- Kara, who was brought on to the show to try and give the panel a little more teeth past Simon, is the worst offender -- and as such there's really no incentive for those people who are favorites to challenge themselves. No one is developing, which given the trajectories while on the show of people like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and even Blake Lewis is disappointing.

    For the record, I love country music, but what "Idol" would identify as country really isn't. Be nifty to hear Kris Allen sing a Hank Williams Sr. tune but it's not happening in this reality.

    Or Gram Parsons.

  4. Totally agree with the favorites thing. Kara started off making it seem like she was going to rip Lambert's performance apart and then she ended by saying she actually liked it. The Gokey love is the same way even though he sounds like a John Mayer rip-off to me (and like Lambert has little pop music sense).

    Last year's batch seems much more interesting overall. Castro wasn't the most talented guy, but his charm and adherence to his style of music was actually interesting. Brooke and her piano were interesting along with the Irish chick, the creative rocker (Cook), and probably others that I have now forgotten. This year I have little to no interest in any of the contestants but I'm hoping that with better theme nights something will shine through.