Monday, March 9, 2009

That Wasn't Wild

"American Idol"
Fox via DVR

The wild-card "American Idol" show was such a bummer. The judges picked who got to compete and then the judges picked who went through to the finals. Why even have the show at all? It feels like the rug was pulled out from under me and my prognosticating service, which is why I may be a little tardy with these reviews. It seems useless to write about all of these people that already have no chance of going on but what the heck. Let's give them one more quarter second of fame!

Jesse Langseth I was pulling for Jesse after the judges pooh-poohed her performance of "Bette Davis Eyes" for not having enough notes in it. She did "Tell Me Something Good," which was another good song choice for her smokey voice, and she put a lot of sex appeal into it. She handled the song's rhythm, which is out of beat with the melody, adroitly. Jesse never really absorbed the judges' advice to be more gymnastic with her voice, and she may have shared too much of the spotlight with the backing singers. She didn't end with much of a swooping grace note and although I enjoyed both of her performances I can see how she failed to fit the pyrotechnic mold of female "Idol" favorites past. 7

Matt Giraud Matt got raked over the coals for a lame attempt to instill soul in a Coldplay song last time out. So here he went, in overly labored fashion, in the opposite direction, doing a soul song in a self-consciously "soul" fashion. At least he can follow instructions, unlike so many other contestants who chose to ignore direct commands. I didn't like his defensive hat and scarf combo. His voice is pleasant enough but his growls and ad libs belie his goony stage-entertainer background. I still don't have a finger on whether he's any good or not yet, but we'll get at least one more chance to see since the judges seem to really be fans. 8

Megan Corkrey I suspect that Megan might be one of those singers "Idol" dredges up every now and then who sounds just great as long as she's doing something in her narrow comfort zone and then collapses the minute she's forced by a theme to try something different. She hasn't sounded anywhere near perfect even on two songs right in her wheelhouse in the semifinal show and then in the wild card round. She did the annoying "Black Horse and Cherry Tree," one of those songs that was chemically manufactured into a hit single by the use of an idiotically simple repeated riff and lots and lots of ProTools work. She sounded more confident than her first time on stage but still had glitches aplenty, and her big finish note was horrible. The judges love her -- she's a package artist. 7

Von Smith The pointy-haired guy. I wonder if it drips in the lights. It must, right? That would explain why he looked so sweaty. Von sang "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" and it was one of the sort of performances that was more common on "Idol" back in the day: utterly traditional, technically solid, completely without any kind of star power or commercial quality. His voice was bland, his outfit was bland, and it seemed dated and more like an audition than a commanding stage performance. Paula had a rare astute comment in that she perceived that Von was over-thinking his performance. He has plenty of time to think about it now. 8

Jasmine Murray Jasmine's "My Reflection" was far more of a star-making effort than her first attempt. She was solid for the most part on a lot of big notes, if it was a bit drippy a song choice. Some of the judges were harping on her pitch problems but I didn't hear as many as they apparently did. It's not surprising how the average quality of the performances increased for this wild card show, since all the singers were handpicked, it was a win-or-go-home situation, and everyone had been given at least one good chewing-out by this point. Why couldn't every show (save the very first one) have been like this? Jasmine is through, part for the sake of balancing the field, part on potential. 8

Ricky Braddy All these white guys keep singing Stevie Wonder, and no matter how well or badly they do... they ain't Stevie. Seems like there are a lot of more manageable role models for the Rickys and Matts of the world, from Alex Chilton to Steve Winwood. But anyway, between all the covers and the actual blind guy, they have to get the real deal as a mentor this season. Ricky's "Superstitious" bordered on shouting at points. He has good pipes and was melodically convincing, but not visually so; he simply didn't move or work the camera with the requisite authority to be a true soulman. He had some good and bad notes with his falsetto. On one of the first three shows it could have been a standout, but it was too lumpy to win in a stronger field. 7

Tatiana Del Toro I was secretly rooting for the Puerto Rican firebrand to shriek her way into the finals, where her peculiar brand of menace and self-pity might have brought on a whole new level of love-hate phone voting psychology. Dimly Tatiana chose to merely repeat her first-time choice of "Saving All My Love" and although it kind of made sense given her profile (no self-preservation instinct whatsoever) it was an utterly self-defeating move. She didn't even sing it as well the second time. It's too bad. She was one of the better pure singers in the Top 36 -- and easily the most telegenic contestant of all Season 8. 8

Anoop Desai I didn't think Anoop even had to sing. The fix was in for him from the beginning, which might explain how little effort the talented but inert Desai put into both of his semifinal-round numbers. "My Prerogative" was the song Anoop got the most props for during the Hollywood auditions, so he broke it out here with the full band. It wasn't a flat-out repeat like Tatiana's but it was a pretty obvious move. You have to wonder whether Anoop has the competitive edge, or the attention span, to last long in the finals with people as good as he is who care a lot more. He was bringing the heat with powerful high, sustained notes at the end. Although he still hasn't hit one out of the park yet he certainly has the capability to do so. I think that's what the judges were thinking about with at least some of the folks they sent through -- Anoop and Matt and maybe Jasmine could pitch a perfect game one night. Megan, not so much. But she's got the package. 8

A very solid, fun night, easily the best since the live shows started a month ago. The shorter running time makes all the difference because the proportion of singing time to noncommercial filler is so much higher. I think we can all agree at this point that they bungled the semifinals but I have hope going forward. I don't have any huge favorites in the field but there are a higher than usual number of completely unpredictable ones. That will keep us guessing and scratching our heads when the theme shows start.

Ranking the final 13:
1. Lil: She has the producers in her pocket and the only WMD of a voice in the field.
2. Danny: Dead wife. Dead wife. Dead wife.
3. Alexis: Beautiful, and will stand out as even more original with female belters alongside.
4. Adam: Judge's favorite has a lot left to prove about musical knowledge, skill and taste.
5. Anoop: Back in a big way. Has to appear to want it more, but best male singer in group.
6. Allison: Huge voice, very small personality. May want to hire publicist right now.
7. Scott: Can't belt with Adam and Danny but way more interesting. Needs to find current vibe.
8. Jorge: Great voice, adorable eyebrows, needs to prove he's not dumb just because of accent.
9. Matt: Good enough to hang around for a while once it's only 1 elimination a week.
10. Megan: Never got what judges saw in her, is toast when they get to Latin or Standards.
11. Kris: Cutie could move up quick with the right song -- and the right outfit.
12. Michael: Well, at least he's got another week or two's vacation from the oil rig.
13. Jasmine: Prove me wrong, Jasmine! Prove me wrong!

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