Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sit Still It's Disco

"American Idol"
Fox via DVR

They threw an "American Idol" disco night, but someone forgot the funk. More than half the field opted not to perform their numbers in their original style. Without question, the producers made another mistake in holding off the disco theme until this late in the competition. With the pressure of only seven remaining contestants (all save Lil and Anoop with a least a little argument towards the crown) and the drama of Matt Giraud's save last week, the show didn't have the lighthearted, pressure's-off feel that disco nights in years past have boasted. A lot of folks were forcing it, some to better effect than others. Somehow even disco night managed to get polluted with elevator ballads, something it genuinely appeared "Idol" was weaning itself off of in the last two seasons.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the missed opportunity for Adam Lambert. Adam alone among the field has chosen to do a disco number of his own free will, and the Internets have been abuzz about his sexual preference since January. Wouldn't it have been awesome if he'd done "YMCA" or "In the Navy" with a chorus line of pretty L.A. boys dressed in hot pants and little white hats? I will answer that for you. Yes, it would have been awesome.

Lil Rounds Lil is at least two weeks past her sell-by date, and by placing her in the pole position the producers have more or less assured her expiration will arrive tomorrow. Her vocal form continues to be quite laudable but she's simply not savvy enough to add anything other than pinched emphasis to the original versions of diva tunes she inevitably chooses for herself. Having grown short with the judges last time and possibly won herself a little respect and a few needed votes in doing so, she was clueless and graceful this time. She really thinks she put a new spin on "I'm Every Woman," she really does. It's up to the listener to decide and this informed listener thinks it was karaoke all the way. It seems as if the judges are being fed putdowns through earpieces at this point. 7

Kris Allen Kris hasn't quite put it all together yet. His less-innovative-than-at-first-glance "She Works Hard for the Money" didn't effectively assume a new perspective in changing the song's narrator, something David Cook was consistently able to do in his winning run. I do appreciate Kris's skill and ease at leading a small band with his guitar playing on stage, and he was due for a performance where his guitar was something more than a prop. While his creativity has trended up in the last few shows, I don't feel as if Kris is singing as well as he was further back. Maybe the shift in focus away from pure vocals has cost him. It was an obvious night for Kris to make a move like this to prove his seriousness and good for him for handling his business. 8

Danny Gokey I have no bigger disconnect with the judges this year than I do with them regarding Danny. His range gets praised endlessly, along with his pitch correctness, and I wonder often if I am hearing the same performances. Perhaps it really is true that the judges base their comments on the warmup numbers. During "September," a pretty weak song, Danny resorted to yelling a lot at a few points where the natural course of the melody didn't agree with him. Rather than going up in pitch he would simply shout the previous note much louder, which -- I assure you -- is technically incorrect. Also, not as much contradicted by the judging panel as sidestepped, what is Danny's commercial relevance? Yeah, the dead wife could get him a gold record, with a tasteful enough photo in the album sleeve and an intelligently directed video. But what's his second act? Sometimes I think the band puts in more effort with the arrangements for some less musical contestants (Danny) than for others (Allison). Maybe they all lost their wives too. 6

Allison Iraheta "Hot Stuff," perhaps three-quarters converted into an arena rocker, was an unpredictable choice from Allison. But she can sing anything, and she was easily better than most yet another week. She's the most consistent singer on the basis of every time we've seen them all sing this year, bar none. Well, excluding the group numbers in the results shows, through which I fast-forward aggressively. She moved and sang comfortably given that it was the boldest re-arrangement of a song she'd done in some time. I like how she maintains an appropriate cool but chaste high school-girl style. The judges did not like how she slowed her song's tempo, but I appreciated how the increase in space let her voice simmer in the proper juices. 9

Adam Lambert It's through the looking glass and back again for Adam, who wailed his way through a Saturday Night Fever album track in his worst outing since desecrating "Ring of Fire." Adam started from the top in an unpleasant, junior varsity spring theater workshop style and, outsinging the band, went hugely out of pitch for just about the whole second half of the song. This went unnoticed by the whole panel of judges. Kara and Simon checked out mentally of their own accord weeks ago, Randy Jackson has suffered a stroke only no one has noticed because his outward behavior is so little changed, and Paula's shaking hands after Adam's caterwauling suggested she might need to book a six-week lie-down somewhere quiet starting right after the season finale. 5

Matt Giraud Says Anna: "A lot of them are dumb this year." Matt's "Stayin' Alive" was so crude, witless, and stupid that it utterly devastated whatever momentum Giraud might have had coming out of the judges' save show. He got away from the piano and pranced around like he was Justin Timberlake for Halloween. He delivered a flat and uninspired, occasionally piercing version of a song that 1) mostly depends on vocal harmonies and not a single voice and 2) has even so been performed on "Idol" way, way better. The song, slowed down a tiny bit but otherwise much the same, didn't suit Matt's personality, musicality, or physicality. And he sang it pretty badly to boot. You're outta here! 4

Anoop Desai I'm of mixed feelings about Anoop's "Dim All the Lights." On one hand, he has leaned very heavily towards the ballad end of things since the country episode. On the other, he sounded fantastic Tuesday when the song started spare and slow, and lost much of his mojo when it shoehorned into an ill-fitting, radio-modern electronic beat. He was due for a number that won him back a little of his "My Prerogative" R&B cred, but disco week might have not been the right time to force it. If he'd kept it a ballad, he still wouldn't have gotten the unmerited praise that Danny and Adam got, but he might have won over a few more votes. I think he's a keeper for now, even though he seemed to have responded to a bottom-three placing last time in charmingly transparent fashion. He had facial hair, and a three-piece suit with a pink vest! I mean, go Anoop! Way to hold it down for the engineering students. 7

Postscript, Thursday morning: I forgot to write it down official-like at the end of the original post, but I think it's implied by the reviews that I had Lil and Matt for what Tony Kornheiser so emphatically calls "Go Night." Lil was a lock, but it was Anoop's neck that took the other axe. It wasn't quite deserved based solely on the performances from the night before, but Matt Giraud has a slightly more lively overall body of work and perhaps will prove us all wrong with a signature performance next week. The judges' save swings the season, sorta. As I wrote before the results show, Anoop and Lil were the two left with no chance of winning. So it should have been obvious. But I think I'm more down on Matt than most, since his song choices continue to show a lack of artistic feel and original musical notions. He did do a crowd-pleaser, and it didn't suck. He's got to bring the goods now.

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