Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Adam Went Down

"American Idol"
Fox via DVR

I hardly think I'm alone in feeling all of the excitement leak right out of this just-concluded "American Idol" season with the ejection of Allison Iraheta. Nothing really stood out in the last two episodes other than how terrible Kara's song for the finals was and how utterly immaterial to the end result all of the performances in those last two shows were. Like plenty of others, I got caught up in bottom three finishes and forgot about the practical mechanics of the voting. How could we all have overlooked the obvious? The bloc that had been voting for Danny Gokey loyally since the semifinals, literally tens of millions strong, wasn't going to go over to Adam Lambert en masse. Lambert would have had to be more than twice as popular as Kris Allen to survive the bulk of Gokey's support going to the family values-friendly Allen.

But anyway, for completion's sake, here's my comments on the performances from the last two shows of the worst season since I jumped on board the bandwagon.

Final 3

Danny Gokey #1 It's not fair how they pick a different judge to pick a song for each contestant every year in or around the second-to-last episode. It would be more fun if each judge got their own whole show. The Paula Abdul episode would be completely psychedelic and bizarre, the Simon episode would have everybody second-guessing his underlying motives, and the Randy episode could just be like a big ol' Journey reunion party. Kara didn't get a pick this year and won't have to worry about getting her own whole show next season; I'm almost completely certain she won't be back next year since she sucks and everybody hates her (and she has absolutely no credibility as a judge given her artless, mercenary outlook on music). Danny was hamstrung by the fact that he drew the short straw and had pill-popping Paula picking for him. "Dance Little Sister" was a poor choice for Gokey, although it's hard to see given his limitations what exactly he could have done that would have made us see him in a new light. Danny gave his best effort every time out, which is more than you can say for many others. He was always positive and enthusiastic and seemingly a supportive friend to the other contestants. But his song here sounded like the bulk of his others, strained rather than soulful, utterly commercially irrelevant. Even though he was shouting until he was blue in the face the backing singers still blew him away with volume and sustain. I'm genuinely angry that we were denied the opportunity to hear Allison sing twice more for this snoozefest. 6

Kris Allen #1 Randy, whose entire bank of knowledge about current music seems to come from listening to American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest, picked a dreary sort of no-balls white boy piano plinking song for Kris. Way to really go out on a limb there, Mr. Jackson. In a weird way, it ended up working out for the best for Kris. Because his second number of the show was one of the more original things Allen did all season, it burst even more out of the speakers after the dead weight he was saddled with first time out. Even though it was a dud of a song Kris did sing it expressively and he erred more towards his raw side than the low-wattage slickness he can affect at times. And it had been a while since we'd see him play the piano, which he does competently -- he was the most versatile musician of the season, which seems to matter a lot. David Cook and his average lefty guitar is now the template for the modern "Idol" champ. Allen was pretty clearly a level higher than Danny this round, although that's hardly news. 7

Adam Lambert #1 Adam was the producers' and the judges' favorite, for all the good it did him. With Paula picking something totally nonsensically for Danny and Randy exerting precisely no effort or imagination in his assignment for Kris, Adam was winner by TKO before he even sang a note. Simon picked "One," the best song from the best U2 album, and it was a pretty genius choice. Awesome, indestructible song no matter who's singing it, but Adam really put his stamp on it. He adroitly arranged the song so that it got right to the part most in his comfort zone, the gospel "Love is a temple/love a higher law" section, and that one bit was wonderfully goosebump-inducing. As a whole though, it wasn't Adam at his triple-A best. The verse was less perfectly sung than he's capable of and the lighting and style needlessly tried to echo his "Mad World" triumph (which he repeated yet again in the finale). Average Adam but the winner of the round by a length or two I believe. 8

Danny Gokey #2 Danny never seemed quite to get the need to package himself as a specific kind of artist, one that fits into an established current radio format and can easily be compared to two or three universally known others. Rather he picked songs he liked when he had the freedom to do so, ranging from Mariah Carey tunes to in this instance the wizened old chestnut "You Are So Beautiful to Me." One from the heart for sure, Danny, and the first time he'd risked an outright dedication to his still dead wife in ages. But Danny has a big weakness that he did a remarkable job of minimizing throughout the season. When he's not shouting, he sounds really crummy. His ability to hold some semblance of pitch while wailing away with his head voice by itself is impressive, but more of a lucky gift than a developed musical skill. He didn't shout the first half of "So Beautiful," by necessity, and it was quite forgettable. When he inevitably arrived at the yelling section matters improved, but overall it wasn't a winner. He blew the final note, too. 7

Kris Allen #2 In the final estimation, this was probably the performance that clinched Allen the crown, the water-cooler moment of this show, the one that likely got swing voters over to his side rather than Danny's, and the one that gave him the momentum to win. It wasn't as good as all that, but by the standards of this show -- this season anyway -- Allen's catchy, rhythmically aware solo guitar approach to Kanye West's "Heartless" was a breakthrough. If as a consequence there are scads of dippy Jason Mraz frat-folk-rap tracks on his debut album, I think it wasn't worth the cost. Pecking-order wise I felt at the time he was obviously better than Danny and just as clearly inferior to Adam. 8

Adam Lambert #2 I don't even like the 90's, outside songwriter-dependent, Armageddon soundtrack, Alicia Silverstone video version of Aerosmith, but I was hooting and hollering during Adam's "Cryin'." It was a brilliant choice for his style, a song meant to be crooned in a powerful and flamboyant fashion but with an original sufficiently removed in style from Adam's. Bombastic and indeed campy in the best sense of both worlds. Perhaps Adam felt a little bit too much as if he had already won going into these final two shows, as he didn't as much raise the ante as continue to maintain a high level while dialing up his swagger even further. He should have brought more steak and less sizzle, in retrospect. Still, I felt like he was coasting towards a deserved win at this point. 9

It was totally obvious to me that Danny was the loser of this night, and evidently the voters felt so as well. We didn't see eye to eye the next time out, and that will be the subject of our next post.

1 comment:

  1. I was less impressed with Adam's performances than you were, especially "One" which I thought he totally butchered. The song requires restraint for the most part (aside from the "Love is a temple" part which requires restraint in its own right) and Adam again had trouble achieving that.

    Kris's "Heartless" was the only noteworthy part of semi-finals week with both Adam and Danny doing what they always do - Adam taking whatever he song he chooses and wailing through anything that remotely deserves high-pitched notes and Danny shouting in his monotone range.

    I was also very disappointed with this season (aside from Allison) and became pretty bored with it not long after they whittled it down to 12. For some reason I was much more involved last season mainly because the contestants had so much more personality and variety in styles. With all the talk of how refreshing Adam was, he really didn't show much personality when he wasn't on stage.