Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Idol Thoughts

One of the things I really liked about the American Idol semi-finals was that they used a live band throughout. It helped take the taint of karaoke away from the proceedings, and in some cases I think it helped the performers sound better. So why, now that they've moved to the snazzy studio with the huge audience and the 10,000 Vari*Lites, have they gone back to the terrible canned tracks?

That aside, this is where the real game begins. And strangely, I feel much less shame watching now. I guess because all the singers are theoretically good now, it's just about watching a decent concert. I never would have said that about season one. All twelve of these finalists are a zillion times better than most of the first group of kids. I watched much of the first season in horror, but only one of the performances tonight made me feel that way. A definite boost to the experience is not watching it live: judicious fast-forwarding is key.

I won't be foolish enough to do predictions (after all, this contest is won with votes, and the whims of the American people elected George Bush as President...well, sort of), but here are my thoughts on the first show in the finals.

Okay, so LaToya is amazing. She's this season's Tamyra Gray. Not only can she sing the hell out of everything, she was the one contestant who didn't seem the elast bit nervous. If only her name weren't LaToya. Not a great track record for a career in pop music.

I like Amy a lot, but I think only because she reminds me of Nikki McKibbin from season one. Only she can sing. I always liked Nikki because she was an underdog and she was unique, at least among the contestants. She was also never boring. She may not have hit all the notes, but she always rocked. Amy, not so much with the rocking. She picked an amazingly bland, boring song, with a bland, boring arrangement, and sang it blandly and boringly. Honey, your hair cannot be the only thing about you that stands out.

How did Matthew make it into the finals? He has no stage presence, and he sang the whitest rendition of "Hard To Handle" ever. Whiter than The Commitments and The Black Crowes combined. The track didn't help, but this guy is terrible. Okay, he's still better than Jim or AJ or Ejay or RJ or eBay from season one, but if you could vote against people, I'd be on the phone all night. Randy and Paula disagreed with me, and I'm baffled. Simon called it "a second-rate Tom Jones performance," and this is why I have always loved Simon.

Jon Peter Lewis is my favorite. I don't think he'll win, nor should he (though he may be the last man standing with the kick-ass women), but I'm rooting for him. He's also very white, but he picks songs that work for that ("Tiny Dancer," "Drift Away"). He seems to be the breakout heartthrob among the screaming girls in the audience, since cute geeks seem to be in (see Clay Aiken and Adam Brody). And yeah, I too like his crooked smile and pretty eyes. Simon called him "the dark horse to win this competition." Yup, loving Simon.

Camile is dull. Not bad, but dull.

Fantasia is like Macy Gray on crack, with a bigger range. She's fantastic. I can't wait to see what she can do when she's not nervous. Someone said to me, "I hope she doesn't become a big star because I'd hate to see people start naming their kids Fantasia," and I couldn't agree more, but the girl's got some serious pipes.

I don't like George, but I have to admit it's got nothing to do with talent. He's not great, but he can sing. But he creeps me out. I don't know why. He's funny looking. Maybe it's his posture. I just don't like watching him perform and I haven't since his first audition. I don't want to think about him any more to actually critique his performance. He might be an alien.

Okay, by this point in the show, they're all kind of blurring together. The performances are good, but all the classic soul is starting to sound alike. Jennifer is good though, very good. It's always tough to sing an Aretha song because you've gotta compete with Aretha!. But she totally pulled it off. And I loved her outfit (tailored pinstriped blazer with jeans) and her poofy hair.

I love John, but what is he doing here? In ten years or so (he's 16), he'll have an amazing career in cabaret, and doing recordings of classics. He can be the next Michael Feinstein. I'm rooting for the little guy, but he's not a pop star. I'm fearful for what the coming weeks of theme nights will do to him. And I'm also wondering how long it'll take him to come out of the closet.

Leah sang a mediocre song mediocrely. I want to like her; she's cute. But it wasn't a great performance, or a great shirt.

Jasmine sang an interesting song (I don't know what it was, I'd never heard it before), but I didn't think she sang it well. She seemed to hit a lot of wrong notes. The judges loved her though, even Simon. I've always hated Simon.

Another Aretha song, another 16-year-old trying to be Mariah Carey (when really a much better goal would be to try to be Aretha Franklin), and another round of praise from the judges that I didn't understand. Sorry, Diana, not a fan.

Um, yeah, so I'm hooked. Okay, I guess I was already hooked, but now I'm really hooked. In a way, after watching Average Joe and a little of High School Reunion, there's something sort of refreshing about watching a bunch of fame whores on a show that's explicitly about fame. And talent. Idol is nothing if not up front about its pretensions and manipulations, and now that I'm not watching bad singers for the schadenfreude, it's one of the few things I watch that doesn't make me feel dirty!

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