Wednesday, May 10, 2006

American Idol - Elvis Week

General Comments

Coolia: When a certain someone answered the door to welcome the Idols, my first thought was "What is Marilyn Manson doing at Graceland"? Then I realized it was just Priscilla gone goth. Is she still in mourning? I wish the show would have shown the Idols frolicking in the tv room, pool room, jungle room, etc., maybe even weeping in the meditation garden. They could have used the location more. My comments below, with the caveat that I am a big Elvis fan so might be judging harsher than most.
Nerdia: I also would have liked to have seen more Graceland and less of the weirdland that has become of Pricilla’s face: the stretched eyes, oddly large chin, and lips so altered it didn’t look like she could close them properly. And why didn’t we see any footage of Lisa Marie frolicking with Taylor? Is she now MountDisa sized?
Terry: Uh, was that Morticia Adams welcoming the Idol kids to Graceland? Wow! Seriously, Priscilla. No more cosmetic surgery, okay? You're verging on Michael Jackson/Joan Rivers territory.
Linda: Holy Oleo, Batman!! Can anyone say Joker? Priscilla scares me. Truly scares me. What happened to her face? Did she dip her face into a vat of liquid nitrogen? But I guess she's not in the competition, is she?
C. Crumpet Swank: She looks like she's wearing a kabuki mask! Why is she so pale? I think her former son-in-law got her hooked on his favorite bleaching creme. Or maybe vitiligo has suddenly become communicable and she caught it from him. And those lips--collagen gone awry. Why did she go to Meg Ryan's plastic surgeon? Doesn't she read US Weekly? Also, please pardon my tardy contribution to the forum. For the last few days I have been trapped in the Anaheim Convention Center ministering to several thousand out-of-shape Moms at the annual California P.T.A. Convention. I kept my eyes open for Cher, since I was recently informed by Nerdia that Cher has reputedly taken on elementary school fundraising as a hobby [I don't know where she finds the time!], but alas, I have no sighting to report. Perhaps she will turn up for the final fesitivities tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.


Taylor Hicks - "Jailhouse Rock" / "In the Ghetto"

Coolia: I knew Taylor would pick an Elvis song that would let him dance to the point where one thinks he is imitating Rumplestiltskin and trying to stamp himself into the ground. I agreed with Simon's assessment of this "Jailhouse Rock" performance as karaoke. While he gave a fun and energetic performance, he didn't put his own spin on the song. He displayed confidence and an Elvis-like swagger but it takes more than that at this point in the competition. However, he completely redeemed himself by doing "In the Ghetto", my 2nd favorite Elvis song, and once again conveying genuine emotion and connecting with the material. I found myself hanging on every lyric and hated when the song ended prematurely due to Idol time constraints, even though I know how it comes out (badly...and his mama cries!). I think Taylor has the least pure vocal talent of the 4 remaining finalists but he can still sing and he has the most personality, and I think that's enough for him to sail through to next week and probably the finals. As for appearance, the first suit was a little shiny for my taste, but the leather jacket looked smart and evoked Elvis' 68 Comeback Special. If anyone could have pulled off a white jumpsuit, it would have been Taylor, but it's probably good he restrained himself for once. Other songs Taylor could have sung: "Suspicious Minds", "Wonder of You", "Burning Love," "Viva Las Vegas", "Polk Salad Annie," "See See Rider".
Art Haarper: What's this going to be - an hour of Elvis impersonators?
Nerdia: I actually enjoyed both Taylor performances but didn’t think either one was remarkable. Jailhouse Rock is fun for him but not all that challenging. I love In the Ghetto but I missed the haunting ethereal chorus and the more dramatic meaningful verses at the end. However, I did thing the slightly more uptempo arrangement which helped Taylor “make it his own” without robbing the emotion out of the song.
Terry: "Jailhouse Rock" was full of energy and was visually very entertaining, but the singing was not up to snuff. Better than average, I'll give him that, but nothing to remember. And, certainly nowhere near as good as the original. "In the Ghetto" (my favorite Elvis song) was very, very good, buuuuuut once again no where near as good as the original. I think he tried to be sincere and conveyed emotion but he just didn't have the pain in there that Elvis added/included in his version. You may disagree with me, and if you do I strongly suggest you go back and listen to Taylor's version and then Elvis'. I think you'll come around immediately.
Linda: Jailhouse Rock - The usual rock/spaz/roll Taylor gig. Not bad. Plenty of energy. Fun. Didn't seem like much of a challenge for him. I think it's always hard to be the first one out of the chute. In the Ghetto - I realize that the Three Musketeers thought it was a great performance, but I didn't think his voice had much depth. I think this is a subjective issue, but his voice just doesn't appeal to me - the timbre is off. He's just not my cup of tea. Although he seems like a great guy.
C. Crumpet Swank: Coolia, I totally agree with you and Simon. Taylor's Jailhouse was totally karaoke. He came across like "the drunk uncle at the wedding who can sing" as Simon has so expertly put it time and again. I don't mind Taylor being spastic--indeed, I often quite enjoy
it--but context factors into my appreciation of it. It works best when there is some irony at play--like in his rendition of Play That Funky Music, White Boy. In a situation like that it is as if Taylor's in on the joke. His Jailhouse just seemed pure cornball/cliche and the song came across like a novelty number (which it is, come to think of it). How else can I frame my reaction? As much as I genuinely revere Mickey by Toni Basil, I don't think it's an appropriate choice for an American Idol contestant in competition. So too, Jailhouse Rock. In the Ghetto I don't know, but I thought Taylor was just wonderful. It was extremely moving and sung well. That is the Taylor I admire. I think one could easily argue that Taylor connects emotionally to the songs with more convinction and honesty than any other contestant in all five seasons. It is that quality which is at the heart of his appeal. The same quality he so gorgeously projected during In the Ghetto.


Chris Daughtry - "Suspicious Minds" / "A Little Less Conversation"

Coolia: I only half-watched Chris' "Suspicious Minds", because I was cooking, and also because I was pissed off that Taylor wasn't doing my favorite Elvis song. Chris must have had the first pick - that's the only explanation. Chris looked like a thug but delivered a capable vocal. I can't say he made it his own but that was actually a relief - thankfully he didn't sludge-rock-ify this anthem. For his second song, Chris picks an Elvis song that topped the charts for Elvis a few years back thanks to the JXL remix. Yes, Elvis has had hits after dying - just like Tupac! Chris did a good job with this one, and he showed a more playful side (plus his nipples, clearly visible through that filmy shirt). He exhibited some personality and a bit of joie de vivre. I liked how he rocked out on the ending, thereby reminding us he's still the dude with the barbaric yawp. Another song that would have been good for Chris - "Kentucky Rain".
Art Haarper: Get the hook.
Nerdia: I thought Suspicious Minds was passable but completely uninteresting. The glasses were cool, though. I really enjoyed his version of A Little Less Conversation and thought, for once, the band got it right. I guess the basic quality tapping of tivo robbed me of nipplish-detail. Damn that Tivo!
Terry: "Suspicious Minds" (my 2nd favorite Elvis song...tied with "Always On My Mind") - seeing as how Elvis KNEW he was a cad (a sex addict and complete screw up with his relationship with Priscilla) and sang this song with such conviction there's no way anyone could ever match the original. But, Chris' version was still very good. I dug it. Another strong, if not great, vocal performance. "Satisfy Me' started off a bit too mellow and verged on boring (and I can NOT believe I'm saying that) but boy oh boy did he kick it up, turned it up and blew it out at the end. I stand by my prediction of the final 2 being Chris v Taylor.
Linda: Suspicious Minds - This wasn't ever one of my favorite Elvis songs. So I wasn't sure how I'd like the Chris version. But he sold it. I would have enjoyed his performance sans sunglasses, but I liked the overall style - and the swirly sideburns are hot!! A Little Less Conversation - Not as strong, but I liked his gritty presentation. He just can't help falling into his thrash/rock/hard core. This isthe song that the TV show "Las Vegas" uses as its intro, so I'm a bit partial to the song itself. Rock on.
C. Crumpet Swank: I enjoyed Suspicious Minds immensely. I liked his laid-back treatment of it. The vocal was very good and the delivery wasn't the usual angst-fest. I liked the glasses. Chris is a cool cat and I thought it worked well. [Remember how the shades didn't work for Bo?]. He also did quite well with A Little Less Conversation, but it wasn't a sturdy selection, because it's a kind of damned-if you-do/damned-if-you-don't proposition as a song choice for this show.
Let me elaborate. The verses are, of course, really hard to sing because of their fluid density and pace. To succeed with them you have to deliver in a rapid-fire, virtually mono-chromatic tone. If you pull it off, it means you're very deft, but it doesn't really give you much of a chance to show off your range. Randy kind of pointed to this, but didn't realize that it was something Chris didn't have much control over if he was to sing the song properly--which Chris understood (he tried to explained to Randy that that was the way the song demanded to be sung, but I'm not sure Randy ever "got it"). Simon seemed to understand the dilemma, and was on target in saying that singing the song correctly almost had the effect of divorcing an identifiable Chris from the performance--which is not a good thing, particularly this late in the competition. Nevertheless, I agree with Coolia--it was exciting to see him change it up at the end, and invest the roaring Daughtry rocker-vibe into the material when the song finally permitted him to do so. The net result was a genuine hybrid of Elvis and Daughtry. It must be said, too, however, that this song's maddeningly catchy structure ends up making it feel a little bit like a novelty song. It's quite a little ditty--sexy, fun, melodious, get-up-on-the-dance-floor infectious--but I think at this late stage in the game, contestants need to pick songs that pack an emotional wallop. This is not one of them. For me the real plus of the performance was that it was refreshing to see him sing something fun for once. That meant a lot to me. I think Elliott was the best of the evening, but that Chris was probably the next best. And Nerdia, I hope you've learned your lesson about that terrible low-grade Tivo mode. Chris's nipples were soooo luscious through the filmy sheerness of his shirt.


Elliott Yamin - "If I Can Dream" / "Trouble"

Coolia: OK, I had been slightly warming up to Elliott, but he totally lost me tonight. First, he picks an Elvis song I've never heard of - which is not an easy feat. He does nothing to make me interested in the song, although his voice sounds pleasant. Pleasant isn't enough for Top 4. Then he does my 6th favorite Elvis song and screws it up almost as badly as Carrie Underwood screwed it up last year. Elliott is such a nice guy that he can't convey an iota of menace, which is what this song requires. Yes, it's playful menace - but it's menace all the same. And he was kinda smiling through lyrics like "Because I'm evil, my middle name is misery." You've got to put some theatrics into this song and he had none. I implore you all to rent the DVD of Elvis' 68 Comeback Special and watch Elvis glower and curl his lip through this song. Another song Elliott could have done - "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
Art Haarper: Better than his usual.
Nerdia: I made the mistake of opening my eyes while listening to Elliott this week. The judges love him so much that I can only conclude that he loses something in the translation of television. Maybe he can be heard better from a live audience. It seems like the band is always drowning him out. I just can’t get enthused about his performances. I knew there’s be in trouble with Coolia the minute he announced he’d be doing that song. So who mucked it up worse: Elliott or Carrie Underwood?
Terry: "If I Could Dream" was a pretty good attempt but I still do not at all comprehend the accolades the judges heap on this guy. His vocals are just okay. "Okay," NOT great. He did a nice just but there was nothing great or compelling about it. "Trouble" was much much, much better. He was on fire with this one. His best performance to date. He is definitely giving Katherine a run for her money for that final spot in the final 3....and I think he just saved himself that spot.
Linda: If I Can Dream - Huh? The beginning was shaky. Don't care what anyone says. But!! He got better at the end. Brought it home. Elliott's confidence needs some work - his presence builds throughout the performance. I think he connects well with his song - especially after he relaxes. I don't know that he's Idol material, though, unfortunately. He's not consistent. Trouble - YEAH BABY!!! Of course, it's hard to seriously believe that this guy is "trouble," but the performance was amazing!! His voice was strong, he looked like he was really into it and I enjoyed it totally.
C. Crumpet Swank: I thought he sang the first song well, but he didn't wow me. But I thought Trouble was spectacular! He sang it with real charisma, emotion, freedom, technical virtuosity, playfulness, menace--he had it all going on. He finally made me think Damn! That was something! And it just got better and better as the song went on. As the song built you could feel the confidence, swagger and joy coming through as he knew that he was nailing it. And it didn't register as arrogrance. Rather, it was just brio--satisfaction that on this night, when he was probably the most vulnerable contestant, he was really hitting a home run. I would have been hooting and hollering had I been in the audience. I think it was one of the best performances by anyone this season. The only ones that come to mind that impressed me as much are Chris's Walk the Line; Mandisa when she sang that jazzy song, first in the line-up, on Barry night; and Paris the night she conjured up Dinah Washington.


Katharine McPhee - "Hound Dog/All Shook Up" / "I Can't Help Falling in Love"

Coolia: I give Katharine some points for creativity for coming up with the mash-up of two 50s songs that I don't really like (I'm a vegas elvis fan). She gave an energetic and entertaining performance, if she did try a bit too hard at times to wow us with her vocal range. Don't worry, Kat, we know you can sing, and we'll never forget your mother was a vocal teacher. These are simple early rock songs not arias. I didn't notice she flubbed a lyric, but Randy was quick to point it out and that may cost her some votes. I predicted she would sing "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You", that old chestnut capably covered by my old crush Corey Hart in 1987 and rediscovered in 1993 thanks to a reggae-tinged cover by UB40. This is a beautiful song, but I'm tired of it. I think Katharine gave a strong if not particularly mind-blowing vocal, but I have to admit I was distracted by her outfit. The drab grey suit looked like a religious habit, and I was studying it to figure out if she was baring her stomach or wearing a flesh-colored top (it was the latter). Again I thought she was trying to hard and some desperation was creeping into the performance. Other songs for Katharine - "Let It Be Me", "Love Me Tender."
Art Haarper: Not as good as I thought she'd do on "I Can't Help Falling in Love". She shouldn't have double-clutched.
Nerdia: She was trying too hard this week. I almost mistook that for a personality.
Terry: "Hounddog/All Shook Up" (uh, sining the lyrics "itchin' like a girl on a fuzzy tree" while sliding her hands down her crotch was a brilliant, if not trampy, move to make a play for the male vote...especially horny teenage boys). The vocals were okay but nothing spectacular or even really good. I admired her attempt to meld the two songs to make something fresh/original, but this/these were a very bad song choice for her. This was more like a very good high school musical performance. "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" (another of my top 10 Elvis favs) began weak and off-key. This was a terrible arrangement. Just terrible. She took a very heartfelt and personal love song and made it a cheesy Broadway song. So over the top.
Linda: Hound Dog - Can't help thinking that a hound dog has more personality. OK - she had some fun. But her version of "fun" is still a bit like watching a cheerleader going through the motions. Give me an H! Give me a D! Give me a real person please. Can't Help Falling in Love - Channeling the younger Priscilla? The looks can't save her on this one. Geez, I just didn't feeeel the song. I just didn't buy the act. I just didn't...enjoy the performance. I understand that she's considered talented vocally, but the package isn't complete. I think there's a good chance that America fell out of love with her last night.
C. Crumpet Swank: Coolia, I too immediately thought of Corey Hart and how superior his gentle, synth-washed verson of Can't Help Falling in Love is. I don't think anyone is prepared to argue that Corey Hart has a better vocal instrument than Katharine, and yet, here we have it--his version of this song is far more touching, persuasive, and emotionally revealing. It goes to show that you can own a strad, but if you don't know how to play it with genuine emotion/connection, the quality of the instrument itself can become almost irrelevant. I felt that Simon was absolutely correct when he said that the number started out on the
right foot--sung, quietly, beautifully--but then just devolved into an overwrought mess. What a disappointment. And let's face it--Hound Dog/All Shook Up was the female equivalent of Taylor's Jailhouse Rock. And that is not a compliment. Dare I say that dear, departed Kellie Pickler would have actually done a better job with this medley? She would have brought real sex appeal, a playful growl, some natural stage movement. Oh Terry, can't you just imagine Kellie looking at us through the lens and telling us we "ain't nothin' but hound dogs," as she swivelled her denim-clad hips across the catwalk? Woof! Woof! That's one cat this dog would definitely chase! [Also, note for Coolia--this medley wasn't a bonafide mash-up in that the two songs were the A and B sides of a double-sided single for Elvis--his first number one--so they are eternally linked anyway.]


Tommy Mottolla

Coolia: I liked that he made some constructive suggestions to the kids, like telling Taylor to sing in a different key. But he didn't impress me with his overall insights or assessments of the contestants. I think he'd love to get his hands on Katharine - in the studio, and elsewhere. She could be his next Mariah.
Nerdia: I thought Tommy came across as instructive and sincere. I generally liked his comments but couldn’t forget Mariah’s claims that she was trapped in his house during their marriage. And THAT scenario made me think of another great guest for American Idol: Phil Spector. The idols could visit him in jail!
C. Crumpet Swank: I thought he was sincere, but there's something a tad oily about him. He looks like a used car salesman from a David Lynch movie. Barry prevails as the Godsend of the season.



Predictions

Coolia: Bottom 2 - Elliott and Katharine, with Katharine going home
Art Haarper: It seems like the judges want to send Katharine home, but I think she's going to win it all.
Nerdia: Bottom 2 – Katharine and Chris, with Katharine going home
Terry: Bottom 2 – Katharine and Elliott, with Katharine going home. Looks like Randy was right after all. One of the boys will win this thing this season.
Linda: Bottom 2 – Katharine and Taylor, with Katharine going home
C. Crumpet Swank: Elliott and Katharine, with Katharine going home.

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