Thursday, March 13, 2008

American Idol - C. Crumpet Swank Attends the Live Top 12 Show

Coolia very kindly invited me to join her for the historic taping of American Idol 7: The Top Twelve Sing the Lennon/McCartney Songbook [a.k.a. AI7: TTTSLMS]. We camped out in front of the iconic CBS Television Studio in beautiful Hollywood, CA on a breezy, sunshiney 70 degree afternoon. Coolia arrived first and impressively claimed position #31 in line—a very choice square of sidewalk. Ever the tardy gentleman, I was precluded from arriving at the same time by some business on the Westside.

During our wait we became best buds with two nice girls from Santa Cruz who flew down for the taping. The four of us bonded over celebrity trade rags. We contemplated the apocalyptic import of the appalling Kardashian girls having their own television show for no apparent reason, and collectively chortled at the sight of K-Fed caught on camera playing golf in a nice horizontally-striped polo shirt, all the better to show off his recent 30 lb. weight gain. The turbulent existence of Heidi Montag was explained to me as well.


Not that we had to look inside US magazine for some outlandish pseudo-celebrities to admire. Who was that woman just ahead of us in line—she looked so familiar? Tell me if you know her: sixty years old, frosted rooster ’do (not unlike Cher’s famous coif from 1979), huge earrings, garish make-up. Don’t know her? Maybe a description of the outfit will help…a truly layered ensemble, the foundation of which was a Capri style black body suit which did little to camouflage the extra 30-40 lbs. being carried around the lady’s apple-shaped waist. The catsuit was layered with a very sensible denim mini and a black cobweb style top (I’m not sure what the right word is—large lace; macramé; fishnet?). Very Madonna 1984, but without creative flourishes. Oh, and of course, black boots.


Although I couldn’t rightfully call her “Leatherface,” unlike some celebs (did you catch Cameron Diaz at this year’s Oscars?), I do feel comfortable referring to her forthwith as “Bacon-chest.”


There were countless numbers of Lana Clarkson’s (R.I.P.) too--fading starlet types who still shop in the junior departments because they’re thin (irrespective of their looming 45th birthdays). You know them--the trim bitchy gals who fancy themselves soignée, yet feel compelled to wear too much make-up and must have their straw-like hair colored and streaked so that it is that perfectly fake looking combination of red, blonde and brunette that they think is hip/chic. What a sad bunch.


Once we made it inside we were relieved to find ourselves among those offered actual seats, as opposed to a spot in the new mosh pit at the front of the theatre. While I wouldn’t say we were exhausted from waiting for admission, the thought of standing for two more hours, regardless of how close it put us to Amanda Overmyer’s torturous spittle, was not appealing. Plus, even those people in the very last row had a magnificent view of everything. Contrary to what you see on TV the Idol soundstage is not big at all—smaller than most junior high school auditoriums, in fact. Call it the “Price is Right” effect in terms of editing and camera angles.


By the way, Ryan Seacrest is one lucky bastard. The show has permitted him to launch himself into stratospheric riches and media ubiquity and most of what he does is read from a teleprompter. Oh yes, and he gets shepherded around the stage to his every cue by a gruff (lesbian?) showrunner with whom he playfully wrestles during commercial breaks, right up until 2 seconds before the broadcast returns—that Ryan, what a card!


Unfortunately we were not seated next to anyone famous, or even quasi-famous--unlike the last time Coolia and I attended, an occasion on which I had the pleasure of sitting beside Simon’s harridan-voiced, but comely, girlfriend Terri, who was only two seats removed from Simon and the other judges. Our friends from Santa Cruz, however, had the distinct pleasure of sitting directly behind Bacon-chest and only one row behind none other than…drum roll please… Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, and Mama Kardashian (!), who was wearing an awesome, canary-yellow smock dress that was to die for, but which, in typical Hollywood fashion, was too youthful for her to carry off.


Regardless of their fashion choices, these three wannabes got plenty of up-close-and-personal love from Ryan, Simon and Paula during one of the commercial breaks (Randy wisely abstained). Ryan is chummy with them because they and he owe part of their livelihood to the shilling of E! and I guess he has roped Simon and Paula into their Armenian vortex as well. Personally, I think that any woman who deliberately misspells her daughters already insufferable names, Kourtney and Khloe, deserves to be executed (as well as the offensively named daughters, of course). That would leave only Kim standing, who rightfully spells her name with a K, but I’m sure she can go on making sex tapes without the help and guidance of her mother and sisters.


Now, on to the performances…


SYESHA gave another solid, but buzz-lacking performance. I turned to Coolia and immediately predicted that she (Syesha, not Coolia!) would be in the Bottom Three. Her position as the first singer would not help her fortunes on a night of twelve performances, especially if she didn’t turn it out, which indeed she didn’t.


CHIKEZIE redeemed himself for all his unmemorable vocals, obnoxious antics and poor sartorial choices over the last few weeks. He really connected with the live audience on this one and it was a pleasure to see how jazzed up he was at the judges’ unanimous embrace of his performance. He took a song I didn’t know and turned it into a contagious joy.


CARLY knocked it out of the park. It turned out to be the best performance of the night, and, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best performance of any song by any contestant during the entirety of AI7 thus far. And I’m not even that much of a Carly fan.


DAVID HERNANDEZ made the worst song choice of the night. He is the best male singer in the Top Twelve, but what an error in judgment on this one! In the hopes of establishing some hetero cred amidst the news of his fully-nude shenanigans as a professional stripper/lap-dancer at a gay club, he felt compelled to choose a song about falling in love with a girl, but instead of picking something that was going to show off his stellar R&B voice, he selected the vocally inconsequential “I Saw Her Standing There” and then proceeded to muck it up by smothering it in vocal embellishments (a very gay thing to do!) to prove his vocal talents. The judges rightfully pointed out this latter offense, and I again turned to Coolia and predicted that he would be in the Bottom Three, barring outright disasters from the remaining contestants. As much as I blanched at the thought of him going home as soon as Wednesday, I knew that he would take it like a man—after all, he already has had experience as a bottom.


RAMIELE has a warm, strong, technically impressive voice which will sound great when recorded, but I just don’t think she has enough emotional grist to transform any song into something special. Her demeanor when not on stage just reinforces this conviction. She’s a 17 year-old who has the emotional sophistication of a 10 year-old and it shows when she sings. Listen to Bette Midler’s version of “In My Life” and you will see what an impact some interpretive skill can have in tackling this song.


JASON For all the reasons which I will soon enumerate that make Brooke White such a refreshing blast of air (and formidable contender) the same should apply to Jason Castro, yet I feel like the symmetry is waning. Four weeks into the competition there is a same-iness to what he’s doing that is less compelling than what his female cognate, Brooke, is offering us. He needs to steal a page from her playbook.


BROOKE is my favorite of the season and I hope she wins. If she keeps up with performances like “Let It Be” (and all her others preceding), she might very well win, despite not having a strong voice in terms of multi-octave range or the ability to sustain long notes. What she does have going for her is manifold: a genuine connection with her material; a wonderfully scratch/raspy quality that sneaks into her phrasing; musical chops (that ole guitar, piano and glockenspiel talent); a pretty face, great legs, and no (apparent) vanity; plus an endearing presence when not singing (e.g., the clip “packages”; listening to the judges’ criticism; etc.). She has not made one false move yet. And I love the notion that an American Idol contestant doesn’t have to have the biggest voice in the world in order to win. Let’s give the brilliance of such “small-voiced” but amazing singers such as Suzanne Vega and Julie London their due. Heck, even Billie Holiday was “small-voiced” when set beside Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Go Brooke, go Brooke!!!


MICHAEL Simon really got it right. Michael Johns is totally coasting and needs to step up his game. Or maybe he can’t? He’s so ripe with promise, but has yet to WOW us. That snippet of his startling “Bohemian Rhapsod” during Hollywood week has left us wanting more, but not getting it…yet. The women of America want to know, as is their just due, will he be able to deliver? Coolia has said that she thinks Michael is better suited to fronting a band, rather than being a solo star, and I think she’s right. It doesn’t mean that band singers are less charismatic or less-talented; it’s just that they exude a certain energy which profits from interaction with the band. He will have to relinquish his front-runner status unless he gives us a little sumpin’ sumpin’ soon.


AMANDA really worked the stage and made you think, I could watch her do her thing for an entire evening. A lot of contestants can’t claim that. (Would you really want to attend a Ramiele-only concert? I didn’t think so.) Amanda’s voice is gravelly great, but I still question whether she has sufficient interpretive and technical skills to liberate her from doing the same type of song over and over. I disagree with Simon’s opinion that this performance was weaker than last week’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” She was far more focused in her energy and delivery this week. It remains to be seen how long she can survive, since she is perhaps the most “love-her-or–loathe-her” contestant. And if Carly continues to so effortlessly offer up amazing renditions of rock songs, Amanda may have some of her votes siphoned away by the bonnie lass.


DAVID COOK I really liked the inventive, Depeche Mode-worthy arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” and his spirited delivery of it, but with each passing week he strikes me as more and more of a poseur. The judges were all over Robbie Carrico’s ass for not being a “real” rocker, but is David Cook a real rocker? He’s more like a rock avatar, if you ask me. He fits the part, but isn’t the real deal. He’s in love with the notion of being a rock star, without organically being one. Does that make sense? That issue aside, I do have to say that on this number he showed some vocal prowess that we hadn’t heard before (sustained sung—as opposed to yelled--notes; key changes: etc.,) but still, I think his voice lacks a certain distinctive tone compared to Chris Daughtry, Bo Bice, or even Phil Stacey for that matter.


KRISTY LEE Poor Kristy Lee!!! She takes the judges advice to heart (“Kristy darling, you would be wise to pursue the county angle”) and then all three rip her a new one with the most collectively negative criticism of the night for doing so. Let’s lay the blame where it should be—on Ricky Minor for that maniacally fast arrangement. Even Jennifer Beals wouldn’t have been able to keep up with that. Given the ridiculous speed, I thought Kristy did a decent job, but she did come across as especially nervous. Then again, who wouldn’t, trying to keep up with that rollercoaster of an arrangement? This particular song aside, Kristy does seem to have the greatest lack of confidence among all the Top 12 contenders, and she needs to get over that quick if she’s going to fight her way to the middle of the pack. At this point it seems inconceivable that she could rise higher than 8th or 9th position. As to whether the song she chose even lends itself to any type of county arrangement, I have to disagree with the judges’ insistence that it doesn’t. It does, just not such a frenetic one.


DAVID ARCHULETA And so the boy wonder stumbleth… Finally some deflation of all the hoopla and an opportunity to let this truly be a competition. Amen.


The voting numbers were flashed one last time, we were forced to “fake clap” to address some technical issues, and the lights went up…


On the way out we had the pleasure of chatting briefly with Ross the Intern who has maintained the weight loss he achieved on Celebrity Fit Club. He looked great. I told him he looked fabulous, and I meant it. He can now give any twink a run for his money-- he’s finally “the bottom with quite a bottom” that he knew he could be! Plus, he was just as sweet in person as you would expect.


I also got some love from Chikezie’s Mom. When we were filing out of the studio and walking back to our cars I told her her son was great that night (which he was!) and then asked her who she thought might be going home, since undoubtedly her boy was safe. Ever the Nigerian diplomat, she politely declined to hazard a guess. What a lady!


In closing I would like to share with you my favorite memory of AI7: TTTSLMS. Midway through the show, in a rare moment of total studio silence, I yelled out “Paula, we love you!” and she very graciously turned around and said to me, “I love you too!” Ask Coolia--that ain’t nothing but the truth. I felt as if I could dance like there was no tomorrow… And indeed, I still am.

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