Friday, May 23, 2008

American Idol - David vs David

So, my lack of regular blogging on Idol this season can be chalked up to a couple things: (1) busyness in other areas and (2) watching the show felt like homework this season. And it was homework I wasn't being graded on.

Last season's battle between Jordin and Blake didn't turn me on either. I did enjoy Blake's originality but it's not like I wanted to buy his CD. This season I had nobody to root for once Amanda and Danny were eliminated. I miss the days of Fantasia, when true talent triumphed over packaging (how great was it to see her strutting around that stage like a woman possessed by the spirit of funk with the bright red hair the other week). I miss the goofiness of Taylor Hicks. I miss the wit of Kelly Pickler. And yes, I miss the smoldering looks of Constantine Maroulis.

So let's talk about the finale - the battle of the Davids.

I do like David Archuleta. At times his "oh gosh" Leave it to Beaver manner gets on my nerves, but mostly his humility seems genuine. I think he's got a great voice and good stage presence, though he occasionally looks like a deer in the headlights, or a kid who'd rather just be in the school musical. His performance of Imagine was probably the best performance all season, in my opinion. He's got the perfect teen idol appeal - he's totally ready for the cover of Bop! magazine. He's harmless and cuddly. You kind of just want to poke him in the belly and hear him giggle like the Pillsbury dough boy.

Then there's David Cook. I should like him - after all, he's a "rocker" who hails from the great state of Missouri (like me, Vincent Price, and Scott Backula). But I have found him to be a fake rocker from the get-go. He favors that sludgy rock in the Nickelback, Three Doors Down, Switchfoot vein which I just am not into. Others are - clearly - since these bands do have an audience and Cook garnered 55% of the Idol vote vs 45% for Archuleta. I have found him to be smug throughout the season, as Simon pointed out several times. This could be shyness masked as arrogance, but either way it's unattractive. It does seem odd that the much sexier Michael Johns finished way down in the pack, and Cook survived. The difference, I guess, would be Cook's "original" arrangements. Since Ryan mumbled the introduction "here's David Cook singing Chris Cornell's version of Billy Jean" most viewers felt that David really changed up that song. This isn't David's fault, you might say, but I would argue it was a calculated move to pick an already established unusual version of a song and bank on the fact that most of the audience won't realize you weren't the one who made it funky. But hey, everybody uses whatever tools they have in the game - Brooke turns on the water works, Chikezie tries sass, Kristy Lee dresses like a ho.

To be fair to Mr. Cook, he did have a original version of "Hello", which was good, if you can manage to get the blind girl sculpting Lionel Richie's head in clay out of your head while you listen to it (I couldn't). And his rendition of "The Music of the Night" showed that he does have a nice range and a pleasing tone to his voice. That's fine, but as rockers go, he's not in the Daughtry or Bo Bice league. I guess the good takeaway from this result show it that there is still an audience for rock music and it can triumph over pop treacle.

The two-part finale was awash in a sea of cheese. On Tuesday, the boxing match metaphor was dragged out to death, like
a dog collar match between Greg Valentine and Rowdy Roddy Piper. Simon's scorecard had Archuleta as a clear winner in all 3 rounds, and he declared the night a knockout. Note how he backpedalled on Wednesday with the usual "when I heard it back on tape, it sounded different" so that he wouldn't look like he'd made an error when Cook was declared champ. Well, I did watch it on TV, and I thought Archuleta won. His version of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was powerful and he managed to bring something new to that old chestnut. Meanwhile, Cook just proved he wasn't Bono on the U2 tune. I'd probably give Cook the edge on the 2nd round battle of terrible Idol singles. Both songs were dreadful, but at least Cook's was a bit catchier. Then the third round - Archuleta smartly reprised Imagine, while Cook trotted out a dated Collective Soul tune "The World I Know" because he wanted to do something new. That song is many things, but it is not new and his rendition didn't freshen it up.

Wednesday's spectacular had some cool moments. I actually enjoyed Brooke White's duet with Graham Nash, even though I usually want to punch Brooke in the face. It was a nice quiet moment. Archuleta sounded glorious on "Apology" (was he telling his overbearing dad "it's too late to apologize...too late"?) and definitely outsang his duet partner in OneRepublic, the cameos by my beloved Matt Rogers and the fresh and funny Michaelah Gordon as commentators.

Low points included, but were not limited to: the shameless plugging of The Love Guru which went on way too long (although that Mariska Hargitay chant is hilarious), Donna Summer being unable to descend a staircase without two attendants (at least pick beefy guys and put them in loincloths and carry her down on a throne if you have to do that), Cook hogging the stage from ZZ Top when he's not worthy to comb their beards, the idol kids being made to dance through Donna Summer and George Michael medleys (Brooke was so awkward, and Amanda scowled all night), Randy's pimp suit, The Jonas Brothers resurrecting the specter of Hanson, and George Michael looking like Dodi Fayed and struggling through one of my favorite tunes "Praying for Time" (he blamed a cold, like so many Idol contestants before him). The inclusion of oldsters like ZZ Top, Donna Summer, George Michael, Bryan Adams only underscores the point that's been made about the dated mentors dragging the show down. Here's hoping they bring in some younger talent next year, although I probably wouldn't tune in to Miley Cyrus night.

In the end at our Idol finale party where we were watching the pre-recorded show, our Tivo cut out right as Ryan said, "and the winner is David--" It's probably just as well. I wouldn't have been too interested in his victory lap or in hearing that Idol single again. Am I done watching Idol? Probably not. I still find it interesting from a cultural studies perspective, even if it rarely produces music I want to buy.

For those of you in LA who want to see a real rocker instead of a fake rocker - Amanda Overmyer is playing the Whisky tonight.

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