Wednesday, April 26, 2006

American Idol - The Greatest Love Songs Of All?

General Comments

Coolia: I enjoyed this show. I liked seeing the camaraderie between Bocelli and Foster, and Foster especially gave good advice on arrangements, etc. I thought the song choices were mostly good. The only real lowlight was Paula crying. Get a grip, honey!
Terry: First, let me start by saying that my misgivings about this week were (thankfully) unfounded. And, I thought that the rapport between Andrea and David Foster was SO refreshing. And, I think that Foster was second only to Barry with his truly helpful guidance and criticism of the singers. That, too, was refreshing. And, as much as I enjoyed Barry's mucho help with the arrangements and everything, I oh so much more enjoyed Foster's Simon-esque blunt honesty and reactions. I dig that sincerity. His look of "are you kidding me" when Kellie first sang at her rehearsal was simply priceless!

Nerdia: I disagree with Terry and Coolia here. I found David Foster almost insufferable. Foster’s smug comments seemed to insinuate that he and Bocelli felt these singers wouldn’t pass muster in a real-world recording studio. It’s fine if he wants to teach them hard-knocks; it was his tone that I didn’t appreciate. It almost seemed like the judges responded by being all the more harsh on the performances this week and the Foster/Bocelli arrangements.
It was ridiculous when Paula started crying. But Simon was mean to laugh at her during her crying jag. But then it was rude of the show to cut of Simon during his spot-on commentary this week.
C. Crumpet Swank: I'm with Nerdia. I found Mr. Foster annoying and overbearing. What was so refreshing about Barry Manilow was that when he detected weaknesses in either the contestants' singing or the arrangements he would suggest improvements in a positive, upbeat way. David Foster merely sounded irritated when things were not as perfect as he'd like. Barry proved that you can be accurate, constructive and demanding while remaining pleasant. Moreover, the Barry night generated the strongest performances of the season (ten shows and counting), so I think there's something to be said for his methods. Terry equates bluntness with sincerity and I would argue that they are not exactly the same thing. He "digs Foster's sincerity," but Foster was a little too caustic for my taste; doesn't the word sincerity necessarily include a shred of goodwill? I didn't get that from St. Elmo. Compare that to Barry, who was truly sincere. He seemed to be rooting for each contestant while at the same time trying to provide realistic advice which could/would optimize their performances. Foster appeared to me to be the type to relish the role of killjoy. He was a little too interested in serving as an industry gatekeeper. He clearly thinks he has a handle on what constitutes "greatness" and his chief concern seemed to be making snap judgements about whether each of the contestants possessed it or not. Moreover, I did not get any sense that Foster watches the show; therefore, his opinion on whether the contestants have "what it takes" was apparently based on a single meeting with them amid the awkward splendor of the L'Hermitage Hotel. For this reason alone, I don't think his opinion deserves as much credence as Coolia and Terry have bestowed upon it.

Katharine McPhee - "I Have Nothing"

Coolia: Unlike the judges, I thought this was a good performance. First, I was pleased to see her taking our advice and trying to dress sexier. Yellow wouldn't have been my color choice, but it worked ok for her and most importantly she showed off her cleavage. She still wasn't as sexy as Kelly can be in just a tank top, but she was definitely trying. I give her credit for taking on a difficult Whitney song and delivering a solid performance. It wasn't particularly original and she didn't seem to truly feel she would have nothing...NOTHING...but it was good. Note to Ryan: Calling Katherine "Kat" does not make her a mynx.
Art Haarper: Not my kind of music. That was a "great love song"?
Terry: Oh my, she looked stunning...and the word "buxom" comes to mind. Good lord, I think I may want her as much as I want Kellie...well, maybe not quite that much, but you get the drift. I thought it was pretty obvious that she wants this and wants this bad. This was nowhere near as good as Whitney in her prime, but it was pretty darn good nonetheless.

Nerdia: I agree totally, Coolia! Why is this a great love song again? Oh, because David Foster wrote it. Got it. I agree with the judges here that it was really courting danger to try to sing up to Whitney Houston. I also don’t think white girls should wear yellow. It makes them look ill. And it was good to see some cleavage from this dark-hair beauty…but the hair pulled in front again seemed to offset the sexiness. And shots of her Dad in the audience are beginning to creep me out. One good thing about Katharine…she’s had David Foster-esque training from her who? That’s right…her mum. So she could sing scales for his highness.

C. Crumpet Swank: Finally, some sexiness from Katharine. FINALLY!! Each week I think she looks like Katie Holmes' doppelganger (which is, of course, a compliment), but last night she actually reminded me more of Catherine Zeta-Jones, one of the sexiest women alive. Zowee! And, wardrobe, hair and make-up aside, Katharine actually moved sexy. I loved seeing her legs ferociously scissor in and out of that dress. Coolia, the yellow didn't bother me as it did you, but I do admit that another color (emerald green?) might have been even more flattering. Also, she exhibited a vpl on each side which detracted from the look; it also drew attention to the fact that she's got a little too much junk in the trunk. Her butt is probably her least attractive feature and the vpl just drew needless attention to this. Now let's get back to business--the singing. Why did the judges slam her? I was not blown away, but I thought it was a very capable performance with some definite flair. I didn't hear any bungled notes, although the judges said there were many. I Have Nothing is perhaps my favorite Whitney Houston song (the other contenders are Didn't We Almost Have It All and One Moment in Time). I love the sheer bombastic quality of the song; the way it builds and builds and builds. Just when you think it can't get anymore intense it does. It is supremely difficult to sing. And even though Katharine's rendition was not superior to Whitney's, it was quite good and demonstrated her true ability to sing with power, presence and style. Paula was right insofar as Katharine is probably more effective with quieter songs, but I disagree with Randy's opinion that the song was "too big for her," as if she shouldn't have even attempted it. That comment fails to acknowledge the tremendous vocal range Catherine has, as well as her mastery of said range. Again, I would maintain that she's dexterous to the point of almost being facile--which is not a good thing--but nevertheless that facility controverts the idea that any song can be "too big" for her. So, yes, my chief complaint with this performance would be that yet again I was not entirely convinced of an authentic emotional connection to the song. This is the area in which Katharine comes up short for me week after week, even though I am consistently impressed with her "instrument" and her dexterous use of it. And Nerdia--you're right, I don't want to see weepy Mr. McFever anymore either. Oh yes, I have another semantic point to pick with Terry. As much as I enjoyed seeing Katharine's cleavage, I would not qualify it as buxom. In the right outfit, Nerdia is buxom; Katharine just doesn't have the requisite equipment. Lastly, I want to remind you all of the delicious way I Have Nothing dramatically fits into the plot developments of that snoozefest known as The Bodyguard. Remember how the bad guy breaks in and shoots his semen all over Whitney's bed while she's at the recording studio? Of course you do! Well, he leaves a menacing note beside his spooge. It says "You have everything. I have nothing. Die, Marron bitch. Die!" [Whitney's character is the euphoniously named superstar Rachel Marron.] This is my favorite movie note of all time, and I have been known, in fits of glee, to leave its contents on people's answering machines.

Elliott Yamin - "A Song For You"

Coolia: Elliott is really looking a lot better lately. I guess it's a combination of slightly longer hair, the goatee, and the suits (although the tie was inexplicably huge tonight and not properly knotted). I was not familiar with this song and I didn't really connect it with it, although I thought Elliott delivered a fine performance. It was kind of boring for me, so I laughed out loud when I saw tears streaming down Paula's face. I wish Simon had not restained himself and made a comment about her over-reaction. I think Paula's tears and all of the judges' effusive praise should keep Elliott safe this week.
Barb: Sounded good to me.
Art Haarper (on Paula's tears): I guess you had to be there.
Terry: Reminds me of the term, "He cleans up nice." His looks overall are improving with the longer hair, goatee and more flattering outfits, and this was one of his better performances but I still simply do not think that he is any where near as good as Chris, Katherine or even Taylor (or even the robotic Paris). Paula has obviously picked the lock on the medicine cabinet again. Crying!? From this performance!? Get a grip.
Nerdia: I took Nova’s advice this week and closed my eyes during his performance and I was amazed at the dramatic difference it made. I love this song. It was actually written by Leon Russell and has been covered by literally everybody…why Donny Hathaway was getting all the props for it, I don’t get. Did he have the biggest hit with it? I do think it was cool that Elliott called out Hathaway’s kid in the Idol chorus though and think his intro will do well to keep him in another week. I love this song. But I like it better when it’s sung kind of flirty. Flirty and world-weary.

C. Crumpet Swank: Another solid performance from Elliott. But a "master class in singing?" I certainly didn't get that. Hate me for it, but I enjoyed Paula's emotion outburst immensely. And I'm not being ironic/acerbic/condescending. I honestly did. Celebrities always want to appear like they are cool; one doesn't look "cool" doing what Paula did. If I
may use a generality, the only time celebrities want you to see them crying is when they're talking about some painful personal struggle on Barbara Walters or Oprah so that you'll understand they're human too and/or laud/pity them for their heroic response to adversity. To see Paula weep openly because someone's artistry moved her--how can you not love that? [To see Paula weep openly because she's wasted on drugs--let's just say I hope that wasn't the case here.] If I were Elliott and Paula's reaction was indeed drug-free, my goodness, I think that would prove to be one of the greatest moments of my life--past, present, future. Paula's emotional investment in these singers is wonderful. Her desire to see them succeed and to grow as performers is lovely. (Coolia--no Corey Clark jokes, please.)

Kellie Pickler - "Unchained Melody"

Coolia: Kellie had some courage to take on Simon's favorite song, but she failed to deliver. I felt this was the worst performance of the night by far. I didn't even care for the much ballyhooed high note - to me it sounded like she was yodeling. Following Elliott and Katherine, she demonstrated that she's just not in their league, although her charisma is greater than both of theirs put together. Her outfit was too simple, and her hairstyle evoked Cindy Lou Who. As with Katherine's performance, I couldn't feel any emotion behind what is a very emotional song. I think this performance combined with last week's underachievement will cast her into the bottom 3 for the first time, although I still think she'll survive.
Barb: She's got a lot of makeup on tonight.
Art Haarper: That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. C for effort. She needs to put her cowboy hat back on.
Terry: Send in the clowns. Where are the clowns....oh, there's one singing on a American Idol. No, wait, it's just Kellie. Hello!? Can you hear me thru all that make-up!?! However, nice can!! Me likey, me likey! Baby got back!! Now, was for the singing, well, uh....turn out the lights, the party's over. That was just plain bad.
Nerdia: I felt bad for Kellie this week. This song is really hard to do….it’s a delicate tightrope walk between tender and boring. Most singers botch it up. It takes a huge amount of concentration and attention to detail, I think. One of the hardest love songs to pull off…its melody is unchained, you see. Kellie faltered – and I agree with Coolia about the dangers of not expressing connecting emotions (why should I care, then); but again she was adult about hearing negative feedback and thankfully omitted the whiney “I’m sorrys.” Her intro speech about not having a boyfriend was grating and sounded calculated.

C. Crumpet Swank: Oh Kellie. You little trooper. Why on Earth did you pick Simon's favorite song of all time? I thought you were a big Idol fan? How could you have not known that Cowellesque bit of trivia? The problem with this performance was not in the singing, it was in the total emotional vacuum which defined the performance. I maintain that Kellie has an excellent voice; what's hampering her is her lack of connection to the material. Moreover, the ballad genre always seem to trip her up. This girl likes to move and the traditional ballad presentation--standing still behind the microphone--makes her uncomfortable. It's as if all her physical focus is then shifted to the singing which turns it into too much of a procedural effort for her. It's like we can see the wheels turning in her head as she progresses through the song, Okay, now I've got to hit this note, then that note. She said it best herself, it became robotic. Which is bizarre, when you think about it, because there's hardly anything robotic about Kellie's personality--she's upbeat, speaks up, doesn't censor herself. Thus, the way she ends up singing these ballads in robotic fashion is both paradoxical and regrettable. Nerdia--I didn't mind the "no-boyfriend" conversation with Ryan, because I think it's the doggone truth. And remember, Ryan's the one asking the questions.
Besides, it was good to know--Terry and I can make use of that information. Finally--the plain/casual outfit seemed wholly inappropriate to this somber yet ecstatic song.

Paris Bennett - "The Way We Were"

Coolia: I thought Paris was great, even if the song was too old for her. It took guts to take on a Barbra song, and she delivered a confident and compelling performance. Her outfit was still on the frumpy side but her hair was cute.
Barb: She didn't blow me away.
Art Haarper: Not bad.
Domo arigoto Mrs. Roboto. Once again, and as pretty much always, great vocals but just no sincere passion, emotion, connection with the song or the audience. Call it Streisand-lite.
Nerdia: I agree with Terry…sounded like a robot version. Does she have to belt everything? Even her soft-intro sounded loud to me. Her whole performance was a Gladys Night rip-off.

C. Crumpet Swank: I've become more and more of a Paris fan as the show has progressed, but this performance left me cold. As much as I was reminded of how much I like both the tone and power of her voice, this rendition failed the song insofar as it is fundamentally a bittersweet love song, one tinged with both regret and longing. Then again, perhaps I am tying it too closely to the content of the film for which it was written. But, and this is a very big but, if one chooses to interpret the emotional thrust of a song in a form different than the original's, then one better offer something as substantial and effective, and in this capacity I believe Paris failed unequivocally. Think of the ache in Barbra Streisand's voice as she sings this, and you'll come to agree with me.

Taylor Hicks - "Just Once"

Coolia: I love this song and thought it was a great choice for Taylor. Parts of the song were boring, but toward the end he really put his own personality into it. He showed passion and creativity, while looking dashing in his suit. I was surprised the judges were so hard on him. I don't think America will be. I cast 5 votes for Taylor - phone lines were busy but not impossible.
Barb: He picked it up at the end. I wasn't really impressed.
Art Haarper: I kinda liked it, but I like lounge singers.
Weak, pitchy for the most part, nice little itsy bit there towards the end, but without question one of his worst performances to date.
Nerdia: I love this song, too. A lot. James Ingram really nails it. Taylor seems strangely dispassionate this week with it and sang it so straightforward I was almost disappointed. He’s also looking chubbier. Put the Twinkie down, Taylor. Step off of the Twinkie.
C. Crumpet Swank: Coolia was thinking with her vagina, not her ears, when she wrote the above comments. This was easily the worst performance of the evening. Oddly enough, much of what I said about Kellie earlier pertains to Taylor too. Taylor also seems confiined by ballads. When his desire to move is squashed by the character of the song he becomes stranded to a certain degree. I partly agree with Coolia--this should have been a good choice for Taylor. James Ingram has a deeply soulful, impassioned way of singing which would seem to jibe nicely with Taylor's style and emotional clarity. So why did he seem so uncomfortable? True, he doesn't want to just stand behind the mic and sing. His impulse is to work the room, to move across the stage, to offer up a little jive, etc., which, unfortunately for Taylor, you just can't do that with every song. But his being uncomfortable with this song speaks to more than these factors. This particular performance also laid bare that Taylor often has trouble reaching and sustaining notes. Mind you, I'm not trying to bury him--the man has undeniable gifts and has been one of my favorites this season. I aver that the strengths of his singing are three-fold: his emotional connection to the material; his genuine charisma; and his scattish/improvisational delivery. These strengths are all connected and reinforce each other. Indeed, they are compelling proof of his talent. But in an uptempo arrangement they also do much to obscure the fact that at this point in the competition every other singer--even Kellie--can tackle individual notes better than he. So put your knees together, Coolia, and get out the Q-Tips.

Chris Daughtry - "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"

Coolia: I thought this was much better than the original version, but then I hate the original version. Chris delivered a strong vocal, probably the best performance of the night.
Barb: He nailed it.
Art Haarper: That was the second worst of the night, after Katharine's.
Terry: Once again, best of the night. And, dare I say, brilliant. Even better than the sappy original. He filled this with angst and destroyed any sense of sappy-ness in the song. And, no one can say that he didn't step outside the box (that so many seem to have/want to put him in). He showed that he's willing to adapt and learn (I LOVED that he followed Foster's advice and sang while laying on the floor...and I think that helpful hint showed in his performance).
Nerdia: I have always hated this song and I groaned when I heard Chris say he would do it. Like Terry said: sappy, also sentimental, amateurish, not interesting, and is it me, but does it feel slightly condescending. In any case, I liked Chris’ rendition. Loved the guitars on stage with him. I too liked the bit where David made Chris sing lying on the floor. That was a funny and interesting vocal lesson; but isn’t “singing from your diaphragm” like the first thing you’re supposed to learn about singing??? Is Chris more like that gay cowboy kid from the try-outs than we thought?

C. Crumpet Swank: Oh Terry--one of the reasons you liked this is because he "filled it with angst." Enough of the angst. That's all he ever fills any song with. Week after week after week. Can there be no flicker of joy or light in this man's singing? I'm not asking for Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, but please, please, please let him show us that he can understand a song in terms other than brooding. As an individual performance--solid and impressive; as one piece in the overall pie--disappointing.

Andrea Bocelli and David Foster

Coolia: They were entertaining and seemed to have a nice rapport. David could even make blind jokes at Andrea's expense. David especially had specific advice for the contestants. I loved that they made Chris sing while lying on his back. And David's "what the hell" look when Kellie started singing was priceless.
Nerdia: So David Foster: aren’t you the shit? When you noted that there’s a fine line between great and mediocre, that struck a chord. Because that’s just what I thought when I heard the St. Elmos Fire Theme. Seriously, you stagehoged the training from Bocelli, who was skiving me out with his blind-ogling of the female contestants all nite. And I have to admit, it was hard for me to appreciate Bocelli because I was hearing disparaging comments (like Popera singer) about him all night from my viewing-partner.


Coolia: Bottom 3: Katharine, Kellie, and Elliott, with Katharine going home
Art Haarper: Chris or Katharine going home
Barb: Bottom 3: Katharine, Kellie, and Elliott, with Elliott going home
Terry: Bottom 3: Kellie, Taylor, Elliott. Going home: Kellie
Nerdia: Katharine, Kellie, Paris – Paris going home.

C. Crumpet Swank: Katharine, Kellie, Paris--Paris going home.

C. Crumpet sincerely hopes to see Nerdia in all her buxom splendor on the night of the Finale.

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