Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mama Mia! Is Freddie Mercury Spinning in his grave?

General Comments

Terry: Overall, I pretty much got what I expected...mediocrity. Somehow, despite the fact that I expected this I was so very disappointed because I had sincere hopes for some real surprises. Didn't happen. Sigh!
Nerdia: This episode just reinforced to me how horribly lacking these singers are at the end of this season. Sure, some have charisma, some can hold a note; but none can hold a candle to a talent like Freddie Mercury. Most of Queen was butchered last night. Lyrics were screamed, lacking the nuance of Freddie’s singing when all the tender soft moments of the songs were removed. His effortless vocal flourishes were replaced by lame runs and the dexterity with which he put together surprising musical movements within songs was ripped apart and patched together jarringly. In some songs, all the tragedy of his wailing delivery was completely ignored. The more I let this episode percolate in my mind, the sadder I feel that we’ve lost Freddie.
Coolia: Funny...I thought this week was a big improvement over the last two weeks. I guess it's because I'm not a big Queen fan, although I do have a lot of respect for them. I don't have personal connections to their songs so didn't feel they were butchered. Overall, I was entertained. I agree that the judges should probably have emphasized that it's extremely challenging to do a Freddie song - like they always mention when a contestant does a Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, or Celine Dion song. Freddie should be in that category of uniquely talented vocal stylists. Perhaps it's unfair to have a Queen night, if they would never have a Celine night. We can't judge these kids too harshly for not being Freddie Mercury, as there was only one Freddie.
C. Crumpet Swank: Nerdia, I really think you're being a little melodramatic and not taking into serious consideration that the performers are stuck performing within a 90 second format. NINETY SECONDS! Can anyone reallly do justice to Bohemian Rhapsody in ninety seconds? It's what, a six or seven minute song? They are forced to cut and paste, to "butcher" the material, because the producers are forcing them to sing, in this case, songs by a prog-rock group who wrote long songs as a matter of course.

Bucky Covington – “Fat Bottomed Girls”

Terry: I still don't care for his road-grating gravely voice, but this was by far his best performance to date. Better than average karaoke, but no where near good enough to be this far along on American Idol.
Nerdia: I thought he did okay this week: his teeth are whiter and less distracting and he was enunciating. Maybe the teeth-whitening helped. I didn’t get any of the wink wink playfulness of the original, though.
Coolia: His voice reminds me of a car that needs an oil change. It's like gears grinding together. That being said, it was a fun choice for him, but it was "just aiight".
C. Crumpet Swank: I thought he did a fine job; it's such a good-natured, rollicking song and that's his personality in a nutshell. Randy said it best--"I was entertained." I am shocked to admit that Bucky is growing on me from week to week. He is also getting better looking as the show progresses. Someone needs to investigate whether he's had Da Vinci veneers put on, because there's been some serious improvement in the dental department since when first we met.

Ace Young – “We Will Rock You”

Terry: Turn out the lights. The party's over. That wasn't singing. That was melodic loud talking. That so did not work. That was terrible. However, excellent job of clapping for himself. A definite A+ performance there. Whatever. See ya!
Nerdia: Was that a Willie Nelson reference I just read? He tried; he came up short. This is a rock anthem. He seemed too tender for it. He didn’t rock me in the least. I was annoyed that he clapped for himself and was so haughtily dismissive of Simon’s comments about this performance being lite-rock. This was like asking Justin Timberlake to sing Juke Box Hero. Can’t sing it; probably doesn’t even “get it.”
Coolia: Simon's comment about "we will rock you gently" was right on. Ace didn't capture the anthemic urgency of the song. But he did look hot in the leather pants.
C. Crumpet Swank: He needed to be way rockier. This is such a ferocious song and he didn't amp it up enough. He was more forceful vocally than he has been in the past (a change of pace for which he should be given props), but not enough to serve the song properly. He was also seriously undermined by having the chorus started by three chicks; that is certainly not the roar that the song demands, not unless the three chicks in question are Ann Wilson, Exene Cervenka and Toni Childs. The backup singers' underwhelming vocals diminished the impact of the song and thereby one's overall sense of Ace's performance. But it must be said--his appearance was stellar. Last night's "look" was the single hottest look of any male idol contestant in the history of the show.

Kellie Pickler – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Terry: Well she shook her money-maker oh so nice in the intro portion. Sadly, that was the best part (I will rewind and enjoy again shortly). Uh, when did she become a zombie witch? (I didn't know that was possible) Of course, she was the hottest undead I've ever seen, but let's keep it real. That was by far the worst she had ever looked on this show. She chose a song that was WAY beyond her vocals and she sang it poorly. Interestingly, however, it was still not as bad as I had expected. I'm conflicted.
Nerdia: Terry, your conflict makes me LOL. She was brave to do this…and the whole look was inventive; plus she did sing it with gusto (which the song requires) so I give her kudos for that. What has come to bother me this morning is that the song is architecturally constructed with separate rock-operatic movements. And they aren’t arbitrarily glued together. Amateurs can’t do this. By cutting it up and pasting together the more dramatic parts, the songs sounded insane, schizophrenic. It takes a real artist to string disparate movements together like that. You can’t tamper with it and squeeze it down into a showcase song. It made no musical sense. The song was raped.
Coolia: The opening of the song, with the lighting and the black outfit made her look like a floating head. It was laugh out loud weird. I feel like Kellie was brave to do the song and she did show that she can do more than country, however I think this song should have been retired after Constantine's brilliant performance of it last year. They should retire certain songs that belong to certain past idols, the way sports teams retire jerseys.
C. Crumpet Swank: The song was raped. Oh please, Nerdia--have you stopped shaving your armpits, too? Spare me the melodrama and kindly refer back to my opening comments about the unfortunate necessity of compressing songs as a function of the show's format. And yes, Kellie did look odd--like some Barbarella style dominatrix, but I thought it suited the fundamental wackiness of this song. I disagree with Terry--I thought the vocals were fine. Nothing that's going to make me forget Freddie Mercury, but capable nevertheless. What I liked was that Kellie was so game. It was brave to attempt this and I think she pulled it off. And she seems really comfortable working the stage, the audience, and the camera--perhaps better than anyone in the competition at this point. Rock on, my winsome hillbilly!

Chris Daughtry – “Innuendo”

Terry: VERY disappointing. Quite frankly, THE most disappointing performance of the night. His vocals were great as always. The song choice was terrible. His vocals were great. But, quite honestly, I didn't care all that much about his great vocals because they were overshadowed by a bad song. What was he thinking? I agree with Simon completely. This could and should have been another "moment" for him (like with his Fuel choice) and he totally let his slip through his fingers. Great vocals, bad song, ultimately disappointing because he could have truly been great. And, he made his first "snide" remark to Simon...and that was just not endearing.
Nerdia: God, this song was botched up. This is a fabulous song. It has Latin moments, rocking moments, hard moments, tender moments. Please don’t judge the song by this piss-poor take on it. You will be shocked to hear the original. It ranks up with Bohemian Rhapsody for surprising musical turns. Chris took ONE PART of it and sang it like a Metallica song. I listened to the song again in my car this morning. It’s a tragedy that this song’s reputation could be ruined by American Idol. I want to SCREAM!
Coolia: Chris is boring me to tears at this point, and I am speaking as a metal fan and someone who's attended 9 out of 10 ozzfests. He should be my favorite, but lately I don't even look forward to his performances. As Simon said, this week was made for him to shine, and he blew it by singing a song very few people knew, not making us want to know the song (although Nerdia's description makes me want to hear the original), and delivering another funeral performance. Chris, "Six Feet Under" isn't on anymore - there is no market for these dirges.
C. Crumpet Swank: The only thing I can add to your collectively perfect evaluation of his squandered opportunity is that he should have most definitely sang We Are the Champions once Taylor gave it up.

Katharine McPhee – “Who Wants to Live Forever”

Terry: Bright red shirt with way too much make-up....she looked like a very pretty Korean crack-whore (Cartman from South Park would have been so proud!). Really good voice. Came very close to pulling it off, but didn't quite make it Very close but just not there. VERY good but not great.
Nerdia: This is an absolutely heartbreaking song by Queen, written for the movie Highlander. The super-hero in this sci-fi movie is immortal. The collage of scenes that under this song depict how awful it is for the character to be immortal because he watches everyone he loves die over the decades. It turns him into a bitter character by the 20th century. Freddie’s performance is full of heartache and you feel raw pain when he wails at the end. It’s masterful and poignant. Katharine smiled through the whole song, recalling similar brainless performances by last season’s winner. This wasn’t a rainbow, happy song. Her outfit, her hair, her expressions, the complete lack of emotion in her performance was ridiculous. The song was butchered by rainbows and smiley faces. Aaaaghhh!!!
Coolia: I thought she gave a strong vocal performance, but I agree there was no real emotion behind it. She's still technically one of the better singers, although she has about as much sex appeal as Bea Arthur.
C. Crumpet Swank: Hey Coolia, how do you know there's not a sizable contigency of us who came of age five-fingering the daddy-pole to images of Bea Arthur as she implored us in her wondrous gravel to give it to her, harder, harder? If you can fantasize about Nasty Jack, don't be dissing our girl Bea. I think a more apt comparison would be to say that Katharine has about as much sex appeal as Jon Lovitz. I am in agreement with Terry's assessment, that last night Katharine "came very close to pulling it off, but didn't quite make it Very close but just not there. VERY good but not great." I watched the show twice last night, and realized that I was more impressed with the vocal the first time I heard it. The second time around I picked up on some of the slight pitch issues to which Randy and Simon alluded. She went sharp a few times.

Elliott Yamin – “Somebody to Love”

Terry: He gave it his all...I'm just not sure it was good enough. It was "good" but not great. The song was beyond his power/him. It was simply too big for his voice. But, he did better than I expected, so there's that going for him.
Nerdia: I think he sang Somebody to Love, but the fact that I can’t remember says it all. He mugs too much. Looks like he’s trying too hard.
Coolia: This was a good but unspectacular performance. He looked a little better than usual, maybe because his hair has grown out a bit. He's still not compelling in the least.
C. Crumpet Swank: Nerdia, I don't think he mugs at all. Zilch. Zip. Zero. That's part of his charm. In fact, I daresay that only Taylor bests him in terms of generating an honest connection to the material he sings. A few weeks back I would have put Chris ahead of Elliott in this respect as well, but now I'm thinking Chris seems to be on emotional auto-pilot; or rather, what came across as emotion previously is really more of a convincing stylistic tic. Coolia, you're right--a good, but not spectacular performance from Elliott. The final moments were quite rousing, though. He seemed really free and powerful. I wish he had been able to produce that effect throughout the entire song.

Hicks – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

Terry: Good move changing songs (and I will forgive his failed first attempt to "rock" and missing his first attempt to kick over the mic stand...he stuck with it and ultimately kicked that sucker over!). So-so vocals but very entertaining performance. Sorry, definitely good enough to stick around to next week, but no where near good enough to win Idol.
Nerdia: The only performance I thought was engaging at the end of the day. His growls, going in different directions with the notes (going up instead of down sometimes), his spastic dancing were a relief in the sea of staid, lifeless performances. He has a sense of fun joie de vie that fit with Queen, a rock band less angry and more life-affirming than most.
Coolia: I was hoping Taylor would do this song! He was awesome - totally fun, totally watchable. His awkwardness, as exemplified by the failed microphone kick, makes him endearing to me - I felt the same way about Jon Peter Lewis, the pen salesman. I liked that he put an Elvis-spin on the song and moved around with energy.
C. Crumpet Swank: Very entertaining and probably among the top three vocals of the evening. It definitely got better as it went along. The ending was great. He loses a few points for the failed microphone kick, and several points for the goofy, angled jump/run up and down the steps; it was extremely hammy and far too deliberate. I like Taylor's physical goofiness only when it's a natural, spontaneous extension of his singing. Anything planned--like that dreadful step move--simply comes across as crappy shtick and vote-begging. Taylor, please take note.

Bennett – “The Show Must Go On”

Terry: What the hell was she wearing? She looked like a cross between a Dominatrix and a Bounty Hunter (from the movies). However, this was by far her most flattering hairdo to date (she actually looked a bit cute). I did NOT buy that as a rock song/performance. But, it was a great rocking Broadway/Showtunes performance.
Nerdia: This song, along with Innuendo, were recorded on Freddie’s last album with Queen. In fact, this was the last song on the last album. I listened to it again this morning. Freddie doesn’t scream the lyrics at all. Paris obviously didn’t get this song any more than Katharine got hers. Gone is all the pathos of Freddie’s swan song. Gone the heartbreaking wail at the end of this song, a song about continuing to trudge on while facing death (Freddie was dying of AIDS at the time). What would Paris know of this? This brings up another point: these singers are even lousy actors…they couldn’t perform a theatrical piece to save their skins. Queen was like calculus for these pre-algebrarians. They didn’t get it. And it upsets me that Queen was so misrepresented. It was worse than Musak in an elevator.
Coolia: Paris and Kellie should not share clothes.
C. Crumpet Swank: Amen. What was Paris thinking? Didn't she see that Kellie was wearing pretty much the same outfit and realize, Gee, Kellie has a 9.5 body and I have a 5. Maybe I shouldn't wear the same get-up? Coolia--you're right, the hair looked nice. It was flattering and not remotely ghetto, for once. I didn't know the song, and even though Paris didn't look that good, I did appreciate the space-age look melded with the rock-style performance. It was very Tina Turner circa Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The accompaniment was too loud, however. I had trouble hearing Paris through the volume of the guitars. That's a shame, because I think her vocal was pretty damn solid.

Final Comments

Nerdia: I haven’t been so upset at mediocrity in a long time.
C. Crumpet Swank: I'll buy you some tissues.
Coolia: I just don't feel as passionately about the Queen butchery. I found it to be an entertaining evening of good rock songs. I think, on the positive side, this show introduces Queen to a gigantic new audience. Perhaps some of them will have enjoyed the performances enough to want to discover what the real thing sounded like.
C. Crumpet Swank: Still I need to know: why hasn't there been a Pat Benatar Night? Also, there should be a Carpenter's Night, even a Carly Simon Night. They have wide enough repertoires.


Terry: Bottom 3 – Ace, Bucky, Elliott, with Ace going home
Nerdia: Bottom 3 – Ace, Katharine, Bucky, with Ace going home
Coolia: Bottom 3 – Ace, Bucky, Elliott, with Ace going home
C. Crumpet Swank: Bottom 3 – Paris, Ace, Elliott, with Paris going home

Read more about it - A Butchering Queen Blog

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