Wednesday, April 30, 2008

American Idol Top 5 Recap - I'm Bored... I Said

It was Neil Diamond night on "Idol," and no, my wish for this week's show did not come true. The contestants did not enter the rehearsal space to find Will Ferrell in a black wig and unbuttoned shirt, spewing venom and talking about killing drifters. Instead, they got the real Neil Diamond — sweet, supportive, and decidedly non-crazy.

Although the impressively wrinkle-free Diamond offered them kind words of encouragement, the top five, for the most part, let the D-man down. You know it's an off night on "Idol" when… I can't believe I'm about to say this… okay, deep breath… Syesha Mercado gives the best performances of the show.

Yes, I have to admit that, much to my chagrin, I really did enjoy Syesha the most tonight. Her "Hello Again" got a little shouty in places — she still needs to work on her subtlety — but overall, her voice sounded lovely. And "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime" was the most upbeat and engaging number of the evening. Of course, my appreciation for both performances was diminished by the fact that for the second week in a row, Syesha showed up without shoes. My better half summed up the situation in one word: "Inappropriate." I'm really surprised the judges haven't commented on this bizarre little trend of hers. I'm even more surprised that Simon hasn't taken it as an opportunity to make a joke about Ryan stealing them for himself.

But it was clearly a night of surprises. The rushed pace of the show forced a restructuring of the usual sing, then face-the-judges formula, throwing everyone's timing off, most notably Paula's. Ah, poor Paula. What could the producers have possibly been thinking? Requiring Paula to offer her opinion on five performances at once was a disaster-in-the-making — even on a good night, the woman can barely manage a coherent critique of a single contestant. Was everyone just so distracted by the presence of Kendra and Bridget from "The Girls Next Door" that the show totally went to hell? And when did Rita Wilson take Holly's place? Did anyone get Hef's approval on that? I think he's only into blondes these days.

Okay, back to business — the business of Jason Castro, whose stock I'm selling after tonight. Sure, Jason's vocals on "Forever in Blue Jeans" and "September Morn" were pleasant enough, but just… zzz. Total snoozer. He himself seemed half asleep and completely disengaged during both songs. And that's coming from someone who openly admits to loving his much-maligned take on "Memory" last week.

Both performances though, shined in comparison to Brooke White's spiritless version of "I'm a Believer." Brookie was clearly just going through the motions here — and the fake, manic smiling she exhibited throughout the song was totally disturbing. Second time out though — much, much better. Brooke was back at the piano, where she clearly belongs, with an excellent performance of "I Am… I Said." Although I do think the utterly distracting fabulousness of her hair probably played a factor in my high score here. Seriously, that is some amazing hair. Respect.

Someone who I certainly have no shortage of respect for (both for his talent and his general hotness) is David Cook. However, I had a hard time keeping a straight face watching him tonight, because that bit from "The Soup" kept popping into my head. If you didn't see it last week, all you need to know is that it involved Joel McHale, as Andrew Lloyd Webber, commanding David: "Now… ravish me with your voice!" Maybe, just maybe, if I'm good, Ryan will utter those words to him at the finale.

I guess it could have been the giggles, or it could have been the disappointing limpness of his hair, but the patented David Cook mojo just wasn't that strong for me tonight. Now, his vocals on both "I'm Alive" and "All I Really Need is You" were technically excellent. So I can't explain why both performances were just a'ight for me. Maybe it was the disappointing song choice. Earlier in the day, a fangirly friend and I had been all atwitter at the prospect of a Cookie-crooned "Girl, You'll Be a Woman, Soon." (Yes, we're both twelve.) Who knows what happened. I blame Syesha.

A boy who is never to blame for anything, because he is a sweet, little, fluffy bunny, is David Archuletta. Tonight, although I was happy to see David depart from his usual dreary ballads and do an upbeat song, "Sweet Caroline" was a little rough, especially with all the weird runs. "America" was much better — his voice was clear and beautiful throughout — but I felt that this week, more than any other, David really showed his age. He came off like the freakishly talented soloist at a high school choir concert. Maybe it's because I had to sing "America" in chorus at every level of my schooling — and that's no fun when you're an alto and are stuck singing "TO-DAAAY…. TO-DAAAY" while the stupid sopranos get to sing the cool parts — but little David just seemed, I don't know, extra little tonight. Of course, he's still gonna make it to the finale. The imminent Elmo/Cookie showdown will not be denied.

Predictions: I think, despite her, gulp, excellent showing tonight, Syesha's time is up. Hopefully she won't be upset enough to break out the baby cry.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

American Idol Top 6 Recap - The Music of the A'ight

Tonight's Andrew Lloyd Webber theme presented a challenge for a wise-ass "Idol" recapper like myself. Pretty much the only thing that made me giggle throughout the show was the diminutive composer's pronunciation of the word "sensual" (sen-soo-ul). Oh, and Paula talking about David Cook's "beautiful instrument." (Bad Paula! Down!) Other than that, musical theatre night was not conducive to the funny. But let's give it a whirl anyway, folks.

Clad in a slinky red dress bizarrely paired with bare feet, Syesha started things off with her rendition of "One Rock n' Roll Too Many." I'll admit that she worked it — it was a very good performance from an acting perspective. But the vocals? Still not doing it for me, especially the last few notes. I just don't think Syesha's ever going to win me over. (Somehow, I doubt that she cares.)

I will say though, that Syesha was miles better than Brooke, who incurred as much of a wrath as Paula is able to muster up these days by asking the band to start over at the beginning of her song. Throughout "You Must Love Me," her voice quavered and sounded oddly forced. I completely agreed with Simon's use of the word "uncomfortable" in describing the performance — because that's exactly how I felt watching it. Brookie, what's the deal? You used to be one of my favorites. When the season first started, it seemed as if sunshine sprang from your fingertips. Get it back, please. Bambi and the other forest creatures are starting to get worried.

Someone who probably scares Bambi and company a bit is Carly, what with the tattoos and all. But no matter. She was the polar opposite of Brooke tonight, appearing 100% at ease delivering a natural, rockin' version of "Jesus Christ Superstar." She also continued her impressive trend of looking better and better each week, sporting a cute paisley dress that suited her perfectly. Sure, I think Carly will always be the poor man's Kelly Clarkson, but that's okay. As long as she promises to never again sing that appalling "I'm Gonna Blow Your Mind" song from her old record contract days, Carly and I are cool. (If you haven't seen the video for this online, don't look for it. I beg you — spare yourself.)

I'd wager that the judges wished they could have been spared from witnessing Jason's performance of "Memory" — with Randy going so far as to deem it a "train wreck." However, I quickly forgave Jason for being totally clueless about the song that I practiced so incessantly on the piano throughout the 6th grade, and ended up really liking his performance. Seated on a stool in an ill-fitting tan suit, Jason delivered a breathy, tender, intimate vocal on Webber's classic. Sure, he had no idea what he was singing about, or maybe even where he was — who knows what he does before the show. But for me, it absolutely worked. Second most impressive showing of the night.

And who was number one this evening, you may ask? Well, it's three cheers and a big squeeze for Elmo! Little David Archuletta's pitch-perfect, gorgeous version of "Think of Me" was, in my opinion, his best performance since "Imagine." I think Simon must have gotten into Jason's stash pre-show — that's the only possible way to explain how he could have described it as "forgettable" and deemed it one of his weakest performances. Either that, or Simon's just doing a crappy job of trying to throw us off the scent of the inevitable David/David finale that's without question coming our way.

Speaking of the elder David, for once, Cookie stayed tried and true and stuck with the original arrangement of "The Music of the Night," save for the rocker note he threw in at the end. Although Randy was practically salivating, employing his rarely-used "molten hot lava bomb" accolade — I can't say I was as enthusiastic. I mean, David did a stellar job of selling the performance. His eyes were positively mesmerizing, and I'd be lying if I didn't say there was definitely swooning coming from the general direction of my couch. But tonight, the vocals were just not matching the sexy. Maybe if he'd rocked the Phantom mask, it would have made a difference. Who knows.

Predictions? Hmm. With the show now 100%-Kristy-Lee-free, this process gets a little harder. But I think short of the little creatures sending the signal throughout the forest to vote like there's no tomorrow, the lovely Brooke may be in trouble.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

American Idol Top 7 Recap - I Hate Myself for Loving You

There’s always a moment each “Idol” season when I boldly announce, to no one in particular, that I’m never watching this freaking show again. This is of course, due to an unjust early elimination that has left me completely infuriated. The memories still haunt me… Season 4… Constantine’s gone, yet Savol inexplicably lives on for another week… Season 5… Elliott’s cut out of the finale in favor of Boobs McSchreechy… Season 6… well, I really didn’t care when any of that lot got eliminated… but Michael Johns? My smoldering Aussie? He had finally begun to fulfill his potential, only to be ripped away from us faster than a wax strip between Seacrest’s eyebrows.

However, despite my outrage, the show has a pull over me that I’m helpless to resist. It’s like pop culture crack. So, of course, like a total sap, I’m back watching tonight.

Mariah Carey is this week’s guest-coach-looking-to-promote-a-new-single. Luckily, during her session with the Idols, Mimi’s strayed from her usual rule of thumb and is only sporting moderate cleavage, so as not to make lil’ David Archuletta turn six shades of crimson. She proves to be a polite, mannered, but not especially enthusiastic guest coach. I could almost hear the divalicious Ms. Carey add “ok, am I done here yet?” after providing her comments on each contestant. I also suspect the Idols were instructed to stay at least 6 feet away from her at all times, unless given permission to come in for a perfunctory hug. As a bonus though, it did look like they were at least permitted direct eye contact, albeit briefly.

Even with Carey’s presence and her impressive catalog of songs to draw on, for the most part Mariah night was just meh, with a little bit of magnificent thrown in.

Bringing the meh big time tonight were Carly, Syesha, and Brooke. Sporting a navy dress with plunging neckline and impeccable makeup and hair, Carly looked quite lovely. Her take on “Without You” was refreshingly restrained, but didn’t make much of an emotional impact. And Brooke pretty much had the same problem with “Hero,” which disintegrated as she rushed through the ending. Props to her though for working Mariah’s “Vision of Love”-era hair — Brookie looked spectacularly gorgeous this evening. Also looking great was Syesha, wearing a gold dress the “Idol” stylists stole off Hollywood Barbie. Yes, I’ll admit she looked amazing, but the vocals… not so much. Syesha’s version of “Vanishing” started off quite strong, but soon veered off course into Shrillville, before reaching its final destination in Schreech City.

So, in terms of the girls — and I literally can’t believe I’m about to write this —Kristy Lee offered the best vocals tonight. I was able to overlook the weird, painful wincing thing she had going on at the beginning of “Forever,” and went on to actually rather enjoy the performance. Gah. What’s next for me? Pickler?

Let’s move on to things that don’t make me shudder and talk about the boys’ performances. Lil’ Elmo Archuletta no doubt set legions of little girls all atwitter tonight with his pleather pants and perfectly gelled ‘do. A perfectly controlled version of “When You Believe” complemented his look, although I was slightly disturbed when it appeared that he briefly attempted a growl at one point. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge Archie fan — but soulful growl + little David = just not right.

100% right was Jason Castro’s showing tonight — Dread Boy has absolutely brought it two weeks in a row now. It’s so rare to see an “Idol” contestant genuinely connecting with a song’s lyrics and effectively expressing that to an audience. But Jason is proving that he has mastered the skill. His unique arrangement of “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” accompanied only by bongos and acoustic guitars, was the second best performance of the night.

Which brings us to the magnificent… Mr. David Cook. At this point in the competition, Cookie seems misplaced. It’s like he’s a professional musical guest booked for results night who accidentally wandered onto the set during Tuesday’s show. This week, he very convincingly turned the upbeat, extremely poppy “Always Be My Baby” into a power ballad, and made it seem as if that’s the way the song should have sounded all along.

It didn’t surprise me though, that Mr. RealityShowChick, in the words of young Danny Noriega, “wasn’t LIKING it.” That’s probably because, between David breathily crooning “you’ll always be my baby” directly into the camera at the song’s close, and then being moved to tears after hearing the judges’ praise, my level of fangirliness visibly reached a new level. But don’t worry sweetie, you’re not in for another “Idol” crush (see Maroulis, Constantine and Yamin, Elliott, above.) I only appreciate David for his artistry.

Much the same way I appreciated Michael Johns.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

American Idol Top 8 Recap - Okay, I Give In!

I admit it. All those “inspirational” songs tonight must have gotten to me. Because I'm teetering on the edge, ready to abandon a sworn allegiance to my precious Season 5 and start buying that "best talent ever" line the show has been shoving down our throats for weeks. 
In support of its annoying, oft-repeated claim, "Idol" brought out the big biceps, I mean guns, right off the bat tonight. Yes, Michael Johns is growing on me like a super-hot Australian fungus. With his deliciously raspy take on Aerosmith's "Dream On," replete with very convincing falsetto, I now believe this guy is a rock star, even if an unusually argumentative Randy did think it was just "all right." (Does anyone else think there is a subtle difference in meaning between "all right" and "a'ight" in Randy-speak? Because "all right" sounds quite a bit more negative to me. Discuss.) Regardless, the thunder from down under has been getting stronger every week, and for me, this was his best vocal yet. Although I'm trying to overlook the trend of disturbing neckwear that seems to be happening here. Let's just not think about that, shall we?
Something else I generally prefer not to think about is Syesha Mercado, but yeah, she's still here. During her pre-performance clip, she tells us that for her, "giving back is music." Although I bet if you asked her on a different day, giving back would be acting, modeling, or making that unbearable baby cry sound. This week, she's following up a song made famous by Whitney Houston with one made famous (relatively speaking anyway) by Fantasia. And while Syesha has some vocal talent — I thought her rendition of "Yesterday" was very solid — she’s no ‘tasia. Why any contestant would choose a former “Idol” winner’s coronation song is mind-boggling to me — he or she will always suffer by comparison. (Although it might be interesting to see David Cook’s take on the Taylor Hicks classic “Do I Make You Proud.”) While there was nothing offensive about Syesha’s performance of "I Believe" tonight, to quote the ever-descriptive Mr. Jackson, it was just "okay."
Much, much better than okay was everyone's favorite awkward interviewee, Jason Castro. Lately, I’ve been getting a little sleepy during Jason’s performances — to me, his vocals just haven’t been all that stirring. And tonight, when he announced his song choice of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," I shuddered, still haunted by memories of Katherine McPhee draping herself across the floor in Season 5. But after hearing just a few notes of Jason and his ukulele, smiling and adorable with his dreads pulled back from his face, I was utterly transfixed. I get it now. This kid is an artist who knows how to have a true emotional impact on an audience. For me, this was his strongest performance. Even Randy was moved enough to call it "blazing molten hot." Yes, Randy, I dare say we got a hot one tonight. A hot one indeed.
Up next, Kristy Lee Cook did her best to add to the hotness of the evening by busting (hee) out a gold-sequined tank top, white pants, and glittery eye shadow. As the polar opposite of Carly and her Spanx, Simon of course says she "look(s) like a star." Her rendition of Martina McBride's "Anyway" was pretty good — for Kristy, I mean. I'll admit that the ending could be described as powerful, if one were feeling generous, which I am. I do think Kristy's improved quite a bit over the last several shows though. As long as she doesn't write any stupid little notes claiming ownership of one of the bottom three stools this week, I might actually be starting to like her. Although I'll totally deny it if anyone calls me on it.
Now, David Cook is someone who I'm so open about liking, I can admit without embarrassment that I buy his recordings on iTunes. (Yes, I'm one of those people. Check your own iPod playlist before you judge us.) Tonight, the "Idol" stylists continued to perfect their "I'm a rock star and I just rolled out of bed" hair miracle on my boy — from the head up, he looked fine. The intense gelling and flat-ironing process must have taken more time than usual though, because after that, the stylists apparently went on break and never came back. And poor Cookie ended up in that monstrosity of a giant-pocketed white jacket. To make matters worse, his rendition of "Innocent" by Our Lady Peace was less than stellar, although I disagreed with Simon's assessment that it was "a bit pompous." I thought the performance was heartfelt, it just wasn't at the same level of awesomeness as his previous weeks’ efforts. But I'm confident we will once again find our world officially rocked next week. Ow!
Ahem. The show must go on, as Carly Smithson tells us next. Generally, the opening notes of the poignant Queen tune are enough to get me all weepy, but Carly didn’t do the song justice tonight. She hit all of the big notes, but the vocal theatrics in between were all over the place — very uncharacteristic for her. And the hideous gold belt and striped tank top left over from Pat Benatar’s 1981 tour wardrobe were not doing her any favors. I simply adore Carly’s personality though — she’s the only one of the female contestants I’d actually like to hang out with. Telling Simon, after he said she “oversang” tonight, that she screwed up when she saw his face? Priceless. Possibly the best retort ever by an “Idol” contestant back to a judge. Carly, pour me a beer, let’s chat for a while. So, what’s the deal with your husband’s face tattoo?
Someone who will never get a tattoo is my favorite lil’ muppet, David Archuletta. (Elmo sing good!) Given the inspirational theme of this week’s show, I was a little concerned about what David might pick — I feared an “Up with People” type number was coming our way. But luckily, he chose a beautiful song — Robbie Williams’ “Angels” — and delivered a mature, lovely performance at the piano. (Simon’s comment that he was a bit nasally was way off.) Basically, I think we all just need to accept it — the kid is so adorable and talented that resistance is futile. Although, am I the only one who thinks David’s speaking voice sounds remarkably like Martin Short’s old SNL character, the Pat Sajak-obsessed Ed Grimley? Regardless, sign me up for the Elmo fan club. Just don’t let in that kid from the audience with the disturbing “Lick Those Lips” sign. Yecch.
Closing things out on this fine, fine night of “Idol” competition was Brooke White, dressed in a hideous pink and red dress, but doing a great song — Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” Accompanied by just a center-stage pianist, Brooke was good, but not great. However, she definitely emoted better than she did last week on “Jolene.” I’m guessing she can relate more to singing about friendship than she can to singing about man-stealing ho’s. Paula, who, with her dramatic updo and strapless gown, was apparently dressed for the Crazee Ball that she’d be attending after the show, commented that Brooke was “very definitive,” whatever that means. And although Simon discounted the performance by saying it was like a “pleasant walk in the park,” Brooke didn’t do her normal “it’s okay, it’s okay” routine in response. I really hate when she does that — it’s like I can hear her telling her nanny charges, “it’s okay children, the scary man with the bad haircut won’t hurt you.” Of course, when her “Idol” experience is over, I fully expect the sweet, lovely, talented Brooke to become the world’s most successful children’s performer.
Prediction: Bottom three will be Brooke, Syesha, and Kristy, with Brooke possibly leaving in a shockingly early boot. Raffi and The Wiggles better watch out, they’ve got some competition headed their way.