Thursday, May 22, 2008

What I've Learned From American Idol, Season 7

It's over. The stage is empty, the confetti has stopped falling, and the mixture of tears and guyliner that's formed a sticky residue on the floor of the Nokia Theatre will soon be buffed away. Yes, Season 7 of "American Idol" has come to a close.

At this point, I'd like to share five important lessons I've learned over the course of this year's competition. It's necessary for me to do this now, while I have a bit of free time. Because even though the show's over, the next phase in any true "Idol" devotee's life cycle is only just beginning — trolling the internet nonstop for killer seats to the tour.

So before I head back to eBay, let me reflect on what I've learned. Lesson #1:

Like a bad haircut, sometimes things that have gone frighteningly awry can be salvaged.

After the depressing debacle that was Season 6, I had feared that my favorite show was lost forever, and that I'd now have to spend my midweek evenings watching HGTV, or even worse, reading. (Shudder.) But "Idol" surprised us by rising from the ashes of a disappointing season characterized by an uninspiring, and largely talentless contestant base (Melinda Doolittle excluded.) This year, the 19E powers-that-be made damn sure we would not be introduced to Sanjaya II in Season 7. And that brings me to Lesson #2:

Ringers aren't necessarily a bad thing, especially when they come in nice, tight Australian packages.

You can tell me that all those contestants with past record deals just randomly decided to show up at the "Idol" cattle call auditions this year. And then I'll tell you that Ryan Seacrest actually applies his own self-tanner. Both claims are simply not plausible. More likely, there were phone calls made, their presence was specifically requested, and they were "cast" for the show. And while the idea of an amateur performer being transformed by "Idol" and reaching the heights of superstardom is certainly an appealing concept, if the inclusion of a few pros makes for a more entertaining show, does it really matter? I mean, would you rather be listening to Carly Smithson or Haley Scarnato? And would you rather be looking at Chris Sligh or Michael Johns? (Sorry Chris. But you know what I mean.) Sure, I'm happy that a guy who'd never had a major label deal and who was working as a Midwestern bartender won in the end — it's definitely much more satisfying this way. But I certainly enjoyed having the pros along for the ride.

There were two people, however, whose presence I most decidedly did not enjoy this "Idol" season. Allow me to explain in Lesson #3:

It's time for Paula and Randy to steal Kristy Lee's old horse and ride off into the sunset.

We all know what a "gift" Paula is, even if she doubts that we do. And Randy and the dawg pound have served us well over the years. But it's time for the first two judges' chairs to be filled by music industry professionals actually capable of offering valid opinions, as opposed to meaningless, incessantly repeated catchphrases or incoherent rambling. And I think I've come up with the perfect replacements — one needs to look no further than '70s supergroup Fleetwood Mac. Think about it. Stevie Nicks could fulfill the much-needed "supportive female" role on the panel, but somehow you just know she wouldn't sugarcoat her critiques. As a bonus, whenever she'd get up to dance, she'd do her patented twirl and repeatedly hit Simon in the face with the awesome black lace cape she'd wear every week. And with Lindsey Buckingham in the other chair, challenging Simon to see who could leave more shirt buttons undone, we'd have a sullen, tortured genius who would interrupt his carefully thought-out comments to shoot alternately lustful/angry looks at the judge next to him. Seriously, Nigel, it's not a bad idea. Stevie and Lindsey's chemistry could rival Simon and Ryan's. Fun for everyone!

Of course, if my suggestions don't work out, 19E could seek guidance on other options from the subject of Lesson #4:

Forget Mike Myers and his whole guru bit. Jason Castro should start a career as a spiritual advisor.

By the time Jason's "Idol" run was over, I was convinced of one thing — the dreadlocked wonder has found the secret to happiness in life. Sure, it's probably a chemically induced contentment, but it's contentment nonetheless. I mean, how awesome must it be to go through your day openly yawning whenever you feel like it, and never, ever getting stressed out? Who does that? Dude is going to live to 101. Watching Jason's calm, happy-go-lucky reaction to everything that came his way on the show was positively inspiring. He simply must share his wisdom. A nation of prospective followers is ready to commit to the Castro mantra: "I was thinking Bob Marley!"

At the moment though, I'm not in need of Jason's services, because happiness has come my way in the form of last night's "Idol" finale. Lesson #5:

Sometimes, the best person really does win! Yay!

Before the finale last night, I was a little disappointed with David Cook after watching him on the red carpet pre-show. Because… Kimberly Caldwell… really, Cookie? I mean, I'll admit her hair looks great now, but seriously, maybe think about aiming higher. You should be dating the likes of Carrie Underwood now. At a minimum, make sure whoever you shack up with knows the difference between "there" and "their." Otherwise, it might get pretty difficult sharing those crossword puzzles of yours, Word Nerd. (Yeah. I'm jealous. Shut-up.)

Naturally, my frustration dissipated once David strapped on his guitar for a little "Sharp Dressed Man" action. And by the time he had shed his last tear of the season, and gracefully accepted the "Idol" title, I was faced with an unfamiliar feeling… contestant… I… supported… actually… won…? When does that EVER happen? At the end of most "Idol" season finales, I'm left feeling resentful and wondering how long it'll be before my contestant of choice is the celebrity host at a casino bingo night. I can't even imagine what it'll be like to have my favorite plastered in every magazine and backed by major label support.

I do hope that David Archuleta, with his pristine voice and general adorableness, will get the same type of support, and have a huge career as well. And, if I'm lucky, he might just end up as part of my family someday. Because my sister-in-law, a huge Archuleta fan, has expressed an interest in freezing David in time, so that one day, he can marry her 4-month-old daughter. (I'll keep you posted on how that works out.)

Regardless of my genuine fondness for little Elmo, there's no doubt that America really did make the right choice last night. Because in seven seasons of competition, there has never been a winner who has the type of potential that David Cook does: The potential to not only be a great singer and performer, but to be a truly important artist who makes music that really matters.

So dream big, Cookie, dream big. You've earned it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

American Idol Top 3 Recap – Two Men and a Random Lady

In the annals of "American Idol" history, there's a long list of distinguished, and not-so-distinguished, third place finishers. And if all goes as expected tomorrow night, Syesha Mercado will find herself ending up smack dab in the middle. She's displayed stronger vocal skills than Nikki, Jasmine, and Baby V., but hasn't come close to approaching the mad talent of K. Lo, Melinda, and my precious, precious Elliott. Still, the eternally sequined Syesha's showing tonight was strong enough to prove that after all these weeks, it wasn't quite so bizarre that she was still here. Well-played Syesha. Well-played indeed.

Let's take a look at things round by round, shall we?

Round 1, Judges' Choice:

Archuleta came out swinging (or, perhaps more accurately, bashfully swiping) and delivered the best performance of the night by a mile. Lil' D's version of "And So It Goes" was achingly beautiful, and surprisingly free of the overdone runs that have hurt his performances in the past. The relief of having Evil Stage Dad off his back for a few minutes clearly showed. Dude should stay away more often. David, can you spell "e-m-a-n-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n?"

But Elmo wasn't the only one bringing the heat early on. Syesha also came through with her strongest vocal of the evening here. Although I was apprehensive about her ability to handle an Alicia Keys song, Syesha's version of "If I Ain't Got You" was surprisingly solid and rather well done.

Speaking of apprehension, that's the exact word that came to mind (along with "shock" and "horror") when I heard that Simon was making David Cook sing "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," aka The. Biggest. Chick. Song. Ever. I mean, how can you rock out on a song that includes the phrase "ever I saw?" But Cookie worked it, and although I wasn't loving the falsetto, the power note at the end brought it home nicely. Maybe next week, they'll make him do "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love." Hmm. Possible duet for the double Davids? Could be a tender moment…

Round 2, Contestants' Choice:

Elmo did a bad, bad thing. Because adorable, soft, fuzzy creatures should never sing anything that includes the lyrics "my boo" and "hey little mama." The sight of the little guy awkwardly making his way through "With You" was more disturbing than the sight of the gel-covered ridge that's inexplicably formed in the middle of Seacrest's head. Let's never speak of it again.

Thankfully, Syesha helped erase the memory with a charismatic take on "Fever," which, despite being a little shrieky in places, was for the most part quite good. However, I could have done without her use of the chair — props in general are hella lame. Although a snake would have been pretty cool.

Speaking of coolness, I have to give a shout out to the woman holding the "Cougars 4 Cook" sign in the audience tonight — right on, sister! Although I am far, FAR, too young to be considered a cougar, I wholeheartedly support the cause. And Cookie showed the ladies what they're fighting for with a totally rockin' performance of "Dare You To Move," pasty guns on full display. David the Elder earned a Round 2 victory on the strength of his vocals here, but he deserved it on the merits of his sleeve length alone.

Round 3, Producers' Choice:

For his final performance of the evening, Lil' D banished all those dirty, nasty words from his head, safely buttoned his baby blue shirt up to his chin, and delivered a lovely version of "Longer." Syesha followed, looking gorgeous, but sounding pitchy on "Hit Me Up." And Cookie closed the show, enjoying the benefit of rawk star lighting while overcoming a mess of an arrangement on "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." Despite the unpleasant cacophony of violins and guitars, David sold it well enough to take Round 3. Although I must say, after the performance, my faith in humanity and Simon Cowell was shaken when he described the sappy tune as "one of the great songs of all time." Huh? Simon, let me guess — "Do I Make You Proud" is positively Dylan-esque, yes?

Let's hope that the Davids get some better material to work with next week when the new "Idol" coronation song is revealed. Okay, that's highly unlikely. Short of that, let's at least hope that Archuleta learned his lesson tonight and isn't going to spring "Gold Digger" on us as a special finale surprise.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

American Idol Top 4 Recap - The Hottie vs. The Tottie

Tonight's "American Idol" was all about the sexy and the sweetie — and, oh yeah, those other two people who are still here.

Maybe that's being a little harsh on Jason Castro and Syesha Mercado, but seriously folks, can we just move it along and get to what will likely be the most intensely contested "Idol" finale in history? Inquiring (and "Idol"-obsessed) minds want to know — which end of the fangirly voting spectrum will prove victorious — Archuletta-loving teenyboppers or Cookie-eating cougars?
Thankfully, while the wait continues, we at least got the benefit of a super-cool theme to distract us — The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 most influential rock songs. Even Ry-Ry was feeling it, ending tonight's taped video intro by declaring "Long live rock." Of course, in his heart, he really meant "Long live oxygen facials." But I digress.

I think talking about David Cook might, quite possibly, put me back on track. That's because during tonight's performance of "Hungry Like The Wolf," Cookie stalked the stage like the sexy beast he is. Between the extra-growly vocals and the dialed up facial hair, not to mention the fact that he chose a Duran Duran song, just… yeah. Let’s just say I spent the better part of the 8th grade repeatedly scrawling Simon Le Bon's name on my notebooks. And I think I'll spend the better part of tomorrow morning inking David's name all over that presentation sitting on my desk at work.

Nevertheless, I'll admit that despite the stellar vocals and, uh, other qualities displayed during both this performance and his second song, "Baba O'Riley," Cookie wasn't at his best tonight. Can't quite put my finger on what was off, although, believe me, I'd like to. (Sorry. That was uncalled for. I am now getting up to wash my mouth out with soap before I move on to discussing David Archuletta. Thank you.)

Yes, adorable little David A. deserves this gesture of respect because Elmo WAS OFF THE HOOK tonight. Wow. Evil Stage Dad should go and buy himself a really expensive new hat this weekend, because he did a bang-up job picking out those two songs. "Stand By Me" and "Love Me Tender" suited David's voice perfectly, and he more than sold them, delivering his most heartfelt and natural performances to date. The tone and clarity of the little guy's voice were really something to behold tonight. Although conspiracy theorists no doubt noticed that while David's falsetto went a little wonky at the end of "Love Me Tender," the dress rehearsal clip shown during the video recaps at the end of the show had him nailing it. Hmm… Nigel, let's keep this fight clean, shall we, ol' chap? I really don't think the boy needs your help.

On the other hand, two people sorely in need of help tonight are Syesha and Jason. The former opened with an adequate, but lackluster version of "Proud Mary," and finished with an adequate, but lackluster version of "A Change is Gonna Come." The latter offered up his take on "I Shot the Sheriff" and invoked the wrath of Simon like we've never seen. Settle down, dude. I mean, sure, it wasn't great, but Cowell took it like a personal offense. Maybe Jason was chatting up his woman before the show, who knows. Of course, true to character, Castro appeared totally unfazed by the harshness of his words — you gotta love the kid for that. And to his credit, he rebounded with a version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" that, if only he hadn't forgotten those oh-so-pesky lyrics, had the potential to be really lovely.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter who goes home this week, unless "Idol" wants to stick it to us and pull a Daughtry-like early boot shocker. But I don't think that's going to happen. Syesha or Jason will go home, someone will cry and someone will get high, and we'll be one week closer to a spectacular showdown. Let's get ready to RUMBLE…