Archive for February, 2009

Group 2: Winners and Losers

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I like being right as much as any other analyst/pundit, so allow me to do the Happy Dance at calling Group 2 perfectly. It might well be the only chance I get to do it, given how unpredictable this season is likely to end up being.

Just like last week we’ll do Winners and Losers.

Winners

Kris Allen: If there was one surprise of the group, Allen was it. Few would have thought he would have secured a slot in the top 12 with the kind of performance – and while in most nights it wouldn’t, in the midst of so many unimpressive and disappointing performances it was.

Allen was a little lucky, but the reality is luck plays a part on Idol. If Allen is a smart guy, he should take this golden opportunity and run with it. If there’s anyone who can take the underdog-who-got-much-better role this year, Allen appears to be it.

Allison Iraheta: Iraheta was also relatively unknown before this week, and her version of Alone came in for high praise from a lot of quarters. I wasn’t as impressed by it as most, though. However, she’s impressed a lot of people which will help her build the fanbase she needs to last into the competition. Given how little pre-show publicity she received, she needs it. Still, her distinctive looks, good performance ability, and decent enough voice should put her in good stead to last long.

Losers

Meghan Corkrey – Was there a bigger disappointment on Wednesday night? As I said after the performances, Put Your Record On is a classic trap song. It’s to her credit that it wasn’t a complete train wreck – she has a wonderfully unique, maybe even quirky voice – but she needed to be smarter about song choice.

Factoid of the week: Put Your Record On has now been sung twice and ended up not advancing its singer both times. I wish it was unique in that, but no. There are at least a few other songs in the same category. The worst offender in that list, though: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which has been done four times and never advanced anyone, with only one wildcard callback. (The singer called back didn’t advance past the wildcard, either.)

Adam Lambert: I seem to be establishing a trend here. For the second week in a row, the top pick of the guys has ended up in the losers side of the aisle. That’s not normal, is it?

Well, there’s a reason for this. Going into the semifinals, both Lambert and Danny Gokey were both regarded as favorites and frontrunners. In both cases, however, there’s now a large “yes, they can sing, but…” attached to both of them. With Lambert, it’s his overall performance style that could hurt him. He’s not a bad singer at all, but his style is so divisive that he might not go as far as people think. Forget the “he could win” lines I’m seeing – he won’t. Taylor Hicks notwithstanding, you cannot win with the kind of mixed reviews Lambert got, and probably will get in weeks to come. He’s a candidate for the “favorite that goes too soon, many say” spot.

Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul: As I said: the whole Paula-Kara spot has taken on a life of its own, and didn’t things look… just a wee bit awkward? It was almost like there was this huge, transparent wall between them. Whatever the case, it made for some awkward TV. Had this happened any other week, it would have been written about everywhere – but with the ghastly shows this week it didn’t get any, with so much else to write about.

Pre-season predictions: There’s a good reason I haven’t speculated much on who’ll do well in the semifinal rounds before the actual group rounds. There just isn’t enough information. Youtube clips, a brief audition, soundbites from Hollywood… I’d rather wait for someone to sing “in anger” before making any judgments.

There’s also the big issue of looking like a giant idiot when predictions turn out to horribly, horribly wrong. Look at what happened to all the predictions that Jasmine Murray and Matt Giraud would do well. Instead, they both occupy the Sanjaya Zone -  our own version of a hall of shame.

Group 2 Performance Night: Could Things Get Worse? Yes.

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Last week the hype machine that is American Idol ran aground after the much-hyped Group 1 turned out to be largely ordinary. So things had to get better after that, right? Uh… no. It’s safe to say Group 2 turned out to be even worse than Group 1. Ouch.

Just like last week, it was a case where no one was really great. If anything, it was even worse: we have a hard time calling any of the performances last night good at all. There were good spots in some of the performances, to be sure, but the performances were not really all that confidence-inspiring.

The two performances that seem to be getting a lot of praise from some quarters are Allison Iraheta’s Alone and Adam Lambert’s (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Let’s deal with those one at a time.

Iraheta’s song choice flew in the face of one of the Indisputable Facts of American Idol: the best version of Alone on the Idol stage was, is, and forever will be Carrie Underwood’s. Period. Now, to her credit, Iraheta didn’t do as badly as others have in the past. She commands the stage with an ease that you don’t expect to see this early. Keep in mind she’s doing this at the age of 16 – has any teenager showed better stage presence? Probably not recently, if ever.

That said, Alone is a song that will expose any and all deficiencies in a singer’s vocals. In some spots, Iraheta was shouting that song, not singing it. Even when she was singing it, she was just powering through it with not much subtlety, as if she took a sledgehammer to the song. As far as I’m concerned, Iraheta’s performance is the most overrated of the current AI season.

Adam Lambert… where do I begin? He got things off to bad start for me when he stared a little too deeply into the camera at the start. It reminded us of Constantine Maroulis, which is rarely, if ever, a good comparison. And then the singing itself… well, when he was singing and not screeching, it was pretty good.

The singing is almost irrelevant, though, because of the theatrics. The last time I saw anyone like this would be… Taylor Hicks, in his full Soul Patrol mode. However, for me, it’s about the singing first, theatrics second. The theatrics were so over the top, it distracted from the singing – not enhanced it. Color me not impressed. Unless he proves he can really sing – which I don’t think he did this week – this whole manic act might wear thin sooner rather than later.

If Iraheta and Lambert were over-rated, then I think there were two singers that were actually pretty good – and both tended to get lost in the shuffle. Kara was right, the first half of Kris Allen’s Man In The Mirror, but by the second half it was surprisingly good. It would be interesting to see what he’d do with less nerves, and, maybe, better song choice. Unfortunately, that’ll be unlikely to happen – anothe reason to hate the new semifinal format.

The other underrated performance was Jesse Langeth’s Bette Davis Eyes. Randy was off-base when he criticized her for the limited range – not every singer needs to be Whitney or Mariah who can sing in more octaves than there are fingers in a hand. There’s definitely some real artistry and subtlety there that I just didn’t find elsewhere tonight. Vocally, there were some rough bits, but overall, she did a great job of expressing who she is as an artist – better than anyone else in the group, I thought. Langeth possibly has the biggest overall potential upside of anyone left – if she can make it past this week.

If those four constituted the “best” of the night, then we had four more people in the Muddled Middle. Mishavonna Henson, Meghan Corkrey, Kai Kalama, and Matt Brietzke all turned in the equivalent of musical wallpaper. Brietzke and Kalama’s singing was actually decent, but dull. Henson was, if anything, worse: she was boring and the singing was off in places.

Our biggest disappointment, however, was Corkrey: in a night of boneheaded song choices, she ran into a gigantic land mine when she picked Corinne Bailey Rae. Yes, she did better than the only other person to do Put Your Records On – but when that person is Antonella Barba, there’s no other direction but up. However, the song is something of a trap – it’s not a song which demands a power voice, which makes people think it’s easy to sing. But it isn’t – it’s a very quirky, unique song that works for Corinne Bailey Rae, but not anyone else.

Worst of the night was, easily, the first three singers. Have we Idol viewers ever been subjected to three worse songs in a row to open a show? Jasmine Murray, Matt Giraud, Jeanine Vailes – you three are, collectively, 2009′s first entry into the Sanjaya Zone! Sit beside your fellow inductees Sanjaya Malakar and half of the girls in last year’s top 20 to be “honored” for achievements in musical horror. Songs that didn’t fit, mediocre singing (at best)… let’s not waste any more time. I almost wanted to take a page out of the Elvis playbook and shoot the TV.

What about Nick Mitchell, a.k.a Norman Gentle? He isn’t really playing the same game as everyone else. I never thought I would say this, but: I was glad to see him come on. After the last three disasters, we needed some entertainment – and he was entertaining. Should he go any further? No, but Nick wasn’t playing the same game everyone else was. He’s gold for any comedy club that wants him for the next few months or so. G

Enough about Hollywood week!: The judges – Kara, in particular – seem to love to refer to how the contestants did in Hollywood. Is it too much to ask them to stop unless we viewers at home actually heard what they’re talking about? Thanks to the shenaningans of the editing team, the Hollywood episodes were sadly lacking in actual singing. You’re there, in theory, to give critiques to help the viewers at home. So how can I, and everyone else watching, refer to events we didn’t see at all? It’s ridiculous.

Quick thought about the judges: Media reports have it Paula isn’t particularly pleased by the fourth judge, and Kara is, quote, “disappointed”. Boy, Paula and Kara looked awfully awkward last night, didn’t they?

Up in the air: Well, picking the top guy and top girl is pretty easy: that’ll be Allison Iraheta and Adam Lambert. Both had love-it-or-hate-it quantities – particularly Lambert – but they’ll get enough votes to make it to the finals easily.

The third slot, though, well, just about anyone can make it. I can’t even rule out Normund Gentle. Only Jeanine Vailes is probably completely screwed and out of it. That said, I would like either Jesse Langseth or Kris Allen to make it to the finals – but even if betting on reality TV was legal, I wouldn’t put any money on it. If I had to pick one of the two… Kris Allen, largely because the preliminary What Not to Sing numbers are better for him.

The Idol Guy picks: Lambert, Iraheta, and Allen to advance.

Group 1 Results: Winners and Losers

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Well, that was an interesting results show. I freely admit to being more than a little surprised Michael Sarver got through to the finals; I thought he was definitely in the mix for the wildcard, but not in the picture for the third slot. Obviously, I was wrong.

I’ll do something different this year for my analysis articles. I’ll have a regular winners and losers section each week, where I can dissect who gained and who lost out of what happened that particular week. Without further ado…

Winners

Alexis Grace: Grace got some early airtime in the auditions, but despite that she didn’t receive the kind of hype others received. With one song this week, many think that she’s catapulted herself to frontrunner status.

Now, I happen to think she’s an excellent singer that deserves a great deal of praise. I’d be real careful before putting that tag on her. She got to the finals with a 42-year-old song. Now, obviously, she’s not going to keep singing songs that old all the time, but before I can give her some support she needs to prove herself with some newer material. She’s probably safe to at least the tour, but beyond that we’d be real careful.

Michael Sarver: Oh boy. He’s one lucky guy. Simon’s comment probably gave him at least the 20,000 votes that put him over Anoop Desai, and in all likelihood a lot more. He shouldn’t even have been in the mix, but thanks to a few kind words he now finds himself in the top 12. Imagine that.

Michael needs to improve a great deal from what we saw in the group round, otherwise he’ll have a new group of contestants in his corner no one really wants: Vote for the Worst.

Losers

Danny Gokey: Wait, you might ask. Didn’t I just say yesterday he won the episode? So how can he be a loser?

Danny had immense expectations on him before the show. Anything else than a win would have been a disaster. I’m not convinced he lived up to all of them. Hero was good, but it wasn’t good enough to stick in voter’s minds when the finals start in a few weeks time. He’ll still be portrayed as a frontrunner when it arrives, but don’t believe it for a second. He doesn’t nearly have the kind of momentum he had before this week.

Anoop Desai: Can you still be considered a frontrunner if you can’t even beat a so-so singer in Michael Sarver? He was good enough that he’ll still probably end up in the wildcard, but this was about the worst start imaginable for him. He needs a knock-it-out-of-the-park wildcard performance to get in. The result can’t have been good for his morale.

Vote for the Worst: VFTW’s advantage in influencing results has always been that they are organized, and have a definite direction, when everyone else doesn’t. They’re going to be strongest at the start of the season, then fade as the fanbases form. If they couldn’t even get Tatiana Del Toro to fourth with a so-so field right now, what does this say about their real power down the road?

The whole “group round” system: Whatever happens in the next groups, we can already call the group rounds a loss. Why? There is going to be a lot of good talent left on the table that didn’t have a week to mature they would have had before. Ryan even hung a lampshade on the “rawness” of the contestants. There are a lot of people in this group who have a lot of potential who could have used more screen time, and two weeks of better, more refined performances. Instead, we have two more weeks of fumbling singers, and cringing audiences. This is not good.

If you need a reminder of how bad the group round might result, consider this. To get into the top 12, contestants will have one shot to impress America – and if they don’t, maybe one chance to impress the judges. It took David Cook his third performance to deliver Hello, his definite breakout moment In short, David Cook might not have even made the finals under a group system.

Buckle up, folks. This is going to be a rough three weeks. Two more weeks of rookie performances, and then a week that’s bound to be full of blatant bias and manipulation of public opinion. Oops.

Wildcard picks, revised

I have to amend our wildcard picks out of this group, since Sarver got in directly. The Desai/Del Toro/Braddy trio is probably pretty certain of slots, particularly Braddy. Anne Marie Boskovich is the best candidate out of everyone else, so she gets the fourth slot almost by default.

Group 1 Performance Night: Great Expectations

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Historically, the first performance night of any new Idol season has been a little rough. All the hype was about the talent-heavy Group 1 that would supposedly produce Idol‘s best opening night. I mean, Danny Gokey and Anoop Desai in the same group? How could it go wrong?

Well, somehow, it did. Perhaps it was just the excessive amount of hype, but the brave song choices had something to do with it. No, scratch brave. More like… foolish. Supposedly it was songs from the Billboard charts since they began, but I’m just a bit skeptical. There must have been clearance issues again, because the only alternative was everyone drinking out of Paula’s cup.

A Little Less Conversation from Jackie Tohn? Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, a song which has never even been average in the past? Both Danny and Anoop picking songs originally by female singers? Heck, did any of the choices make sense? I’m not quite sure.

Still, in this giant puddle of.. oddity, there were a few good performances. There weren’t any I’d call great, but it takes a lot for me to call something that.

Co-winner of the night: Danny Gokey. Given all the hype, promotion, and publicity he had received, anything else other than “winning” the night would have been a loss for him. He played the widower card with the song choice, wittingly or not, and he has to be careful that doesn’t wear out its welcome with viewers. We don’t need a reminder of that each and every week.

The real trouble, though, is that I don’t think Gokey put his own individual mark on Hero. To use the tired language of the judges, he didn’t “make it his own”. It may not be completely fair to ask that right out of the gate, but that’s how things go. On the upside, his vocals were excellent and he can communicate the song’s emotion well. He should be safe to the top 12.

Best of the girls. and co-winner with Danny, was Alexis Grace. Her pick of I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) will please half of the audience… and piss off the other half. It is a big song, and doing Aretha Franklin tends to be a feast-or-famine situation. The ones who do well do very well, the ones who do poorly do very poorly. Grace was generally in the former; sometimes the song was too big for her, but generally it was just right. More importantly, she was able to put her own trademark on the song – something that was rare tonight.

Ricky Braddy is in interesting territory. On vocals alone, he was the best of the night. However, there is a world of difference between a good vocalist and a good singer. A good singer not only has to hit the notes, they also have to be able to tell the “story” of the song. I’m very unsure if Braddy was able to do that. If he had been able to do that, we’d put him higher up, but as it is… he’s the Best of the Rest, but just that.

After all the diva antics she’s pulled during the auditions and Hollywood week, it figures Tatiana Del Toro would pick a song by as big a diva as they get, Whitney Houston. It was actually a lot better than we thought it would be, but that’s not saying much. Was it over the top? Yes, but with Whitney it sort of fits. Overall, it was actually above average – so the drama queen can actually sing, which will be a surprise to quite a few people.

I happen to like the original of Angel of Mine, so I was expecting a great performance from Anoop Desai. Did he deliver? No, not really. It’s not that it was a bad vocal – it was above average to good – but overall, the whole thing left me bored. Anoop is likable, yes, but he really has a charisma deficit. Like Braddy, he has to elevate himself beyond being a vocalist to being an artist.

Anne Marie Boskovich was in an almost identical situation as well – made worse by picking Aretha Franklin, the same artist Grace had excelled at earlier in the night. Aretha wasn’t too big for Grace, but it was for Boskovich.

The rest of the field rapidly went downhill. Brent Kieth’s Hicktown, Jackie Tohn’s A Little Less Conversation, and Michael Sarver’s I Don’t Want To Be were all songs that could elicit a good reaction from people in the studio, but not much for people at home. These are not songs you should choose in the group format, where only the very best will end up advancing.

Keith’s vocals were just okay, at best, but that was better than Tohn’s – who was all over the place. As for Sarver, he put himself in a classic no-win position: not only did he not impress with his vocals, he invited comparisons to Bo Bice and Elliott Yamin in the process. Oops.

It wouldn’t be a semifinal episode without a train wreck – and tonight, we got three. Oh boy. To be fair, Stephen Fowler’s version of Rock With You wasn’t actually bad, it was just boring. It wouldn’t be out of place playing in an elevator. What we did hear of Fowler vocally wasn’t actually bad, but he did himself no favors with his song choice.

There were two completely legitimate train wrecks, however. Casey Carlson picked a song, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, which has never been magic for anyone who’s sung it. Rarely has a song been done so poorly so frequently on Idol. Maybe Carlson should get together with Bikini Girl and the disqualified Joanna Pacitti and arrange a “Girls of AI Season 8″ photo shoot with Maxim. It’s not like it would be a completely new thing for any of them.

Worst of all, however, was Stevie Wright. I appreciate the attempt to use current material, but contestants have to consider whether it would suit them in the first place. You Belong With Me didn’t suit Wright. What singing we did see from Wright tended to be flat, at best – but how much of that was because it was a poor fit for her is unclear. What is sure is that the song choice was just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This was probably a case of Wright liking the song personally, and thinking it’s a good song choice.

A lot of other Idol pundits are taking aim at this episode, but not us. This isn’t an unusual semifinal result – around two good performances, another two that are above average, two more that are serviceable, and half of the field ranging from “inappropriate” to “call FEMA”. A lot of this flak is just overreaction to everyone thinking this was a loaded group – which, it turned out, it isn’t.

The Idol Guy picks

So who is advancing from this group? The top guy and top girl are easy to pick: both Danny Gokey and Alexis Grace will pick up their slots without much argument. It’s the third slot where things get interesting.

The three that have a real shot of getting the third spot are Anoop Desai, Tatiana Del Toro, and Ricky Braddy. Desai and Del Toro benefit from a lot of early screen time – and in the latter’s case, low expectations that were significantly exceeded. Braddy, meanwhile, made a case for himself strictly on his vocals.

Our pick is… wait for it… Del Toro to advance. Contrary to what Vote for the Worst would have you believe, it’s not a “tough battle” to get her to the finals. She made a decent case for herself based strictly on vocals, and any added help the early screen time gave her is an advantage.

What about Desai – didn’t he sing well, too? Yes, but unlike Del Toro he was expected to do so. I’m not convinced he “won over” new converts with his song. If there are high expectations on someone and they don’t deliver, problems might result.

As for Braddy, he was good, but he needed to top the night to clearly establish himself in people’s minds. His lack of airtime will hurt him, since you can’t build a rabid powervoting fanbase in just one show.

What about the wildcard? Let’s assume the producers will keep things roughly equal, and have people from each group in the wildcard, for a total of 12. Whoever doesn’t make it right away out of the Del Toro/Desai/Braddy group is all but assured of a slot themselves. That leaves two more openings.

The wise money would be on Ann Marie Boskovich and Michael Sarver. Boskovich is good enough to get there on her own merits, and they’ve spent an awful of time on her in the past weeks to make me think the Idol PTB won’t bail on her so quickly. Simon was unusually nice towards Sarver, and that leads me to believe they want him to be in the wildcard round, at least. He would be ideal material to “round out” the top 12 – both in terms of backstory and overall image.

More from us tomorrow after the results, including: why Alexis Grace may be good, but don’t put the “frontrunner” or “dark horse” tags on her.