Top 4 Results: Messing With Fate

May 3rd, 2013

Well, well, well. This season has been a disappointment so far, but at least it’ll give us one thing. This is as intriguing a top three as we’ll ever see. It’s a relatively even one. There are three possible finale combinations… and you can make a possible argument for each of them. Angie has as formidable a fanbase as you’ll get. Candice is a fabulous vocal talent. Kree is a pretty good country singer, and you ignore the country vote on Idol at your peril.

What about Amber? She followed in the footsteps of so many young female singers on Idol: vocally talented, but incapable of singing with emotion and feeling. This is such a common problem that I don’t know why would-be Idol contestants haven’t learned. Good looks and good pipes will get you only so far. It will get you very far, but only so far. Against a field that has both vocal talent and experience in spades… Amber had a difficult task before her, and was never really in the same league as the top three.

This is the part where I should welcome the epic clash of singers that is the top three. Nothing is left to chance or on the table. The contestants can smell the finale and lay it all on the line. It should be a good episode.

And yet, somehow, in defiance of more than a decade of Idol tradition, the producers found a way to muck it up. This tweet from @TheIdolPad crossed my Twitter client not long after the results were read:

Ponder, for just a moment, what that means. This means that, for the first time in Idol history (as far as I can remember), contestants will enter a voting week having zero say in what they’ll be singing. None. Doing it on any voting week is bad enough. Doing so on the top three week – which my friends at What Not to Sing consider as truly must-see TV – is downright unacceptable. They might as well not count the votes anymore. It’s as close to rigging as you can get without engaging in vote-counting shenanigans a third-world tinpot dictator would be proud of.

Let’s face it: just two weeks removed from the most divorced from reality week in Idol history, we will have another travesty of an episode. The entire audience might only have one word for everyone associated with Idol by the time the episode is done: dracarys. Jimmy Iovine’s picks are uneven, at best. The “judges’s” and “producers’s” picks – which might as well be the same thing, really – anyone remember a certain song about penguins? Or Jessica Sanchez being asked to sing as age-inappropriate a ballad as you can imagine? I could go on and on, but I won’t belabor the point. It is an unbelievably arrogant or clueless decision on the part of the Idol PTB. You decide which is worse.

Instead of welcoming the top three, I am dreading next week. An entire two-hour show, with judging – and song choices – designed not to entertain, but to pimp and bus contestants. One of the judges – probably Randy – is bound to complain about “song choice” on a night when there was none. The reputation of this season is already in the mud. The first rule of holes is: if you’re in one, stop digging. It’s a lesson that the Idol producers have yet to learn – and this lesson is going to hurt. Anyone seen the ratings?

Top 4, Take 2: Running On Empty

May 2nd, 2013

After last week’s epic disaster of a show, anything would have been an improvement. This week… was a snoozer. We got eight ballads. Not only eight ballads, but eight of the slowest, least exciting, songs on the planet. It was a very, very, long two hours punctuated by the judges arguing with each other and the guest mentor. Good grief. Still, it was some much needed entertainment on a somewhat dull and tedious night.

Many parts of the Idolsphere seem to regard Harry Connick, Jr. with a fair degree of approval. You won’t find that much in this corner of the Idolsphere – I didn’t particularly enjoy myself the last time he coached. He’s a competent coach, but you cannot ignore the fact that you impose a theme which is near-fatal TV. Standards, as they are usually done on Idol – are, frankly, boring and tedious.

Okay, performance order of the “now” songs. But first, a general comment: everybody knew the standards half of the show was going to be slow. Why didn’t anyone try to go for an uptempo change-of-pace song? Instead, we ended up with four ballads, in a season where we overdosed on ballads about a month ago.

Okay, onto Angie. She made an interesting song choice, and to be honest I liked the arrangement. She sang it reasonably well. However… it just didn’t gel. It didn’t have the impact you’d expect. Why didn’t it work? I thought, simply put, she was trying to hard. She was consciously playing to the audience and camera, and it definitely affected the emotions of the song. At times, it almost seemed like it was Overly Attached Girlfriend singing on stage.

There’s not much to say about Amber’s performance. It was the Idol equivalent of elevator music, and not even a great example at that. It just brought nothing to the table, it was just there. As is so typical of Amber, there really wasn’t any emotional connection or feeling.

I applaud anyone who brings creativity to the Idol table. Candice did that. She sang the song supremely well.  That said… it was only good. It didn’t blow me away. There wasn’t any part of it that I could really say, “wow, this girl is good;” it was more an overall impact. The assessment came from the head, not the heart, because the song never really connected with me in a meaningful way. I appreciate the skill and effort that went into it… but I just didn’t find it all that good.

I smell the hand of limited song choice with Kree’s pick. Would she really have picked that song out of all the songs of 2013? I don’t know. She did juuuust enough to distinguish herself from the Carrie version. Carrie tends to bring something of a larger-than-life, almost epic feel to them. So Kree went the other way and dialed it back for a slightly more intimate feel. I thought it worked rather well. Of the first round songs, I thought this was the one that fit the contestant best and the most connected. On the downside, the vocals. I thought they sounded strained, which is not something you usually associate with Kree. They were not as good as Candice’s.

It’s something of a squeaker, but I gave the first round to Kree. Candice is a very close second, then Angie, then far behind, Amber.

Okay, round two. The “standards”. Again, to be honest, I found the entire second half of the show a bit dull. I fully expect angry e-mails accusing me of not appreciating classics, etcetera.

Angie stayed out of vocal trouble during her song. Mostly, anyway. Angie – she stayed out of vocal trouble. Mostly. It was a pleasant, reasonably competent version… that was also completely forgettable by the end of the show, let alone the next morning.

Faced with a choice of (who knows how many) American standards, Amber chose… the one she’s already sung in competition before. Ooo-kay. That said, she did a pretty good job with it; the vocals were pretty good, she actually connected with the song – a bit – and it was as good as she’s done for the past few weeks.

Now, Candice… what can I say? It was a pure vocal masterpiece. The restraint  and control that Harry Connick, Jr. called for worked supremely well for her.  This was Candice at her best – singing the living daylights out of a song, which immense emotion and conviction, and a confidence that makes it look like she’s been doing it for years.

If only HCJR’s advice worked as well for Kree. It didn’t; if anything it backfired. Kree’s vocals weren’t too bad, but the emotional connection you saw in See You Again wasn’t seen again. You could almost see how Kree was thinking her way through, not feeling. It never worked. This was very much like Angie’s first song for me – it had the ingredients of a good song, but it wasn’t mixed properly.

One more last thought about HCJR. The man is great at standards, but it’s clear he’s also a purist when it comes to them. He wants it his way, and his way is the correct way. End of story. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the one who had trouble with his advice was Kree, who has a quite a lot of experience in Nashville, and probably came to this week with a distinct approach in mind that differed wildly from what the celebrity mentor had in mind. I wonder what Idol‘s own vocal coaches were saying. I hate to say this, but… Randy Jackson was 100% right on the substance of the disagreement.

I’d give the second round easily to Candice. Amber is behind by a decent margin, and bringing up the rear would be Angie and Kree, pretty much tied.

Overall, this week was dull. It didn’t have any memorable and outrageous trainwrecks, and highlights were few and far between.

Now, who goes home? I think it’ll be Amber. There wasn’t anything I heard this week that made me think differently out of anyone in the competition. Amber had to prove that this was a top 3 where she belonged… and I’m not sure it did. Yes, she did My Funny Valentine very well. But if you’re selling Amber as a current artist, is her doing well on a song from before World War 2 going to help? Color me unconvinced. Candice probably did well enough to boost her to second ahead of Kree or Angie, but this was not a week that upset the apple cart in any meaningful way.

Bottom two: Kree and Amber

Going home: Amber.

Top 4 Non-Results: An Hour, Wasted

April 26th, 2013

I will try to keep this recap short because I actually respect the time of my readers and will not subject them to an hour of filler.

Unsurprisingly, the busing of Kree backfired. This always happens. For many, many years, confronted by pimping that is in defiance of reality, voters react by doing the opposite of what the judges want. And so it was with Kree and Amber. Kree was in the top 2 (smart money is she was #2), and Amber in the bottom two (and probably last).

Next week is going to be… interesting. We’ve established from this year that when their plans go wrong, the Idol producers learn to… try harder. Another full-court press will be in order next week, which will make this week look like an amateur hour. I predict very few happy recaps next week.

Why did the Idol producers suddenly go full-throttle with pimping Amber? I suspect it’s because of this rush to put out a winner’s album within weeks of winning. It’s not going to be a good album. You’re not going to get material that actually suits the Idols, you’ll get… leftovers. The debut albums of Idols are already renowned for being cheap, generic, and unrepresentative of their true art. From an artistic perspective, there is no reason to do this.

On the other hand, “striking while the iron is hot” makes perfect commercial sense. So they’re not taking any chances: they’ve decided that more than a good singer, they want somebody who looks the part. And… both Amber and Angie are drop-dead gorgeous. TPTB may think that their looks and appeal can override any musical faults of their winners.

I don’t know if that is the case. I suspect not, but then again there have been many acts of dubious musical quality who’ve managed to sell well. So who knows.

I will say this, though. What they have done is rendered the show unwatchable. Just when we were recovering from the disaster that was the first half of the season thanks to a certain male “singer” who will remain unnamed, this sort of raw, in-your-face manipulation arrived. I could go on longer, but I won’t. All I can say is: what the heck happened to just running a simple show?

The formula for a perfect Idol season is actually quite simple. Pick contestants who can a) sing well, and b) make good song choices (and clear them). Give them good, relevant themes. Have judges that can offer fair commentary, not “s/he’s in it to win it!” It doesn’t have to be perfect all the way – but this season has been a disappointment in every category. What an utter disaster.

Top 4 Performance Night: A Middle Finger To Everyone At Home

April 25th, 2013

Can somebody please check that Nigel Lythgoe and the other Idol producers are not receiving bribes from Mark Burnett and NBC? I swear, the quality of the decision-making this year goes beyond incompetence. It has descended to the point of malice. It’s as if they want Idol to deliberately, and utterly, fail.

That is the only explanation for the farce that was Wednesday night. It was a breathtaking display of bias and detachment from reality. They really, really, want Amber Holcomb to happen. Now, if Idol was essentially a way to promote the Idol producer’s Chosen One for a good chunk of the year, this might be acceptable.  But this is still, in theory, a competition. And competitions are supposed to be run with at least a pretense of fairness. Anyone who’s watched Idol before could tell that wasn’t the case. What kind of a night is it when Mariah Carey was the judge that made the most sense?

Okay, first half of the show. My initial reaction to Amber was: oh god, another ballad. It wasn’t all that poorly done, but honestly, this sounded like an audition for a Las Vegas residency, not anything remotely current or relevant. She’s got the vocals down, but her presence when singing songs is… non-existent. You hear the notes, but there’s no impact. I respect Amber’s vocals – but I find it all extremely dull and predictable.

I liked the cleverness of it Candice’s performance. There was an element of risk, of experimentation, of doing something new that I’ve missed all season. Vocally, superb. There was a cleverness to this that I’ve missed most of this season. I liked this performance, but I didn’t love it. It didn’t connect with me emotionally. I can see, intellectually, how it was a respectable effort. But it did nothing for me. That said, the judging was absurd. It was a “back to that little niche we’ve boxed you in!” type of commentary. And Candice got a “don’t stick to the same stuff” critique right after Amber? Really?

Kree’s performance made sense. The judges love to blather on about how a performance could be at somebody’s concert. Well, this one, I could imagine there. Maybe not at a large mega-venue, but at a smaller, more intimate stage? Hell yes. To me, this was actually one of the better Kree performances of late. I’ve blasted Kree for the not-connected bit in the past, but I didn’t see that here. At all. Maybe she’s not a natural performer. And Keith Urban was completely dishonest to call out Kree for not pouring out when, again, he’d tolerated robotic Amber performances. Anyone catch Kree’s “that’s BS” pained smile after that? That was not candor. The judging was complete, and utter, well, this:

Angie’s been woefully inconsistent this season. Guess what – when she’s on, she is absolutely dead-on. She picked a song that suited her really well, she sang it very well, and the Angie version of the Female Singing Robot stayed parked in the garage. I can’t say how original it was, but it was a very good performance. Bringing up the grandma, though? It was yet another ploy to get votes for Angie, which only increased my annoyance at Idol producers.

As for the duets, I will continue to engage in my usual practice this season of doing as much to ignore them. All they did was make me angrier: once again, the judges used this opportunity to run over Kree with the bus and artificially boost Amber and Angie. My reaction so far to all this:

Now, the second half of the show. Performance order again.

Amber’s version of MacArthur Park was… a hot mess. You can make a decent case that it was the worst performance in Idol history to receive any standing ovations. Amber “takes chances?” What the fuck was Nicki on? This was a pedestrian 70s disco song, with not an iota of creativity. Are we sure that the judges weren’t still celebrating 4/20 out in California?

Candice’s performance of Emotion was just okay. She sang it well enough, but it never went anywhere. Her vocals were excellent, as always, but it really wasn’t anything better than good background music. The way the judges (particularly Nicki again turned into a Boost Amber sideshow) was nothing short of shambolic. I was half-expecting the audience to break into chants of “Jerry! Jerry!”, like it was the Jerry Springer Show. It’s one thing to boost a contestant when it’s their turn to sing and be judged. It’s another to boost The Chosen One when it’s somebody else’s turn. Unbelievable.

Remember what I said about Candice – how I liked it, but didn’t love it? Same with this one. It’s a perfectly respectable song. Kree did an okay job vocally. But… it left no impact for me. It was just there. Her first performance was so much better.

Angie… “best of the night”? I don’t think so. It was a decent performance vocally. But good grief, it had all the appeal of a beauty pageant performance. It was all about putting Note A into Slot B with no real passion, no soul.  But when Angie isn’t feeling a song, it is ridiculously obvious – as it was here. I’m something of a car person, so I will use a car analogy here: Angie’s performance was like a Toyota Camry. Technically, it’s fine. Nothing will break. But you never get any feelings of excitement or passion. You may like it, but you will never, ever, love it. And that’s what Angie did. She turned in a performance I can like, but not one I can love.

Based on singing alone, the episode was okay. Unsurprisingly, the “open” half of the show was stronger than the second half, which was, honestly, just decent. However, it was all ruined by the horrific tries by the judges and producers to make Amber and Angie happen. That, and the tiny little fact that they can, in effect, ignore America thanks to the necessary non-elimination week that’s needed, left me nothing short of angry at the end of the two-hour Idol show. Everything that happened on Wednesday night was appalling. It was an insult to the contestants, to the voting public, and to every person in America and around the world who chose to watch the show and dedicate two hours of their lives to have a good time, not to have Amber and Angie rammed down our throats in spite of what ours eyes and ears were telling us.

It was a middle finger from Fox, Nigel Lythgoe, and everyone at Idol to us. Well, I only have one reply to that.