Be scared America -- be very scared. And for so many reasons. We sat through weeks of Idol auditions, the good and the bad (mostly the bad). We sat through a mercifully short week of Hollywood sessions. We waited with anticipation for the real competition to begin. And, like the judges, we were terribly disappointed with the men on Week 1.
Of course, it would be impossible to be more disappointed than the judges, because nearly everyone, with the possible exception of Blake Lewis, took a beating. Have the judges always been this critical on Week 1? Even Paula? Paula!!! Don't think so. They were tough to please indeed. Even the contestants we thought did well received only a pittance of praise -- if any at all.
But what scares us even more, are this morning's results on DialIdol.com, a service that has viewers vote through its phone lines to predict the outcome of the ballotting. Last season, much to the consternation of Fox and "American Idol," the service proved to be fairly accurate. By the end of the competition we felt confident we knew the results way before they were announced on the show, and we were rarely disappointed. DialIdol.com watchers were probably the only Idol fans in the country that weren't shocked when Chris Daughtry was eliminated and Katharine McPhee wasn't. We knew the numbers said there was a good likelihood it would happen. We also knew, with smug certainty, Taylor Hicks was safe when he went up against McPhee and Elliott Yamin, and that there was no way McPhee could win after she went head-to-head with Hicks in the finale.
So why are we worried? Because topping DialIdol.com's performance list for Tuesday night -- the person who ostensibly is the safest of the safe -- was one of the worst of the worst. His name is followed by another on our worst list, and the third name on the list is someone who only gave a mediocre performance. If you trust the stats, the only three male performers who are absolutely safe from elimination Thursday night are Sundance Head, Sanjaya Malakar and Chris Richardson. Excuse us while we get sick.
The only people doing the dance of joy today, outside of Sundance and his family, are the folks at VotefortheWorst.com. The site that brought us those dazzling photos of Antonella Barba on the throne could now put this whole competition in the toilet by advising its users to vote for the contestant they call "ManBearPig," with the slogan "Bad Head is better than no Head!" We've got to believe that that is the reason Head is in the lead -- and not that America actually thought his performance was good.
Here's how the night played out:
Rudy Cardenas kicked off the guys with the Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride," which apparently also describes what Cardenas got to the semi-finals. Question? Did anyone understand a word that he sang? He mumbled the entire song. Or, we think he did: We were so bored with the performance we weren't listening that closely. Randy thought it was corny, and we totally agreed with Simon's appraisal that Cardenas does not have a distinctive voice and that he would get lost in the mix. So, Simon, exactly why was he put through to the semi-finals?
Brandon Rogers, one of the two pro backup singers to make the semi-finals, did a fair rendition of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." The beginning of the arrangement was slow and interesting, but it became more pedestrian as it proceeded, a pleasant performance that was also extremely forgettable. But Rogers has a likability that should keep him safe this week. Randy felt the performance was pitchy and weird, and both he and Paula wished there had been less runs -- that Rogers was singing the song more as a backup singer than as a lead. Simon declared that Rogers was better than the material and that the performance was safe and predictable.
Sundance Head, whom the judges said they originally liked because of his bluesy voice, massacred the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin." His dull karaoke version, employing theatrically outstretched arms, was hardly ever on pitch. Randy said he didn't think Sundance was on pitch the whole song and Paula agreed, saying the pitch was all over the place. Simon jumped in with "You were like a dad at a wedding ... very old-fashioned, very uninspiring," and told Sundance that if he had sung this at his audition, they would have never put him through. Cowell ended with "I didn't like you tonight."
Paul Kim, barefoot or not, in our opinion is one of those guys who inexplicably got through to the semi-finals without the goods. We winced our way through his version of George Michael's "Careless Whisper," a song we really like, wanting him to stop with every note. This wasn't even good enough to be karaoke. Randy thought it pitchy and weird and that the falsetto didn't work, while Paula thought he oversang the song and didn't find his center. Simon suggested Paul put his shoes on next time he sings and called the performance a very ordinary attempt to copy George Michael, labelling it a third-rate version of the song.
Chris Richardson is one of those happy, peppy guys who reminds us of a 5-year-old trying to be a grown-up when he performs. He was out of his element with Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be," a song that was bigger than him ... especially after you've heard Bo Bice sing it (we actually like Bice's version even better than DeGraw's). Randy said "You made it kinda work," and Paula thought it was a great arrangement (a bit too hyper for our taste). Simon thought Chris' voice sounded very small and said if he was judging it on the vocal, he thought it was substandard. But he said the girls will vote for him, and apparently he's right.
Nick Pedro should have done OK with Richard Marx's "Now and Forever," but the spark he carried into his audition with "Fly Me to the Moon" was gone. We thought he would at least melt the little girls' hearts with this song, but he's dead last on DialIdol.com's list and will likely be eliminated Thursday night. Randy found him pitchy and boring and said "It just wasn't good for me." Paula said the magic fell flat. Surprisingly, Simon was kindest of all, telling Nick that he missed his liveliness and confidence, but that his voice didn't sound bad. He also told Nick he's a very charming guy and that he thought he'd be back next week. But we doubt it.
Blake Lewis was the stunner of the evening. Up to this point, we couldn't even remember him singing, only beatboxing, which got tired real quickly. This is, after all, a singing competition. But, Blake, whose looks remind us of Sting (not in this picture, but while he was performing), knocked our socks off with Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know." A great song choice, a great voice and the first performance of the night we totally loved. And it was from Blake, someone we had written off as a one-trick pony. We've totally revised that opinion and now predict he'll land in the Top 5. Go, Blake, go! Sadly, Randy only kinda dug it and missed the beatboxing (idiot!), while Paula told him his vocals were spot on and that he brought a contemporary vibe. Simon said he was the first person that night who came out and sounded like 2007, declaring it "the best performance we had tonight." And we agree!
Sanjaya Malakar is a nice kid -- with the emphasis on KID. This 17-year-old does not have the professional or emotional maturity to sing Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet," a song he really mucked up. It was sung much better by Elliott Yamin last season. And let's not even talk about the Luther Vandross version, which just melts us. And, Sanjaya, never sing a song with a lyric such as "I don't want to bore you," when you are doing just that. Every time you sang it, we laughed. Sanjaya said his sister, who was eliminated from the competition in Hollywood, picked the song for him. Not the best advice, Sanjaya, plus we think you need to stop playing the sister card. Randy trashed him so much we thought he would cry, telling him "I didn't think it was very good, dude. It wasn't even remotely close." And Simon named it "The most dreary performance we had all night," saying that it sounded like it took an hour and calling it "A waste-of-time performance."
Chris Sligh was someone we were anxiously waiting to hear. We love the music he does with his band. He chose "Typical" by Mute Math, neither a song nor a group we had ever heard of, but he made it work. Randy told him he's a Chris fan and that his voice was on point; Paula thought the song choice was great, though both Randy and Paula told Chris he was singing a bit ahead of the music. Simon said he liked Chris, but added that "I kind of felt I was at some weird student gig." This led to an exchange between Simon and Ryan.
And then the trouble started. Chris told Simon that the audience seemed to like this music and that "I don't sing Il Divo or The Teletubbies ..." (hey, were we the only ones in the world unaware that Simon was responsible for the Teletubbies?), a remark that had Randy and Paula hooting and clapping. Simon tersely remarked that Chris could sing for the latter, meaning The Teletubbies. Sensing he was treading dangerous waters, Chris then told Simon, "You know I love you." Simon said he liked Chris, too, but that his performance was not outstanding and that was all he was trying to say. But you could see that Simon was pissed, way pissed by the shot Chris had taken at him.
Then Ryan jumped in to add fuel to the fire saying that Chris had made Simon feel bad, which pissed off Simon even more. Simon told Ryan that he had made things very uncomfortable. Simon's jaw was set so tight, we thought he'd crack a bone. He kept his face turned to the side and he wouldn't even look directly at Ryan or Chris on the stage. All we can say is "uh-oh" and stay tuned for the fireworks next week (if Chris, or as we now call him, Dead Man Walking, even survives to next week).
Jared Cotter is a native Long Islander and we're rooting for him to move on. We thought he did a very respectable version of Brian McKnight's "Back at One." He sounded good, had a relaxed demeanor and exuded charm. Randy thought he was pretty good, but didn't like the way it ended, while Paula would have preferred a more up-tempo song. Simon found Jared very unadventurous and told him he sounded a bit nasally, but said he looked good. Don't know if looks alone will carry Jared to next week, though he certainly deserves to move on to the next round.
AJ Tabaldo, like Jared, has received very little face time so far, so we were surprised and pleased to hear and see his version of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much." It was a good upbeat choice and he performed it well. Randy said vocally it was pretty good and that AJ had worked it out. Paula told AJ he could sing and did a great job. Simon rebutted that, saying it was good, not great, not terrible. He then called it a theme-park performance that was very safe and very predictable.
Phil Stacey, whose wife gave birth to their second daughter the morning he originally auditioned, wound up tied with Blake for best performance of the night. Maybe it was the fact that his wife was in the audience beaming up at him or the fact they showed a clip of him with his new daughter, but this sailor (he's in the Navy) touched our hearts with his rendition of "I Could Not Ask for More" by Edwin McCain. Yes, it started out weak, but it was all uphill after the chorus and he brought it home. Randy gave it the best vocal prize of the night, but Simon, after saying the beginning was monstrous, said it was just OK, especially compared to singers such as Chris Daughtry. We still thought it was much better than OK.
Best of the Evening (in descending order): Blake Lewis, Phil Stacey, Chris Sligh, Jared Cotter, AJ Tabaldo
Worst of the Evening (in descending order): Paul Kim, Sundance Head, Rudy Cardenas, Sanjaya Malakar
Mediocre and Forgettable (in any order): Brandon Rogers, Chris Richardson, Nick Pedro
Should Go: Paul Kim, Sundance Head
Will Go: Paul Kim, Nick Pedro
We really can live without the hyperactive parents rooting their kids on. Last year we suffered through Katharine McPhee's witchy mom and bawling dad. This year we have Chris Richardson's red-faced dad attempting (that being the operative word) to dance to his singing, or as Paula put it, when Chris was on the upbeat his father was on the downbeat.
AND THIS JUST IN ...
Fox has announced that "American Idol" executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick have been named the executive producers for the "59th Primetime Emmy Awards" which will air on Fox on Sept. 16, live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
The announcement was made jointly today by Dick Askin, chairman and CEO of the Television Academy, and Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. “Nigel and Ken have consistently raised the creative bar with their innovative work on "American Idol" and we believe they will continue to do so during their first Emmy telecast,” said Liguori.
"Nigel and Ken are terrific producers, and their expertise in live event programming will be a major asset to this year's Primetime Emmy telecast," said Askin.
“The Emmy Awards not only celebrate excellence in television, the Emmy Awards are excellent television. Star power, production values, drama, suspense, tears and euphoria, just like an 'American Idol.' While appreciating the traditional and maintaining the high standards of past Emmy Award ceremonies, we will also be recognizing the ever-changing landscape of today’s successful television. It is a great honor and a wonderful challenge,” said Lythgoe.
“I am thrilled to be invited by the Television Academy to produce this year’s Emmy telecast. Shows with the prestige of the Emmys are a producer’s dream, so I am really looking forward to the challenge and am confident we will produce for Fox the best Emmys to date,” said Warwick.
... Fantasia is the special guest star on tomorrow night's results show. We voted for Fantasia during Season 3, but hated her last Idol guest appearance two years ago, when she screamed her song. Let's hope it's better than that.
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