Thursday, February 26, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Top 36 Group 2

We learned long ago never to say "Things can't get any worse," but we didn't think it would ever apply to "American Idol." Yet, just when we thought Season 8 couldn't get any worse, along comes semifinalist Group 2. They make Group 1 look like consummate professionals ... and, as a whole, Group 1 sucked. Ugh!

We don't understand some things. Such as:
  • How could "music industry pros" Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi choose such a lousy group of 36 semifinalists out the over 100,000 who auditioned?

  • How much were this season's earlier shows edited to make these contestants previously sound as if they could actually carry a tune in a bucket?

  • And if the judges' decisions were so lousy (for the most part, even they don't like what they're hearing), why are they getting to choose the three Wild Card finalists instead of us? (Not that the public did any better by placing Michael Sarver instead of, say, Anoop Desai, in the finals.)
If we were king of "Idol" world, we'd fire all four judges for their lousy choices. But first we'd fire the producers for turning Season 8 into a hot mess by seemingly making it up as they go along. Everything this year is so scattershot that rather than looking like the No. 1 TV series it is, "Idol" comes off looking like a new series that is changing and experimenting week-by-week in order to grow audience and garner ratings. To wit:
  • Who needed a fourth judge? Nothing personal against Kara, but has she really added anything to the show thus far?

  • Why do they keep changing the seating order of the judges? This week the judges were back to what we're accustomed to, with (from the TV audience perspective) Randy on the left and Simon on the right. Why was it the reversed last week?

  • Why did the order of the judges' critiques change? Randy began the review for the first contestant, Kara for the second, Paula for the third and Simon for the fourth. This is not as satisfying as hearing all the other judges then waiting for Simon's thumb up or thumb down opinion. Plus, as the night progressed, there was absolutely no sense of order as to who critiqued first.

  • Why did the post-performance interview setup change? Last week, Ryan Seacrest did the contestant interview (usually with their parents) in the upstairs holding room. This week, interviews were conducted onstage and parents were restricted to the audience (which was better anyway).
Changes earlier this season were just as bad, such as having sing-offs (bad) in the gimmicky "judges mansion" (worse); removing Joanna Pacitti from the Top 36 after telling her she made it (bad), then replacing her with someone who was totally eliminated (Felicia Barton), instead of someone who lost the sing-off and theoretically was being still being considered as a semifinalist (worse).

And no one yet knows what next week's Wild Card round is going to look like. It changes by the hour. USA Today quoted Simon as saying that the wild-card picks wouldn't necessarily even come from the Top 36, while MTV News is saying that, according to an "Idol" spokesperson, each judge can pick two contestants from the Top 36, and those eight (or possibly nine) singers will perform on the one-hour March 5 show, with three advancing into the top 12.

Producers, stop acting like corporate America. A ratings drop after eight years was inevitable. Cease and desist with changing (and destroying) the core product in order to win more viewers and make more money. You're not only not getting more viewers, you're losing the people who put you on the top to begin with and still want to believe in the show -- but you're making it real hard for us.

So what has changed? We hate to admit it, as we always called him the master manipulator, but "Idol" is badly in need of the return of Nigel Lythgoe. He might be manipulative, but he also has an equisite sense of what works for the show and what doesn't. Simon Fuller, Ken Warwick and Cecile Frot-Coutaz would be wise to give Lythgoe anything he wants to entice him to return.

Jasmine Murray led off the performances with Sara Bareilles' "Love Song." Did she do that because Kara told Anne Marie Boskovich last week that she should sing a young, fun song such as that? Whatever the reason, it was wrong, wrong, wrong for Jasmine. We previously had high hopes for her, but the beginning of the song was awful (she has no low range) and the rest was off-key. A terrible disappointment from someone we thought was a shoo-in for the Top 12.

Watch video of Jasmine Murray singing "Love Song"

Although we weren't crazy about his audition, Matt Giraud started growing on us during Hollywood Week, especially after we he saw his rendition of Ray Charles' "Georgia." So we didn't know what to think when we heard he was singing Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." After all, he's no Chris Martin and their personal styles are at such odds. It didn't work ... at all. Matt's voice sounded too high and had too much vibrato (and we won't even go into the off-pitch parts). He needs to stick to bluesy numbers. When the judges tried to point that out to him -- Randy told him that Chris Martin wouldn't be singing Ray Charles, but Matt can and that he slayed "Georgia" -- he said "This is where I want to be as an artist. I want to do that type of music." Wrong answer, dude. As Simon said, making a motion to his mouth, "You should zip it."

Watch video of Matt Giraud singing "Viva La Vida"

But the worst was yet to come, in the form of Jeanine Vailes. Perhaps overreaching her skills because she's received absolutely no face time on the show (she wasn't even shown making the Top 36 until tonight's intro clip), she went with Maroon 5's "This Love." Now this is a song we love. We can love it even when it's not being sung by Adam Levine. For instance, we loved the Blake Lewis version of the song. But Jeanine? Uh-uh. Since we haven't seen her sing previously, it's hard to tell if she's always this bad. Off-key, pitchy, just stinko. Thank goodness she wore hot pants, because Jeanine has great long, shapely legs. It was the one positive thing the judges could find to say about her. The only thing.

Watch video of Jeanine Vailes singing "This Love"

If we're being honest, we wanted to turn off the TV when we heard that Nick Mitchell was up next. Hadn't we already been tortured enough? Our only hope was that maybe he'd actually sing. Not a chance. Not only did he come out in his Normund Gentle persona, we again had to hear "And I Am Telling You." Talk about a one-trick pony. It was somewhat funny at his audition, less so during Hollywood Week, but not at all during the semifinals. (During her critique, Kara even pointed out that Nick, like Simon, even wears the same shirt every week.) Perhaps he's incapable of memorizing the words of another song. Let's face it, at best, Mitchell is a cabaret act and that's not what "Idol" is. Sadly, we all know from the few brief moments we heard of "Amazing Grace," during his audition, that Mitchell can sing. But in his heart he's a clown. And we're not laughing anymore.

Watch video of Nick Mitchell singing "And I Am Telling You"

Allison Iraheta, like Jeanine, is also pretty much an unknown quantity, so we weren't expecting much, especially after her less-than-scintillating pre-performance interview where she had trouble stringing together enough words to form a sentence. But her rendition of Heart's "Alone" was actually pretty decent, even though she's not going to make anyone forget Carrie Underwood's version of it. Allison has a raw, raspy quality to her voice that is vaguely reminscent of Amanda Overmyer, yet it's slightly refined and controlled. It's the rough rock edge that Gina Glocksen always strived for, but never quite attained. In any event, the judges went overboard with praise, perhaps because it was the first acceptable performance of the evening. Any other year, it would have been deemed good, but not great. But this isn't any other year. It's the year of the talentless semifinalists.

Watch video of Allison Iraheta singing "Alone"

Though he had little exposure prior to this week, we still had great expectations for Kris Allen. We like his voice though previously we had heard only mere seconds of it. He's also cute, so we thought he'd be a favorite of the teen set. We weren't sure what to think of his choice of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." Choosing a Michael Jackson number is usually the kiss of death, and though a hit, it certainly wasn't one of Jackson's best. However, that might have worked in Kris' favor, as it is not as imprinted in people's minds as a song such as "Thriller" or "Beat It." No doubt, it started rough and Kris never quite shook out his nerves until very near the end of the song. Plus his bobbing while singing got us a bit seasick. But he had some nice notes on the back end and might do a lot better with a more thoughtful song choice. But will he get the chance? Not unless he makes it to the Wild Card round.

Watch video of Kris Allen singing "Man in the Mirror"

Though Kris' bobbing made us seasick, Megan Corkrey's strange body movements while singing we found just plain weird (it reminded us a teeny bit of Casey Carlson. What is it with these pretty girls?). We imagine if you merged the genes of Brooke White and Carly Smithson you'd get Megan. Pretty, sweet and blonde like Brooke, she also has a hippie vibe, yet her right arm looks to have even more tats than Carly's does. It's a somewhat unsettling contrast. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a voice as good as either. The judges, who love her, call her interesting, hip, cool, relevant and current. For the most part, they love her version of Corinne Baily Rae's "Put Your Records On." Us? Not so much. She had some nice moments, but some pitchy off-key ones as well. But we did get glimpses of what Randy called the smoky jazz tone of her voice. Yet when Kara said "You're what we call a 'package artist,'" we really got turned off. Kara continued, "You're very pretty, you stand out, you're unique, and with the right song, you could be a breakout hit artist on the radio." Notice DioGuardi never said anything about having a good voice or "mad skillz." And we think that's why there are so many bad semifinalists this year. Because the judges are focusing more on the package and less on singing ability.

Two final notes: We object to the way that Simon exhorted viewers to vote for Megan even though he wasn't pleased with her singing. This is the same way that Michael Sarver became a finalist last week. We hope the American public realizes how foolish they were to listen to Simon then and ignores him now. And, did Megan look pregnant to you, too (and we're not just talking about the dress style, but what appeared to be under it, as well)? Freeze the end of the video when there are only 48 seconds left.

Watch video of Megan Corkrey singing "Put Your Records On"

Next up was welder Matt Breitzke, who sang Tonic's "If You Can Only See." Again, we found ourselves at odds with the judges. Though they all seem to like Matt as a person, they all came down on him for a boring performance. Could it have been a bit stronger? Probably. But we heard true talent in his voice (not off-key or pitchy) that leads us to believe that he could be a recording artist whose releases we'd buy. He is one of our favorites, but is probably now roadkill after his less-than-enthusiastic reviews. We'd much rather listen to him than Michael Sarver. And not for the first time in this competition, we admired him for sticking to his guns about his song choice. After Simon totally trashed him about it, Matt said to him, "I appreciate that, I just disagree." And when Ryan later asked him if Simon would have tried to talk him out of singing that song would he have done it anyway, he answered, "Yeah, I probably would have done it anyway." Good for you, Matt. The judges know nada this season, anyway.

Watch video of Matt Breitzke singing "If You Can Only See"

Though she doesn't have the best voice in this competition (or even in her group, for that matter), there is something about Jesse Langseth that we find very appealing. She didn't hit a homerun (probably just a double) with her version of Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes," but we liked it nonetheless. And there is a fearless and open honesty about her that most other contestants don't have. When Randy gave her a vague, slightly negative critique, Jesse asked him for a clarification. And, surprisingly, she got one. Jackson told her, "Here's the deal. Vocally, I wanna see you stretch yourself. I want to see where the range can go. I don't want to see a cool performance that's a five-note range. ... It's cool, but it's like OK, what can she do? Does it show me who you are?" Now why couldn't he have told her that in the first place? And frankly, we think Jesse's vibe is more current and relevant than Megan's is. We're just saying ...

Watch video of Jesse Langseth singing "Bette Davis Eyes"

We were so rooting for Kai Kalama. We loved his audition, his look, just everything from his initial Season 8 appearances. But when we heard he was singing Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" we knew he was dead meat. Not because it's not a good song. It is. And not because he didn't sing it well. He did. But we knew with certainty that Simon was going to bash him and call it old-fashioned, especially after Kai sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" at his audition. Well, Simon didn't have to bash him. Kara did it first. First she told him he had some pitch issues, then said, "I think the song was a little old-fashioned for me. I'd like to see what you could do that's more contemporary ... because we really haven't seen that." Simon, of course, added, "It was very old-fashioned, I thought the performance was corny and I thought it was the kind of thing you would hear at a wedding or in a hotel. ... There was nothing distinct, nothing original and nothing really memorable about the performance, to be honest. It was sort of capable." Then the final kiss of death: "I think you'll be a very good backup singer." Oy.

Watch video of Kai Kalama singing "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted"

Next up was our -- not America's -- favorite performer of the evening, and it came as a surprise, because Mishavonna Henson is another contestant who was among the missing, on video at least, during the early rounds. When we heard she was singing Train's "Drops of Jupiter," all we could think is, "I hope she's better than Ace Young was." And OMG was she. She not only displayed great vocals, she finessed the song to her own style. She is one of a handful of the female contestants possessing any talent. We were awaiting the kudos from the judges. We still are. Sigh. You know you're in trouble when the critiques start with Paula and she's not even in your corner. Abdul told her she sang it well, but it just didn't excite her (well, it's not a vibrator). Simon also tells her she's a good singer, but she's too serious and something left him really cold about the performance. Then he asked her age. She says 18, and Simon tells her she acts like a 50-year-old. Huh? He wants her to be younger and a bit more fun. Obviously, Mishavonna's problem is she has more talent than package. Oy.

Watch video of Mishavonna Henson singing "Drops of Jupiter"

Somehow Adam Lambert in the pimp spot seemed so appropriate, but not because of his performance of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Lambert is full of himself (are you listening Danny Gokey?) and, worse yet, so theatrical, that nothing rings true about him as a singer. He was strutting and posturing, but not in an authentic Mick Jagger way. Adam, whose background is musical theater, is a poseur. He is acting the rock star as a role. He isn't really one. Everything is facade. Of course, the judges went crazy over him. They could barely contain themselves. When Paula gave him a standing O, we did a Simon Cowell eye roll. Obviously the judges (read: producers) are conspiring to construct dreaming about an ultimate face-off between Danny and Adam. We're gonna be hating the finale if that's the case.

Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction"

Tonight, the three more contestants are chosen as finalists. We predict they will be:
Adam *shock* Lambert
Allison Iraheta
Jesse Langseth

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© 2009

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