To my readers: I was in the hospital last week and unable to blog. Although I'm still recovering, I'll try to play catch-up and provide you with videos, photos and as much critiquing as possible, even though it is a week old.
Thanks for your continued support.
So the producers decide to make the theme for Week 1 of the Season 8 finals "The Songs of Michael Jackson," one of the artists that the judges always tell the contestants they shouldn't touch unless they can perform the songs better than The King of Pop. No one does Jackson better than Jackson, but much to our surprise, Adam Lambert gives a performance nearly as good. Woulda thunk it? It's just one week into the finals and we've already doing a complete 180 on Adam. His performance was so strong, he is the clear front-runner, despite solid jobs by Danny Gokey and Matt Giraud. Trailing just slightly were the girls: Allison Iraheta, Lil Rounds and Alexis Grace. As for the rest, they can go home now, 'cause they're not making the Top 5.
The evening looked promising when Lil Rounds led it off with "The Way You Make Me Feel." Her outfit seemed attractive, but on closer examination was a bit bizarre. The "blouse" looked as if it was the top part of a dress that the wardrobe people had cut down, paired with white slacks. It didn't work perfectly, but was not as horrible as Simon Cowell would have you believe. As for the performance, the vocal was strong but had some pitch problems. Though not karaoke, we would have liked if it had been a bit more interesting. And, yes, the last note was great. Randy Jackson thought Lil made the song new again with the bluesy, R&B, old soul vibe she gave it. "I loved it!" he proclaimed. Kara DioGuardi said, "I hope we get to hear you on the radio, because you are great." Paula Abdul called her "a force to be reckoned with." Simon thought it was good, but a bit of a lazy song choice and that the second half was better than the first half. He ended with, "and I hate what you're wearing."
Watch video of Lil Rounds singing "The Way You Make Me Feel"
What can we say about Scott MacIntyre that we haven't said before? Well, nothing. Is he horrible? No. Is he great? No. Is he mediocre? Absolutely. He brings to mind bland dentist's office music and sedatives. And must all his music always be so inspirational? From his audition song, "And So It Goes," to tonight's "Keep the Faith." In the past, Kara said he moves mountains when he sings and tonight Scott is singing about climbing the highest mountain. Enough, already. We get it. It's all about you, Scott. The judges had promised that another side of Scott would be revealed when we got to see him singing and playing piano. In fact, Kara says it again tonight. Yet, the only thing revealed was him playing piano. The singing was as boring as ever. Kara, however, loves the hopeful message of his song. She also says, "Was it the most dynamic performance? No. But what I love about you is that you're always true to yourself." (Would that be boring?). We can't help but smirk along with Simon when Paula says, "Scott, it's magical seeing your instrument at your fingertips." She also calls it "a lovely performance." Simon says, "I hated the song ... because nobody knows it." Scott answers, "I wanted to be a little artistic." Simon retorts, "Scott, it's fine being artistic, just not on this show." Heh! Randy says the performance was good but too safe, adding, "I want to see more sparks from you, 'cause I know you got 'em, Scotty." He does?
Watch video of Scott MacIntyre singing "Keep the Faith"
What people should admire about Danny Gokey more than his singing is that he is a master at marketing himself for "Idol," starting with his playing the dead wife card (which he has admitted he threw out there to help him get on the show). Add to the mix that he can work a stage almost as well as Adam Lambert and his "white soul" Michael McDonald voice, and he is one of those packages that Kara is always talking about. He will own the evening with his rendition of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" until Lambert takes the stage later on. Having Adam nipping at his heels must be a thorn in Danny's side. We get the impression that he doesn't take to be one-upped all that well. Paula tells him, "I'm going to go out on a limb and says 'I think you're on you're way to the finals.' " Simon can't help but laughingly remark, "We're only three contestants in on the first show, and you've already won." He then adds, "I thought the vocals were brilliant. You are one heck of a singer ... However, the dancing was hideous." No Simon, it wasn't. The question is, since Taylor Hicks was also compared to Michael McDonald and Simon thought his dancing was hideous as well, will Simon's love for Danny turn to same hate that Cowell carries for Taylor to this day? Randy said, "The dancing for me and the singing, I loved it all. You know why? Because the dancing wasn't choreographed, it was passionate. It was just the way you felt (shades of Taylor!). I liked it baby, I liked it!" Kara said, "You have joy when you step on that stage. You're just joyous."
Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"
There's something solid and comfortable about Michael Sarver, if not terribly exciting. And everything about the blue-collar oil-rig worker with the Siberian husky eyes screams U.S.A. all the way. His vocal of "You Are Not Alone," is fine but nothing more. To use a Simon Cowell line, you can hear a similar version on any cruise ship or hotel lounge in the country. Which is not to say that Michael is a bad singer, he just isn't a standout. Simon, who has always seemed particularly enamored with Sarver, says, "You're not the best singer in the competition ... but you made up for it with passion, heart and you gave it 110 percent." Randy says, "Tonight, so far, you're definitely one of the best in this (out of four? Randy also loved Lil and Danny, so that leaves Scott holding the cheese)." Kara says, "Tonight showed me that you really can sing." Hey, Kara, you mean he got to the finals and you weren't sure? She continued, "I thought you did a great job. ... You are serious. You bring your game every time you step out on that stage and I really like that about you." Paula says he picked a simple song that he colored up and sounded really lovely.
Watch video of Michael Sarver singing "You Are Not Alone"
Jasmine Murray shows potential, but much like Season 5 finalist Lisa Tucker, at this point she is way out of her league. Her rendition of "I'll Be There" lacked any punch or originality. Plus, there were moments of pitchiness. And we have to agree with the judges when they say she comes off as a young girl trying to appear older. There was nothing youthful about her song choice and her dress looked more like a dreadful nightgown. Randy says she did a pretty good job on it and he was actually impressed. Kara says she sold it and has great stage presence. Paula says she had some bright moments, but at other times she was under. Simon tells her she made a good attempt, but it was a little bit robotic and that she has a lighten up a little bit and start acting her age. He's right.
Watch video of Jasmine Murray singing "I'll Be There"
We go back and forth on Kris Allen. Every time we think there's nothing much to him, he shows some creativity which makes us change our mind. His performance of "Remember the Time" was better than his previous attempt at Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." He accompanied himself on guitar, though his strumming looked almost phony. But the guitar made him look better than just standing there singing. His vocals were pleasing, yet not very memorable. What will help him in the competition is his cuteness factor, though Simon told him he wasn't sure he would have brought the wife out so early [in his video] -- he would have waited another couple of weeks. Kris' wife, sitting in the audience, didn't look too pleased at that suggestion. Kara says when Kris plays his guitar it's a whole other side of him that really helps him performance-wise. Paula calls him engaging and adorable-sexy and tells him he did a great, great job. Simon said he didn't know whether it was a song that fit the guitar which made the performance a bit clumsy but the vocal was OK and that he's very likable. Randy says it was very Jason Mraz-y, ending with, "very well job done [sic], baby."
Watch video of Kris Allen singing "Remember the Time"
Allison Iraheta is the only true rocker in the competition this year and she has an amazing voice. However, she needs to work with a stylist on her massive head of hair and think more about her song choices. Though her performance of "Give in to Me" was spot on, it is a song that few people know and that hurt her badly in the voting. That she wasn't eliminated was a near miracle according to dialidol.com, which placed her next to last between Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nuñez, the two contestants who were booted the next night. It would be a pity to see this very talented 16-year-old eliminated early, as she is one of the bright lights in the contest. Paula tells her to stay authentic to who she is and that she knows they'll be seeing a lot more of her. Simon tells her it was a good performance and the good thing about her is that at least they know who she is. Randy tells her he thinks she can sing anything. Kara encourages her to keep being a rocker girl, that she distinguishes herself being the rocked-out girl with those vocals and that she did a great job.
Watch video of Allison Iraheta singing "Give in to Me"
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Anoop Desai, who is so likable that he will stay way past the point when he should have been eliminated, which was this week. To date, he has not proven that he has the vocal chops to be in this competition and his choice as a Wild Card, along with fellow unworthys Megan Joy Corkrey and Jasmine Murray is a travesty when much better singers were not given their shot. His vocals on "Beat It" were awful as compared with the original. And speaking of original, Anoop didn't even attempt to try to make the song his own, something that is necessary when singing such an iconic tune. It was karaoke at its worst. Paula tells him she thinks the song is untouchable and that anything other than the original artist sounds karaoke. Simon terms it horrible, saying there was no aggression, it was all very lightweight, karaoke and that it actually looked a bit stupid because it was like a really bad impersonation. Randy calls it the wrong choice, karaoke and adds that it didn't work for him. Kara says the biggest problem was that we didn't get to see Anoop do any variation on the song and that for the first time she felt disconnected from him as a performer. Ryan Seacrest asks Simon whether he regrets now making it a Top 13 by adding Anoop to the mix. Simon replies, "On the back of that, yes. I do actually. I didn't like that performance at all."
Watch video of Anoop Desai singing "Beat It"
We liked Jorge Nuñez 's voice the first time we heard it during his audition and were glad when he made the finals. And although it wasn't sparkling with creativity, we thought his version of "Never Can Say Goodbye" was pretty decent. He was on key and the tone of his voice was great. So we were surprised and disappointed when he was eliminated the next night, especially when there were others who sang far more poorly. The judges had no mercy for him. Randy tells him he has vocal chops, but calls the song choice old-fashioned and says their were pitchy points. Kara didn't feel that Jorge had an emotional connection to the song. She would have preferred a song like "She's Out of My Life." When Paula asks him why he picked the song, Jorge says it wasn't his usual style of song, but it fit his voice and he wasn't going to sing "Bad" by Michael Jackson. Simon jumps in with, "Well, you sort of did." Paula hopes American will remember that he is a brilliant vocalist because this wasn't the right song for him. Simon tells him it was corny, that he was out of his depth and that the arrangement was absolutely awful. It was so old-fashioned that Simon said he couldn't wait for it to end. Sadly for Jorge, it was the end.
Watch video of Jorge Nuñez singing "Never Can Say Goodbye"
OK, we'll be the first to admit that Megan Joy Corkrey is one of the most beautiful women we've ever laid eyes on. Her looks rival those of Charlize Theron. However, that is no more reason for her to be a finalist that Scott's blindness is. Her rendition of "Rockin' Robin" was literally laughable, especially the "caw! caw!" at the end. (And, yes, we know that robins don't caw, but there is a brief mention of a crow at the top of the song: Every little swallow, every chickadee/Every little bird in the tall oak tree/The wise old owl, the big black crow/Flapping them wings sayin' go bird go). Though it was more toned down this week, perhaps Megan related strongest to this lyric because her dancing resembles a bird flapping its wings. In any event, despite her "quirkiness" and the interesting tone of her voice, her phrasing and timing are the pits and she doesn't belong on the stage. Kara tells her she has a way of putting her signature ("lousy singer"?) on everything she touches. (Kara needs to go, big time.) Paula loves the quirky and unique tone of her voice, but felt disconnected and didn't hear the sound she loves until the end. Simon says "We like you, we've established that, but what a stupid song choice. The vocals weren't very good, the dancing was verging on ridiculous; the whole performance was just clumsy and awkward." And this would differ from last week -- the week you picked her as a Wild Card -- how? Randy says the song choice didn't really allow her to be Megan. Uh-huh.
Watch video of Megan Joy Corkrey singing "Rockin' Robin"
Megan's lack of skills only made the next performance that much more impressive. Yes, Adam Lambert is the king of musical theater on the "Idol" stage, but he used it to great advantage in his Axl Rose-ish shrieking rendition of "Black and White." Though to this point we've neither been a fan of his theatricality nor his high-range voice, it just all worked in this number, making it the most interesting and memorable performance of the night. It was hard to sit in your seat and not want to get up and dance (even in a hospital bed). The arrangement, the swagger, it all flowed beautifully together. The standing O was HUGE. Our only question: what's going to happen to his popularity with all those little girls shrieking "Adam, we love you!" when they finally find all those pictures of him Frenching guys on votefortheworst.com? Paula says, "Never in the history of 'American Idol,' all seven seasons leading up to now, have we ever -- and I believe this truthfully -- seen someone so comfortable, seasoned on that stage -- I don't even notice that 'cause my eyes are transfixed on you. Your innate ability to know who you are as an artist, and marry fashion with music ... You've got the whole package going on, and I believe with all my heart we'll be seeing you running all the way to the end, in the final." After that oral orgasm, we thanked Simon for asking her, "But did you like him?" Simon tells him that he was in a totally different league compared to everything else that night, adding that to make Michael Jackson work, you've got to be over the top. Cowell cited that it was an original version, the vocals were terrific and that it was something that people were going to talk about. Randy tells him that he could make a record right now that would go straight to the top of the charts. Kara says "You hit notes that I didn't even know they existed." (Kara says this a lot) and that she hopes Michael Jackson is watching this tonight. Adams seems to like that comment better than any other. His eyes light up and he mouths, "Oh! I love him." Hmmm, bet he would love you, too.
Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "Black and White"
As Simon would point out, following Adam was no small feat, but Matt Giraud held his ground, accompanying himself on piano to "Human Nature." It might not have generated as much excitement as Adam, bringing the pulse of the room back down to normal, but the playing and sweet vocals meshed beautifully with the high notes soaring out of the auditorium. It was the best performance we've seen Matt give. Randy calls it a really good performance with a couple of pitch spots and says Matt has that Robin Thicke/Justin Timberlake thing coming off. Kara says, "You are a talented guy and I hope I see you for many many weeks." Paula babbles, "You are talented, sexy, amazing, authentic. I'm blown away." Simon calls it a meat and potatoes solid good performance.
Watch video of Matt Giraud singing "Human Nature"
Closing the show is Alexis Grace, dirtying herself up for the judges one more time with her sultry, sassy R&B version of "Dirty Diana." The vocals are, as usual, almost on point (we heard a couple of pitch problems), but for us it was somehow missing some of the sparkle we would have liked, especially in the pimp spot. We know she owns one of better voices in the competition, yet we never get quite as excited about Alexis as everyone else seems too. Also, we wonder if her voice is distinctive enough to pick out on the radio. Listening to the audio without watching the video, we're doubting it. Kara tells her, "You're a naughty girl, and I liked it." Paula tells her to watch her oversinging. Simon calls it "Very over-the-top and probably not as good as you thought it was." Randy says, "I thought it good, it wasn't great, but it was good. Like the attitude." But, boy, can that girl wear a pair of hot pants.
Alexis got stuck with the oddball phone number ending in 36, as "Idol" only owns 12 consecutive lines, but it won't hurt her in the end.
Watch video of Alexis Grace singing "Dirty Diana"
Our Top 3: Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey, Matt Giraud
Our Bottom 3: Megan Joy Corkrey, Anoop Desai, Jasmine Murray
Ryan announces at the end of the show that on Wednesday they will announce a new rule that will change the way "Idol" operates. Uh-oh! Haven't we had enough ill-thought-out changes -- going back to Wild Card selections, sing-offs in the choosing the Top 36 -- already this year?
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