Wednesday, April 29, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Top 5 Jazz Standards Week

We were so looking forward to this week's theme, originally announced as, to quote the Fox press prelease, "standards made famous by members of the original Rat Pack, a group of legendary performers that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr." By the time the show aired on Tuesday, Ryan Seacrest announced that the finalists would be singing "songs from the Rat Pack era." Hmmm, not quite the same theme. In fact, the music really even fit the second set of parameters. The Rat Pack era is generally recognized as the mid 1960s, while this week's music was popularized from the '20s to the '50s. In fact, only "Feeling Good," sung by Adam Lambert actually came from the correct era. Fittingly for Adam, the song was introduced in the 1965 Broadway musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint — the Smell of the Crowd."

Which is not to say we don't like the genre. In fact, we would have liked to have heard more of it -- as in twice as much -- like in previous years, when the Top 5 sang two songs each. Because the producers added a fourth judge this season, and because those judges' comments can't be reined in effectively by the show's director, what has been sacrificed is performance time. We don't know about you, but we'd much rather hear two songs by each finalist than watch useless videos and listen to inane comments by Kara DioGuardi.

Finally, it needs to be asked: With the huge catalog of jazz standards that exists, can't the producers take a teeny tiny piece of their gazillions of dollars to buy the rights to more of them? Five contestants, five songs and every single one of them is a retread from seasons past:

David Radford and Jasmine Trias sang "The Way You Look Tonight"
Katharine McPhee and Diana DeGarmo sang "Someone to Watch Over Me"
Melinda Doolittle and Constantine Maroulis sang "My Funny Valentine"
Katharine McPhee sang "Come Rain or Come Shine"
A.J. Tabaldo and Leslie Hunt sang "Feeling Good"

C'mon, give us a break.

This week's guest mentor is Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart Jamie Foxx. Color us confused, 'cause we're not quite sure what Foxx has to do with standards, other than he won as Oscar for playing Ray Charles, who occasionally sang them. To his credit, since playing Charles, Foxx has recorded two albums, but they're R&B/hip-hop albums, not standards. To be generous, even when his music spills over into R&B, Foxx's voice is similar to and no better than Anoop Desai's.

Watch video of Jamie Foxx arriving at the Idol mansion

The mentor choice seemed rather last minute, first because it wasn't announced in advance by the network, and second because it would seem that the contestants only met with Foxx on the same day the show aired. Kris Allen in his intro video, says, "I'm going to be singing 'The Way You Look Tonight,' tonight," suggesting the video segment was shot Tuesday. He is then seen wearing the same exact clothes when he meets and sings for Foxx. We're guessing Kris has more than one outfit. If the finalists only met with Foxx yesterday, wouldn't that kind of be after-the-fact mentoring?

Foxx loved Kris' rendition, saying that Allen wasn't trying to sing "the throat Olympics" and that he'd do a record with him. Jamie tells Kris, "You're my No. 1" and "if this whole thing doesn't work out, we can do something, my man." Kris' vocals were tender and good, though not great or especially memorable. With little or no segue, he suddenly and disconcertingly went uptempo midway through the song, then resumed the slow tempo near the end. Frankly, the whole performance would have benefited from being more uptempo. Randy Jackson calls this Kris' best performance to date (not), saying "You took your time, you told a story, you had some R&B stylings. Mad, nice vocals, baby." Kara tells him, "You have set the technical standard so incredibly high" with his impeccable phrasing, his diction, his rhythms, his timing and his unique approach to the song, ending with, "You are truly a dark horse in this competition." Paula Abdul calls the performance "near impeccable." Simon Cowell is, thankfully, not quite as enthusiastic. "I thought it was good, I'm not quite as enthusiastic as these three, only because I thought it was a little bit wet." Huh? He continues: "You're like taking a very well-training spaniel for a walk. It's going to safe, it's going to be quite nice, but I didn't think it was incredible. I don't get the feeling from you tonight that you can win this competition." Asked by Ryan what he means by "wet," Simon says, "not dry." Ryan: "Thanks for clearing it up." It won't be the only bizarre appraisal by Simon tonight, who will sound as if he's begun drinking from Paula's Coke cup.

Watch video of Kris Allen singing "The Way You Look Tonight"

For us, the most pleasant surprise of the evening comes from Allison Iraheta. Who thought the raspy-voiced, magenta-haired little rocker girl (who turned 17 on Monday) could do such a lovely job on "Someone to Watch Over Me"? It was she, not Kris, who had impeccable phrasing with her heartfelt rendition. She connected to her song and we connected to her. It was one of her best performances and she looks sensational with extensions in her hair, wearing a beautiful black-and-white cocktail-length dress. Randy tells her "You come out looking like Brittany Murphy, looking dope. You sing like Pink, but like with 9,000 more octaves ... Dude, I don't care what nobody tells you, that was da bomb, and you did it in your own kind of rough, kind of gruff kind of style and I loved it." Kara: "You converted some new fans tonight. You are not a one-trick pony. You are not just some rock chick. That was a gut-wrenching deep emotional way-beyond-your years rendition. And if that doesn't land you in the finals, I don't know what will." Paula says she's been waiting so long to hear how Allison would approach a ballad. "What you delivered tonight had an innocent sensibility that was both alluring and very tender. I'm really proud of you." Simon, who seems determined to bring the mood down for Allison, as he did with Kris, begins with, "Allison do you think you can win this competition at this stage?" She probably doesn't, but she probably thinks she shouldn't be eliminated yet, either. After a pause, she stands up to him and says (unconvincingly), "You know I can. I think all of us have that chance right now." Simon says, "I don't feel that belief in you, still." He tells her it was a great performance and it was great hearing her sing a song like that but that maybe she's just been overshadowed by some of the personalities, ending with, "I have a horrible feeling you could be in trouble tonight." The whole critique seems to have the agenda of bursting Allison's bubble. What is Simon up to?

Watch video of Allison Iraheta singing "Someone to Watch Over Me"

Although this genre should belong to Matt Giraud, we knew that if he didn't shine most brightly with his performance, his light would probably flicker and die. Sadly, it's time to blow out Matt's candle of hope. His version of "My Funny Valentine," has some nice riffs, but it is pitchy from the start. Vocally and emotionally it doesn't even measure up to Constantine Maroulis' rendition, much less Melinda Doolittle's iconic one. It is the night's weakest number. Randy says it's one of the hardest songs to sing ever, but that it was a little bit pitchy and that some of the runs landed right, but others didn't. "It didn't all quite come together for me. I'd give it like a 6 out of 10." Kara says that she doesn't feel that Matt was emotionally connected to the song (Matt protests "I was") and that's what she was missing most of all. Paula says, "I love what you did with the song ... I felt the emotional connection ... it was pure, simple and really impressive. I think you did an excellent job tonight." Simon agrees with ... Paula! "For me, it was the only believable, authentic song I've heard tonight (has he been asleep?). I can tell that you love the music and I heard almost Nat 'King' Cole type of phrasing (whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?) there. I thought you were absolutely brilliant." We're not buying this at all. Cowell is definitely up to something. He's definitely trying to have an effect on the voting. But what?

Watch video of Matt Giraud singing "My Funny Valentine"

We actually weren't expecting too much from Danny Gokey this week, but for our money, he slightly edged out Allison with the most effective performance of the night with "Come Rain or Come Shine." His bluesy version of the number has a slow build but is an emotional wowza by the end. But though he looks very hot and Robert Downey-ish in rehearsal with Foxx, we hate the way he has shaved off the bristle into a largish soul patch for the live performance. Yuck. Randy says, "You are the only one who I've heard so far tonight who can actually have an album of songs like that and win. ... This is a singing competition and YOU CAN SING!!!" Kara says, "Danny, what I've been missing from you all season is that Rat Pack swaaaagger. And you had swag tonight. I mean, the end of that performance -- that was the most creative you've ever been with a melody. It was un-be-liev-able." Paula calls it a stellar, stellar performance. "And the best thing about you, Danny, is that I can tell that you can see the finish line right in front of you. Way to go." Simon: "What Kara said is 100% right. What you had tonight was a swagger and a confidence. ... I felt tonight you came out to prove a point. ... That was outstanding." Cowell also complimented Rickey Minor on the arrangement, which he called superb.

Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "Come Rain or Come Shine"

Wearing his "Saturday Night Fever" suit, which would have been a much better fit for Disco Week, Adam Lambert predictably goes over the top with a very theatrical version of "Feeling Good," that is largely borrowed from Muse's 2001 rendition. The best part involves Lambert's model-ish amble down Ryan's Stairway to Heaven, in what Simon calls the "best entrance we've had of the year so far." We knew Adam would try to rock out standards night, just as he tried to slow down disco night. When the rest of the Idol ship is tacking to starboard, Adam's sails are shifting to port and vice versa. The vocals are standard Adam: They range from sweet tenderness to near caterwauling. The drama queen's performance was good, but not the best of the night. We're beginning to think he peaked too early and is starting to lose steam. As they say on "Dancing With the Stars," it's not where you started, but where you end. Randy says "It was a little theatrical, a little too drama-filled, a little too Broadway for me, but you are in the zone consistently, dude. Another good performance." Kara calls him shocking in a good way. "Confusing and shocking and sleazy. Superb and way over the top. I don't know. I like you. Craziness!" Paula says, "You make me feel better than good. With every performance I see, it's like watching the Olympics and you're our Michael Phelps." Simon, laughing, says, "I love Randy talking about you being theatrical. It's like complaining that a cow moos. Well, that's what he is. I'll tell you what I love about this competition this year, is that normally every year we have people bleating on about how winning isn't important, etc., etc. Well, winning is important. And what I get from you, and from Adam (um, think he means Danny) and from some of the other competitors, in fact all of them actually, no, three of them actually (Adam, Danny and Matt?) is the feeling that you want to win. And you want to prove a point every week. And you want to entertain. And that's why I like the show this year." Which is amazing, since Cowell has looked bored out of his mind most of this season.

Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "Feeling Good"

This week, the voters had some trouble deciding who they like the most. According to, only a tic over a percentage point separates the Top 3: Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta. Kris trails Allison by about two points and Matt trails Kris by about the same amount. But none of the finalists seem to have a definitive edge, so it's anyone's guess who the producers decide gets eliminated tonight. DialIdol says any of the five could finish first or fifth. The season could be heading for a very unpredictable finish.

Our Top 2:
Danny Gokey
Allison Iraheta/Adam Lambert (tie)

Our Bottom 2:
Matt Giraud
Kris Allen

Should be eliminated: Matt Giraud
Will be eliminated: Matt Giraud

Tonight, Season 5 Idol champion Taylor Hicks performs "Seven Mile Breakdown" from his new CD, "The Distance." We've also read that Paula said Natalie Cole will be performing tonight.

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