Wednesday, May 13, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Top 3

OMIGOD, this may be simultaneously the worst season of Idol and the most exciting finale ever. Though in many ways we think the group of semifinalists selected this year was substandard when compared with previous seasons, and we hated most of the changes made by the producers –- from fourth judge Kara DioGuardi to Ryan Seacrest descending the Stairway to Disaster Heaven –- the closeness of the race between the Top 3 has become breathtaking.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t because all the performances were spectacular. But what looked like an Adam Lambert-Danny Gokey fait accompli since the beginning of the season is now a big question mark. And who would have imagined back then that the dark horse in all of this would be Kris Allen?

DialIdol is calling Tuesday night’s Top 3 sing-off too close to call, saying any of the guys could land in first, second or third position. So although Adam is leading Kris by about 1.5% and Kris is leading Danny by less than 1%, Kris could, in actuality, be in first place and Adam in last. There is no saying until tonight who will be in the finale and that is the enviable position that Fox and “American Idol” pray for. The ratings tonight should be awesome with the race so close. Stunning!

Perhaps not surprisingly, the contestants seem to know themselves much better musically than the judges do, as all three contestants' choice performances trumped their judges' choice renditions, especially in Kris' case. Simon Cowell wasn't the only one predicting it was the end for Allen after his first song. But he redeemed himself almost magically with his second song.

We also had to wonder how the producers determined the order of the performances. The first spot is generally considered the "death spot," because it is forgotten most easily, while the last position, or pimp spot, is the most coveted one. It couldn't have helped Danny that he went first, nor hurt Adam that he closed both the top and bottom of the show. Kris, the little train that could -- and did -- sat neutrally in the middle. While next week's positions will be (or has in the past been) determined by a coin toss, how were this week's chosen?

Danny Gokey opened the evening with Paula Abdul's selection for him, Terence Trent D'Arby "Dance Little Sister." When he read her text on the radio during his hometown visit, he told the DJ he didn't even know the song. Though we know D'Arby's more famous hits, we hadn't heard it before either, but when we sampled it online, we thought it fit Danny's vocal comfort zone perfectly. He did a good job and had good energy, though we were perhaps hoping the performance would have more electricity or magnetism. But it was good. Randy Jackson said, "Dude, I'm telling you, the way to jump it off tonight. Danny, a lot of energy, you performing like crazy, sounding good ... Dude, that was dope for me, dude." Kara told Paula she was glad she picked that song for Danny because "it keeps him in his money spot in his tone ... but I gotta say, the dancing was a little too gyrating for me. You're a great singer, but am I going to remember that performance tomorrow? I just don't know." Paula said, "Well, I'm a choreographer and I think you did (pause) REALLY GOOD! ... and you let that magic part of your voice carry out throughout the rest of the song. I thought you did a fantastic job. Way to go, Danny." Simon first reminds us (as he does whenever it's convenient for him, but forgetting it when it's not), that this is "a singing show, not a dancing show, like that funny little show next door (hmmm, what's in the studio next to them? We think "Dancing With the Stars," because in previous seasons stars have appeared live on both shows the same day). He then, heh, talks about the dancing, calling it a bit desperate. He offhandedly calls it, "Vocally, very, very good," adding, "My biggest problem was the toy saxophone solo in the middle ... so I wouldn't have put the saxophone solo (which Danny scatted to) in." He also says Paula was on the right track with Terence Trent D'Arby, but that he would have picked a different, more famous D'Arby song, such as "Sign Your Name." Interestingly, there's a bit of a reveal here, because Paula tells him, "But he's doing a ballad, so I wanted him to do something different." So this means that the judges knew what the contestants' picks were before they made their picks and, at least in Paula's case, tried to balance the choices.

Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "Dance Little Sister Dance" by Terence Trent D'Arby

When we first learned that Randy and Kara (have they merged into one person now named Rara or Kandy?) selected OneRepublic's "Apology" for Kris Allen, we knew that it would be perfect for his voice, as well. But we had this niggling thought in the back of our mind: David Archuleta sang this on last season's finale, and no way is Kris going to sound better than David. And we were right. Accompanying himself on piano, Kris struggled with pitchiness in a few places. It was not a great performance on a night that should have been filled with great performances. Danny might not have been great, but his first number was certainly better. We shouldn't have, but at that point we figured Kris was roadkill. Randy tells Kris the performance showed people who he could be as an artist, saying, "Nice, baby. Very nice." Kara calls it a really competent performance, but says "At this stage, you've got to be swinging it out of the park ... I wanted you to make it more your own." She hopes he will take more chances on his next song. Paula says, "There was a bum note there that was loud, but I am so proud of you, because at this stage of the game, all three of you are worthy to be in the Top 2 spot." Simon immediately takes issue with Paula, saying, "How can you say there's a bum note, I'm so proud of you"? He then attacks Kara, saying what she said was a cop-out. "You can't choose a song for him and them blame him for doing the song." This infuriates Kara, who lashes back with, "Wait a minute! You're going to tell me about interpreting songs? Have you ever interpreted a song in your life? No, I don't think so." Simon then says, motioning toward Rara-Kandy, "What these two should have done, what I did, is work out the arrangement -- if she wants you to play of the geetar, you should have played the geetar. You can't blame him, you didn't hold up your responsibilities," ending with a smug smile on his face. Randy chimes in with, "We should be able to work out the arrangements?" Simon: "Yeah, you should." Huh? How does this show how creative the artist is?

Watch video of Kris Allen singing "Apologize" by OneRepublic "One" by U2

We had read that Simon had sent Adam Lambert two texts, one saying he would be singing "One" by U2, the other saying he would be singing Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Man, we've wanted to hear Adam do Chris Isaak all season. But it was the U2 song, which Simon says he had to get permission from Bono for Adam to do, that won out. We wish it hadn't. We like what what he did with the song, but others we know despised what they felt was his sped up shrieky version of it. Really despised it. Heh, see, he should have done "Wicked Game." The judges, however, were awed by Adam. Randy tells Adam, "You are definitely still in the zone, man. You are one of the hottest three in this competition." Gee that's narrowing it down. "Unbelievable vocals, a little bit for me going off the melody, I don't know if I love that so much." At this point, Simon boos at Randy. Yes, it has become all about the judges and their song choices and arrangements. The contestants are just their props. As Simon continues to boo, Randy continues, "I lost the song a little bit that way," ending with, "It is a great song and you are a really, really talented guy." Kara says, "Adam, you're a strategist, an amazing strategist, and you just proved that you can take a song and do it in a completely different way, change up the melodies, change up the instruments and make it un-be-liev-able. Un-be-liev-able. You didn't just sing it the way that U2 or Bono did it. You did your own version." Then coyly turning to Simon, says, "See what I mean, Simon?" Oh, give it up, you babies. It's not all about you. Paula tells Adam, "You don't know how miserable my life is right now. Sitting next to him [Simon] gloating. ... It was one brilliant song, one superb performance and an American Idol that I'm staring at right now." Simon says, "Well, it may sound a little bit biased, but I thought that was a brilliant song choice. ... You find a great artist, you find a great song. You worked out what you wanted to do with it. It was a brilliant, brilliant performance and I have to say here and now, if you're not in the final next week, it will be one of the biggest upsets."

Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "One" by U2

OK, it's time for a consciousness-raising breather, so a film is shown of Carrie Underwood in Luanda, Angola, handing out anti-malaria mosquito nets and acting like a twinkie. She says to a resident, "Have you or your daughter ever had malaria?" The interpreter says, "They said they have not had malaria." Carrie, turning back to the camera with a lame, I wish I didn't have to do this smile: "Good. Then the mosquito nets are working." Duh. The producers air this film so they can pretend they still care. But fund-raising was really Nigel Lythgoe's thing, not theirs. And Nigel has danced away from "Idol." Of course, raising money is still the current producers' objective, only for themselves, not for the needy. BTW, Carrie's trip was paid for by sponsor Exxon, not the producers. Well, anyway, sorry, chap. Dark negative thoughts and all that. Ta ta and back to the show.

Watch video of Carrie Underwood in Africa

It's time for Round 2. Danny has picked Joe Cocker's "You Are so Beautiful" and slowed it down, softened it up and threw in a bit of gospel. It's nice. It sits well. We like it better than his first number. But why is Danny dressed like a Sunday school teacher? Oh, yes, he kinda is one. Randy says, "Dude, you showed you were here because you can really, really, really sing. Mad vocals, dude, mad vocals." Kara says, "Danny, everything that you didn't do in the first performance for me, you just did. That was s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g. S-t-u-n-n-i-n-g. There's nothing else to say. Amazing." Paula tells Danny, "You left all of us breathless. ... You nailed it. It was a beautiful, beautiful (voice going up) per-for-mance!" Simon says, "I loved the song, I wouldn't have done the same arrangement -- because it didn't need rearranging, it would have worked with you and a piano. Having said that ... I would call that a vocal master class." Wow, high praise, indeed.

Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker

Kris Allen's second number was the biggest surprise of the night, and might have won him a spot in the finale. We were a bit apprehensive when we heard he had chosen Kanye West's "Heartless," but he, too, took a song and made it his own, putting a soft jazz Jason Mraz-like spin on it. We were totally into it. Really, really good stuff. Though we would still argue that there is nothing recognizably distinctive about Kris' voice -- other than it being good -- we are beginning to that this kid might have a recording future. And we would love for him to put this on his record. Randy told Kris, "I like that version better than The Frays version, better than Kanye West's version. Dude! That, for me, was better than the original! Dude! You are in it to win it! I love it baby, I love it!" Kara says, "Why didn't you do that with "Apologize"? ... You know what? It was bold, it was brave and it was fearless. To stand on that stage with an acoustic guitar. ... Kudos. Kudos to you for that. Perfect -- the tone, the pitch, the phrasing. 100% Amazing." But did you like it, Kara? Paula, reaching for a laugh, says, "You know, you are the bravest artist, because you sang a song that's about Simon Cowell." Simon makes a "ha, ha, ha" face and motion. "Having said that, this is what makes you relevant, to be able to do something completely different. And I commend you. Bravo." Simon tells Kris, "Look, I'm going to honest with you. After what I thought was a rather lame song choice (referring to Randy's and Kara's pick for Kris) ... I had literally written you out for this competition. That, however, has all changed after than performance." Sure has.

Watch video of Kris Allen singing "Heartless" by Kanye West

We weren't thrilled when we heard that Adam's personal song choice was Aerosmith's "Cryin,'" which would inevitably take him back to his shrieky place. And it did. The performance was fine, only it's nothing we hadn't seen Lambert do all season. We would have preferred a number that would awe us, the way "Mad World" did. This was just another good Adam Lambert performance. Randy tells Adam, "You are one of the best that we've ever had on this stage. One of the most charismatic. One of the biggest, brightest stars, and you should make a rock album. I love this even more than "One" for you, because you should be a rock star. This is who you are, baby." Kara says, "How do you hit those notes and till talk the next day? ... That was amazing, and what can we say but, 'We'll see you in the finals.'" Paula tells Adam, "If Steven Tyler was a mentor, I don't think he'd have anything to say. You've set the bar so high in the sky ... we'll be seeing you next week (pausing) and many years after that." Simons says, "Look, Adam, I'm not going to suck up quite as much as the other three, and I'll tell you why I say that. It's very easy to assume that you're going to sail through to the final next week. Right? So, let me just take this back to tonight. The show is about finding a star who has earned the right to be in the final, and I want everyone not to assume that you're going to be there, but to vote for you because you deserve it based on talent." The other three judges start chanting, "Vote, vote, vote." And you know, Simon was right. It's going to be very close. If Adam doesn't make it to next week, it'll speak more to confident complacency on the part of his fans than anything else.

Watch video of Adam Lambert singing "Cryin'" by Aerosmith

Whereas we think Adam won Round 1, we would give Round 2 to Kris. But that doesn't mean Danny's out. He held his own in both rounds. It's impossible for us to call the Top 2. What do you think?

Tonight, Jordin Sparks and Katy Perry perform. We'll gnaw at our fingernails till the end of the show. Sigh!

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1 comment:

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