I’m gonna do a weekly blog about American Idol. There it is. This is happening.
First, a few words on what American Idol means to me…
I haven’t always been an avid Idol viewer. I watched season one out of sheer curiosity, but I didn’t really get the appeal. I watched the beginning of season two because one of my classmates had made it decently far into the competition, so the loose association with the show was enough to get me watching. But then I stopped. I had other stuff to do, I guess.
I began watching again just a few seasons ago, during the year that the kid with the monkey face beat out the kid with the terrible screaming.
What I love about American Idol in its current incarnation is that it’s an absolute train wreck of a show, but one that takes itself immensely seriously. What this means for me, the viewer, is a lot of unintentional hilarity. To be quite honest, I can’t even believe that this show isn’t categorized as a comedy in TV listings.
Every now and then I genuinely enjoy someone’s genuinely good genuine singing, genuinely. But most of the time, my viewership is akin to pulling over on the side of the road and taking pictures of an out-of-control tornado that is also on fire. American Idol is bad-good.
So join me, weekly, in reveling in both the triumphs and the schadenfreude of it all. If you’re already a viewer, welcome. If not, perhaps my musings here will convince you to take a peek for yourself at the fiery tornado on the side of the road that you’d otherwise go out of your way to avoid.
And it begins.
This week marks the first official week of finalist competition.
First up to sing is the early favorite to win this whole damn thing, Lauren Alaina.
Lauren is a perky southern teenager who, in the semifinals, was famously touted as a cross between Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Seriously. Before the finalists had even been assembled, this kid was already anointed as a mash-up of the only two successful American Idol winners to date. I want to not like her because of this early favoritism, but dammit, she’s been so good so far. But not so much tonight. Tonight, she squeaked out some Shania Twain song with odd country phrasing. I don’t get it. Maybe the middle of the country does, but not me. It’s pretty clear Lauren knows that the contest is her’s to lose, even this early. It didn’t take long for this kid to say, “Yup, we’re good. 13 weeks left, we got it in the bag. Let’s just run out the clock now. Whatevs.” Lauren will be safe of course because Moms are the only ones who vote on this show and your Mom loves her.
Next up to sing is Seth Rogen, who has taken the stage name “Casey Abrams” in order to compete discretely in this contest.
Seth sings that Joe Cocker song that was once the theme song to The Wonder Years and, apparently, that song has a whole bunch of other parts that weren’t included in the credits to The Wonder Years. Seth sang them all — or rather, he growled out a good majority of them, punctuated by short bursts of girlish falsetto “oooh!”s. I love him. He makes me laugh, and I’m still not sure if I’m laughing with him or at him. It’s too early to tell. I hope he wins.
Third singer of the night is some girl named Ashton something.
I wouldn’t go nuts trying to learn her last name because this girl is here simply because the show needed more bodies to put up on stage to round out the top 13, and she was a “Wild Card” pick. For those unfamiliar with Idol procedure, “Wild Card” means: “America didn’t pick them, the judges gave them a second chance because — what the hell, why not?” Ashton’s video intro includes her rejoicing in the praise of an offhanded remark the judges made the previous week comparing her to Diana Ross. Though I have a sneaking suspicion that comparison was aided more than a little bit by this chick’s GIANT HAIR. Oh my God look at that hair. How could you look at her and not be thinking of Diana Ross, regardless of hearing any of her singing?
You might guess how this ends. Ashton makes the ill-advised decision to sing a Diana Ross song, admittedly higher than the range at which she is comfortable singing. It’s no bueno, to say the least. The judges don’t compliment her, but they don’t scorn her either. It’s pretty clear no judge wants to shit on the Judges’ Pick. America said, “NO, THIS IS BAD”, but the judges said, “You don’t know what’s good for you.” And here it is to bite them in the ass. This marks the first time in the season that I have missed Simon Cowell. He would have said something soul-crushing at this point in the competition. It makes me sad that he isn’t here to share this with us. Damn you, Ashton!
Next up is Paul McDonald.
Paul sings a Ryan Adams song in an affected hipster-whisper voice, and dances around like a baby velociraptor on some pretty powerful sedatives. I know that sounds like a crazy thing to say, but that’s literally the most accurate way I can describe this guy’s movement on stage. If that weren’t enough, he looks like he could, at any point, stop singing and start molesting people in the audience. There’s no way this guy doesn’t have a windowless van in the parking lot. His stage presence was once praised as “charming” and “quirky,” but I’ve been calling it “molestery” this whole time.
Don’t act all surprised in a couple of months when you start seeing this guy on the news every night and police are trying to figure out what he did with the bodies.
The next singer is Pia Toscano, one of the vaguely ethnic contestants to have graced the stage this year.
Tonight, she wears a super shiny dress that, for some reason, has a cape. The cape is never explained. It’s just there. Whatever, sometimes people wear capes, I get that. No biggie. She sings Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” That song is terrible. Just terrible. But she sings it in a way that makes it not even that terrible. That’s literally the biggest compliment I can give. She might win by surprise. I say by surprise because no one ever remembers the ethnics until the end. Those sneaky ethnics.
I should also point out that Steven Tyler inexplicably chooses to wish Pia Toscano a “Happy International Women’s Day.” Why he chose the third of this evening’s female contestants upon which to receive this greeting is a complete and utter mystery, as is the very nature of “International Women’s Day” itself. But I’m just glad that Pia, the ambassador for all women in the world, ever, was there to receive it on our behalf. Happy International Women’s Day, indeed.
Next is James Durbin.
There are only two facts you need to know about this young man: 1. James has made it very clear that he is going to do his best Adam Lambert impression every week. 2. This week, James sings “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Armed with those two facts, how do you think this went? If you enjoyed Adam Lambert, like America’s Moms did, you probably enjoyed this performance. If you could never understand Adam Lambert’s appeal, like myself, you probably spent these three minutes laughing and saying to your Mom, “Are we even hearing the same singing?!” In conclusion, this guy might win.
This brings us to Haley Reinhart.
Haley is the best performer to watch because she has an amazing voice, sure — but there’s no way to take her seriously because she performs like a spaz. She moves like she’s doing an bad impression of what she thinks a sexy singer looks like. She eye-fucks the camera like crazy, and the hilarity that ensues cannot be matched by any scripted comedy on television. Last week, her performance of “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys was easily one of the funniest things I have ever seen on American Idol. (The song kicks in at around 0:35)
So we have a good news/bad news scenario this week with Haley. The good news is that she sings LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue” about a thousand times better than she sang that Alicia Keys song. The bad news is that she really tones down the spaz dancing, the eye-fucking, and even the growling! But we’ve got 13 weeks to go, and this chick is all kinds of crazy, so I’m pretty confident it’ll be back.
One of the complaints about American Idol is that it’s super cheesy. Here to reinforce that sentiment is Jacob Lusk.
Jacob’s performance has everything you’d want to include if you were doing a spoof of an American Idol performance on a sketch comedy show, like SNL. Gooey-cheesy pop-ballad from the ‘90s (“I Believe I Can Fly”)? Check. A video background featuring stock footage of clouds in the sky? Check. A gospel choir in shiny robes singing back-up vocals? Check. Lead singer screaming every note he possibly can and stretching out one final over-modulated “glory note,” far beyond its intended use? Triple check. I think Jacob’s a good singer, but like Haley, I laugh far too much during his performances to take him seriously. I might be enjoying this show wrong.
The next singer is a girl who I legitimately forgot was in this competition. Her name is Thia Megia.
She’s 16, but not a fun and carefree 16 like fellow contestant Lauren Alaina. She’s an old 16, singing lounge-act type arrangements with the indifference of a 40-year-old who’s had a steady gig singing on a cruise ship for a few decades. For some reason she was compared to Michael Jackson last week. Yeah, totally — this teenaged Asian girl who sings in a completely different style and tone… totally. I can see that. This week, she sings Michael Jackson’s version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” despite her revelation that she has no idea who Charlie Chaplin was. I’d even go so far as to wager that this girl, born in 1995, has no idea who Michael Jackson was. The performance is just full of bum notes, but don’t expect to hear that from the judges. Right about now, I’m getting sick of this friendly, cuddly puppies and rainbows version of American Idol. Fuck this noise. Someone crush some dreams already.
The next singer is the one Wild Card pick that I actually agreed with.
Stefano Langone might be Spanish, or he might be Italian, but more than anything, he’s probably Mexican as far as America is concerned. So he wasn’t voted into the top 13. I really like him, even though it’s pretty clear he’s trying to channel his inner Justin Bieber, but with more yelling. He sings some Stevie Wonder song that I’ve never heard of, and he did just fine. I hope he makes it through to next week, but I never get what I want so we’ll see how that goes.
And look at this! “MOAR MESSICANS!” (That’s redneck for “More Mexicans!”)
Karen Rodriguez is the next singer, and if you thought Stefano Langone was maybe Mexican, this girl is definitely some kind of Mexican ‘cause she sings in Spanish in an old home movie! “AHHHH!!! THUS IS AMUURRICAN IDOL, NOT MESSICAN IDOL!” some rednecks somewhere just said. She sings a song by Selena, clearly pandering to Jennifer Lopez, who played Selena in a movie 60 years ago . Karen didn’t do very well on this song, but she seems like a very nice girl, so I’m gonna let that slide.
The characters just keep on coming. Next up is Scotty McCreery, but Gawker has dubbed him “BabyLockThemDoors.”
That’s because he sang “Your Man” by Josh Turner at least half a dozen times in the competition so far. It was his audition song, as well as his go-to Hollywood Week song, and it starts out: “Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low…” (Song starts at about 1:15)
I was honestly surprised that he didn’t sing that song last week for the semifinals. At first, like everyone else I thought BabyLockThemDoors was just a one-trick pony — and, obviously, for good reason. We all got a good laugh at the kid who could only sing one song that allowed him to rest comfortably in his lower register, and also because he bears a striking resemblance to the mascot for Mad Magazine.
But BabyLockThemDoors might be a serious contender in the competition after all because of the all-important middle America vote. And ain’t nothing America loves more than a southern boy with a country voice. So, of course he sings a Garth Brooks song tonight. Of course he does. I’m surprised they didn’t just end this damn contest right here. He’s already sold more hypothetical albums than all these other contestants combined. For God’s sake, he was singing in front of a background of scenic rural American beauty. Scotty McCreery is a dangerous man.
Simon Cowell notoriously badgered country singers because he didn’t understand the genre. Country acts were few and far between in the show’s history and even if you were a country singer who somehow managed to slip into the finals, Simon made damn sure you sang some non-country songs in a non-country way just for his amusement. He shouldn’t have to debase himself to pretend to enjoy this backwater noise, and neither should we! God, I miss Simon so much. He’d make this guy cry on stage. What an abomination this show has become. Simon is probably spinning in his grave.
Now for the piece de resistance. The “pimp slot.” For those unfamiliar, the pimp slot is the final performer of the night. It’s conventional wisdom that the producers assign the pimp slot for two reasons: 1. there is a contestant who is head and shoulders above the rest and would make a spectacular closer, or 2. there is a contestant who is in danger of being voted off, who the producers very much want to keep in the competition. Naima Adedapo belongs in the second category.
She is the last Wild Card pick of the night. She’s a very nice girl with a very nice story so, as a person, you want her to do well in life. But this is a singing competition and Naima would be the clear contestant going home, if not for some TV magic on the part of the producers. Naima’s performance tonight is a prime example of a sub-par performance packaged as something better than it actually is, in a desperate effort to solicit votes for a struggling contestant.
First rule of American Idol is: don’t have a karaoke style performance (which is ironic, as the whole show is one big karaoke contest). The rationale is that anyone can do a Paul McCartney impression or a Stevie Wonder impression, but what do you do to the song that makes it different? The second rule of American Idol is, duh — pick a song that showcases your vocals. Pick a singer’s song. Don’t pick a popular song just because it’s a crowd favorite.
Naima violates both those rules in her performance of Rhianna’s “Umbrella.” First, she acknowledges the fact that she doesn’t want her performance to sound exactly like Rhianna’s version. But she then proceeds to sing Rhianna’s version exactly the same as the original, with the exception of an awkward 10 second reggae-rap break thrown in there to disrupt the flow of the song. A song that no person in their right mind would ever pick as a way to show off of their vocal skills. This is a dance song. And sure, she dances all over the place, I guess. And man, do the producers amp up the production value on her performance — lightning bolts and thunder that booms in sync with her dance breaks, and other things that trick you into thinking there’s more to the performance than there actually is. The truth is, it was, “meh” at best, and confusing at worst. Naima’s a fine enough singer, but she is marketable in a very specific way. If she were picked up by a label on her own, she would likely have more success. But I don’t think she knows how to play the Idol game.
Because it is, after all, a game. It’s like chess. But all of the chess pieces are complete lunatics.
See you next week.