Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"American Idol" S8 Finals Begin With Michael Jackson Week

Another spring, another season of "American Idol," and another set of tweaks to make it the best season evah. A fourth judge! Return of the wild card that was used in seasons 1 and 2! An extra finalist! Tonight was the first episode of Season 8 that I watched all the way through (I never start doing that until top 12, or in this case, top 13), but from what I gather from various online sources, the behind-the-scenes manipulation of "Idol" is at an all-time high. In particular, it sounds like the judges have a lot more power this year in determining who stays and who goes. More on that as the season unfolds.

The finals kicked off with Michael Jackson week, another instance of "Idol" picking a theme centered on a singer whom the judges ordinarily love to tell the contestants they can never and should never touch. (Aside: didn't you just love how 90% of the brief montage of his career showed barely any glimpse of post-1990 Jacko? Hardly surprising, but still, when you think about it, really sad.) Last year it was Mariah Carey. And like Mariah week last year, MJ week wasn't the train wreck I was expecting it to be. At the same time, there weren't really any standouts, either. Certainly nothing at the level of Season 7 winner David Cook's showstopper performance of "Billie Jean," which the season 8 kids were smart enough not to try to emulate. The most memorable aspect of this year's batch of finalists, thus far, seems to be their back stories - is it just me, or is "Idol" pouring on the sentimental syrup especially heavily this year?

That said, it's still early in the season, I did see glimmerings of musical promise here and there, and there's time enough for someone to break from the pack...that is, if the Powers That Be don't interfere in some way!

My take on the top 13, in performing order:

LIL ROUNDS ("The Way You Make Me Feel"): Mom of three cute kids, family displaced by tornado. You see the heartstring-pulling is starting early, and show's just warming up. Lil's vocals were solid. They were also wildly overpraised. Have to say I agree with Simon about the outfit - between her and Paula, I didn't know where to look. Ruffles, meet feathers; feathers, meet ruffles. This girl is clearly marked by TPTB to go far, but I'm reserving judgment.

SCOTT THE BLIND DUDE ("Keep the Faith"): Ahem, what did I just say about heartstring-pulling? Likable guy nonetheless, and I have a soft spot for pianists. Pleasant tone to his voice, but falters a bit on high notes. Not crazy about the song, though that might just be because I didn't recognize it. LOL at Simon's comment "it's fine being artistic, just not on this show." Way to tell it, Simon!

DANNY GOKEY ("P.Y.T."): Going into tonight, I knew that this guy (1) is one of the early favorites to win, and (2) lost his wife recently, a fact that the show has been milking for all it's worth. There was no milking in evidence tonight, however - only a lot of selling of Danny as a wholesome, churchgoing midwesterner - so I was able to enjoy his performance without feeling overly manipulated. And enjoy it I did. He has a soulful, gravelly voice - got a little shouty in spots, and Simon's right about his dancing, but I think he did connect with the audience. Shades of Taylor Hicks? I didn't watch Season 5, so I'm just guessing based on what I've heard about TH.

MICHAEL SARVER ("You Are Not Alone"): Oil rigger with a dimpled chin and cute kids; singing for the big time has always been his dream! Looks a little like a Super Size version of Chris O'Donnell. Has a nice voice, and sang with feeling, but artistically (yes, Simon, ARTISTICALLY) blah. He just didn't make me sit up and take notice. I see him as a mid-packer at best.

JASMINE MURRAY (Jackson Five's "I'll Be There"): Preternaturally poised, pressed, and polished 17-year-old. Attractive family. Has vocal talent, but she got a little pitchy and overall wasn't very memorable. Maybe needs some time - as in years - to develop musically. I think her days on "Idol" are numbered.

KRIS ALLEN ("Remember the Time"): Oh my, what a cutie pie. Another wholesome churchgoing midwesterner. I like the tone of his voice, though he went off-key several times. Needs to tone down the gesturing when he's not playing the guitar - just looks awkward. I was amused by his wife's total bitchface at Simon's suggestion that Kris shouldn't have revealed her this early in the game. Agreed with Paula that he's "adorable-sexy." Don't know if that will be enough to keep him in the running.

ALLISON IRAHETA ("Give it to Me"): Ok, one of my pet peeves is when TV shows provide subtitles for people who are CLEARLY SPEAKING COMPREHENSIBLE ENGLISH! Like Allison's Salvadorean parents. Allison appears to be this year's designated rocker chick, and has the smoky, husky voice to prove it. How does a 16-year-old sound like that? Didn't particularly like the song she chose and thought she oversang it in places, but I hope we see more of her. She's the opposite of this season's other teenager, the super-polished Jasmine, in that she's rougher around the edges, a little awkward, a little quirky (did you catch her comment about not cutting herself?), yet shows far more raw potential.

ANOOP DESAI ("Beat It"): As with Danny, I went into tonight knowing a little bit already about Anoop. I knew he was a UNC Chapel Hill student and a cappella king (dude reminds me of guys I went to college with, in a good way), and I'd watched his original audition online and really liked it. So I'll admit I was biased in his favor. Still, I have to say the judges were waaaaaaay too harsh on him tonight. It wasn't a great performance, but it certainly wasn't "horrible" or "stupid." I think the basic problem is "Beat It" is just not a good vocal showcase. Also, "Noopdawg"'s lower register needs work. I hope he does come back next week because I genuinely believe he can do better. But he definitely needs to step it up.

JORGE NUNEZ ("Never Can Say Goodbye"): My least favorite performance of the night, though Jorge seems like a sweet kid. Pitchy, loungey, oversung. At least they didn't subtitle him. (Oh, but they did it to his brother in the pre-perf clip!) Poor song choice may have been what undid him - if in fact the song was his choice. Interestingly, when Paula asked him why he picked that song, he sounded for a second like he was saying it was forced on him. Which wouldn't surprise me in the least. If you don't think the "Idol" producers stack the deck for and against certain contestants, well, just continue to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

MEGAN CORKREY (Jackson Five's "Rockin' Robin"): Pretty blond mom with an ugly arm-sleeve tattoo and a very distinctive, love-it-or-hate-it quality to her voice. Sort of scratchy, sort of jazzy, sort of bluesy, sort of country. I'm kind of digging this, even with the loopy "caws" she throws in at the end. She's different, in a way I find intriguing, at least for now. I sense I'm in the minority. I hope she survives this week.

ADAM LAMBERT ("Black or White"): Oh, I love this song! And I like Adam. But I'm not loving this performance. Adam's another contestant I know to be widely considered a frontrunner and producers' fav, and the judges' comments prove it. They were practically having orgasms over him tonight, which I found largely undeserved. Vocally, he started off well, then went off-pitch at the bridge and really off-pitch at the end. However, there's no doubt he can work the stage like a pro, partly because he kind of is a pro - he's had a lot of musical theater experience, including a major role in the LA run of "Wicked." I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in the coming weeks, but I'm not on board the Adam love train just yet. Though he's quite pretty to look at, in his emo/glam/theater-boy way.

MATT GIRAUD ("Human Nature"): Another pianist and soulful white boy. He looks stupid in a hat; glad he ditched it before getting on stage. I don't love this song, but he sang it well, except for the overuse of the falsetto at the end. There's something about him I find faintly annoying, yet of all the contestants, he's the one who sounds most pop-friendly and radio-ready to me. I think he could be a dark horse.

ALEXIS GRACE ("Dirty Diana"): Another pretty blond mom who gets weepy when talking about her adorable kid. (I'm a tad disturbed that one of the first words that little girl learned would be "Seacrest," but her "Seacrest out" was just too cute for words.) And like Megan, Alexis sounds kind of jazzy/bluesy, but in a more conventional way. Her "Diana" wasn't bad. Not great, either. Pitchy in spots, made up for it with a lot of energy.

So there you have it, folks. I'm not going to call anyone a "best" or "worst" of the night, because I didn't feel strongly enough about any of them to award any titles. I will say that I thought Adam was overrated and Anoop was underrated, but I'd like to see them both next week, along with Danny, Matt Giraud, Megan, Allison...and Kris Allen for the eye candy. (Actually, I like his voice, too.) The rest I can take or leave.

ETA: Just realized I haven't said anything about Kara Dioguardi, the new judge. I don't have much to say about her, truth to tell. I don't think "Idol" needed a fourth judge, but she doesn't especially bug me. Yet.

ETA 3/11/09: Also just realized I never made predictions on who was going to get kicked. It ended up being Jasmine and Jorge. (Double elimination, y'all.) Can't say I'm even mildly surprised or disappointed by either of these departures. Still, good luck to them both.


Blogger jchensor said...

Heh. Guess you couldn't have been more correct that Jasmine's days were numbered. She certainly had the marketability, as the judges kept saying, but really not enough talent to bank on that marketability.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Jellybean said...

So glad someone feels the same about Adam's performance. The second part was nothing to be desired. Thought maybe my telly speakers were distorting the sound after Simon and the gang raved about it:$

11:54 AM  
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