Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Top 7 Perform (Again): "She's, like, ripped."

I know I’ve been the worst for missing TWO WHOLE WEEKS of recaps, so I’ll include my recap of last week’s results show in this performance review as a token of my apology:

Argh. That was one contrived week of Idol we just witnessed, Dawgs. It’s been documented before, this thing Idol has for spoiling a mildly entertaining phenomenon by being so obnoxiously dramatic about it that you end up hating Idol and everything associated with it after the cannon fire diminishes and the dust settles. Apparently, Idol expected us to be surprised when the bottom three was revealed not to be Colton, Phillip, and Hollie, but instead Joshua, Elise, and Jessica. Nuts of wonder, it was so obvious! I correctly guessed the bottom three by using two of my trusty criteria:

1.       Follow the old ladies to doom. Where Elise goes, the bottom 3 goes. When was the last time America really fell behind a talented 28-year-old woman with real life experiences? Hollywood puts us on a shelf at 25! Everybody knows that!
2.       There is no way in that big, blue sexist sky that Idol’s overwhelming voting demographic of women who like to look at pretty men will allow Colton or Phillip to encounter even a hint of danger before the Top 4. Where the non-threatening white boys go, so go the votes.
Was it fair that judge favorites Joshua and Jessica wound up in danger? IDK. What in this world is fair anymore? Idol’s been disappointing us for eleven seasons now. Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses, J. Lo, Randy, and Uncle Steven. Was it right that Jessica Sanchez – she of the vapid stares and robotic 16-year-old determination – got Pia Toscano’d at seventh place? IT DOESN’T FREAKING MATTER! The judges were going to use The Save. They KNEW they were going to use The Save. They’ve been saving this Save ever since they helplessly watched generic little Pia slip through their cold, dead fingers. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that The Save would be used in this situation. Hell, Uncle Steven even spoiled their decision before we learned who was in Idol Purgatory. Ryan was like, “Steven, please tell us how important The Save will be in this situation.” And Uncle Steven, with his glassy-eyed stare, basically blurted, “WE’RE USING IT TONIGHT! THIS SAVE CARD IS SAVING A CERTAIN SAVED PERSON IN APPROXIMATELY FIVE MINUTES!

Uncle Steven: "What is this thing you call subtlety?"
And then the shenanigans really got rolling. Ryan quickly put Joshua Ledet out of his misery (which, THANK GOD) by sending him to the Couches of Safety with his fellow emotionally-detached-from-these-proceedings contestants. So it was down to Elise and Jessica. Ryan, loving every moment of his beautiful job, announced that Jessica was in danger of elimination, shoved the microphone in her face, and was all like, “Sing for us, beautiful angel! You must hurry so we may fit in all the BS the judges have in store for the remainder of this episode!” Jessica, bless her little heart, launched into about two lines of some song – which sounded horrible, just keeping it real – before J. Lo, Randy, and Steven stormed the stage and ripped the microphone from her cold, mechanical hands. “Are you kidding me?” J. Lo shrieked. “Go back to the effing couches, girl!”

Oh, fiddlesticks, let’s cut it right there. They didn’t even allow her to sing. I want you to take a moment and remember all of the contestants who sang their hearts out for the trio of indifferent judges who didn’t even pretend to deliberate over saving them. And how about those lucky contestants who received The Save in past seasons? Remember their bombastic performances, desperately singing for their lives. Remember the crowds gathering behind that contestant, deciding to join the poor schlub on his journey toward future Idol infamy. Think of the volume increasing in the Idoldome, the “safe” contestants standing and cheering, the spontaneous chants to save the fallen Idol. The drama! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the only good thing about Idol’s decision to bypass democracy. At least making them sing for their lives makes the kids work for it. What has Jessica, an impressionable 16-year-old sapling, learned from the judges’ behavior last night? That she’s too good to lower herself to the rituals that every other contestant has to do? That you can croak two lines of a song and be declared “one of the best singers in America”? Speaking of which …

Once the judges steered Jessica toward the couches of safety (into the arms of some rather unenthusiastic competitors), Randy opened his stupid jaw and started scolding America for neglecting to vote for “the best.” Ear of the beholder, Jackson! You get to yap at us every Wednesday during your critiques, K? Like it or not, America gets to choose who deserves votes. DE-MO-CRAC-Y. Look it the hell up. And then he started calling Jessica “one of the best singers in America,” and nuts of wonder, I think my brain hemorrhaged a little at the suggestion. Don’t get me wrong. Jessica is a very, VERY good little singer. She has a gift, just like the other contestants on the show. HOWEVER, if Jessica was really among the cream of the crop … um, wouldn’t she already be super famous by now? Like, couldn’t she have just bypassed Idol and Beibered it out to become a pop culture phenom? I’d like to introduce Randy Jackson to a little thing called PERSPECTIVE. Live and love it, Jackson. Live and love it.

But really, how amusing was it to watch the other contestants as all this tomfoolery went down? They didn’t care at all. It was actually kind of sad (when I wasn’t laughing) that the others gave poor Jessica the reception that most people save for Jimmy Iovine. Just cold, polite smiles, tepid applause, eyes totally pissed that the judges just pulled out all of this nonsense to keep their pet in the competition. PAINFULLY obvious tension, Dawgs. When Jessica wandered back to her comrades, it was even sadder. They all stood there awkwardly for a moment, and then Elise jerked forward and gave Jessica a stiff hug. It has to be tough to compete on Idol at 16. Unlike the others, Jessica still has to take classes, and I’m assuming her mother stays with her at all times. It interferes will all of the quality bonding sessions she could share with the others.

So that’s it. No more Save. At least that’s out of the way now. I give Jessica two weeks before America sends her packing again. But that’s not important at present. I have an entire performance show to recap. Yes, I’ve been remiss in my recapping duties, Dawgs. I’M SORRY! I’ve been very, VERY sick. At the moment, I’m barely eeking this post out but persevering because I feel like I’ve abandoned you. THAT IS NOT MY INTENTION. Please forgive me. So what happened after that crazy results show?

Well, it all started on a cold Wednesday night. Ryan’s hair looked especially poofy, Jimmy wore his Best for Dinner Guests baseball cap, Uncle Steven looked a million years old while exhibiting the motor skills of a child, and J. Lo showed off some distracting slices of ab. It was Now and Then night, which isn’t really a theme at all – I don’t know why they keep pretending this theme thing is real. Basically, the kids were required to sing one #1 song from the past ten years (ooh, challenging!) and another song that was featured on/inspired by/alluded to on Soul Train (which is pretty much 50-75% of the good “old” music that Idol contestants actually know). I felt like the first half of the show was better than the second half, but that may be due to my “more than an hour of Idol makes brain matter drip out of my ears” bias.

Idol had quite a challenge last night, cramming 14 solo performances into a show where the judges just love to talk and talk and talk and talk. But they couldn’t kick off the show without covering two VERY IMPORTANT things in the first five minutes. Primarily, the montage editor was tasked with rubbing America’s face in how ruthlessly it traumatized Jessica Sanchez. Just in case we didn’t feel “guilty” enough after Randy scolded us, we were treated to hazy shots of Jessica staggering backstage, Jessica carefully dabbing away tears while reclining on some couch, and Jessica mournfully watching the results show all alone in the Idol Mansion. Do you feel ashamed yet, America? DO YOU? Then Ryan shared a few words about Dick Clark, who passed away yesterday, and that was actually touching.

So let’s discuss how this surprisingly competent group of Season 7 contestants fared last night. Spoiler: Some of them did OK, while three contestants separated themselves from the pack. This Soul Train’s about to get crazy, Dawgs! This … is American Idol!

Your. Top. 7! (Part Deux)

Hollie Cavanaugh – “Rolling in the Deep” and “Son of a Preacher Man”
Ah! It seems that our mystical fairy creature is starting to use some of that wisdom she’s been cultivating since her birth 4,000 years ago. I don’t know why she waited this long to step up her game, but since she probably created music millennia ago by blowing on a dandelion and twitching her nose a couple times, I won’t question her motivations. Hollie miraculously escaped the Bottom 3 last week, and somehow, America’s support has rejuvenated her. “Rolling in the Deep” was actually good, which surprised the heck out of me because people have been sucking at that song on TV ever since Adele released it. Although Hollie’s voice isn’t all that soulful, she had enough power to pull it off without falling on her face. Plus, she relaxed enough to show some real emotion on stage, which alternated between anger and the self-determination of a prospective gauntlet thrower. Uncle Steven seemed the most impressed with Hollie’s transformation. He thought the vocal was “perfect.” J. Lo attempted to take credit for Hollie’s turnaround with a bunch of “See? This is what I’ve been talking about! You’re actually feeling feelings when you perform now! That how I became a great artist!” platitudes. Oh, yes, J. Lo. It takes SO MUCH feeling to writhe around half-naked in music videos. You are a master-class in Art.

“Son of a Preacher Man” was the first up tempo song that didn’t cause Hollie to buzz maniacally around the stage and alternate between wonky notes and screeches (see: What a Feeling). I liked her structured little dress, her hair, and that spark in her eyes. By the end of the song, she started pulling out all her tricks like it was the grand finale of a fireworks show. Just in case we’d forgotten that one of the world’s biggest voices comes out of a fairy creature the size (in natural form) of a twig, Hollie reminded us tenfold.

Colton Dixon – “Bad Romance” and “September”
I appreciate that Colton’s trying to stretch his range. I really do. Who makes big accomplishments without taking risks? Colton’s willingness to do just about anything to a song is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. Sometimes, it works (“Piano Man”), but other times, it’s just a bunch of noise (“Bad Romance”). In theory, a rock version of “Bad Romance” could have been awesome. Alas, I’m going to take a pointer from Jimmy Iovine and say that the frenetic pacing of the song kind of steam-rolled it. There was no room to grow and WAY too much going on. Colton looked like a vampire who’s been interned for 200 years, got rescued by a group of emo pre-teens, and fell into a Hot Topic, where the clothes attacked his body and wouldn’t release him until he looked like an infinitely less cool David Bowie from Labyrinth. The judges seemed to love it, though. I just don’t buy Colton as a rock star. His eyes are too sensitive, his voice too plaintive. He’s far better suited to his piano.

So you’d think that Colton’s rendition of “September” behind his trusted piano would impress me more. But you’d be thinking wrong. His rearrangement of the tune didn’t bother me as much as the bad singing. No amount of dramatically placed autumn-leaved trees was going to save Colton from his pitch issues. The judges panned the performance for a different reason. They thought it was the wrong song choice, that Colton could have chosen a Soul Train song that actually played to his style instead of turning a completely unrelated song inside-out. I love the original version of “September,” but that didn’t stop me from appreciating what Colton attempted with the melody. He just didn’t sing it well.

Elise Testone – “No One” and “Let’s Get It On”
Elise is starting to develop her stank-face again, and I can’t say that I blame her. This woman tries so damn hard. She lays it out every week - her body, soul, and voice - begging America to give her a chance. And God love Jimmy Iovine for his awkward attempts at pinning down why people just don’t vote for Elise. It was actually very kind of him to avoid mentioning that the massive number of 12-15-year-old voters doesn’t understand people above the age of 21, although he’ll probably make me take back the compliment by saying something snide in his review of her performances in the results show. J. Lo, for her part, thinks that Elise’s smile wins America’s love. Well, if that’s the case, then she’ll get millions of votes for her performance of “No One.” She smiled all the way through it, a laid-back Earth Mother who just wanted to sing a song for us. It was a lovely performance.

But then there was “Let’s Get It On,” a song choice that always makes me blush, and everything went to hooey. As Randy mentioned, Elise was a little too pre-occupied with throwing runs and screeches and plops and ka-chings and countless other onamonapia into the melody. A few times, she just screamed like a banshee, and I still don’t know why. But then J. Lo made a big move for the Jerk of the Night Award and totally won with her critique. Her problems with Elise’s performance seemed to center around – I kid you not – Elise’s hesitation to fall into a full emotional breakdown earlier in the show when Ryan callously made her talk about her dying dog. Since Elise isn’t willing to exploit her heartbreak over a sick pet with America, J. Lo seemed to surmise, then she clearly refused to become vulnerable enough to rise to J. Lo’s level of dry-humping paid back-up dancers in music videos. Whatevs, J. Lo. Let the girl mourn her puppy dog in peace, you bottom dweller. Nuts of WONDER.

Phillip Phillips – “U Got It Bad” and “In the Midnight Hour”
Somebody’s getting competitive at just the right time. Phillip’s a hard kid to beat in this competition. Artistically, he knows exactly who he wants to be. He sings and performs straight from his bones every time, and that type of showmanship can’t be taught. Phil was BORN with his bizarrely awkward sexiness (but the sexiness came later), and a majority of the others can’t compete with that. Who didn’t fall in love a little more with Phillip Phillips as he croon-grunted (his style of singing) the Usher hit “U Got It Bad”? He had the band going, his weird spasms flopping up at random intervals, and the coolest arrangement of the night. He also received the night’s first standing ovation from the judges.

Later, Phil put on his dancing shoes and did his Phillip Phillips things to “In the Midnight Hour.” Once again, his performance was natural and unaffected. I think the judges are starting to realize that Phil is bound to win this thing. They can ride the Jessica Sanchez bandwagon all day, but nothing is going to stop the Philip Phillips train. There are two people who I think could make a credible run for the title against him, but we’ll get to that later in the recap.

Jessica Sanchez – “Fallin’” and “Try a Little Tenderness”
Are we still really pushing for this whole Jessica Sanchez thing? Ugh. I feel like that’s so Top 10 right now. Jessica isn’t lacking in natural vocal ability. She’s doubly blessed in that category, a pint-sized child dynamo with a voice beyond her years. Unfortunately, she’s sixteen. And not very interesting. Sorry. SORRY if this makes me a bad person. Take her performance of “Fallin’” as an example. At first, I had to get over the shocking reveal that someone had either ABDUCTED OR MURDERED MARY POPPINS, what with all of the umbrellas hanging in midair. What the eff, Idol? Technically, the performance was great. Sometimes her vibrato is a little take-it-or-leave-it for me (for you), but girl can SANG. Unfortunately, her movements are robotic, her facial expressions are contrived and unbelievable, and her conviction is SO not-there-yet. And the poor thing, she can’t help it. How is she supposed to GET that when her education has taken a backseat to becoming some Beyonce-lite superstar? Jessica never got a chance to simmer and grow into her talents naturally. What could have resulted in an organic performer like Phillip or Skylar has been stunted at robotic pageant queen stage. This isn’t Jessica’s fault! But it’s SO frustrating to watch.

The worst part is that she seems slightly aware of this disconnect, in a really young, na├»ve way. She really pushed out of the box in “Try a Little Tenderness,” a totally fabulous song that demands SOUL. God love her, she put every bit of her soul into that performance, shaking, thrashing, yell-singing. But it was like watching a little girl pretending to put on her mom’s make-up or a little boy following his dad around with a toy tool kit. Jessica was clearly trying to create a Joshua Ledet type of moment, but it just fell short. I’m sorry. I’M SORRY, Jessica Sanchez fans. Now, while the judges are all too willing to beat Hollie and Elise over their pretty heads with the have a personality on stage stick, their criticism of Jessica’s issues with the same exact thing is muted and half-hearted. You already saved her, judging panel. It’s time to teach the girl before it’s too late.

Skylar Laine – “Born This Way” and “Heard It through the Grapevine”
This is the performer that Jessica needs to watch. Skylar, like Phillip, is a born performer, and she has the voice to back it up. Let’s just start making a big deal about Skylar Laine now, Dawgs. That plucky young woman in cowboy boots is owning this competition. She is everything they wanted Lauren Alaina to be, only so, SO much better. It’s no secret that I never listen to country music, and each week, Skylar grabs my attention by the balls and won’t let it go until she’s damn well ready. American Idol, meet your own personal goldmine. Don’t you dare mistreat her. Skylar doesn’t bother trying to shove her style into unrelated songs like some people (ahem, Colton). She has an uncanny ability to find the country in everything. Did YOU know Lady Gaga did a country version of “Born This Way?” I didn’t. But it was fabulous! I would seriously pay the price of a concert ticket to watch Skylar sing and jam out with Idol’s hot male fiddler. (The hot female fiddler is always accompanying Phil.)

Then Skylar stepped it up even more with “Heard It through the Grapevine.” It was a hard-hitting performance and made me want to join Skylar’s party. I loved her dress, too. A real woman, wearing real woman clothes, singing real woman songs. When are the judges going to start making a big deal about Skylar? Maybe they already know that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Maybe they hold back on the effusive praise to avoid sabotaging her. Or maybe they’ve already put all their eggs in one basket and don’t know how to move them. Whatevs. Skylar’s a natural, and I’m totally in her corner. LONG LIVE COUNTRY!

Joshua Ledet – “I Believe” and “A Change is Gonna Come”
Rounding out my trifecta of front-runners is Joshua. Like Phil and Skylar, Joshua was also bestowed with the Gift of Awesome at birth. I love him so very much. Strangely, I never cared for his inspiration Fantastia. I always thought she sounded like a duck. But no, not Joshua. Joshua sounds like an angel mixed with Aretha Franklin. That boy was so happy to sing Fantasia’s awful coronation song “I Believe” that I didn’t even cringe when he started singing about rainbows. He scaled back on a lot of the histrionics at first, sticking to a strong melody before letting his fabulous flag fly at the end. He’s a pro, just the best sort of pro. In this season’s long-standing tradition, the judges just couldn’t stay in their seats by the time Joshua finished.

My heart started swelling from the moment Ryan announced Joshua was singing “A Change is Gonna Come” until his emotional ending. So much glimmered under the surface of Joshua’s control in the verses, a force of emotion that threatened to spring loose at any time. Impressively, Joshua managed to resist the impulse most singers possess to oversing this song. He let the melody and lyrics do their jobs and infused the music with pitch-perfect singing and meaningful enunciation. I could gush about Joshua all day, really. He’s just so precious to me. Of COURSE the judges gave him another standing ovation. Joshua Ledet can move mountains with his voice. I’m terrified that he’ll end up in the bottom three again. DON’T DO THAT TO ME AGAIN, AMERICA!

My Predictions
I think the judges, mainly J. Lo, may have finally done Elise in for good. I’ll expect Jessica and Hollie to join her in the bottom three.