Idol Blogging

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Due to the success of David Cook, Adam Lambert, and Kris Allen over the last couple years, American Idol has morphed from strictly a singing competition to a singing and producing/arranging competition. It’s no longer enough to have a great voice. You also need to be able, as the judges have made clear this year, to “make a song your own.” A spot-on replica of the original won’t do it. But merely altering the arrangement isn’t enough either, as Todrick Hall has discovered the last two weeks. You have to change the song, and change it in a way that makes it different, respects the original, and suits your sound and style.

This is a good thing. Because of the way they vary the style of music from week to week, for the first several years Idol was producing generically good but not particularly unique or creative singers–the sort of person who would otherwise find a nice career as a session background vocalist. Now, instead of being tailored to promote people who can sing lots of styles well, the show is benefiting contestants who have their own style, but can also arrange and produce a performance that bends a well-known song to fit that style. Some of the contestants who have struggled early haven’t faltered because they can’t sing, but because they chose the wrong song or, more importantly I think, because they chose an arrangement that doesn’t suit them, or caused them to be drowned out or overwhelmed by the band. At risk of sounding a bit cliched, the show now showcases artists, not mere performers. I don’t know that Crystal Bowersox or Lilly Scott would have been front runners five years ago. But they certainly are this year.

It would be interesting if Idol could get an actual producer as one of its contestant mentors this year. Ideally, it would be someone like Rick Rubin, who has an impressive track record when it comes to resurrecting well-worn songs by changing them up to fit them to new voices. If this is going to become such an integral part of finding success on the show, it seems like it would be a smart idea to bring someone on who could give the contestants some advice in that area.

That said, on to this week. I’m short on time, so I’ll summarize the top and bottom from each night.

For the men, I thought Michael Lynche stole the night. I was fairly surprised, as I thought the guy’s success was more due to his personal story than his talent. But all credit to him. That James Brown song suited him perfectly, and he brought it home. Lee Dewyze was a close second. I don’t know that he has the best voice among the men, but he definitely has the strongest. I’m not a Gavin McGraw fan, so I wasn’t crazy about Casey James this week, but he’s still clearly in the top tier. I’d like to see him do something bluesier next week. Recommendation: Greg Allman’s “Soulshine.” Alex Lambert showed a hell of a lot of improvement. I still like Andrew Garcia, but he’s still coming up short.

Who’s going home? I’m going with Jermaine Sellers and Tim Urban, though Hall or John Park wouldn’t surprise me, either.

For the women, Crystal Bowersox’s version of “Long as I Can See the Light” was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen on American Idol. Maybe it’s because I love both gospel and CCR. Seeing them mashed up like that, and mashed up so damned well, was a treat. She was confident, poised, passionate, and as one of the judges said, made it seem pretty effortless.

Lilly Scott was a close second. I was a little wary that a white girl with such an unusual voice trying to pull off Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem would come off as gimmicky or patronizing. Didn’t happen. She was magnificent.

There’s a big gap to third, but I think Siobhan Magnus goes here with her surprisingly strong version of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” The judges all raved about that one incredible note she hit and held, but I was impressed that she had the voice to fill up the rest of the song, too. Bold pick, and she pulled it off.

Bottom two? I’ll go with Didi Benami and Lacey Brown. Paige Miles was pretty unmemorable, too.

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14 Responses to “Idol Blogging”

  1. #1 |  Eric Olsen | 

    Lately, you’ve become the writer I most look forward to each month Reason hits my mailbox. And just this morning I find out you have this blog. I come on and unexpectedly, you’re giving these brilliant editorialized recaps of Idol. You’re officially my hero.

  2. #2 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Yes, but Didi is really pretty.

    The judges need to stop saying “This is a singing competition” because it clearly is not. A great voice is not enough.

    For every one of the women I would offer the advice to pick only songs originally by male performers (that also have enough to showcase the vocal). Why? Because the judges (and audience) fall every time for a girl singing a boy’s song and they think you “made it your own”. No need to make any real changes…just sing some Costello.

    Randy and Ellen are useless. Kara is having a great season (minus the cougar bit). Simon appears to have checked out.

    Bye-bye John Park and Lacy Brown. Todrick and Paige should not buy green bananas.

  3. #3 |  Eric | 

    I think Simon is still clearly the best at evaluating the performance. There were a couple of times this week where the other three all agreed with one another and Simon went the exact opposite. Each time I agreed with Simon.

    I think with the other 3, there is some fear that if they disagree with the first speaker it must be because they lack the skill to truly hear and evaluate the performance. So you generally hear them nodding along with one another so they can maintain the illusion that their subjective analysis is somehow clearly better than the audience’s. But Simon has been his own judge for a sufficiently long time that the does not need to be in concert with the others and he can say what he really thinks of the performance. That’s a good person to have up there.

  4. #4 |  Elliot | 

    My take. I don’t think Didi deserved the harsh criticism she got, but I agree with your top 3.

  5. #5 |  MacK | 

    I’m with Elliot Didi was much better doing just the piano and haunting vocals then was given credit.

  6. #6 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    Spot on with the guys.

    I didn’t “get” Lilly Scott’s song. We even replayed it just to listen a bit closer. Also, there was something just not right about Siobhan’s song, as well as there is something not quite right about her. However, there really wan’t any other strong songs last night.

    Definitely a win for Bowersox.

  7. #7 |  Bryan | 

    I still dig Lacy Brown. You are right about the top three, but I like the tone of Lacy’s voice and her odd pronunciations. I would like to see here stick around.

    Actually the same with Didi. She has a great style, although this week was an absolute train wreck. I would give her another week though, just based on potential.

    I also really liked the blonde girl. Katelyn Epperly. I love that Coldplay song. I liked that she slowed it down even more. She is a more talented musician than I gave her credit for. I was worried she made it this far based on her look. Now I don’t think so.

    I don’t care about any of the other girls. (Aside from your top 3, which again, I agree were the “best” of the night.)

  8. #8 |  MacK | 

    I need to change my opinion to Katelyn Epperly, not Didi, who played the piano, and the slow vocals. I liked it to tell the truth.

  9. #9 |  dad29 | 

    Crystal Bowersox’s version of “Long as I Can See the Light” was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen on American Idol</i

    Dead-on 100% correct, and I am NOT a fan of her genre.

  10. #10 |  Sky | 

    What the hell were the producers thinking by not making Radley a judge??? Oh wait…they weren’t thinking…yeah that’s it! :)

  11. #11 |  Suzie | 

    Crystal and Katie were the best singers last night. I also like Michele and Paige a lot. The girls have definitely showed the guys they need to step it up. I like Lilly, but did not like the song she sang last night, but I hope she stays… Katelyn’s was pretty good too and I do not like Coldplay at all, but I appreciated her singing.

    Lacey, Didi and Haeley (sp?) were pretty bad.

    Although, Crystal’s performance was really good and in the top 10 of best performances, my opinion is David Cook’s version of “Hello”, “Billie Jean”, “Little Sparrow”, were the best performances ever on AI.

    Pretty much every song DC did sang to perfection. Archie was pretty awesome too. Pretty much S7 was the best season ever, when I remember all the talent from the top 10 and they were peope I actually liked.

    This season it seems they are trying to hard to make up for Paula not being there with all these background stories and all….All I care about is if they can sing and if they can sing well. No more stories…at least until we get to the top 12

    The other stage presence stuff they can work on but I haven’t heard a lot of great singers so far. More girls than guys.

    If I see one more person ssay that Lee Dewyze sounds like David Cook I think I am going to scream. He is okay, but there is no comparison. David can sing him under the table.

    I still believe this is the worst season ever as far as overall talent, although there are some bright spots. Maybe they can prove me wrong and someone will surprise me. Here’s to hoping.

  12. #12 |  Anthony Knox | 

    Crystal Bowersox didn’t hit a wrong note, but what impresses me most about her is that she seems to be not at all intimidated by the whole circus. I like her chances.

  13. #13 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I’m not a fan but the wifeperson is. Her general comment is that Ellen needs to step up and challenge Simon and Kara needs to quit drooling over whats-his-face.

  14. #14 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Ellen needs to tell a joke each time she’s called on. It’s that simple.

    I was surprised at the exit of so many minorities last night. That tells me either that the viewing audience skews White or the minorities were truly less talented than the White contestants. It also tells me that the voting at this stage is rather authentic. I think from a marketing perspective that preserving the minorities would increase viewership, and thus fudging the voting data would increase ratings, so jettisoning the only Asian contestant and three of the five Blacks speaks to authentic vote-counting.

    Crystal is great, I like Lilly. The girls have it all over the guys this year.