Wednesday, February 21, 2007

American Idol 2/20/07

My legions of fans have demanded a regular American Idol play-by-play. So voila!

Very little of Idol's endless watchability has anything to do with music per se. I invest much more in these hopefuls when they're contestants than when they become our idols. And is this really my shortcoming? Face it - the winners (as well as such "losers" as Clay Aiken and Chris Daughtry) have made astonishingly insignificant contributions to the world of music. The only natural hit that has been extracted from Idol's unnatural hitmaking machinery is "Since U Been Gone" and I hold no particular hope for an encore from Ms. Clarkson. Ruben and Carrie are prisoners of their ghettos. Taylor Hicks is wishing he had a ghetto. And Fantasia's voice was too artful for the Idol treatment to begin with.

No, what makes Idol better than any prime time novel extant is the weekly Preston Sturges-like drama on the inequities of capitalism. Hard work and talent can help you acquire lots all kinds of capital, Idol reminds us. But so can good looks and pure dumb luck and only Simon seems willing to wrestle with that icky reality. Take cutie patootie Chris Richardson, for instance. His vocal was unquestionably one of the weaker ones of the evening. But ain't no way he's leaving anytime soon. The boy oozes sexiness and he knows how to work it for the camera. What's a few sour notes when this pimple-poppin JT is singing to ME? And if Simon isn't exactly hearing a symphony, he's certainly seeing dollar signs. As usual, he was dead on about the performance. He'd be this century's very own Preston Sturges were he not so preoccupied with seeing dollar signs.

And just to prove that the show has little to do with music, how hilarious was it when Randy misidentified Chris' song as recorded by Edwin McCain instead of his "boy" Gavin DeGraw! Not that I blame him; I myself have trouble telling them apart without the help of a Google image search.

My least favorite contestant, purely on an ideological level, is Brandon Rogers. Yeah, yeah, he's good, maybe even very good. But he contributes to the widespread delusion that backup singing is somehow a lesser calling than idolatry when in actuality it's one of the saner musical career options. This entire middle ground between Kelly Clarkson and the myriad hopeless that make me sound like Al Green is woefully unexplored. Even Paula doesn't know what role backup singers serve. She told Brandon that he needed to get rid of the background runs he was used to doing. But isn't that what lead singers do? Backup singers provide the foundation from which an Al Green can start running (e.g. check out how he never sings the melody of "I'm Still in Love with You"). As such, they're an undervalued but essential resource for the idols at the helm. Brandon has already been "lucky enough to work with the best" of them (assuming you feel Anastacia is one of the best). But he's pushing his luck. Now pushing one's luck is the engine behind some of the best music because it gives us a sense of how much room there is to move around in a world ruled by capital. It's why, for instance, Gino Washington's "Gino is a Coward" is one of the most dramatic and moving singles of all-time. But it takes more than a good voice to keep on pushing and I doubt that Brandon has anything more than that in him. Which is certainly not an advertisement against backup singing. Quite to the contrary, it should make one feel lucky for having a career in music in the first place.

Sanjaya Malakar is another cutie who will soar despite slight vocals. But here I gotta admit that the sound of a slight Stevie Wonder was attractively disquieting. Still, that frown (and that smile) will get the little girls dialing for a long time to come. And props for completing the GED early to concentrate on stardom.

Phil Stacey's look is attractively disquieting. But however well the judges felt he did, he'll prove too disquieting for the little girls that vote.

Biggest surprise was A.J. Tabaldo who turned in a credible version of Luther's "Never Too Much."

My sociological fave Chris Sligh checked in with a song by Mute Math (yeah, I had to look them up too). He won't make it all the way. But he has a fine career in rock criticism awaiting him. Check out this sardonic aper├žu: "Only one of us will be standing up and singing 'Do I Make You Proud' and I look forward to that." The man knows a pieceashit Diane Warren-esque inspirational number when he hears it.

But best in show goes to my boy Blake Lewis. Confident, vaguely alt, he's clearly already there. But why was everyone (including the Mr.) so surprised that he sang Keane. What were they expecting, The Fat Boys? It is a singing competition as Simon reminded him last week.

As usual, Ryan Seacrest continues to provide the low points. When will he realize that Chris Sligh comes off less gay openly praising Sanjaya's looks than he does telling Chris "Glad you're on that couch"? And his "sweetheart" sparring with Simon was disgracefully homophobic. Oh well - he has cute feet.


Blogger goshdurnit said...

So true about Simon. The next night, he said something like "the good news is: you're attractive" to some hot chick w/ a sub-par voice. No one else in the biz breaks shit down like that. They just pretend hot people have talent.

Still holding out hope for a Fat Boys performance. Maybe it'll make the judges shut the hell up about song choice.

10:16 PM  

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