Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Idol Thoughts - Top 36, Week 1

Quell torture!! Hollywood Week was a drama fest, and now I know why I haven’t watched it in previous years, but now we have to spend the next few weeks watching 9 people per week fumble their one and only shot to win audience votes.

For non-viewers who choose to experience Idol vicariously through me (you know who you are), here’s the format we’re dealing with: We’re down to 36 (well, now 27). For each of three weeks, 1/3rd of the group (12 singers) will perform, America will vote, and the top 3 (top man, top woman, and the person with the next highest votes) will all go through to the final 12. The last 3 to make the 12 will be chosen through some wild-card thing. (I have no idea what this process involves.) In other words, unlike most of the previous years where they had 24 and eliminated 4 people a week for three weeks, there will be 9 people eliminated each week. So we have to sit there and watch Ryan cruelly break the hearts of 9 people each Wednesday night. Ouch!!

The upside to this, of course, is that we don’t have to go through the torture of seeing people like Tatiana Del Toro (good pipes, schmaltzy singing style, emotionally unhealthy) week after week because, if she has fans, they’re likely to be zealots who would go crazy with voting. The downside is that everyone will have one shot at the top 12 (unless they’re picked for the mysterious wild-card thingy). So if they make a bad song choice or crack a note or get the kiss of death from Simon (“I think you’ve blown a massive opportunity…”), then there will be no second chance to step-it-up. And with so many others, some talented people will be forgotten forever. Sad.

Why are they doing this, I wonder? Was it too grueling for the contestants in previous years? To learn and rehearse two songs per week (plus publicity, etc.) for several weeks? You gotta be kidding me! To mix it up? Aren’t crazy, dramatic contestants enough mixing? Besides, how is America going to make viewers into fans of a specific artist if we hardly get to see them during these first few weeks? I guess three months with the top performers is a long enough time.

Oh well, it’s probably just me not adapting to change. Well that and the fact that I really don’t like to watch people completely fail at their only chance to succeed. I mean, when you audition for a play, your first audition should be completely stellar, but if the pianist trips you up, if you spit out a big glob on a high note, or if the song isn’t perfect for you but you look like you might fit the role well, you at least get a callback. (Well unless the director has pigeon-holed you as an ingenue though you’re shooting for a character role… no, I’m not relating or anything.) I guess that’s kind of what this is. This is their audition for America, and there is not much room at callbacks (12 slots only). And if that wasn’t just the cheesiest thing anyone ever typed…

I just hope that they divided up each of the three groups well. Otherwise, the top 12 could be pretty uneven. “Here are the best three from the reject group, then the best three from the evenly distributed group, and then the best of the best.” (Makes me think of the Men in Black. “The best of the best of the best…sir!”)

So I guess I ought to make a comment or two on the contestants. Well, I had hoped for more from most of the contestants. Even those who made it through this week, Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver, and Danny Gokey, weren’t thrilling to me. Alexis is a cute woman, but after an audition where they told her to “dirty up a bit” (I’m misquoting, I’m sure), she performed this week wearing something akin to a negligee. Good vocals, but not a very big voice (though a big Aretha song). Still, she was solid enough, despite the fact that I’m not excited for my 7 year old to see that the only woman who made it through this week was the one who was completely immodest in her appearance. That’s also not to mention that she seems like she was completely designed by the judges. They told her to be sassy or “dirty,” and she reinvented herself. Not that interesting. She does have a lovely little daughter. That’s interesting. Hopefully this will help their future.

It makes me appreciate Michael Sarver better. He’s the oil rig driver (at least, I think that’s his usual work – suffice it to say, his work is something blue collar and very dangerous). Very good pipes, despite the uselessness of his song. “I don’t wanna be” something or other. (Rock country is a genre that I simply do not get.) But he’s a husband and a father, not pretty but not ugly, and very likable. Nice choice, viewers.

Then there is Danny Gokey. Danny Gokey has very good pipes and a lot of soul for looking like a cross between Robert Downey, Jr. and that slightly nerdy guy that you did show choir with in High School – not skinny, not great looking, but kind of cuddly. Again, he’s got a very good voice and nice vocal stylings. Church music director for a living. But Danny has something that the other two don’t necessarily have (at least not as much of). I’ll call it Oprah factor (though it’s more moving to me than most things I associate with Oprah). He’s got an emotional, heart-wrenching story. I don’t know the details of the story, but he’s 28, and his wife passed away about 4 weeks before he auditioned for Idol. It’s so sad. To add more emotion to it, his best friend is a pretty great singer and was an amazing support to him through the weeks following his wife’s death. That friend, whose name completely escapes me at this moment, made it all the way through to the end of Hollywood week and was eliminated just before the final 36. It was almost like a married couple being separated, and you could tell that Danny was filled with dread and guilt. Talk about awkward. I think he’ll go far in the competition, though. He might not win if a stronger singer trumps him, but he has been featured quite a bit, and he has a huge following already, I’m sure. Plus he’s pretty smart. Picks songs that we know and like, and then personalizes them. That’s what contestants should do!

As for the others who didn’t make the cut this week, Tuesday night was very painful. I kept asking myself, “Did no one mention that this was a one shot deal?” Most of the contestants picked the wrong song. Either it was too old (something the Anoop Desai sang extremely well, but completely forgettable – I hope he’s a wild-card pick), too big and hard for the singer (“Saving All My Love” and “Natural Woman” – both decent performances, but seriously ladies, do you want be compared to Whitney or Aretha?), or it did nothing to showcase people’s voices. "Rock With You?" by Michael Jackson? What was that about? Even Michael would know better than to pick a disco-boogie song! And poor Stevie did not hit a single correct note in her awful Taylor Swift song (not to mention that every time she sang the word “me” she took a breath right in the middle of the word – I’m allergic to that, incidentally). I kept hearing contestants say “I want to show what kind of artist I am,” “I just want to entertain and get people on their feet,” or "I thought it'd be a good choice for the first live show." Are you kidding me? This was it! Oh, friends, what torture to see people come so far and not give their all to their one shot! I can’t imagine the pressure, but I felt some of the pain!!

So, folks, fasten your seat belts! We’re in for some bumpy nights!! Just think, next week - Nick Mitchell (or Norman Gentle?). In two weeks, Nathaniel Marshall! This may not be fun, but you can’t say it’ll be boring either!