Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Surfing Through "American Idol"

What a difference a day makes! After several weeks of trulyy dreadful performances that made me feel they should just call off the finale, "American Idol" finally had a good week. (By the way, the show truly should be called "Middle-Aged American Idol" with middle-of-the-road fogeys like Barry Manilow, Kenny Rogers and Rod Stewart on the show. Can't they get anyone under 60?)

Chris Daughtry -- my initial reaction was, "He's just won 'American Idol.'" Daughtry sang "What A Wonderful World" and even cheesier than his song choice was his statement that the song had "so many values" that he believes in. (These kids are ruthless politicians and don't you forget it.) Then we saw him sitting down mid-song next to the soulful black man strumming an acoustic guitar and it was so over-the-top hokey I was laughing. But the crucial element? He sang it very, very well. That's not even a song I want to hear (even sung by Louis Armstrong) since it's been played to death, but Daughtry did a very convincing, un-wimpy and sincere version. If he'd sung "Under Pressure" the week before and hit it out of the park the way he did this song, he'd be a shoe-in.

Paris Bennett -- looked great and did a solid job. She has such a great, distinctive voice, that if she toured with a big band or jazz group and worked on her singing for the next decade, she could become a really good jazz singer. Even here, Paris sang the melody before starting to riff on it, and showed control and maturity. But still, lost a little personality on the low notes and didn't quite nail it. But shows great promise. Still young.

Taylor Hicks -- when he was done with "You Send Me," I thought, 'Ok, maybe Daughtry doesn't have this title sewn up." Another terrific performance, I thought, with Taylor singing rather than vamping or trying to be soulful. And when he dug into it at the end, he really pulled it off.

Elliot Yamin -- a tad dorky and I've never been a fan, so I tried just listening to him while closing my eyes and I found him more enjoyable. But he was hampered by a weak arrangement of cheesey female backup singers and -- in a problem I noticed with Paris and that got worse and worse the rest of the night -- the band was too languid and laid back. The tempo never varied even as he reached the climax; if the band had picked up the pace a little bit, it would have urged him on. As it was, he was held back just to stay in time with them. Never would have been great, but could have gone from good to very good.

Kellie -- Guys, date her; just don't make me listen to her. Actually, for the first few bars, I was taken aback. The first four performances (after weeks of dreadful performances from almost everyone) were good to great. And for a moment I thought Kellie was going to shock me and be good as well. Then she fell apart, off-key, shrill, and weak, weak, weak. Sorry, but jokes and a bubbly personality ain't enough anymore. Loved it when she told Rod Stewart he'd taken a load off her chest and the randy old rooster just said, "Well!"

Ace -- His hair looked awful (I thought for a moment it was in a bun in the back, instead of a pony tail.) And I don't know why Randy and Paula keep telling him to sing in falsetto - except for Frankie Valli, who has that ever worked for? And Ace was bad again, with an absolutely awful final note that was embarrassing. I don't know what the judges heard. Bottom three again but Kellie was even worse so he could be alright for another week. Also hurt by a weak arrangement that overwhelmed his tiny voice.

Katharine McPhee -- From her weak Queen song (which Simon said was almost a classic moment) to this week's number, "Someone To Watch Over Me," which I didn't think was much better. Totally lost on the low notes, barely getting through them, no sense of the song itself. Then the judges spoke. Huh? I just listened to it again to make sure. Every time she gets to "over me," and those low notes, her voice wavers and fades, even warbling off tune. Virtually every time. At one point she seems to race ahead of the admittedly slow-as-molasses band. And her vamping at the end was weak and tepid, a classic example of what kids think they're supposed to do because it's what Mariah did. It sure as hell didn't swing. Better than Ace or Kellie, but she'd be in my bottom three, easy. Of course, you know the producers are pushing her -- they'd rather see Katharine and Chris face off than Chris and Taylor. Katharine got by far the biggest closeup of the night and when the camera pulled back, they kept a close-up on the big screen on stage so she still had an intimate closeup available, one of their favorite tricks for performances they like.

THE FINALE -- And it just occurred to me that Daughtry faces one major stumbling block if he gets to the finale. Presumably, he'll have to sing an original pop tune, one of those on-demand treacly ballads. He did a good job finding a Queen song and a standard that he could work with. But faced with a by-the-numbers pop tune, Daughtry would probably look much weaker compared to Taylor or Katharine. That will be the final obstacle: maintaining his rock and roll dignity in the face of some anonymous power ballad.

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