Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"American Idol" Gets Nicer

The judges were notably nicer last night on "Idol" -- or, more to the point, the edited excerpts we saw were nicer. Not a single shot of someone leaving the room and haplessly tugging on the wrong door. Very little to no comments about the contestants' appearances.

Two things happened: one, they built up Seattle as so godawful (and it probably was) that the show emphasized the bad ones more than ever. Two, the producers jumped on tonight's episode and tweaked it a little to avoid almost any meanness. They also told us the judges come out and speak to each room of contestants, telling everyone that some of them will get judged harshly and if they don't want to deal with that, they should leave. No one ever leaves. Some contestants complained one or more of the judges didn't even look at them. In fact, the judges often look down or away when someone is singing, either to hear the voice without being distracted by someone's appearance or to be polite and avoid snickering. And why does no one ever complain about the contestants -- who mouth off, curse, and shoot birds at the camera on national TV? How come their behavior is never criticized?

As Simon told one contestant, they get a lot of people who show up with tons of confidence and attitude who can't sing a lick. Further, it's a nice reality check for a culture that assumes everyone has a right to be famous. (Though of course the irony is that some people are so bad they become famous for that. The guy with bug eyes has an agent? Whatever for?) Finally, the judges are infinitely nicer than people at a real audition. Time and again we hear the judges patiently telling people, sorry, singing's not for you. In real life, the hopefuls would have sung for about five seconds before hearing "Next!" and being pushed off the stage.

But none of this matters. In two weeks, we'll be at the Hollywood section and everyone will have forgotten about the auditions (like the girl last night who could barely open her mouth to get words out but was astonished she wasn't going to win it all). What 90% of the show is about are the singers, the undiscovered talent who blossom in front of us, get cheered on and do well or stumble. Last night featured two people I assume will be in the final 12. Hearing them sing for the first time is exactly why I watch the show.

First was Sundance Head, the son of several hit wonder Roy Head. (The family history is a tad glorified. Head never had a #1 song and it wasn't knocked out of the top spot by the Beatles' "Yesterday." His big song "Treat Her Right" stayed at #2 for two weeks and was kept OUT of the #1 slot by "Yesterday." Hey, don't feel bad Roy -- "Yesterday" is only the most covered song of all time. Head had one other Top 40 hit and six other tunes that nudged onto the Hot 100.) Sundance is fat (have you noticed Simon hasn't been shown saying much of anything about people's weight this season?) and has a crazy beard I'd love to see him shave. Most importantly, he has a terrific blues-y voice. The blues is definitely the new genre to get spotlighted this season. We've seen people shine in pop, country, gospel, soul and rock. Now this season a number of people look like they're drawing on the blues.

Then came Melinda Doolittle, the backup singer who performed the Stevie Wonder song "For Once In My Life" and gave a polished, marvelous performance that was one of the best auditions ever. As richboy said, it's hard to believe she hasn't been discovered before. A real sweetheart, Melinda was genuinely shy and reserved without ever seeming tentative or weak. She was quietly happy when they said they liked the song she'd chosen and then seemed delightfully surprised when they praised her to high heaven. If I could sing like her, you'd never hear me shut up and I'd be wondering where the limo was and get me my record deal NOW. Her face lit up with pleasure but it didn't look like she suddenly thought SHE was wonderful, but rather that she was happy they liked the performance or the voice, almost as if it were a gift and separate from her. Clearly, she's gonna shine and grow as the competition goes on and only some bizarre action would keep her out of the Top 12 (and the Top 6...and the finals! Nothing like premature hype....) I can't wait to see her and Sunshine sing again. And that's what "Idol" is all about.


Anonymous said...

For the record, the blues-y singer's name was SUNDANCE head.

Anonymous said...

Sunshine...Sundance...who's counting?

Michael I agree that those two were fantastic -- and definitely the two best I've heard so far (I'm partial to blues-ey type voices though).

Did anyone else think the bald guy at the end was nothing special? I thought his voice was okay once he got into the song, but I agreed with the judges that it sounded AWFUL when he first started. But even when he got into it, it wasn't great. My wife thought his voice reminded her a bit of Jason Mraz, which I can see, but I don't think he's nearly as good.

From the previous episodes I enjoyed the 16 year old whose father played for the Giants (Phillipi Sparks; he was awesome), and of course the guy with the big Afro and the rap sheet.

I'm hoping those 4 make it to the top 12...

Michael -- you can probably answer this. When do the Hollywood auditions actually take place? Just wondering when the producers know who's in the top 24 (or however many they choose these days), and whether they're able to selectively edit the earlier auditions to showcase the real standouts.

altmike said...

Oy and the Paula "let's hug everyone in Memphis" sequence made me gag. I long for them to be bitchy again!

Michael in New York said...

Wow, I was thinking Sundance (because his name is the same as the film festival) but somehow wrote Sunshine every time. Corrected now. Joe, the producers definitely know who is GOING to Hollywood when editing the episodes of the auditions. I am not however clear on when the Hollywood episodes are filmed and how much of a break between the auditions and the winnowing down in Hollywood or between Hollywood and the live performance sec tion. I'll try to find out. The bald guy clearly got highlihgted because his wife had a baby. He did get a little better as the songs went on, but his voice had an exceptionally annoying tone to it. He'll disappear quickly in Hollywood, for sure. Aah, altmike, all you really need is a hug.