Thursday, March 22, 2012

American Idol, March 21st, Billy Joel Night

Just watched it.

It was Billy Joel night.

If Heejun doesn't go home tomorrow night, there's no justice.

He's always sung songs older people like, and that's fine--as long as it's not on American Idol. I like many of those songs, but it's not the place.

When Hejun finally tried to loosen up his tie and his persona last night and tackled Joel's "My Life" it was a karaoke trainwreck.

The audience predictably loved it because they love Hejun's clueless hipster persona.

And J-Lo and Randy chose their words carefully. They helped pump him up without really saying what they thought of the performance. I think they know enough about the young man by now to know that he has dealt with serious depression and figured it would be unwise to beat up on the guy when they knew he had just revealed (in that awful karaoke performance) that he'd been skating on ice only micrometers in thickness all along and the cracking had just begun.

Steven Tyler was less amused. He repeated what Jimmy Iovine had told Hejun about the business kicking your ass if you lack confidence. Tyler said "The business will kick your ass" and made statements to the effect that the singer had just made a mockery of the competition and of the art itself. He knew the mocker had just mocked himself out of the competition though. Tyler's arch smile, even more Joker-ish than usual, would have told the viewer that much. That smile was basically saying, "You clueless asshole."

Whether Hejun believed that performance was actually good, or whether he had decided he couldn't compete at the level of the other singers, and was just going to have fun now, is anybody's guess.

Phillip Phillips was my early favorite and I was sure he'd make it to the final three at least.

The latter may still be true, but the former is not. I haven't liked his recent performances which are always predictable. He's really just a Dave Matthews clone and interprets every song the way you know Dave Matthews would interpret it. Maybe that's not being fair to Dave Matthews. I do love some covers Matthews has done and some of them have surprised me. But I know exactly where Phillips is going to be restrained on a song and I know exactly where he's going to unleash the trademarked Dave Matthews growl. He's never less than competent and sings on pitch, but it takes more than that to win the whole megillah. And yet he has his pretty boy looks going for him. So he's still probably a favorite.

I now like Colton Dixon better as a singer than Philip Phillips. His performances are varied, he understands nuance, his interpretations are imaginative. His performance last night was recording worthy. It's amazing the difference a year or two makes. He wasn't even going to try out this year. He was clearly severely depressed at the audition that wasn't even his (he was there to support his sister, who didn't make the cut). And the judges dragged him back into the competition at his sister's audition, and now he's seemingly loving every minute of it. He performed what is probably Joel's most iconic, signature tune, "Piano Man," and did it great justice.

Holly Cavanagh gets better and better. That's not a speech impediment. I thought it was at first too, until I realized her parents are British but she grew up mostly in Texas. She tries to hide the weird mix of British and American diction she has and this makes some of her vowels come out unshapen and sometimes it sounds like she has a cleft palate. I've had people land on my blog searching for speech impediment and American Idol. I deliberately didn't mention the contestant's name when I made that speculative post, because I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings (say if a relative Googled her and found that). The odd thing is I've even heard that accent (which does sound like a speech impediment often) in her singing. I haven't in the past two performances, so I'm guessing vocal coaches brought it to her attention and she consciously worked on eradicating that. I also noticed she lets more of the British accent through occasionally. I guess people told her to do that so people would realize it's not a speech impediment but a form of blended accents. Less stigma. I'm not being judgmental at all. I had a speech impediment as a child that I had to unlearn too. I'm just saying things like that will hurt you in competitions. Fair or unfair. Anyway, I liked her performance of "Honesty" last night. All the judges heard pitch problems in the verses but I focused on the glorious chorus.

Elise Testone can't get a break. I can't believe she hasn't performed a Lady Gaga song yet. She has the perfect voice, perfect range, for it. And she even shares a look with her. But I was blown away by her performance last night. The judges rightly praised her to the heavens for her highly stylized rendition of "Vienna." Randy mentioned he didn't believe any other singer in the competition could have handled the closing run with the finesse Testone gave it. And yet voters seem to hate her for some reason. She's consistently in the bottom three despite being a clear judges' favorite.

Jumping backwards to the first performance, I thought Deandre's performance of "Only the Good Die Young" was a total nightmare. Yeah, he sang on pitch but the arrangement was total cruise ship lounge fare and the original song might as well have been about chipped beef and toast--since it wasn't a seduction song using despair as a crowbar the way the original song cleverly does. Deandre flounced his Pre-Raphaelite hair and the audience cooed. He's a very handsome dude and seems like a sweet guy (cries bigtime when contestants get booted) but he'd better stick to treacly r&b, where his real strength as a singer lies. And change that last name. Brackensick is a horrible name to see on a c.d. But then I guess if he gets an album he'll just be Deandre. One name will do.

Erika Van Pelt (related to Linus and Lucy?) has been on a downward spiral for weeks. I didn't expect she even had a performance in her like the one she gave last night. It was a wowsers rendition of "New York State of Mind." Just perfect. And she was the contestant helped most by the restyling given her by last night's guest image consultant, Tommy Hilfiger. She looked so improved it's hard to convey. When I think of her in the past, I imagine her wearing grimy white t-shirts on stage. I know she didn't actually do that, but she might as well have. She was so careless with her image. But I'm happy she had this performance. Even if by some fluke she goes home, she will go out with no shame in her game.

Skylar Laine of course picked a Billy Joel song she knew through a country artist. Garth Brooks had recorded "Shameless" and apparently Brad Paisley too. It was a serviceable performance. I noticed the pitch problems at the beginning of the song the judges commented on. I think it was because she was out walking in the audience and lost her bearings. Once she got back on stage she was fine. She might be bottom three tomorrow, but I'm not sure. She seems to have a good fan base. I think the bottom three will be Heejun, Deandre and ? Not sure. Maybe Skylar. Maybe even Joshua Ledet, though the judges love him to death. I think Ledet has a great voice....a great voice for gospel music. Or Broadway. I can't hear a pop singer in him though. The only pop singer he even remotely reminds me of is Tom Jones. And you know Jones only stays "popular" (had to use quotes) today because of the campiness factor. Maybe it was always the camp factor. He was willing to be stupidly sexy back in the day. I remember all the moms in suburbia digging Tom Jones' pants. Both Tom Jones and Rod Stewart could have gone house to house in the seventies and got invited into temporarily husbandless beds by otherwise respectable Moms.

Jessica Sanchez picked a song I don't know by Billy Joel that didn't sound anything like a song by Joel--to me, anyway. Maybe it was the arrangement or maybe he changed his style later and I haven't kept up. She was about flawless as usual but it was a boring song choice. But of course she's going to be there at the very end. If she doesn't win this thing, she'll definitely be in the top two. If she finishes third I'll be shocked.

I had to check some name spellings and found this article which just went up at Billboard 53 minutes ago.

You can see all the clips there too. If you only watch one or a few watch Elise, Colton, or Erika.

If you want nightmares, watch Heejun.

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