Saturday, 10 March 2012

Worshipping False Idols

After ten years as America's favourite TV show, you'd be forgiven for expecting American Idol to be running on fumes by now. In fact, this has been one of the most dramatic seasons to date, with more collapses than a controlled demolition, and a surprising number of genuinely impressive voices. Furthermore, for the first time in recent memory, the talent is evenly dispersed between the boys and girls.

This week sees the grand unveiling of the final thirteen, after what seems like weeks of merciless culls. More importantly, there's a distinct male vs female vibe, as the women will be paying posthumous tribute to Whitney Houston, whereas the boys will be taking on Stevie Wonder's back catalogue. It's always nice when a legendary artist gets a well-earned tribute, but this mash-up of the living and the dead feels a little distasteful. Without wishing to pre-empt a tragedy, Stevie might want to stick to showers for the time-being.

Joshua's up first, and he can at least take comfort in the fact that, if this doesn't work out, there's a lucrative career in Barack Obama impersonations ahead of him. Thankfully, he won't be practicing his State of the Union just yet, since he's far and away the best singer they've had on this show since Carrie Underwood was still stitching fringes onto her evening gowns. His interpretation of Stevie's I Wish has a lazy cabaret feel to it, but his voice sounds like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding competing in a sing-off. It's not a patch on his extraordinary performance last week, but he's sure to sail through to the next round. Jennifer loves that the music "doesn't just come through his mouth" - but that's because hers usually comes from a box underneath the mixing desk.

Following Joshua is Elise, who's going to tackle The Greatest Love of All. Guest judge Mary J Blige flinches like someone just snapped the elastic on her underwear, so she and Jimmy Iovine tell her to have a go at I'm Your Baby Tonight instead. It's a deceptively simple song - the melody is pretty straightforward, but the timing's a bitch. It takes Elise half the song to catch up with it, and her flat, raucous delivery, coupled with the unfortunate choice of a spangly mini dress, gives her performance the feeling of being shouted down by a short-changed hooker. Jennifer tells her that she could have murdered it, but the fact is, she just left it for dead.

Next up is Jermaine, who'll be wrapping his beefy baritone around 'Knocks Me Off My Feet'. If you can picture the voice of Luther Vandross, dripping out of the mouth of the Honey Monster, you'd be right on the money. He's a great singer, but it's all so low and rumbly that it's not so much a musical performance as the soundtrack to a tectonic shift. Steven Tyler tells him that the song fitted him like an Armani suit, except that Armani doesn't tend to charge by the square yard. Gigantic Jermaine even manages to make Ryan Seacrest look like a finger puppet when standing alongside him, which is ridiculous since everyone knows that Ryan is happier taking the whole fist.

Erika has chosen I Believe In You And Me, one of the blandest ballads in Whitney's back catalogue, but her voice is naturally raspy so she's putting a Kelly Clarkson spin on it. Although she's an attractive girl, a couple of poor styling choices make her look like an overweight newsreader, and I'm unnecessarily distracted by the curious blue stain on her tongue. The judges are oddly enthusiastic, with Jennifer drawing attention to the 'goosies' on her arm. She can't wait until Erika "stops thinking", but this is American Idol, so it's not as if she's sitting in the green room contemplating the ethics of stem cell research.

Colton plays one of his own songs for Jimmy and Mary, to help them understand his singing style. That helps them build an arrangement that suits his voice, and it's safe to say there's a good reason they're both as successful as they are. Lately is a classic and Colton's performance is pretty good, distinctive enough to be individual, but sticking respectfully close to Stevie's melody. Now he just needs to work on the ridiculous parakeet mullet he's been showcasing since the early stages of the competition. It doesn't matter how well you sing, if you look like Jim Carrey dressing up as Adam Levine for a lark.

Shannon will be tackling I Have Nothing from The Bodyguard. It's a giant of a song, and she's a little too characterless to dominate such an enormous song. She hits some of the right notes, but spends much of her time lost in the mix. Worst of all is the key change, which is about as professional as jamming a nail file into a Yale lock.

Deandre is the Terrence Trent D'Arby of this year's contest, combining earthy gravel with a sweet falsetto. It works perfectly for Master Blaster, and showcases a side to him that we've previously seen precious little of. Also well within her comfort zone, against all the odds, is country sparrow Skylar. Despite never having sung a Whitney song before, she's having a bash at Where Do Broken Hearts Go. Her tone is pure and clear, so she nails the key change as easily as tipping a sleeping cow. Jennifer tries telling her that she's the "definition of composure", then gives up on her description when it becomes clear that no-one has a clue what she's talking about.

HeeJun is performing "All In Love Is Fair", and he sounds surprisingly good, given that he was dismissed early on as the joker in the pack. His dry sense of humour and occasionally clumsy phrasing make it seem as though he's not taking any of this seriously, but his tone is perfectly suited to the song and he nails it. He even reserves a little sass for J-Lo, chastising her for "playing hard to get."

Hollie looks like an American Sheridan Smith, but there's an enormous voice inside her tiny blonde frame. All The Man I Need starts off well, but the chorus and key change are lacking sophistication, mistaking power for performance. It ends as a solid seven out of ten, not bad, but not exactly memorable either. This was always supposed to be a tribute to Whitney Houston, and let's face facts - there's no better tribute than pointing out just how effortless she made this shit look.

Jeremy is a nice kid, and just one Hunny Pot away from being Winnie The Pooh in human form. He's singing Ribbon In The Sky, and it's what Simon Cowell used to describe as a 'hotel performance'. I guess that means that it's in tune, in key, and tastefully delivered, but about as dynamic and exciting as a Corby Trouser Press.

Someone had to do it, I guess. So it might as well be Jessica, who has the closest thing to a diva voice this season, to take on I Will Always Love You. She hits all the right notes, and manages to score the first standing ovation of the evening. But it still felt as though she was racing through the song to make sure that she hit all the money shots in a minute and fifty. Randy reminds the audience that this is one of the hardest songs in the world to sing. He's right, but not for the reason he thinks. It's hard, because there's a wealth of complicated emotions to convey. Instead, audiences were watching closely, but only to count off the big moments like they were playing a drinking game.

Closing tonight's show is Phillip Phillips. Yes, that's his real name. He's part Paul Rudd, and part Giovanni Ribisi, wrapped up in an erratic bundle of weird. Unfortunately, he's trying to make Superstition sound like the kind of angry rant used to summon a demon, rather than sticking to the effervescent funkiness of the original. It's what might ordinarily be described as self-indulgent, but the judges tend to get swept away in this kind of strangeness. True to form, Steven tells him "You just are", which as about as eloquent a critique as anyone could muster.

The results show, like most others, involves twenty minutes of recaps and twenty minutes of people being asked to sit on bar-stools, in between a couple of lacklustre guest performances. There's a momentary shock as Joshua is revealed to be in the bottom three, but he's barely walked out to the middle of the stage before he's sent back to rejoin the other 'safe' acts. In the end, it's Jeremy who's going home, and he seems about as surprised as the audience at home. Which is not very.

No comments:

Post a Comment