Hang on to your hat’s kids….
It’s DIANA ROSS week on American Idol. Yes, the contestants get to choose from the fine oeuvre of MISS Diana Ross.
Will the kids pull it out, particularly the guys, or will we be treated to a massive trainwreck? Stay tuned…
Recap to follow…
The show tonight starts off with more “Yeah, we’re awesome, we’re Idol, we’ve won stuff” footage. TPTB at American Idol will continue to toot their own horn. By the time the big mid-season charity event rolls around, I predict the self-congratulation will become unbearable.
Tonight is the first performance night of the finals and the first week on the big stage. Not to mention, the boys and girls are competing together for the first time. MISS Diana Ross is the guest “mentor” and she’s like a cogent Paula Abdul. She actually has some useful suggestions for the singers, beyond being very positive and encouraging. She’s still got the giant crazy hair-do, but she looks good without looking tucked and pulled.
Often, with a guest host, the theme isn’t centered around their music specifically. I think tonight would have served the entire cast better if the theme had been broader-say a “soul” or “Motown” night. But instead, we’ve got the songs of Miss Diana Ross. For the R&B singers in the bunch, the theme is a snap. For the others, it’s a challenge. Some try to meet that challenge by modernizing the songs, or bringing their own sensibility to the music. I find it ironic, that while the judges are constantly harping on originality and “making a song your own” they totally blast some of the contestants for attempting to change things up a bit. Personally, as an Idol watcher who has lived through a Motown week year after year, I welcome the variety. I don’t get it. Make it your own, but don’t change it. Be original, but don’t alter the originals. Get your stories straight judges! Anyway, I felt more than a little frustrated by the end of last night’s telecast.
Ricky Minor’s band is giant–like an orchestra. You’ve got your guitar players and percussion, but there are also strings and horns in the mix. It’s kind of awesome, but I hope they don’t overpower the kids. Ryan introduces the Top 12. Brandon is first.
Simon says, “This stage changes everybody, it’s a whole different ballgame, it can either make you or break you.” He’s got that right.
After clips of MISS Ross’s “incredible” career, the competition finally begins. For real.
Brandon Rogers – “You Can’t Hurry Love” – MISS Ross goes all new-age on Brandon, telling him to “go back to his center, his heart place.” It’s not helping, because Brandon is still having mega-problems in this competition. The bigger stage is just swallowing him up even more than before. He’s unable to step it up, and it’s a shame. His performance tonight is not only tentative, but he hits a few clunkers and then forgets the words. If Brandon is not voted off this week, he will be soon. Simon says, “It was a very predictable version, predictable arrangement…no star quality, no originality…” It’s funny Simon should say that…
Melinda Doolittle – “Home” – Melinda gets a little chat time with Ryan. She answers some fan questions from the website courtesy of COKE. We learn that Melinda hates high heels. Which leads to a very strange psycho-sexual exchange between Ryan and Simon. This show gets stranger and stranger. Melinda is thrilled to meet MISS Ross. Despite describing herself as an “old time Motown girl at heart, ” Melinda chooses the Broadway classic “Home” from the musical, “The Wiz.” Not exactly Motown, that. Melinda is her usual fabulous self, bringing her excellent vocal chops and unique phrasing to the proceedings. As always she is very, very good. The dichotomy between the confident singer, and the self-effacing woman who faces the judges is simply jarring. Melinda! You are good. Start believing it. Bonus Idol goodness: Paula crying like a crazy person. I love Paula. She’s good Tee Vee.
Chris Sligh – “Endless Love” – Let me start by saying that I think the original version of “Endless Love” as sung by MISS Diana Ross and Lionel Richie back in the 80’s is total pop dreck. As a matter of fact, hearing the song makes me want to poke my eyeballs out with a sharp stick. Next, I think there’s nothing sacred about this song that precludes it from re-arrangement–particularly the cool, modern twist that Chris Sligh brings to the song. I mean, look–the boys are given the choice of singing freaking Diana Ross songs. I don’t blame them for wanting to change things up. So, being the totally modern gal that I am, and also a huge fan of Brit-pop, I absolutely adored Sligh’s arrangement. The judges proceed to slam him for changing up the song. Funny, Brandon was criticized by Simon for a “predictable” arrangement. But now, Chris is told he should have sung the song as is–don’t mess with a classic. Nice contradiction there. Sadly, in the midst of the hang-wringing over Chris’s arrangement, there was NO discussion of his vocals, which were excellent–powerful and heartfelt–even with the less melodic arrangement. Bah. I have nothing more to say.
Gina Glocksen – “Love Child” – Gina tells Diana that she sang the song for her parents when she was little. Gina has a tough time taking Diana’s advice, which is to enunciate the words properly–she slips and slides all over the lyrics. She fails to bring the desperation that the song requires. The song itself is hopelessly out of date. As if having a child out of wedlock is some shameful thing these days–I think it’s tough for someone Gina’s age to fully comprehend what this song meant at the time. Paula says it’s a “feel good” song, which is really bizarre. Gina needed to crawl inside the song in order to express the protagonist’s shame and fear. She was unable to do that. I disagree with Simon–It wasn’t a good song choice for her–but I agree, it was forgettable.
Sanjaya Malakar – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – MISS Ross says, “Sanjaya to me, is love, you care about him.” Then she says, “You better get your soul in there.” and then, “Can you dance?” At which point, I cover my eyes with my hands. Peeps, here is my plea: Stop voting for this poor child. Worsters: I love ya, you know I do but PLEASE this child needs to be taken out of his misery. He’s completely out of his depth. STOP VOTING FOR HIM. The boy needs to go home What the hell did the stylists do to his hair? The curly do is ridiculous. He’s painful to watch–particularly when the judges slam him. Tonight, as always, he’s completely unable to project. His voice is pleasant, but it’s slight, and he has absolutely no charisma while he’s performing. When the judges ream him, he looks like he’s going to cry. And the longer he stays, as he begins to knock off favorites, it’s going to become really unpleasant for this kid. So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD STOP VOTING FOR HIM. I’m finished.
Haley Scarnato – “Missing You” – Kindly, MISS Ross says that Haley has a “studio recording” voice rather than a live performance voice. Haley has a pretty tone, but her stage presence is flat and unremarkable. Her performance is breathy and dull, she drops lyrics and goes off pitch on the big notes. Predictably, Randy criticizes her and Paula tells her she looks beautiful and leaves it at that. Simon takes a different tack–he makes a point of addressing her by name and tells her that he didn’t think it was that bad. He tells her that she had “a real presence” up there. She starts to cry, because she cannot believe Simon is praising her. It’s so sad, because really he’s working reverse psychology on the viewers. He’s basically damning her with faint praise, hoping the viewers will not vote for her out of pity. However, she’s a beautiful girl, and has a unique style within the competition. Unlike the R&B singers, she’s got a pool of voters all to herself. While she’s certainly in danger of being voted off this week, I would not be surprised if she managed to hang on.
After the break, Ryan talks to his Nana. He’s just a Nana’s boy.
Phil Stacey – “I’m Going to Make You Love Me” – MISS Ross sang this song with the great Marvin Gaye back in the day. Randy thought the performance was a little boring. Paula was expecting “more” and feels that he needed to make it more “uptempo.” What? The arrangement is actually pretty faithful to the original. But I’m thinking of the version MISS Ross did with the Temptations. On that, tenor Eddie Kendricks took some of the lead vocals. Really, Phil acquitted himself quite nicely. I’m confused. Do they want faithful renditions of “classics” or not? Simon thought it was just OK, and that it was a good choice for him. Simon plays down Phil’s performance–which, particularly on second listen–is one of his best so far. I think Phil relies a bit much on the big glory notes to make his performances interesting–rather than conveying real emotion. But seriously, I’m beginning to think the judges are purposely downplaying the boys’ talents this week.
Lakisha Jones – “God Bless the Child” – We learn that LaKisha’s nickname is “Kiki”. This song is a Billie Holliday classic, sung by MISS Diana Ross in the movie, “Lady Sings the Blues.” LaKisha brings another strong, powerful, yet understated performance this week. I don’t think she has the ear for excellent phrasing that Melinda has, but for a belter, she understands how to hold back at the right time. I don’t feel, with LaKisha, that I’m being clobbered over the head. Definitely, another solid performance from, but this week’s theme is tailor-made for her. Total tongue bath from the judges, as one might expect.
Blake Lewis – “You Keep Me Hanging On” – What kind of music does Blake listen to? We get a rundown of Blake’s cool credentials–he loves a ton of electronica and hip-hop. He also loves MJ (that’s Michael Jackson, heh) and Prince. As Blake describes how he took “You Keep Me Hanging On” and slowed it down and added new beats to it on his computer, I’m thinking, “Ruh rho.” No matter how well he sings, he’s going to get creamed by the judges. And, after the judges trounced Chris Sligh’s performance, Blake must be about to pee his pants right about now. MISS Ross says, “You need to make it fresh.” But the judges disagree. Blake, with a bit of fancy footwork, does update this classic, but honestly it’s not a radical rearrangement. He’s a bit pitchy, but overall his vocals are good and the arrangement would fit quite nicely on the radio. In the past weeks, Blake has been lauded for bringing something “current” to the competition. So, he brings a current twist to a classic and the judges not only don’t like it, but they, particularly Randy and Simon, are almost offended. Ugh. Year after year they trot out these Motown classics for the kids to sing. And normally, it winds up being one of the dullest weeks of the season. That a few of these kids attempt to bring something different to the proceedings is a welcome relief, if you ask me
Stephanie Edwards – “Love Hangover” – MISS Ross says Stephanie has “star quality.” But she really is unable to stand out tonight. “Love Hangover” isn’t a great song choice. It’s a little monotonous. Simon is right, it is arranged badly. Stephanie has a few pitch problems, trips over some of the lyrics and just can’t manage to bring any excitement to the performance. Stephanie is in a crowded, talented field of R&B singers in this competition. She is forgettable, at a time when she really needs to shine to stay competitive. At this stage, she cannot afford a so-so performance. With the vote splitting, she could very well be in danger of leaving the competition this week.
Chris Richardson – “The Boss” – Chris was “starstruck” when he met MISS Ross. He brings a ton of energy to his performance, but he cannot mask his weak vocals. His tone is thin and nasally. While Chris does a great job connecting to the audience, I have to agree with Simon. The vocals are just not there. There’s too much vibrato, and too much messy melisma. It was a very sloppy vocal performance. But, Chris gets the best marks of the night of all the boys, but that’s probably ’cause he did not mess with the arrangement too much. Simon harps on his vocals again, and I think he’s right. Simon says it was “dreadful”.
Jordin Sparks – “If We Hold On Together” – MISS Ross says that Jordin has “star quality” and an “inner light” Jordin picks a treacly ballad–the theme from the movie “Land Before Time.” Jordin’s phrasing and stage presence are right on. She’s flat on the high notes, but she does bring personality and charm to her performance. She has to work on the shaky pitch, but otherwise, she really is a likable, compelling presence on the big stage. I particularly like that she’s a rock fan, and I hope she continues to choose some interesting songs. I’ll give her a pass for tonight. Simon said it was a little bit “gooey”. Yeah.
Tomorrow, Miss Ross performs something from her latest album. My prediction: Brandon, Stephanie or Haley is voted off. But on American Idol, anything can happen…