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Wednesday, April 23, 2008


American Idolatry: David Archuleta Strikes Me As A Young Sarah Brightman In Drag

The presence of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the award-winning Homer Simpson of the modern musical theatre, as both guest mentor and theme of American Idol might be read as the end of civilization, the death of culture, and proof of the impending apocalypse. But turn that frown upside down, kiddies! Webber's overwrought, saccharin ballads pole-vaulted many of the contestants into the realm of the tragi-fabulous, often a so-terrible-it's-great horror show. And even better, the night wasn't a total loss; there was at least one bona fide surprise...two, if you count the fact that I didn't hate every single tune. (Can you tell I'm a Sondheim/Porter/Finn guy?) Here's what I thought about Idol's music of the night:

Syesha Mercado
Song: "One Rock and Roll Too Many", Starlight Express
Fashion Report: Work it, diva! Slinky red dress, vintage swirl hairdo, and surprisingly tasteful earrings
ModFab Score: A
Look, so many of you hate on her it's amazing she can't feel the bruises telepathically. But girlfriend worked it OUT last night, a vintage-styled stomper built for her strengths (and sassy enough to change preconceptions, I hope). Simon called her "sexy" in his comments, and it occurred to me how rare it is for Idol contestants to have a sexuality at all while on camera. We'll see how it plays out...we're only on the first contestant, and already the word "Broadway" is being tossed around like an insult. But if Syesha goes home for that performance, it will only be because people can't recognize fabulousness when they see it.

Jason Castro
Song: "Memory", Cats
Fashion Report: White linen suit, white spats, and Caucasian accents.
ModFab Score: D
Castro was dismissive of theatrical music from the moment he started the pre-interview...and if I were singing this overrated old chestnut, maybe I would have done the same. To me, he performed it like Buddy Holly might have once upon a time: plaintive, whiny, and clueless about the lyrical content. The difference, of course, is that Buddy Holly could stay on pitch. Castro, unfortunately, doesn't have the breath support for a song like this, or the depth of experience to understand Grizzabella's aria of aging. Pretty terrible...it revealed all of Castro's weaknesses as a performer, and gave nothing to his strengths. Not even the studio audience could muster up much enthusiasm.

Brooke White
Song: "You Must Love Me", Evita (Motion Picture)
Fashion Report: Cream and black butterfly-patterned sun dress. Distinct lack of Eva Peron fashion sense.
ModFab Score: C-
Not terrible...once she got past the enormous bobble at the beginning, where she stopped and started over. Unlike "Memory," this song was specifically written by Webber to suit a limited vocal range from a non-theatrical voice (Madonna), so it kind of works in Idol's context. I kept waiting, however, for some dramatic impact...and there wasn't much. Maybe Brooke couldn't focus after the opening gaffe, as Simon suggested. But I think it shows why Broadway is SO hard to perform, even why it is so much more difficult than pop music to pull off. (Respeck!)

David Archuleta
Song: "Think Of Me", The Phantom of the Opera
Fashion Report: Urban Outfitters generic, with low-collared guerilla jacket, khaki pants, white shirt and black tie. In other words: yawn.
ModFab Score: B+
His version of this sweet-natured ballad was nearly unrecognizable to those of us who only know it in its theatrical context. Who knew it could be a pop-lite tune, complete with acoustic guitar intro and Backstreet Boysian trills at the end of phrases? I could critique it of course: it didn't have many emotional variations, the saccharin hasn't been this sweet all night, etc., etc. But after Brooke's flub and Castro's disaster, I'm just happy that my ears aren't bleeding for a third time.

Carly Smithson
Song: "Jesus Christ Superstar", Jesus Christ Superstar
Fashion Report: Brown paisley hippychick one-piece, finished with black boots and hose.
ModFab Score: C
Looking past the energy of the song and the fun in the arrangement, Carly was straining against notes that were too high for her (even the backup singers dropped it an octave). It's not that she wasn't enjoyable...it's that the song wasn't really prepared for her voice by the band, and as a result it became a series of shouts rather than melodies. As Mr. ModFab said from his perch on the couch, "a little monochromatic." Truer words were never spoken.

David Cook
Song: "Music of the Night", Phantom of the Night
Fashion Report: Black suit jacket, unremarkable t-shirt, skinny ass jeans, carefully asymmetrical hair spray sculpture on his head
ModFab Score: B-
Wrong song...one of the worst in Webber's canon, in my opinion, and rarely a good showcase for anyone except Michael Crawford. Still, if you're into Josh Groban's brand of pop-classical warbles, this probably made you moist. For me, though, it simply didn't make sense. Cook is known as the show's resident transformationalist, able to twist and reconceive. This week, he made the road company of Phantom look like Pavarotti.

Best of Night: Syesha Mercado
Bottom Three Prediction: Jason Castro, Brooke White and Carly Smithson
Getting Cut On Wednesday: Jason Castro

Previous American Idolatry: Yoko Ono, Where Art Thou?, Au Revoir Amanda, God Bless Idol Country, Au Revoir Chikezie, Giving What Back, Exactly?, Idol Gave Back (And I'm Friggin' Exhausted), Au Revoir Michael Johns, Au Revoir Kristy Lee Flagwaver

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Blogger Vance said...

Hmm maybe I need to watch Syesha again. I like her as a singer but somehow I find my mind wandering elsewhere everytime she performs.

Oh good, someone else that wasn't that impressed with Carly tonight. I like her too but it just wasn't doing it for me.

4/23/08, 1:37 AM  
Blogger will g said...

In the early years especially, one of Simon's standard putdowns was "OK for Broadway, maybe, but wrong for pop music." Wonder how he felt about this night. . .

4/23/08, 2:59 AM  
Blogger Dorian said...

I'm generally Anti-Webber, but I like a few of his ballads. Mostly when they're sung by someone I adore, specifically.

For instance, my favourite one of his songs (that I've heard; I haven't familiarized myself with a very broad sample of his work) is "Unexpected Song" from Song & Dance (which I would underline, if the html would let me), but that's because Bernadette Peters knocks it out of the park.

All the same, even though I can't ocmpare to her, that's what I would've sung had I hypothetically been on the show.

4/23/08, 4:26 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I think you've nailed this one...I couldn't agree with you more on the Idol commentary.

If Syesha goes home tonight, I'll be pissed!

4/23/08, 7:27 PM  
Blogger lylee said...

Just out of curiosity - are there *any* Sondheim lovers out there who have a soft spot for ALW?



4/24/08, 5:14 PM  

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