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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


American Idolatry: Songs Sung Really, Really Blue

It's Neil Diamond Week on American Idol...a musical artist that is probably unknown to the Archuleta Generation. (When was he last in the Top 40...the early 80's? They weren't even born.) But Diamond's middle-of-the-road songs aren't the problem for our intrepid Idol-ites this week...it's staying power. Each contestant had two songs instead of one, and with all of the dead weight now gone from the ranks, it's suddenly a very difficult foot race. Here's what happened, at least on the ModFab Channel:

Jason Castro
Song: "Forever In Blue Jeans", "September Morn"
Fashion Report: Beige patterned button-down and jeans. Because he's unpretentiously cool, see.
ModFab Score: B-
I'm still suffering the psychological scars of Castro's mangled Cats last week, and more than a little miffed that he's still around. (No doubt, his card should have been punched last week.) But "Forever in Blue Jeans," played as a folky-acoustic singsong, wasn't too bad. That's different from good, to be clear with you...but at least he was on pitch and breathing at the end of phrases, like an actual singer. Later, in "September Morn," he made use of his blue-eyed crooner allure to excellent effect, covering the weaknesses in his voice with stoner-gorgeous looks deep into the camera. I could almost feel the wind from teenage hearts fluttering all over America. The judges were VERY hard on him...I'm not trying to make excuses, because I don't think he's very good to begin with. But from where I'm standing, he had nowhere to go but up. I set the bar very low, and he reached it.

David Cook
Song: "I'm Alive", "All I Really Need Is You"
Fashion Report: Sassy black toreador jacket with red vinyl detailing on the sleeves, red tee and black jeans. Kind of a weak-chinned Antonio Banderas.
ModFab Score: B+
Maybe it's because I didn't know the song, but I was pleasantly pleased by "I'm Alive." Sure, it was a little by-the-numbers, but he can't be blamed for playing it safe in a week where everyone's trying to get to the Final Four. He switched tempos and emotional gears in his second performance, and I was reminded of Chris Daughtry, the Season Four Idol who lost to Taylor Hicks but ended up a global superstar. There's a knowing in Cook's voice and demeanor when he hits that divide between alternative and pop, and his refashioning of Diamond found it. At this point, he's taken the front-runner pole position away from Archuleta.

Brooke White
Song: "I'm A Believer", "I Am I Said"
Fashion Report: smoky teal pansuit from the Naomi Judd Collection, with a little Lenny Kravitz-ish flared pant leg. Wants to be very cool. And is very not.
ModFab Score: C-
Ugh. Brooke's vapid interpretation of "I'm A Believer" tried to work the country angle, the hippie angle, the retro angle, and the pop-rock angle...it was so constructed, so dripping with artifice, that the inherent fun of the song was killed dead. I don't understand her fan base (at all)...how can you like this weak, tepid impersonation of a folk musician? Her second tune found Brooke ripping off style and spirit from Stevie Nicks, down to the vocal flutter and piano twinkles...which the judges described as wonderfully vulnerable, and which I describe as nauseating. If there's a God, she'll be going home. Of course, if there was a God, she would have gone home in each of the last three weeks.

David Archuleta
Song: "Sweet Caroline", "America"
Fashion Report: Open untucked shirt over horizontally striped undershirt and stonewashed jeans. Cute and maybe even hip, if you're 12.
ModFab Score: B
Give Archuleta credit for calculatedly picking two of Diamond's biggest hits...a gamble risking unflattering comparisons, to be sure. But in "Caroline," he sidestepped the rhythm inherent in the melody, and the band fought against his sliding vocal style. (That horn lick is inescapable, David. Stay with the beats.) In his second song, Archuleta took a page out of Kristy Lee Flagwaver's playbook and tried to hit the red states with some faux patriotism. Despite a few vocal cracks (he's still in puberty, remember), it probably wrapped him in the Idol equivalent of teflon. He only has one kind of performance style in his bag of tricks, but boy, it's a good one.

Syesha Mercado
Song: "Hello Again", "Thank The Lord For The Nighttime"
Fashion Report: Blue (or is it purple) halter dress, relaxed hair, and an exquisitely tasteful necklace. Who is dressing her these days? They need a raise.
ModFab Score: B+
Perhaps it's because Syesha knows her fan base isn't as big as her four competitors. Or perhaps she's finally hitting her stride. But whatever it is, she's working it. She's connecting with the camera, she's remembering to smile, and she's hitting her beautiful arrangements note for note. "Hello Again" was the best of the first round songs, warm and full and open. In the second round, she gave a big performance, full of Tina Turner-ish flourishes and handclaps...a really good time. As Simon woefully pointed out, however, it wasn't the game-changing moment she needed. The deck is stacked against her at this point; we know the irrational voting strength supporting her rivals, and we all know the history of black female singers at this point in the competition. (Just ask Jennifer Hudson, Trenyce, Tamyra Gray, Melinda Doolittle, Mandisa, Latoya London, and LaKisha Jones.) With the voters announcing to the world last week that vocal talent and performance ability were irrelevant to them -- just like Bush in 2000, we're voting on personality, not proficiency -- Syesha needed a miracle to stay tonight. She didn't get one.

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

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, David Archuleta is a Young Sarah Brightman in Drag, Au Revoir Carly Smithson


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Archuleta took a page out of Kristy Lee Flagwaver's playbook and tried to hit the red states with some faux patriotism. Despite a few vocal cracks (he's still in puberty, remember), it probably wrapped him in the Idol equivalent of teflon"

ROTFLOL!!! You're assessment of last night's performances is dead on, with one exception. Even though you set the bar low for Jason, his rendition of 'Forever In Blue Jeans' was decent enough even if he couldn't muster up the higher notes required at the ending. However, 'September Morn' was painful, if not nauseating. Not because this is one of Neil's sappy MOR songs, but because Jason brought nothing to it other than weak vocals and a horrendous arrangement. Sadly, he may very well end up in the bottom three. Truth be told, even if he got a recording deal, I can pretty much guarantee that Jive records would drop his happy blue-eyed ass after one dismal album. Can you say Taylor Hicks?

4/30/08, 5:44 AM  
Blogger Dennis said...

This show really sucks. But then, show business itself isn't fair, so I shouldn't be surprised, right?

4/30/08, 9:48 AM  
Blogger lylee said...

Nice analysis as always. No word on Paula's gaffe and the ensuing conspiracy theories that have been swirling around? She certainly, if inadvertently, showed the producers' hand.

What's sad is I like both Davids (though Cook is so far ahead of the little boy as an artist it isn't even funny) and would like to see them in the finale, but am getting increasingly nauseated by how relentlessly TPTB have been pushing that agenda.

5/1/08, 4:41 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

Lylee: I think the Paula controversy is, like the Obama controversy, the Hillary controversy, and all other modern controversies, extremely weak. Or rather, I'm curious as to why it surprises anyone that the judges watch dress rehearsals, or that they carry preconceived bias into their judging. If you don't know by now that Randy dislikes Syesha, Paula loves Jason, and Simon's pulling for Archuleta, you haven't been watching closely enough. The ideas of "fairness" and "objectivity" are as fake on this show as the idea that it's merely "a singing competition."

Or maybe people really are fooled into thinking that merit guides the Idol process. But I'm not. Them's my two cents, for what they're worth.

5/1/08, 9:59 AM  

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