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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


American Idolatry: Danny Gokey Can Cure Cancer, Solve The Credit Crisis, and End World Hunger, Apparently

It seems like only yesterday when the Dueling Davids, Cook and Archuleta, battled to the (musical) death on American Idol, trying to become the pop phenoms of 2008. But now, with their debut albums dropping on the charts almost as fast as the stock market, we turn to a new year of young hopefuls, all grabbing for Idol's brass ring of success...preferably more like Daughtry, less like Hicks. Last night the first batch of 12 took the stage (there are 36 this year, because Fox is greedy, and God hates all other networks), and the results were decidedly mixed. Here's how the viewing party went down at ModFab HQ:

Idol Wannabe : Jackie Tohn
Song Choice : "A Little Less Conversation"
Fashion Sense : Polka-dotted strapless blouse and a sassy red belt, because she's a rebel who doesn't play by the rules, see.
ModFab Verdict : B
The evening began with Season 8's scratchy-throated chanteuse, who looks like Anne Hathaway and sounds like Pink with less breath control. Jackie began the Elvis Presley tune with a bluesy, stripped-down vibe that racheted up to an old-fashioned honky tonk stomper. Or would have, if Tohn had the life experience to back up her shtick. The judges were impressed with her personality (less so with her vocal performance); Simon felt the need to re-establish his bitch credentials early on, so he ripped her a little more savagely than he normally would have. Me, I think she's got an okay voice and an okay personality...but no superstar potential. And dissing Dreamgirls in her after-performance chat with Ryan didn't make me a fan.

Idol Wannabe : Ricky Braddy
Song Choice : "A Song For You"
Fashion Sense : Dark blazer, white shirt, and seriously unfortunate tight pants.
ModFab Verdict : B
There's a white-boy soul flavor to Braddy's voice, reminiscent of Daryl Hall...but his too-sweet demeanor and vocal histrionics play against his strengths, making it all a little too Michael Buble-ish for me. Still, oversung schmaltz works on Idol audiences, and the judges...Paula gave him a standing ovation (surprised it took her that long, frankly), and Randy and Kara raved like swooning teen girls. Simon, for his part, was polite but hit the nail on the head...there's a star-quality deficiency, and despite Braddy's impressive skills, I just can't imagine the world rushing out to buy his record.

Idol Wannabe : Alexis Grace
Song Choice : "I Never Loved A Man"
Fashion Sense : Slinky black dress, heels, and a white string necklace...hey, it's Duffy!
ModFab Verdict : B+
Ahhh...she's a mom. She already told us this in the audition round, she told us again at Hollywood Week, and here she's telling us again in the b-roll before her performance. (Subtext: if you have kids or want kids or think about kids ever, you should vote for ME!) It's a big step to tackle an Aretha Franklin classic in the first round, and I admire the stones it took to choose it. And surprisingly, she didn't blow it. Sure, it wasn't especially powerful, and it lacked the world-weariness that courses through the lyrical underpinnings of the song. But she gave it her best, and was rewarded with the judges' unanimous admiration....Simon even crowned her with a comparison to the patron saint of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Not bad, girl. Not bad at all.

Idol Wannabe : Brent Keith
Song Choice : "Hicktown"
Fashion Sense : Untucked great collared shirt, stonewashed denim, chunky man-necklace, and boots. Wow, you think he's country or something?
ModFab Verdict : C
Completely uninteresting tune aside (what a waste of a great title!), Keith is the first contestant to place his marker on a genre...he's claiming the space reserved for "Country" in the Idol universe. It was a safe political move, and that calculation may have extended to his performance, a middle-of-the-road, no-bumps effort that will easily keep him to the next round. He's a smart cookie, who understands the telegenic nature of Idol; when Simon called his performance "forgettable," Brent countered by saying "country fans won't forget," a clear call to arms for his voting bloc. And who knows, maybe it'll work...it did for Carrie Underwood, who is unquestionably the most successful winner to date. The difference? Underwood has truly amazing pipes. This boy does not.

Idol Wannabe : Stevie Wright
Song Choice : "You Belong With Me"
Fashion Sense : A mint-green oversized shirt with a belt and leggings...clearly, a tribute to all the Skanks at Slutty Heights High, Class of 1984.
ModFab Verdict : D
Ugh. 17 years young and clearly wracked with nerves, the song wasn't keyed appropriately to her voice and her bubbly energy seemed forced and false. Pans across the board from the judges. It was bad, she knew it, they knew it, we knew it. Will teens in her demographics save her? I think it's too early to expect a Sanjaya-like salvation for Stevie, if only because America hasn't yet fallen in love with any of the contestants, much less developed loyalties. Not good...although hugging her sympathetic parents on camera (who blamed the coaches for changing their darling daughter's song) probably played well.

Idol Wannabe : Anoop Desai
Song Choice : "Angel of Mine"
Fashion Sense : Blending in with the background, literally...a dark blazer, a dark shirt, and jeans. I couldn't see the shoes, I was yawning too widely. (And dude, what's up with the hair? Next time, skip Dad's Vitalis and try some styling gel.)
ModFab Verdict : B-
In the kindest light, Anoop's plaintive croon might be mistaken for Jon Secada or a lesser spawn of Iglesias. But (to reiterate) that's kind. The tune is plain and unadorned, and the lyrics a bit preening...hardly remarkable enough to stand out at this point. I'm not sure I have a sense of who he is yet...he seems a bit guarded. I doubt anyone will quibble with the performance (or the judges' generosity), and his gentle after-song sparring with Simon will probably play well. And don't forget...the last Indian-American on Idol, a certain Mr. Malakar, found a solid voting base with much less talent than Desai's.

Idol Wannabe : Casey Carlson
Song Choice : "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
Fashion Sense : A limp attempt at an Amy Winehouse-ian beehive, black blouse and an ill-fitting gold lame skirt resembling a potato sack made at Fort Knox.
ModFab Verdict : C-
Undoubtedly, she's the cutest kewpie doll of the night: an adorable smile, perky energy. But the voice was flat and unengaging, the performance listless, and the song choice regrettable. The judges hit her hard, and it clearly landed; she seemed a bit broken as she listened to Randy, Kara and Paula pile on...and Simon, who landed the major body blows. (Side note: I can tell already what I'll hate most about this season -- the defensive parents, who are now routinely on stage, and who feel an embarrassing need to save their children after a crushing critique. I say: they're old enough to audition and sign the release form, they're old enough to take their lumps. No, I don't have any kids, why do you ask?)

Idol Wannabe : Michael Sarver
Song Choice : "I Don't Wanna Be"
Fashion Sense : The country outfit of choice (collared shirt untucked, jeans, boots), but this time, a WHITE shirt (oooh!) with an enormous embroidered splotch over the heart. Hot, if you're a drunk slut at 2AM at the country-and-western bar. As I often am.
ModFab Verdict : B
The second of our country gentlemen this evening, I feel (as the audience surely must) a compelling need to compare him with Brent Keith from earlier in the evening. For me, Michael is the better cowboy. His instrument is significantly fuller and more accomplished, and his aww-shucks earthiness has a down-home honesty. The judges were split: Randy and Kara found his performance lacking, Paula and Simon were much kinder...Simon even gave him the divine touch by proclaiming that America should save him. I think they will, but he'll need to step up his game in future weeks.

Idol Wannabe : Ann Marie Boskovich
Song Choice : "Natural Woman"
Fashion Sense : Lime green dress. Is lime the "in" color this season? It makes her look like a sherbet monster threw up.
ModFab Verdict : B
Another Aretha classic, another better-than-expected turn. She owned the melody, made interesting choices. She lacks showmanship, sure, but it wasn't as bad as the judges implied. And boy, they went after her...Randy disliked the song choice and Kara, who spent the entire evening repeating and restating Randy's critiques, suggested a Sara Bareilles tune instead. (WTF?) Paula liked it, though. We'll see. I was surprised by the vitriol, considering the complete pass Jackie Tohn got earlier in the evening.

Idol Wannabe : Stephen Fowler
Song Choice : "Rock With You"
Fashion Sense : Interesting patterned shirt, perfectly cut blues, and a retro-flavor...best of the evening. In fashion, at least.
ModFab Verdict : D+
Of the contestants tonight, none of them had a more memorable moment in Hollywood Week than Fowler's complete and utter meltdown, storming off the stage after forgetting his music. The b-roll introduction tonight shaped that as a redemptive moment, and his selection as a finalist a second-chance opportunity. Too bad for him. Interpreting Michael Jackson's disco classic as a Gerald Levert-ish jam didn't quite do it for me...a noticeable crack on the high note near the end, breath control issues throughout, etc. Most of all, it lacked a genuine truthfulness. He admitted, in response to the unforgiving critique by the judges, to some nerves and that "he didn't feel comfortable yet." Yeah dude, it showed. And I doubt the audience will give you a third chance to redeem yourself.

Idol Wannabe : Tatiana Del Toro
Song Choice : "I'm Saving All My Love For You"
Fashion Sense : Hideous purple, orange and grey sundress. Her hair? Like a pteradactyl took a shit on her head, and it dried.
ModFab Verdict : B
As regular readers know, I have a deep, abiding, personal grudge against Tatiana, which has previously featured multiple death threats and a desire to fire nuclear weapons at her forehead. But even I can see that she's got a full, if untrained, voice...something that the audience ate up, because full voices have been in short supply this evening. She's got ability, sure, and it seems she's realized how badly she's been coming off in the Hollywood Week episodes. (When prompted to do her banshee-on-a-bender laugh, she demurely refused.) I'm happy that Simon called her out on her intensely calculated persona, her ambition, her ego and her putrid personality. The truth is that in THIS case, her voice is beside the point. She's faking everything. Will America buy it anyway? God, I hope not.

Idol Wannabe : Danny Gokey
Song Choice : "Hero"
Fashion Sense : White shirt similar to Michael Sarver's, jeans, and those Dexter's Laboratory glasses. Expect Kanye to start wearing them any day now.
ModFab Verdict : B
If Tatiana is The Crazy Egomaniac, Danny is The Guy With The Dead Wife. (Idol reduces the lives of contestants to one single defining event. Isn't that convenient? So easy to remember!) This is his meme, his raison d'etre, and it's a powerful one, destined to garner him votes from sympathetic moms and teen girls for many weeks to come. Singing "Hero" struck me as a crass commercialization of the situation, but hey, this is America, where tasteless maneuvers are not only encouraged, but praised. The judges loved him, loved the sentiment, loved the moment...and when Simon bothered to point out the fact that Danny wasn't the Second Coming Of Jesus, both Kara and Ryan called him "heartless." On a show like this, such epithets mean only one thing...Danny is here to stay, for a good long time.

Best of Night : Alexis Grace
Bottom Three : Ann Marie Boskovich, Stephen Fowler and Stevie Wright
Eviction Prediction : Stephen Fowler
Comments : Share yours below, I wanna know what you think!
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Blogger Charles said...

I agree with most of your comments and predictions. However, I must toss in my two cents about Jackie Tohn's comment about Dreamgirls. I don't think she was dissing the show in any way at all... I think she was dissing the "vocal histrionics" that most of these kids affect in order to be considered "serious artists." Sure some of them can pull those triplets and blues riffs off but most of them should just sing with what god gave 'em.

2/18/09, 9:25 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I have to agree with you. I think Alexis was amazing. I am very into Danny, though. He is great and I'm so glad he got through tonight, along with Alexis. There is so much talent in the top 36.

But, let's all stop, take a moment to center ourselves and thank all the powers that be that Tatiana did not get through. We have truly been blessed. Let's just home the evil forces of darkness don't vote her through in the wildcard show. OMG!

2/18/09, 9:57 PM  

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