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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


American Idolatry: Or, How To Completely Decimate An ABBA Song In Three Easy Steps

Finally. We've been through all 36 of the American Idol finalists, an achievement which is kind of like saying you've read all of Proust or watched all of Kieslowski's Decameron, only much less respectable. Unlike last week when the finalists were obvious, the mix of talent, personality, and telegenics in this last group made it hard to predict a final three. Who did the ModFab punditry finally settle on? Only one way to find out...

Idol Wannabe : Von Smith
Song Choice : "You're All I Need To Get By"
Fashion Sense : From the Miami Vice collection, a brown suit with a maroon blouse underneath.
ModFab Verdict : B-
If you're like me, you know Von not as the "screamer" from this season of Idol, but as the preteen You Tube sensation from a few years back, when he terrified the populace with a scat-filled variation of "And I'm Telling You" from Dreamgirls. He's grown up a little since then, and clearly, he took Simon's critique from Hollywood Week -- essentially, to lose the showy stuff -- to heart. This performance, by contrast was plain, a little low in his register, soulless, and notably free of trills. To me, it seemed constrained, caged, and dismally safe. But the judges loved it...and Simon's vaguely homophobic comparison to Clay Aiken was mean-spirited enough that voters will probably come to Von's defense. It's early in the evening, but I think he might be safe.

Idol Wannabe : Taylor Vaifanua
Song Choice : "If I Ain't Got You"
Fashion Sense : High School Musical meets Heidi...a black-and-white-and-brown gypsy jumper with thigh-high boots and sassy hoop earrings. A fabulous disaster.
ModFab Verdict : C
This Alicia Keys track, arguably one of the great romantic ballads of the last decade, needs heavy emotional connection to plumb its depths. Taylor, who is all of 16 years old, simply hasn't got the life experience to do more than sing it note for note. Her performance was technically precise and (in a rarity this season) rich with breath support...but it had no life, no spirit. And probably, no chance.

Idol Wannabe : Alex Wagner-Trugman
Song Choice : "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"
Fashion Sense : Untucked black shirt and black jeans...dude, if you're not even going to make an effort, I can stop this right now. Don't make me pull this blog over.
ModFab Verdict : B-
A nerdy dweeb with a sunny disposition and sweet smile, I was pulling for Alex...he reminds me of the kids in my high school science club, and I always felt a little sorry for them. And he had a great voice...for the first eight bars of Elton John's ballad, before he started making throaty growls and weird rock-star posturing. It reeked of karaoke. It reeked of amateurism. (And for those of us who like to be terrified of such things, I'll say this...it reeked of Sanjaya.)

Idol Wannabe : Arianna Afsar
Song Choice : "The Winner Takes It All"
Fashion Sense : Aqua blue sundress, slightly above the knee, but that might have been meant to distract me from the enormous high heels that kept her nearly stationery throughout the song.
ModFab Verdict : D+
To paraphrase Randy, Really Not Good Dawg. Ryan mentioned that this was "the first ever live ABBA song" on Idol, and it unexpectedly revealed the deceptive difficulty of the vocal lines in the Swedish supergroup's tunes. Arianna simply wasn't up to the task, cracking on the long notes, unable to manage her breathing, and noticeably out of tune in half a dozen places. Dramatically, she seemed to mirror Taylor's earlier performance, in being a young girl singing lyrics about lessons learned at the end of a lifetime. In her after-performance interview, Arianna mentioned that she had been concerned the song might have been too "old" for her. True, but not in the way you think, dear.

Idol Wannabe : Ju'Not Joyner
Song Choice : "Hey There Delilah"
Fashion Sense : Leather bomber jacket, jeans, and a little what-the-fuck touch of silver handcuffs hanging off the belt loop. Okaaaaay.
ModFab Verdict : A-
First, an admission. I have always, always hated this song. I find it cloying and saccharin, and indicative of everything that's wrong with the music industry these days. But in the hands of a soulful, moving interpreter like Joyner, the song is rendered into a thing of next-gen, Smokey Robinson beauty. Delicate and serene, the vibe was refreshingly intimate and devoid of glitz.

Another thought: Joyner creates both a dilemma and an opportunity for the Idol experiment -- he's a real singer with a point of view and an adult perspective, neither of which is a regular commodity on the show. But he is, in my view, the best artist of the evening, and maybe the best interpreter in the competition. Will voters get over their fetish for youth and showboating vocals? I sincerely hope so.

Idol Wannabe : Kristen McNamara
Song Choice : "Give Me One Reason"
Fashion Sense : A pink number meant to evoke Elle Woods, but instead evokes Pepto Bismol.
ModFab Verdict : B+
Ever so often, Idol has a moment where you find yourself shellshocked. My first experience this season was when Kristen ripped into the opening notes of Tracy Chapman's bluesy classic. The fullness of her tone, the confidence in her phrasing, and the sheer musicality was something else; the dexterity, too, was unexpected. If vocals were all there were to this show, she'd definitely be in. I don't know, though. I'm not sure she's a superstar in terms of presence or style, but she's got truly dynamic pipes.

Idol Wannabe : Nathaniel Marshall
Song Choice : "I Would Do Anything For Love"
Fashion Sense : A walking, talking, breathing Gay Nightmare...headband over badly-dyed side-swept tresses, a green pullover that made him look fat, and hip-hugging pants that even Liza wouldn't be caught dead in. Wowsa.
ModFab Verdict : C-
I should probably have more enthusiasm for my gay brother Nathaniel (and if you're unsure of his sexuality, you are blind AND retarded), but I don't. Maybe it's his butchering of Stephen Sondheim, but probably, it's because he's trying way too hard. Incredibly theatrical and not in the good way, his meatheaded song choice highlighted his weakness for vocal pyrotechnics. He might have a good voice underneath all of that blinding, forced, arch personality, but I'm not at all interested. Frankly, he exhausts me. (The second homophobic moment of the night, by the way, came from Paula...calling the kid "Boy George" isn't nice in this context. It's code for "faggot," and we all know it.)

Idol Wannabe : Felicia Barton
Song Choice : "No One"
Fashion Sense : Sparkles! Sparkles on the tight black shirt! Sparkles in the eye shadow! But a black jacket, to dampen the sparkle spirit. But no one, NO ONE, can kill the sparkles!
ModFab Verdict : B+
Another Alicia Keys hit, but this one might as well have been Memorex. Down to the intonations, Felicia seemed like a vocal clone of Keys (and since she looks exactly like Nelly Furtado, the pop diva-ness was tres confusing). I guess there are worse things than sounding exactly like a superstar. In fact, in a context like this, it probably helps her...and it definitely puts her neck and neck with Kristen in the running for the top female slot of the night.

Idol Wannabe : Scott MacIntyre
Song Choice : "Mandolin Rain"
Fashion Sense : Well, he's blind. And yet, he's wearing the same black untucked shirt and stonewashed jeans that every other male contestant has worn in the last three weeks, so you know the costume designer must be blind, too. This time, to be fair, they've added a subtle vest, to highlight that James Taylor-ish quality in his voice. (Side note: was there some kind of bulk sale on black shirts at Target last month?)
ModFab Verdict : B-
Let's be totally honest, okay? It was merely adequate. Not special in the least. In fact, he flatted at least four or five times. And for Kara to say in the judging that he "moves mountains when he gets up on that stage" is merely PC bull. For Simon to suggest that "America should put you straight through" is...well, how'd you like to be the singers who have to follow him? There's no denying (or escaping) Scott's blindness, since it's been a part of his narrative arc from the first audition. But at this stage, it's criminal for his vocal mistakes to be glossed over by the judges. He wants to be treated as an equal, so do that.

Idol Wannabe : Kendall Beard
Song Choice : "This One's For The Girls"
Fashion Sense : Hey look, it's Carrie Underwood! Oh wait, it's just some other blonde country hottie in a citrus sundress. My bad.
ModFab Verdict : B-
Like everything else these days, American Idol has been hit by the recession. Back in the boom years of 2005, we had full, rich voiced Carrie Underwood. Now, we get the relatively thin, strained tones of Kendall Beard. Nothing wrong with her, except that she's got predecessors who were better and stronger and finer and...well, you get it. Enjoy obscurity, Kendall.

Idol Wannabe : Jorge Nuñez
Song Choice : "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
Fashion Sense : A trim and tailored black blazer over a popped-collar white shirt. Hey, it's not exactly a fashion revolution, but at this point, I'll gladly take it.
ModFab Verdict : B
It's not that Jorge isn't tuneful, or talented. He is. But every time I've seen him in this competition, the same phrase has entered my head: "wedding singer." He's got power but no grace, fluidity but no form. He lacks an original style, and his attempt to forgo his accent makes him bland. I admire his dedication with the dialect coach; as someone who once went to a similar coach to reduce my Southern accent (when I moved to Yankee country, I was treated like an idiot until I lost the sprawling vowels) it's incredibly difficult to achieve his success. But should he get called back by America, he'll need to embrace those Spanish roots...and find some soul instead of a dialect.

Idol Wannabe : Lil Rounds
Song Choice : "Be Without You"
Fashion Sense : Now THIS is what I'm talking about! A form-fitting black dress topped by a bright yellow stripe. Fashion-forward and sexy! Can I get an amen?
ModFab Verdict : A-
It's about time we had some Mary J. Blige up in here. And in my opinion, Lil nailed it, ripping the roof off both vocally and dramatically. I don't know if America will like her, but she got an unadulterated rave from Simon ("my favorite of the night...you have great, great prospects in this country...you are undoubtedly one of the best this season"), and she won big personality points. She's also beautiful, and that doesn't hurt a bit.

Best Of Night: Ju'Not Joyner
Worst Of Night: Arianna Afsar
The Three Going Through To The Final 12: Lil Rounds, Von Smith, Scott MacIntyre
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