AMERICAN IDOL: Is it over yet?

Remember when it was 7:59 on Tuesday night and everything stopped as you settled in to bear witness to the birth of the nation’s next pop star? It’s not too hard if your try. Last year at this time, when Kris and Adam battled “he’s only still there because he’s milking the dead wife card Danny,” I voted until my fingers bled. And now? Ladies and Gentleman, last night was the first time since Season Two that I did not watch one second of an American Idol live performance episode. Of course I read the recaps online, I know what the Top Three sang, and the majority seems to think that Casey is about to bow out. Next week we’ll have our newly minted Idol. And I couldn’t care less.

What went wrong? Too many judges? An increasingly ineffective Seacrest? The fact that a television show consistently runs over in 2010? All these factors played a part. And yet, at the core, the problem lies with the contestants. Too cool for school on a good day, amateurish on a bad, no one ever seemed to really want to win. Even Crystal, who’s probably going to get the crown, has basically trotted out the same shtick week after week. Say what you will about Adam Lambert, and I was definitely more of a Kris/Allison fan last season, but at least you could count on him for a memorable performance. In a subtler way, the same can be said for Season Eight champ Kris who stayed true to his artistry but managed to twist every genre to spotlight his capabilities. Can the same be said for Lee or Casey or any of the Top 12 who fell before them? I keep thinking back to semi-finalists like Lilly Scott and Todrick Hall. Would either have won? Maybe not, but at least we’d have witnessed a few weeks of bold performances instead of “all she does is screech Siobhan” and the horror that was Tim. It’s the contestants who ultimately make or break an Idol season. Yes, we put them there and arguably share in the failure that is Season Nine. Still, would it have killed one of them to take some chances, mix things up, make me want to purchase their music? When Idol burst onto the scene, the contestants worked for our votes. Now they figure they’ve made it to the finals and are owed a career. You can’t blame them entirely. Some of Idol’s greatest successes are those who came up short. The contestants figure if they’re on the show that’s enough. Perhaps, to an extent, that’s true. But based on dipping ratings, viewers are starting to weary of this trend, and when it’s all said and done, will Season Nine mark the beginning of the end for the once indestructible franchise?

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AMERICAN IDOL: Finally Finalists

After weeks of sub par performances and contradictory advice from our beloved judges, six boys and six girls are heading to the big Idol stage. My thoughts on the finalists:

Didi Benami: Underwhelming until this week’s cover of “Rhiannon.” She needs to step up her game if she wants a place on the tour bus.

Siobhan Magnus: Definitely the dark horse. Keep your eye on her.

Paige Miles: Really? Never terribly impressive and absolutely dreadful this week when singing “Smile.” Simon keeps saying she’s so amazing. I’ve yet to see it.

Au revoir, Katelyn Epperly. We’ll always have “The Scientist” to remember you by.

Casey James: Kara’s happy.

Tim Urban: Come on! The conspiracy against Chris Golightly continues!

Lee DeWyze: Let me just say right now that Todrick Hall, over the top as he could be, would have made for a more memorable finalist than ho-hum Lee.

Crystal Bowersox: Like Simon said, it’s hers to lose. But if the judges keep treating her every note like the second coming, Adam Lambert syndrome will set it. If you tell us we have to anoint her, another could steal the crown.

Michael Lynche: Of the guys, the only one with a chance to claim the title is Big Mike, the cuddliest velvet teddy bear since Ruben Studdard. The new baby doesn’t hurt either.

Lacey Brown: At this point Katie Stevens had to think she was going home. And that’s about all I have to say about Lacey.

Aaron Kelly: Really hate Lonestar’s “I’m Already There,” which Aaron sung last night. Draw your own conclusions.

Andrew Garcia: But can he regain his frontrunner status after a rough trip through the semi-finals? Maybe. Maybe not. We shall see.

And that’s it for Alex Lambert and his mullet.

Katie Stevens: Okay. This is now officially ridiculous.

Katie Stevens over Lilly Scott?! I should stop watching now while I still have a shred of dignity. But I won’t.

So who do you like? Shocked that Katelyn and Lilly went home? And how much of a nerd am I that I would pay for a Matt Giraud/Scott MacIntyre/dueling pianos album?

AMERICAN IDOL: Wake me up in May?

American Idol has gone live (clips below where I could find them), and I’m as interested in seeing who gets sent home tonight as I am in women’s curling (sorry curling fans). This season has been problematic for my second favorite reality-competition show (sorry Idol; Top Model wins out because it stands up to repeat viewings). The cracks began to show during the auditions. Those who were good weren’t mind-blowing and, for the most part, those who were bad were not bad enough. Without those extremes, I doubt I was the only fan longing to leave Denver and Boston and the rest and simply get to Hollywood. Surely they wouldn’t muck that up? Well… uh… yeah. They kind of did. True, that Mary Powers chick was exposed as all kinds of crazy during the group performances and the unfathomable rejection of Angela Martin worked in much the same way that a car crash provides a perverse thrill to passersby. But spreading the semi-final results over two episodes? It made for a jarring first night and a long, drawn out second night. But my hopes were high that once the contestants started singing for our votes, the Idol ship would right itself. Um… no.

Tuesday was Ladies’ Night. Now the judges are pimping hard for a female winner this year to the point where they’re basically telling the country that it’s a foregone conclusion. In theory, I don’t have much of an issue with this. After David and Kris, it’d be nice to see a girl take the confetti shower while singing an insipid ballad about climbing mountains, reaching for rainbows, feeling eight feet tall, etc. But if Tuesday night was any indication, there are only two or three girls who have any shot at victory. Crystal Bowersox and Siobhan Magnus did their thing. So too, although to a lesser extent, did Lilly Scott. But Ashley Rodriguez making like she was Leona Lewis and especially Janell Wheeler’s ill-advised take on Heart sapped much of their momentum. And the less said about Lacey Brown’s “Landslide” the better. The majority of these ladies have a long way to go before getting my vote, and when Tuesday’s live show ended, I thought that if it wasn’t for the producers’ insistence on 6 guys and 6 girls, we’d weed out even more of these singers before moving to the big stage. Because the boys would have to have a stronger outing on Wednesday, right? Right?

Boys, boys, boys! What were you thinking?! Casey James won the night by default for simply being okay in a sea of god awful. Todrick Hall needs to return to the set of Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Feels Good” video. Tyler Grady is going to need more than a mall makeover to improve his chances of taking the title. And what of poor Tim Urban, the kid who got a second chance in the wake of the Chris Golightly controversy? His take on “Apologize” might go down as the single worst live performance in the history of the franchise. We get that you want a girl to win, but letting Tim sing a song where he could barely sing 40% of the notes? Have you no shame?

As for the judges, well Kara is bitchier this time around and Randy is a tad more coherent (but just a tad). Simon seems bored, already counting the days until he can wash his hands of the whole damned thing. And Ellen? I love her, love her show, but she reminds me of Kara from last year. When Kara first appeared in Season 8, she was a breath of fresh air for about half a second. Initially Ellen had the same effect, but now she’s just sitting there, not contributing anything particularly useful or insightful. Is it too late for Paula to come back?

Anyway, four singers will exit stage left before tonight is out. I’m not even going to guess who’s going home because so many deserve to be put out of their (and our) misery. Let’s hope these past two nights can be attributed to nerves. Because if things keep up like this, I don’t know if I can hang in there until May.

AMERICAN IDOL: So far, kind of boring

This week’s Idol double bill was, frankly, underwhelming. Guest judges Shania Twain and Kristin Chenoweth weren’t awful, but the only lasting impression was the question as to why producers sent Chenoweth up at a time or in a city where she could only see one day of auditions. Of the singers we saw for more than 10 seconds, I, like Shania (oh dear!) dug the package that was John Park. And this could turn into the season of the dueling Jermaines, last week’s Sellars and this week’s Purifoy. They set former convict Matt Lawrence up for a redemption arc, but I am not on board with Kara’s belief that he’s already in the Top 12. At least the competition will keep him away from banks and BB guns.

Jarrod Norrell’s audition/arrest was a weak attempt to inject some drama into an otherwise stale evening. Norrell’s “Amazing Grace” was neither amazing or graceful, but his utter shock at the judges’ insulting then fearful responses to his “song” rang true. Randy’s too-quick summoning of security came out of nowhere. Contestants in year’s past were far more threatening once their dreams were crushed (recall some water in the face, Simon?). Jarrod’s agitation with the muscled escorts who eventually cuffed him did not stem from a desire to assault the Simon and Co. but rather bewilderment. Who doesn’t resist and protest when they’ve done nothing wrong? This was Randy taking a cue from a Fox brainstorm session and an idea that handcuffed singers would take the auditions to the next level. But like last year’s infamous Judges’ Save, did he play the card at the right time?

Angela Martin. Yes, the girl has had some bum luck when trying to reach the stars, but barring another court date, she’ll be on the live show (now I sound like Kara; ahhhh!). Here’s the thing (stop it!). Angela is this season’s Carly Smithson. My issue is not with the second chance. It’s the total lack of suspense as we follow her during Hell Week. Look, once we reaach the Top 12, Norman Gentle aside, we pretty much forget about the almost-weres. True, Angela’s past involvement with the competition would have surfaced sooner rather than later. But by setting it up from the get go, the prodcuers are flat out telling the viewers that Angela will be playing the part of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Hardly a novel concept for a reality show (I’m looking at you ANTM Season 7 reject to Season 8 champ Jaslene), but now I won’t invest in Angela, who is talented, until her fate is in the public’s hands. I know that’s where the real excitement begins, but by that point how many others will dial for the contestants not assigned characters and just existing in the space of the show (if such a thing is possible). Next up, Los Angeles. And please. Let’s save the handcuffs for Cops, Fox.

IDOL’s Back!

AMERICAN IDOL is back. How do we live without it? Did anyone else catch the blink or you missed it clip of Adam when Ryan recapped Season 8 and declared that a star was born (the producers are still hoping for a recount of last May’s votes). If I’m being honest (to borrow a phrase from the soon-to-be departing Simon), Tuesday night’s auditions in Boston were underwhelming. Paula’s absence from the panel was not as profoundly felt as I anticipated, but Victoria “Posh” Beckham hardly wowed with her stiff smile and barely there critiques of the hopefuls. I liked Maddy Curtis, the first recipient of a golden ticket. Her voice, while hardly the best, took a back seat to her pre-packaged intro as a sister to several adopted children with Down Syndrome. Obviously a good person from good stock, I’ll root for her until she is inevitably is sent home during Hell Week. Similarly, we saw Italian boy Amadeo Diricco at home with his large family enjoying a huge meal, but the flavor faded when he opened his mouth to sing. Bosa Mora’s voice was pleasant enough, but it paled next to his mother’s fabulous headdress. If I were Joshua Blaylock, I don’t know how I would take Randy’s comment that his sound is reminiscent of Spandau Ballet. And Justin Williams’ cancer story seemed an attempt to set him up as this season’s Scott MacIntyre. Sorry, Justin. Cancer’s a bitch, but you’ll have to do better than that. This was the way of the night: nice kids, acceptable pipes, and no spark. But they’ll all get a second chance.

The one exception was Katie Stevens. Now you’ll think that I was manipulated by her relationship with her Alzheimer’s afflicted, non-English speaking grandmother (and that’s possibly true), but as soon as that rendition of “At Last” came out of her mouth, she was the real deal. What separated Katie from the other contestants? I mainly remembered their backstories whereas I remembered Katie’s song. We would see something similar to, and much more memorable than, this audition the following night.

Wednesday’s Atlanta round was loads more fun. The presence of the elevator foreshadowed the selection of those who will advance to the live rounds. Guest judge Mary J. Blige, seemed to be having a great time (although there were times when I mistook her laughter for tears during the cringe inducing Jesse Hamilton audition). I am in complete agreement that Jermaine Sellars and his soulful take on “One of Us” was the highlight of the auditions thus far. He was Wednesday’s Katie Stevens, although far more talented and genuine. I loved how he referenced his sick mother in his interview but firmly stated that in the end he was there to sing. “Yeah, my life sucks, too, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to define me in a singing competition.” Love him! Miss Congeniality, Keia Johnson, also charmed, and while rural Tennessee girl Vanessa Wolfe is really getting in over her head (and I fear some kind of breakdown once she lands in Hollywood), how awesome would it be to someone picked out of such obscurity become a star? Singing cop Brian Walker reminded me of lat season’s Michael Sarver, decent, can carry at tune, and a possibility to slip into the Top 12 based on his Everyman appeal.

Atlanta also brought the funny. Dewonne Robinson’s duet for one stands out for the agonizing refrain of “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over!” Thank God. Simon is right; General Larry Platt’s own original piece “Pants on the Ground” could totally be a hit! But for me the absolute highlight of the night was the many faces of Lamar Royal. At first he seemed like an affable, possibly talented kid of the Chikeze Eze variety. Mary J.’s presence on the panel was an added bonus for him; he rightfully called her an idol in her own right. His insistence that he welcomed constructive criticism raised a red flag but barely hinted at the total 180 to come. After the angriest rendition of “Kiss from a Rose” ever, the judges (sans Simon, who I wish had been in the room) tried to let him down easy. But Lamar wasn’t having it or rather hearing it. Never once did Kara or Randy or Mary J. say that he could not sing. He’s young, raw, and needs to tone everything, including his ego, down. So Lamar broke into “My Cherie Amour,” convinced that the power of his voice would change the judges’ tune. No such luck. Mary J.’s fear that he was one step away from drawing a gun on them did not seem farfetched as security escorted him out. His tirade about the idiocy of the judges, specifically his idol of five minutes earlier, Mary J. Blige, took him from the elevator to the street, his ego likely refueled when a car passing by cheered (although it’s possible they, like the rest of us, just wanted him to stop). While an audition like the afore-mentioned Jesse Hamilton’s is almost painful to watch because of the fear that the kid is being exploited, Lamar’s was hysterical. He deserved what he got. If he were to take the judges’ advice to heart and work on his craft, he might have a shot down the line. Right now he is all smugness, convinced he’s owed the trip to Hollywood because. At only two night’s in, I’d bet money that more Lamars are waiting in the wings. Hooray!

IDOL’s back. I wouldn’t say it’s better than ever, but at least two nights of TV viewing are covered for the next few months. See you in Chicago!