Tonight’s theme is the Lennon/McCartney songbook. Some of my favorite performances on Idol have been out of this book, so I have some hope that we will get some good ones tonight. In other news, it was announced today that Adam Lambert will be the guest mentor next week. I don’t normally care a lot about the mentor, but Adam should be interesting. It’s doubly interesting that Idol is giving Adam this honor so soon after his own run on the show.
Sean Kates and I have been going back and forth about several Idol subjects in the last couple of weeks. One of the issues we have been touching on is Idol’s production arm (19 Entertainment) and their stable of former contestants. Sean advanced the idea that he is not sure whether Idol produces saccharine performers or if 19 tends to produce saccharine records. I place most of the blame on 19. Adam’s first album wasn’t anywhere near as cool as his live performances on Idol were. Allison Iraheta’s album was maybe a little bit better, but it was overproduced instrumentally and overly simplistic vocally. Kris Allen’s album is filled with songs that might as well go straight to the elevator.
The songs that were chosen tended to be boring and schmaltzy. The arrangements were cookie cutter and way too full of background interference with the singers. 19’s style is to bury the singer in synthesizers and background string arrangements. Idol has always produced dynamic alumni; from Kelly Clarkson to David Cook, from Chris Daughtry to Adam Lambert, and dozens of other viable recording artists. Their follow-up success looks good on the surface, with 261 chart toppers, but I still feel like they could do a lot better by getting producers that are as talented as the singers that they are producing, and tell the mix-down engineers that it’s ok to hear the singers over the barrage of studio toys. It seems obvious to me that if Adam Lambert can produce his Idol moments in a couple of days, his album shouldn’t be this boring with months to prepare it.
It could just be that they have too much time, and that they are trying too hard, but it’s been nine years and they are not getting any better at it. It’s probably time for them to farm out the production of their singers to someone who has more of an idea how to bring out their best. The show itself has enough cache and status in the industry that this shouldn’t be hard to do. If they can get Usher and Stevie Wonder to mentor, they should be able to get industry titans to come aboard and produce their singers.
The singers, the songs:
Aaron Kelly, “The Long andWinding Road”
Aaron had an old problem of his pop back up at the beginning of the song; He was singing out of the front of his mouth, trying to push the notes out with no air behind them. He recovered, though, and he was pretty good on the high notes. The entire performance seemed to drag on forever. The arrangement was very slow, too slow for how he was phrasing the song. I liked how he ended it with the long note, but I wonder if the scratch was intentional or if he’s been having some problems with his voice. C+
Katie Stevens, “Let It Be”
With nine singers and a two hour show there will be a lot of filler. Katie is selling herself as a prom date based on who votes for her the most. I kind of liked it, it was cute. I would shudder and break out in a cold sweat if she was my kid and she actually did that.
Katie started out nervously, and she was distracted by a camera that floated by. I didn’t like some of her melody choices, and she had some trouble with her first trip up to her upper range. That being said this was her best performance of the season, at least on the big stage. I can really hear her voice soar, and when she gets some experience and grows up she will be every bit as good as a singer in the top 10 on Idol should be. She might get hammered some for the gratuitous held notes, but I thought that it was a good choice. She needs to do something different if she is going to stay much longer, and she did them very well. Her voice has never sounded better. She was much more in tune, and she was hitting the tuning fork consistently. B+
Andrew Garcia, “Can’t Buy Me Love”
Andrew’s pre-performance video was mostly a referendum on Simon calling him “boring” last week. The other contestants all said that he is the funny guy, the loose and cool guy on the show. I wasn’t surprised. It comes out whenever he is talking or reacting. Simon can’t really be faulted for not seeing it. Simon is not a loose person, and his idea of comedy is probably as British as Simon is. Andrew is very much an American from some fairly mean streets, so it isn’t shocking that his sense of humor would confuse someone like Simon. Maybe he should tell some “I don’t like spam” jokes, or talk to a dead parrot.
I think his artistic changes all worked very well, especially his jazzy vocal over the half time beat parts. He was a little bit lazy in the filler parts of the song, which is a fairly big deal when you remember that the song is only about a minute and a half long. Like Siobhan in the past, he needs to make sure that he has the entire song blocked out and thoroughly rehearsed.B
Michael Lynche, “Eleanor Rigby”
Mike tried mightily, but this was just not a song that fit him well. He rarely sings off key at all, so he probably hit more sour notes tonight than he has all season. The arrangement was ok, a fine attempt, but this wasn’t destined to be Mike’s week. His range isn’t the best, and he has a habit of hitting a higher note than his held glory notes, making the glory notes somewhat anticlimactic. B-
Crystal Bowersox, “Come Together”
She sometimes gets too caught up in her guitar, and she was off the mic for a moment in the middle of the song, but that’s all nitpicking. She blew the song up, blew it out the back of the room. It’s so amazing to me how easy she makes it look. Last year we were treated to the extreme dramatics and the ridiculous range of Adam. This year we are being treated to something just as amazing, but more restrained and subtle. Adam was a Dionysian fireball who could bring the crowd to amazing, thunderous highs, and change it up with his incredibly pure falsetto and melt everyone to tears.Crystalhas little of Adam’s dynamic range as a performer, but she can wring emotions out effortlessly with a flick of her vocal wrist. She is authentic and real, with a voice that seems to know just exactly where to go to bring out the tuning fork. Her voice is the good friend that always knows just the right thing to say. We are amazed by Adam. We are invested with Crystal. Adam sings at us. Crystal sings with us. A
Tim Urban, “All My Loving”
He picked a really good song for his voice, and he sang it as well as he can sing. I liked some of the middle, jazzy melodic choices. If this was the first time I had heard Tim I might even like him a little. He can’t help being green, though, and his phrasing can be really weak. Andrew got hit for too much filler on his songs. Well, Tim’s best parts weren’t any better than Andrew’s filler parts. The kid tries hard, and I actually enjoyed him tonight, but I can’t ignore the last two months, can I? B-
Casey James, “Jealous Guy”
Maybe it’s unfair that Casey has that extra dimension of the guitar on his side, but it’s not like he just strums it. The cat is a truly talented guitar player, who can write parts as well as play them. This was a moment, and his guitar work was a big part of it. The arrangement was so original that he should put it on his album. A+
Siobhan Magnus, “Across the Universe”
Pitch perfect, liltingly beautiful, but she was too held in and tight to really wring the emotions out of the song. I love Siobhan so I loved it, but I’m not so sure America will love it. B+
Lee Dewyze, “Hey Jude”
I get what he was trying to do, and he hit plenty of cool notes, but I wish that I could have a talk with him. Lee is trying to bust out of his skin, and find another facet to his performance persona. This is not what he needs to do. What he needs to do is use his tree trunk of a voice to sing beautiful melodies, and keep the trills and extra crap to a minimum. He doesn’t need them, and when he overdoes it he shows his weaknesses. When you have a big fastball, don’t fiddle around with a bunch of off speed stuff. Just bring it. B-
Safe to in danger-
Very tough to figure this week. Nobody sang horribly, and most of them sang very well.
I am, once again, very nervous for Siobhan. Tim and Katie had relative moments, and they are the ones who should be in danger. Aaron was the weakest contestant, but I don’t believe that he will be in danger based on his strong voting bloc. Andrew was plenty good enough that he should be safe, but he hasn’t exactly been off the charts lately.
Aaron gets the first safety, and Siobhan gets bounced but gets the judges’ save. This is one scenario.
Same thing but Andrew is the one in the noose. I don’t expect that he will get the save.
For some reason Tim is safe anyway.