Welcome to the Idol Guy, our weekly look at the goings-on in the Idol world. This is not a recap; for that look up the recaps by our terrific writers AJane and MotherSister.
Diana Ross is a terrific singer who has had success in music, TV, and Broadway. She has more top ten albums and singles than we care to count. Her musical talent is unquestioned. Unfortunately, none of this is a sure sign of success as an Idol guest coach. To say Tuesday night didn't go that well is a big understatement.
Softballs R' Us: Once again we had Melinda and Lakisha leading everyone else. Was anyone really surprised by that? If you're a female with a big voice and you can't pull off Diana Ross, then maybe singing isn't the right career choice. Who's better is really a matter of one's personal preference, but for now it doesn't matter. They're both as safe as they can be, and it'll stay that way for now.
It was actually a reasonably good night for the girls all around. Of course, their job was much easier – Diana Ross songs are made for women to sing, not men. If anything, the story of the night on the girl's side was who were the most improved singers.
Haley pulled off something we haven't seen from her in a while: a fairly reasonable performance. It works to her advantage that compared to the rest of the field (particularly the women) she's fairly distinct. Certainly she's not in the same genre as the “big voices” like Melinda. She's in a fairly similar situation to Gina - both have fair to okay vocals who need good song selection to really shine, but get a boost because they're not fishing in the same pool of votes as everyone else. If she can keep it together, she'll surprise people and go further than anyone initially thought possible.
The other revelation was Jordin. Randy may have overdone the praise a little, but his point was fairly valid: Jordin has a lot of talent, but up to this point hasn't always known how to use it. That changed on Tuesday: it was a complete performance. It's not yet as good as something Melinda or Lakisha would do, but it's not that far off. It's three months to the finale; that's plenty of time for her to get even better.
The Simon and Ryan Chronicles, Part Two: Let's be clear about some things, shall we? American Idol is supposedly about finding the best undiscovered singing talent in America. So, in theory, who are the most important people? If you answered "the contestants", you're absolutely right. We have to feel for Melinda a bit, who was smack in the middle of the latest bit of forced humor between Simon and Ryan. Please, gentlemen... it's not about either one of you, despite what your egos may think.
That was a nasty one: The guys were just not good this week, but there's something to learn in how they performed. They were pretty much screwed from the start; there's no way anyone could have had a truly outstanding night like Melinda and Lakisha did.
Faced with a theme that does not suit their musical style, a contestant has three choices. First, you can essentially ignore the theme and do your own stuff. No surprise that the guys who did this – Blake and Chris R. – are the ones who have established a strong musical identity.They paid lip service to the theme and did it their own way. Did it work? Well, not so much. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that just didn't fit together. It wasn't that the singing was bad, but the whole performance seemed out of place.
On the other hand, we have Phil Stacey. More than any of the guys, he was faithful to the theme – he has a powerful voice, and used it as much as he could. He was the best of the guys, but we still have a hard time believing he'll last long. We call it the Paris Bennett syndrome: someone keeps changing their image every week that we have no idea which one will show up on a given week. If someone with PBS really does have a boatload of talent, they could get far, but they won't win. If they're someone not quite as talented (like Phil), the first time they have an off night they go home.
The riskiest option is to do what Chris Sligh did – try to compromise. Add a bit of yourself, and mix it with the original. We give him credit for trying, but it was inherently a high-risk move. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn't it can blow up in your face. It wasn't as bad as the judges would make us believe, but it wasn't good at all. Like Blake and the other Chris, it didn't fit. Chris is a far better singer than his top 12 performance made him out to be.
As for Brandon and Sanjaya... well, calling what they did singing is a bit generous. Brandon pulled off the mother of all chokejobs on the Idol stage. He's supposed to be a good singer, yet we have seen very little of it up to now. Too much potential, not enough real show. It's not that he is bad or untalented, but he's never able to show it on stage. For all practical purposes, if you can show it, you don't have it. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but he was in over his head.
Sanjaya? Ain't No Mountain High Enough was an appropriate song. There's no mountain high enough to hide how bad he is. It's nothing personal - Sanjaya seems nice enough - but he just shouldn't be here. Period. Why is he staying in? As we said last week, Sanjaya's fan base has to be respected. It's something he's had that Brandon didn't. Of course, the top 12 brings with it not just a bigger stage, but a bigger voting audience as well. He's not going to be around much longer, thankfully. For comparison, Scott Savol, who was in a similar situation (outlasting what people thought were better singers), did not enter the bottom three until the top 9. As we said about Antonella last week: a small fan base voting like crazy will only get you so far. We've seen the start of that with Sanjaya's stint in the danger zone.
Consistent Inconsistency: how many times have we heard the judges complain that a performance was "karaoke", or "copycat", or that people failed to "make it their own"? Well, as we said above, three people did try to do just that. So what were the reactions? Fairly negative, bordering on the hostile (particularly in Chris Sligh's case). We know it didn't work that well, but would a word about how they were at least trying to do their own thing have killed them? More proof that the judges can sometimes be completely useless.
Bigger is not always better: Idol loves to bring out the big names once we're in the top 12. (The big names love it too, of course, because it's superb publicity.) Last year had everyone from Stevie Wonder to Queen to Andrea Bocelli, and this year will surely have just as many big names.
It may be a case of bigger not being better. Big names, even if they are genuinely talented, are not always the best mentors. We saw a case of this last year: Stevie Wonder is a superb singer, but as a mentor he was terrible. Anyone care to remember last year's top 12 night? No one wants to, because it was terrible. What about Barry Manilow, the top 11 guest then? Terrible theme (songs from the 50s), but it was a good night. Say anything else about him, but he made the best out of the available talent and song selection.
The problem here is that being a good singer doesn't mean one can tell someone else how to be a good singer. They're fairly different skill sets, particularly given how short time the would-be Idols actually spend with the guest. It goes beyond whether someone is nice or not; teaching and tutoring is something that not everyone can pull off. It's like sports: not all good players become good coaches, and the reverse is also true.
Of course, we also have the “singers” that really aren't. (See: Jennifer Lopez.) Big names, big sales, but not really good, talented singers. Just what are they bringing to the table? Butt-shaking skills? That week could the worst train wreck of the season.
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