It's raining outside as I write this. I note in passing the gray haze that blankets, yet again, the springtime Chicago sky but my eyes are fixed on a blank page. My mind is drifting to yesterday's live AI show as I mull the words I want to put down. Perhaps an AI recap is not the best place to wax all poetic but I can't help it. This whole AI season has been like reading a Baudelaire poem, so tart, so clear, so strident, so full of musical pain and pleasure that it puts me in a strange mood now that it's hurtling inevitably toward the finish line. Read on.
Allison Iraheta fell victim last week to the abject mediocrity that AI has so prized and hailed for eight straight seasons now. Where did things go so wrong? It's hard to say, but no matter; Allison left with her head held high and that's all that really counts.
For once, I will disregard Ryan's opening theatrics. He simply annoys and I have no patience for him today.
Praise, little sister!
Idol sent the three finalists home this week to soak up some love and energy from their adoring fans. During previous seasons, AI always reveled in the spectacle of hometown parades showing off loud adoring crowds like so many badges of honor as if saying: See Idol is king, and this is what it can do for you! Isn't it grand? Don't you want it? But for the contestants, such effusive and often scary displays of fandom many times offered the first taste of what the rest of their lives could be like. If only they managed to win.
Danny Gokey finds out about Paula's unorthodox song choice for him via text message right on his brand spanking new AT&T cellphone. He reads it out loud and it's Terence Trent D'Arby's Dance little sister, an obscure semi-hit back from the days when Paula was still relevant as a singer. Or was that before her time? I'm too lazy to google it. The song is a musical death trap, to put it mildly, and for a second Gokey's face registers a fleeting look of horror mixed with incomprehension. Can hardly blame him.
I'm not sure I can aptly describe the raspy voice, the belabored breathing and formulaic boredom that is Danny's non-spin on a largely unknown but easily Youtubed song. He manages to do with it exactly what he does with every song which is not much. Danny, seems content to preach to his own choir. He projects evenly, delivering his sermon in the same tired cadence that we've been hearing since day one, beating the dead horse that is his one-dimensional singing ability with the same practiced fervor that is just one loud “Hallelujah!” away from a full-blown church service. The odd choice of a sax player on stage is a pasted-on pretense.
What will the judges say? What can they say other than praise him? This is after all the week before the big two finale and the freight train is rushing full speed ahead. The judges seem intent on delivering Danny to the final two station and their comments are uttered accordingly. Randy felt the smoky rasp was dope, Kara and Paula couldn't agree on whether Danny's dancing was good or bad – as if anybody cares about Gokey's anemic moves, while Simon griped about the song choice. Take that Paula!
Sing me a lullaby
Kris, sorrounded by a gaggle of loving hometown fans, received by text message Kara and Randy's joint choice of Apologize by One Republic and he actually seems glad for it. Perhaps he didn't yet notice that big falsetto Mack truck barreling down towards him at a hundred miles per hour. Not only is this a song that's been dripping out of every Top 40 faucet for about a year now, but it's so unapologetically sugar pop, sensitive easy rock that it's practically a sneer from Randy and Paula at Kris' earnest boy-next-door wholesomeness. A sneer, but a nice G-rated, family friendly sneer.
Whether Kris realized this or not, he should be commended for trying to make the best of this song. If only trying were ever again good enough on this show. From the mellow arrangement, to Kris clomping away on the piano, to his futile attempts at a credible falsetto it's a nice, flowering garden of a performance. No need to hide the kids.
The most notable part of the judges' criticism comes right after Randy and Paula both nitpick his arrangement with Kara saying she heard a “bum note”. Simon lambasts Kara's hypocrisy, telling her that she should have provided input if she wanted Kris to deliver the song in a certain way. It was, after all, judges' choice. As well deserved smackdowns go, this was a slam dunk.
Simon's pick for Adam is One by U2. As with the other two, his choice is delivered during his hometown visit via text message. Adam's response is simply: “it's on”. It's a song that needed some special handling on Simon's part in the form of a personal plea to Bono to allow the song to be on the show. Simon proudly states that “it's Bono's pleasure” to have Adam sing One. After such buildup and much cheering from the audience, Adam finally walks on stage.
A piano lurks in the shadows while a simpler version of Adam, easy on the guyliner and wearing one of the plainest outfits I've ever seen him in, steps up to the standing mic. With barely two minutes to deliver on such a slow building song, Adam starts out low and beautiful, almost safe, certainly non-threatening enough for even the most critical of his critics, then leaps into a crescendo a third of the way in and hands back his sweet light AM balladeer card. Thanks... but no thanks. While his arrangement does not quite bring the insane beauty of his Mad World cover, neither is it the safe leisurely sail through to the finals that he easily could have made. But then when has Adam Lambert ever done sweet, safe and leisurely on this show? That dog already gets walked by both Kris and Danny on a very precise schedule practically every week.
In the aftermath, the camera briefly pans to Adam's family. His mother is in tears and the camera zooms in tight on his proud father's face then cutting back to Adam's. It's a moment as close to sweet and tender as AI's black cynical, money hungry heart is capable of. Randy didn't quite love Adam's departure from the melody but feels he's still “hot and in the zone”. Kara, the human chihuahua, says that Adam proved that he can change up everything about a song and still make it un-be-lie-va-ble. Paula declares her life is miserable sitting beside a gloating Simon. He was superb, she says, and thinks she's staring at “one American Idol”. Simon coyly offers that this was a brilliant song choice and a brilliant performance.
You're so predictable
For his second effort, Gokey chose You are so beautiful by Joe Cocker. As predictable, uninspired choices go, this is a clear winner. Figures that he'd pick another typical, inspirational weeper. Gokey starts off sitting on a chair with four violinists, a cellist and a guitar player. Copiously aided by his background singer, he delivers another slow, mournful karaoke hymn just perfect for putting anybody to sleep. Taylor Hicks must be in heaven listening to this crud.
Randy loved the song, even though the arrangement was not original. He says he had mad vocal. Kara thought it was stunning. Paula says he left all of us breathless then goes on to babble something about chord structures and infusion and whatnot. I'll spare you the rest. Simon didn't think much of the arrangement but still gushes that it was a “vocal masterclass”. Of course, Simon. Of course.
When Ryan asks Danny how he felt about tonight, he says that he felt good because he decided to do what he does best and not care anymore. In other words, there's no place like your cushy, safe place, Danny.
The sun is shining and the birds are chirping
There is a mystery on AI tonight and it's a mystery that will probably never be solved. It is this: Why did Kris Allen pick to cover the artificial, cheesy vocoder-enhanced Kanye West dance club staple called Heartless? If I had to guess, I'd say it was because the track is such an empty canvas that practically any interpretation of it would be the right interpretation. Kris' tween-friendly acoustic take on the blank canvas is superbly family friendly, appropriately challenge and confrontation free – the perfect soundtrack for the squeaky clean, edge-free lifestyle. Get yours now on iTunes and enjoy the smooth taste of generic vanilla ice cream for many years to come. Better yet, get the video so you can watch puppy Kris grin sheepishly while making big innocent eyes at the camera.
As for the judges, Randy thought it was better, Kara thought he should have applied the strings to Apologize too, Paula squealed and Simon said he might be saved. Or something. I had a hard time concentrating after all that vanilla.
How it's really done
The last time that an Aerosmith song made an appearance on this show dogs howled and the moon, cats screeched in horror and a scream heard around the world damaged the hearing of millions. I could just picture Steven Tyler putting his fist through his coffee table after Gokey's insult of a performance last week. I can also imagine him demanding satisfaction. I don't know whether Adam wanted to right a wrong or simply show Gokey how it's really done, but his choice of Aerosmith's Cryin' can be neither pointless nor nonchalant. At the very least it's one finger and it's not the thumb.
The performance is pure Adam, his voice soars and reaches and leaves none of Steven Tyler's notes inviolate. But most of all, it looks like he's having fun, prancing and dancing around the stage, not at all as if this were his penultimate live exam before graduation. Some gnat of a background singer can be heard over the first half straining to shout over Adam's voice and at one point he even rips out his left in-ear monitor, probably to get rid of the annoying voice in his head. Incidentally, this was the first time I've seen Adam wear the monitor – he had it in during One too – and I suspect he might have had trouble hearing himself out there because of it.
Randy says he's one of the best they've ever had, charismatic, biggest, brightest stars and Adam should be making a rock album. Kara would like to know how Adam can hit high notes and still talk the next day and says “see you at the finals”. Paula babbles something about bars set sky high and frequent flier miles leaving Simon to administer the final benediction. He says he won't suck up – and why the hell not, I ask? - because he thinks it would be easy to assume Adam will make it to the finals. Only nobody should assume, he says. And he's right. But wait! There's more! Simon, who barely ever condescends to acknowledge the voters, says that if Adam isn't in the finals it would be the biggest upset ever. Oh, and vote, vote, vote. Indeed.
Next week this wild trip comes to an end. Who will make it there will determine whether AI really is what it claims to be: a seeker of the best. We already know that the onus is not really on the ratings battering ram that is the show, nor the contestants for that matter, but on millions of dialing hands across the country. Lets see what our hands had wrought. MotherSister, my talented parter, will bring you the big two reveal after Wednesday's show. We'll both be back next week either to celebrate or eulogize. It's really... up to you.