Big night tonight, folks! Idol is moving the action to the big stage and this heretofore comatose show may actually start to register a pulse - if we're fiendishly lucky, that is. Not really holding my breath, but hope springs eternal and all that. Twelve people have successfully survived the caprice of the tone deaf Idol voting public and at least ten of them are pure filler, here only by the grace of bored tweens with unlimited text messaging plans. Can't imagine who else still wants to vote for this unholy mess so I'm going to assume the worst. Not that I'm complaining! I love me a good train wreck and this one is already looking quite bloody and horrific. And that feeling of horror will be ramped up a notch today because it's Rolling Stones night on Idol. As I said before, I just hope Mick Jagger doesn't own a TV.
As usual, Seacrest is very dramatic about his big staircase-descending intro because, really, he is there to ratchet up some enthusiasm whereas the judges – who finally get to show off their strut across the big stage - are just peppy looking. The audience screams as Seacrest says that things are now serious after which the 12 finalists are trotted out. We are shown an impressive video of the Stones and their history of putting on a spectacle and churning out iconic music for the past 1248 years. This is the legacy which will be cruelly trampled on today. Seacrest, of course, calls this insanity “paying tribute” but I think we all know better.
Because we haven't heard enough of these people's pitiful sob stories, I am happy to announce that Idol is back to regurgitating those stories in a shockingly blatant attempt to beg for your votes. For example, Michael Lynche – how much longer will I be willing to type out their full names, I wonder? - has a new baby. And his wife was in labor during auditions. Yes, it's all true. Alert CNN! There is some other stuff about his incredible life journey which I care nothing about so, regretfully, I will not be reporting on his exploits in football, his guitar adventures and the like. So
What you do need to know is that Michael is singing “Miss You” - what else? - and he is very earnest about making it a good, straight-up karaoke version. He has none of the flair required to pull off any part of this song but he gives it his boring best adding absolutely nothing to the arrangement except a mousy falsetto in places and some inelegant prancing around the stage. Seeing his portly linebacker body bouncing around as if trying to dance is at once a cringe-worthy and mildly entertaining sight. I'm all for cheap thrills these days.
Randy wasn't bowled over but thinks Mike “slayed it”. Yup, killed it dead. And not in a good way. Ellen, who has devolved from a promising voice of honesty and reason to part ineffectual cheerleader, part tenacious shill, says it was amazing. In what way was it amazing is unclear but, hey, she says it was amazing, so it must be true. Kara, who likes to state the obvious, says the Stones were great performers but then she also says that Mike was hot on stage tonight so she's obviously not to be taken seriously. Simon thinks Mike is confident but thought his dancing was corny and desperate. Hello, Simon! Seacrest, that unflinching attention whore, hogs the spotlight again when he gets all up into Simon's business wanting to know which part of Mike's performance looked desperate. Right there, Seacrest, your attempt to distract viewers with big shiny stage tricks, that's the desperate part! Simon finally says it was the middle part of the performance that he didn't care for. The middle, as in, I guess, that whole bit between the first note and the last. Clever Simon.
Where there's little smoke there's little fire
Did you know that Didi Benami has a mother? Yes, she does. Didi was also a loud baby and now has an apartment in LA. That is the extent of Didi's Idol biography which I must say is quite modest by the usual dead wife/newborn baby/ailing grandmother/survival of horrible illness standards that most contestants are encouraged to meet. But the competition is still young. She may turn out to have some tragedy lurking in her past at some future date.
Didi has chosen to desecrate “Play With Fire” and she does her level best to inject a bit of seduction and snarl into performance aside from some very painful high notes. She succeeds in looking and sounding thoroughly constipated. Randy felt she was on fire, Ellen goes on about how gr-reat she was while Kara waxes poetic about Didi's intensity and darkness and moving towards herself as an artist or some such. Simon thought she was going to lose it right at the beginning but thought the performance was solid. Solid as a pebble.
It may be, Casey, it must may be
Why do I need to know about how Casey James's parents divorced way back when he was still wearing pull-ups? How about the time when he got a really bad rash once? I, really don't need to know any of this stuff, nor do I want to, but here I am writing about it all anyway. Well, not all. I did speed up the DVR a bit because I don't have all day. Mommy looks like she's ready for a Poison concert, though. Cool, I guess, apart from that big ass picture pendant of Casey she's wearing around her neck and the shirt with his name plastered across her chest. I take back the cool comment.
Why Casey chose “It's All Over Now” is a mystery because discussion of anything related to music must take backseat to the sob story. Remember my theory about how singing songs with ironic titles can and will get you eliminated? Casey is sure flirting with that concept tonight. Incredibly, Casey is using an electric guitar as a prop tonight. Novel idea, I know. However, he barely makes a pretense of playing it, just strumming it with one hand most of the time. Yes, one hand. Either he's really talented in a heretofore unseen way or he thinks America would not notice his sleight of hand. Well, to be honest, most of them won't be looking hard enough past his baby blues and golden Southern born good looks, so he may be betting right here. As for the singing: Do I have to really say it? Casey pushes out a reasonable facsimile of what should be a Southern rock spin on something the Stones already spun well enough, but the quality is about what you get down at the watering hole on free mic nights. Casey adds a bit of a solo at the end because every rockin' piece needs a solo and then he's done. Mick Jagger is surely going to come a callin' when Keith finally enrolls in a Bingo club.
Randy is excited for Casey's bluesy leanings. Ellen thinks the ladies are all going gaga for him – well, except for her – and he was fantastic. Kara coos that Casey is a rock star tonight who has soul and can riff. Simon is less enthused. He says Casey looks great but he was expecting incredible from Casey based on what others have done before him and he didn't get it. Nor will you, Simon, nor will you.
Who could lay a last name on you?
Lacey, whose last name I'm spacing out on right now, grew up in Amarillo, TX, bored stiff in a culturally dead town. Mommy and Daddy are both pastors and Lacey has been singing in church all her life. From the church to Idol and “Ruby Tuesday”, Lacey gets a string section for her performance and a chance to look all smiley and sound sweet and retro as if this were a cutesy kids' song she learned at church camp. It felt a bit strained, a bit boring, a bit uninspiring, although she does have a decent, pleasant quality to her voice.
Randy liked the strings and was pleasantly surprised that she didn't fall apart during the song. Gee, huge compliment. Ellen didn't quite get why Lacey sat down mid-song but she's a fan. Kara is conflicted about the performance but not about some of the notes that weren't quite right. Simon thought it was too scripted and controlled. He prescribes some more spontaneity.
Singing for shelter
The main problem with Andrew Garcia is that I always have to think for a few seconds before I remember who he is. Then all I can think is Gokey 2.0 and that image is hardly one that I want in my head. Andrew used to collect keys right before he started to play the guitar. His parents also never had any money. This is not a sum total of Andrew's whole life but the rest you've heard before about the gangs and his family and all that. It gets tiresome.
So, not only does he look all Gokeyesque in his black spectacled glory but I hear shades of his voice in Andrew's voice during “Gimme Shelter”. Most unpleasant! The singing is acceptable but not terribly interesting. Did he get the lyrics of this song? Hard to say Andrew's delivery is so blasé, so matter of fact as if he were singing about taking a walk in the park. His attempt at a sustained high note falls flat as does Andrew's attempt at being all rock star-like and swinging the mic stand around for no good reason. Randy, dawg, says it was very pitchy but Ellen didn't hear the same as she thinks it was his best yet. Kara heard the tone in his voice but didn't like the fact that Andrew sang about the horrors of war in such a nonchalant way. Simon wants to know whether she wanted tanks on the stage but Kara says she just wanted him to feel the lyrics more. What did Simon think? He thinks Andrew didn't click with the song and hopes Gokey 2.0 can live to see another week. Why, Simon?
My Little Pony
Half of the people Katie Stevens knows are sitting in the audience tonight so we know she has huge support. Of course. We also find out some more about Katie through an old video of her at age 8 singing at a wedding and I'm happy to report that this is the extent of her backstory. For now, at least. Don't forget, she's 16 so that can always be mentioned again next week.
Katie, finally able to pick a really old song without being accused of going after the nursing room crowd's votes, has chosen “Wild Horses” supposedly because the lyrics speak to her and how she feels as if “wild horses couldn't drag [her] away”. Hmm. I'm pretty sure those lyrics don't mean what she thinks they mean. She starts off sitting on a high stool bathed in light, all pretty and 16 and singing the plain oatmeal Susan Boyle version of this song that makes it sound as if it should be something played at a funeral. Katie looks appropriately sad at times perhaps because if she can't get away with an oldie but goody on Stones night she will never get away with it again.
The judges are all duly impressed. Randy proclaims it pitchy in places but a strong performance nonetheless. Ellen felt it was shaky at the start but she worked it later. Kara didn't hear technical perfection but liked the direction. Simon thinks this was the only right song choice Katie made so far despite not being connected to the song all the way through. And of course he helped SuBo record her painful, little old lady version of it, so it's all good, natch. Sigh.
We're halfway through, people. Hang in there! Here's a pic from the Stones' heyday to remind you – and myself – just who these contestants are killing tonight:
Take me away to Margaritaville
There is no adequate explanation for the presence of Tim Urban in the Top 12 except for the fact that he is cute, earnest and has very good hair. Those are as good reasons as any this seasons to be in the running. Tim has a big family who all do typical things such as play football aside from looking very 70s cute and Brady Bunch-like. However, Tim is happy to make his mark in the world all by himself, which may be the reason why he chose to sing “Under My Thumb”. I don't have many things to say about this performance as it is as bland as you can imagine with Tim standing sweetly against a mostly green background – Happy St. Paddy's Day! Even if one day early! - and leisurely strumming his guitar as if he were being paid by the hour. He does make the Stones sounds very sweet and wholesome and very tropical island laid-back, though, so he gets extra points for creativity. I certainly feel like I should've been holding a Pina Colada while listening to him.
Randy wasn't a fan of the whole reggae vibe, unfortunately, and says it was strange. Ellen didn't get it either and she agrees with me about the Pina Colada. She was not wowed. Kara applauds the reggae twist but that's about it. Simon thinks the song was boring anyway and adding that twist to it didn't help. Cue standard Simon comment about TV sets being turned off. The good news is that Tim had a lot of fun making this monumental mistake so, I guess, it's all good.
Scream it bloody red
Siobhan Magnus is from Cape Cod, which is nice, and she has a really big family, which is also nice. They all play instruments and immerse themselves in music together and Siobhan grew up playing the piano. As stories go, this is tame and normal. At least nobody is dead, divorced or ailing. Keeping my fingers crossed that some painful tale of woe is not lurking somewhere in a future bio reel of hers.
Siobhan chose “Paint It Black” which she starts off by sitting on the stairs which are lit up all red. Her voice is weak at the start, low pitched and uncomfortable sounding. But then she goes higher and at first it's a good high note in tune but then it's... disaster of “Scream On”, er, I mean Gokeyesque “Dream On” proportions. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought of her absolute scream of death in those terms. Well, except for the judges who desperately want to pretend that this was a good performance.
Randy loved him some drama and thinks it was hot. Ellen loved everything about the song and says Siobhan stands out. Kara had Adam Lambert flashbacks with the staging and everything. Even if she wasn't talking vocally, per se, that is an insult to Adam Lambert. Adam would never ever mangle a high note, as Kara very well knows. She wrote some good ones for him herself. But, this is Idol and at least Siobhan got compared to the best even if it was for the wrong reasons entirely, so that's a compliment to her. Simon felt it was the night's standout performance and it will also be divisive, which, according to him is a good thing. Certainly better than being boring. I can, at least, wholeheartedly agree with that.
A beastly burden
Local Chicago boy, Lee Dewyze is not likely to get my vote any time soon, not just because I would never again consider voting for anyone but also because I have trouble telling him apart from the guitar boy herd. Besides, this country does not need another Daughtry clone. Can't we just be content with the two dozen or so Nickelback imitators already out there? It's purely a rhetorical question...
Lee used to sell paint, which comes in many, many shades and he used to be embarrassed to sing in front of people but he is not embarrassed anymore, not when he's got a guitar to clutch! I'm pained to report that his song is “Beast of Burden”. I don't know what the Stones were thinking when they cleared this song but I'm sure they weren't imagining that somebody would give it the Lite AM nostalgia radio treatment, complete with a sweetly melodic backing track and lovely floating lights in the background. Lee strains into his arrangement and does his Chad Kroeger by way of John Mayer best to make the song as generic sounding as he can. Who wants to bet that this puppy will be a favorite of vanilla pop rock fans who are not particularly concerned with vocal excellence? Too bad Chicago isn't really good at Arkansas style fanatic voting rallies or else who knows what might happen.
Randy thought it was dope that Lee brought a bit of Dave Matthews mellow to the Stones. Ellen wanted more but got what she got and that was enough, you know, in a hospital gown not-coming-together kind of way. Allrighty then. Kara felt he wasn't as pitchy as usual – hey, that's high praise these days! - and she thinks Lee is growing. Simon likes Lee and likes his story but thinks his personality is dull. He thinks that Lee picked another safe and unexciting song and was outdone by others tonight. Simon wants a moment from Lee sometimes in the future. If there's a future.
Spot on but not spotless
Last week, Paige Myles somehow made it through to the Top 12. Too bad I can't remember any of her previous performances, or her whole person, for that matter. But it turns out she's from Florida and she grew up singing in church just like her mother. Her father also died when she was young. I'm not sure whether that was common knowledge or not but I'm giving her a pass on that sob story since it's the first time I've heard it.
I'm not sure why Paige picked to sing “Honky Tonk Women” - did the lyrics speak to her? - but it's one of the only Stones songs which is more country than rock and Paige takes full advantage of that turning up the country way up and dialing down the rock. It's corner bar karaoke but not really in a bad way. She puts some acceptable vocals into it and even a feeling of fun, topping the performance off with a glory note that is surprisingly in tune. Can't really hate this rendition and it figures that on Stones night I'd like the only kind of performance – hello, country! - that I'd normally despise on any other night but I feel that good, honest karaoke can sometimes hit the spot. It may have hit the spot enough to keep Paige from being booted but who can say for sure. Those tweeners are unpredictable.
Randy feels kind of the same as I did although he would have liked to see some more energy from her. Ellen thinks Paige did well despite her voice issues. Kara feels the same as Ellen but thinks Paige is back to being a good performer who works the stage. Simon asks about the voice and it turns out she has laryngitis. He says she did well, all things considered, but he feels she hasn't made her mark yet. Simon did get glimpses of the big voice that they all liked in Hollywood.
Know thy limits
Aaron Kelly is also from a small town, just like 99% of this year's contestants. Boy, how did so many people just fall off that proverbial turnip truck this year? He is 16, his mom is proud of him and he is an adopted child. And he can sing. According to Idol that is the sum total of Aaron Kelly.
Why are the 16 year olds on the show all picking songs about painful, troubled relationships? Aaron chose to sing “Angie” and he starts off sitting on the stairs too, this time all lit up in purple which is the best part of his performance because the rest is straight up Archuleta generic with a tinge of country for good measure. There's not only nothing to write home about but this rendition might actually be a straight up karaoke insult to this great song. See, dishonest karaoke: it's a bad thing!
Randy loved the tenderness in his voice and it was hot. He also says it was at times Justin Timberlake for him, a silly, silly comment, which I will disregard. Ellen thinks Aaron is copying her spiky hair and also that he was only next to Siobhan tonight. That means she thinks he was good. Kara says Aaron connected to the song at a deeper level and it was powerful. Simon, looking thoroughly bored, says Aaron chose the absolute right song and that he kept the vocals within his limited range while being mostly in tune. Faint praise delivered with creativity – gotta love Simon.
You get what you need
Tonight's pimp spot is occupied by sullen, formerly indie, Crystal Bowersox. Surprise, surprise, she is from the countryside but we already know that she had the presence of mind to ride that pick-up truck straight into Chicago at one point in her life. Aside from all that, Crystal has been a songwriter since age 10, as evidenced by the fact that she plays the acoustic guitar. Her proud father certainly thinks she is very talented.
I'm not sure I'd call her choice of “You Can't Always Get What You Want” a good idea, though, in light of my prophetic lyric or song title theory but we shall see. Cyrstal makes a ridiculously grand entrance, emerging from the back of the stage from behind the parting set only to stroll forward strumming her acoustic guitar and spend the rest of the song rooted in one spot in front of the mic. Performance value is practically non-existent but she spins another song into a coffee shop indie bonanza complete with as many vocal stylings as can be comfortably crammed into one 90 second song bit. Vocally she's mostly okay, though not all the way through, and she tries to emote but there's just no spark in any of it. She can sing but she is gives off a dull vibe and always makes me feel as if she's somewhat disgusted with herself for even being on this show. Can't really blame her but somebody who either can't or just won't own “it” is never going to be interesting to me.
The audience loves it and Randy loves her even though she didn't bring it quite well enough tonight. Ellen feels she sings effortlessly but she has personality problems. Kara agrees and wants to see more spark and life from her. Loosen up, is the general sentiment from the judges. Cyrstal says she's “overthinking it” and at Simon's prompting offers that she's “got a lot on [her] mind” and wasn't in a right zone tonight. Simon didn't feel the song was right for her and that she was beaten by Siobhan because she thought she had the competition all sewn up. Crystal retorts that she didn't think that at all but “thank you for saying that”. Well, now! She is lucky America can't vote people off this show.
With that, this two hour monster of a show is over. The Rolling Stones have been murdered, dismembered and left to rot in a shallow grave. Somebody will be dispatched home Wednesday night and Seacrest promises some real horror in the form of performances by Ke$ha, who hasn't met a bad note she couldn't hit drunk or sober, Orianthi who is a better guitar player than singer and David Cook whom I didn't know was still alive. The awesome MotherSister will have the misfortune of losing her hearing Wednesday which may or may not be a good thing in light of this season's pitiful offerings thus far.