AI9 – 4/13 Recap: Idol King
If this were the first episode people saw of this season of American Idol they would be forgiven for thinking that things are going quite swimmingly with this crop of crooners. They would even be forgiven for thinking that the show is actually interesting and fun to watch again. Just as long as they don't youtube anything that went on before last night they'll be floating in fantasy land thinking Idol is still great. It certainly felt like something great happened again for a whole hour and twenty eight minutes last night. And by great I mean Adam Lambert.
Michael got saved by the Simonator last week – you don't seriously think that the other judges' opinion matters, do you? - either because he felt sorry for Michael or Idol needed a big ole' double whammy elimination to take advantage of their double whammy dose of the Adam Lambert fabulous. I'll let you decide which it was but suffice it to say that it worked.
The Lambert voodoo
I'm not sure why Ryan insists on using those big Idol drama stairs – is it his inner Frank Sinatra trying to burst forth? - but the Idols are all lined up on them and ready to be marched to meet their fates. Ryan walks down the steps and dramatically announces that tonight is another make-or-break night for them. Because we haven't heard that one before!
The pimp package rolls on the big screen announcing that it's Elvis night tonight and to this end the Idols were flown in style all the way to Vegas to watch the big Cirque Du Soleil Elvis extravaganza at the Aria and to meet with this week's mentor, Adam Lambert. Adam says he is honored to mentor the noobs and promises to be honest and constructive while trying to get them to bring some real show into this Idol biz. Finally! Adam hopes that the contestants will perk up enough to give us something “to look at, listen to and to feel”. I'm glad he is not aiming to get them to sing in tune because even the mighty Lambert isn't quite that big of a miracle worker.
Meanwhile, Ryan seems giddy with delight as he moves to sit beside Adam himself – seated right in front of the entire cast of Glee - and welcomes him back warmly to his cozy Idol home. Adam tells Ryan that he is happy to be the first Idol asked to mentor and feels the Idols need to put on a show for Elvis week and “wake up a bit”. Don't we all? Ryan beams, scoots closer to Adam and then... things get a bit spazzy and weird as Ryan, perhaps nervous, or a bit overeager, cracks a lame gay sex joke about Adam's tongue that a lesser wit and less gracious person may have been flustered by. Hello, crazy! Step away from the Lambert, Ryan, and lay off the happy pills! But Adam, never missing a beat, just gives him a typical Adam look and Idol producers get their golden moment of funny and cool all rolled into one perfectly raised eyebrow.
A slightly loaded smile
The front end pimp spot this week goes to Crystal who chose a lesser known Elvis song called “Saved”. She and Adam meet on the stage at Aria, where all the mentoring sessions are taking place this week, and Crystal is her usual self with acoustic guitar in hand a bluesy tint ready in her voice. Adam loves the real, raw quality of her voice and advises Crystal to step out, shake her dreads a bit and go with an electric guitar this week for that element of novelty and surprise. Crystal could sure use some zing that doesn't involve native instruments from far away lands.
Incredibly, Crystal not only shakes those dreads but delivers her song with more personality and pizazz than I ever imagined possible. Who knew the girl had it in her? She will never be a show-woman with fake fog rolling around her ankles and tricolor laser beams dancing behind her head while she frolics around the stage with all the neo-hippie abandon she can muster, but if she can just hang on to the dread-shaking, at least we'll all stay awake when she sings. Oh, and she took Adam's advice and is rocking a pimped out, bedazzled electric guitar which still looks odd without a band behind her but, hey, at least she's packing rhinestones for a change!
The audience gives her a standing ovation, Adam is beaming from the front row and Randy is pumped that Crystal sounded like “the second coming of Bonnie Rait”, perhaps a dubious bit of praise but I think she'll take it. Ellen, who just seems to regurgitate Randy's critiques, says Crystal is fantastic, Kara feels she was very good and Simon, beside identifying with the lyrics, loved her karaoke-free take on a lesser known Elvis song.
Not really here for anyone's entertainment
Fashion criminal, Andrew, met fashion winner Adam in Vegas and finally got to hear from Adam what everyone who has ever heard Andrew wanted to tell him for a long time now, namely, that he is boring. Adam's advice to Andrew is to spice up his anemic take on “Hound Dog”, kick up the tempo a bit and make it his own. This appeals to Andrew's narcissistic side because he wants to be known as the guy who took another chance and changed up yet another song. If only he knew that we're on to him being about as exciting as three pounds of wet plaster.
Unfortunately, Andrew is a bit too sure of himself for his own good as he not only doesn't go for Adam's suggestion to breathe some rhythm into his performance but he brings the sleepy cruise ship karaoke bar cheese feel that Simon hates and which will surely get him eliminated one of these days. And by one of these days I mean tomorrow. Predictably, the judges are not impressed by his bloodless delivery and even less impressed by his paltry attempts at showmanship. Randy is blunt calling the whole thing “not good karaoke”. Ellen wanted more swagger but thinks he did good. Perhaps she was too busy glancing every second over at Adam and missed some of Andrew's performance. How else to explain her odd -woman-out take on this horror? Kara didn't feel he owned it at all and Simon says Andrew lost his coolness. I can't agree with that since I never thought Andrew had any “coolness” to lose in the first place.
Bottom line: Should have listened to Adam, Andrew!
If Tim had you, vote for him!
Tim has filled the role of tweener puppy dog Idol to perfection. The shaggy hair! The warm, sweet gaze that sends countless 12 year olds into paroxysms of delight every week whether he sounds off-key, flat or out of tune or all three at once, all there, all very, very teen idol cute. Singing “Can't Help Falling In Love With You” to Adam, he sounds surprisingly convincing and sweet, whereas he sounded embarrassed and awkward with Usher the previous week. Such is the power of the Lambert that Tim the Puppy delivers his best vocals for him and even strums that guitar with a bit more life and commitment than usual. Adam wonders whether Tim could slide into a falsetto towards the end and hold it there to deliver a “nice finishing touch” of vulnerability and beauty to the song. Tim vows to go for it and show that he gets the song. Can he?
Ryan introduces him as Turban which is at once disturbing and funny. Whatever happened to Teflon Tim? In the end, Tim pulls a Big Mike, sitting on a stool behind the judges and delivers his best performance to date with surprising feeling that registers as much less threadbare than his Disney cutie pie offerings from the past few weeks. He does go for a semblance of falsetto near the start but it's clearly not within his capabilities to deliver it convincingly. Finally, he wimps out, letting the end of the song just taper off without using a falsetto. A letdown, for sure.
Randy loved it and he's brief about his love. Ellen rambles on about how much she didn't like tequila before she started to like tequila and this somehow relates to her love of Tim. Kara says it was her favorite Tim performance to date while Simon gives him the best compliment saying he went from “zero to hero in two weeks”. He also says Tim took the advice that he got and applied it well. Score one for Tim “Teflon Hair” Turban.
Sure fire almost winner
Ok, so Lee hasn't been my favorite this season but that's because I have no favorite. How do you pick between one guy who sucks and another one who sucks worse? Really. However, I'm in a generous mood today and willing to give him a chance. Well, maybe. Depends on whether Chicago boy is willing to listen to sound advice because that's what Adam is giving him when he tells Lee that his face is vacant and he needs to smile more and put some playfulness into his act. Adam wants him to actually perform the song. Yes, you read it right. Adam actually has to tell these people that they need to perform if they want to get anywhere on the Idol stage and beyond. I think I see a dim bulb going off in Lee's head at this revelation although his facial expression just goes from bored to half awake. Still, for him, that's a major improvement.
His performance of “A Little Less Conversation”, with his usual helping of acoustic guitar, can't be called brilliant but incredibly he tries his best to smile and project a bit of personality and forget all that fake Nickelback-ish angst for a change. Channeling the King is clearly a stretch for Lee but at least he's willing to take direction well. Randy tells Lee that he's in the zone while Ellen thought it was a current sounding bit. Kara felt Lee grabbed the vocals and ran with them much better than before but missed some playfulness and sexy from him. Good girl, Kara, echoing Adam's advice. Simon, a bit less enthused, says Lee just nailed it. For his part, Lee earns huge brownie points for sucking up to Adam and praising his perceptiveness and excellent advice. Lee, if I were voting... Nah. Just kidding.
“Blue Suede Shoes” is not exactly the kind of song that Aaron can plug himself into and own and he admits it's wrong for him “in every possible way”. Why then did he pick it off the iTunes approved list that Idol is now allowing us to see on the screen? Perhaps the other songs were even less right, perhaps Aaron is a secret masochist. Who knows? Adam notes that Aaron is insecure and not fully committed to being himself. He advises Aaron to grab the song and bring some growl and funk to it, bring out a bit of grit and smear it all over the vocals to make them good.
To his credit, Aaron tries hard to take Adam's advice. He's got the blue T-shirt, the leather jacket, the stroll around the stage and even a bit of half-hearted swagger to pour into his performance but it's all a bit plasticy and underwhelming. There's a lack of conviction and verve because Aaron probably doesn't feel the King and because blue suede shoes are woefully out of fashion at the moment. That's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it.
Adam seems politely pleased about the performance although I'm sure he noticed that Aaron was way out of his element. Randy liked the second half much better. Ellen felt the song was too big for little Aaron. Kara thought he was nervous but liked that Aaron sounded a bit more current. With that song? Simon is mystified as well, saying it was old fashioned and more High School chic karaoke than anything else.
Not exactly a pick you up
Were people seriously anticipating the Siobhan-Adam encounter? Ryan seems to think so and we get a quick flash of a beaming, starstruck Siobhan seated beside Adam, grinning widely into the camera. Her weird cockatoo Elvis – or is that Lambert? - homage hairdo is at once funny and scary. No matter how hard she or the show tries, however, one spiky hairdo and a few – often woefully out of tune - screams do not a resemblance make. Her pick is “Suspicious Minds” which would be something Adam would sing but for Siobhan it seems a bit too big of a song. She says she loves Elvis because he started from nothing and made good. Not because he could, you know, sing.
The mentoring session is a mixed bag. Adam hones in right away on the fact that Siobhan's interpretation is a dead bore. He calls it sleepy because he's a nice guy and doesn't want to say that she's old fashioned and tedious sounding. She tries to pick it up and take his advice but then ruins it by telling Adam that she's been compared to him. He thinks it's an honor, I think it's ridiculous. The performance packs some silly drama such as Siobhan starting off singing to the cameras with her back to the judges but then I get a glimpse of her outfit which is part Star Trek part something out of Lady Gaga's rejected outfits pile. The vocals are a mish-mash as well. The first bit is pure vocal Ambien and nursing home cool while the second half is a rough exercise in aimless, unpolished octave jumping. Not exactly the thing that will net her flattering comparisons to Adam's effortless vocals.
The judges are divided. Randy pulls out some weird Supremes comparisons that make sense only to him. Ellen enjoyed the second half but she's complimenting Siobhan's Joan Jetson outfit so that takes away a bit form her judgment. Kara is confused by the duality of Siobhan's vocals and Simon thinks she wasn't hitting the notes properly and lost herself somewhere along the way.
Soaked by the same rain
Last week, Michael was dispatched by the audience but Simon saved his hide. Consequently, this week is a make-or-break event for him. Adam, who thinks Michael should make it to the end based on his vocal talent, feels that “In The Ghetto” deserves a theatrical kick but Michael is reluctant and afraid the judges – read, Simon – will pan him again. In the end, Michael doesn't quite take Adam's advice which is unfortunate because the vocals are decent but his rendition of “In The Ghetto” suffers in the wake of another sensitive-guy-sitting-on-a-stool-bathed-in-light-and-plucking-away-at-the-strings syndrome. Didn't he do this same thing last week?
His efforts are rewarded by a standing ovation from Adam which seems a bit too generous but I think he hasn't been paying attention to this season much and didn't know that this whole thing felt recycled to everyone else watching. Randy thought the vocals were good but the whole thing was sleepy. Ellen and Kara loved it while Simon says his song choice was A+ and the performance was terrific.
Whataya want from her?
Katie was crazy excited last week when Adam was announced as mentor so I was expecting full-on crazy fangirling but their meeting is surprisingly serious and focused. Katie has some frustration for the judges that she needs to get out and Adam pushes her to weave her anger through the lyrics of “Baby What Do Yo Want Me To Do” and pour it into her performance. He feels she has the pipes but wants her to get it together and sell her performance. She does give it a reasonable go by emerging from the back of the stage and infusing some attitude into her song and there's some decent performance value here as she moves about the stage and even explores the steps.
Randy was entertained by her movement. Ellen thought the song was “horny”, as in, possessed of many horns. Not to be confused with other sorts of horny. Kara felt she did a good job but Simon thinks it was annoyingly loud and just meh.
Another one down the muzak rabbit hole
Last to sing tonight is Casey and he picked “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” which is an Elvis song I've never heard and is possibly older than the Rosetta stone. Casey is twisting it up with his acoustic guitar because that's so original but Adam wants him to make it so that the song has an actual beginning, middle and end to it. He wants a high point, something to hang some drama on, I guess. However, I'm not sure Casey is capable of that kind of subtlety or that much performing. And in fact he isn't. He squeezes out another bluesy, mildly rocking performance that has no discernible arc or interest. It's vocally acceptable but not terribly exciting. In other words, he didn't quite take Adam's counsel and just did what he would've done anyway. If that were brilliant, I'd say fine but Casey and brilliant are not two words that belong in one sentence.
Randy felt the blues but also felt Casey was just treading water with another same old, same old performance. Ellen concurs, because she always concurs. Kara was disappointed while Simon thought it was a forgettable performance despite the good vocals.
This is it for tonight, folks. Adam Lambert came, he talked and he gave some excellent advice. Those who listened to him and adapted his opinion to their performance carefully conquered, those who didn't, or couldn't will probably find themselves gone without much fanfare. Adam will be back tomorrow to show them all how it's really done and it will be glorious. It will also probably highlight everything that is currently wrong with this show and remind people of how it's really supposed to be.
MotherSister will have all the fun tomorrow and next week we'll both be back with more of the same boring drivel we've had last week and the week before that. This week was a bonus and a treat that will unfortunately not be repeated. Too bad because Adam proved himself to be the best they've ever had. Yet again.