”American Idol” recap: Bad copies
If I could vote any two women off the American Idol stage on Thursday night, I’d choose Whitney Houston and Paula Abdul.
Let’s be real here. Whitney and Idol are not, like the key ingredients in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, two great tastes that taste great together. The problem, to me, isn’t really a product of the size or the iconic status of Houston’s voice; rather it stems from the fact that the show’s aspiring singers treat the diva’s numbers like sacred texts, refusing to tamper with a single note or turn of phrase or vocal run. And that, of course, yields invariably depressing results.
Every year, I think the new crop of hopefuls will study their Idol history, but they never learn. In season 6, for example, LaKisha Jones wrestled with Houston’s 1993 ballad ”I Have Nothing” despite the fact that Trenyce, Leah LaBelle, Vonzell Solomon, Katharine McPhee, and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson had all previously dragged the big bombastic ballad down to the musical Xerox machine and promptly found themselves low on toner.
Imagine my horror, then, when tonight both Asia’h Epperson and Syesha Mercado jumped on the highway to Houston — and in the process, put themselves at risk of getting left out of the season 7 finals.
I know, I know, these contestants have no one to blame but themselves for the folly of their song selections. It’s their own fault for not heeding the lyrics of ”The Greatest Love of All,” in which Houston declares, ”I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow.” But on the other hand, doesn’t Nigel Lythgoe owe it to his 30 million loyal viewers to stop the insanity and ban certain songs and artists from the Idol stage?
Let the purge begin with Whitney.
And then, let it move to the judges’ table, to the center seat occupied by Paula. I am sorry, but the time has come. Those who love the ”Straight Up” singer will feel bad for four or five days, after which they will drop to their knees and praise the heavens for the relative lucidity and eloquence of Jody Watley or Lisa Stansfield or any well-known singer who has at least a loose grasp on the English language and her own sanity.
I could rant and rave and raise a red flag about how Paula mimics Randy’s already cloudy thoughts, the way her interminable babblings consistently rob us of getting Simon’s insights into the contestants’ performances, and her inability (after six-plus seasons of practice) to grasp the fine art of performance critique and constructive advice. But instead, let me quote, verbatim, what she said about Ramiele Malubay’s rendition of ”Against All Odds”:
”Aww. You have such a beautiful face, and I…there’s such an innocent, pure voice that comes out of you, and I love it when you go from that….You have a lot of col…— I’m not gonna say ‘colors’ — you have a lot of texture. The textures of your voice are…[Laughs, along with audience. Randy declares the audience is the new ‘dawg pound.’ Paula resumes, calling the audience ‘mutts,’ then reconsiders.] I didn’t mean that. I meant ‘mutts’…not…never mind. Ramiele, it’s all about you. [To the audience.] I love you all. And I love mutts, too. Whatever. Look, I gotta tell you…[to Simon, who declares he is lost] I’m gonna pull you right back in. Ramiele, you deserve to be in the top 12.”
Okay, so I am feeling deeply cantankerous tonight. But after seven solid performances from the men on Tuesday, I’m finding it hard to believe that only two or three women really stepped up tonight to prove they belong in this season’s top 12. And to top it off, the best of the bunch had to endure a double-dose of putdowns from Paula and Randy.
NEXT: Missing the point
I am not exaggerating when I say that never before has a Paula Abdul critique been less relevant and more wrong than her contention that Brooke White should’ve employed Rickey Minor and the band on her beautiful, heartfelt cover of ”Love Is a Battlefield.” The only thing more off base was Randy telling the G-rated nanny that she brought nothing new to her interpretation of the ’80s classic.
Seriously? Was Paundy sitting around, shooting the breeze about the ”Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” video shoot while Brooke sat on the edge of the stage, accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist, and gustily transformed ”Love Is a Battlefield” into a downloadable slice of angsty folk? As Simon pointed out, you wouldn’t expect Brooke, with her reedy warble, to shine on a song by Benatar, a classically trained artist with one of the meatiest voices in the modern pop era. But as Brooke said herself, why bother to follow Benatar’s arrangement when it would only leave the audience longing for the original? Instead, she stripped it, flipped it, and slowed it down, and in the process, made me hear every word of the lyric in a way I hadn’t since that dancing-homeless-teens video was in heavy MTV rotation back in 1983. Brooke might not yet have my vote to win season 7, but after tonight, she certainly has my respect.
The same can be said for Carly Smithson, who for the second week running exhibited a masterful level of vocal control on one of my all-time favorite minor ’80s hits, Cyndi Lauper’s ”I Drove All Night.” Yes, I should probably deduct a point for her bizarre wardrobe choice — designers, stop trying to make mom jeans happen! — and one for coloring inside the lines of Celine Dion’s 2003 remake, but Carly’s big, genuine smile at the end of her performance melted away my case of the mean crankies (at least temporarily). I raise an imaginary pint of Guinness to celebrate her inevitable trek to the top 12!
NEXT: Is there a best in the rest?
Aside from Brooke and Carly, however, it’s pretty much a wide-open race for the remaining women’s finalists, and I can’t say I’m very emotionally invested in which four stay and which two go.
Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie. Of course I’m happy that Amanda Overmyer delivered a solid (albeit wildly overpraised) version of ”I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Two thirds of the way in, as the Rock & Roll Nurse started riffing on Joan Jett’s melody — letting out her trademark guttural howl — I couldn’t suppress a big ol’ grin. But keeping it really real, the entire first verse was no better than watching your raspy-voiced pal belt out one last number at your local pub’s karaoke night. Except that your friend might actually smile when she finished and the crowd erupted with applause. Did Amanda experience some sort of personal upset prior to her performance, or was she hoping the judges might trash her and send her back to a life of hog riding and caring for folks’ respiratory tracks? If it’s the latter, I expect that on Thursday night, Amanda might become the first contestant in Idol history to sob miserably after advancing to the top 12.
Which leaves us with Syesha, Asia’h, Ramiele, Kristy Lee Cook, and Kady Malloy duking it out for only three spots. The worst of the group, vocally, was Kady; Simon was too kind in calling her rendition of ”Who Wants to Live Forever” robotic, since that adjective would imply that the attractive blond contestant had at least some sort of electric spark running through her. Even worse, I felt like every other note of Queen’s ballad belonged on the side of a milk carton, since they never came out of Kady’s mouth. How Randy dubbed this disaster a ”pretty good job” now ranks alongside the notion of ”Jessica Simpson, Movie Star” as one of the great pop-culture mysteries of our time.
Kady’s failure, of course, may be good news for the competition’s other soulless blonde, Kristy Lee Cook, who sang, um, something, tonight, and didn’t miss too many notes, if memory serves. It’s just that, uh, I kind of seriously cannot even remember it. Not without flipping the page of my notebook to check it. And I just don’t care enough about Kristy Lee to do it. More important, I am guessing you don’t care enough either. Can we skip Kristy Lee tonight? Yes, guys, I know. There was some cleavage action going on. Why don’t you just keep that thought to yourselves? Cool. Thanks for understanding.
Okay, so if Stands With Wide Stance is safe, and Kady deservedly goes home, the season 7 ”Soon to Be Lamented and Possibly Remembered More Fondly Than She Deserves” Trophy will go to Asia’h, Ramiele, or Syesha. And I’m going to predict that Syesha, the woman who sang best from that group, will be leaving the competition first. Which would maybe be just a tiny bit sad.
The thing is, I’ve been a fan of Asia’h’s since her searing take on ”I’m Goin’ Down” during Hollywood Week, but tonight, she lost me for good. Not just because she committed the cardinal sin of covering Whitney Houston, or that she chose the second-most dated selection in the diva’s songbook, ”I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” (Look it up, ”IWDWS” ranks just behind ”My Name Is Not Susan.”) And it wasn’t that Asia’h performed the song wearing something that looked vaguely like an adult-size onesie. Yeah, the top was hot pink and the high-waisted pants were light pink, but all those crazy buttons lined up so closely and so perfectly. (All it needed were some footies, and the look would’ve been complete.) It wasn’t even Asia’h’s delivery, which sounded slightly like she was suffering from a chronic sinus problem. Nope, it was her very proud declaration that she’s happy to be known as a ”second-rate Whitney.” To grab the greatest phrase Ms. Houston ever uttered on Being Bobby Brown: ”Hell to the no!”
But hey, Paula thought she ”nailed it!”
Syesha, on the other hand, delivered a far more tuneful (if equally uninventive) rendition of ”Saving All My Love for You” (coincidentally her second consecutive number about a single woman involved with a married man, following last week’s ”Me and Mr. Jones”), while also engaging in a battle with Carly and Asia’h for the evening’s highest waistline. Unfortunately for Syesha, though, Paula’s earlier ramblings meant the judges had to rush through their comments about her performance, robbing her of the kind of screen time she desperately needed to win over the hearts and minds of Idol voters.
Syesha outsang Ramiele this week, too, but the contestant whose height must be mentioned at least once a week brought a lot more momentum into tonight’s proceedings. And her ”Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” while utterly karaoke and emotionally vacant, was on key about 90 pecent of the time, which should score Ramiele enough votes to survive the week. Then again, when you consider that Ramiele chose another of the most overplayed songs in Idol history — one previously sung by Corey Clark, George Huff, Jessica Sierra, Scott Savol, and Katharine McPhee — maybe she has a cosmic price to pay.
Or maybe we can just vote out Phil Collins next week.
What did you think of the women this week? Which two are going home, and which two should go home? Do any of the ladies have a chance to win the whole thing? And was I being too mean to Paula, or is it time for Idol to shop for a replacement?