'American Idol' recap: Crime-Scream Investigation
Kris and Allison get mugged by the judges, but a caterwauling Danny lands the 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for his abysmal Aerosmith cover
If you tuned in for tonight’s episode of American Idol and worried for a second that Fox was running a Cops marathon, who could blame you? In the course of a single hour — and, naturally, a few additional minutes designed to boost ratings for Fringe and drive DVR users/fans of The Mentalist to the brink of despair — I counted so many heinous crimes that Idol‘s newest judge would need to remove her shoes to keep count.
Shall we tally? Danny Gokey garroted a defenseless Aerosmith tune till its tongue lolled purple and bloated from its mouth. Kris Allen was casually hurled under the bus by a band of vicious imbeciles. Simon Cowell repeatedly vandalized his own reputation and hacked away at the last remaining threads of credibility that Idol possesses. Kara DioGuardi committed a lewd act, not to mention multiple counts of first-degree stupidity. And with their flawless, episode-ending duet, Allison Iraheta and Adam Lambert stole the show.
Really, the only thing missing were blaring sirens, flashing red lights, and a cameo appearance by David Caruso, removing his shades at the end of Danny’s solo performance and intoning, ”Somebody’d better request ‘American Pie’ on the jukebox, because today, the music died.”
Oh fellow Idoloonies, all I can say is it’s fortuitous that I chose Wednesday night’s results show for my first annual Idol live-blog — look for it at PopWatch.EW.com starting at 9 p.m. EDT — because I just don’t know if I can face the jury verdict all by myself. (You won’t make me do that, will you?)
If justice prevails, of course, Danny will be the lowest vote-getter, exit Idol‘s eighth season in fourth place, and eventually swing by EW.com headquarters for the most awkward Idolatry interview ever. (Hey, Danny fans. It might not be so bad! Your guy could end up schooling me as thoroughly and charmingly as the hilarious Matt Giraud!) But I’m not getting my hopes up that I’ll be talking to Danny in less than a week, certainly not after the four dimwits behind the judges’ table excused his abysmal performance by teaming up for an ”A for Effort!” cheerleading routine. Worse still, they followed it up by trying to convince America that Kris Allen’s understated spin on ”Come Together” — the most original vocal performance of the night, although perhaps not the most powerful — didn’t earn him a hometown-visit package and the likelihood of having Clive Davis force him to sing ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” for final-three performance night.
We pause this TV Watch (and all its deeply felt rage) for a soothing, results-night fantasy, which is already in progress with Ryan Seacrest speaking into the microphone…”And now we come to…Kara DioGuardi. [Crickets from the audience.] Kara, last night the judges said you made sexually suggestive noises and practiced your ‘O’ face as an entire nation looked on in abject horror. You mistook Nine Inch Nails for a decade, not a band. And you proved your knowledge of rock music dates back only as far as 1993. Kara, take a seat…on the Silver Stools of Doom…you are in the bottom three.
NEXT: The scream
Okay, now let’s get back to Danny. While it would be an understatement to say Mr. Gokey has not been my favorite contestant during Idol‘s eighth season, I challenge even his biggest supporters to defend the final 11 seconds of his vocal performance of ”Dream On” — let alone the other 100 or so. Every single thing about ”Dream On” was shockingly misguided. Like, what possessed Danny to don a black pinstripe vest and orchid dress shirt for Rock Week? Why did he throw in an inexplicable run of Lite FM ”doo-doo-doos” heading into the chorus? Couldn’t he tell, even in his rehearsal with Slash, that his voice was a clunky rhombus that would never, ever fit into the circular outline of Steven Tyler’s climactic end-of-number screech? Did he really think he could convert voters from the Glambert nation by trying to pull off a clumsy imitation of their chosen one?
And to top it all off, Danny struggled mightily with pitch and cadence from the first note to the last, going brutally flat at the end of the line ”everybody’s got their dues in life to pay,” and seemingly falling a beat behind the band at intermittent intervals. That said, nothing could’ve prepared my ears for the cacophonous caterwaul that emerged from Danny at the end of his number, a shriek that reminded me of my one and only ride on Coney Island’s wooden rollercoaster, the Cyclone, during which I screamed with such unbridled (and unmusical) terror, people in the rows in front of me actually turned around mid-ride and started laughing. Danny’s run of notes was so gory, Paula appeared to abort her chair-dancing frenzy, take a seat, and mouth a defeated ”okay” in Simon’s direction, while one young member of Team Swaybot appeared to stagger with no direction down in the pit. (Funny enough, guest mentor Slash kinda forshadowed the vocal meltdown with that sly grin he gave as he talked about how Danny’s whole performance hinged on him nailing the scream.)
And yet, if you’re one of those wise folks who prefers to fast-forward through the judges’ comments, it’ll be hard for you to understand my frustration. Mind if we roll tape? Because you really need to hear verbatim how Randy, Kara, Paula, and Simon came to terms, right there on live TV, with the fact that the man they’d pre-determined would crack the final two had crashed and burned. (See what happens when there’s no dress rehearsal on which to eavesdrop and pre-write your notes!) Notice in the following paragraphs how only Simon mentions that butchered finale, how the other judges make convenient excuses, how there’s not a single, emphatic ”That was absolutely atrocious, the worst thing that’s happened on the Idol stage since we got rid of Stevie Wright.” Here’s the transcript:
NEXT: The judges lose their collective mind
Randy: ”Yo, all right so [laughs] Yo, man. [Interrupting Danny’s ”thank yous” and self-applause.] So listen, listen, listen, listen. You know once again I know this is not your genre either, this is not really what you do, but I’ll give you one thing. I mean, it was all right for me. It wasn’t like perfect or that great. But I’ll give you one thing: I’ll give you an A+ for a valiant effort. ‘Cause to hit that high note you had three notes jumpin’ off at once [Laughs.]…It’s just not what you do. You know what I mean?” [Note from Slezak to Randy: Since when is lack of comfort with a given theme an excuse for a piss-poor performance? Did Adam get extra credit because he actually stayed on pitch during a Grand Ole Opry Week in which his nail polish freaked out the guest mentor? Um, no!]
Kara: ”Danny, I think you took the swagger comment and adding more edge into your performance, and those are all good things, we told you to do that, but I think you took it a little too far. I don’t see you on this. I don’t see you on this type of song. I see you more early Aerosmith — ‘Cryin’,’ ‘Crazy’ — but I will say I like to see growth and I like to see risks and I like to see more edge, and I saw that tonight. Was it perfect? No. But I commend you for taking chances. Because rock and roll is about being bold and going for it.” [Note from Slezak to Kara: Rock and roll is also about singing in tune. Furthermore, ”Cryin”’ and ”Crazy” are from the 1993 album Get a Grip, while ”Dream On,” from Aerosmith, precedes them by two full decades.]
Paula: ”Danny, I know this was a tricky genre for you. And I told you, you know you’ve just got to go with the song that you’re drawn to. I don’t know if this was the right song for you, but again, I am huge fan of yours — a huge fan of yours! How many of you are Danny Gokey fans? It wasn’t my favorite choice of song but I give you an A++ for going for it.” [Note from Slezak to Paula: Abdul! Now you’re cribbing from Randy, too! What would you say to an F–? No, that’s not a bleeped out expletive, folks, it’s F-minus-minus!]
Simon: ”Well, I agree pretty much with what everybody said. But that last note, I mean it was like watching a horror movie. I mean, it’s like the scene in Friday the 13th, it was just like this scream…and I think it was actually a little bit off. And where I think for Adam it kind of worked, with you it didn’t work so much. But I still think you’re gonna be safe tonight though.” [Note from Slezak to Simon: Nice way to replace ”f—ing awful” with ”a little bit off.” Also, I believe that instead of ”so much,” you meant to say ”at all.” Finally, please substitute ”dismissed without prejudice” for ”safe.” Aaaand, we’re all done!]
Why is it that somewhere in my imagination, I’m imagining Ramiele Malubay texting Kristy Lee Cook and saying: ”OMG grl. WTF? ‘Drm On’ was atroshe! Adam 4EVA. Put the ‘Go’ in Gokey!”
NEXT: Adam kills it — alone and with Allison
All kidding aside, though, if Simon is right, if his subtle suggestion that Danny is an inevitable final-three finisher takes root with the viewing public, that spells trouble for either Allison or Kris. Stress not, Glambert lovers, I’m not dissing your dude. I’m just saying there’s no way he’s in the bottom two again this week.
Think about it: The show opened tonight with a replay of the ”THIS is your bottom three” heard ’round the world (nice way to re-motivate the troops!) and then Adam came out and nailed Led Zeppelin’s ”Whole Lotta Love,” probably the night’s most difficult melody. Not that it showed on Glambert’s face. Decked out like he’d just finished up a very easy cage-match at the Thunderdome, Adam sauntered onto the stage and suddenly, effortlessly, was hitting the kinds of notes Paula couldn’t buy if she spent her entire Idol salary on Auto-Tune. (Which isn’t to say I didn’t give her new single an okay review on EW’s Music Mix blog.) Adam is literally that guy at the gym lifting 400 pounds and not even grunting, while you make asthma-wheezing sounds picking up the bar. (And by ”you,” I am referring to ”me.”)
I only had two issues with Adam’s performance: First, that the jittery, amateurish camera work and cuts distracted from the emotional strength of the number (thank heavens for DVRs) and, second, that Adam didn’t color much outside the lines of Robert Plant’s original. In his defense, though, none of the contestants tonight attempted any new or daring remixes, and after all, this isn’t Song Arrangement Idol. I just fear that Adam’s decision not to eschew one very gender-specific line — ”Way down inside, woman, you need love” — may have unleashed that head-throwing, table-slamming climax to Kara’s critique. [Cue: Silkwood shower!]
As if ”Whole Lotta Love” wasn’t enough to take Adam to the top three on its own, though, he returned at the end of the show (in some muy tight trousers) for a show-stopping duet with Allison set to Foghat’s ”Slow Ride.” FOR ONCE, KARA WAS RIGHT. [Apologies: In all honesty, I just realized I hit the ”Caps Lock” button on my keyboard instead of shift when I started that sentence, but it seems too poetic to lowercase the whole thought.] A duet should, as she explained, push both parties to be even better, and under those parameters, Adam and Allison succeeded in making me thoroughly enjoy a song I’m not certain I ever dug before tonight. Yet as pitch-perfect and authentically jammy as their vocals were, my favorite part of the number was the gleeful hug the rival contestants shared when they finished. The way Adam grinned when Allison was nailing her solo lines, the way Alli gave props to Adam for sharing his hairstylist with her, felt as authentic as Ryan’s spray tan looked fake. These two totally have mad love for each other, and that warms my cynical heart. For real. (What a contrast to the utterly chemistry-free and time-wasting pairing of Danny and Kris on the thematically dubious ”Renegade.” The whole affair was such a non-starter, the only significant note I took on it was to note the fury in Kris’ eyes when Simon blithely (and incorrectly) decided he’d been outsung by a showboating Danny.)
NEXT: Allison defends herself
The lone female contestant in the competition probably benefited more from ”Slow Ride” than Adam, seeing as how Randy, Kara, and Simon all used treacherous keywords — ”didn’t love the song choice,” ”nervous,” and ”tried too hard to sound like the original,” respectively — to undermine a vocal on Allison’s solo performance of Janis Joplin’s ”Cry Baby” that they knew was pretty damn stellar. Granted, I thought Allison sort of rushed the transition from verse to chorus each time — losing out on the repetition of ”come on, come on, come on…” that gives Joplin’s original that extra touch of urgency, but who the hell is Randy to question the merits of anything from the Janis Joplin Songbook? Come on, Dawg! ”Whole Lotta Love” and ”Dream On” repeat their choruses with as much (if not greater) frequency, and yet you’re only gonna pick a bone with one of the female-fronted number? The last hit you worked on was ”Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” dawg!
Bonus props to Allison for her articulate, if occasionally drowned out, defense of her song choice, performance, and personality. Her observation that she didn’t choose ”Piece of My Heart” because it’s been ”done so many times on the show” was worthy of its own standing ovation — which she received at Casa Slezak — and proof positive that the fuchsia-haired teen is growing week-to-week as an artist and a competitor. And while I’m not a huge fan of the contestant sass-back, the girl has taken enough guff about things that have zilch to do with her singing that I thoroughly enjoyed her cry of ”You’re always saying I don’t talk enough!” and especially her air-punching gesture toward Simon.
We pause this TV Watch (and all its verbose, frothing cynicism) for a Paula Critique Flashback! ”If they ever do a biopic on Janis Joplin, you got the role.” Flattering though that may be, Ms. Abdul, this is not that acting competition on the CW from a few seasons back starring Faye Dunaway. And Allison’s uncomfortable laugh in the wake of your comment is probably all you need to know about her cinematic aspirations. But thanks for playing, Paula!
Okay, so back to our regularly scheduled programming. If we assume for a moment that Adam is safe — not really an assumption so much as a statement of fact — and we surmise that the pimp-slot positioning and epic win of Allison’s ”Slow Ride” duet also carries her into next week, then we’re looking at either Danny or Kris heading home on Wednesday.
The smart money is probably on the ”tender puppy,” seeing how the judges awarded him the ”Jason Castro Memorial Plaque” tonight, presented to the contestant who was set up as cannon fodder, yet somehow caught America’s attention in the semifinals, then created some of the season’s best iTunes downloads, but now it’s not cute anymore since he’s challenging the production’s pre-ordained pecking order. But I believe that on Idol, history is not doomed to repeat itself. As viewers, we learn and grow. Each season, we get better at spotting the manipulation, angrier when we’re slapped in the face with bullshit, more reactive when we spot injustice. And therefore, I will spend the bulk of Wednesday afternoon and evening believing Kris Allen is safe. Come on now! What do those Glee ads teach us? ”Don’t stop! Beelieeevin’! Oh-oh-ohhhhh!”
Yes, yes, yes! Watch me carry my deeply held beliefs, along with the downy pillow that’s filled with a cotton-poly blend of doubt and fear and nameless dread on which they rest. And then watch me cry into said pillow around 9:54 p.m. EDT, right at the end of my Idol results-show live-blog. See how much fun this is gonna be? Shared heartbreak and devastation is the best kind of heartbreak and devastation!
And…end of weirdly rambling rant!
NEXT: Making the case for Kris
I base my belief in Kris’ safety not on his adorable choice in shirts — though I’m going to beg my colleague Lindsay Soll to track down that ”Red X” T-shirt for a future edition of EW’s Style Hunter — but on the fact that I actually genuinely liked his rendition of ”Come Together.” If you’re giving me the side-eye right now, I implore you to click that link and give it another listen. You don’t even have to look at his adorable navy blue Henley. Or those eyes of his. Okay, sorry, I’m sidetracked.
But in all seriousness, when I listen to Kris’s ”Come Together,” I don’t hear any of the gale-force power of Carly Smithson’s season 7 rendition, and yet I hear many other qualities to recommend it. The way Kris makes unexpected choices with the melody, veering upward on ”Coca-Cola” when you expect him to stick with the Beatles’ pre-determined template. Putting a sly twist on ”he just do what he please” that almost feels like it’s directed to the center right of the audience, maybe in the direction of a particular cantankerous Brit? In a season where the judges keep barking about originality, you’d think that they’d have listened for more than just a glory note. You’d think they’d have recognized the glory of getting under the skin of a time-honored classic and inhabiting it from the inside out, rather than skating over its surface with a growl and a shout.
Urgh. I realize that came out all kinda of comically earnest, but I’m tired. Not just ”look at the clock, my deadline’s up!” tired. But tired of Simon Cowell directing us all to behave like the soulless record-exec he’s become. Directing us to choose Jamie Foxx and a vocorder to fill out a results-show telecast instead of Melinda Doolittle and her voice that can turn an office hallway into a concert space. Directing us to think like someone who’d make that umpteenth Jessica Simpson record because she’s ”hot,” nevermind that she can’t remember the lyrics to her songs in concert. In other words, voting for Kris Allen’s ”Come Together” wasn’t choosing ice for lunch. It was choosing the strange quail-egg and olive tapinade sandwich at the struggling local deli instead of doubling the meat for an extra 50 cents at the big sandwich chain. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the toasty. But you get what I’m saying.)
So here we are. Lunchtime, and we’re at the front of the line. Are we going to feast on a quirky and unpredictable final three, the likes of which has not come our way before, and may not again. Or are we buying the Idol Producers’ Special, a cynical showdown of ”light vs. dark,” ”Christian soul man” vs. ”sexually ambiguous rocker” that plays into the most hollow stereotypes we have of ourselves as a nation?
Okay, I’m making a mountain out of a sandwich. But let’s look at it this way: We saw four singers get up on stage tonight to make a case for advancing to next Tuesday’s performance show, and only one of ’em failed on an eye-popping level. That person is the one who should go and will go home. And I’m willing to bet my lunch money I’m right.
What did you think of tonight’s Idol? How did Slash strike you as a mentor? Who will and should go home? Let us know in the comments section below, then make your pick in this week’s EW.com Idol Prediction Challenge!