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Music

Musical Memories

A couple weeks ago, I discovered this cool new iPad and iPhone app called Songza. When you log in, it knows what day and time it is and what you might be doing, and it offers musical options for those activities. For example, if you sign in Monday morning, you can choose a song list for working out, while you make breakfast, or to sing along to in the shower. If you sign in on a Friday evening, it’ll give you music to help you unwind after a long week, or party with your friends. Best part? It’s free.

Anyway, I chose the unwinding-music option one day last week, and it gave me several song lists to choose from. I think I picked ’80s hits or soft rock or something like that, and Air Supply came on with “Lost in Love.” When I heard the opening notes, I thought, “What song is this? It’s so familiar…”

Next thing I knew, I was not only singing along (and knowing all the words), but rushed back into a memory of my teenage self with feathered-back hair listening to this song on a Sunday afternoon as Casey Kasem counted down the week’s top 40. I was in the living room of my parents’ house, a house that no longer exists, and the music was streaming from a stereo system that had a turntable and dual cassette player. Every Sunday afternoon, I’d have my ears glued to that stereo, hoping my favorite songs made it into Casey’s top 10.

The next song that popped up on the list was “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John. I was hit by another visceral memory of going to see the movie on opening day for I idolized “Livvie” back then. Well, the movie was seventeen kinds of dreadful (though it made for a hilarious live parody many years later) but I loved the music, bought the soundtrack, danced to it in leg warmers and terry-cloth gym shorts.

As the song list continued, more memories kept waking up. I cannot hear Boz Scaggs’s “Look What You’ve Done to Me” without thinking of the first slow dance I ever had, at music camp with a boy who had tear-inducing body odor. (The first line is “Hope they never end this song” and I was thinking, “Oh, please, I hope it ends before I pass out.”) And Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” made me recall standing in the corner at a dance when a boy I was crushing on walked over and asked…the girl next to me to dance. These are the reasons I love listening to these songs, no matter how cheesy they are. They’re reminders of the person I once was, the moments that might have caused me distress once upon a time but only make me smile now.

What songs from your past bring back strong memories?

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THE VOICE Returns

While most people were excited about the Super Bowl, I was more looking forward to the return of The Voice, the singing competition I might abandon American Idol for after the latter’s lackluster season last year and uninspired start so far this year.

My DVR started recording late so I missed the first singer to audition, whom Blake Shelton apparently snapped up. Here are some thoughts about the rest of them:

  • Mann

    Chris Mann not only surprised with his booming, operatic voice, he moved me with what he said about not wanting to shrink his voice down to make it fit the norm anymore. It takes guts to go on a show like this and sing opera, and it was gratifying to see the judges embrace him (except Blake, who said, “I know I’m country, but I couldn’t understand one word he was sayin’!”). Wish Mann had gone with Cee Lo, though, because he’s a savvy producer who could probably do more for Mann’s career than Christina Aguilera.

  • Juliet Simms, who performed a gravelly, achy version of The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” had Adam Levine on his feet singing along with her. I think his rock ‘n’ roll style would have been good for her, but she went with Cee Lo. Why was everyone avoiding Adam when he coached last year’s winner, Javier Colon?
  • While fighting for Simms to join her team, Aguilera annoyed the funk out of me when she kept talking over Adam while he was making his pitch. She repeatedly called the Maroon 5 singer a used car salesman and, though she later said she was kidding, was completely charmless about it. She also needs to stop abusing the word “honestly.” Everything was “honestly” this and “honestly” that. Couldn’t she convince the singers and viewers of the sincerity of her comments without having to say that all the time?
  • Campbell

    Jesse Campbell has an incredible voice, and I’m glad all the judges fought over him, but I kept thinking he looked like Cuba Gooding Jr. Anyone else think that? And when his wife got tired of his not being able to provide for his family as a musician, why did she leave the kid with him so that the girl had to sleep in the car with her father? That’s cold.

  • Former Mousketeer Tony Lucca was fantastic in his rendition of “Trouble.” The first two notes out of his mouth and I was already yelling at the TV, “Push the button! Turn your damn chairs around!” The guy was also adorable, looking like he was having the time of his life playing his guitar and singing his heart out. And he chose Adam! Finally! Aguilera was his co-star on The Mickey Mouse Club but didn’t seem to recognize him at all until after he left the stage. I suspect someone prompted her from off camera, because she went from no recognition to a rather shocked look instead of having a slow dawning realization. She then went backstage to meet his wife and son, telling them Britney Spears used to have a crush on Lucca when they were all working together. The look on his wife’s face at the revelation was…interesting.
  • Daniel Rosa, the only wannabe whose entire audition was shown despite his not making it onto a team, was the most painful to watch. His voice actually had a nice soulful tone but he had obvious pitch problems. He performed Neon Trees’ “Animal,” which included the refrain “What are you waiting for?” which poor Rosa kept singing to the backs of the coaches’ chairs, as if begging them to turn around.

Rosa’s audition showed that even those deemed not good enough weren’t train wrecks like they are on Idol. He was also treated with respect by the coaches and producers, not humiliated on national TV. We’ll see whether that holds true as the season progresses, but tonight’s show was a good start, and it’ll have two more hours tomorrow to discover more incredible voices.

Did you watch? Who did you like? Did you think all the singers picked the right coaches for themselves?

Check out Chris Mann’s audition video below:

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Scotty & Lauren’s Country Duel

by Poncho

I couldn’t believe myself. This afternoon I read somewhere that Lauren Alaina might miss the finale and Haley would have to fill in for her. Turns out Lauren blew a vocal cord while rehearsing. I felt like the worst person ever for a few moments because I actually wanted Haley to have another chance, but then I went back to my usual nicer self (I hope) and actually prayed for Lauren to get better. Gladly, she did, and went to sing on the finale. It would’ve been much more interesting with Haley there, but it would also be unfair. You know, America voted.

I’ll give it to Lauren—pulling herself up and singing with whatever limitations she might have had because of her strained voice IS very professional. But on the other hand, I expect people to vote for the best one, not to pity-power-vote for Lauren. I’ll consider the damage to her throat, but I’ll try to be just. After all, it’s the final two and one of them will take the whole enchilada.

So, let’s get to the performances.

Round one was the repeat round. The kids got to sing stuff they’ve already performed, hoping to match—or improve—their first go. I dreaded this round because so far only one person has had a better moment on his second try: Kris Allen. Anyway, this is how it went.

Scotty McCreery opened with a repeat of his performance of “Gone,” which I thought was pretty nice the first time. This one? Well, vocally it was way better, though we still can hear the places where his range ends. I applaud the song choice. Not only was it one of his best performances, but one which allowed him to power-play his corniness accordingly and was not as similar to the others he’s been singing.  He toned down the crazy faces and played the whole stage instead, even coming out from the audience. But all in all, it was underwhelming. I’ll give it a B-.

Lauren’s repeat was “Flat on the Floor,” which I also think went quite well the first time. Though it didn’t repeat the thrill it gave me, this second time also went fine. I guess Lauren likes this song because it looked like she was having fun, but I also felt like she was afraid her voice might crack (or was it my fear?). I was thinking there wasn’t much damage to her voice, until the shouty parts of the song where I could hear her stretching. Overall, it was a nice performance and I’ll give it a B.

For round two, some actual successful recording artists picked songs for the wannabes. And if anyone didn’t feel like this was Country Idol, they might’ve gotten the Grand Ole Opry feel when it was revealed George Strait (“The King of Country”) and Carrie Underwood (“The Country Robot Idol”) would be making the choices.

Strait chose “Check Yes or No” for Scotty. Now, imagine you have a cheeseburger. You throw away the bread, the meat and the veggies. What you have left, you cover in cheddar, add a pound of Velveeta, then garnish it with maize. That’s how corny and cheesy the performance was. He tried to cover it with a guitar, and kept the cheese factor locked in one place with his I’ve-been-riding-a-horse-seventeen-hours-straight stance, but…yuck! I’ll give it a C.

Underwood picked “Maybe It Was Memphis” for Lauren, who reminded me how young she is by wearing a tutu and silver cowboy boots. I don’t know if she was trying to create the trailer-park-Sailor-Moon look, but with a pair of twin ponytails, the whole “I’m a child” shtick would’ve actually made me turn off the TV! I will say again that there’s somebody either evil or clueless behind her because she couldn’t have come out more ridiculous if she performed in a Snow White costume. And her voice wasn’t strong. It just wasn’t. Blame the injury or whatever, but the performance wasn’t good at all. I’ll give it a C.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed by this point, but the judges weren’t speaking. Yeah! If they hadn’t been tools, I wouldn’t have minded their opinions, but since we would’ve most likely heard stuff along the lines of “It was beautiful,” “You gave me the goosies,” and “You’re in it to win it,” I think the Mexican proverb is right: En boca cerrada no entran moscas. In a closed mouth no flies come in.

Anyway, for round three it was Jimmy Iovine who picked songs for them.

“I know I’m still young…,” Scotty’s third performance started, and I was like “Yeah! I know!” The song was “I Love You This Big,” and for the first time I felt something was wrong with me. I actually liked the visual part of his performance. Nay. I LOVED the visual part of the performance! It was held back, heartfelt and quite honest (even the shot of his crying mom). But whatever he was singin’, I didn’t listen. He sounded fine on a couple of verses, and then the band came in and the banshee backup singers overwhelmed his voice and I couldn’t hear him. That was sad. I will give it a B.

Lauren sang “Like My Mother Does” and when it started, I was half expecting another pageant-y performance. But then mid-performance, Little Lauren walked down the stage (cue gentlemanly Ryan Seacrest) to hug her mom. And though I don’t doubt the girl loves her mom, it felt VERY rehearsed. But it worked. Lauren lacked the health—or the expertise—to blow people away vocally, so she instead used the emotional weapons without going into overly sentimental and pitchy territory. And I’ll admit it, I got misty-eyed. On another note, one look at her mom and I suddenly forgave Lauren for all her wardrobe wrongs. I’ll give the performance a B+.

OK, so what do you think? Who will be the next American Idol?

Photo: FOX/Michael Becker

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Were the Top 5 Inspiring?

by Poncho

As I’ve written a few times, I don’t get American Idol [in Mexico] until about a week after it airs in the U.S., so I only watch the performances [online] and none of the judges’ comments. A week later, I watch the whole show. During my initial viewings, after writing about what I saw, I often read online what the judges said and find I rarely agree with them.

But this show brought a few surprises for me. By this time in the competition, they’ve gotten rid of the bad, the mediocre, the preachy and the ones unwilling to grow. The four left are definitely good and have delivered fine performances, and even a couple of great ones (*cough* Haley *cough*). So as some people say, “the game is on.”

This week there were two rounds with two themes. For round one, they performed “Songs That Inspire,” and this is how it went:

James Durbin opened with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Blame my uncle, but I love Journey and I love the song. I enjoy Glee and LOVED The Sopranos, so what’s not to like when that song is treated with respect? It was very well done and, unlike last week, James was on pitch the whole time and his vocals were very clean. The only turnoff was that he didn’t add much to the song, so it felt unoriginal and a little karaoke, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case.

Next was Haley Reinhart channeling Michael Jackson. “Earth Song” is a great song and there was nothing that Haley could do wrong with it. It was very well done and filled with emotion while she stayed on pitch. Mr. Dawg & La Lopez told her that the song didn’t fit her and that she shouted. I call it BS! She overgrowled (if that’s a word), not yelled. I know Randy has a very limited vocabulary but I think that’s too much. And yes, the song didn’t quite fit her but she was limited by a theme that asked for a specific feel, so she couldn’t parade sexily or lament angrily—which is more her niche. Anyway, she sang nice, and the gospel choir definitely gave the performance extra feeling.

When I heard Scotty McCreery singing Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” I started yawning. I became very angry, well after having a whole mug of coffee (my Don Quijote mug can hold about 500 ml, so you can guess how hard it was for me to wake up after the performance). I agree that Scotty has been somewhat consistent, he’s never actually botched a performance, he has a very mature voice and marketable singing style, but he has never really given a good show. Not once has he stretched himself, not once has he tried something different, and not once have the so-called judges told him that he’s always played it safe. According to many critics he’s the frontrunner and he’s never thrilled the audience enough. If he wins, he will be competing for the lamest winner ever. I do like his voice—I actually like it very much—but I’m bored of watching him.

Lauren Alaina then sang Martina McBride’s “Anyway” and for the first time, she showed some sort of connection to the material! Not only was the pitch and arrangement perfect for her, but it felt like she understood what she was singing about. I’m not quite buying this pseudo-growth shtick the producers are trying to sell just yet, but I do see a little improvement in her. I mean, she’s just very young. What she needs is not to perform songs too mature for her and start belting age-appropiate songs and she’ll find her connection. “Anyway” was the perfect case.

So those were the pseudo-inspiring songs. I call Lauren a questionable round one winner.

For the second part, the performance order and the theme changed. Now it was time for the Leiber & Stoller songbook. And the guest mentor is Lady Gaga but…why is she trying to channel Billy the Puppet?

The first one was Haley with a fantastic rendition of “I (Who Have Nothing).” I’ll say it: My favorite growler could never match the raw anguish Jordin Sparks brought to the song when she performed it during her season 6 run. Haley changed it into some sort of stalker plea. And it sold. It wasn’t as amazing as her “House of the Rising Sun” last week (I doubt anyone can match it now), but it was great nonetheless. And I got angry again when I read the judges’ comments. I sort of understand why they are so unfairly hard on her if they’re pushing her toward brilliance, but what I’m missing is why they don’t do it to the others. They deserve constructive criticism too! That’s the point of them folks being there! Anyway, Haley should be in the top three just for her lungs alone. That girl can hold a note!

I’m changing Scotty McCheesy’s nickname to Scotty McCreepy. He sang “Young Blood” and trotted around the stage like a drunken monkey trying to be sexy. I gagged, then got goosebumps (not the good kind) and then wanted to barf. The cheese factor was so over the top that it became completely uncomfortable. The whole visual was completely wrong. I listened to him again without the visual and noticed the vocals were nice and his lower register was on fire. It wasn’t superb and the visual part almost made me want to tear my eyes out, but he’s still consistent. The judges had cheese-gasms, though.

If singing Elvis Presley was the only chance we saw Lauren, I’d say she should be in “Trouble.” She wasn’t bad, though she lost her breath in a couple of verses, but it was pretty underwhelming. I agree she has the IT factor, but she hasn’t found IT. She does look more comfortable on stage than she has in weeks past, but she doesn’t know yet how to match her body movements with the song. I think “Trouble” should be sung by a girl in a more teasing and sexy kind of way and she’s too young for that! I often ask myself about the people behind her: Are they trying to screw up this girl’s teenage years, or are they really clueless about what to advise her?

Closing the show was James Durbin. I wonder why is he both opening and closing the show. His song choice was “Love Potion No. 9” and, yet again, it was nice. He missed a few notes here and there but I was feeling quite pleased with the arrangement and the performance until the very end. During the final notes, twice he stopped singing and the band quit playing for him to grasp the audience’s love for him. If it didn’t make me laugh I would’ve gotten angry at that. The way he did it was overconfident and just too much, which made me uncomfortable, and he looked the most like Sloth from The Goonies. I know I’ve teased about that a few times, but this time the resemblance was uncanny!

And so, round two ends with a definite win for Haley. If it was my choice I’d send Scotty home. If you had asked me last week, I would’ve said Lauren had the toughest chance, but I think she might grab a few votes [this week] for her “Anyway,” if “Trouble” didn’t hurt her that much.

Who do you think will make the top three?

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Top 5 Get Modern and Classy

by Poncho

Tonight’s theme is “Now and Then” or something like that. It’s modern songs and then songs of the ’60s or ’70s, and all five contestants are butchering and/or killing one of each. This should be interesting.

The first round is the “Now” round, and this is how they did.

James Durbin opened the show with “Closer to the Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars. I just can’t make up my mind about this one. For one, I think it was a good choice, and an original one (I don’t know how long the song lists are for the contestants this season, but I’d like to think they have carte blanche). I also think he’s got good communion with the audience and his vocal pyrotechnics thrill them, too. And, of course, he nails the song in the wailing part. But he still misses quite a few notes on the lower register, and while I commend the song choice, I’d rather hear it as a closing number, or an encore one. Do you get what I mean? I didn’t think the number had enough energy, soul, or emotion to carry an audience for a full show.

When I read Jacob Lusk’s song choice—“No Air” by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown—I cringed. When I saw his performance, I cringed again. Let me list what was wrong. First: The song choice sucked. It’s one thing to turn a solo into a duet, but to turn a duet into a solo is just dumb. Second: He came in full skanky diva mode, and he’s supposedly a dude. Third: It sucked. Fourth: He, again, lost control of his vocals. Fifth: It sucked. Sixth: His awkward dancing reminds me of [Mexico’s] Juan Gabriel. Also: It sucked. Need I say more?

Lauren Alaina rocked. She sang “Flat on the Floor” and left the previous guys just like that. Her vocals were spot on, her delivery amazing. Just one complaint: I wish she would make more of the stage; she barely moved and the whole performance looked energetic and static at the same time. Other than that, it was just a few steps from a true Idol Moment™, in my opinion.  Good stuff indeed. She’s a keeper, that one!

Holy cow! Scotty McCreery was good as well! He sang “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry and I did feel like I was at a concert, one where they drench you in Velveeta, but hey, who am I to complain? (If one of you heard me singing, you might). The vocals were fantastic, though it seemed he was half a beat too slow for the first third of the song. He had good chemistry with the backups; he gave them their spotlight AND upstaged them. I still think he’s too cheesy and his crazy [singing] faces gives me the creeps, but for the first time in a while, Scotty was fun!

Haley Reinhart took the “Now” [part of the show] one step further and turned it into “Tomorrow.” She established a new precedent by doing an unreleased Gaga song. Yup. She sang “You and I” from the upcoming Born this Way. I loved how the judges were absolutely clueless in what to critique. And I think that worked better! She’s been hurting for a bunch of weeks because of the lukewarm feedback from them and she pulled an “in your face.” I think it was good, sexy, and fitting. The song felt like it belonged to her and vice versa. The tone was fantastic, her growl fit wherever she put it, and she looked much more comfortable on stage than she’s ever been. The whole thing worked for me. If I were American, I would have voted like crazy for her. How could someone not love her when she’s the only really bold one left after they ditched Naima? #SaveHaley. ‘Nuff said.

Now, for the second round, the “Then” performances…

James went into the overly sentimental territory (like Jacob last week) and botched it. His voice was completely flat in Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” Thank God it didn’t go into Ken Lee territory but it was pretty close. Bummer, because I thought this guy almost had the It factor, but sadly no. He just cannot connect to an audience through his voice. He depends entirely on the theatricality and his “deep emotional connection” felt completely fake, even with his strategically placed tear-down-cheek thing. And for the first time, Steven Tyler called him on his pitch. That’s something, ain’t it?

I’ll admit I enjoyed Jacob a little better this time. After hearing him sing “Love Hurts,” one would think older songs are more his thing. He still lost control of a few notes, but even when he went for the crazy ones, he held it all together much better than he has since the semifinals. But still, I don’t like him. And while he sang so-so, his moves were like that of a child having a temper tantrum. It sort of suits the song, though, so who knows?

I have bittersweet feelings about Lauren tackling “Unchained Melody.” She does sing beautifully, has good sense of pitch and nice (not great) stage presence. And she’s growing as a performer. She managed the song well, but she missed the nice things that make it a classic. For one, she gave it a few more runs than she should, even missing the beat a few times because of it. And then, she didn’t even TRY to go high. The prettiest part of the song for me is the falsetto part (you know, the “I neeeee-hee-heed your lo-oove”), and she went the other way. Like her trying to tackle “Natural Woman” a few weeks back, she seems to lack the life experience to sing a song THAT intimate to someone, and so it felt pageantry, even artificial.

Almost the same thing happened to Scotty on his next choice. He sang “Always on My Mind” mostly on key but didn’t get the feeling and soul of it. Also, his country vibe didn’t quite fit the arrangement. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t memorable.

OK, scratch all I’ve written so far. Haley stole the night. Again. Her “House of the Rising Sun” was AMAZING. Flawless. Even if her song choice could be nitpicked, she just had the first Idol Moment™ this season. Period. Everything about Haley’s performance was perfect. The lighting, the a capella start, the way the band entered. OMG. I’ll use my first Randy-ism and say “Haley is in it to win it!” She’s hands down the one who’s most improved, and who’s taken this contest as a platform and learning experience. And it shows. This was fantastic.

 

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Top 6 Sing Carole King

by Poncho

This week’s theme was Carole King’s songbook, and I have to say CK was good for most of these kids. The night was kind of boring, though, except for a few “highlights” now and then.

Jacob Lusk opened with “Oh No, Not My Baby.” He was dressed like a clown and that matched his performance. It was uptempo and actually quite fun. He botched a lot of the higher notes but it came together on the lower ones. This is the first time I didn’t hate his performance, perhaps because it seemed he didn’t take himself too seriously and he pulled back on his skanky diva faces. He still reminds me of Juan Gabriel’s dancing, though.

Then Lauren Gilmore Alaina sang “Where You Lead” and though she wasn’t perfect, she was way more relaxed than last week. The backups were actually a great help to her because she sounded a lot better when she harmonized with them. And wow! She serenaded a random guy from the audience, even pulling him to the stage. She was flirty AND age-appropriate. That was nice, but there were flaws in her vocals.

The first duet came courtesy of rumored couple Casey Abrams & Haley Reinhart with “I Feel the Earth Move.” It was nice. The solos weren’t that interesting but when they started harmonizing, it was quite good. There was real chemistry there and the arrangement suited both of them. The bad thing was, the flaws in Casey’s higher register raised their arms to be noticed.

Scotty McCreery took me by surprise. He didn’t quite go out of his comfort zone, but he did try something different. He did a sort of romantic performance with “You’ve Got a Friend” and managed to pull the cheese back completely until the closing verse. His vocals were smooth and nice for almost the whole song, though he cracked during a few of the higher notes. It was good nonetheless and a nice step forward for him. I’m still waiting for him to have a real Idol Moment™, especially since lots of people are labeling him the frontrunner.

James Durbin was next with a nice rock ‘n’ roll twist to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It was a little overdone in some parts with his higher register, but the whole thing came together very well. It’s the first time that I can recall this season when there was a good rearrangement of a song that actually fit both the song and the contestant. It was very nice, indeed.

The next duet was “Up on the Roof,” sung by Lauren and Scotty. Lauren’s voice sort of drowned Scotty’s in a few places; he seemed to be singing only the harmony. I think the song was a little high for Scotty in most parts, but I liked some of Scotty’s moments better than Lauren’s. Their voices don’t complement each other the way Casey & Haley’s do. It was a nice try, but it felt lacking.

Next, Casey growled through “Hi-De-Ho” and I don’t get why the judges thought it was that good. Casey talked, shouted and growled through the verses, and there was no musicality to it except for the musicians on stage. The whole thing was lame and came out as an angry bashing of the audience. Some random girl was almost throwing herself at him but Casey seemed to ignore her and kept sneering and shouting. Oh, but the cool sax player [from two weeks ago] was there! Other than her, I didn’t like the performance at all. By the way, Casey has managed so far to disrespect both Nirvana & Maroon 5. I say put him in the bottom three or kick him out!

Haley then sang “Beautiful” and she sang it beautifully, but the background was hurting her. I read there were troubles with the sound and ear monitors, and there was chaos on stage before her performance. I’m starting to think: “Are the producers actually trying to hurt her?” It’s not the first time I’ve felt it in the last few weeks. She’s the ONLY contestant they give lukewarm criticism to week in and week out even though she’s the only one actually growing as a performer. And now this. (I did hear, though, there were also sound issues during Jacob’s turn last week so I don’t know.) Other than that, Haley did well. She didn’t blow me away as she’s done other nights, but it was a good effort. I hope she’s safe.

James & Jacob’s duet was so crappy it was funny. They did a sort of rock arrangement to “I’m Into Something Good” and it actually hurt them, since they both did some caterwauling and shrieking. At one point they even serenaded La Lopez, but it was all a mess. The whole thing looked like they got drunk, decided to match clothes, went to a karaoke bar, picked some random Carole King song and tried to seduce a girl while also kind of seducing one another. Weird stuff.

What did you think?

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Top 7 in the 21st Century

by Poncho

I’ll be the first to admit this episode was much more interesting than the last. The premise by itself, “Songs of the 21st Century”, made me smile a little, because this was the first real chance for most of these kids to be current (Miley Cyrus songs aside). They made me feel awkward, though: Of the seven songs, I only knew three beforehand so perhaps that gave them some advantage since I can’t compare theirs with the original performances.

Before I started watching this show, I did a little backtracking and noticed that, if this was one of the past seasons, we would’ve already witnessed outstanding performances [by this point in the competition]: Kelly Clarkson had already made us stand up with “A Natural Woman,” the Velvet Teddy Bear had taken many to “A Whole New World,” Fantasia & JHud had brought “Summertime” to a full “Circle of Life,” Carrie Under-bot had sung the hell out of “Alone,” and even Kris Allen had made us hear “Ain’t No Sunshine” like it was the first time while others melted with Glambert’s “Mad World.”

But not this season. There haven’t been many standout performances—none at all, for that matter. I even went back to last week with Casey’s “Nature Boy” and [decided] it wasn’t that much of an Idol Moment™. I’m still waiting…

Scotty McCheesy opened the show “Swingin’” on full Velveeta mode. C’mon! I thought he was pulling back! It was not good. His lower register only shone a couple of times and the whole thing was boring. I still think he’s got one of the most mature voices on the show, but he must do something else on stage pronto. He’s getting way too comfortable in his niche and there’s just no wow factor to it. I mean, I’m even starting to want to fast-forward through his airtime (a privilege only granted to the judges). Also, his song ain’t really from this century. Though LeAnn Rimes covered it, “Swingin’” was originally released in 1983! I call that cheating!

I didn’t think anyone would sing anything from Muse on AI but James “Sloth” Durbin did try to perform “Uprising.” He even brought some marching band drummers to the Idol stage. I’ll give it to him: He’s a showman, and a very good one, I must say. A good singer? Not really. He botched a lot of notes, especially the lower ones, but he sort of came together on the wailing. It wasn’t unpleasant, but good it was definitely not. And he’s absolutely got to stop eye-sexin’ the camera because it gives me serious chills.

Next was one of the most excellent song choices and the most current one in the show tonight: Haley Grrreinhart went blue-eyed soul and sung Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” The Grrreinhart bandwagon keeps rolling, babe! Oh, my! Gotta admit that taking over Adele’s great soulful voice ain’t easy, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say Haley did it nicely. It’s not tough to see Haley as the one who’s growing the most, and who’s less afraid of taking risks (“BENNY AND THE FRAKKING JETS”!!). The bridge started rough but she quickly managed it, and her falsetto and run at the end were things of beauty. This one paid off, in my book.

The Lusky Skank got overly emotional with “Dancing with My Father” by Luther Vandross. I will not argue about his connection to the song—it was definitely there. Hell, the emotion even overpowered his diva faces and took a serious toll on the pitch. I’ve been saying for quite some time that Jacob needs more control and getting that emotional on stage is not the way to find that.

Ca-sneer Abrams growled and sneered through Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” and though it wasn’t bad, his performance lacked something. He lacks the appeal and stage presence Adam Levine has, and that really hurt Casey’s take. Also, Casey’s vocals couldn’t match the high tempo of the song. It felt like he was singing after the beat and it sounded weird. The original is way better than his 90-second version.

When Stefano Long-gone took the stage for his take on Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” I thought I was watching some guy being left alone by the rest of his boy band. It wasn’t just the look, but the way he got lost in the song. He did seem more comfortable and relaxed on stage. He did go out of his boring balladeer confort zone but that didn’t pay off. On other songs it seemed he tried too hard to hit the glory notes; this time it looked like he didn’t even try.

And finally, another candidate for our annual election of “Best Musician Who Upstages the Contestant”: the violinist playing next to Wauwen Alaina while she sang Sara Evans’s “Born to Fly.” Lauren was actually very good, nearly excellent. She sang the hell out of the song and took the stage very well. Her only mistake was that she didn’t interact enough with the other performers and looked awkward when she sang next to them. Either she needs to put them violin players somewhere where they can’t bother her, or ask the producer to get duller ones. Or better yet, get to know them before they perform together.

So that’s my take of this week’s Idol. I expect Stefano and Jacob to be in the bottom 3, and I’d put Scotty there, too. I’d put Long-gone out of his “Misery” (ha!).

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AMERICAN IDOL S10: Top 9 Rock Out

This post is by guest blogger Poncho, an expert on AI and many things pop culture.—PCN

Even with the theme being “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” the episode had little rock and less roll. Some of the choices were weird, most of the songs were performed (mostly better) in previous seasons, and the whole thing was more boring than last week. So let’s get rolling:

I just figured out who Jacob Lusk reminds me of. His weird dance moves in the second half of “Man in the Mirror” immediately made me think of Juan Gabriel! Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing; JG is a very successful recording artist…in Mexico. Anyway, the vocals were kind of good, but what’s with him thrusting the backup singer? And what’s with the backup-bots waving boringly? Besides, I’m fed up with his overly theatrical skanky diva faces. The judges loved the performance; I say meh.

I told PCN last week I was on board Haley Scarnatto Grrrreinhart’s bandwagon, and after hearing her cover Erma Franklin/Janis Joplin, I say the girrrrrrl took another “Piece of My Heart.” She wasn’t as good as last week, but she’s growing as an artist, picking songs that fit her grrrowl, improving the phrasing, looking gorgeous on stage, commanding more presence and, in general, looking less awkward. On the downside, she’s still got lots to grrrrrow.

Casey Abrams brought an upright bass! I couldn’t care less for his performance, even though “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” is one of my favorite songs ever. The upright bass upstaged Casey but it might still be me hating him for what he did to Nirvana.

I’ll say it about Lauren Alaina: NOBODY has made that girl feel like a “Natural Woman.” I’m not advocating underage sexin’, just saying you can master the technical aspects of a song as hard as “Natural Woman,” make changes to the phrasing and intonation of the verses (I hated the runs in the first ones, liked the softness in the middle), but if you have no connection, there’s no point. And that’s it—she sang pretty but sold nothing.

One thing we learned (or re-discovered) about James Durbin is that he has serious trouble with his lower register. And I mean serious. It’s a good thing Steven gave him props for “weeping” like his guitar because it was the only good thing about the performance. The pitch problems throughout the song made all guitars around the world need tissues.

This was the first time Scotty McCheesy actually really entertained me. It’s no secret I like his voice and believe he’s got a real chance in country music, but this was the first time he looked like a contender. He raised the tempo and he’s starting to pull the cheese factor back. Weird thing—the cheese he brought kinda worked.

I had a headache watching Pia Toscano. She sang uptempo (more like mid-tempo in my book, but whateva) and even with a few pitch problems here and there, managed to sound amazing. But then, the visuals were all wrong. First, the dress was a fashion no-no (hear it from a straight guy); second, she walked around the stage and her walk was very, very boring. If you close your eyes, you hear a great “uptempo” song. If you mute the TV/VCR/PC, you see someone singing a ballad. Guess she’s still Pia Tosca-bore.

If anyone was really a bore, it was Stefano Langone. Three words: Kick him out.

Finally, Paul McDonald was real fun to watch. It wasn’t the greatest performance, but his voice actually fitted the song and the arrangement. He brought his spastic-chicken dance to the stage, even while playing his guitar (I think the other guys beside him had ants in their pants, too, because they danced very weirdly as well). But somehow it all worked. It was fun, a little underwhelming, but fun nonetheless.

What did you think?

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Your Musical Identity

I was in the car today listening to the “Top 5 at 5” feature on a local radio station. Listeners send in lists of five songs they want to hear and the DJ picks one list to play at 5 p.m. Today’s winner was someone named Adriana and her first 3 songs were:

  1. Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want from Me”
  2. Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”
  3. The Black-eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started”

I didn’t get a chance to hear her final two songs because I arrived at Trader Joe’s and had to begin the back-breaking process of grocery shopping (the bags I hauled outta there were heavier than my car). But I realized the songs I did hear gave me clues to who Adriana might be.

I’d say she’s in her early 20s because she’s a Taylor Swift fan and still young enough to want to get a party started. When you get to a certain age, you want to shut them down. She’s someone who would like to be a rebel like Adam Lambert but is really a sweet girl who’s still looking for the right guy and her own big love story. She probably works 9-5 as an assistant in an office somewhere and having her favorite songs played on the radio helps make her commute home a little more pleasant.

Of course, I could be waaayy off—Adriana could be a 58-year-old divorceé who owns a tattoo parlor—but it was fun to play this little game. I’d like to think Adriana offered up a glimpse of herself, intentionally or not, and I was saying, “I hear you, girl.” I then wondered what would be on my list.

Without thinking too much about it, here’s what I would request in no particular order:

  1. The Eagles’ “New Kid in Town”
  2. Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What a Wonderful World” medley
  3. Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”
  4. U2’s “One”
  5. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”

This list will most likely change tomorrow; heck, it might change in 20 minutes. But as it stands, what conclusions would you make from my choices (other than I’m old)? What would be your top 5 at 5?

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Lee DeWyze Wins AMERICAN IDOL

Jason, you were right.

Lee DeWyze was crowned the ninth American Idol tonight, with the result coming at the end of a two-hour-plus show that was actually entertaining at times. DeWyze is a decent enough singer and seems like a nice guy, but when Crystal Bowersox so obviously outshines him in every way, I don’t know what to say about his victory.

So, I’ll just recap some of the things I liked about the show. Yes, most of these people are older and their voices are a little thinner, but they sang the music of my youth and made me feel 10 years old again.

  • The Bee Gees! If you know me at all, you know my soft spot for Bee Gees music. Maurice was missed since I’ll always think of the brothers as a trio but it was cool to have Barry and Robin Gibb come out singing “How Deep is Your Love.” When I was a kid learning English, I’d try to transcribe songs I heard on the radio and this was one of them since it was nice and slow. (I still had a little trouble: “And we’re living in a world of fools, drinking us down…”)
  • Alanis Morrissette sang with Crystal on “You Oughta Know,” which was kickin’. Alanis was classy enough to hold back vocally so she wouldn’t steal Crystal’s spotlight (I’ve seen Alanis live from the pit—she can blow!) and immediately stepped away when the song was over, giving Crystal the floor. I had to laugh, though, at the cleaned up lyric made safe for prime-time TV. Crystal sang, “Is she perverted like me? Would she go down with you to a theater?” Wait a minute, so every time I accompany someone to a theater, I’m a pervert? Dang, I guess I’ve been perverted my whole life, sometimes for hours in one day with double features.
  • Hall & Oates singing “You Make My Dreams Come True,” with Daryl Hall in strong voice and John Oates almost unrecognizable without his famous ‘stache. I suppose this is an appropriate song considering the occasion but I wish they’d sung “I Can’t Go for That”—I like that song’s groovy, sexy feel—instead of leaving it to the Idol guys, including 16-year-old Aaron Kelly singing lyrics like “I’d do anything that you want me to…,” which is kinda wrong.
  • Bret Michaels dueting with Casey James on “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Six months ago, I couldn’t have cared less about this performance since I’m no Poison fan. But seeing Michaels come out to sing was pretty amazing, considering he was at death’s door just weeks ago due to a brain hemorrhage. He looked and sounded as if nothing had happened, with him and Casey shredding their guitars with glee and harmonizing as if they’d been doing it for years. I don’t care what anyone says—I think Casey’s a true rocker. Watch video below.
  • I had mixed feelings about Janet Jackson‘s two-number performance. The first song, “Nothing,” was kinda boring but the eery thing was she sounded exactly like Michael! If you closed your eyes, you would’ve thought MJ was singing. Her voice has never resembled his that much before so I don’t know what was going on. And then she got “Nasty”! Anybody getting nasty on stage is good entertainment.
  • Oh yeah, I guess I gotta mention all the Simon tributes. Paula looked great but should never do standup—so awkward up there trying to crack jokes. Simon should never try to act, like he did in that one skit with him and Randy waking up together in bed. Enjoyed the satellite toast from Ricky Gervais, always the funniest man in the room. Other than that, I’ll miss Simon but as Paula said, the show will go on. After tonight’s results, though, whether I’ll watch is yet to be decided.

What were your favorite moments? No, it couldn’t have been Lee singing with Chicago. What else? Did anyone vote for Lee? What did you think when Bret Michaels walked out on stage?

Photos: FOX


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Final Showdown in Sight: Predicting Top 2 on AMERICAN IDOL S9

by Jason Matthews

As the dying whale carcass of this show lumbers slowly to the season finale shore, the machinations of the producers have become more and more transparent. It is clear as day that all involved want Crystal and Lee in the finale. From the low-fi song choice given to Casey to the anchor spot and gospel choir backup for Lee to the continued gushing over Crystal, American Idol was practically BEGGING us not to vote for lazy, lady-haired cougar bait Casey. Really though, who can blame them?

When you get to Top 3, reviewing performances is a bit redundant. We know all we need to know about the talent and skill of these kids, good or bad (mostly bad), so it’s really just who we like and don’t like as contestants. To that end we won’t be reviewing the performances from last night. But here’s a quick recap of last night’s show:

Ryan hates this season the most ’cause he had to give up his patented ‘THIS… is aMERIcan IDOL!” to the Top 3. The judges wake up, remember they are on camera, and then swiftly go back to sleep. Casey’s up first, he’s barely trying. Same as it ever was. The producers keep cutting to the audience where people are holding up signs for Lee. Always a good idea to show how little the audience respects the talent currently on stage. The judges automatically transfer $50 into your personal bank account so you won’t vote for Casey.

Crystal’s up, she’s fine, same as always, and the judges crank their BS up to 11 and practically step on throat of Melissa Etheridge’s reputation (who, by the way, has a really kick-ass new single on the radio) to call Crystal great for the 47th week in a row. Crystal forms her Caucasian dreadlocks into the shape of “DUH.”

Lee hits the stage, the crowd goes donkey-balls nuts, he sings as gruffly, blandly, Nickelback-y as humanly possible and the judges take turns having a compliment orgy over the thing. Somewhere in the world, David Cook just rolled his eyes, put on a pair of leather pants and full on blew the minds of an arena full of people. Same as it ever was. Lather, rinse, repeat, credits.

To make a very near perfect generalization, the Top 2 for every season of American Idol is always a dead heat, talent-wise. The Sanjayas, George Huffs, Scott Savols and Haley Mercados never make it this far. A fun personality and a catchy hook only get you so far; you have to be a real gamer to sing in the finale. Because of this, Top 3 is the most predictable results week of every season.

Casey James is going home. Let’s talk with facts, people, and those are the facts. Crystal and Lee gave two standout performances each, showed charisma, made smart choices, worked the crowd, and, you know, CARED. Casey looked half in the bag, bored by the spectacle, disinterested in the judges’ comments and not particularly upset when he got called out for being mediocre. He may become a top-selling country artist (and I believe he will be), but for now, he’s a disappointing, unworthy Idolist. All he had to do was show he really CARED about being the next American Idol and we would have considered vaulting him over Lee. We’re desperately seeking reasons to not be fake-wowed by his wannabe Daughtry ass, but Casey refused to give us any. And for that he will be sent home, so he can spend more time with his “music,” and by “music,” I of course mean “putting shiny conditioner in his lady hair.”

We’ll be back next week for an in-depth analysis of who deserves to be the Next American Idol. Until then, let’s all thank ABC for moving the Lost finale to Sunday so we Idolists can be free to attend the funeral for this hollow, empty season.

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Strangeness in the Night: AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 Top 5 Perform Sinatra

American Idol is officially asleep at the wheel. That’s the only explanation for how they allowed these 5 clowns to attempt to croon on national television, when not a one of them has the charisma, vocal chops or musicality to pull it off (yes, Crystal included). Harry Connick Jr. pulled a Ryan Seacrest and did EVERY job ever invented last night, from writing the arrangement to playing on stage with the Idolists to actually mentoring them (which means giving them constructive criticism that helped to enrich the performance, not saying nice things about them in the manner of Adam Lambert) to carrying the humor of the show. All Crystal, Mike, Aaron, Casey and Lee had to do was say words out loud in a melodic fashion, and yet they STILL failed miserably. What an abject failure of a performance night.

Why couldn’t Harry have just performed for an hour using different voices attributed to each Idolist (I’d die to hear his Aaron Kelly squeak)? Wouldn’t that have been more fun? Wouldn’t that have sounded better?

Here are the reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Lee DeWyze – “That’s Life”

Photo: FOX

If Harry Connick Jr and Elijah Wood had a kid, it would be Lee DeWyze exactly. Wears a suit well, dreamy blue eyes, lovely singing voice, short as a hobbit and awkward when speaking. Lee gave the best of a bad bunch of performances. He dressed for the theme of the night, which is always a smart move. And he looked like he was actually enjoying himself, the way Frank Sinatra used to perform. Spectacular arrangement by Harry; wild to watch him stare in horror at his less talented doppelganger.

Crystal Bowersox – “Summer Wind”

Crystal was the only Idolist Harry took seriously. I loved his observation that the more obscure she makes her connection to the song, the more personal the audience will feel toward it. She looked FANtastic, shockingly sexy even. While the performance was a bit boring, with an unflattering, clunky arrangement, Crystal showed surprising genre range. Since Crystal is going to win this thing no questions asked, it’s good of her to give us a little taste of all the sounds she’ll be recording down the road. And it’s an ever better opportunity for us to prepare for all the sounds we’ll be ignoring when she records them.

Mike Lynche – “The Way You Look Tonight”

Was Harry blacking it up for Big Mike, or do we have to give him a pass for the jive talk ’cause he’s from the Treme? So look, Crooner Night carries an obvious level of fakeness, which, added to Mike’s natural resting state of corniness, automatically leaves a trail of bullshit a mile long. Putting a teeny tiny hat on such a giant head doesn’t make matters better. But if anyone was built for this night, it’s Big Mike, and he milked it for all it was worth. He’ll be back next week to give us more of that corniness we hatelove so much.

Aaron Kelly – “Fly Me To The Moon”

Never looked better, never sounded worse. He looked like the best-looking Newsie of Christian Bale’s dreams (speaking of, Aaron would make a FANtabs Cowboy Kelly in the remake), even though he was basically dressed for church. But that voice. That voice has no power to it. No danger to it. There is nothing sexy about it. So why would we buy him singing any Sinatra song, least of all “Fly Me To The Moon?”

Casey James – “Blue Skies”

The encapsulation of everything wrong with American Idol this season. Casey has the voice and attitude to croon. He has the look and the sex appeal. He can make it happen. So what does he do? Gives a half-assed, jokey, sloppy, karaoke performance that ensures him a ticket home. Who Gordon Gekko’d his hair? When did he put his voice into a meat grinder? Where was the pork pie hat? Why was he in an obnoxious purple shirt? What was he thinking??? Now we have to sit through a finale with boring-ass Lee. Thanks a bunch, Casey. Go take off your shirt for some cougars!

Does Idol have a chance to turn things around this season? Does anyone out there still care about these kids?

(Spoiler alert: both of those questions are rhetorical.)

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