Category Archives: American Idol

American Idol: The pirate, the princess and Randy Jackson

American Idol is back! And it’s so exciting that people were crying just waiting to find out who the new judges were!

Or so they’d have you believe. Any doubts as to whether AI can survive without Simon Cowell were cunningly concealed behind an intro of over-the-top feverish intensity. Out of clouds of billowing smoke and anticipation, Ryan Seacrest proudly presented…

Randy Jackson. Ooh, there’s a shock. He’s a tiny bit slimmer than last year’s Randy Jackson, but he still says “dawg” a lot.

The first new judge was Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, looking like the love child of Captain Jack Sparrow and Paula Abdul as realised in plasticine by a 7 year old.

The second was Jennifer Lopez, “the ultimate triple threat” according to Ryan Seacrest, as she can sing, dance and has a lovely bottom (actually what he said was that she can act, but anyone who’s seen Maid in Manhattan would know he was kidding about that one).

So how are the new judges? Well, I have to say I’m impressed. I did miss Cowell’s bubble-bursting way with an aphorism – some of these contestants could seriously do with a reality check, and J-Lo and S-Ty didn’t seem to deal much in reality.  S-Ty didn’t look like he even knew what reality was, which of course is entirely proper for a rock star. But he burbled very amusingly in a surreal kind of way and ogled the female contestants with a kind of genial lasciviousness which somehow managed to be inoffensive and almost sweet.

J-Lo is apparently such a big star that most of the contestants burst into tears just at the sight of her, which hampered their performance somewhat. She pretended that she hated upsetting people by rejecting them even if they were awful. I wasn’t falling for that nonsense – you don’t get from being Jenny on the block to being J-Lo the global brand by being squeamish about hurting people’s feelings.

As to the contestants, it was business pretty much as usual, apart from the crying. The “too many notes” style of singing seems to be the default style once again, and without Cowell there it’s going unchecked and even being encouraged. One person who sang ‘Yesterday’ filled it with so many runs and optional extras that the original tune had completely vanished under the weight of ornamentation, but all the judges agreed it had been marvellous.

Maybe on a cruise ship, as Cowell might have said.

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American Idol: Casey leaves, still grinning

I got chills on several occasions watching American Idol this week, and it wasn’t just because I’d discovered a tub of Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt in the freezer (though that did help).

The Idol-related chills were thanks to Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, who both sang their socks (or sox) off to prove that they were worthy Idol finalists. It was the week where the judges get to pick a song for the contestants, and Ellen’s choice of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ for Crystal was inspired. I love that song, and Crystal sang it with enormous passion.

I wasn’t so excited to hear that Simon had picked (yawn) ‘Hallelujah’ for Lee. For me, it had already been done perfectly on Idol by Jason Castro and done to death on the X Factor by Alexandra Burke. Lee, who seems like a really modest, sweet man, grabbed it by both hands and did a fantastic job. He said afterwards that he’d been swept along by the song. He looked quite gobsmacked at the audience reaction.

So what was Casey James doing this week? Well, he was grinning a lot, and playing his guitar and doing his Casey thing, and that’s why we won’t be seeing him in the final next week. But he didn’t look too unhappy.

It’s obvious these days that actually winning Idol isn’t the important thing. When the list of “losers” includes names like Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, you can afford to bow out with a smile on your face.

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American Idol: Songs from the movies week

I think a few pages must have gone missing from the list of possible songs for this week’s Idol. The theme was “songs from the movies,” surely a rich category if ever there was one.

But our Idols opted for some very odd choices. Was Casey James really thinking of how much Kara fancies him when he plumped for ‘Mrs Robinson’? The judges certainly thought so. He’s so grinny and insipid that Anne Bancroft would have had him for breakfast and not paused to throw away the bones. Out of the four, I wondered whether he’d be in the most danger this week.

Michael Lynche’s choice was Michael Jackson’s ‘Will You Be There?’ I love that song totally and even the opening piano chords give me goosebumps, but it didn’t specially suit Lynche’s voice. And what film is it from anyway? Free Willy, apparently.

Crystal Bowersox did ‘I’m Alright’ from Caddieshack. I’d never heard it before, but it was the kind of song Crystal likes, a sort of Janis Joplin thing that she can really get her voice behind. Not the sort of thing I’d be buying, but definitely fit for the current purpose.

Lee De Wyze could have gone the ‘Iris’ route, which I would have loved, but he picked ‘Kiss From a Rose’ instead. Not a song you can do much with, so anyone who attempts it is going to come out sounding like a karaoke version of Seal.

So not a thrilling set of solo performances. Just as well, then, that this week the contestants also got to do duets. Crystal and Lee sang ‘Falling Slowly,’ which Kris Allen sang on Idol last year, and it was brilliant. Casey and Michael sang ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,’ which prompted the best judge comment of the night from Ellen De Generes. “Yes, I have loved a woman,” she deadpanned. The other judges (once they’d stopped laughing) agreed that Casey and Michael had done marvellously, though to me some of the harmonies sounded a bit off.

Results show tonight (in the UK at least – the US already knows who’s going home, and so do I because I peeked), and we’re promised guest turns from one of my all-time favourite Idol contestants, Fantasia. And Jon Bon Jovi. Hurrah!

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American Idol: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

Oh dear. Last week I was predicting that little lollipop-headed Aaron Kelly could possibly win American Idol. Then he goes and gets undone by Frank Sinatra week.

He looked the part (nice use of a side parting), and he sang in tune, but rhythm-wise, he just didn’t get it. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ sung without swing ain’t going anywhere near the moon. And Aaron ain’t going any further in American Idol.

Casey and Crystal didn’t fare a great deal better, though at least ‘Blue Skies’ gave Casey’s ever-present grin an appropriate context for a change. Crystal once again had a less than brilliant week, but there wasn’t any danger she’d go this week.

I wasn’t as impressed as the judges were by Michael Lynche this week. I felt he was swamped by the arrangement a little bit, but he was still stronger than the others.

Then up stepped Lee De Wyze. He sang ‘That’s Life,’ and sounded (and looked) like he really got it. In the lower register of his voice he sounded like Georgie Fame, and in a jazzy song you can’t really ask for better than that. The judges all agreed it was the performance of the night, and Ellen and Kara even went as far as to say that, if it was the final, it would be a winning turn.

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American Idol: Never the Twain

I remember the good old days on American Idol when the themed weeks would be people like Abba, Queen, Motown, Michael Jackson. This week was Shania Twain week. I’m serious. Shania Twain. What’s it going to be next week? Justin Bieber week?

Admittedly, I am British, and as Simon Cowell usually mentions at least once, we don’t “get” country music. My dad has a Shania album (it fits in snugly next to The Best of Olivia Newton-John), but he doesn’t watch American Idol, so he’s no use either. So for the most part the songs this week were new to me, apart from the one Lee De Wyze sang. As such, it was harder than usual to work out who’d done well and who hadn’t. What was obvious is that Shania was a great mentor.

As to the performances, little Aaron Kelly with his head that’s too big for his body could prove to be the dark horse of this competition. He’s very good vocally, with astonishing maturity in his interpretation of the songs. One of the judges pointed out that this was especially impressive considering he’s only 16. “I’m 17 now,” he said. Bless – it just shows how young you are when you’re so keen to add the digits.

I’ve been saying for weeks that Michael Lynche has a Luther Vandross quality to his voice, and following his performance of ‘It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing’ (great title for an episode of Casualty), the judges have started saying it too.

Crystal Bowersox’s vocals were a bit sidelined by the arrangement and the band on her song, so it wasn’t one of her most memorable performances.  Casey James and Lee De Wyze were okay, but nothing special.

Bottom of the vote this week was Siobhan Magnus. I didn’t actually think she was too bad, though it seems the voting public don’t like it when a female contestant does feisty, as Katy Stevens found out a few weeks ago. Siobhan looked cute, but she ought to have retired her end-of-the-song screech a few weeks ago because it had definitely outstayed its welcome. In fact it outstayed its welcome by about 30 seconds last night and led Simon to comment that she sounded like she was giving birth.

Next week it’s Frank Sinatra week, and the mentor is Harry Connick Jr. At least I’ll know all the songs.

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American Idol: An inspirational moment

It was Inspirational Songs week this week, and the guest mentor was the fragrant Alicia Keys (a woman who is partly responsible for the too-many-notes warbling style of a lot of American Idol wannabees, but we’ll forgive her for her turn in ‘Empire State of Mind’).

Considering the subject matter, it was probably the most uninspirational week so far, with most of the contestants turning in lacklustre performances.

Will someone please tell Casey James to stop smiling? His self-satisfied grin throughout a shouty version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ made me want to slap him, frankly. Sometimes the judges say to the contestants “You don’t realise how good you are.” I think Casey has the opposite problem.

Like Michael Lynche’s foreshortened version of ‘In the Ghetto’ last week, Lee De Wyze had to sing an edited version of ‘The Boxer’ which robbed the song of its narrative build and power. Nevertheless, he did a very nice job with one of the best performances of the night.

Little Aaron Kelly again punched above his weight with ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ He mightn’t be able to actually fly (even Simon Cowell can’t do that) but he can most definitely sing. His head’s a bit big for his body, which I find distracting, but he’s only 16 so he’s presumably still growing.

Michael Lynche churned out a passable rendition of ‘Hero’ (the Spiderman one, not the Mariah Carey one). Tim Urban’s* Idol career took a backwards step with a pitchy attempt at a Goo Goo Dolls song, and Siobhan Magnus showed once again that she’s pretty, yet pretty mediocre, with ‘When You Believe.’

Then up stepped Crystal Bowersox. The only one of the acts to really get a grip on what the category “inspirational songs” might involve, she sang Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready.’ Utterly, totally brilliant. She looked beautiful, and her singing was incredible, starting out acapella and going via soaring vocals to end in a sob. Watch a video here.

*( Sadly the Goo Goo Dolls were Tim Urban’s undoing, and he came last in the vote).

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American Idol: The King of Rock & Roll and the Prince of Glam

Uh-huh-huh

It was Elvis week on American Idol. Of course the toes of the King’s blue suede shoes turned heavenwards some time ago so he wasn’t available to mentor the contestants. Luckily a more than acceptable replacement was found in the bequiffed form of last year’s should-have-been-winner, Adam Lambert.

He’s a lovely man is Adam Lambert, and he knows how to put on a show. His own performances in last year’s Idol always approached the song from a new angle, and he tried to get each contestant to look at their chosen song afresh and find their own way into it. Most importantly, he wanted them to communicate, to perform, to put on a show.

Often this meant stripping things right back, as in Tim Urban’s lovely version of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love,’ which had a really cool, James Taylor sort of feel to it. Michael Lynche’s performance of ‘In the Ghetto’ was as close to perfect as a shortened version of the song could be, and it earned him a standing ovation from his mentor. Crystal Bowersox was again brilliant.

Two people had to go this week, following the judges’ save of Michael Lynche last week. Katie Stevens and Andrew Garcia have both been on borrowed time ever since the live shows began, and this week their time ran out. I won’t miss either of them.

Adam Lambert sang his new single, ‘Whataya Want from Me,’ and threw in laser beams, a somewhat overwrought arrangement (but we’ll forgive him, he’s fairly new to superstardom) and lots of glitter. Even his earpieces sparkled. Now that’s showbiz.

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