The U.K. has brought the world so much great music, from the Beatles and the Stones to Brit-pop and trip-hop and every singer-songwriter active during the late '00s to every boy band active right now. The '60s, meanwhile, is a musical goldmine so lucrative that people have ransack the decade's sounds hundreds of times a year since the 1970s. There is so much to pick from! The potential song choices are vast and exciting! This is an American Idol recap, though, so it will surprise no one that we will talk about "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Bleeding Love" and such.
You do realize how big a problem this is, right? After eleven seasons of Idol, eleven seasons in which the Great American Songbook has been rummaged through and dog-eared and spine-stretched right up to its limits, the show really needs some surprises. This crop of singers especially needs them, as four of them are excellent vocalists and one's a decent vocalist within some really specific limits. They are the sort of people who could have a huge moment with the right song--in Idol argot, who could "make the song their own"--and instead, all but one of them are choosing songs seemingly by YouTube play count, or the number of jukeboxes and grocery-store PR systems that blare the song daily. It's stultifying. It needs to stop. But then again, it's kind of OK compared to...
THE HOPELESS: 22-17
22. The Concept Of Praise: First, Joshua Ledet was "one of the top two best Idols of all time," which is going to sound really silly if he doesn't make the finals. Half an hour later, one singer was "one of the best singers [J. Lo's] heard in 50 years," which is both impossible--even if J. Lo were 50, she'd never admit to it--and utterly ridiculous. This is what happens when you make your baseline criticism "a'ight" and your baseline mild praise "in it to win it" or "goosies." It's like grading on a thousand-point curve. At this rate of inflation, next week they'll say someone's going to be the reason God gave humans vocal cords. The week after that, she'll be so good God realized he screwed up the first couple billion sets. By the finale, she will in fact be God, and the winner's ceremony will actually be the Rapture. Steven Tyler will make a vaguely louche pun, and Idol's remaining audience will vanish into the ether.
21. Steven Tyler: This sentence, however, will never be raptured: "The only thing that gives experience a run for its money is a 16-year-old.”" We expect nothing more from Idol's libidinous loofah. Sadly.
20. The Blues: Never quite showed up, but nevertheless, Steven Tyler thinks everybody is the blues. It’s possible that he thinks “the blues” is just a term of endearment.
19. This Quote: "If you have a beautiful girl and a beautiful melody, you can't have a beautiful piano too!" - Jessica's mentoring session. I guess this subverts the "girl-with-a-piano" cliche that every singer-songwriter in the '90s dreaded? It still makes no sense.
18. The Oval: Displayed red blood cells during "Bleeding Love" and airmail envelopes during "The Letter." Imagine if music videos were this dunderheadedly literal. There is an upside, though; if this keeps up, maybe Coldplay can do "Princess of China" tonight without a visual from the entirely wrong culture.
17. Joshua And Phillip's Duet: The show couldn't have sabotaged Phillip more here if they got his girlfriend (more on her later) to slash the sleepy out of his looks on stage. His weakness, which we'll also discuss later, is melody. "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" depends entirely on melody, meaning Joshua destroyed him from note one to finish. The less said about Ryan's gay-baiting "you should've been embracing! and looking into each other's eyes! and maybe a little peck to really sell the song!" spiel, the better, although two things must be noted. One, I have no idea who was actually on board with it. Sure, Joshua literally pushed Phillip away during the song, but after Ryan explained the situation, he kept looking over at Phillip, little unreturned glances, and at one point actually licked his lips. Two, all of this is completely pointless, because J. Lo shut it all down with "Sing to the GIRLS!" Idol, as progressive as always.
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16. Phillip Phillips: Phillip is not a great singer. He's a good performer, for the first 10 times you've seen his one kind of performance, but kid cannot sing. That's why he boasted about "changing up" his Box Tops song by excising the melody, doing squats on stage and turning the last note into the sound of muffled cat. (Randy called that "jam-bandy" in the process of praising it; Steven compared him to the fucking Rolling Stones in the process of saying melody doesn't matter.) The Zombies' "Time of the Season"--a song with one Idol Moment notched already--would seem like an odd second song, it being un-Phillip Phillipsable and all, but it's perfectly obvious why he chose it. He chose it because it contains heavy breathing and the line "what's your name, and who's your daddy?" And the resulting palpitations were enough to make thousands of people forget both his girlfriend and the utter nothing that was his "high" "note" toward the end. It's the equivalent of Haley Scarnato doing every performance in minidresses, except this actually works. It shouldn't.
15. Jennifer Lopez: You could replace any given J. Lo critique with "Good Morning Starshine" and get the same effect plus most of the same words. Glibby glub goosies.
14. This Quote: "Ryan, YOU should call me sir!" - Randy Jackson, whom I refuse to ship with Ryan Seacrest.
13. This Other Quote: "I wore it for you, [Ryan]!" Randy, on his crustacean lapel pin. I refuse I refuse I refuse I refuse. No shipping no puns nothing nothing nothing.
12. Randy’s Lapel Pin: It doesn't even look like a crustacean. It looked more like a stained-glass window on my TV. Randy just wore it to symbolize the judging panel or something, which is exactly like a stained-glass window, colorful and ornamental but not functional.
11. Hollie Cavanagh: Everyone is saying Hollie's having a moment. She is having no such thing. Even she knows it; she described her Idol path as "slowly creeping," which when you've been in the bottom 3 almost every week is kind of like saying you're slowly lifting yourself out of the middle of a quicksand pit. Not even the slow-moving, real-life sort of quicksand, either; one of those hyper-speed Super Mario Brothers 2 death traps. "Hyper-speed," incidentally, is the last word you'd use for her performances. Nothing was wrong with "River Deep," except that the song was "River Deep" and calls for far more earthiness than someone like Hollie, not quite a corporeal being, can muster. It sounds like she learned about soul by watching YouTube covers of "Rumour Has It." "Bleeding Love," meanwhile, is both the most obvious, no-imagination "Brit pop" song you could possibly pick--its writers are practically pop Uncle Sams--and massacred in this arrangement. The beat, the high note in the bridge and the melodrama are the only things that distinguish it from a "This Is My Now" victory song, which is clearly why Hollie removed the first two and only managed "mild bemusement, maybe drama with another drink" for the third. None of this matters, though. The judges all but admitted they've been in collusion to make Hollie happen since last season. Hollie is like the word "fetch." She's not going to happen. Eventually, someone will admit this.
For arm-flailing, the dearth of YO, and poor soul copies, click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 10-6
10. Jimmy Iovine: Described as Idol's godfather, because his buddy had a role in a Godfather movie and that suffices as a segue. This is patently false. Everybody knows Nigel Lythgoe is Idol's godfather. Anyway, he did OK by doing not much, and we'll have to wait until tonight to get his backseat babblings.
9. Ryan Seacrest: Everybody loves Ryan! They prove their love with signage and mass applause. Ryan, in turn, proves he loves them right back by YELLING THE ENTIRETY OF HIS INFO and being eternally contrite and grateful that you chose to watch Idol. It's nice to hear such obvious, unequivocal adoration. You know Steven slurs that stuff at all the girls, and you suspect Jennifer's always that wacky, but Ryan would do anything for his audience.
8. The Guy Who Flails His Arms Behind Ryan's Head On The Bench: See, there is a reason to watch this show closely!
7. Randy Jackson: Idol has reached the point where Randy Jackson is the only judge with things to say. I don't know how. I don't know why. He only said one thing spectacularly wrong! (We'll get to that later.)
6. Jessica Sanchez: Here's a week where "age-inappropriate" would actually make sense as a critique of Jessica. "Proud Mary" was nigh-untouchable already thanks to Tina Turner, but even in Idol's weight bracket, it's been rendered off-limits since Season 2 and Trenyce. Jessica's version was more like Syesha Mercado's--affectedly fierce and affectedly well-sung where it needed to be, but never more than affected. (More than anything, it reminded me of an aerobics soundtrack.) You sort of suspect exactly why she chose it, too; it seems exactly like how she'd interpret Randy's instruction weeks ago to "study Tina Turner." That's what we got: a technically good but studied rendition of a song that's been massively overplayed. Her second song, Joe Cocker's version of "You Are So Beautiful," wasn't so overplayed; the arrangement just sucked. It needed guitar scuzz and tension, but Idol provided string and percussion presets. It was... so... pretty. Pretty and limp and as loungey as Jessica feared. Sigh.
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THE FLAWLESS: 5-1
5. Jessica, Skylar And Hollie's Trio: This was actually pretty great! Yes, the arrangement had as many awkward holes as Randy noted. No, nobody knows what Steven was going to say when he said "You sang the c--the hell out of it!" (It can't be "crap," because his replacement was "hell.") But this worked: the fierce, the fiery and the fluffy, in a girl group that might actually work in real life. Nobody was an obvious weak link. Low bar to clear, but still.
4. Steven Van Zandt: No, Bruce evidently wasn't available, not even with Wrecking Ball barely two months old. I don't mind. Van Zandt is Idol's most valuable Steven, but he's also SO MUCH MORE. On the judges: "What do they know?"--an hour before mocking their "best best best best-song-ever!" mentality. (The mocking took the form of bro-ing out, mind you, which means J. Lo got most of the brunt on it, but still.) On "Proud Mary" being overplayed: "We all hate it." Every week we suggest replacing the judges' panel with the mentors. Every week, this deserves but fails to happen.
3. Phillip Phillips' Girlfriend: Exists! She basically looks like Demi Lovato, in case you're wondering, but more importantly: she exists, everybody knows that voting for Phillip thousands of times 100% won't get him to sleep with them, rather than merely 99.99%, and we can start judging based on talent again.
2. Joshua Ledet: Here is the spectacularly wrong thing Randy Jackson said: Joshua Ledet has a chance to "bring R&B back." Apparently, while we languished in party rock, pop-house and Fox television shows, Jazmine Sullivan (somebody Randy Jackson praised), Fantasia (somebody Randy Jackson had a hand in breaking), Usher, R. Kelly, Lloyd, Miguel, Mary J. Blige, Trey Songz, Monica, Brandy and the entire rest of the genre were nowhere, doing nothing. Hell, you could probably even discount PBR&B acts like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean here. Hype be damned! You do not exist, at least not until Joshua Ledet brings you back with two of the most obvious song choices ("Ain't Too Proud to Bed," "To Love Somebody") imaginable. They were both really good, because songs by Joshua Ledet are generally really good. (The vocal thresher he sent "To Love Somebody" through toward the end, particularly so.) They just weren't exciting, and my opinion on Joshua's veering ever so slightly from "every week he surprises me with how great he really is" to "every week he is great but absolutely unsurprising." This isn't the sort of trajectory you really need at this point. It's the Melinda Doolittle trajectory: one straight, tightrope high that gets clipped suddenly before the finals. I hope I'm wrong.
1. Skylar Laine: For once, amid their gasping and grasping at nothing, the judges got it right. Skylar doesn't have the tonal perfection of Hollie or Jessica (no, the judges didn't say that part), but the girl's a sputtering pulsar, kicking and running and working up more energy than anyone else. It's as if she knows she's got to absolutely try and work hard to stay put; there's a youth and excitement to her performances nobody else really has. I said this about Hollie during the semifinals, before her vocal cords and presence turned to glass, but it's especially, consistently true for Skylar. She's consistently got the best song choices, too. CCR's "Fortunate Song" might be a weird song for her fanbase, it being a partly anti-war song that, if it were written today, would probably have "I am the 99%!" Her performance, though, was like a handwave: a sudden burst of movement and vocals that'd silence all objections. Choosing Dusty Springfield was even smarter; not only does she have rootsy roots (something the judges did say), but her songs require tonal clarity and interpretation Skylar absolutely demonstrated. She can sing just as purty as the others when she wants to, and she does not put me to sleep. My Idol criterion is now "doesn't put me to sleep," and I am now evidently Team Obligatory Country Singer. This show is warping my brain, I swear; at least someone's warping it well.