Let’s not beat around the bush. I sat through the entire two hour episode of Tuesday’s American Idol and saw not one guy who showed any sort of star power whatsoever. I literally could not imagine any one of these guys winning the competition, let alone cracking the top five. Several of them were awful, a few of them were decent, and every one of them were totally forgettable. I sure hope the women bring their A-game on Wednesday because if we get another two hours of warbly nerves, we might be in for a stinker of a season. That being said, if there’s any bright spot to what this first episode of the semifinals showed us, it’s that we might be in for some classic, awful performances down the road. I’m talking about the sort of stuff that could make John Stevens singing “Crocodile Rock” sound harmonious and beautiful.As the show began, I was slightly dismayed to learn we’d be in for two full hours of singing. I should have anticipated it, but quite honestly, my heart was set on seeing House at 9 PM; so imagine my crestfallen face when FOX proudly announced that we’d be in for a two hour bonanza. If there was any comfort, however, it was knowing that I could gaze upon Seacrest and his ill-advised tweed vest for the rest of the night, and if that didn’t bring laughter to my heart, I didn’t know what would. I mean, seriously. Ryan’s not a bad looking man, but he’s quite diminutive, and the last thing he needs is a form-fitting garment to accentuate his Kermit the Frog-like features. Face it, Seacrest. You’re not Justin Timberlake.
In terms of other noteworthy visuals, Randy came fitted up in some sort of paisley explosion of awfulness, and Paula was looking sunny and loopy in her brighter, frizzier hair. Simon, of course, looked exactly the same. But enough about these sartorial observations. Onto the singing!
First up was Rudy Cardenas. Imagine going to a wedding and discovering that Scott Baio is singing at the reception. That’s pretty much what it felt like watching Rudy bounce around the stage butchering “Free Ride.” By the time he told the audience, “We’re gonna have a good time, y’all!” I half expected him to throw sunglasses, leis, and neon necklaces into the audience. If he’s lucky enough to come back next week, don’t be surprised if he busts out the “Electric Slide.”
Rudy In Charge Of My Days and My Nights…
Anyway, Randy thought he was really corny (THANK YOU), but Paula said he did a fantastic job. Then again, that’s what she tells her Q-Tips too. Simon, meanwhile, said that Rudy was not unique, the song was dated, and the performance was forgettable. Exactly, exactly, and exactly. Kind of made me wonder why they put him through in the first place…
Before moving onto the next singer, we then found Ryan hanging upstairs in the Coca-Cola lounge, chatting it up with all the boys and specifically asking Chris Sligh (the resident comedian) what the “buzz” was in the room. Chris tried to be funny by saying it was all about being pretty tonight, but no one in the audience (or America, really) laughed. Awwwkward. Ryan then turned to Brandon Rogers, the former backup singer who was out to prove he could be a leading man. The two carried on some brief patter about nerves and whatnot, but I was mostly distracted by the disparity in head sizes between Ryan and Brandon. Basically, I think Brandon’s cranium was about 2.5x larger than Seacrest’s.
Anyway, after watching a video where Brandon talked about the audition experience, the smokey-voiced singer took the stage and performed what started out as a sultry, slow, and generally shaky version of “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson. Halfway through, however, he kicked up the tempo and finished off the song in a somewhat generic way. He was certainly better than Rudy, but considering his pedigree and experience, I had much higher hopes for Brandon. Randy busted out the P-word to describe the performance (that’s “pitchy”), and Paula said he should pull back on all “the runs.” Simon merely lambasted him for being safe and predictable, but on the plus side, the surly Brit also said that he liked Brandon and that he had a lot of potential.
Next up was Sundance Head, who thankfully covered up his thicket of chest hair with a much-welcomed t-shirt/blazer combination. As avid readers of these posts know, I’m not a big Sundance fan by any stretch of the imagination. However, my hatred of his performance tonight had nothing to do with my previous disposition to hating his performances. He was truly terrible. First, he absolutely destroyed “Nights In White Satin,” one of my favorite songs. Not only was he sounding nasally and off-key, but it seemed like a total departure from his soul thing. I didn’t understand why he didn’t pick a more bluesy or soulful song OR why he didn’t bring those elements to this Moody Blues classic. On the plus side, he spared us from what could have been a very awkward spoken-word portion of the song.
Sundance Head, you are cleared for landing.
Well, the judges had the same reaction I had (and I swear I didn’t come up with these comments after I heard the panel). Randy remarked, “I don’t think you were on pitch the whole song,” Paula said that he had picked the wrong song in general, and Simon said he was like a dad at a wedding — from the singing to the outfit to the way he stretched out his arms. I hadn’t thought of that, but going back and seeing the way Sundance extended his limbs, Simon was so hilariously right.
Ultimately, Simon concluded his critique with a very British and very haughty, “I don’t like you tonight.” This couldn’t be much more frustrating for Tommy, the poor guy the judges passed up to let Sundance advance.
Anyway, for some reason that I can’t remember right now, Paula and Randy made fun of Simon’s famous chest-rub, and while we laughed here at the TVgasm offices, the audience seemed totally perplexed. Have they not been watching the season? The chest rub! The chest rub!
Well, next was Paul Kim, the barefoot wonder, who reminded us that “I don’t like being on stage without any shoes. I feel free.” It’s one thing to be naked and without inhibitions. But shoes and socks? Does that really qualify as freedom these days? Anyway, Paul was my hope to finally elevate this show to the next level and restore my faith that one of these guys could actually have a shot at the prize. Unfortunately, while Paul had stage presence, he had tons of nerves too. His take on “Careless Whisper” was at times painful, but then again, he did have some bright spots in the performance as well. It was very up and down, and overall, it wasn’t as bad as Rudy or Sundance, but it certainly was not up to expectations. His parents politely clapping along, however, were very up to expectations.
“This is pleasant.”
Nevertheless, Randy said he showed a lot of promise, and Paula warned him about oversinging. Simon, meanwhile, told him to put his shoes on next week. Ouch. Actually, I don’t know why I’m saying ouch. This whole shoe business doesn’t even mean anything. Ultimately, Simon called Paul’s performance ordinary and a third-rate version of George Michael.
So if you’re keeping track at home, that would be ZERO men who looked to be early breakout stars so far.
And then there was Chris Richardson, the kid who wants so badly to be the next Justin Timberlake. Too bad his face is more akin to Kevin Federline. Anyway, he entered Bo Bice territory by tackling “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw, and at first, he seemed like the best one of the night so far. He was energetic, fun, and full of presence. Unfortunately, his voice was kind of, well, it wasn’t quite on. At first I thought I could overlook it, but by the end, it sounded like drunken karaoke.
Well, Randy loved the performance, even if he did think the song was originally sung by Edwin McCain. When he was corrected, Randy repeatedly noted “Gav’s my boy! Gav’s my boy! Gav’s my boy!” Yes, okay, WE GET IT. Anyway, Paula said she loved the arrangement, but Simon rained on the parade by saying the vocals were bad (it’s true). It wasn’t all negative feedback though. Simon did say that he liked Chris quite a bit — it just happened to be a horrendous showcase for his singing voice.
Afterwards, Ryan stepped onto the stage, and immediately, he had to be feeling inadequate, mostly because Chris was totally out-Timberlaking him. We then cut to Chris’s dad in the audience, who was so happy that he had turned completely red in the face. Everyone thought the guy was maybe excited or embarrassed or whatever. Personally, I just assumed he was asphyxiating on something. SOMEBODY DO THE HEIMLICH!!
Next was Nick Pedro, the friendly-lookin’ guy with the big smile and the sultry voice. Based on the way things were going, I didn’t have high hopes for him, and sure enough, he too succumbed to the nerves. Not only was he shaky, but he was shaky AND boring. He opted to sing one of Richard Marx’s lesser known songs (from the soundtrack of “The Getaway,” no less). Don’t get me wrong, “Now and Forever” is all romantic and everything, but for a show like Idol and for your first song, it was a terrible choice. I don’t really understand the singers that try to wow people over with ballads in the first few rounds. It’s so hard to make that amazing emotional connection at first whereas the uptempo songs really win over the people at home — for the most part. Point is: stay away from slow Richard Marx songs when America’s voting on you for the first time.
Sure enough, Randy bashed Nick, saying, “It wasn’t good for me, dawg. It was really, really boring.” Paula also disparaged his tone and noted that his magic seemed to have fallen flat. Oddly enough, Simon kind of liked him. Whaaa? Okay, I can’t make sense of that one; so I’ll just move on.
Next was Blake Lewis, the beatboxer, who seems so amazingly hateable and annoying, and yet, I don’t hate him, and I don’t think he’s annoying. However, he’s living on borrowed time because the tide will turn on that front, I predict. In the meantime though, he’s been surprisingly good, and tonight was no exception. I was totally confused as to why he sang a song by Keane (a song that I truly, truly hate, I might add), but he did a decent enough job — and on a night like this, that’s enough to earn raves. The judges were curiously impressed by the strange song selection. Randy said he kind of dug the performance. Paula said she liked it too, despite the odd choice of song. And Simon said he was the first singer to actually sound like he was from 2007. “By far the best performance we’ve had tonight,” Simon said. The real question, however, was if any of the judges got to see Blake’s dad singing along in the audience. I’m feeling a duet show is in order…
Our old sensitive friend Sanjaya Malakar — he of the shaggy, annoying hair — was next, and already we just knew he’d be pitchy like all the rest. During the video segment, I was curiously transfixed by his voice which would alternate from soft-spoken, effeminate highs to grumbly, unpleasant lows — sort of like the little kid from The Shining. (Okay, weird. Just as I wrote The Shining, the lights in my room flickered and almost went off. I’m being haunted!). Anyway, point is that if Sanjaya starts singing with his index finger, we may have a problem.
Well, the good news for Sanjaya was that he didn’t seem very pitchy and shaky to me, but the song he chose (a Stevie Wonder tune) was so amazingly boring, I thought I might just fall asleep right there. Even worse, it was a song his sister had picked out for him. It was awful, and the arrangement just made it sound like borderline muzak. I already have a theory that most Stevie Wonder songs sound terrible when performed on Idol (which puzzles me as to why the kids go back to him every single season), but this was like the worst of the worst.
Sure enough, the judges panned him. Randy announced that he did NOT like the performance at all, saying, “It was really bad.” He blamed the song choice, as did Paula and Simon. Wow. Maybe Sanjaya’s sister jealously sabotaged him with a bad song selection…
Ultimately, Simon called it “the most dreary performance we’ve had all night” and then brutally added, “For me, that’s what I call a waste-of-time performance.” That’s what she said, RIMSHOT! Yuk yuk yuk…
Anyway, around this time, Ryan started to show the first signs of annoying self-righteousness, and he implored Sanjaya to fight back, but the kid looked too stunned and confused and disoriented to lock horns with the judges. Meanwhile, his sister was probably tenting her fingers by the TV, letting out an evil “MWWWHAHAHAAHAHA!”
Next was the aforementioned class clown of the group, Chris Sligh, who sarcastically told us in the video segment that he was looking forward to singing “Do I Make You Proud” at the finale. It was pretty funny and made up for his lame “pretty vibe” routine earlier in the evening. Anyway, Chris came bounding out onto the stage singing a rock song called “Typical,” not to be confused with the Raven-Symoné masterpiece of the same name. The performance was fun, energetic, and lively, and his voice sounded good, but there was something about it that left me unconvinced. I really didn’t want to say it was because of his baby-faced boyish looks or mini-lisp, but quite honestly, I can’t count those factors out.
Ultimately, Randy said his voice was on point, despite being a bit ahead of the song’s timing. Paula agreed and also enjoyed the song choice. Simon, however, said he was on the fence. He couldn’t help feeling like he was at a weird student gig. The other judges asked for clarification, but I totally understood what he was saying. It was almost like seeing a band at a frat party.
Well, somewhere amidst this discussion, Simon wound up calling Ryan “sweetheart,” and at that moment, it was on. Ryan never reacts well to when Simon questions his sexuality, and especially tonight, when he was most likely a little bit on edge with the whole tweed-vest experiment, Ryan was not a happy camper. However, he didn’t have to do the bitching. Instead, Chris Slight spoke up and said that the music he sang was very popular to a lot of people (and by the way, I was very happy he didn’t sing some retread of a 1978 R&B song). But then Chris went in for the kill: “Just because I don’t sing Il Divo or Teletubbies doesn’t mean I’m not a good singer.” Ouch! I had to respect the Il Divo dis. I wasn’t sure what the Teletubbies reference was (update: Simon apparently was instrumental in the creation of the show), but still, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t seem incredibly smart for Chris to be popping off so early. People always forget that even though Simon is the villain to a certain extent, he’s also the most popular judge, and most people tend to agree with him. Plus, we like it when he’s a cocky ass. By attacking Simon, Chris attacks ME! He shan’t be receiving my vote this week! Rudy Cardenas, consider yourself saved! Oh, I kid. I kid. Truth is I won’t be voting for any of you.
Anyway, with Chris barking at Simon, Ryan happily jumped on board and tried to fan the flames, but Simon quickly put the host down, saying, “You’ve made this very uncomfortable, Ryan, now.” The two then went back and forth as to who truly had made the situation uncomfortable, and then finally, we went to break, thus ending the most exciting moment of this otherwise flaccid show.
Next was Jared Cotter, who sort of looked like a fake Boris Kodjoe. If you don’t know who Boris Kodjoe is, well, don’t worry about it. I clearly watch too much TV. Anyway, he sang/warbled through Brian McKnight’s “Back At One,” and the good news was that he was better than Chicken Little, who also opted to commence his semifinals career with Brian McKnight last year. However, Kevin Covais had sung “One Last Cry,” so I guess you can’t really compare them — except for the fact that every Brian McKnight song sounds pretty much the same. But I digress.
Jared started off okay, at best. He was slightly shaky but showed promise. However, the longer the song went on, the worse it became until finally it became slightly unbearable. The judges all said he was okay, and Simon noted that at least he looked good — and honestly, that’s half the battle. However, considering how little screen time Jared’s received, chances are he’s in major trouble.
Next was AJ Tabaldo, who I thought would suck but turned out to be pretty good. He had a blast on the stage, singing and dancing his way through his song. Paula went nuts at the table, getting out of her chair and singing along like goofball she is. I was personally amused every time AJ swung his arms in the air to GIT DOWN. It was like he took a page from the Mandisa Guide to Dancing. There were definitely some mild gaydar blips going off — not Sanjaya levels, but blips nonetheless.
Anyway, Randy called the performance pretty good, Paula loved it (of course), and Simon thought it was good, but borderline theme-park-ish (always the kiss of death). He was probably right, but on a night like this, a theme-park performance was still way better than most of the dreck we’d heard.
Last but not least was this season’s resident penis-head, Phil Stacey. During the video segment we learned a shocking anecdote: he had missed the birth of his daughter to audition for American Idol. I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT! Maybe they should tell us again every single week.
Well, Phil started off pretty badly. I mean, it was very, very rough. Plus, he was singing a super lame Edwin McCain song, or as I like to call it, an Edwin McCain song. Point was that this performance looked like it was headed to the scrap heap. But then something happened. The Penis Head came to life, and suddenly Phil improved drastically, and more or less nailed (relatively) the second half of the song. Randy gushed, “You get the best vocal prize of the night!” Paula agreed, saying his vocals were shaky to start with, but as soon as he opened up, it was a whole new song. Simon commented, “The beginning was absolutely monstrous,” but then he said that Phil wound up doing an okay job. He didn’t say it was great because quite honestly, it was the sort of song that someone like Chris Daughtry would be able to do ten times better with ten times the ease, but he still said he liked the performance. Phil agreed. Thanks Phil!
Phil Stacey: Penis Head or Alien Head?
With a little bit of time left in the show, Ryan decided to confront Simon unnecessarily and ask, “Why are you being so negative tonight?” Um, maybe it’s because he hears the performances and understands the fate of this show relies on the judges’ abilities to bring in strong talent every year? Personally, I hate when Seacrest gets all uppity about this sort of stuff. It seemed like every other episode last year, he was pestering Simon about his attitude. We get it, Ryan. You want to be the good guy. Just shut up and get on with it.
Ultimately, Simon told him, “I belive the audience at home is going to listen to me.” Exactly. But Ryan still felt a need to harp on this point. “Have you tried positive reinforcement?” SHUT UP.
Anyway, with that, the show came to a close. If I had to pick the bottom four, I’d say that Rudy, Jared, Sundance, and Sanjaya could be in trouble, with an outside chance that Paul or Nick might make their way into the low-end mix as well. What did you think about the performances? Who were your favorites? Who do you think is going home? Who do you think should go home?
Oh, and fun news. Barring any unforeseen issues, I’m going to be a guest on the TV Guide Channel’s Idol Chat this Friday, hosted by none other than Kimberly Caldwell and the one and only Justin Guarini. I’m quite excited. Be sure to check it out…