Before I get to tonight’s show, I want to take a few hundred words and try to reason out the burning question: What in the hell happened last night? I don’t know of course, I wasn’t there, but I can make a few guesses:
-The itinerary for each contestant is a full one, and this is really the first week of the grind. Last week everyone was just so happy to be on the big stage that they hardly needed the little sleep that they got. This week was the first true, full week of finals obligations. They make a commercial, they work on their music, they work on wardrobe, makeup, and they have to block out their stage show. In addition to all of that, they give interviews. They haven’t had time to learn when they need to say no. They are all so happy to be asked that they don’t want to say no to anyone. I am guessing that this cuts into their preparation time more than we would think. Everybody wants to talk to them and get a sound byte, from TMZ, EW and the national networks down to their local TV and radio outlets, and their high school paper. Everybody wants a piece, and they don’t have that many pieces to give out. Sleep is an afterthought, until they realize that they are exhausted.
-The Idol Tour looms over them. 11 little Indians, 10 horses. I’ve been in competition, as most of you have at one time or another. Even when you feel confident that you are going to pass, there is always that nagging fear that you could be wrong. The frontrunners, even up to Siobhan, had to be very nervous. The memory of Lilly getting bounced is still very fresh in their minds. OnlyCrystallooked comfortable, and was at ease in her performance. I think Siobhan was too, actually; she just overdid her arrangement. The others all showed obvious nerves.
-This was week 2 on the big stage. Last week they got to see what it’s like up there. This week several performers overdid it, trying to do too much. Siobhan’s theatrical performance last week got them all thinking, and many of them came out with ambitious goals but too short of a time frame to really think things through. This resulted in several performances that were weird and half baked.
-The talent pool is very shallow this season. This is a popular opinion, and I don’t want to go too far in debunking it. The loss of Lilly and Alex 2 weeks ago hurt, but I have more of a problem with some of the eliminations well before the final 24 were chosen. Simon is in his last year, and it shows in several subtle ways. One of those ways is his stubborn insistence on advancing his personal favorites over the group’s choices. He shilled almost relentlessly for Paige and Tim Urban, and he wanted to dump Didi and Casey at their auditions. I don’t know anything for sure, but who else did Simon have tossed early on, to advance the cases of the 2 weakest singers left in the competition? I don’t think that he was deliberately sabotaging the show or anything, but Simon is opinionated as hell, used to getting his way and stubborn about his own views of what a good contestant is. I am probably overrating this, but the largest problem that everyone has with this year’s crop are the two singers that Simon wedged into the semifinals. Swap Tim and Paige out for Lilly and Alex and nobody would be complaining.
I was as disappointed with last night as everyone else, but I am still hopeful. Once Tim, Paige and Katie (and Andrew, probably) are sent home we will have a pretty damned good final 7:
Aaron Kelly– teenage big voiced, country tinged crooner, cute kid that might improve enough to have a genuine moment
Casey James– guitar picking southern rocker, pretty boy with an interesting tone to his voice and a lot of soul
Didi Benami- Carole King/Jewel styled crooner who is very capable of presenting her own beauty once she gets over trying so hard to be someone else
Lee Dewyze– Thick voiced post-grunge type, shy kid who consistently delivers radio friendly performances
Mike Lynche– Crooner with great charisma, always delivers energy if not always powerful vocals
Siobhan Magnus– Artsy, quirky chameleon with 3 octave full voice range, no established style other than a preference for dark ballads and soul tinged romps, a wide variety of vocal as well as visual chops, never boring, always unique and capable of a moment at any time
Crystal Bowersox– Singer/songwriter who can sing just about anything and be genuine and believable
Last year was a very strong group, with a top 7 of Anoop, Lil, Matt, Allison, Danny, Adam and Kris. If we get the final 7 that I listed I would not call them less interesting than last season, even though there isn’t an Adam in there. The problem is not in the top 7, it’s in the 8 through 12. Last year’s 8-12? Scotty Mac (terrific for an eighth place finisher, and a hugely popular performer), Megan Joy (umm….), Mike Sarver (questionable singer, made the tour on the nice guy ticket), Alexis Grace (belter that couldn’t sing in tune), and Jorge Nunez/Jasmie Murray (neither one of them could sing in tune under pressure). If we had Lilly and Alex this year would look better, actually, than last year. It’s Simon’s fault. I’m kidding; it’s the voters’ fault for dumping the wrong singers. This means that the next three weeks might be a little bit thin, but it will get a lot better after that.
Ok, on to the show. I haven’t seen it yet, so I need to find my clicker…..
Tim is safe, and Paige is going to sing one more time. I hate this part of the show. There is no way in hell that Paige is going to get the save, and it’s almost pathetic to see her try. Simon came right out and said it, that Paige is toast and she isn’t going to get the save. I am relieved, hugely relieved, that he did this. This allows Paige some dignity, and a chance to sing without pressure.
Never underrate the pressure. Paige, with no pressure, sang beautifully. I wish we could hear all of these kids sing without the pressure, just once. How good would Didi be, if she wasn’t worried about the judges? Andrew and Katie are so confused that they don’t even remember back those 100 years ago when they knew exactly what they wanted to do. Lee was amazing when he didn’t think that he had any shot. That pressure is part of the business, and the principle reason why the top 11 performers from over 100,000 auditioners have so much trouble singing in tune, and singing with the conviction that they normally have. Take the pressure off, and we would get amazing performances. Take the pressure off, though, and we won’t ever find out who the pros are.
10: Tim Urban– Tim is odds on to take his place on the bus out of town next week. He has massively overstayed his welcome, hasn’t he? Dan Quayle thinks that he has been lucky to get so far with his limited talents. Somebody show the Idol tour roster on Lilly’s TV. I have 5 bucks that says that she kicks the screen in…..
9: Katie Stevens- Give Katie the stage with no pressure and she will be amazing. She is a shower singer, not ready for the pressure yet. At 17 she has plenty of time, and with that howitzer of a voice she will have a career.
8: Andrew Garcia- Call me an optimist, but I still have hopes that the kid will blow up a song again. Those hopes are more in line with meeting an exe and hoping for a spark than meeting someone new, with no baggage.
7: Aaron Kelly- I am still hesitant to call him a contender, but he does have enough voice to surprise me. I don’t connect to him at all, but that’s more about my own tastes than his limitations. He needs to be real and project that he feels emotions, and that is hard for such a young kid to do. It’s natural to just imitate at his age. Aaron needs to find himself way too early in his life development, and I am almost hoping that he doesn’t. He will be fine eventually, he seems like a bright, centered kid, but I am not sure that he will, or should, grow up so soon.
6: Lee Dewyze- Lee has enough voice to make it to the final 3, maybe the final 2 if Siobhan loses her mojo, but he is behind the curve as a performer. He picked a good song this week, but he screwed the pooch on the arrangement. I was ok with the shuffle as a change of pace, but the song almost demanded a shift back to the original format. I might be provincial about this because I love the song, but I felt that the song demanded the hard 4/4 rock beat to make it soar. The Mamas and the Papas used to work songs like this, going back and forth between the shuffled beat and the hard 4/4. It’s really effective, and if Lee didn’t at least think about it someone needs to talk to him. He might be able to adjust, and grow, and maybe he can do it down the road. His voice is top 3. His everything else needs work.
5: Didi Benami– I love Didi’s voice, and I understand her confusion, but she needs to get more focused. I was worried about her nerves, but I am not so much worried about that now. I am more worried that she is losing sight of who she is. Lil Rounds lost sight, and never did get back to what she was. Andrew is also struggling with this. Didi has an obvious need, an obvious track to take. She needs to pick up her guitar, and sing. Pick the saddest song that you can find, kiddo, and sing it with all of your heart.Crystal was asked tonight who she should listen to, and she simply said, “Me”. Didi needs, desperately needs, to do that same thing. Didi needs to be Didi. Toss the leather, toss the dark stuff, and be a songbird. It’s why you are here, kiddo.
4: Casey James– I used to play with a guy, Steve Fleming, who has a monster of a voice but a very laid back personality. Casey doesn’t have Steve’s voice, but he works in the same style. Casey is laid back like Steve is, but he is in this Walter Mitty situation. He gets to create, and because of the backlog of weak contestants he has a few weeks to work out a show, not just one song. Steve and I, and probably another several thousand musicians, really want to see Casey do it right, and build up a body of work. He is our Lotto winner, a guy just like us that gets to do what we did for decades, in front of 25 million people. We root hard for him. Me, I am realistic. Casey doesn’t have the best voice, so he will eventually have to be perfect. He might get third, or he might get fifth, but this is where his road ends.
3: Michael Lynche– This is the highest that I have ranked him. The difference between third and second is a good bit larger than the difference between third and seventh. 3-7 are almost interchangeable. Mike moved up in my rankings for a simple reason: He showed more range. He didn’t show a LOT more range, and I am not calling him a title contender. He is just first among several equals this week.
2: Siobhan Magnus– When I try to figure out who she is as an artist, what songs she will sing on the radio, I come up empty. She isn’t anything yet. She is still a wild, raw, unrefined talent.
1: Crystal Bowersox– Crystal is the standout, and she will be in the finale without doing anything other than what she has already done.