After last night's Idol blog, there seems to be some confusion, most of it caused by yours truly. I apparently contradicted myself multiple times last night, praising some contestants for being "good TV" (Nathaniel Marshall, Norman Gentle) while criticizing others for being nothing more than ratings-magnet drama queens (Tatiana Del Toro, for one). And I additionally applauded other contestants, like Leneshe Young and Jasmine Murray, for being mellow and drama-free. So which is it, some readers understandably queried. What exactly do I want from American Idol? Do I want good TV, or do I want good singers?
The answer, dear readers, is I want both. Duh!
Sorry I wasn't clearer last night. Yes, I admit I enjoy all the drama and hype and ridiculousness that comes with AmIdol. Contestant catfighting, awesomely awful auditions...bring it on, I say. But ultimately, if all a contestant has to offer is "good TV," then I'm not going to buy their not-so-good albums once their TV show is over, am I?
So this is why I like, say, Nathaniel Marshall. The guy is a total hoot, a camera hog, a basket case who bursts into tears if anyone so much as glances at him sideways. Fabulous! That's some must-see TV, right there. But...Nathaniel can sing, too. This is the same reason why I liked Danny Noriega and Josiah Leming last season--both boys made for gripping television whenever they received screen time (Danny for his hair flips and flippant remarks, Josiah for his ceaseless blubbering), but both also had genuine talent.
And then there's this season's Norman Gentle. He is 100 percent entertainment whenever he hits the Idol stage/screen, and though I don't necessarily believe he can win this whole shebang, I do believe he's a real comedic talent, someone who'd definitely have a chance on Last Comic Standing...and I'm certainly glad he's around to liven up this season and wedge himself under Simon Cowell's increasingly irritated skin.
But then there's the sob stories. Sure, finding out a contestant is blind, or widowed, or orphaned, or a struggling single parent...this makes us develop emotional attachments to these singers, see them as somehow more deserving than some pampered contestant who's led a cushy life, and yes, it makes for good TV. But I don't want anyone to win JUST because viewers feel sorry for them.
And then there's...Tatiana. Whom I don't feel sorry for at all. (Though I do feel sorry for whoever had to be roommates with her during Hollywood Week!) Sure, some of her hissyfits are entertaining. They're "good TV," just like Glitter Girl's tantrums or Sanjaya Malakar's faux-hawk are "good TV." But most of the time, Tatiana is just bad, bad, bad. Bad TV, bad singing, bad fashion sense, bad attitude, bad everything.
And then there are those unfortunate instances when a true talent gets passed over because, I assume, he/she is upstaged by all the Normans and Nathaniels and Tatianas and various sob stories. Leneshe Young is a perfect example of this sort of injustice. And that bums me out. Just because I enjoy watching Norman's clowning or Nathaniel's 19th nervous breakdown doesn't mean I don't want someone like Leneshe to also get her shot.
So, in summary: My ideal, Franksteined-together season 8 Idol champ would possess the vocal prowess of Jasmine Murray and Lil' Rounds, the star power of Adam Lambert, the songwriting ability of Leneshe Young, the oddball humor of Norman Gentle, the eccentric rocker style of Jackie Tohn, and the unhinged passion of Nathaniel Marshall. Is that too much to ask?
Um, probably. But did any of these contestants (other than poor Leneshe, of course, who was already unjustly cut last night) make it to the all-important top 36? Tonight was the night we all found out.
So, despite reports of AmIdol's supposed decline--and hard economic times in general--season 8's over-ominously titled "final judgment" episode seemed to get a bit of an upscale upgrade compared to past seasons, as it took place in a posh, Oriental-carpeted, antique-crammed mansion. And there'd be a new twist as well: some on-the-fence contestants would be forced to sing one more song, competing against each other, in some sort of suspense-filled singoff-to-the-death.
The first singer to strut into that mansion's hallowed Hollywood halls was Anoop "Dogg" Desai--who made it through, much to my delight. Anoop Dogg in da house! Next was Von "Indulgent Nonsense" Smith, the guy with the big lungs and, seemingly, big ego. And here's a big bummer: Von also made it. Yikes. I better purchase a pair of those fancy custom-fit earplugs and reinforce my windows to make sure they're shatterproof, before this shrill showoff belts it out on future Idol episodes. Well, at least I wasn't forced to listen to him sing tonight, since there was no Anoop/Von singoff here.
Cody Sheldon, rocking a haircut even cuter than the one he auditioned with and pretty much looking like a long-lost fourth Jonas Brother, entered the mansion next, and he was the first contestant forced to "sing for his life." Cody was pitted against his friend Alex Wagner-Trugman; in my opinion, Alex sang slightly better, but Cody had oodles more charisma and confidence. It was close, dawg. But in the end, the judges went with Alex. I was crushed, since Cody was one of my early favorites (he was, in fact, the first contestant I got really psyched about, way back in episode 1). And he deserved a chance waaaay more than vociferous Von. Talk about "nonsense"! How could Cody get cut and Von stay?
But my sorrow was short-lived, thankfully. Because up next was the undeniably awesome Adam Lambert. The judges tried to do their usual stupid fakeout shtick, when they pretend they're rejecting someone, but I saw through their ruse. I just KNEW in my bones that Adam was not going home. He's just too rad. Even when Simon Cowell said, "It's not good news," I just KNEW his next quip would be, "It's great news!" I wasn't worried, and to be honest, Adam didn't seem worried either. A guy who can audition with a Cher song, after all, is a confident man indeed. So despite any faux suspense, Adam made the top 36 with ease, no singoff required. Who could ever win in a singoff against a powerhouse divo (that's a "male diva") like Adam Lambert?
Next was Jordin Sparks 2.0., aka 8-foot-tall teenager Taylor Vaifanua. I've been kind of neutral about this one--she has natural talent, and natural beauty, yes, but she's somehow never wowed me. The judges at first seemed un-wowed by her as well, as if they were about to cut her...but it turned out they were just doing the fakeout thing again. Taylor made it through. I was neither glad nor mad. Just...eh.
A bevy of female cuties made it through in quick succession after that: Jasmine Murray (yay!), Arianna Afsar (who?), Casey Carlson (whatever), Megan Corkrey (yay!), Mishavonna Henson (sure, fine), and Stevie Wright (eh). And then it was judgment time for...Joanna Pacitti.
I already figured that this industry veteran and former Geffen Records priority signing, what is known Idol blogosphere as a "plant," would make it through, without being forced to do a singoff. This despite the fact that even she admitted she forgot her words EVERY TIME she auditioned this season. Every time! You'd think a chick who'd been groomed for pop stardom practically since birth and sang on Broadway at age 12 would know how to memorize lyrics by now. But anyway, there was still a little part of me hoping that the judges would say, "It's a no, dawg."
They kept Joanna--and me--on pins and needles for a few minutes, grilling her about "what kind of artist she wants to be." Apparently Joanna had no discernible identity or style, according to the judges. Wow, the girl had something like 15 years to develop some sort of unique personality, and the judges were still stumped here? More reason to send Joanna home, I thought. "When is it gonna be that time [for you to break out]?" Randy asked her. "When somebody gives her a break," Simon countered. Hmmm...so let's see...getting a role in a Broadway play, securing a record deal with Geffen, and having her songs on several major motion picture soundtracks weren't "breaks"? Whatever. Joanna got her "real" break and made the Idol top 36, as I expected. Insert eyeroll here...
Three more dudes got axed next--T.K. Hash, Chris Chatman, and Reggie Beasley. The latter two I honestly do not remember at all, so it's no surprise they didn't make it. Then the judges did the cruel fakeout thing with Kendall Beard ("It's not good news," Paula Abdul teased. "It's FANTASTIC news!"), and poor Kendall looked like she was about to have an aneurysm from the unnecessary stress.
(You know, I wish someone would tell these contestants that the more dragged-out and longwinded the judges' pre-decision speeches are, the more likely it is that their answer is YES. If the singers knew that no's are delivered quickly, in a rip-off-the-Band-Aid manner, and yesses are delivered via protracted, deceptive methods, then the poor contestants who do make it through wouldn't be so frazzled that they'd practically have to leave the judges' room in a straitjacket.)
The next singoff of the night came down to Kristin McNamara, she of the two-toned hair and superior vocal range, and Jen Corbi, the woman who auditioned with her husband but had to leave him behind when she made it to Hollywood and he didn't. I preferred Kristin, but wasn't too emotionally invested in either girl. As Simon put it: "Do you want the blonde attractive one, or the other one?" They were mostly interchangeable to me. But it was Kristin that made it through, and that was the right girl, I suppose. Not that I really cared.
Alexis Grace, hoping to increase her odds by streaking her hair with pink dye (a magenta-haired chick ALWAYS makes the finals, and with the elimination of pinky Emily Wynne-Hughes, Alexis's chances were even better). And Alexis was indeed in the pink: She made it, and she probably made it based her fabulous voice, not her fabulous follicles.
Blind guy Scott MacIntyre, who frankly has not impressed me that much (yes, it's impressive how he's overcome his disability, but I don't dig his voice), was next. And the results for him were outta sight! (Sorry.) He made it too, and when he exited the judgment room, Ryan Seacrest thankfully refrained from trying to high-five him.
Lil' Rounds was up next, looking stunning, already like a real star. I figured the chance of her getting through was so certain, I could go take a bathroom break and not even bother sticking around for the results. But just in case the judges' fakeout was not fake, I stuck around. And hey, guess what? She made it. The judges are getting so predictable.
Felicia Barton, Ashley Hollister, and Devon Baldwin were then all swiftly and succinctly rejected, one after the other. "You didn't make it," Simon said with zero fakeout fanfare. If the judges delivered their good news to the top 36 just as quickly, tonight's episode would have only been 30 minutes long, not two whole hours.
But no, the proceedings were prolonged with yet another singoff, this one between Amy Winehouse wannabe (Wine-a-be?) Frankie Jordan, who gave it one last "sing for survival" try with a lovely and subtle rendition of Brandi Carlile's "The Story," and soul belter Jesse Langseth, who went for broke with Nikka Costa's "Like A Feather" and kind of overdid it. Jesse's audition was a mess, and Simon said it was a "terrible song." (FYI, it's not a terrible song. It's just terrible when Jesse sings it.) For some reason Jesse made it anyway (I thought Frankie's understated audition was way better), but Simon managed to make both of them feel like crud when he delivered the news.
"If it's any consolation, Frankie, you wouldn't have won anyway," he snarled. "There are better girls here than you." (Wow, way to kick a girl while she's down, Simon!) Then he turned to Jesse and added, "And there are better girls here than you too, Jesse." What a jerk. He couldn't even let Jesse have her moment.
Shera Lawrence and Derik Lavers were quickly dismissed in a slightly less cruel but equally efficient manner, then redheaded 16-year-old Allison Iraheta, whom Paula Abdul called a "dark horse" despite her neon hair, got through. Then it was judgment time for BFFs Danny Gokey and Jamar Rogers. If I had to choose between the two, I'd pick soulful, stylish Jamar over dorky nice guy Danny, but I had a feeling that Danny, with his young-widower sob story and everyman likability, would be the one to make it. And I also had a feeling that the judges would split up Danny and Jamar, just to create extra drama and make Danny's victory bittersweet. And hey, I was correct on both counts: Danny was in, Jamar was out.
What a shame. I really liked Jamar, plus I know he would have been a foolproof support system for Danny during the rest of the season. Hopefully Jamar will still be there for Danny, sitting in the Kodak Theater cheering and hoisting up a "Danny Rulz!" glitterglue sign. Judging from the classy way Jamar handled his rejection, I believe that will be the case. And the judges did encourage Jamar to audition again next season, so maybe he'll get another shot at Idol without having to compete against his best buddy.
Ricky Braddy (who?), Matt Giraud (fine), Ju'Not Joyner (cool), Jorge Nunez (blech), Brent Keith (seriously, who?) all made it through next, all less deserving than Jamar in my not-so-humble opinion. Oh well. Then Stephen Fowler (not to be confused with that same-named jerk from Wife Swap) got in, and I was thrilled. I like that guy, he's so full of good vibes.
Then came the moment I'd been waiting one hour and 27 minutes for: the moment of truth for Norman Gentle. He showed up as his "real" self, Nick Mitchell, in a somber suit jacket more appropriate for the mansion's classy surroundings. But I missed his shiny shirt and Bermuda shorts, personally. I don't dig serious Nick, I prefer Norman the nutjob. And so did the judges, apparently, because guess what? Oh my gawd...NORMAN GENTLE MADE THE TOP 36!!! Is this some sort of crazy dream? If it is, please don't wake me up. I cannot wait for this guy to perform on '80s Night. Please please please let him do a Weird Al song or something...or maybe "Pacman Fever." My mind boggles, thinking of all the comic-genius possibilities...
Speaking of the '80s, fannypack-favoring retro-rock chick Jackie Tohn was up next, and for some reason Simon suddenly wanted to rush through the decision-delivering process and cut right to the chase. Guess he was getting as bored as I was, one hour and 40 minutes into the show. So, Jackie found out rather quickly that she'd made it. Yay!
Then came Tatiana Del Toro. Man, speaking of boring--am I bored of this tiresome chick or what? I've had enough of her tantrums and screaming and crying and posing and squeaking and squawking. "Just try for once not to be annoying," Simon told her as she entered the room. (C'mon, Simon--that's like telling Scott MacIntyre to try not to be blind. Tatiana is just annoying, period. It's in her DNA.) Well, it turns out Tatiana is sticking around to annoy me and millions of others for a little while longer, because she made the top 36 tonight. And she started with the annoying shtick right away, when she ran out of the judges' room screaming like a horror-movie heroine being chased by a hockey-masked axe murderer.
People of America, please vote this chick off next week.
It was then time for another sudden-death singoff, between Jackie Midkiff and, as worded by Ryan Seacrest, "the emotional Nathaniel Marshall." A sob story then unfolded about Nathaniel's unstable childhood that not only explained why he's such a basket case but all but ensured his place in the top 36. He also referred to himself as "the new David Bowie"--which was little bit far-reaching, I must say, but at least he revealed that he has good influences. And he had good pants, too--bright, White Stripesy red ones. Nathaniel sang "I'm Already There," and he was indeed already there--in the top 36, that is. Man, between Adam, Norman, and this guy, its going to be one kooky-krazy season.
Jeanine Vailes, Kai Kalama, Anne-Marie Voskovich, and Kris Allen then all squeaked through, before a final faceoff between the show's two working-class heroes, welder Matt Breitzke and oil rigger Michael Sarver. I figured these two brawny bro's might battle for a spot in the top 36 via some sort of no-holds-barred, UFC-style cagematch (talk about good TV!), but instead Matt sang Ian Moore's "Satisfied" and Michael went with some bland ballad I didn't recognize. I personally didn't care who made it through, and in the end it didn't matter--this was all a stall tactic, and both got in. I still think a UFC cage battle would be cool, though.
And so, there's the top 36--which, it should be noted, exactly matches the spoiler list that's been posted on Vote For The Worst for weeks now. For those of you who didn't see that list, didn't watch tonight's results show, and/or can't be bothered to read this looonnng blog and have just impatiently scrolled to the bottom, the full list is below.
Let the real games begin!
THE TOP 36:
Tatiana Del Toro
- Tatiana Del Toro