Well, American Idol marched a decade closer to the present this week, following up last week's '60s theme with a night of songs from the '70s. Now, I set my TiVo last night with much trepidation, because I knew an evening dedicated to the disco-fever decade of pet rocks, polyester, and platform shoes could easily become drowned in a thick, gooey pool of karaoke cheese. After all, how cool could the top 10 males really seem while belting out Barry Manilow schmaltz, Barry White bedroom ballads, or Barry Gibb disco? Really, only this season's class clown, Danny Noriega, would be able to get away with latter--and just barely.
As it turns out, many of my fears were unfounded, but some were definitely justified. Thankfully only a couple contestants came across as lounge singers straight out of a scene from The Love Boat, but very few of them truly captured the spirit of '76 in any 2008-relevant way.
First, there was easy-on-the-eyes Aussie Michael Johns, perhaps the cutest thing to emerge from Down Under since koalas. His performance of the Doors' "Light My Fire" was one of the '60s Night highlights, but after watching him struggle with Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," I think he should have stuck to what he does best and picked a '70s song from the Doors' later-period catalog. Sure, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is one of the best albums of '70s (and possibly of all time), and that particular album cut is a classic, but the song's high Lindsey Buckingham key simply wasn't suited to Michael's rugged, throaty style. I think Michael realized this midway through the first verse, as he seemed to lose some of his swagger: His delivery was hesitant, he got shouty and shrill in parts, he was behind the beat a bit, and he seemed relieved when the whole shebang was over. I know I was relieved. I would've preferred to watch three more minutes of Michael playing tennis; he's way hotter than that name-escapes-me Australian tennis player who served as the deer-in-headlights bachelor on Age Of Love last year. Anyway, this week Michael was a disappointment (aurally, if not visually), so I'm hoping his looks will help him make it through this round. I have complete confidence that the Outback man can overcome this setback, if given the chance.
Next was Jason Castro, another one of my faves from last week (and the #1 Idol download on iTunes last week, I might add). Given Jason The C's uncanny resemblance to a young, thin, dreadheaded John Travolta, it might have been amusing to see him do something from Grease--but really, the Danny Zuko act is more suited to Danny Noriega. Much to my delight, Jason whipped out his guitar again, and even more delightfully, he performed Andy Gibb's "I Just Wanna Be Your Everything." (Andy was my first celebrity crush, back when I was just a wee, wee zygote.) Unfortunately, Jason didn't exude as much as plucky personality as he did during last week's "Daydream," and he hit an iffy note halfway through that was more like a nightmare, But overall, I dug it. Sidenote: I do hope he ignores Randy and Paula's advice about ditching his guitar. I disagree, as this is NOT just a "singing competition"--it is a contest to find a RECORDING ARTIST, and last time I checked, many recording artists play instruments! So just keep on rockin' in the free world, Jason.
Moving on, the Idol producers wisely gave the female viewers what they wanted and frontloaded last night's show with hotties, hotties, hotties. If Amy Davis is still wondering where the boys are, they're on Idol, baby. So next up was American Idol's own McDreamy clone, Luke Menard. Now, in theory, I like Luke. He admirably auditioned with a semi-obscure Keane non-single, "Bend And Break"; he performed the Josiah Leming-popularized Mika song "Grace Kelly" during Hollywood Week (albeit off-camera); and I'm even a fan of "Everybody's Talkin'," the Harry Nilsson tune he warbled last week. Plus, as I may have subtly alluded to earlier in this paragraph, the guy ain't ugly. But screw "in theory"; in reality, as a singer, Luke just doesn't have that X-factor. It was a major risk for him to take on a Queen song (Freddie Mercury just might be THE greatest rock 'n' roll singer EVER), and it was a risk that didn't pay off. Sure, Luke was able to hit Mercurial high notes that many other male contestants might have struggled to reach, but he just didn't possess Freddie's coliseum-commanding stage presence. Watching his not-so-killer rendition of "Killer Queen," it was pretty difficult for me to imagine Luke inspiring a crowd of thousands to clap their hands in choreographed unison (like Freddie famously did when Queen performed "Radio Ga Ga" at Live Aid years ago). Once again, Luke was just lukewarm.
Robbie Carrico was next, sans his trademark bandanna. Well, at least we know now that he's not a member of the Bret Michaels Hair Club For Men; the guy's actually got a full head of follicles under that scarf! Of course, according to TMZ, it's a full head of synthetic follicles...but I'll tackle the wig rumor in another blog. Either way, I'm still far from convinced that Robbie's a true rock dude; long hair, 8 o'clock shadow, and a wallet chain do not a rocker make (no more than fuchsia hair dye or raccoon eyeliner gave past-season "rockers" Nikki McKibbin and Gina Glocksen any real cred). And the more defensive and testy Robbie gets trying to convince Simon and the rest of the planet that he's a real rock 'n' roll animal, the less I believe him. Methinks the boy doth protest too much. Anyway, Robbie did do better this week with Foreigner's "Hot-Blooded," but it wasn't THAT hot. It lacked, say, Bo Bice's Southern grit or Chris Daughtry's Nickelbackian vibe, and I found his vocals bland, completely lacking in oomph. But if he makes it through, I think he might do all right singing a hair-metal hit on '80s Night. Perhaps some Poison?
Midway through the night came the halftime show by the absolutely fabulous Danny Noriega. Now, I'd been waiting since Thursday to fnid out what high-camp disco number my Danny boy would sing for '70s Week. Maybe something by the Village People? This kid could rock a feather headdress or leatherman uniform, for sure. Instead, Danny picked a mellow weeper, "Superstar," a song made famous by the Carpenters but currently on alt-rock radio thanks to Sonic Youth's 1994 remake (which has recently resurfaced on the Juno soundtrack). So in a way, this was a hip song choice--though I was a little let down that he didn't go for something zanier and kitschier. However, I suppose after last week's questionable "Jailhouse Rock" tour de force, Danny needed to prove himself to the haters with a more serious song. He just needed to convince people that he can sing, that he's no Sanjaya 2.0, and that he is "worthy." Well, mission accomplished, I say! (Shaddup, Randy, it was good.) So now I look forward to seeing Danny cut loose on a Duran Duran song for '80s Week. This superstar is even prettier than Nick Rhodes, after all. (Which reminds me: Was Simon kind of hitting on Danny when he told him he looked terrific on camera? That's more of a Paula-type compliment, really.)
David Hernandez was next, and was truly was one of the night's top surprises. He was so boring before, I predicted last week that he'd be the first guy to get cut. But what a different a week--and a decade--can make! The guy really stepped up his game last night on "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." I honestly didn't think he had it in him--and I bet Simon didn't either. We both stand corrected. I'm not sure if David H. will make it to the top 12, but I won't be predicting his elimination this week.
The other guy I guestimated would go last week was Jason Yeager. Well, I stand by that call. I'm making the same prediction this week, based on his dubious Doobie Brothers cover. Man, he was so cheesy I started to wonder if he hails from Wisconsin. His Chippendales-ish hip-swiveling reminded me of Clay Aiken's disastrous "Grease" performance from season 2, except Clay at least wore a memorable red leather jacket. There was nothing memorable about Jason last night, sorry. And as for Jason The Y's drunk-dancing moves, the only Idol alum those ever worked for was Taylor Hicks--and look where that got Taylor in the long run. It was interesting that in his interview piece Jason revealed he's a self-taught multi-instrumentalist; so why is he not strapping on a guitar and rocking out already? What's he waiting for? Based on last night, he's sadly never going to get a chance to fully show off his skills, because he's probably going home.
Like David Hernandez, Chikeze stepped it up last night, ditching that ill-advised red zoot suit for more fashionable duds and giving that Donny Hathaway song his all (with Donny's own daughter on backup vocals, yet). I enjoyed the little shoutout of his name that he inserted midway through, too. Way to go, Jacuzzi!
Ah, and now on to my man David Cook. Danny Noriega better watch out, or David might become the new official Reality Rocks male pick. First of all--nice scarf, David. I like a man who can accessorize. Second, as a writer, I personally admire David's word obsession. Word nerds rule! And then, as I mentioned earlier, I'm a sucker for a guy with a guitar. David totally rocked it on his cowbell-enhanced cover of Free's "All Right Now" (more cowbell!)--managing to pull off those tough Paul Rodgers vocals (Paul, Freddie Mercury's replacement in the reunited lineup of Queen, is another one of rock's awesome-est singers), swaggering about the stage like Michael Johns on a good day, and tossing his guitar pick to the audience like a groupie-bagging pro. Robbie Carrico should take notes. David Cook is the real rocker here. I sure hope I don't find out later that he was in some lame boy band...
All right, before I recap the final performance, let me get all academic on you for a sec. Surely David Cook would approve. See, back in my college sociology class I learned about the "primacy and recency" effect. Well, finally my college education is paying off, because this lesson has helped me understand why the Idol producers scheduled ringers Michael Johns and David Archuleta first and last, respectively. It's because humans instinctively best remember first and last items in a list or sequence. So last night's lineup was no accident, people!
Anyway, super-pimped contestant David Archuleta wrapped up the night. Hey, how did he get to do a John Lennon song? I always thought Lennon & McCartney tunes (including post-Beatles solo songs) were off-limits. No one even did a Beatle tune during '60s Week, and the only Beatles song I ever remember hearing throughout all seven seasons of Idol is when Taylor sang "Something" (which was penned by George Harrison, who has different publishing than Paul and John). It almost seems like an unfair disadvantage that David got to do a song by one of best songwriters ever. Oh, and by the way, I'm not buying David's excuse as to why he omitted the first verse of "Imagine." I think he skipped that verse out of fear that a controversial line like "Imagine there's no heaven" would alienate religious viewers. (That's my conspiracy theory for this week; discuss amongst yourselves!)
Regarding David A.: OK, yes, the boy can sing. He's technically one of the best. And he's about as cute as one of those "Hang In There" kitten posters. But that's the problem--David A. has no edge. I like my male singers a little rough, a little mussed, a little guitar-slingy. I don't like singers that, to quote Paula Abdul, I can squish and hang from my car mirror. And yes, he was good last night, but the judges really laid on the praise a tad too thick. Come on, it was not one of the BEST VOCALS EVER, in all seven seasons. That's a bit much! Everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down a smidge about David A. If he really is "the one to beat," then I sure hope Danny, David Cook, Jason Castro, or Michael beat him. He's good, but he's not my Idol. And he needs to stop giggling already.
And thus ends that '70s Night. Come back tomorrow to see how the ladies did, and come back Friday to see if my elimination predictions (like Luke and Jason Y., for those keeping track at home) come true. Seacrest out!
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