Reality Rocks - Archive

American Idol: Turning Motown Upside Down

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

All right, no disrespect to President Obama or anything...but seriously, couldn't he give his speeches on Monday or Thursday nights? Why does he have to keep bumrushing my show? This week marked the second time this season that Barack has pre-empted American Idol, which seems pretty darn un-American to me. If Obama must speak on Tuesdays, then why doesn't he just go on Idol and give his speech right there in the studio? Let's face it, he'd probably get way more viewers that way (sad but true), and he'd also make a very fair, very well-spoken guest judge. In fact, I suggest our President deliver all his future speeches at the end of Idol results shows, AND finish by reading off the name of that week's eliminated contest. Then Obama can assure the loser that he/she will be just fine, due to his stimulus package. Sound like a plan?

Anyway, while I wait for Obama's cabinet and Fox honchos to mull over that proposal, I'll grudgingly accept the fact that this week's Idol competition was delayed a day, and get on with it. This week's postponed episode had a Motown theme, with Smokey Robinson as the mentor, which was a real risky proposition for some singers tonight. These were classic songs here, and classic songs are notoriously difficult to interpret and make one's own (see: Beatles Night, Michael Jackson Night). And more worryingly, these songs been covered so many times in such hokey ways--on cruise ships, in karaoke bars, in hotel lounges, by bar mitzvah bands, in Vegas, in pretty much every corny setting Simon Cowell always mentions when critiquing a bad performance.

Plus, it was a serious challenge for these contestants to live up to the legacies of legends like Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. And they had to do it while Smokey and Motown founder Berry Gordy sat in the audience watching them! That'd be enough to make any contestant suffer a Tatiana Del Toro-style meltdown.

So singing first was Matt Giraud, who didn't have any sort of meltdown but most certainly melted many female viewers' hearts with his performance of the perennial bedroom ballad, Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." (To which I'm sure many ladies watching thought, "Um, OKAY!") He started off in his comfort zone, behind the piano, but then seemed equally comfortable when he got up midway through to work the stage. This time there was none of the cringe-inducing awkwardness of his Coldplay/"Viva La Vida" performance--you know, the one that almost got him kicked off this show for good--and he performed like a sexy, seasoned pro. Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson right then and there declared Matt a new frontrunner, and Matt admitted he's been making a concerted effort to step up his game. Well, his efforts paid off tonight. Even if there was that uncomfortable moment when Ryan Seacrest asked him, "Matt, do you feel the growth?" (Heh, heh...)

There was more entertainment for the laydeez when button-cute Kris Allen sang next, making all the women in TV Land swoon and reach for the smelling salts (while male viewers probably seethed with jealousy and reached for the remote, as they tried to figure out this boy's appeal). Kris gave another one of his guitar-strummy performances that made it seem like he oughta be opening up for Jack Johnson and Ben Harper at Bonnaroo rather than competing on Idol, applying his signature hackeysackin' style to Gaye's "How Sweet It Is." I must admit, it was kind of sweet. He impressively adapted the song to his laid-back, frat-boy-folk vibe (it was more like the James Taylor version, though not exactly), and Kara DioGuardi was especially impressed, telling him, "You did everything right in that performance." Simon agreed it was a smart song choice, but seemed to think Kris was a little too laid-back, advising Kris to exhibit more swagger onstage. "To be a star, you've got to be conceited," Simon explained. Well, he oughta know, I guess, since Simon clearly practices what he preaches in this case.

Scott McIntyre, the blind pianist who seems to appeal to deaf viewers (what other explanation is there for why he's still around and has never even been in the bottom three?), sang next. Unlike Matt, he chose to remain seated at the piano for the entirety of his performance tonight, politely ignoring Paula Abdul's well-meaning advice last week that he utilize more of the stage. (Er, perhaps Paula forgot that SCOTT CANNOT SEE. He has a hard enough time making it through those step-touch group numbers. How does she expect him to run around the stage like Norman Gentle?) Anyway, Scott performed the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love"--which, give his soft-rock inclinations, I thought he might do okay with. Phil Collins did cover it once, after all. But in the end, I just wanted Scott to hurry through "You Can't Hurry Love" so it would be over already.

Paula liked it, seemingly mainly because the producers had placed a trio of backup singers/dancers next to Scott's piano to provide distraction and entertainment value. Simon and Randy were not as easily distracted from Scott's subpar vocal, however. "How much more can I take, indeed," Simon groaned, sarcastically quoting the song's lyrics, before calling the performance "cheap," "terrible," "honky-tonk," and "a mess." So yeah, guess he didn't like it, then. Randy called it a "very hotel kind of performance" (an inevitable criticism on Motown Night, like I said in my second paragraph above, and in this instance a very legitimate complaint). Scott then tried to drum up some sympathy and earn more pity votes by explaining to the audience that the stylist had put him in pink pants without telling him. Apparently he'd only found out he was wearing rose-colored trousers 10 minutes before he went onstage. But I have a hunch rose-colored pants aren't going to make the TV audience at home see Scott's poor performance through rose-colored glasses. It was not good, period.

After that, Paula and Simon got in some sort of lovers'/haters' spat over the greatness or awfulness of Scott, and Paula disturbingly disappeared under the table for a few seconds. I thought she'd finally lost it and was searching for her pill stash, but instead she oddly brought out a box of crayons for Simon, saying Crayolas were something for a "6-year-old" like him. Scott just stood there awkwardly, not knowing what was going on, not knowing if the audience was laughing with him or at him, or at his pink pants. Ryan did his best to narrate the scene for Scott, but Simon didn't need crayons to paint Scott a picture: Scott's at risk of going home this week, for sure.

Megan Joy, or Megan Corkrey, or Megan Joy Corkrey--her stage name seems to change from week to week, which is it?--sang fourth. During her mentor session she'd definitely impressed Smokey, who raved (at least I think this was a compliment), "You are so DIFFERENT!" He also called her "refreshing" and "one of most original contestants ever on the show," so yeah, I guess he was flattering her.

I fluctuate on my own opinion regarding Megan--I started off loving her, then I couldn't stand her, then last week I loved her again--and I do think she has a unique voice and with the right material she could be a great, credible recording artist. But the song she did tonight, Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life," sooo was NOT the right material. She sounded breathless, her voice was strained and squeaky, and as Randy put it, "Dude, that song was a trainwreck for me." Kara agreed that Megan's performance was "all over the place" and her "phrasing was weird," while Simon, again frustrated with another bad song selection from Megan, snarled: "Whoever is advising you, I would fire." Paula tried to be nice and fall back on her old tricks--complimenting Megan's "stunning beauty"--but Simon had a good point when he quipped back, "This is not Top Model."

Singing fifth was Anoop Desai, picking a particularly challenging song, the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby" ("one of the most beautiful songs ever written," according to Kara). I know the judges gave Anoop such a hard time when he sang "Beat It" on Michael Jackson Night and "My Prerogative" on Wild Card Night, but I think Anoop's taken their stern words too seriously and now gone too far in the other direction.

He did a ballad this week again--doesn't he remember that it was the ballad he did in the semi-finals, Monica's "Angel Of Mine," that almost got him eliminated in the first place? I personally prefer the fun, uptempo, silly Anoop. And Randy seems to belatedly agree with me now, telling Anoop tonight that he wants more energy from Anoop in the coming weeks and wants Anoop to "get the party on!"

Man, these judges sure like to contradict themselves, huh? Last week on Opry Night, they blasted Lil' Rounds for sounding too traditionally country and Adam Lambert for not sounding country enough. On Michael Jackson Night, they didn't like it when Scott McIntyre picked an obscure song, "Keep The Faith," but thought Anoop was wrong to pick the overly familiar "Beat It." And back in the semi-finals, they advised teen girl Stevie Wright to pick younger songs, yet hated it when she did a Taylor Swift tune. What do these judges WANT?

Oops, sorry for the rant. One thing the judges apparently didn't want tonight was to hear Michael Sarver sing. And neither did I. The man's got about as much soul as a tuna sandwich (on Wonder Bread), and he should NOT be proud of his hokey "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" performance tonight. He's going to need to beg after that mess--for votes! Paula called his non-tempting Temptations cover "old Las Vegas loungey," and of course Simon was even less kind, telling Michael: "I couldn't wait for it to end. You were screaming and shouting the song. You have no chance of winning. That's a reality. In the real world, it just isn't good enough."

Ouch. Tell us how you REALLY feel, Simon. Yes, Simon was harsh--harsher than usual, even--but he was also right. I don't think Michael ever deserved to be in the finals in the first place, but after a performance like that there's no way he'll make it much farther.

Emotional Motown fan Lil' Rounds sang Martha & The Vandellas' "Heatwave" next, and I was prepared to witness a great performance, after watching her discuss with Smokey how much this music means to her. Too bad she was just a'ight, dawg. Rounds was a disappointment overall. I didn't think listening to her was "torture," as Randy said, but I did agree with him that it was a bad song choice for her that made her usually creamy vocals turn screamy. Kara was also unimpressed: "You were the diva tonight that everyone was waiting to hear. This is your week. If you don't nail this week, I don't know what to tell you." Only Paula seemed to dig it, telling Rounds, "You owned that song."

Oh, go crawl back under your table, Paula. Rounds was not great tonight.

My fave, Adam Lambert, was next, and I was eager and anxious to see what he'd do tonight after creating such controversy with "Ring Of Fire" last week. (I thought his Opry Night performance was freaky and freakin' fabulous; people without eardrums, brains, or taste did not. Oops, did I type that out loud? Sorry. Anyway, see my other blog this week on Adam's awesomeness for more in-depth Lambert analysis/fawning.)

Adam probably realized if he didn't want to alienate viewers too much he'd have to tone it down this week--not necessarily play it 100 percent safe, but not, you know, come out in full dominatrix patent leather doing a Marilyn Manson-ish cover of "Love Hangover," or whatever. Although that WOULD have been rad...

Anyway, Adam did a very mellow, acoustic take on Smokey & The Miracles' "Tracks Of My Tears," and I was crying tears of joy. Even with his (hopefully for one night only) clean-cut makeover--no nail polish, no guyliner, no black leather, no Billy Idol sneer--he was still utterly compelling, and the minimal arrangement definitely showcased his elastic voice at its best. It was a wise move on his part to temporarily tone down his flamboyance--that should hopefully help more conservative voters chill out and like him again, plus this performance did a good job of displaying his versatility. Kara, who gave Adam a standing ovation, called it "one of the best performances of the night," and Simon called it "THE best performance of the night. You have emerged as a star." Um, Simon, Adam emerged as star when he entered the audition room! The boy was BORN a star. I'm just glad he's in everyone's good graces again. He never left mine.

Danny Gokey was next, singing the Temptations' "Get Ready." I was neither tempted nor ready. I still don't know why everyone loves Danny so much. At this point I don't think it's about the dead wife anymore--the show has stopped focusing on that, and to his credit Danny doesn't voluntarily discuss it much. I just don't get him. He's not awful, not at all--there are many singers in this competition much worse than him--but I still don't know what all the fuss is about. I agreed with Simon tonight that Danny's performance was "clumsy and amateurish," but I don't think this was the first Danny performance that warranted such a description. Next.

Singing last in the much-deserved "pimp spot" was my favorite girl, Allison Iraheta. Man, Allison KILLED it tonight. She'd better not end up in the bottom three (like she maddeningly was last week) after her smoldering, smoking, swaggering performance of the Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." Along with Adam's performance, this was the standout of the night for me. She owned the stage from the minute the first wocka-wocka chickenscratches of that disco guitar resonated throughout the theater, and her voice was so on point. It was like the song was made for her, and she belted out those sad, bitter lyrics with such conviction, it was as if she'd written them herself about her own absentee dad. Simon agreed with me that it was one of the top efforts of the evening; Randy called Allison "blazing hot"; and Kara shrieked, "OH! MY! GOD! America, you gotta vote for this girl! Allison, you sing like you've been singing for 400 years. That is from God, you can't teach that!"

Right on, Allison, right on.

So now it is prediction time. And this is one of the easiest predictions I've ever had to make. Of course there are always upsets (like Alexis Grace's totally unexpected exit last week), but if America votes correctly tonight, I think the obvious bottom three are Megan, Scott, and Michael, with Michael going home. Scott still has his sympathy votes and has yet to be in the bottom, and Megan will probably squeak by due to her quirkiness and "stunning beauty." But Michael was in the bottom last week after giving a relatively good performance, and this one was just plain terrible. It's time for him to go back to the oil rig.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right--assuming Obama doesn't pre-empt the results show, that is.

And log on tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 9:30am Pacific for Yahoo!'s live Idol chat, where you can chat with Idol fans (including, yes, me) about tonight's show. Just log on tomorrow at http://tv.yahoo.com/blog/yahoo-tv-water-cooler-idols-top-10-pay-tribute-to-motown--198 and come say hi to me. (And be nice, people...)

 

View Comments