Actually JUDGING Last Night’s American Idol

29 Apr

shake-shake-shake it up.

American Idol has veered pretty far off of its initial judging paradigm, and the show is suffering for it. The original plan, at least as I saw it, was that Randy was the musician/technical feedback guy, Paula was the singer/performer, and Simon was the suit.  As far back as I can remember, though, it’s worked a bit more like “Random Opinion Guy,” “Blindly Supportive Drunk Chick,” and “The Only Person Here Who Is Actually Paying Attention.”

Adding Kara to the mix has not helped – she’s a bit in the “Singer/Performer” mold, and a bit in the “Technical/Producer” mold, but lately, she’s been veering into Randy’s patented “well, it worked for me okay, but you know, shake it up and light a fire on it or whatever!” brand of meaning-free, worthless feedback.  Since Kara could conceivably be being groomed to take over for Paula (and I think that, given Paula’s deteriorating state over the past few seasons, that this could be a good thing, though I would be sad to see her go), that leaves Randy sitting there in the “Musician Feedback” chair, occupying space while never really saying anything, wasting all of our time with his meaningless, uninspired comments and “It’s just me, but” way of discussing things that are objective, like pitch, rhythmic timing, and planning and execution of an arrangement.

Last night’s Idol struck me as especially odd, since on top of the fact that much of what the judges had to say was vague, wandering bullshit, much of it seemed wooden and pre-rehearsed, removed somewhat from what the performers had just put up on the stage.  With that in mind, I thought I’d go through the five remaining contestants and offer my (mostly) purely musical reactions to their performances.

1. Kris Allen, “The Way You Look Tonight”

Sorry ladies; this was boring and predictable, with weak falsetto when the arrangement kicked into double-time, and overall just bland and forgettable.  Bad connection to the song, too – it can be a great, longing lyric when delivered correctly, and the dude sang it like he sings everything else.  Keep in mind here – I’m not factoring in anything about what a nice guy Kris seems to be, or how good-looking he is (though he’s kinda wee, no?).  When the judges fired into their crazy fawning, it raised a couple eyebrows for me.  Everything they said had that “written-out” quality to it, and the whole thing smelled of shenanigans, like the producers must want a Kris/Danny/Adam top three, because nothing the judges said felt remotely connected to his performance.  Weak arrangement, too – didn’t use the horns effectively, and the switch to double-time was handled awkwardly.

2. Allison Irhata, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

allison_irahetaFlawless vocal – and when I say “Flawless,” I don’t mean “I liked it.”  Though I did and everything.  I mean that, objectively speaking, her pitch was right on, her mic technique helped her high register sound great, and her phrasing was right in there.  A little too much of the “hoarse false start” to her notes to imply broken-ness and soul.  (There do appear to be some likability issues with the performance – probably due to her age – but that’s not really what I’m trying to write about.)  Impeccable technical performance, very  run-of-the-mill arrangement.  Also, one of my favorite Gershwin melodies.

3. Matt Giraud, “My Funny Valentine.”

Worst performance of the night by a mile.  God, JFC with this song already – it’s an absolutely beautiful melody, with darkly humorous lyrics about something that no one had written about before or has since.  Why, when we talk about these songs, do we always talk about the guys who sang them?  Rodgers and Hart need to get their due, man.  This song is so great, but it has been fucking co-opted by several decades of R&B singers who take it as an excuse to show off how many chord extensions they can fit into one tune.  I think it’s because the first phrase ends on the 9th, but is that really an excuse to turn the whole thing into an exercise in vocal runs up to the natural 13 or whatever? Jesus, people, show some restraint. Everyone who sings this song should be forced to listen to Miles play it*, and then to Chet sing it.  Hear that?  It’s the original melody of the song, and it will suffice.

*Okay, so Miles barely even plays the melody, but he’s Miles Davis, and he can do as he pleases.

Wait, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Fact: this performance blew chunks. It was all over the place, vocally; nothing but out-of-tune runs and yelling and smiling and a big-note ending.  An awful, gaudy arrangement – any judge who said positive things about this (and honestly, even Simon kind of liked it from what I remember), is tripping LSD balls. Matt is going home tomorrow.

4. Danny Gokey, “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

danny_gokeyAnother chance to give a shout out to a great American composer is blown – for all most of the audience knew, Harold Arlen is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania who just defected to the Democratic party. Which is a shame, no?  Just weeks after I lamented that the music from the current Oz-Based Musical can’t come close to Arlen’s music in the original, we’ve got Danny Gokey singing another one of Arlen’s best songs, and the man gets no credit whatsoever. Rrr.

As for the performance, very good.  I’m not into Gokey – he’s just such an “Idol Contestant,” in that same way that Taylor Hicks was… he is every inch the everyday-Joe with a good voice who rises above the odds to victory.  Technically speaking, though, he’s clearly got a supurb ear – his vocal intonation is almost always spot-on (sometimes really, really spot-on), and he’s got a good command of the tunes he sings. However, I thought that the arrangement and performance, while engaging, veered off the rails towards the end – the whole “Days may be cloudy or sunny! We’re in or we’re out of the money!” part of this song is the best effing part, and it doesn’t need all that running around and “we’re, IIIIIIINNNNNN yeah, yeah, yeah, INNNNN or OUTTTT, ooooh chile OUUTTT of the, the, the mONAAAAAHHHY!!” business.  Leaving that aside, from a technical standpoint, this was one of Danny’s best performances.

10_adam_lambert5. Adam Lambert, “Feeling Good.”

I’ve felt for some time that Lambert doesn’t even really belong here, and I still feel that way – he’s clearly a head and shoulders above any contestant here, from a purely technical standpoint. And as a performer, the only other singer in Idol history who commands the stage as effectively as Adam is Fantasia Barrino. The quality of his instrument is unmatched, and he has taken a lot of time to get to know how to use it.  When I heard this song choice, any worries I may have had about him finally making a misstep were put to rest – it may have been predictable, but it’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got Adam’s voice and you’re doing a tune that Muse also covered.

That said, this wasn’t Adam’s strongest performance, either from an arranging standpoint or from a vocal standpoint.  There were a few slightly funny notes, where he under-reached and had to compensate (sure sign of a fatigued voice)… though actually, I feel a little bit ridiculous criticizing a singer as good as Lambert for having a “few funny notes,” I mean, jeez, everyone’s allowed a few funny notes now and then, but they were there, and he’s been flawless in the past.  But a larger reason the performance didn’t quite work that well was that the arrangement was a little too, like, quietlooouderBALLSTOTHEWALLL! The pacing was off. I understand that he’s only got like fifteen seconds to do the whole song, but I thought they could have built a bit more to the huge-ass note at the end.  Though, man, the huge-ass note at the end was really something, particularly that deft little slide out of it.  Like I said, chops.


This week was the first week that I felt like Gokey might win it all, and I’m cool with that.  Lambert’s the one who will tour the world blowing audiences away, that’s already sealed.  Gokey may have what it takes (everyday appearance, uplifting story, strong voice) to win Idol, but while his vocal chops are impressive, he lacks the musical range, interpretive creativity, and star power to ever really own the stage.

In the meantime – it’s time to cut the dead weight from the Idol judgery.  Paula, I loved it when you danced with the cartoon cat, and your energy is actually usually a nice thing, but it’s time for a year off.  Kara may or may not be the best replacement.  And Randy?  It’s been time for a while.  All sources say you’re a bad MF’er on the bass, and maybe it’s time to get back to that, and cut it with the TV appearances and fricking weight-loss books.  Hire someone real to replace you, with ears and a good musical vocabulary, and tell that person to stick to the technical details.  It’ll make the show much, much more enjoyable.

Oh yeah, and Jamie Foxx is the fucking man.


Time to get back to this, dawg.


3 Responses to “Actually JUDGING Last Night’s American Idol”

  1. thesoniashow April 29, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    I must say … I think I would miss Paula if they got rid of her, but I don’t feel the same way about Randy. I’m sure he’s a nice fella and a great bass player, but I don’t feel he really adds much in the way of criticism. I’m completely indifferent to Kara. I don’t care if she is there or not, which really says everything about her judging ability.

    Of course, Simon is the only judge really worth listening to. He is, as you said, the only judge who is clearly paying attention. So, imagine my surprise when he said Matt was awesome last night! I agree with you. I thought Matt’s performance was a big ol’ mess. I suspect he is going home tonight. I like the guy, but he’s only got this far on the show because of the judges. The viewers didn’t put him in the Top 13, the judges did. He was supposed to be eliminated two weeks ago, but the judges saved his ass again. There will be no saving Matt this time.

    As for the rest … Last night was Danny’s best performance of the season. I know the guy can sing, but he has been BORING every week. Finally, last night the guy showed some personality and got into the song. I’m not sure he can beat Adam for the title, but I think a Kris/Adam/Danny top 3 is inevitable.

    Allison’s vocals were spot on. She was vulnerable and lovely. I think Kris’ performance was not as strong as last week’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” but I still enjoyed it. I never thought I would say this, but I agree with Jamie Foxx. Kris doesn’t participate in the vocal Olympics. He knows his range and sticks to it.

    Of course, as always, Adam was over the top and awesome! I love the song choice. I worry sometimes that an Adam backlash is coming and that he piqued to early to win the whole thing, but honestly, the guy doesn’t need to win “American Idol” at this point. I think his career is pretty set at this point.

    • Kirk April 30, 2009 at 8:40 am #

      Yeah, I’ve wondered about that – whether there’s even time for a backlash on Adam… I mean, when you’re really good, and really consistent, it’s pretty hard for backlash to brew, or something? At this point, it seems as though even if the haters mobilize, it’ll be too late for it to matter. Dude is coming soon to a stadium near us, whether we like it or not.

      And I happen to like it, which is nice.

  2. Phyllis Lehrman May 6, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    I really loved the final 5 Idol group medley last night. It was moving to see Aaron Kelly eliminated however I do think the other contestants were better singers hence he needed to go!

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