Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Idol Top 13

Making American Idol history, the judges selected four contestants from last week's Wild Card round to complete the show's first-ever top 13. I would have taken their expansion of the anticipated dozen as a way to get one more week of the big advertisers' bucks, except that no additional show will be aired to make way for Number 13. Instead, we'll be saying farewell to not one, but two contestants during tonight's results show.

This news pleases me. In fact, I wouldn't mind terribly speeding up the elimination process this way for the first few weeks. The standouts who will form the top six typically become apparent early, so the first several weeks of dropping the less-qualified performers can be a tedious process until we reach a group who each equally stand a chance at earning the title. That's when the show gets more interesting, but there are two significant problems with such a plan. One I already mentioned: the big advertisers' bucks. More shows equals more money, and there is no way around that. Secondly, sometimes the best singers do not get the most votes. The reality that your own favorite could be eliminated keeps the anticipation high each week, which is of course what Reality Television is fundamentally based on. It would be unfortunate to lose one of the best because he or she was in second-to-last place one week when the voters got lazy.

An unexpected twist this year is that I'm finding it more difficult to draw the line between those who truly deserve to be singing their finale pick under the fluttering confetti and balloons and those who don't, even this early in the game. I have my personal favorites, yes, but last night nearly every contestant came out fighting for their chance by admittedly singing well. Since all but a slim few have a heartwarming back story, the votes will be difficult to predict. Does most of America relate to the single mothers or the 16-year-old belters? The widower or the vision-impaired? The blue-collared worker or the rocker waiting for his break in LA? Since the performances last night were technically proficient almost across the board, I believe the phones will be dialed according to the pseudo-relationships that the past two months of carefully orchestrated build-up have cultivated.

Which leaves contestants like Matt Giraud and Kris Allen without non-musically-based footing in the competition. They can both sing their butts off (thankfully Matt was given a second chance after his painfully horrid Cold Play rendition), but must survive without the tear-jerking montage which paves the way for so many of the others. In fact, we were made privy to the existence of beautiful Mr. Allen's Mrs. during last night's show, so he rapidly lost some of his appeal as eye candy. No offense to his lovely (and newlywed) wife, but for the sake of his shot at stardom, I believe she should have remained in the shadows for at least a few more shows until the voting public realized that they could love him as much for his vocal talent as they could for the pure enjoyment of seeing his sparkling eyes light up the stage.

Thematic options for the evening were selected from Michael Jackson's musical catalog. Anoop Desai's copycat version of "Beat It" duly received the most criticism. I loved that Paula Abdul seemed excited that she received her first "boo" from the crowd after she explained that this song "belongs to the consummate artist, and anything else sounds karaoke." Her analysis was certainly apt, but "consummate?" I swear Paula has been doing some vocabulary-building exercises, and possibly joined Toastmasters over the summer, because the girl sounds supremely more coherent and professional than she ever has. The change may well have been motivated by some understandable jealousy toward the new, younger, and very well-spoken judge, Kara. Whatever the reason, I like the new intelligible Paula. Now it's Randy Jackson I have to fight the urge to fast-forward over. "You know what I mean, dawg?"

Back to the predictions, Anoop was a head below the rest of the competition in both vocal performance and stage presence. But I wouldn't be too surprised if he survives this round. For one thing, people really like him and he has shown his great voice in the past. Also, people tend to give pity votes to the people who had a rough time or got reamed by the judges. Especially this early when it isn't yet about whose album you actually intend to buy.

More likely, I think we'll hear farewell songs from the talented yet forgettable performers of the night. I would place Lil Rounds, Michael Sarver, and Jasmine Murray at the top of that category. Lil has been touted as one of the best thus far, but not only was her performance incredibly dull, she sang first. During such a lengthy procession, the first one is easy to forget, and she didn't stand out. Plus, anyone who comes home late and picks up the show in the middle missed her entirely, and I doubt she is one who will get votes just because she is Lil Rounds. Which I think is the case for Scott McIntyre (the piano-playing blind man), Danny Gokey (the Christian widower), and Adam Lambert (a darker, yet more effeminate version of David Cook).

I also enjoyed the rockstar-style performances from Alexis Grace and Alison Iraheta, and Megan Joy Corkery's quirky voice actually worked while she sang "Rockin' Robin." Jorge Nunez' version of "Never Can Say Goodbye" would have been perfect in a retirement home's activity lounge, but American Idol would be better off without that level of cheese.

In addition to learning which two individuals are doomed to the ranks of forgotten American Idol hopefuls, a mysterious "change in rules" will reportedly be unveiled tonight. Simon Cowell hinted that it "involves us" (the judges), so shall we assume that the judges have some sort of overruling power if they don't agree with America's votes or something? That would essentially reduce the viewers' role in the contest to nil, so it can't be that. Maybe tonight we'll have a chance to vote for our favorite judge, and the loser has to sing. Or won't be back for Season 9. Hm. We'll see.

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