Let’s Drop the 1: American Idol Season 9’s Case of the Top 2
March 16th, 2010
I, like many others, don’t tend to pay too much attention to American Idol until we get to the Top 12. However, I did watch enough of the preliminary rounds to get a sense of this year’s stable of talent, which means that I was prepared for the predictable and unsatisfying evening of music that unfolded tonight.
However, I wonder what someone who had watched none of those rounds would think of these performances: since the performers weren’t quite the tone deaf cacophony that they could have been, would they have deemed this a fairly competent group of finalists despite the fact that there is absolutely no depth within their ranks? In the end, I don’t think that the disappointment in this year’s Top 12 is based only on the talent that got away (Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert), and I think that even someone who came in blind would wonder if this was really the best that America had to offer.
In other words, even a layperson would be able to realize that there were only two competitors who really stepped up to the plate tonight, and every long-term viewer of this show knows that there’s a fairly good chance that neither of them will become the American Idol.
Siobhan and Crystal are not the same type of performer, but they made the same statement tonight: Siobhan’s moody and dramatic “Paint it Black” and Crystal’s soulful and impassioned “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” were the kinds of performances that suggest they are capable of standing out from the crowd, either with their arrangement (in Siobhan’s case) or their professionalism (which Crystal has in spades). However, neither competitor seems too eager to win the competition, and neither one is so much of a personality off-stage that they will pull in all of the fan support necessary to win this title handedly. Instead, they are just people going out and singing their hearts (or lungs) out, and that’s a whole lot more than can be said for the rest of the competition right now.
I just don’t care about any of the rest of it. Yes, Didi was quite solid with her performance, Lee’s voice remains interesting even if he has no personality beyond his Dave Matthews impression, and I thought Paige was better than I expected about the abomination that was “Smile” (clearly, she should be banned from ballads). I’d say that the rest were disappointments, but I think you need expectations for that to be possible: the guys were dull and ordinary, the girls were flat and uninteresting, and we’re left with the exact same frontrunners as we had going into the night. The Top 12 is the opportunity for someone to emerge from the pack, for someone like Kris Allen to suddenly make a name for themselves, but instead it was just the same competition all over again.
Thankfully, there were enough interesting failures to keep the night at least semi-interesting. For example, I enjoyed how Michael managed to mash-up “Miss You” with “Higher Ground” without anyone noticing (except for the fact that no one really liked the arrangement), and I also found it entertaining that they gave Tim Urban so much crap for his reggae arrangement of “Under My Thumb.” I agree that it didn’t really work, and that they’re afraid of praising his competency in case it results in him being dragged even further into this competition, but reggae wasn’t so far off the mark for the song that I’d call it a risk or anything. Similarly, I enjoyed how everyone was so taken with Lacey Brown’s arrangement of “Ruby Tuesday” as if the idea of focusing on the strings was at all novel.
The show is moving more and more towards valuing different arrangements, and I enjoy this fact, but there are times when the judges react in strange ways. For example, I thought that Katie Stevens’ rejigging of the melody in “Wild Horses” was more annoying than Tim’s interpretation of “Under My Thumb” because it was all vocal gymnastics instead of seeming the least bit purposeful or meaningful. Yes, Tim’s goal was to zap the song of all meaning so that it would fit within his tiny range, but he was honest about that, and I appreciate that over the sorts of tricked out arrangements that someone like Todrick Hall brought to the season.
Right now, Siobhan is in the driver’s seat: she’s still playing against expectation, she’s playing the most with arrangements, and she’s done a wide range of different songs each week. By comparison, Crystal has been more consistent but has effectively done the same thing every week, and it’s yet to be seen how less rock-driven theme weeks will fit into her aesthetic. But if you would ask me how everyone else is going to fit into those theme weeks, I’ll be honest with you in saying that I just can’t motivate myself to care. I’ll keep watching because, in the DVR-era, flipping through the shows to see only what you want or need to see is wonderfully convenient, but this is one year where the competition is so thin that watching will only create pain or, should one of Siobhan and Crystal go home too soon, the sort of disappointment that just isn’t worth it.
- If we accept Ellen as the new Paula, then I’d say it’s an improvement: when she wants to just give someone a positive critique, she just says “that was great” instead of rambling incoherently, and when she engages in banter she’s actually quite clever instead of, well, rambling incoherently. She’s not changing the dynamics of the panel or anything, but I enjoy her brand of comedy, and it’s working here.
- Kara, meanwhile, needs to learn that less is more. I understand what she was saying to Andrew Garcia, whose “Gimme Shelter” was tepid to the point of wiping away whatever minimal “Straight Up” goodwill was left, in that he needed to connect more with the song’s lyrics. But she’s on this kick where she feels the need to talking about the lyrics “It’s about war, man!” in giving this critique, and that makes it seem really petty: instead, just say that he needed to give a performance that wasn’t a generic rock vocal with a song that is anything but a generic rock song. Sometimes the general can be more powerful (and relevant) than the specific.
- My boot prediction: Lacey Brown.