Idol Thoughts

Back when I started this a few months ago I promised a spirited and intelligent discussion of our collective life and times. So I know you’ve all been waiting for this. That’s right. It’s time to talk about the current season of American Idol. start up business loans

Let me start by confessing that I was late to this party. I didn’t start watching until Season Six, by which time Idol was a thoroughly established fixture of the culture. I pretty much loved it right away…it’s a weekly real-life drama set in the decidedly unreal world of the pop-music industry. small business payroll software Everything about the show draws out our emotional connection with that part of the American dream that is about succeeding against long odds. We all want to believe that we live in a land of opportunity, and that the talented among us are just waiting to be discovered. small business management

Pia Toscano
By now you’ve probably heard that Season 10  is one of the best, despite the departure of Simon Cowell, Idol’s resident hardass judge, and the seemingly weird addition to the cast of new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. It’s true…Idol has barely lost a step and is in some ways improved. Tyler and Lopez have been solid, and because they both live in the place all the contestants want to go–Superstardom–they’ve approached their assignment with equal measures of professional discernment and compassion. If neither of them likes to be too critical…well, that’s okay. Randy Jackson, the only remaining original judge and now Idol’s institutional conscience, has picked up the Cowell mantle and does his best to keep it real, as he might put it. Randy too often resorts to his own worn-out descriptives–Dude, it was pitchy–but there’s comfort in knowing what he means even if he can’t find an original way to say it anymore. About all that’s gone missing this year are those transcendent moments when Simon, the judge who hated everything, would tell a contestant he or she had done well. It always brought the house down and I miss that.

It has helped, too, that the talent this year has been noticeably deeper than in recent seasons. This year, everybody can really sing, so maybe for the first time in a long time, Idol will find a winner who can go on to a successful career. That mostly hasn’t happened in the past…Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood being the exceptions.

So we are here again, with Idol solidly atop the ratings, still pulling in viewers by the millions and setting off a mass discussion about this year’s hopefuls. After winnowing the field through the pre-recorded preliminarys in January and February, this week finally brought us the first live shows. Following last-night’s elimination of eleven of the twenty-four finalists, we’re down to a manageable group of thirteen. Let’s take a look at the chances for a few of them who, in my estimation, are likely contenders for the title:

1. Twenty-three year-old emotional wreck Jacob Lusk. He knocks you over every time with his big voice and huge heart, but mostly with his willingness to leave it ALL on the stage. He’s been singing R&B, but he’s really more gospel by nature. I don’t know how far he goes…he’s probably too old-fashioned…but it’s going to be an amazing ride. Expect him to be around for awhile but not to the finish.

2. Laren Alaina, the sassy and slightly chubby just-turned-sixteen year-old prodigee from Georgia. I’m not sure she’s going to be there at the end. Alaina got an unfair headstart on everyone else  after she did well in her initial audition and a smitten Tyler declared her “The One” before he’d even seen half of this year’s contestants.  She’s good, but her handicap may be that she seems to believe Tyler got it right. It’s one thing to want to win…they all do and we love it that it matters so much to them. But act like you think you have it in the bag and you’re dead. Watch out for a meltdown if she has a bad performance. I predict an exit in a couple of weeks.

3. Casey Abrams. He’s nineteen but seems much more mature. Randy has already called him the most talented musician to ever be on the show, and it helps that he’s also funny and quirky and inventive and willing to take huge chances. In other words, he’s an original and that could take him a long way in the competition. During Hollywood week, Abrams did a crucial solo accompanying himself on the upright bass. Hard to put him in a genre but for pure entertainment value he’s really strong. If he makes smart choices about songs and staging, he could end up in the top three or four.

4. Scotty McCreery, at sixteen a pure country singer with a low, low, low voice that’s always on the money. McCreery is a natural whose confidence at such a young age is remarkable. He’s a beautiful singer and, just as important, knows exactly what he is. Don’t look to him for Underwood-like crossover country/pop…if he goes there it won’t work. But if he “stays in his lane” as Lopez put it this week, I think he has a chance. Of all this year’s contestants, he’s the one I think could most easily record a hit RIGHT NOW. Don’t know if the audience will back a country guy all the way, but he’s going to force y’all to think about it.

5. James Durbin. If the twenty-one year-old Tourette’s sufferer doesn’t go all the way…or close to it…I’ll eat my hat. His backstory is incredible…but not as incredible as his voice, which is somewhere between Adam Lambert and Billy Idol, with a little Steve Perry in the mix. He’s got a high end that can shatter glass and get the dog barking at the TV. He’s the only hard rocker left in the competition and I think that means he’ll have the most song options going forward. It’s always about picking the right songs, and if he does, look out. Get the theater audience rocking out and you win a lot of votes. It won’t hurt him that when he sings, his tics vanish and you realize you’re literally seeing the transformative power of music. He’d be a very cool winner.

6. Pia Toscano. A twenty-one year-old songbird from Queens, she’s right now the odds-on favorite to win it all. Toscano’s show-stopping “I’ll Stand by You” the other night brought the judges to their feet and I don’t think it’s going to be the last time that happens for her. She’s probably more diva than rock star, but that should be all right…she’s also what the judges like to call the “total package.” She’s got a terrific voice, is smart about song choices, is in a rare comfort zone on stage, and is also drop-dead gorgeous. If you can stand still in the spotlight without waving your arms or dancing around and just SING while looking beautiful, the audience loves it. Toscano is the only contestant who doesn’t seem to have anything awkward or unsure about her. I think we’ll be seeing her all the way.

Of course, there are many weeks ahead and the landscape always shifts. Favorites will fall and underdogs will triumph and in the end it doesn’t always come out the way it should. In the years I’ve watched Idol the two best perfomers have been Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox, and best pure singer was David Archuleta.

All three of them came in second.

The Kids Aren’t All Right

There was just about a half an hour of red-carpet time left before the start of last night’s Oscar telecast when ABC cut to an interview featuring  Reese Witherspoon with the “west coast editor of Vanity Fair,” a title that really does say a lot. What followed was dim-witted enough–Ms. Witherspoon was pleasant but utterly without anything to say–that I was all but tuned out when the west coast editor asked this: “So, tell us…does Oscar night ever get old?”

Now the odds of the answer to that question being either a surprise or even slightly interesting were, of course, zero.

Too bad there isn’t some way the viewers of the program could have responded instead, as I’m pretty sure the answer would have been a resounding yes.

As a matter of fact, last night’s show wore out its welcome fast…pretty much the instant a vaguely wasted-looking James Franco and the stunning but vapid Anne Hathaway came onstage for the first ever slacker hosting of the Academy Awards. Dudes, it was awful.

In what now seems to me almost another life, I used to write about the movies and even imagined myself something of a student of the Oscars. What I could never figure out back then was why an event celebrating the pinnacle of show business was invariably such a rotten bit of show business. Well, the beat goes on.

Part of the problem is that the Oscar telecast never takes advantage of its biggest asset: Access to miles and miles of film footage from this year’s movies and from those of years past. I mean, what would you rather watch: Francis Ford Coppola standing mute on stage for a round of applause…or five minutes of The Godfather? Jeff Bridges telling Jennifer Lawrence how cute she is…or a longer scene from her brilliant performance in Winter’s Bone?

I thought the low point was the presentation of the bloated list of Best Picture nominees…ten of them no less. In the interest of time but not actual interest, this was compressed into a montage of outtakes shown with the  big speech from The King’s Speech as a kind of weirdly appropriate soundtrack. Colin Firth’s disembodied words were, after all, a warning to the public that it should brace itself for something terrible.

I say, spot on sir!