American Idol 2009: Jason’s Episode 39 Recap

Idol LogoI wasn’t going to do a recap of last night’s performance by the final two, but after reading Gordon’s live blog, I felt compelled to respond.  My response?  Gordon is smoking large amounts of delicious crack rock.

Last night’s episode was good in spots, but overall, it was fairly disappointing.  I guess I will review each performance round by round.

ROUND 1

In this round, the contestants get to pick their favorite performance from the season.  I hate it when they do this.  Shouldn’t we get a new performance here?  As evidenced by Archuleta’s performance of “Imagine” during last year’s finale, something usually gets lost during a repeat performance of these songs.  It could be that the initial surprise of any vocal tricks or arrangement adjustments has worn off, but these rarely seem to be able to compare to the first performance.  Until now.

Adam Lambert:  Adam wisely picks the Gary Jules version of “Mad World” for his favorite performance.  This was the performance that had many people proclaiming Adam Lambert to be a genius the first time around.  I actually did not like it as much as many other viewers did, preferring instead his earlier performance of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of my Tears.”  That said, I think Adam’s performance of “Mad World” last night was more restrained, more emotional, and more affecting than his original performance.  I could have done without the fog machine and Hellraiser jacket, but Adam sang the song very well.

Kris Allen:  For some reason, I was kind of expecting to hear Kris perform “Heartless” tonight, because in my opinion it has been his most relevant performance to date, showing his ability to take a current pop hit and successfully rework it to suit his style.  However, I think Kris actually made the right choice in picking “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  First, Kris just performed “Heartless” last week, so it wouldn’t have seemed as fresh.  Second, “Ain’t No Sunshine” was the first performance from Kris that made people recognize him as a genuine contender for the top spot, and having a reminder of that moment was a good boost to Kris’s underdog status going into tonight.  Finally, Kris actually outdid himself, turning in an even stronger performance than his first.  Kris did a lot tonight to remind us why he’s there, and he also showed how much he has grown over the season by improving on one of his standout performances of the season.

WINNER:  KRIS (barely!)

ROUND 2

Ah, the dreaded producer’s pick, a job that used to fall to Clive Davis before his old, scaly ass got the boot from the show.  Now the job has been given to producer Simon Fuller, and someone needs to take it away from him, pronto!  Perhaps credit Obama for this, but for some reason we get a couple of late 60’s protest songs from two of the greatest male soul singers of their generation, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.  Why?  Both songs are iconic, and neither belongs on a glorified pop karaoke contest like Idol.  And here’s why.

Adam Lambert:  Who in the hell could have possibly thought that Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come” was an appropriate choice for Adam?  Seriously, Simon Fuller, what were you thinking?  Was it some sort of sly reference to the plight of the gay population as they fight for marital rights, much like African Americans fought for voting rights in the 60’s?  No matter the reasoning, it was stupid, and Adam did the best he could with it.  Despite a few moments that sounded overly screechy and took away from the melody, there were some more restrained moments that actually showed a gospel side to Adam’s voice that had not been heard up to this point.  It was an uneven performance, but I think the good just slightly outweighed the bad.

Kris Allen:  Kris was saddled with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and here’s one of the areas in which I think Gordon is smoking crack when he says that this song doesn’t have enough melody.  What?  Seriously?  Kris takes the familiar acoustic route on this one, and I don’t think I would blame the song for this performance’s ultimate failure.  No, I think Kris Allen is to blame.  This is a powerful song, and Marvin Gaye was able to convey genuine pain, confusion, and sadness in his untouchable rendition of this song.  When Kris Allen performs it, the song just sounds like a bouncy little pop tune with little emphasis on the weight of the lyrics or the message they contain.  It was a coffee house performance, and I was not impressed.

WINNER:  ADAM

ROUND 3

And even more dreaded than the producer’s pick is the always cringe-inducing Idol song.  There have been many bad songs in the past, such as Jordin and Blake’s “This Is My Now,” but that was absolutely topped last season with David Cook’s “Time Of My Life,” which actually contains lyrics about a “magic rainbow.”  Not kidding.  For the past couple of seasons, these songs were submitted to the Idol songwriting contest, which has apparently gone the way of the dodo.  But not to worry, because Kara DioGuardi, the queen of insipid pop drivel, is on the show and has contributed a song for this year’s Idols to sing.  It’s called “No Boundaries,” and it makes me want to strangle a puppy.  This one even manages to be particularly insensitive to residents of our recently storm-plagued Gulf Coast, containing an inexplicable line about “Weather(ing) the hurricane.”  Nice.

Adam and Kris:  I will quickly review both singers together, because they were both saddled with this terrible pile of dreck.  No singer could work with this song, and it was proven by both Adam and Kris.  Adam missed several notes and seemed lost, while the song was in the wrong key for Kris’s voice.  The music itself was much more suited for Kris’s singing style, but the key issues keep him from gaining a solid edge.  Both singers went down in flames on this one, and I hope that Kara will not be back next season to contribute more awful crap like this, not to mention her worthless, rambling commentary delivered with her ridiculous finger-wagging and head-bobbing.

WINNER:  DRAW

So that makes the final count 1-1-1, and we have a tie ball game!  Who’s going to win?  I can honestly say that I do not know, but I actually have a feeling in my gut that it will be Kris.

If you have ever watched “America’s Next Top Model,” they have a way of referring to models as either “commercial” or “editorial.”  Commercial models are more conventionally pretty and better suited for mainstream ad work, whereas editorial models are more edgy and appropriate for high fashion and avant garde campaigns.  Obviously, Kris would be the commercial model, and Adam is the editorial.  Kris has so much more mainstream appeal than Adam, whether it be his boyish good looks, his shy southern charm, or his safe and inoffensive vocal delivery. Adam seems to be much more on the love-him-or-hate-him side of things.  While both singers failed with Kara’s horrorshow song, Kris would have benefited immensely from a simple key change, while the song itself was just not suited to Adam’s style.  This is the type of album that the winner will have to make, and Kris is much better equipped to handle this dreck than Adam.  For that reason, I think Kris should win, lest Adam be drained of every single ounce of the flamboyant personality that made him such a hit this season.

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3 Responses to American Idol 2009: Jason’s Episode 39 Recap

  1. While I fully confess to smoking vast quantities of crack (I found Former Housemate Mike’s stash in the garage), I don’t think my comments on “What’s Going On” were off base, although they may have been poorly worded due to typing quickly in a live blog.

    Saying the song doesn’t have a lot of melody is not a quality judgment–the Marvin Gaye version deserves its classic status. But the note-range it falls within is pretty limited. Because the range is limited, it takes a masterful vocal to put over–it needs to be both emotional and subtle, a very difficult trick to pull off.

    I’ve heard the song covered several times, the Cyndi Lauper version being the only one I can recall, and never thought any of the covers were very good. Cyndi’s version illustrates my point well–it’s got the emotion, but not the subtlety, so it just sounds trivial. And I write that as a great admirer of Cyndi Lauper’s early material.

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM84Vm1uGwg&fmt=18)

    This is why I don’t think it’s a good pick to showcase a vocalist. If no one other than Marvin Gaye has been able to do the song justice in the past three and a half decades, it is reasonable to expect that a twenty-three year old will crash and burn on it, no matter how talented he might be.

    I thought Kris did a reasonably good job with the song, but there had to be better picks out there.

    Probably due to having Marvin Gaye on the brain, it occurs to me that I’d really like to hear Kris Allen singing the Commodores’ “Nightshift.” It also exists in a limited range and requires a subtle vocal, but it’s got a nice laid-back groove that I think he could fully inhabit.

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  2. Jarrod says:

    Gotta agree with Gordon here. NO ONE, that I can recall, has been able to do Marvin’s songs any justice. You truly feel as if Marvin’s songs were intended for Marvin, and Marvin alone. How do you follow someone who can sing the National Anthem like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTJSftikR3k

    Anyway, I went back and watched some older performances on AI’s website… and I haven’t been giving Allison enough credit. She’s good. Potentially really good. (My fave from her was “Someone to Watch Over Me”).

    And while I’m looking back, I’ll stop and give Gokey a tiny bit of credit too. His performances were pretty dependably mediocre, but his rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine” was actually pretty good. Maybe there’s some talent in there after all.

    But still, Adam was more compelling throughout. Without him, this season would’ve been somewhat boring. But I wonder if – in his case – what works well for televised entertainment translates at all into a similarly compelling music career. I try to imagine a televised competition between Adam and Feist, or Adele, or Cat Power, or Sufjan Stevens, or even Kanye or Justin Timberlake (yeah, I said it ;)… and while I think Adam would be more entertaining and captivating on tv than some of those names – especially in their earlier days, I surely wouldn’t suggest that he would be more successful – or necessarily “better.” Nevertheless, Adam managed to turn in some really impressive performances. (Though I will say that Kris seems to be one of the few contestants to realize that the music/arrangement isn’t just there for background noise – which is why his music is a lot more enjoyable for me.)

    • Jarrod:

      Thank you so much for bringing Marvin Gaye’s rendition of our National Anthem to my attention. I am ordinarily militantly against people trying to do something different with the song, because it almost never works. Marvin Gaye is one of the few people who could have pulled that off, and he did, beautifully and brilliantly.

      Since Memorial Day weekend is coming up, I may recycle that for a blog post. Awesome link. Thanks again.

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