Welcome back, Idol. It's been a while, hasn't it? Last time I saw you, you were stomping on my soul by getting rid of my raven haired, oversinging, tattooed reality crush Carly, and almost anointing a squinty, robotic carnival kewpie doll as your champion, before eventually making a sound decision.
So what's changed? There's a new stage and a new judge, who at first glance, seems like a more lucid Paula. There's a 13th contestant, whose phone number almost goes to a porn service. While I usually fast forward through all the background features and sob stories, it appears Idol went out of its way this year to find a Labor Day telethon worth of tragic circumstances and teenage parents. During last year's audition round, did they fail to hand out an appropriate number of condoms? Sheesh. And evidently, there's going to be some change to how contestants are voted off? As Rorschach would say, "hurm."
If you're new here, and wondering why Idol suddenly pops up in a "reality-free" blog usually commenting on the wonderful world of scripted TV, sports and other musings, check out last year's preamble.
Let's dive in to last night's celebration of the music of Michael Jackson and the Top 13.
First, though, a quick bit about the "King of Pop." Is it possible to hear these tunes now without your irony shields at full strength? For people around my age, we grew up with Michael Jackson, and actually remember it being "cool." In college, I can recall folks gathering in the dorm TV rooms to watching the airing of the amazing "Thriller" video for the 20th time on MTV (remember that? A music channel that played music videos instead of watching paint dry programs about the overexamined and shallow lives of vapid whores?). I bought the cassette tapes (remember those?) for "Off The Wall" and "Thriller" before thinking that perhaps this dude was a bit strange, and I might feel somewhat odd walking up to the counter at Tower Records (remember those?) with "Bad." And that was before two decades of elephant man bones, Bubbles the chimp, a sham marriage to the (real) King's daughter, surrogate moms, enough plastic surgery to keep McNamara/Troy in Ferraris and skanks until Wilbur is an adult and of course, spiked juice boxes and uncomfortable kiddy sleepovers that would make a Catholic priest blush. Still, if you remove all the mind-warping baggage from the Jackson legacy (which admittedly, is hard to do), there's no denying that he has a pretty incredible catalog of perfectly crafted and performed pop songs. So how did our Idolettes do?
First up is Lil, who does "The Way You Make Me Feel." It seems she was going for a pirate look, if instead of parrots on their shoulder, pirates wore a mountain of toilet paper (Paula went full pirate, with actual feathers all over her shoulder). Good voice and not bad. 7
Scott sings "Keep The Faith." Not an MJ song that I recall, and it was blandly performed. And hey! He's blind! The judges seem like they're going to be making borderline condescending comments about his disability and talking about how he's such an inspiration, when they should really just say that he sounds like a vanilla gospel singer. If you closed your eyes (or were blind!), this would have felt right at home on one of those late night infomercials for a CD full of "Songs of Praise!" And Paula starts babbling about Norway? Good to see you've stayed on the meds for a full year. 5
Danny performs "PYT." (Another song in the Jackson oeuvre that just sound "uncomfortable" in hindsight). He's got a nice, smoky, bluesy voice and does a great job with this, sounding like a less constipated Taylor Hicks. Paul starts to cry and predicts he's finals bound. 9
Hmmm. They're mixing up the order of the judges comments. No Randy (Dawg! Mariah! Journey! Yo!), Paula (seal clap! "You're a unique rainbow in a field of unicorns with their very special aura and I love your you!") and then Simon (cogent thoughts, references to karaoke or busking). Not quite sure what to make of this or the new gal yet. Although I'm already dreading how fucking tedious it will be when Seacrest recounts the ramblings of FOUR judges for EACH contestant on the results show (which single handedly should shoot up the stock price of TiVo).
Michael does "You're Not Alone" (which MJ may have written while huddled under a blanket over card table fort). Awful song, and there's nothing remarkable about his singing or performance. 5
Jasmine makes the "diva choice" of "I'll Be There." Randy makes his first Mariah reference. The performance is obvious and cruise-shippy. 4
Chris takes "Remember The Time." He's comfortable on stage and has a strong voice. Nice "jazzy" arrangement. (what the hell was going on with comments about his wife?) 7
Allison, who is only 16, sings a rocking version of "Give In To Me." What color is her hair? And how does she sound like that when the legal age to purchase cigarettes is 21? I totally didn't expect that voice coming out of her, and it was a nice surprise. It will be interesting to hear how she handles other material, but I liked this one. And she has one of the funniest contestant retorts I've EVER heard on Idol: "I'm not dark -- it's not like I'm cutting myself." 7 + 1 for the funny.
Anoop, who is evidently the "13th" contestant, is about as successful as Antonio Banderas was as the "13th Warrior." He sings "Beat it" (wow, you can't type these MJ song titles without giggling, can you?), and unless America takes leave of their senses, I think that choice will be prescient. Anoop should "beat it." He's swallowed by the sound of the band and is about as threatening as cotton candy. 3
Jorge performs "Never Can Say Goodbye." Awful. Terrible hotel lounge arrangement and he was off key for major stretches. Another funny: Jorge, "I wasn't gonna sing 'Bad.'" Simon, "well, you sorta did." Awesome. 3
Megan has a seizure while performing "Rockin' Robin." At least it looks that way. Since paramedics didn't rush the stage, I'll just assume that was "dancing." I have no idea what to make of her. Seems like she was enthusiastic and having fun, and she did hit some solid notes. (And did I actually hear her making "caw, caw" bird noises at the end? So the audience might understand the important thematic underpinnings of the song? Whew). But clearly the appeal is front and center with a push up bra. 6 (4 + 2, if ya know what I'm sayin).
Adam takes on MJ's obvious, lame and pedantic lecture about race relations, "Black and White." Wow, this is actually enjoyable. Uptempo and rocking, Adam brings the energy of the show back up, and at times, sounds a speech on racial harmony delivered by Axl Rose. In a good way. 8
Matt tries to summon his inner Timberlake at the piano, doing "Human Nature." He takes a breathy and whispery song, and makes it even more breathy and whispery. Yawn. 5
Alexis closes us out with an overcooked version of "Dirty Diana." Shouty and melisma plagued, but not that bad. 6
Well, there we go. All in all, not too terrible, but I wonder about some of the song choices. Did they have access to the entire catalog? No "Off The Wall?" Or "Smooth Criminal?" Or "Thriller?" Or "Workin' Day and Night?" All four of those would have been excellent selections.
TNRLM Top 3: Danny, Adam, Allison
TNRLM Bottom 3: Anoop, Jorge, Jasmine