American Idol recap: Relax, folks -- They're supposed to sound bad now
I know you expected the Top 24 semifinalists in American Idol to be better than the halting crew we've seen over the past two nights. And yes, disappointing as the top 12 females were Tuesday, Wednesdays collection of male performances were even worse, leading judge Simon Cowell to pronounce the halfhearted David Cook clone Lee Dewyze as the best singer of the night.
But here's the thing to remember about Idol. These singers are supposed to sound bad at this stage of the game, for a few good reasons.
Nerves. There's no underestimating the heebie-jeebies which can come from singing live, for the first time, in front of a TV audience of millions. Sound. As judge Ellen DeGeneres pointed out Wednesday, the sound in the hall is much different than what viewers hear at home (having actually sat in Idol's studio for their aborted kiddie take on the genre, American Juniors, I can vouch for this).
Story. Right now, most of the contestants are supposed to be potential diamonds in the rough, the better to emerge as polished performers as the contest winds on. That's the reason, I think, Cowell took a little bite out of St. Petersburg-raised Michael Lynche, whose take on Maroon 5's This Love was the most confident and technically together performance until bluesy beefcake Casey James stole Kara DioGuardi's heart with a straightforward version of Bryan Adams' Heaven (expect a Paula Abdul-style scandal about Kara and one of the guys any week now).
This helps avoid what I call Danny Gokey syndrome, named for the Idol finalist who emerged as a front-runner so early in 2009, he got ejected from the show before the Top Two spots, leaving the contest to Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.
In fact, James and Lynche top my short list of best male performers from Wednesday, along with 16-year-old phenom Aaron Kelly and singer/strummer Andrew Garcia, despite his choice to acoustify Fall Out Boy's Sugar, We're Going Down to mixed results.
This brings up a key contradiction among Idol judges. Constantly, they tell singers to make songs their own. But when they try, as with Todrick Hall's stumbling reinvention of Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone, judges often slap them down for "doing too much" or "trying too hard."
Here's the deal: judges love it when contestants nail a reinvention of a popular song, as when Garcia popped off an acoustic version of Abdul's Straight Up which made you wish she was in the house long enough to dance incoherently one more time behind the judges' table.
But get it wrong -- like Todrick, who jettisoned Clarkson's melody, forcing him to oversing the tune so much he missed way too many notes for comfort -- and the judges HATE it. It's not fair, it's just Idol's way.
Which also explains, by the way, the judge's loopy behavior this year. New kid at the table DeGeneres is clearly uncomfortable with her fellows judges' habit of screwing around during some contestants' performances and Cowell's habit of pointedly talking with other judges or winking at his girlfriend when he thinks the camera isn't on him (news flash Simon, in a live show, the camera always alights when you least expect it). With Abdul gone, there's no excuse for the stupid; here's hoping schoolmarm Ellen can rein it in before things get too far out of hand.
In all, it added up to an appropriately big ball of bummer to keep us chattering about Idol until the hourlong ejection episode tonight, where two males and two females go home.
Among the men, I'm thinking Todrick Hall, uncomfortably tense Alex Lambert and put-through-at-the-last-moment disappointment Tim Urban should be most nervous. For the women, chirpy Haeley Vaughn and warbly church singer Lacey Brown are least likable so far.
However it ends, I'm sure Idol will spend way too much time unveiling it tonight. Welcome to TV's most popular show!