I got together with three of my girlfriends this weekend, and once we'd caught up and had a few cocktails and become bored with our own dumb crap, talk drifted to TV. And once we'd exhausted discussing the new season of The Sopranos (It's great), the natural segue was to American Idol. It's reassuring that I'm not the only un-cool loser hawkeyeing the show, but I also cringed at the thought of how they'd taunt me when I revealed my dark horse pick, and my genuine affection for my pick. This group of ours, we don't exactly fancy ourselves the Algonquin Round Table, but we all appreciate a witty and cutting insult.
But I sucked it up and braced myself as I said, "I love Elliott." I was expecting some nasty comments about his looks or his nerves or something else. After all, I'd seen these girls metaphorically emasculate grown men for no bigger affront than their unfortunate choice in sideburn length. The response to my confession was fast and hard, but not what I'd expected.
"I LOVE HIM, TOO!" the first one shouted. This was even emphasized with a slap against the table.
"He's so excellent," my second friend said. "And he's gotten adorable."
Part of me thought to myself, Unbelievable. But the other half thought, I fucking knew it! Because, see, I did know it!
That left one more to weigh in, and the three of us who'd already spoken looked at her expectantly, to see if our freakish little coven of Elliott love would be complete. I knew the odds were long, given that we hadn't all enthusiastically agreed on the strange and striking desirability of one person since Furio had rained down hell in the massage parlor.
So we sat there, staring at our fourth, expectant, waiting for the final judgment to be passed before we devolved into squealing about the details.
And then it came. Final judgment: "I can't stand him."
Oh, the chorus of dissent we hurled at her:
"What's wrong with you?"
We badgered. She didn't relent. But the worst she could drudge up as a rationalization was this: "He spells his name stupid."
"You don't think he can sing?" I asked her.
"Yeah, he can sing." She shrugged. "Elliot, t." She actually stuttered the second T. Then, "It's stupid and I don't like it. It's gratuitous, that second T."
Well. What're you gonna do, you know? Besides, she wasn't the arbiter of good taste among our clique anyhow. Three of us are in agreement over Clive Owen, and she doesn't see that one either. And only two of us "get" Vince Vaughn. And I completely fail to understand their affinity for Colin Farrell. So. It happens. And, in all fairness, she does hold the spelling high ground with her traditional name.
But I could tell she wasn't just slightly negative about Elliott. I could tell he bugged her, but she wasn't ready to take us all on. So she needled again with the only ammunition she was willing to voice. "Elliot, t."
"The extra T," I told her, "is for Talent. Cause he's the only one who's got it."
I thought it was a decent throwaway line at the time. I had to say something for fuck's sake.
That was over the weekend. It was an interesting chat, but even we wondered if we really like Elliott so much, or if he was just a bright spot in an overall dirgy, formulaic season. I was starting to think maybe he wasn't so special, that he only seemed elevated compared to the glaring shortcomings of the rest of the character-contestants in this fifth and aging season of AI. I was actually starting to buy into that theory.
And then this happened.
In case you never noticed, I'm a tough, jaded bitch on the outside but inside I'm a hopeless romantic. One word: Swoon.
Again, Elliott brought the goods. Again, Simon gave him faint praise by saying, "Good vocal." But then he immediately took it away by saying that based on personality, he's worried for Elliott this week. I have to say, I love that he did that. I don't think it's accurate, but I also think it was a nice bit of reverse psychology on Simon's part to get people to vote for Elliott because they'll perceive weakness. Good! I don't give a fuck how he gets the votes, as long as he gets the votes and I get to hear him sing again next week. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe it will turn people off and they won't vote for Elliott based on Simon's comments. But I don’t think so. I think Simon knows about the groundswell of E-love that went on this past week after Elliott owned "Somebody to Love," and I think Simon wants to keep Elliott around, at least longer than Ace. I do think the next pecking order is Ace, Paris and Elliott. But I also think our underdog is starting to gain momentum.
"It Had To Be You" was Elliott's song choice, and boy-oh did he do it up. The backup singers were gratuitous and annoying, but he wasn't fighting the entire band for a change. His voice sounded so good and brought a modern sexiness, and yes, soulful vibe to the song, that even the very popular Harry Connick version never had. I love Harry, and I do see some similarities between he and Elliott, like Paula pointed out. (I can't believe I'm agreeing with Paula. Is that a sign that I'm partying too hard before the shows? Who cares? She has fun, and so do I! And, by the way, she was boobs OUT tonight. She had the ladies on full display for standards night.) Harry and Elliott both have quirky good looks, an approachable charm and affable attitude, not to mention dreamy voices. Harry's is smoother and more refined, but Elliott's has that sultry texture to it. And the way he started by leaning against the mic stand? Swoon.
But more on our charming Elliott later.
Let me say upfront that I was salivating to rip into Rod Stewart. Unfortunately for me, but good for the show, and the contestants, I think he was hands down the coolest pro they've had yet. I don't know how much he actually helped them other than to build their confidence, but even if that's all he did, it made for a massive improvement. Just goes to show you what a wonderful world it could be if so many people weren't fucking assholes, you know? His playful, cheerful attitude along with the fantastic material made this the best night of the season so far, or at least tied it with 50's night. And Rod doesn't even get tagged for the bad plastic surgery watch! He was tan, maybe even a slight bit orange, but he wasn't a complete Mystic Tan mess and overall, he looked his age, but damn fine for it.
Here's a quick rundown of the winners and losers for the night:
S'Wonderful -- The Winners
Paris. Even if she was dressed like a whorey CEO, holy smokes did Paris knock my socks off. Now I remember her audition and how good she was. She swallowed up the stage and band as she tore up "These Foolish Things." It was just -- awesome. Also at the end of Paris's interlude is when Ryan inserted his now mandatory "Simon is drunk" reference. Though this time I do believe Simon grabbed Paula's cup to show that yes, he had been nipping away. What prompted this whole exchange was Simon's glowing review of Paris, I think he told her she was terrific, or something similar. Good for Paris, good for them. Unfortunately for Paris, she went so early in the show that I'm afraid for her, and particularly afraid that in the dwindling pool she's going to get swallowed up, especially after the grotesque over praise Simon hurled toward Katharine to close the show. If life were fair, Paris would be a top vote-getter this week, but something tells me she's still in danger of hitting the bottom three.
Taylor did "You Send Me" and did his best, and his best was pretty damn good. He had to fight the band a little bit, but he sang it right on and in tune and even got a little jiggy at the end. Simon must've been on the hooch, or he's realized that there's really no stopping the Taylor love so instead of inflaming the Soul Patrol this week with insults he figured he'd go along for the ride and deem Taylor "magical." You think that's a good comment? It is. But not nearly as good as Rod's comment about it, and how he said that Taylor grabbed it by the balls. Rod was right about that. Taylor fits the stage the way Paula fits barbiturates.
As Ryan mentioned, Taylor got parodied on SNL this weekend. If you missed it, you can find it up at graycharles.com. It's pretty funny.
Elliott. He may hit the bottom three again, but I highly doubt he's going anywhere this week.
These Foolish Things -- The Losers
Kellie. What the hell can I say here? She sucked every bit of life and sensuality right out of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." The song was boring and she was all out of tune, but then she got so freaking apologetic about it that no one had the balls to really rip into her for it. Still, she should be in the bottom three this week based on performance, but I highly doubt she will be. In stark contrast to Simon's comment about Elliott's lack of personality, Kellie's clip was shown right after that crabby moment, and her clip with Rod was all about her personality. He kept saying it over and over, and I suspect this is because, like I said, he wasn't critical at all. So with his complimentary love-fest, he couldn't say anything about her sub-standard voice, so he played up her personality. Kellie shouldn't rely on her personality. Standards don't suit her. Three hundred dollar haircuts that still look shitty are what suits her.
Ace stunk out with "That's All." He came out in a suit and with his hair pulled back to look the part, but it all had a desperate edge of trying too hard to fit in, and he just still didn't fit at all. He wants to be a crooner, but it's just not there with his nasally sound. And again with the freaking falsetto! Dear Jesus! And the best part? The judges encourage it! They tell him his falsetto is his meal ticket. Liars! Liars, Liars. The beauty of standards is that it harkens back to a time when men were masculine, without having to resort to wallet chains. But I've seen Tiny Tim pull off more ballsy performances than Ace ever has. Elevator muzak has more potency than Ace's singing. Remember when Kellie asked her infamous "What's a ballsy?" ACE should've been given Cliff's Notes on what a ballsy is, because he doesn’t have a clue. How I long for Constantine. Ace just isn't masculine, no matter how big and sturdy his body is or how hetero he is. (That brother of his in the audience, though? Yeah, he was there again. He's still hot.)
But in keeping with the fun and swinging feel of the night, they didn't use Ace as their whipping boy again. He was obviously thrilled to have Rod be nice to him, and I'm sure that was partially a knee-jerk reaction to his being bitched out on the show last week by Queen. This is why Ace is no Constantine. If that whole Queen thing had happened to Constantine, I'd have no mercy for him. But Ace is a strange mix of odiously arrogant and yet also embarrassingly vulnerable. That's a dangerous combination for a fame-whore like him. Because when you're a blatant fame-whore, you're going to have to take the hits when you're ridiculous, as Ace so often is. But he can't handle the hits. He's oblivious to his own arrogance, therefore, his ego gets bruised, man, and he gets all dewy-eyed. And that just sucks the fun out of riding him to the ground. And, apparently even Simon feels that way, because he was apologetic and tame in his comments, even giving some praise which Ace latched onto like an alcoholic latches onto his whiskey after last call. He'll still be bottom three. And this time, I think his luck has run out and he'll be leaving. He won't be at peace with it. He'll most likely cry. And blush. That'll be a very fitting end for him.
Katharine closed the show with "Someone To Watch Over Me." This is possibly one of the most vulnerable and pleading songs in the standards repertoire, and Katharine got the advantage of super-close ups on her outrageously pretty face and long-lashed eyes. But Maybelline Great Lash doesn't make a great performance. The problem with the performance is that she totally bottomed out on all the breathy, low notes and sounded awful on them. But the judges pimped her more gratuitously than a Vegas hooker during the annual Microsoft convention. It's getting embarrassing. Seriously. That Simon crapped all over Paris's performance by telling Katharine she was so far out of league with everyone else was just embarrassing for him. But that's marketing for you!
And then there's Chris. Honestly? I wouldn't be surprised if Chris makes his first appearance in the bottom three after tonight. With his shitty placement and that utterly boring performance, with the added bonus of how everyone probably at this point assumes he's a lock, I can almost picture it.
Remember how I said all my venom had transferred to Kellie? I was wrong. Chris, I have realized, is my Constantine this year. Chris valiantly but lamely tried to keep a stranglehold on his idea of cool with his scaled back version of "What a Wonderful World." (Told you the cool card would be played this week.) He got the memos about the eyeliner and it was gone, but his wallet chain was still on fine display along with his rolled up shirt sleeves. Remember Brando in "Guys and Dolls" and how painful that was? This was worse. Again, he put off this vibe where my initial reaction was to say, "He's hot again." But by the time he was half-way through glaring at the camera as he droned the song and the smoke puffed around him, I was back to getting the creepy, stalker vibe from him. He's got a strong persona, yes. This is why Chris is, sadly, a perfect fit for American Idol. The judges prostrated themselves before him, commending him for stepping outside of his box and pulling this off. But he didn't leave his box. He had to tackle this by staying within the confines of his definition of cool by looking leather-boy butch.
And that's exactly what negates his "cool" and makes him lame. Contrary to popular belief, cool has never been about fitting in and molding yourself into an image that others see as desirable. A life lived by other's expectations, and by not exploring all your own potential and options and tastes, isn't cool. It's suffocating, and damn near tragic. For as silly as American Idol is, it's a fast and erratic opportunity for wannabe artists to dabble and experiment outside of their comfort zone. They can learn and, laugh as you may, potentially even grow by finding out what else can work for them, and what can't. But Chris is so deeply invested in his style of shitty Creed not-rock that he's unwilling to even explore what he can potentially be and instead he remains shackled to his conformist prison.
That's not cool. Cool has never been about conformance. American cool is about defying the status quo and being true to yourself, even when it's considered lame. Perhaps Chris is being true to himself, but only so much as it's already been pre-approved by others. He may view himself as a maverick for Idol, but he's not, because his image is already fully accepted within our culture. His instant popularity on the show proves that, and it's a hallow victory, especially since Bo and Constantine had already cleared a path for him. That's why American Idol is a perfect, cheezy fit for him. I told you before why those crappy alterna-rock bands he digs aren't cool, but how they fit the current niche. Chris can easily be dropped into that niche to make some quick bucks. But that doesn't make it cool.
True cool is initially shocking, or ugly, or even laughable, because it colors outside the lines of what's currently acceptable. Like a snake eating its own tail, the previously mockable then becomes the new standard of cool and is imitated (and then marketed and consumed.) Dig?
Cool is someone who owns themselves and doesn't make apologies for being different. It's that difference that makes them cool, even if they're not aware of the appeal. Because someone who's hyper-aware of their own appeal and cool factor? That's not cool, that's a narcissist. Or Constantine.
You know where I'm going with this, right? Cliche, yes, that I said the extra "t" in Elliott's name is signifying of his talent. Nevertheless. For all his hesitancy and seeming reluctance to realize his overall, general appeal, I think Elliott is well aware of his talent as a singer. I don't think he's narcissistic about it at all, but I think it's something he acknowledges and has confidence about.
But in stark contrast to that confidence, Elliott still doesn't seem to be self-possessed or connected with his own allure yet. Which is to say, he simply doesn't realize that he's now, finally, one of the cool kids.
What's endearing about his manner is also what's frustrating about his performances: He's got mad skillz and all he needs to do is settle down to let it fall into place and relate to the audience through his body language as well as he does vocally. He did this so easily in his earliest performances on the smaller stage, until it was either Simon's words, or his own realization that he had his dream within his grasp -- or a nerve-wracking cocktail of those and other factors -- that seemed to kink up his game. The point being, vocally he's gifted and even if he was struggling with nerves as badly as it looked sometimes, that never overcame his voice or took him out of tune. Frankly, I don't understand how he pulled off that trick, cause it's a trick worthy of one of those aforementioned Vegas whores during convention week. It's usually exactly that pressure or fright that causes these kids to go flat or sharp, not their lack of vocal training or ability. (The pressure factor is for another week, though.)
This week, he was so much better with his performance. He wasn't *quite* breezy and swinging, but he was damn close, and I think that's why he looked genuinely shocked when Simon mentioned his "personality." Thing is though, I think Simon is trying to help him, both by keeping him in the underdog status, and by hammering it to him that he needs to relax and be confident. The paradox is, the more someone tries to relax, the harder it's going to be to relax. But, once Elliott does get the last few performance anxieties knocked out and snaps the final puzzle pieces into place, he's going to be formidable in this competition -- not because he's in step with what's in style, but because he's so different from the status quo. For all her drunken blather, Paula did nail something else important in one of her earlier critiques about him. He's humble. I don't think that part of his character is going to be annihilated by him being successful on this TV show, or even if he lands a good career. And that's something that's so out of step with our current culture and it is, to quote Paula, "refreshing." Beyond that, his whole style and vibe isn't neatly pegged or packaged. And it's exactly that difference that makes him cool.
Maybe he's nervous at times, but he takes the chances anyway. Fearlessness isn't bravery. Overcoming fears and getting the job done anyhow is brave. And it's that sort of guts and determination, along with his heaven-sent voice, that could actually make him one of the few Idol success stories, no matter when he exits the show. Maybe he'll hit the bottom three again this week. And maybe he will even exit, though I doubt it. If that happens, he won't get a million-dollar deal from this show and a career may be hard-won in the long haul, but I think he's got the mettle to do it. He's already proven he's got the talent, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that he's got an elusive, everyman chic going on. The inability to easily pigeon-hole him might relegate him to being more of a niche performer as opposed to a whopping commercial phenom, but it still spells success as a singer. And a life of professional singing, that's what fits Elliott -- to a T, even if it is a gratuitous one.