Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Killer Queen

First we had Stevie Wonder. Then Barry Manilow. Then Kenny Rogers. I wondered what fossil of the music industry American Idol would dig up next to hand-hold and fuck with the contestants as they struggled through another theme week. Well, they managed to top themselves. They actually did resurrect a dead man this week by having the kids perform the songs of Queen. The late, great Freddie Mercury may be gone, but tonight he was far from forgotten.


Much to learn, from the elders, there is. That's what Nigel and Simon are trying to tell us, and the contestants. They should be absorbing and growing with the advice generously being handed out by these wise and ancient ones, who are surely doing this without agenda, but purely from the goodness of their hearts, without regard to sales of their new albums.

So. Take their advice and learn we shall. On with the Show.

Bucky singing "Fat Bottomed Girls" was perfect for him. I like Bucky. He seems like a cool guy. I liked the Court TV story that came out about him this week, I like his manner, I like the way he blinks really hard, and I like his gravelly voice. He was fun, and I was glad for him. But I still have a feeling he's going to hit the bottom three with Ace, and possibly even Elliott again this week. Not that Elliott should be there after the performance he gave, but I think this week is definitely an acid test regarding the weight of the judges opinions and how heavily people vote on a "personality" that they like versus who's giving the best performances. The only one, the only one who seems to successfully straddle the vocal/performance line is Taylor, and I think it's obvious that Simon is gunning for him to not even make the finals anymore. Is he that much of a marketing nightmare, this guy?

Anyhow, back to the singing and performances.

Ace sang "We Will Rock You." He did not rock. Soon, Ace, we will STONE you if you don't get off the stage. From the pre-performance clip, we learned that Brian May took an intense dislike to Ace, which was understandable considering that even after the band explained that they weren't going to play their song differently for him, he tried to cajole them into it, forcing them to get standoffish with him. What I don't understand is why the producers insist on humiliating the kids just moments before they have to take the stage by showing these negative interactions. Well. I understand it with Ace, because it's a little funny. The even funnier part of it all was his performance. Believe it or not, it was the best Ace's voice has ever sounded, and yet on the whole he was just fey and pathetic, like a gelding. Or Clay Aiken. But because of him we did get the pleasure of hearing Paula say "bastardized". Nice.

Kelly doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't hit the heights of stupendously bad as I'd hoped, but it was pretty damn close! She didn't kill the Queen song, but she sure did strangle it into submission. She came out looking like a blonde Joan Jett, tottering around on stilettos while singing completely off key. When she started moving around the stage and flouncing herself onto her knees, the only thing lacking was a pole for her to shimmy around. And the funniest part was watching the entire judging panel and their staunch defense of her abysmal performance, telling her she'd pulled it off. For her stupid move of the week, she pretended she didn't know what the phrase "on paper" meant, but then turned around in the next breath and said that Simon uses strange "terminology."

Chris. Well, Chris also came out looking like a bald Joan Jett with his freshly groomed eyebrows and black eyeliner and even a dash of lipcolor on! I was truly scandalized. I hadn't seen a "rocker" that tarted up since Axl Rose was back in the jungle. Honestly, I always figured his ultra-butch act would appeal to the gay contingent, but I never figured he'd outright court that vote, even on Queen week. But damned if he didn't. I almost give him credit. Too bad he insisted on glaring at the camera and screaming another crappy song. Can you imagine? I learned a new Queen song thanks to him. Because Chris actually sifted through the entire Queen repertoire to find "Innuendo" -- a song that was droning and bland enough to fit his sensibilities.

[Tangent] Please move along to End Tangent if you have no use for my idiotic sermon here. I've been questioned about my venom toward Chris. Well. Here it is.

What is my problem with Chris? Authenticity, credibility, and cool. I'll hit the "cool" card next week, because I'm sure he'll still be dragging around. So here's the authenticity one for this week: Call me a traditionalist, but there's a line between pop and rock, and that line has more to do with authenticity than with time signatures and instrumentation. Pop music can be manufactured. It's not unusual to have a great songwriter pen the lyrics/music and have a band put together and then a singer brought in. That's called production, and it can have wonderful results. I have nothing against pop music, trust me.

But rock-n-roll is more organic, it's more visceral. Rock-n-roll happens when frustrated people tap into a creative well amongst themselves and write/sing/perform, and it's something with raw power. Rock has been on the ropes several times, and it's had a number of so-called touted "saviors." There was the skinny kid from Jersey, and then there was the skinny kid from Seattle. With the declining popularity of rock, it's flush for another "savior" to come along. But I guarantee that savior isn't someone cut from the black denim cloth of Chris Daughtry. Chris Daughtry is symptomatic of everything that's currently wrong with the state of rock.

First off, those forumulaic, heavy-driving songs that've been playing for the past several years are not rock. They're heavy pop is what they are. Rock morphs and changes, and the next wave of rock won't sound like grating Soundgarden knock-offs. That's why Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden exploded with the "grunge" sound back when it first appeared: Cause it was different. They merged punk and rock and injected it with poppy hooks to breathe a new life into the stale "classic rock" repertoire. But the sound has morphed and flattened since then. Bands like Creed managed to drain the edge and speed -- and anger and joy -- out of it by sampling and popularizing the slower songs and forgetting just how glorious a fast, three-chord, simple arrangement can be.

These bands now have a packaged and groomed flavor. And if Chris likes that kind of music, that's fine. Since that's the popular status quo, and since that kind of music can be manufactured, I guess he could do well commercially. However, there's a catch. Even though it is manufactured, to retain some semblance of respectability, it has to APPEAR to be a little bit "real". How exactly is Chris supposed to pull off that trick by becoming the winner of American Idol? Right now, the weapons of mass destruction argument has more credibility than Chris Daughtry.

Chris, listen. The producers are going to give you some really shitty music to record as they assemble a band behind you and then send you out to perform like the trained seal you've become. Bitch, please. Dave Grohl would bitch-slap your sorry, bald-headed face. And then he'd beat you about the head and shoulders with that stupid wallet chain you insist on wearing.

People no longer question an artist's integrity when they sell out their songs to commercials (though I notice Springsteen and Nirvana still haven't done it) because we're a money and fame obsessed society. But I, and plenty of others, still aren't so far gone we're willing to give up the last vestiges of our soul by sacrificing one of the true American art forms up to the cult of commercialism. I don't blame Chris Daughtry for searching for his piece of the American Dream or for fame-whoring or selling out. Because I don't think he ever had anything TO sell out. I wish him luck and hope he makes lots of money. But he's about as close to a real "rocker" as I am to Lester Bangs, dig?

For me, the only way Chris could retain some dignity and cool at this point would be if he'd acknowledge that what he was showing as his previous taste in music was a joke, that he views this whole competition as a joke, admit he was after fame and money for HIS band and then go out on a gloriously high note by sanctimoniously performing Adam Sandler's "Lunch Lady Land," while somehow getting Ace to do the accompanying Chris Farley dance.

[/ End Tangent]

Anyhow.

Katherine I think became the diva she's always wanted to be tonight, at least in her mind. She looked gorgeous in the red satin and just threw her arms out in the broadway-Jesus pose as she belted away, and despite being off-key a couple times, she pulled it off and I'm sure her fans ate it up. Again, it struck me as very rehearsed though, and she was entirely too convinced she'd "arrived". I wouldn't be shocked if she's in the bottom three again. Cause while it was *close* to being a wow performance, I think with it being dead in the middle of show and then being followed by Elliott and especially Taylor, she might get forgotten.

Taylor rocked it with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," even if it did take him TWO ultra rehearsed kicks to get the mic stand knocked over. That was a bit odd. I mean, once it didn't work the first time, you'd think he'd have moved on. But maybe there's a bit of OCD to his personality and he had to complete that maneuver before jigging around to the other side of the stage to do his wobbly-knee move. I liked him anyhow. Like I said, I thought his voice sounded great even though he was bopping around so much, and at the end he got a nice gritty sound to bring it home.

Simon, of course, hated him and asked him if he was drunk. I knew it'd be too much for Taylor to say, "Of course!" Instead he said, "No, not at all!" This led to an interesting exchange where Randy said "Simon's drunk," and Seacrest had to reply, "Someone at that table is drunk." So it's now two weeks in a row that Ryan's told us that someone at the judge's table is hopped up. Yeah. We watch the show. We saw Leno last night. We know Paula's bombed, like, all the fucking time. We've known for years. That's why she's so cheery and sweet to everyone, cause she's high! So the way they've decided to deal with it this year is to unleash her and let her hog press about how she was recently assaulted, so we can assume that she's on "painkillers" for her back again and everyone can make a joke about it like she's the resident Karen Walker of the show. I have no beef with that. As a chick who's often chemically altered myself, I like it when it's considered funny instead of pathetic.

Oh, and speaking of chemically altered, was I the only one who thought that Roger Taylor looked like he was shrooming in those pre-performance clips?

Anyhow, back to Taylor Hicks. He really is getting fucked with lately by the producers. We learned he changed his song this week. But actually, it's two weeks in a row that his song choice has been yanked away from him in the late stages. Last week, he suffered because of it, but this week, he done really good and got backhanded by Simon anyhow.

Paris, she came out looking like an actual drag queen. Really. Like a drag queen impression of a dominatrix Liza Minelli doing a bastardized Freddie Mercury cover song. I knew she'd rock the Mercury-style fashion, but I thought she'd pull it off. She didn't. The outfit was like the skin on a wiener, and with the spike-heeled boots and long hair it was a mismatch with her age. Simon called it weird, and I agree. She belted, but it was all very anti-climactic after the one-two punch of Elliott and Taylor lighting it up before her.

So that brings me back to Elliott. Yes, I bastardized the order of the night so I could pour my unfettered love on him at the end here. What can I say? He looked hot. Sounded hotter. He nailed the song from start to finish, and though Simon said it had some pitch problems, I really didn't hear that at all. (But I also think that his faint praise it to be expected at this point, lest Elliott and Taylor become actual threats to his chosen favorites.) To prove I'm not blind to faults, I will say he had a couple awkward moves in there with the one-arm sway (but that didn't come close to Ace's stomp-stomp-clap at the start of his number) and his ending leg kick.

Also, as a writer, I had to cringe when he said it was "ironic" that this soulful song was written with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, in mind. Ironic is a word that's been bastardized and misused plenty. Which is kind of funny, because ironic means "the opposite of what's expected or appropriate" and people, including Elliott in this clip, used ironic exactly opposite of what it means. It's not ironic that a soulful song was written with Aretha Franklin in mind, or that you're drawn to it because you love soul, Elliott. It's fitting. Ironic song choice would be if you sang Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me." Really. (That joke is for the hardcore Elliott fans out there.)

Nevertheless, I still love Elliott. One misuse of "ironic" couldn't but a damper on my infamously inappropriate crush. And tonight proved why he really shouldn't be such a dark-horse in the competition, cause he sang the hell out of "Somebody To Love." Vocally, his vibrato was just right, his tone was awesome for the first half, he hit a nice, attention-grabbing glory note in the middle, and then he put some serious stink on it for the whole second half of the number and finished up strong. I think people have sort of overwhelming expectations of Elliott, because he does have such a good voice and they either love him so much or they really dislike him intensely. So I'm not sure they'll ever be happy. But if you look at what he's put together on this show so far, at the consistency he brings every week with in-tune, great vocals, I don't think there's ever been a steadier, better singer on this show. People say they're waiting for his break-out performance, but after doing "Moody's Mood," "Teach Me Tonight" and now "Somebody To Love" and singing the everloving hell out of them, I can't understand why he's not a front-runner. I just can't. To me, it's completely fucking ironic that the best singer, as he's proven time and again, is still given short-shrift by the voters.

And, you know, I could kind of understand if he had a noxious personality. But I don't see that in him at all. If anything, he always comes across like a complete sweetheart. Like last week, when he was on the chopping block with Mandisa, he didn't seem squirmy or petulant (Katharine), nor did he have that air of entitlement (Paris) when he was told he was safe. He seemed genuinely happy for the people that were safe, and really disappointed for Mandisa. He just seems…cool. Genuinely cool, in a real person way. Not in the put-on, acting way (Chris).

I'm not advocating voting for Elliott cause he seems like a nice guy. I don't buy into the theory that people "deserve" some things in life because they're nice or because they've had it rough. I think something like this should be earned. What I am saying is that week after week, Elliott Yamin is earning this title, and I hope viewers catch on to that. The absolute worst part of his performance this week? The band. I think Elliott needs to pull the Bo Bice move and go a capella on the shit soon.

So. Anyhow. Where does that leave us? We learned this week that as far as celebrity mentors go, dead men come off best because we don't compare their bad plastic surgery. We learned that you don't willy-nilly try to bastardize a legendary band's arrangements, even if they're shrooming. We learned that Paula's not shrooming, she's just her garden-variety drunk as usual. We remembered that Freddie Mercury is a rock legend, but that doesn't stop us from putting him through the commercial grist-mill that is American Idol, or stop his band-mates from pimping themselves in such a manner. We learned that a gay cabaret night of Queen songs is very entertaining, especially when you've got a stripper (Pickler), the butch biker dude (Chris) and a drag queen (Paris) to pull it off, along with a self-anointed diva (Katharine) to be the topper.

And we learned who's got the chops to actually pull off the singing of the aforementioned legend's songs. Who's on a level with Freddie Mercury? No one. That's right, not even our darling Elliott can make us forget Freddie. And no one has Freddie's star wattage or showmanship, not even Taylor. But shit, that's Freddie Mercury. He's dead. Let him be a legend. But at least a couple of people didn't mangle the songs into dogshit because they do have serious chops. But I'm also afraid that tomorrow we're going to learn that having the chops just ain't enough. But hopefully it will be enough, and the right people will still be alive in this thing.

And we've also, as a bonus, learned that I am not Lester Bangs. (But I think I've also learned that I am secretly harboring a fantasy to someday gun for HH's job.)

Anyhow, I hope the voters toss a bastardized kink into the routine and vote off someone who deserves to go (Ace). That'd be a lesson for all of us.

12 comments:

Ellen said...

You are the nation's BEST American Idol blogger, Susan. I love this and agree with every word. Brilliant!

Don Capone said...

Last night wasn't quite the train wreck everyone expected. Though I pretty much agree with what you said about Chris, he was still—by far—the best vocal performance last night. His voice was STRONG and powerful, and I could almost see Queen reaching for the phone and offering him the lead singer position. Katharine, as usual, was great. Paris is a freaky little thing that I don't understand anymore. Elliot FINALLY sang I song I'd heard of before. Brian May put Ace in his place TWICE, and when Seacrest asked about it after Ace sang his song, Ace didn't answer the question. ("Yes, Ryan, it WAS uncomfortable to be bitch-slapped by Brian May" is what Ace should have said.) Ace, Bucky and Taylor will be the bottom three tonight.

Myfanwy Collins said...

Susan, I bow to your brilliance! Once again, you nailed last night's performances.

SusanD said...

Ellen, Myf, thanks ladies :) It's not brilliance -- I just listen. Unlike DON. Ahem. Chris, he was still—by far—the best vocal performance last night.

Don, you're nuts. That's all I can say about that. I think, like a lot of people, you hear what you see instead of hearing what's to be heard.

Anyhow. I have to go. I have fucking jury duty today and I'm bitter about it.

Ellen said...

Bottom three tonight: Ace, Bucky, Katherine (or possibly Paris)

God, I hope Ace goes. I can't take his vacuous stare anymore.

Myfanwy Collins said...

bottom three: Ace. Ace. Ace.

David Niall Wilson said...

Ace is definitely the worst of the lot, but my bet for bottom three is Ace, Eliot and Kathryn, and the reason is all personality votes. Now we have lost some of the contestants, and all those texting voters out there will have to shift loyalties. Having lost their own first choice, they will go with popular perceptions and try not to back a loser...which gives the edge to Chris, Kellie, and Taylor - with Bucky running a strong fourth, I'd say, in the popularity. Simon is an idiot, and I don't know why he thinks we don't remember from week to week when he gives exactly the opposite advice...

I do with Chris would cave a LITTLE and sing something...memorable. I think he and Taylor are in a world of nightmare where their styles are being squashed.

D

katrina said...

I'm now looking forward to reading this every week. I've learned SO much and it's entertaining and I can't wait until ACE is GONE!

Ellen said...

Aw, poo. Bucky was starting to grow on me.

And what's wrong with these people? How could they put Elliott in the bottom three?

Bleh. It's a ploy to get more people dialing the phone next week.

SusanD said...

Katrina, David, thanks for popping in!

Ellen -- I hope it's a ploy, but for some reason I really don't think people like Elliott. That Kellie will probably last longer than he will is stupid.

dennis mahagin said...

Wow, Susan,

what an incisive Idol Roundup!

I daresay, as good as any Rolling Stone journalist could pull off.

Enjoyed it!

--DM

SusanD said...

Hi Dennis,
Thanks for stopping in. And thanks for the kind words. You're crazy, but I'll take it ;)