Remember Die Hard, when Bruce Willis busted out that great line, "Yippee ki yay, motherfucker" and how perfectly it fit him and the moment? Okay, now remember later in the movie when the bad guy was taunting him and in his German accent he said, "Yippee ki yay. Motherfuck." It was funny because it was so wrong. Yeah. That was American Idol last night: Funny and wrong because it just didn't fit. (And yes, I'm also aware how funny and wrong it is for me to devote so much time writing about it week after week. Nevertheless.)
I don't generally like country music. I don't know country music. But I'm not one of those music snobs who thinks that if I don't like something, it sucks. My tastes in music are eclectic and vast. I'm always up for listening to something new and hopefully enjoying it. That said, it's a damn good thing I view American Idol as an entertainment show and not as a gateway to exposing myself to various music genres to then be judged as a whole. Cause if I was doing the latter -- judging the genre after watching last night -- I'd say that country music blows.
For some reason, I thought last week's "Songs of the 21st Century" theme was going to be the low point of AI this year. But I honestly think this week they managed to inject a little more cheeze and drain a bit more fun out of it. Every year, they tout the contestant pool as the most talented, the most charismatic, the most versatile, ect. But it really hasn't seemed that way for the past couple weeks.
I don't mind Kenny Rogers. I kinda like Kenny Rogers. However, if I had looked at my TV screen and just seen that guy without being told it was Kenny Rogers, I wouldn't have known it was Kenny Rogers. I thought we'd hit the nadir of plastic-corpselike visages when Barry Manilow was looking like a Nip/Tuck refugee, all pink and raw like a chem-peel mess. But hey, at least he still looked like Barry Manillow. Last night they trotted out Kenny Rogers who just doesn't even remotely resemble Kenny Rogers anymore. My question is this: Does the vanity in these two over-aged guys seriously run so deep that they're doing this to themselves willingly? Or do they have "people" telling them they need to nip, tighten and tuck to stay contemporary and hip? Cause I have news for them. They never were contemporary and hip. Or good looking. But at least they used to look like human beings instead of microwaved Madame Tussaud's rejects.
And since I'm already on Kenny's ass -- what the fuck did he do to my Elliott? That was some of the lamest, stupidest advice I've ever heard, telling Elliott to sing it more simply. "You're not trying to impress people, you're trying to make them cry." Since fucking when? Look, I know Kenny Rogers was hella popular in his day and I've got no beef with his performing skills. But just like not everyone is a performer, not everyone should be a teacher, either. And boy did he lead my boy astray last night, which really pisses me off. Like Elliott doesn't have enough to overcome to stay in this thing already.
1) He first showed up on TV looking like he'd just climbed out of a tree after baking a batch of Fudge Stripes. Oh yeah, the stylists have accomplished the mission and he's cute as hell now, but people have much longer memories concerning flaws than they have for good things.
2) His recurring case of the nerves, which seemed to nearly strangle his stage presence last night. He gained ground the previous week, he lost it this week. The white-knuckle double fisting of the mic is what made me want to cry, not his "simplified" voice.
3) The fact that he's pretty much the only bona-fide amateur left in this competition is a potentially fatal handicap. He outright mentioned "pressure" last night. As the lone remaining amateur, he shouldn't be feeling this. He oughta be having fun. I know that's easier said than done. If it was me up there in front of cameras and lights and people and getting publicly judged, that would make me cry. But when he first started on the show, Elliott actually seemed to like it, because he seemed to be one of the two people in the competition (along with Taylor) that loved music and had genuine talent for it.
4) His seeming willingness to take criticism and advice and incorporate it may actually be a detriment to him at this point. Last night, he (and Taylor) seemed hamstrung by expectations. It's as though their self-awareness is deteriorating to self-consciousness and it's making them freeze little by little and actually lose themselves, and not in a good way. It's very Zen, this idea of losing yourself to find yourself, and that's something both Elliott and Taylor did at the outset of this show without effort. While Ace is always completely self-conscious of his tenny-bopper, crushable "image" and Chris is overwhelmed with always looking "cool", Elliott and Taylor just turned it on. But it seems like they've both listened to criticisms and tried to make subtle (or severe) changes to accommodate. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes, like last night, it's not.
The interesting thing is that last night, Elliott and Taylor still *sounded* the best of everyone. But both of them looked uncomfortable on the stage. I make jokes about Taylor, because it's easy. But I honestly like him. I thought last week when he sang "Trouble" it was a smart move. But last night was bad, bad, fucking bad. He's always had a different vibe to him; a near-manic edge which I dug in his performances. It was just that Tom Cruise-like, fake, scientology smile he'd get when being judged that I got twitchy for him. For some reason, the more still Taylor is, the more the manic edge bleeds out and collapses in on itself. When he's moving around and singing and performing, the tense energy has an outlet and purpose.
I don't recall what Kenny's advice to Taylor was, but it was probably stupid. (Anyone?) But when he told Elliott to "simplify", I was immediately pissed. Bad, bad, fucking bad. Elliott does NOT need to make people cry at this point. He DOES need to impress them if he wants to stay alive in this thing. And the way he can impress people is with his singing. By singing stuff his way, whatever is natural to him. Don't get me wrong. I still thought he sounded great last night. It was a lousy, maudlin song to start with, and that was amplified by the opening which was simple. He did end up easing into it though and by the end he was back to singing like Elliott Yamin. But that sort of sketchy hesitancy at the outset won't help him. And that sort of sketchy hesitancy, I think, comes from him thinking about how to do it instead of just doing it. And I blame Kenny Rogers for that. Kenny, he can sing, he can roast chicken, but he shouldn't be giving voice lessons to a soul singer.
And, since I'm on a negative trip today, I hear Rod Stewart is coming up soon on the show. I love standards. Love, love standards. But those "Great American Songbook" albums of Stewart's piss me off. Great songs, great orchestra, great arrangements, and then his warbly voice marring everything. I could be wrong -- maybe he'll be a great coach. But it strikes me that Rod Stewart giving voice lessons is akin to Ving Rhames giving haircare tips. Anyhow. That'll be for another week.
Back to last night. Let's break this down Eastwood-style: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Mandisa, Paris, Ace
Mandisa can belt a tune, but when she's not belting, she's shrill as hell. I wanted to like her, but I'm over her. Totally. And yes, only part of it is her voice. The other part is her preaching. I thought the way she addressed Simon and so self-righteously bestowed forgiveness on him was condescending. But, fuck it, Simon deserves to be condescended to sometimes. But I'm not getting past her choir-girl routine from last week. There is a line between humbly showing your love for God and being arrogant about that belief. Mandisa catapulted over the line.
Paris hits the low notes that Mandisa misses, but that's seemingly all she hits. She sings everything in such a low register it's gotten annoying. I first noticed it when she did "Wind Beneath My Wings" and I've been waiting for her smooth-sounding voice to return ever since. It hasn't. It's over.
And then there's Ace.
Those over-blushed cheeks and that Katie Holmes "I've just been indoctrinated into the cult of Scientology" camera eye-fuck doesn't exactly freak me out, but it's uncomfortable. It's phony. And if it's not phony, then it does freaks me out. A falsetto doesn't make a singer. But as a singer, he's a falsetto. He sucks and he really needs go.
I'll admit something nasty about myself here. Last year? I voted for Constantine. Every week. Not because I liked him, but because I loathed him. Constantine's arrogance combined with his greasy but ballsy performances were a television aphrodisiac of irritation for me. I voted for him because I couldn't stand him, and that made for great entertainment. The next day in the office we'd gather and talk about Constantine and how grotesque it was to watch him and we'd laugh and laugh. So we voted to keep him around for a while, because it was just so funny and wrong. This year, we were hoping we had our Constantine in Ace. From the first moment Paula swooned and I (and my office mates) felt nothing but contempt for him, we figured we had it made this season. But alas, it was never to be. He never hit the glorious, fatuous heights that Constantine seemed to glide right past. He's just been a disappointment who can't sing at all. I do believe it's Ace's goal to "not impress anyone and to just make them cry," which is why Rogers probably took such a shine to him. His nearly intriguing "ambiguous" nature has devolved into teenage girl timidity and I just don't have it in me to muster strong enough feelings to care about disliking him anymore. Though if he somehow manages to pull a move even lamer than his scar-showing fiasco of last week I probably eventually will laugh so hard I cry.
Chris. Oh, I'm sure all the Chris supporters will be all about his performance last night. He calmed it down and yes he sang in tune. It should be enough to let him coast for a few more weeks with ease. But I'm past the point of demarcation with Chris. When I first saw him, I wanted to fit him with a dog collar and make him my bitch. Now, those fantasies have taken an ominous, Tarantinoesque twist. I'd still like to collar him, but I'd like to stuff him in a box and leave it in the basement.
Bucky. What the fuck, Bucky? That's all I can say about that.
Kellie. Okay. She sang well enough last night. But I think it's utterly appalling that someone would sit on national television and insist that they are genuinely ignorant. I don't think it's a crime to be stupid. It happens. But there's a chasm between stupid and ignorant. She can try to sell it as naive, but the persona she's projecting is that of an ignorant hayseed. And the more she tries to sell it, the more rickety it becomes, and it's not very becoming. It's a shame, really. Cause she's got a hot body and knows how to perform and if she'd combine that with a foxy, intelligent charm, she could have the world by the ass. But she doesn't, and so she won't. Instead she just comes across as manipulative. Wake-up call: Stupidity isn't a crime, but it's nothing to brag about either.
Katharine. I like her less every week. Speaking of the scientology dazed look that Ace gets, it's been rumored that Katharine did a little scientology doodling. That'd fit her. Everything about her is just very calculated and rehearsed, like she's not so much a human being as an Operating Thetan, perhaps a level 3. But she sang in tune, which is really rare among this group.
Taylor. He sings great. He really does. I never thought I'd say it, but I wish they'd shock the Tourette's right back into him though. His song choice was lame, but so was nearly everyone's.
Elliott. He sings great. His song sucked. He had some kinks and problems and built more obstacles this week for himself. But if he survives it, the good news is that it's really not that hard to fix in the future. He dressed like Eminem last week, and all he has to do is take a cue and "lose yourself in the music". When he sings, and when he's into it, he's fine.
I'd made a brief comparison to Van Morrison before, and though I don't want to draw too strong of a correlation because I think Elliott has the talent to be his own and not someone who reminds you of someone else, I think I can wring a little more juice from that comparison. They have a similar appeal, Elliott and Van -- there's a moody sultriness in their voices. But to go further, have you ever seen Van perform before an audience? I have. Apparently, he has wicked stagefright that he still hasn't gotten over. It shows. At first. But then something happens to him as he keeps singing and all the baggage just falls away and there's just this amazing, soulful voice and unaffected performance.
I have no doubt that Elliott can put out a dazzling album (if he's not given utter shit to record, but I'll think about if he makes it deeper into this thing) because his voice is rapturous, even live. But I don't see any reason why he can't just let go and perform either. Slam back a whiskey if it helps to start off, or if that's not his style, then hit a bong. And if that's not his style, wear sunglasses or something. Of course it's harder for him. He's not an Operating Thetan and he's not a microwaved wax figurine and he's not yet a seasoned performer. He's a human being. That's better.
I heard songs of Queen are on deck for next week. I don't know what to think of that. Maybe the narrowed selection will help, cause as is, this entire group is lost, lost, fucking lost right now. Don't make it get so bad again that I pick up the phone and vote for Ace because it's just so funny and wrong. Yippee ki yay, motherfucker.