No one toppled The King, but that's okay. Elvis was definitely still in the building, and this was probably the best final four show I've seen on AI. But, that's at least partially because I loved the turn of events on tonight's show.
I dig Idol, cause I think it's a fun show. It feeds my appetite for snarky bitchery, love of music, and sometimes, occasionally, genuine delight. That's about as much junky fun as I can have sitting at home alone watching television. (Er. Well. With the exception of a carefully mapped night that includes this, this, and this. ;)) Ahem. ANYHOW.
So that's why I kinda figured Elvis night had potential. Elvis was The King of rock-n-roll, but in his short life he went through several permutations. From sexy, bombastic kid to campy fat Vegas guy in a cape, there's a lot of material to be mined. But one of the primary appeals about Elvis is that in all his incarnations, he was fun. Whether he was shaking his pelvis to make teenage girls scream or flying in a private jet across the country just to eat a good sandwich, the guy had panache.
His are some pretty big blue suede shoes to fill (and yes, I know that's originally Carl Perkins' song), and it was the contestants' ability, or inability, to tap into that finesse and flair he had that could make or break them last night. And make and break it certainly did.
Before I get to the kids though, let me just say a few words about the fun that is Paula. Often this season, she's looked like she crawled right out of the pages of a Bukowski novel.(<--arcane writerly reference) The only difference is that in Barfly, Mickey Rourke held his shit together better than Paula usually does.
Come to think of it, if we're mapping it out, I think there's a possibility that Mickey Rourke held his personal shit together a bit better than Paula has over the years, too. That's bad, I know. But at least when Mickey would get the shit kicked out of him, he really did get the shit kicked out of him.
Anyhow, Paula wasn't three sheets to the wind juiced last night, or she's building up her ability to control her shit as the season progresses. But she did have a few cute nearly unhinged moments. Witness:
All that, and yet Simon took umbrage when Seacrest made the comment that he was feeling obligated to give her a dollar for the dancing she did during one of the numbers. "Disrespectful, Ryan," Simon frowned at our affable host. Me? I thought it was a blatant attempt on Ryan's part to push his hetero side by showing he knows the drill at titty bars. Still not buying it, Ryan.
Anyhow, that was the main extent of the judges' banter on the show, and the rest of the comments were fairly limited to the performances. So. About those performances.
This was the Final Four. It's crunch time now as the pressure builds for everyone. Some of them cracked like the egghead they are, and some didn't. Chris and Katharine, they cracked. I've no doubt they're taking this thing seriously and that they're trying very hard, that's very obvious. But that's where pressure comes in. People handle pressure differently, and one of the things I've noticed about athletes who rise to pressure situations is this: they do so because they actually enjoy it. That might sound odd, but it's really not. When it's the late innings of a game, or when the clock is ticking down and it's a close score, that's the most intense -- and fun -- part of it all. That's what people compete for: that rush. I think a lot of people tend to forget that you can be serious about something and still have fun with it, or have a sense of humor about it. There's a big difference between taking something seriously, and taking yourself seriously.
Chris? He's a very intense guy. Tommy Mottola even said so. The problem for Chris, on a night like this, is that intensity comes from taking himself so flipping seriously.
I've said it before that I think Eggtard is a bald, humorless fuck, and he proved it again tonight. He catapulted the banal Seacrest sit-down banter to new levels of dumb by bragging about the fan swag he's received (junk food and suntan lotion for his exposed shell) and then enlightened us as to what kind of underwear he wears. (he did not specify if he wears his wallet chain on them when he sleeps.) It was at that point that I realized I don't find him the least bit attractive anymore because I nearly threw up in my mouth a little bit. Then, he picked what was arguably the two best songs and proceeded to suck every bit of life out of them. First was "Suspicious Minds" which I think nearly everyone loves. And he made it suspicious, alright. Suspicious like a controlling, potentially abusive boyfriend. He came out wearing what I'm sure he thought were cool shades, but they were that freaky kind that allowed us to see his dead shark eyes anyhow.
His voice sounded alright, not showing any strain from last week's scream-fest, and he scaled it back this week and just droned the song, turning it into a very paranoid-sounding, accusatory dirge fit for the stalker look he put out there.
I don't remember what Randy said about it, but does it really matter? Paula welcomed him to the finals for it, and Simon I think liked it, too.
For his second sacrifice of the night, he busted out "A Little Less Conversation" and proceeded to leech every last bit of fun out of it. Mottola gave him this advice for it: practice it watching yourself in the mirror. I know, right? What a freaking CHORE that must've been for Chris -- to stand for hours on end watching himself in the mirror. How grossly fitting. And the kicker if you think about it? He's getting PAID TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW.
He then gave it his serious, wallet-chain wearing, glaring Chris treatment and stomped his foot in time to the music but even with the band wailing it was all just blah.
However, Chris is very lucky, because not only has the gleam of his head somehow hypnotized masses of people into believing he rawks, but Katharine was -- again -- the hands-down worst of the night. You know how bad she was? Her father didn't cry. He didn't even get misty when she sang her ballad. I think Papa knows that his little Kat used up her ninth life last night.
Katharine, too, suffers from the serious gene. I don't blame her, exactly. It's been noted that her stage-mother taught her, and she's had very serious schooling to learn her trade. She tried to have fun, but instead of tipping over into campy excess, it was just garden variety off-off-Broadway understudy. She did a weird medley of "All Shook Up / Hound Dog" to start off with. Again, she was dressed poorly. She tried to shake and shimmy, but unfortunately her body was covered so there was no opportunity for another McPhlash incident. In the cruelest of fates, her voice sounded better on these songs than it has in weeks, because she actually sang instead of pushing it to powerhousing for most of it, but then she totally fucked up the lyrics and drew more attention to it by turning her back to the audience when she did it.
It's got to be frustrating for her. Because, girlfriend can sing, as we saw again in her tape of rehearsal with Mottola. (BTW, concerning him, they actually did show a picture of him with Mariah when Seacrest was giving us his creds, but they didn't mention her as one of his protégées. And Tommy was quite smitten with Kat, but nothing came across as unseemly. Dammit.) She sounded amazing standing at the piano practicing with him, but not as good on the big stage, again proving my point she just doesn't have that kind of voice to be a belter.
If anyone would've benefited from the trip to Graceland, I figured it'd be Kat, because after all, Priscilla and Lisa Marie are both Scientologists. I was hoping to see some interaction with these two, but that never materialized. We did get to see Priscilla briefly as she greeted the kids, and yes, she does qualify for the race for worst old celebrity plastic surgery on the show this year. But really, is anyone going to beat Kenny Rogers in that department, like, ever?) And we did hear Seacrest ask Taylor about Lisa Marie, but Taylor denied asking her out on a date as he told a story about her crashing through gates on a golf cart with all of them aboard. Whatever. Unless it tops Johnny Knoxville's golf cart crash in Jackass, it's probably not worth seeing anyhow. Plus, I think there's a new rule that if there are three or more Hollywood Scientologists in a room at one time, they must be taping an episode of "My Name Is Earl." Priscilla and Lisa Marie were also absent from the audience at the show tonight, but I assume that's because they were given marching orders that since one of their highest level Thetans is having a "bad day" with his MI3 bombing at box office, all troops must repeatedly attend the movie to bring up its grosses.
Anyhow. I digress. Back to low level thetan Kat, who's not having fun with the pressure of this show. She came out in a truly weird school-marm outfit with a Brittney Spears exposed midriff. She sang "Can't Help Falling In Love" and I'll admit, the band butchered it. It's a sweet little song, and they adorned it with so much hoopla it was like a marching band rendition, and Kat's vocals had to try and match it. It didn't work at all. She McPhucked it up but good.
That brings us to Taylor. Taylor is fun. Taylor even has wacky, fun fans. Check it out if you don't believe me. Taylor actually kicked off the show, but you should notice by now that I don't have a strong affinity for chronology. Anyhow, he opened with "Jailhouse Rock" and I liked it. I thought he lit it up. Simon, he hated it, of course. Called it "karaoke with a capital K." Look, if you don't like Taylor, you're not going to like anything he does. But to me, he's fun. Simon, I think at times, refuses to acknowledge infectious fun as a legitimate thing in this competition. This was a great night for Taylor, because he got to be goofy Taylor with "Jailhouse Rock," and then he got to sing for his second number. Because, that is the key difference with Taylor and most of the other "quirky" performers we've seen come across the AI stage. He CAN sing. Like, really fucking good, he can sing.
His second song was the controversial "In The Ghetto." Just for Ellen, here's how he looked:
"In The Ghetto" is a tough sell, because people that really dislike Elvis point to this song as a polestar to his patronizing, exploitive treatment of blacks. And even for people who like Elvis, it's hard to forget the ultimate cover version of the song: Eric Cartman's. But, lucky for Taylor, he's Taylor, and he can sing, and he was great with it. That high-pitched WHOO near the end was HAWT. Ace should take notes. Plus, also lucky for Taylor, he's Taylor, and just like the shiny suits he favors, he's made of Kevlar and won't be going anywhere this week.
So that covers the bald fuck, the slutty fuck, and the spastic fuck. Which brings us to Elliott.
First off, in his pre-performance tapes, Elliott was totally rocking the Christophah Moltisanti hairdo. Evidence:
Second, Elliott knows fun. If anyone should be buckling under the pressure at this point, it's him. But he's not. Believe it or not, I didn't think it was possible after "Song For You," but boyfriend is getting better.
Up until a year ago, his family didn't even know he could sing. Stacked up against all the well-seasoned performers on this year's show, no matter how good his voice is, Elliott should've been jolly well fucked. But that's the thing about talent -- once it's tapped, it just starts flowing.
And now, in this stage of the competition, I think Elliott is truly hungrier for this win than any of the others. And yet instead of reverting to the nerves that threatened to overtake him a few times, he seems like he's having more fun as each week passes. On tonight's show, he blazed it big time. Like I said before, maybe he doesn't have the training or the experience, but my cupcake has more than just a voice -- he's got balls.
Elliott picked a couple of really dubious songs. First was "I Can Dream," which carries a potential schmaltz factor of about a plus ten. (And that's high for schmaltz factor. Seriously. That's as high as his blood sugar was when he was first diagnosed.) Could've been a disaster, what with the building crescendo of it and the band behind him and all. I admit, he started a bit shaky on the first couple lines, but after that, he just -- fuck! I don't know what it is with him. There were backup singers, there was over-instrumentation, and there were too-earnest lyrics, and not much sense of Elvis rockin'. But people tend to forget that Elvis didn't just shake his booty and eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches -- he also had a heaven-sent voice. And so does Elliott. And so the song took off and actually worked. Big time.
For his second performance, he chose "Trouble." Actual lyrics from the song include "I'm evil." Elliott, he's about as evil as an apple pie. But it's a bluesy, raspy song, and Mottola put it nicely when he said that Elvis always sold it on "attitude." Partly, sure. Mostly though, Presley sold it with libido. Women love bad boys. (reference how Mickey Rourke still gets work in Hollywood.) But, is Elliott "bad"? Um.
He's got a soulful voice, one that was occasionally laced with a slight, libidinous growl at moments in other songs. Tonight, he unleashed it. His voice alone is like a vocal aphrodisiac, and when it's combined with a bad-ass song, it reaches a critical mass of sultry charm for the ears. But then, toss in this: Along with the voice was a sexy, secure performance. Behold:
That, my friends, put the prize in my Cracker Jacks.
This was the performance that had Paula doing the stripper moves in her seat. This was the performance that made Simon say: "You deserve to make it to the next round." (I don't remember what Randy said. He loved it, but does it even matter?)
This was the performance where they gave Elliott the light show! Oh yeah! The lights were flashing, Egghead was probably so fucking jealous backstage, and Elliott loving females (and perhaps Ryan) were saying, I really hope my TIVO is getting this shit! (and maybe some of them were already entertaining thoughts of this later.)
It wasn't completely perfect, but that's not Elliott's fault. Again, with the fucking band.
Here's what makes me salivate to think about Elliott making a CD. Not only has the AI band completely overwhelmed the arrangements on some of his (and many others') songs, but Ricky Minor, over the years, has shown a complete lack of ability to work with the strengths of any of the contestants. Elliott's got a voice that doesn't overwhelm or overpower the rest of the music, but as such, it could be put to use working with something. And by that I mean that he's shown the ability to phrase and create licks that could stand up beautifully to another instrument. One of the all-time greatest jazz vocal albums is the collaboration by smooth-singer Johnny Hartman and sax demi-god John Coltrane. That pairing should've been a disaster, what with 'Trane's affinity to fill every available space with notes, no matter how garish or ostentatious they may be. But on the album with Hartman, he backed away from that impulse and the two worked together, so that Coltrane wasn't relegated to the position of accompanying the singer, but instead they performed "duets" and created some of the most soulfully romantic music ever heard on this earth. For a more modern idea of what I'm talking about, reference the wildly popular Carlos Santana CDs "Supernatural," "Shaman," and "All That I Am." I'm not suggesting Elliott smooth himself out to go Rob Thomas, and I'm certainly not suggesting that those albums represent the apex of Santana's creative career. However, they are very listenable: hooky and with a vibrant meshing of different styles, because Santana knows how to get his licks in and still play WITH his vocal guests to highlight everything instead of fighting them for the spotlight and overshadowing. Elliott's voice could definitely complement a soloist like that and it could make for some beautiful music. But that's the kind of music -- even though it's not really daring and is already quite commercially mainstream -- that Ricky Minor doesn't have the kind of vision to imagine for the contestants. His idea is to just rev up the band to full force and then throw in some MORE weird instruments on the stage.
[/end bitchy digression]
"Trouble" could've really benefited from riffs between Elliott's voice and some cool guitar licks on this number. But that's a nitpick, really. I can dream, right? But it doesn't matter.
What matters is that Elliott's a scrappy fucker. (he's as scrappy as Mickey Rourke -- minus the hell-bent for self-destruction and semi-psychotic total weirdo thing.) Elliott's not fading or choking, and he's not letting this slip away. And not only is he fighting for it, he's freaking winning the fight, every week! I can't even say how glad I am that I picked him at the start of all this! Without him, my hate-on for Mr. Daughtry would've developed anyhow, and Taylor would've been a good amusement and someone to root for. But I do recall something Randy said last night about Elliott. He said, "You've really evolved." Maybe that's one way of looking at it. Or maybe, every week that's gone by, Elliott's come out of his shell. (Unlike Chris, whose head is still waiting to hatch.) Or maybe he's just getting more experienced, and learning really fast. All I know is this: Without Elliott on the show this year, it wouldn't be half as much fun.