March 13, 2007

MUSIC: American Idol: into the finals we go

By now, the East Coast is almost halfway through tonight's show, but it's only about 6:30 here in California, so let's take a quick look at where things stand as we go into the finals.

For the most part, it seems to me that America did a reasonably good job of weeding out the chaff in the semifinal rounds. There are singers who I wish had stayed around for another week or two (Sabrina, Leslie, AJ), and singers who I wish had gone home already (Haley, Gina, Sanjaya), but those are quibbles about people who weren't going to win anyway. What's important is that all of the top singers are still in the competition, and most of the talentless have been dismissed.

The glaring exception, of course, is Sanjaya, who should have been axed on the first night, but is surviving for a combination of reasons. He can tap into the tween girl audience better than any of the other guys; he's got the classic non-threatening appeal of classic 70s teen idols like Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. He appeals to what I think of as the "granny vote," with the same "oh, isn't he a nice young boy that helped people like Kevin Covais and John Stevens survive longer than deserved. And he's the pick of the folks at, who (sadly) have enough clout to keep a bad singer in the game for another week or two.

A quick run through the twelve finalists, in order of my preference so far:

Melinda: Does she have a weakness? Her experience as a background singer should prepare her well to perform in a wide range of musical styles, so the theme nights may not scare her as much as they will some of the other singers. Some of my friends think that her shyness and apparent surprise at how much she's liked each week are beginning to feel like shtick; I don't agree, but I do think it would be a good thing to tone it down. One of the analysts at USA Today suggests that she runs the risk of coming as too professional, and thus, too old.

Lakisha: She's got a fine voice, but there is something about her that bothers me. I always feel as if she's studied the song thoroughly and knows precisely what needs to be done musically in order to create the desired effect, but I'm never really convinced that she's genuinely emotionally connected to the material as opposed to simply doing a very fine simulation of emotional connection. The voice alone should carry her at least to the top 3 or 4, but I'm not sure she can win it all.

Stephanie: Stephanie desperately needs to do something raw and sexy, or she is in danger of being this year's Elegant Black Woman, and that's a contestant who always goes home about three weeks sooner than anyone thinks she will (see: Nadia, LaToya, Trenyce). She also needs to convince me that she's not just a terrific Beyonce mimic.

Chris S.: Best of the men, with a distinctive look and a sense of humor that will help him go a long way. And don't underestimate the impact that his background in Contemporary Christian music might have (he's an alum of Bob Jones U); I'm not sure the right-wing Christian voting bloc has ever had a contestant they could call their own. It's a double-edged sword, though, and if he should play it up too much (which he hasn't done so far), it could alienate as many people as it attracts.

Blake: Remember the first week, when we heard Blake actually sing a song? Wasn't that nice? Ever since, though, he's taken Randy's bad advice and thrown the beatbox stuff into every number; it's gotten boring very quickly, and it's not going to carry him far. If he'd stick to singing, which I think he does very well, he could be a dark horse threat to make the final two.

(This is where I draw the line between those contestants who have some chance of winning and those who will be also-rans.)

Jordin: Jordin's problem is that she's a very good R&B singer in a season that has three other excellent R&B singers; she's the youngest of that group, and her relative inexperience shows. If she's smart (and I think she is), she's soaking up as much as she can from those older women. I expect her to improve by leaps and bounds as the season progresses.

Brandon: The most disappointing of the twelve so far, and an early contender for the Anwar Robinson "We Expected More" Award. Last week, we finally got a glimpse of what he might be capable of, but he's really got his work cut out for him if he wants to make it to mid-season.

Gina: Has the good fortune to have a niche to herself, as the only rocker chick; that alone will keep her in the running for a few weeks, and might even carry her to the final six. Unfortunately, she's not a particularly interesting rocker chick; put her on Rock Star, and she'd be laughed off the stage in the first episode.

Phil: His performances fall into a pattern that I more typically associate with female Idol contestants: The beginning is poor to mediocre, but when he gets to the big notes at the end, he can sound pretty impressive. He could be the first guy to go.

Chris R.: Don't remember where I first saw him referred to as "Timberfake," but it's spot on. He's like Justin's adenoidal little cousin, with none of the talent or sex appeal. But he's the most conventionally sexy of the guys, which will help him survive for another week or two.

(This is where I draw the line between the also-rans and the "could not possibly win even if God himself came down to earth and begged us to vote for them" singers.)

Haley: Very smart move last week, grabbing the country/pop niche, which is entirely vacant this year. She didn't do it well, mind you, but if she stays in that style (to the extent that theme weeks allow), that chunk of the vote could keep her around into the top 8 or so.

Sanjaya: He seems like a very sweet boy, but c'mon. We know he doesn't belong here. He knows he doesn't belong here. He's visibly embarassed everytime he's told that he's still in the running, and at this point, it is both unamusing and cruel to keep him around. Let the poor boy leave already.

Only 90 minutes left until Diana Ross night, so let the games begin!

1 comment:

Tinsel said...

Keith, you're fabulous - you sum up in a few deft words what I flounder around thinking each week. More!