March 20, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: The Beatles

It's Beatles night, a popular theme for the show -- this is their fourth night devoted either to the Beatles or to Lennon/McCartney -- but one that hasn't led to many great performances. And the memorable ones have been among the show's most polarizing: Chikezie's wacked-out genre-scrambling version of "She's a Woman;"  an "Eight Days a Week" from Kristy Lee Cook that was, depending on who you asked, either lovably charming or intensely grating.

But for the most part, Beatles nights on Idol lean to the bland, perhaps because the songs are so familiar a part of our musical heritage that it feels blasphemous to do anything radical to them. Will anyone tonight find a way to surprise us? Let's find out...

The rundown:

Kree, "With a Little Help From My Friends" -- Not the most interesting performance, perhaps, but most of the other women would have been buried under that band and chorus. This does show off her upper register, and how high she can sing at full power without sounding forced or harsh. Nothing exciting, but comfortably solid work, and certainly good enough to keep her around.

Burnell, "Let It Be" -- He's pushing a little too hard in spots, and it creates a harsh rasp that isn't pretty. I love his phrasing, though, which is relaxed and conversational. He's also got the cleanest enunciation in Idol history; there is never the slightest doubt what he's saying. The performance is overly polite and respectful, perhaps, but it's pretty to listen to. (And I'm glad to see the glasses are back!)

Amber, "She's Leaving Home" -- The biggest problem isn't her fault: We can barely hear the background singers, and the lyrical counterpoint is a huge part of the song. Her vocal is quite nice, although perhaps too calm and laidback; there needs to be more emotional urgency so that we're not left thinking that the note was "gone shopping; back for dinner."

Lazaro, "In My Life" -- He did his best. It wasn't very good.

(After the commercial break, Ryan spends a few minutes essentially scolding the judges and demanding that they justify their cruelty to Lazaro. It plays as an unfortunate attempt to drum up enough sympathy to keep the guy around for another week.)

Candice, "Come Together" -- Not a song I'd have expected her to pick, but she makes it work by coming at it from the blues end of R&B instead of trying to turn herself into a serious rocker. She does well with those gibberish lyrics, singing them with enough passion and commitment that they almost seem to mean something. Very nicely done, and bonus points for making a risky choice and not simply coasting through the night on a big ballad.

Paul, "Eleanor Rigby" -- Not a good idea to start with several bars of very exposed falsetto if you can't get your falsetto in tune. And he's adding a thick layer of drama to the song that it doesn't need; the melody and the lyrics are already doing that work, so he's only coming across as desperate and a little bit campy. The high notes aren't well integrated, and they pop out in a painful way. Not good.

Angie, "Yesterday" -- She's got a marvelous voice, and I love to listen to her. But this song is so damned close to perfect that any change you make to it has to be extraordinarily well thought out, and hers aren't; they're just changes made for the sake of showing off. The big long note on "something WROOOOOOOOOOOOONG" is, well, wrong. Sometimes, you need to get out of your own way and just sing the damn song.

Devin, "The Long and Winding Road" -- When he's content to just sing, this is really lovely; when he throws in an elaborate run at the end of every phrase, it's not, and it's not by a wide enough margin to outweigh the quality of everything else.. Even worse, he puts in an extra "and" that changes the meaning of the lyric ("it always leads me here / AND leads me to your door," which makes it sound as if "here" and "your door" are two different places).

Janelle, "I Will" -- Very smart song selection for a country singer on Beatles night, and sung with admirable simplicity and restraint. Breath is, as discussed in her intro piece, a problem, and these phrases really aren't so long that she shouldn't be able to sing them. But apart from a slight wobbling of the pitch on the last long "me," this was one of the night's highlights.

For the night: Candice, Janelle, Burnell, Amber, Kree, Angie, Devin, Paul, Lazaro.

For the season: Candice, Kree, Angie, Burnell, Janelle, Amber, Devin, Paul, Lazaro.

Let's send home: It should be Lazaro, as always, but it won't be, so I'll settle for Paul.

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