I’ve been holding off on following up my American Idol live-blogging in the last couple of weeks, because they’ve been doing separate evenings for the boys and girls, and two AI posts a week seems a bit much. So I’ve been waiting for the idols to be reunited in The Final Twelve. So here commenceth the idol live-blogging, although delayed and somewhat touched-up, as before.
But first, I have some spleen to vent. The Onion AV Club blog (which is great, don’t get me wrong) had a thing on AI a while back, but since its readership is largely made up of sneering rock hipster douchebags, Noel Murray had to write a sad little plea for understanding:
Personal Plea: I know some of our readership can’t believe that we deign to write about American Idol every year. But whatever you think of the talent the show unearths—or
doesn’t, depending on your point of view—and whatever you think of the value of this little yearly experiment in pop music kingmaking, a lot of us still find it fascinating and relevant on many levels, from its kitsch appeal to the way it takes the temperature of the contemporary music market. So if you’re not interested in the topic, I’m going to politely ask that you skip these posts/crosstalks/what-have-you, rather than complaining about their very existence in the comments. Thanks in advance.
Of course, in the very first comment post the hipster douchebags couldn’t restrain themselves:
American Idol is a cancer on this society, and I’m pretty disgusted that I now know the name of someone associated with it.
Thanks AV Club, you sure are high society!
It’s the usual wannabe-rockcrit thing. It’s seldom actual musicians who write stuff like that, usually the guys who just really care about the music, man. Guys for whom music is a part of some ideology, some cherished mythology of self. (Galen Brown and I had an interesting cross-talk on this subject.) They bitch about the narcissism of pop but are themselves the ultimate narcissists: the music is all about them, their identity; they are drama queens who use music like a Kleenex to mop the tears bubbling up from their “issues,” be they personal or personal-dignified-by-the-political. Real musicians — you know, who actually work hard at the craft of playing or singing, in whatever style — tend to be a whole lot less apt to judge entire genres of music, because they know that whatever genre you work in will demand a lot from you, not least a sense of humility.
And there is no better school for humility than the master class. I’ve paid my dues in a few horrible masterclasses myself, though the
real scrotum-tightening moments of public humiliation I’ve seen have
happened, by and large, to someone else. (The worst [best?] line of
masterclass abuse I ever heard of was “listening to you is like walking on shit and broken
glass.”) One of the less commented-on aspects of AI is the way it sets itself up as a masterclass — it was notable that Ryan Seacrest actually used the term to describe the one-on-one sessions with Diana Ross. Now, all the musical guests tend to lob softballs, so that’s not like a real masterclass. But the ritual humiliations heaped on the singers by the judges, which civilians always think is the contrived made-for-TV lions-at-the-colosseum part of the show, is actually the one aspect of it that’s pretty true to life: this is what it looks like to be in music. Much of what makes this show interesting for me is watching how a bunch of largely unseasoned kids take their medicine. Some take it like pros, inclining their heads at a civil angle and giving a show of attentiveness, thanking the judges afterwards; the worst try out that sassy in-your-face attitude, which I think most viewers have by now figured out is the disastrously wrong approach. (Rule no. 1 of the masterclass: once you sass back, it’s over for you. No-one will have any respect for you, least of all the other music students in the room, to whom you have revealed your weakness.)
Diana Ross is a Pop Diva. Interesting how much her manner of speaking to the camera is the classic style of what Wayne Koestenbaum calls divaspeak:
Divas aren’t afraid to praise themselves. Divas talk like Oscar Wilde. Or Oscar Wilde talked like a diva. The diva turns a phrase and reverses it—substitutes praise for blame, pride for chagrin, authority for vacillation, salesmanship for silence. I long to imitate this language, if only to inhabit, for a sentence or two, its sublime lack of respect for the truth. . . . Divaspeak, a language of vindication and self-defense , works only because we know the tale’s moral. The diva is always right. And she assumes we share her interpretation of the event. (The Queen’s Throat, p. 131)
Ross alludes coyly to her forty-year career and assures the audience that, imparting her wisdom, she will help the little idols, “in American Idol or life.” Life, after all, is all most of them will be left with when this is all over.
Brandon: Sucked. Looked like he was trying to dance with his feet nailed to the floor. Nailed to the beat, too: following the beat too slavishly paradoxically makes you sound like you have no rhythm at all. Chris Franz, the drummer for Talking Heads, had this same problem, which I suppose is why they packed in so many Congolese drummers and whatnot. No such help for Brandon tonight, though.
My daughter Alice (age 4 3/4) has a thing for Chris Sligh. She notices he’s not wearing his glasses tonight and is a little disappointed.
Melinda: Sings something that begins in the low, chestal range and with a complex, speechlike line. It has a long build and slow payoff, and it takes some dramatic ability to pull it off. These are all things that most of the contestants aren’t very good at. The younger ones don’t have the chest tones and have to swallow the microphone to be heard in these kinds of passages; they can’t negotiate the parlando lines without going out of tune; there is an audible crunch of gears as they open up into the big chorus part; and, because they don’t have the vocal stuff to handle the transitions, they don’t really know how to “tell a story.” All of which makes Melinda Doolittle cop show. She’s a finesse type. The judges love her, and the judges are right. I love the fact that she always seems so amazed at what’s just come out of her mouth.
Chris Sligh: my daughter demands total silence. Diana Ross says “find the melody and hold onto it.” Good advice: as the judges note, Chris is the smart-guy type who seems embarrassed by the naked emotion of the naked line and tries to get cute with it. It gets back to what I said before about the pop aesthetic: you’re supposed to try for the perfect realization of the expected pattern. This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Should you not choose to accept it, you’re better off doing progressive emo or whatever it is the hip kids are into these days.
Gina: I kind of like her. Best remaining white girl. I like her Joan Jett thing, which is unfortunately not on display this week. Alice is copying all Gina’s power-mike-handling moves with a little wood spindle toy. One of those stupid anti-drug ads comes on with the cartoon stoner and his dog. Alice: “It’s puppy land!”
Sanjaya: He’s still here?
Haley: Diana Ross says she has “a recording studio voice.” A great divaspeak putdown. What are those opening notes? See, she’s trying, and failing, at the kind of song that Melinda just owned. Parlando lines sung with unsure intonation, and the song doesn’t build: she just starts yelling. Well, that wasn’t very good. Her reaction to the judges’ comments (Simon was way too kind; he has a soft spot for girls like her) is a recognizable type of masterclass behavior. She feels the need to confess. Shut up! You’re digging yourself in deeper! Masterclass rule no. 2: when you bomb, nothing you say will make things any better, so STFU. You won’t exorcise a bad performance by telling people why it was bad.
American Idol ice cream? What does it taste like?
Ryan’s good at talking to grandmas.
Phil: My kids think it’s hilarious that a skinny bald guy has the same name as their fat hairy dad. My wife points out that he’s neotenous. He looks like anime. He sounds . . . sort of like some future attempt at early-music historical reconstruction, like from 2678 A.D., of 20th-century American pop singing. Studied yet totally wrong.
Lakisha: Billy Holiday, “God Bless The Child.” Nice. I’ve complained about how the singers with greener, less conditioned voices sing the verses of their songs. Now THAT’S a verse. Awesome low range, seamlessly transitioning upwards. Every gesture carved out of marble. She’s showing her finesse this week. She’s a smart one; she’s competing with Melissa on her own ground. If there’s any justice it will be the two of them in the final. Probably won’t though. I’m guessing there will be a Jennifer Hudson moment this season.
Blake: Digs Michael Jackson: cool. Dude can move on stage, unlike the others. Randy: “Let the classics be the classics.” Ah, I’ve heard that line before in a masterclass, although I was playing Debussy. Studying piano at the Indiana University School of Music vs. singing on American Idol: not as different as they might appear.
Stephanie: Good, not great.
The other Chris: I never like the boy-band style. What’s he singing? Like Brandon, he’s not doing anything with the beat. Bad falsetto. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a good falsetto on AI.
Jordin: Diana Ross advises, “talk to them.” Good advice: tell a story. “Land Before Time”??? My son, who watched these movies when he was like 5, tells me it’s the song the grandparent dinosaurs sing to Littlefoot. Alice does some great power-ballad moves. And it’s over. Two hours is too long. This post is too long.