Wednesday, May 11, 2005

American Idol - Final Four

I just got back from my C.A.P. meeting, and rewound the tape to zip through American Idol. I'll write my report on the performances now, while they are ringing in my ears, for better or worse.

The two themes for the show were based on two distinctly American cities - Philadelphia and Nashville. For the Luther Vandross/Patti LaBelle Philadelphia sound, the contestants could pick from the songs of Gamble and Huff, who were present at the taping. I didn't catch any rules for the Nashville songs, other than the country theme. The Nashville round was first, and who could be happier that the first contestant...

Carrie, who sang the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon" - and yeeee-haw, ain't nobody more country than her! The vocals and arrangement were as deep-south as collard greens, and Carrie grinned and showboated through it. An up-tempo song, and her vocals were perfect; the crowd was hooting in appreciation, and even Simon allowed that she sang great "...and we saw personality, too." In case anyone can't tell yet, Carrie is a great country singer.

Bo may be a rocker, but he's a good ol' boy, too; he sang Travis Tritt's "It's A Great Day To Be Alive". Upbeat and sunny lyrics but kind of a slow, lazy song; I thought he was drowned out by the band a few times. Natural, no mistakes and the crowd liked it, but Simon used the same word I wrote down - lazy, and he added boring. I just think this is a tough place to bring a slow song.

Something apparently happened to Vonzell the day of the performance; she was obviously nervous, and Paula and Simon both seemed to know about it. Her song was Tricia Yearwood's "How Do I", and her performance was obviously affected by something - her voice wobbled, she went flat twice, and even forgot a line of the lyrics. But she did fight through it, and the judges were obviously being gentle with her; she was crying as Ryan Seacrest talked her off.

Anthony sang the vastly overplayed "Already There" by Lone Star. A challenging vocal, and he barely carried it off; but the cheesy, phony choreography made the song totally unbelievable. Pleading eyebrows, reaching for the camera... gack. Simon called it "gooey", and that's the kindest thing he could have said.

Next it was off to Philadelphia; Seacrest takes a few moments to welcome songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who defined the Philadelphia Sound from the sixties well into the eighties. They wish the contestants well, and are happy that a new generation is appreciating their music.

Carrie led off again, and in the next two minutes proved the same point as her first song - she is a country singer. She chose "If You Don't Know Me By Now", by Teddy Pendergrass (and many others). It was awful. As confident as she was in the first number, in the second she looked like she strayed into the wrong neighborhood. The timing was all wrong, and Carrie seemed to look around the room wishing it was over. All three judges - even Paula - agreed that it didn't work.

Bo thundered into the O'Jays classic "For The Love Of Money," now famous again as the theme of the Donald Trump show "The Apprentice". I thought it was great; Bo really sold it, hair and mike stand swinging, sunglasses on. He put his own stamp on the song; kind of Soul Train meets the Allman Brothers. The crowd agreed - they went NUTS, it was a long time before Randy could begin his comments.

Vonzell was far more in control for the second song, "Dont Leave Me This Way," made famous by Thelma Houston; a tall act to follow. But Vonzell started off well, and swelled with energy as she worked through the song. When she hit the chorus, her voice just exploded into a premium-quality growl... "BAY-BEE! My heart is full of love, and DESIRE FOR YOU!" Then, almost recklessly - she went up an octave, and did it again! She might have been shaken up today, but her voice and that song just overpowered and made a great impression. All the judges agreed that this performance was much better, although Simon thought it was a little frantic.

Anthony sang... uh, the same song as Carrie? Yes, he also launched into "If You Don't Know Me By Now". Rather than sing it with style and emotion, like - oh, Simply Red, or anyone else who has covered the song - Anthony decided that maybe angry shouting was the way to go. He seemed to glare into the camera and pound every line convulsively, in all the wrong places. Simon stated that Anthony had "no soul", and was again too kind by far.

My Prediction: Oh, please, please, please... get Anthony out of there. I can't imagine that even the "votefortheworst" crowd can sustain him past this week.