Friday, May 20, 2005

A belated word...

...about American Idol. I did watch it this week, on tape on Wednesday afternoon just before the hatchet show. I'm not going to rehash the whole show, just report on my impressions. I'm saving the tape for Gail, because some of the performances were rather good.

There is a lot of consensus that Bo Bice was the standout of the final three competition; I agree. He took the assigned songs and sung them with clear originality, and looked relaxed and confident on stage. For his song choice, he threw all caution to the wind: no backup band. Taking the stage in silence, he stood in a lone spotlight and sung a capella; and his voice alone, in near-perfect time and tune, filled the hall. Gutsy; and proof that he is truly a musician. His voice has a soulful texture, and an honesty that increasingly makes him seem out of place in this pop-music "competition".

Vonzell Solomon was voted off, and I was sorry to see her go. She seems sweet and likable, and has a vulnerability about her; yet her voice is so powerful. In the first few weeks she seemed to be struggling, and she still is; but I think with each performance her confidence and skill were growing. Look at the shoes she slipped on for this week's three songs: Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer! Three of the greatest female vocalists of all time. And Vonzell did all of them proud, in my opinion; heck, if she released that performance of "On the Radio", I'd pick up a copy.

Carrie Underwood seemed nervous and uncomfortable this week. Her voice was clear and in tune, as always; but the oft-repeated criticism, that she lacks emotion, was laid more bare than in any of the previous shows. "Wooden"; "robotic"; "stiff" - all quotes from the judges, on her various performances. The two songs she was assigned seemed tailor-made to help her break out of this colorlessness: "Crying" by Roy Orbison - my gosh, Roy could actually make people cry with this heartbreaking ballad, but Carrie sat and delivered it staring ahead like an eye test. And "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" by Shania Twain is silly, sassy fun with a country twang - it should have been right across the plate for Carrie, yet it was her third strike of the evening.

So the "winner" (I'm inclined to use quotes where the notion of competition is concerned; since eight of the "contestants" are touring together this summer, and nearly all are already under some kind of recording contract) ...the "winner" of American Idol will be either Bo or Carrie. Not all that surprising; they both have the kind of middle-American heartland* appeal that got George W. Bush reinstalled. Personally, I would much rather watch Bo perform; I think he is a natural entertainer and musician. But Carrie is blonde and has straight teeth, and can parrot songs in the current country & western style with tape-recorder precision.

So there's no telling whom the voters will choose, if in fact the voters are determining the outcome. Simon Cowell should get a dramatic Emmy, just for showing up every week and acting like it makes a difference.

*So named because the brain isn't there.