Monday, March 4, 2013

10 Random Thoughts I've Had While Watching "American Idol" This Season So Far

1. Keith Urban might be the best Idol judge ever. While I can't say that I don't sort of miss nasty Simon Cowell and his frequently on-the-mark criticism, Urban's commentary is even smarter and sharper because it's so specific. He's a guiding light rather than a harsh florescent one, always including constructive advice in his critiques. Maybe being the first judge who's a solo singer, a songwriter and a musician gives him an edge. I love that he has the gall to criticize the song choice of someone who just sang one of Urban's own self-penned hits ("Tonight I'm Gonna Cry"), while pointing out that its a tough song to sing. (So much for false modesty!) Yet he always comes across as a genuinely sweet guy. Nicole Kidman is so lucky.

2. What exactly does "I'm not sure if it's your best performance for me" even mean, and why does Randy Jackson always feel the need to qualify his lack of enthusiasm for a particular performance by saying it? If he's not sure it was their best performance for him, then it wasn't. Wouldn't you know a "best" performance when you hear one? After 11 seasons, you'd think Jackson could come up with some new material (though there does seem to have been a marked decline in "pitchy" performances this season). I'm not even sure why he's still needed on the panel other than to give Idol some continuity from day one. But isn't that what Ryan Seacrest is for?

3. What does Nicki Minaj have against Vincent Powell? His version of Lenny Williams' "Cause I Love You" was possibly the most virtuosic performance I've ever seen by a contestant on the Idol stage, and we haven't even gotten to the live shows yet. It was the first one that actually made me want to sit through an entire concert of one of the contestants since Kelly Clarkson made me fall in love with her all over again every week during the first season. All the judges stood up for Powell afterwards -- except for Minaj, who looked slightly bored. She thinks he's old-fashioned, which I suppose is a valid point of view, considering that he did sing a little-known R&B song from 1978. But when she announced that he'd made it to the Top 20, couldn't she have drummed up a little more enthusiasm? "You made it through" (or something along those lines) -- that's it. Really? That's all she's got?

4. Speaking of old-fashioned, is it just me or does simply standing there and singing without an instrument prop looking sort of outdated these days, too? Hell, it seems like ditching his guitar for the "Sudden Death" round cost Gurpreet Singh Sarin a Top 20 spot. If you're going to forgo the instrument, you've got to work even harder -- like Zoanette Johnson did with Elton John's "Circle of Life" and Cortez Shaw with his complete overhaul of David Guetta and Sia Furler's "Titanium" -- to really reinvent the song. (Fun fact: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson performed a much more faithful rendition of "Circle of Life" during her Top 10 stint on Idol, two weeks before she got the boot.)

5. More on Minaj... Although I was so over her during the audition rounds, she's growing on me. I like that she's toned down the clown make-up, and her commentary is sounding more insightful. She's also connecting with the contestants in a way that the other judges aren't. Maybe it's because she's not afraid to flirt with them openly and pick favorites. Though she needs to tone down the bizarre facial expressions when other people are talking (how disrespectful to Mariah Carey!), if she continues going this way, I might actually start to believe she's a real human being again.

6. This must be the first year yet when good looks won't get you everywhere on American Idol. Who knew the judges would be so merciless when narrowing the playing field down to 40 by cutting some of the best-looking guys -- the ones who were almost guaranteed to swing the voting in their favor just by virtue of being nice to look at -- and purposely valuing great singers over great performers. Sigh. I already miss Chris Watson (left) and Jimmy Smith.

7. As a lifelong stutterer, I feel a great deal of affection for Lazaro Arbos, who, along with Burnell Taylor, makes me want to reach through my TV screen and hug him. Arbos probably would be an early frontrunner even without the speech impediment. But I can't help but think that it's a little cruel of Ryan Seacrest to make the poor kid talk so much. I keep hoping Arbos would just sing his responses, which might actually make Seacrest's questions seem more interesting.

8. When did the youth of America become so enamored of country music above all else? Everyone respects Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, but it seems like more contestants were inspired by Keith Urban. Don't get me wrong: I'd much rather listen to someone try to sing a Keith Urban song I've probably never heard -- I liked what Arbos did with "Tonight I Wanna Cry" a lot more than Urban did -- than hear anyone even attempt to do justice to "Vision of Love," and the last thing I want to experience this season on Idol is somebody pulling what Cortez Shaw did to "Titanium" with Minaj and Guetta's dreadful "Turn Me On."

9. Though it'll be interesting to see how Johnson, Shaw, Arbos, Taylor and a few others evolve over the course of the rest of the season, and I'm mildly intrigued by Charlie Askew's sartorial choices, Vincent Powell is the only one I'm dying to hear sing again. Maybe the overwhelming teen presence (9 out of the Top 20) is skewing my perception of age, but could Powell really be only 29?

10. I'll always love you, Mariah, but you look so out of place at the judges table, like you're dreaming of being on a much larger stage somewhere, performing your latest comeback hit. I hope that one comes true, and your chart life post-Idol season 12 is more triumphant than "Triumphant (Get 'Em)" (that flop 2012 single) was.
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