Archive for the ‘American Idol’ Category

Paula Abdul ‘decides’ to leave ‘Idol’? Phooey

August 5, 2009

So Paula Abdul has “decided” to leave American Idol? Well, I’ve decided to expose sheer, unadulterated spin for what it is. I mean, gimme a break. She and her manager have been whining about not getting a fair offer for a new contract for weeks, so she clearly wanted to be on the show, her chief income and only ongoing claim to fame. (Infamy?) But now when it’s apparent that it’s not gonna happen, she informs her “fans” (who the heck are these people?) that she’s “decided” to leave. And Idol plays along, announcing they regret her decision, blah blah.

Is there any business in the world which is more phony than show business? I mean, it depends, on a daily basis, not just on hype, but on outright lies. And we hear these lies and either believe them or just shrug–when we should be saying “WTF are you talking about?” and calling them what they are–liars. Which is what I just did, re Paula and Idol.

Bottom line: She was a continual embarassment for the show, acting drugged out, spouting incoherent “critiques,” allegedly having an affair w/a contestant and even exposing the artifice of the judging process by once assessing a performance (Jason Castro’s) that hadn’t been done yet (except in rehearsal). So, with ratings in a slow decline, Idol‘s powers decided enough was enough. They gave Kara a tryout run last season, and though she wasn’t much better as a judge than Paula, she didn’t make a fool of herself.

So now Paula is gone and we’re back to a three-member judging panel. And it’s all because Paula “decided” to leave. Riiiiiiight.

Scott could’ve been scott-free? As if. ‘American Idol’ brings phoniness to new lows

April 10, 2009

OK — had to get this off my chest. If American Idol is losing some of its audience, there’s one very good reason: Bad judges.

I mean, even Simon has almost nothing to say other than to criticize wardrobes (irrelevant) and to knock poor singing by placing it in an interchangeable venue of amateurism (karaoke bar, wedding reception, Holiday Inn, cruise ship, birthday party, barmitzvah), as if that says anything discerning about what we’ve just heard. And new judge Kara is as inane and hopeless as Paula and Randy always have been.

And the droning is maddening. I mean, how many times must we hear a non-evaluation of a performance which begs for it while the judges blame it all on song choice? That’s such a cop-out. And the fact is, if Adam can turn Ring of Fire and Tracks of My Tears into songs he virtually owns via new versions, song choice doesn’t matter. If you’re good enough, any song can work for you. As Tim Gunn might say, you make it work for you. Yet several times each week, we hear the tepid criticsm of “You chose the wrong song.”

Actually, Idol chose the wrong judges. I mean, I recall when they once had guest judges, and people like Gene Simmons actually evaluated performances in a thorough and thoughtful manner, giving the kind of true criticisms — and props– which might really help a singer. Now? Fuhgetaboutit. It’s the song choice. Or it’s too karaoke. Or the wardrobe is atrocious. Or they were great, when they really weren’t that great.

Then consider whom the judges picked for this year’s top 12. Apart from Adam, who’s a born professional entertainer (and, as much as I love his work, a two-trick pony so far), the lineup is sounding like warbling actors auditioning for a comedy about lounge lizards. I mean, almost every performance is loungy and phony, with no sense of emotional authority or connecting in any real way with demanding listeners. These people are terrible! As a composer, I’d be appalled to hear my work subverted so much. They never sing the lyrics with any true sense of the words’ meaning, and they treat great melodies as a trivial thing compared to their rambling riffs which dance all around the melody by creating new–and horrible–ones instead.

But beyond burdening us with such a sorry lineup, what really hit home as a judging flop this week was the absurd phoniness of their agitated, animated “we just can’t decide” posturing before doing what we knew they’d do: dismiss Scott, a guy whose bland Up With People performances had rightly gotten him poor marks for weeks. Yet suddenly the judges were oh so torn and were wrestling with the idea of awarding their only free pass of the season to Scott, of all people, while the likes of Adam and Chris might need it in future weeks? Please.

The problem with the judges having a veto over viewer votes is that it takes the onus and burden off viewers (“You blew it, America!”) and shifts it right back to the final-say judges. So the real culprits for banishing a sweet blind guy couldn’t be bored viewers who didn’t endorse him, but the judges who were forced to say “You’re going home anyway.” And since they didn’t want to sound heartless in saying that, they acted like they truly wanted to keep him — and might do so, we just can’t decide! — while poor Scott sang again for his supper and then squirmed in the proverbial hot seat as they debated his fate — a debate which was as phony as anything I’ve ever seen on Idol. I mean, no way were they keeping him on the show, only to be ditched by America again next week.  Don’t insult our intelligence and pretend otherwise.

Back to Adam: He’s got to expand his range beyond (1) banshee-like heavy-metal wails for ear-piercing showboating and (2) tender falsetto ballads. I mean, what else can he do? What else has he shown? He’s been great in those two regards, and his song choices are superb, as are the arrangements (though I wish he’d credit his weird Middle Eastern vibe for Ring of Fire to Rock Star Supernova‘s Dilana). But what’s he gonna do on a 12-song album — this sort of thing, over and over? Hey, I love the guy — he’s the best Idol’s got this season, and I’d sign him in a minute. You could work with this guy. But show us what else you can do, Adam. And if this is all there is, that’s not truly enough in the long run.

So, no, there’ll be no rock-breakout guy a la David Cook this year, but a highly theatrical, albeit professional, entertainer in Adam, or a lounge-worthy usurper to his crown.

Meanwhile, Idol’s judges contribute nothing to the show but dead time, and they get far more time than the singers, including their new grand entrances — so prissy and absurd — at the start, as if the shows are about them and they are star-worthy in themselves. These judges? Heck, they don’t even do their jobs and listen to the singers much of the time, if you notice how they disrespectfully gab among each other during the performances. (Imagine the judges on Dancing With the Stars doing that. They don’t.) Can you spell “predisposed”? The whole things feels so rigged and so false. Remember when Paula critiqued a performance which never happened last year? Oops — wrong notes. And so, while still using a good ol’ VCR, I now tape most shows and then watch them right after they’ve aired, fast-forwarding through anything the judges have to say. I just can’t take it anymore.

You know, there’s such a thing as exacting, helpful, “have a take and do not suck” criticism, rather than, “Dude, check it out” (Randy) or “Here’s the thing” (Kara) or “You’ve found your niche as an artist” (Paula) or “That sounded like a karaoke/wedding party/cruise ship/Holiday Inn performance” (Simon) — not to mention “We suddenly think you’re fantastic, Scott, and we’re having an awfully tough time deciding on our free-pass vote, because you are so fab! We really want to keep you and– oh, sorry, goodbye.”

One phrase Randy uses that I will endorse: keep it real. If only Idol did so.

Let’s judge ‘American Idol’ for its own glitchy, if not pitchy, performance

February 18, 2009

If you ran the highest-rated show on TV, and you’d had months to prepare, you’d probably get things right, right? Well, American Idol did no such thing in a glitchy telecast Tuesday night for the opening round of live, public-voter competition.

For one thing, the people in the holding area with Ryan — family, friends and contestants — weren’t properly mic’d. You often could barely hear them. This happened repeatedly.

For another, the technical crew cut to the wrong tape for one contestant, forcing Ryan to make an impromptu dash to re-create his back-story, which finally appeared belatedly.

Nor were cameras aligned properly to catch contestants meeting family as they returned from the stage. In staging terms, there were too many poorly “blocked” shots.

Now, I know the important thing is the singers — oh, and how hot/cute/likable they are. But really, this show is big-time, at least as a ratings juggernaut, and it’s a show which asserts itself and its judges as being knowledgeable and authoritative while applying heat to lesser contestants.

Well, if you can dish it out, you should take it. And if Idol itself were being judged for its telecast snafus Tuesday night, I’d say, in judges-speak, “You not only picked the wrong song (the monotonous half-hearted criticism of judges too gutless to point out inherent vocal and performance flaws) but you botched it — badly.”

‘American Idol’ finds fourth judge in Kara DioGuardi — and I’m guardedly optimistic

August 25, 2008

With its ratings in a slow slide and Paula Abdul remaining a galling embarrassment, American Idol finally has done something positive — well, maybe. But at least it’s done something in adding a fourth judge in songwriter Kara DioGuardi.

Yes, I’m hopeful. That’s my nature. But in truth I’ll have to reserve judgment to see if Kara is any better than the agonizingly dull three judges already in place, of if she’ll be just another addled apologist for mediocrity (Paula), another jive-talking blatherer who considers  “pitchy” and “aw-ight” as eloquent (Randy Jackson) or another surly, bored disdainer who “critiques” just by referencing interchangeable venues for nobodies, from karaoke bars and wedding parties to cruise ships and Holiday Inns (Simon Cowell).

Hopefully Kara will rise above all that and offer actual pro and con critiques of performances, which Idol has been missing for far too long (or at least since no-nonsense guest judges like Gene Simmons appeared).

But hey, at least Kara enters a field where the bar hasn’t been set high. In fact, it’s quite low. No, it won’t take much for Kara to provide more meat with her comments than the stringy strips of fat Paula, Simon and Randy toss on our plates.

Besides, this show needs some shaking up. Now if only so many guest artists weren’t pushing 70, if only song selections were more contemporary, if only its manipulation of the vote wasn’t so transparent, if only its train-wreck audition rounds didn’t drone for so long, and if only — well, if only Idol did a lot of things differently. But hey, at least it’s got a fourth judge now. And almost by definition, she can only make things better. So here’s to you, Kara. A stale show needs some fresh air.

‘American Idol’ makes me want to cry — but not Syesha

May 8, 2008

After this week’s American Idol phonyfest, I’ve just realized a match made in heaven: David A.’s daddy, and Syesha. Simply combine the Stage Dad From Hell with the Baldly Ambitious Show-Biz Diva and how can you lose? The toughest label executive would crumble beneath their onslaught!

We already know why poor David A. seems to feel the weight of the world. It’s not millions of TV viewers. It’s his demanding dad in the front row. But this week Syesha demonstrated, more than ever, how shamelessly she is into herself and how gallingly, over-the-top ambitious she is. After all, she was standing next to the most unassuming, laid-back, get-me-outta-here dude in Idol’s universe, Jason Castro.

What really tipped me over was Syesha’s bawl-fest after Paula delivered some routine praise and encouragement during her “critique” of Syesha’s adequate but still shrill performance of A Change Is Gonna Come. Syesha then hogged probably an extra two minutes of screen time while everyone worried about her sudden tear-duct meltdown (well, at least she’s a decent actress) allegedly over the fact that the song was written during the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s which she never experienced. Huh? You know, scads of songs were written at that time, and many have emotional undercurrents. But why turn on the faucets on national TV in camera closeups after routine praise? Because she’s desperately grandstanding for votes. And those votes must have easily kept her in for one more week after Jason, her opposite, basically sabotaged his own chances because he’s tired of the whole damn thing.

Please tell me you didn’t buy Syesha’s “pity me, for I’m so soulful” ploy. It felt as phony as Paula’s critique of a song which hadn’t yet been sung. But that’s American Idol, where Randy Jackson likes to claim he’s “just keepin’ it real,” while very little that’s truly real seems to emerge.

 

Spin aside, Paula Abdul’s gaffe betrays ‘Idol’s’ dishonesty

May 1, 2008

Tuesday night, American Idol’s cover was blown. Given Paula Abdul’s witless stumble by assessing a song by Jason Castro which he hadn’t even sung yet (at least, beyond rehearsals), it was painfully evident that this show isn’t on the up and up. Instead, as has been hinted in the past, and made clear by Paula Tuesday, judges watch rehearsal performances of songs and make notes, as Paula did, then base their live-show comments largely (if not solely) on that, while the viewing public votes on what could have been an entirely different (better or worse) performance. And that’s just the tip of the dishonest iceberg, given suspicious voting results in the past, the lack of a Price Waterhouse style tabulator of the tally, and the way contestants are maneuvered by the show and its judges, from placement on the program to wildly off-base critiques.

Since Tuesday, the show has spun this disaster with a deluge of damage control. Abdul went on Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s radio show to offer her lame and ludicrous explanation that she was reading from her notes about the NEXT singer (David Cook), even though she never said either of David’s songs were lackluster, as she did of Jason’s second song. So how could that be? Abdul also went on Entertainment Tonight (Propaganda-R-Us) to excuse her mistake by claiming Tuesday’s show was terribly “confusing!” Actually, it was a simple setup: All singers sang one song first without judging, and before starting the second set of songs, judges were asked for a sweeping evaluation of the show’s first half. Ever-rambling and ever-dimwitted Paula then veered into “Oh no — she said that?” territory. Guess she was just “confused.” But Randy, Simon, Ryan, the contestants, the audience and home viewers weren’t confused. Only Paula. I’m not sure that counts as “confusing.” 

Other entertainment “journalists” also backed her up, including on CNN, where their guy said “Let’s be fair to Paula.” Uh, why must we? And who’s being “unfair,” anyway? Besides, this is a legitimate news story, and it’s not about being fair or unfair to anyone. It’s about Paula exposing the show, big-time, and us trying to deal with that and understand it, while being fed lies and spin. Besides, a journalist’s job isn’t to be “fair” to those who have screwed up but to do a thorough, dutiful and diligent job for his or her listeners or readers. 

Then Idol spun things on its results show, starting with Paula’s suddenly sweet, pure-as-snow attire and look, instead of her usual vulgar, provocative, fashion-victim look, a change which reminded me of the way Anna Nicole Smith would dress conservatively for her court appearances. Then Ryan lobbed Paula fawning, attention-drawing, softball questions from viewers so she could beam and preen and reiterate her mission statement (she’s there to prop up bad performers, since no one else will, the facts be damned). And, of course, Ryan snipped about “rumors” (without naming them) and saying how they were all “untrue.” So, anything negative we’ve heard or surmised about Paula and the show is a “rumor” and is “untrue”? Well,that’s a relief. Thanks for clearing that up, Ryan!

One of those rumors may concern Paula’s mental state and whether she’s medicated or “on” something. Actually, in terms of the context, I could care less about that rumor. It’s immaterial to me if Paula had a sip or a pill or anything before going on Tuesday’s show. That’s beside the point and diverts attention from what matters. No, the point here is that, by Paula’s gaffe of historic proportions,  THIS SHOW WAS CLEARLY EXPOSED FOR FALSENESS, and NO ONE IS OWNING UP TO IT. They’re acting like it’s all a case of “rumors” or “being unfair” or “hey, it was confusing, so lighten up,” when in truth, it is what it is: a look behind the curtain which damns the show and its dishonest process.

Beyond judges watching rehearsals and having pre-written comments (and written by whom?), is the fix in? Oh yes, and it could be even worse. After all, mountains of money are at stake, and mountains of money have a way of affecting things a tad. 

But wait — I’m sorry. This was just a matter of things being “confusing.” And to say otherwise is “unfair” and “a rumor.”

Riiiight. But I’m not buying it. And given the sorry performances of late, when even the two Davids have disappointed me, and given the contrastingly knockout performance by solidly profesional Natasha Bedingfield on Wednesday’s show (why can’t we hear more singing like that?), and given the coddling of Paula and the institutionalized lying of this program and so much else that emanates from Hollywood, I’ve decided this: that’s it. I will finish out this season, then I’m done with Idol. Millions of others already have defected, and Paula’s gaffe — and the dishonest way it was handled — have tipped me in their direction.

The judges are stale and useless (“that sounded like a ((insert: cruise ship, wedding party, karaoke bar, Holiday Inn or other venue here)) performance”), the musical themes and guest mentors are ancient (no wonder young singers don’t connect to songs: the composer is older than their grandfather), the show disrespects our intelligence and lies to us (see: Paulagate) and it’s time to move on — or at least dream fondly about such shows as Rock Star INXS, where fully half the contestants were better than any Idol wannabes now vying for the crown. (Having covered pop music professionally, I know the difference between posers and good singers, and Idol is largely amateur night.)

Sure, Idol has produced some great performers over the years, and for awhile it also produced great water cooler talk. It was new, fresh, fun and happening. Now it’s old, stale, painful and dishonest, and it’s hardly worth the time invested in it.

Excuse me, Paula, but I am so not confused. Rather, I’m all about clarity. And it’s clear to me I’ve got better things to do.

 

Forget singers — ‘American Idol’s’ worst false notes were from judges, Ryan

March 12, 2008

OK, it’s off our oft-beaten blog path (though AI DVDs do exist), but since no other blogger I’ve read —  even EW.com — has nailed last night’s show for its most glaring glitches, I’ll haveta do it. I mean, wake up, world!

Let’s forget singers for a moment and focus on the true unhinged star of last night’s Beatles-themed show: the production itself. Idol seemed to be having an anxiety attack–and it stressed me out just watching it. This was the most overheated, overhyped, oversold mess of an Idol show ever. And sitting through it was a — well, rhymes with “pitch.”

Ryan, for one, seemed more guilty of medication-induced hysterical behaviour than Paula’s ever been. I mean, what was this guy on, anyway? The strongest Jolt Cola imaginable, I suppose. He was, in a word, outtacontrol.

Most painful was his sudden and forced vaudevillian act with poor, compliant Chikezie, who’d just knocked it out of the park with his outta-nowhere She’s a Woman — a bit too rushed-tempo for my tastes, but still the night’s best number –and seconds later winds up playing shamelessly hammy Cuba Jr. opposite Ryan’s shamelessly hammy Cruise Outtacontrol, in a furiously unfunny and demeaning parody of Jerry Maguire and a certain Oscar acceptance speech.

Uh, Ryan, could you kindly–well, stuff it? That was horrible. And that was Chikezie’s moment, not yours.

Then, the judges.

Now wait — they’ve actually been entertaining as hell at times this season, staging a good-natured show in themselves. But last night they were lost in a bizarre land of make-believe, with comments sounding as false and preordained as the judges’ on Dancing With the Stars, who often evoke Soviet Union Olympics officials who once dictated a key basketball game go their way, no matter what.

Simon, for one, wasn’t being lazy or sloppy when he asked what “the Irish girl’s” name was. He knows damn well. She’s been in Idol’s sights since long before the regional auditions for this season even began, given her established history in the music business. And after months of seeing THE TOP WOMAN SINGER OF THE SEASON perform, no, I don’t buy it that Simon doesn’t even know her name. That was a lie. What I DO buy is that Idol knows it’s getting bad press for what it has done. It knows that after the season of Sanjaya and a winner who hasn’t measured up to true Idol stars (you know who they are), this goldmine of a talent show has its cred at stake. So it’s stacked the deck with show-biz veterans who are, in effect, getting a second or last chance via the big show’s big stage and big viewership. And Carly leads that list. So to overcompensate and play dumb, Simon insultingly feigns ignorance with, “I don’t really know who that Irish girl is — that girl who somehow slipped into this without any active help from us. She’s just another contestant.” Riiiight. And if you buy that, I’ve got a bridge to Looney Land to sell ya.

Then, all three judges HAMMERED  little Ramiele as if she was the WORST SINGER OF THE NIGHT — and she wasn’t, not by a longshot. Yet they all piled on, with even forgiveness-hound Paula in lockstep. Could it be, faithful readers, that those running this show want Ramiele out? Hmmmmm . . . I wonder.

Trouble is, she delivered. She sang one of the night’s best songs, In My Life (sadly, the joyous but slight early Beatles hits didn’t fly), giving it soulful substance and hardly missing a note. So what was going on here? She wasn’t that bad — in fact, she was good, and enormously better than last week — yet she was ripped apart by judges as if she’d been channeling a bad poser at a karaoke bar on a cruise ship in a wedding party. (Citing venues is such fierce criticism.)

So Bruce, you may ask. Why did they jump up and down on poor Ramiele while wearing combat boots? Easy enough. After singing a lovely song worth a sniffle, she was enduring the judges’ fury for someone else, not her. She was the whipping-girl target for this show’s loathing of her recently departed best bud on the program: Danny. Call it taking punishment by proxy — nor did it help that Ramiele clearly dedicated her song to Danny boy.

He, of course, indulged his inner-diss throughout his stormy stay, mocking  judges and showing contempt for the process like the emotional 8-year-old he is. This guy has a lot of growing up to do, to put it mildly, and that’s one comment Simon failed to make. Heck, with better advice — and behaviour — Danny might have stuck. But now he’s gone, leaving Ramiele in the lurch to get dumped on by the same judges he taunted (still taunts?), as if to say, “Enjoy this, Danny — and you can’t say a word back to us on-screen this time!” I’m telling you, those barbs heaped on Ramiele were vengeance against Danny, not genuine disgust at her far-better-than-several-others’ singing last night. Now what was that mantra: Remember, this is a talent competition!

Meanwhile, whiskey-voiced one-trick-pony Amanda gets another free pass, despite the fact that the true female rocker on this show is — oh, what’s her name? Carla? Carrie? I forget. And David Archuleta gets criticized (well, duh), but not nearly as much as he should have been, given his absolutely disastrous finale of We Can Work It Out — which he didn’t. I’ve loved his vocals up to this week — loved them — but this was about as bad as it gets, especially losing the lyrics so many times. Of course, he’s safe anyway, and this fall-back allows him now to step up without looking like Idol’s pre-ordained winner, as he did in week one. In fact, the whole thing was probably a setup, come to think of it, given this show’s falseness on other fronts and its need for seeming to be an open and fair competition. Sure, you get to vote, but it’s still a setup. Idol’s got too many superdelegates behind its scenes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love music, and I love Idol. Wouldn’t miss it. But something truly weird and whack and off and desperate was going on last night, beyond all those godblessem singing wannabes. Going to the big stage, we got the big hype and the big oversell, along with blindingly glaring insincerity. And why? Perhaps smarting from losing a few million viewers (though still easily atop the ratings), Idol is getting insecure. Like a guy in his 30s who starts going bald, or an actor who starts jumping on couches, this show is overcompensating with elaborate comb-overs. All it really needs to do is back off, ease up and just let it be.