”American Idol”: When bad songs happen
That settles it! Bring on disco night. Or Motown night. Heck, I’ll settle for Gloria Estefan night at this point. Pretty much anything will do — as long as the current American Idol wannabes aren’t allowed to blindly choose their own material anymore.
Honestly, you wouldn’t think it would be such a problem allowing aspiring young singers to choose pretty much any song that floats their boats. But a quick look at some of the doozies on the playlist from tonight’s guys-only episode tells a different story: Seether’s utterly forgettable ”Broken”; Brian Adams’ sap-tastic ”Heaven”; and, most disconcerting of all, ”Butterflies,” quite possibly the ghastliest song ever recorded by Michael Jackson. With material like this, the contestants might as well fast-forward to the cliché-packed groaners like ”I Believe” and ”Inside Your Heaven” that they’ll be forced to sing if they survive till the season finale. (Which I’m sure would be fine with judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson — two people who use an astounding number of words to say pretty much nothing of value. Come to think of it, as a tribute to their utter uselessness, I will outlaw the use of their names for the remainder of this column.)
Anyhow, fortunately for Chris Daughtry, Elliott Yamin, and Ace Young — the three gents responsible for foisting the aforementioned numbers on the viewing public — they could’ve sung their ABCs and still been guaranteed half of this season’s men’s finalist spots. In fact, despite their less than ear-delicious song choices, Chris and Elliott were still two of the most enjoyable performers of the night.
That’s because Chris has more charisma than half the pop-rock singers on today’s Billboard charts, and his ability to work a look like that torso-hugging rust-colored shirt doesn’t hurt, either. The one possible weakness Chris brings to the Idol stage, though, could be a hint of predictability. In order to go all the way, he’ll need to occasionally choose songs viewers wouldn’t expect him to sing — maybe a soul classic in the vein of ”Let’s Get It On,” or perhaps a track associated with a female artist, like Fiona Apple’s ”Criminal.”
Elliott, meanwhile, didn’t miss a single note on ”Heaven,” but that’s to be expected from this season’s most technically skilled vocalist. The Idol house band’s cheesy arrangement, however, certainly didn’t do much to freshen up that classic slice of ’80s schlock-pop, and Simon was right that Elliott didn’t seem completely comfortable, despite working his nattiest look of the season.
And then there’s Ace. No doubt, the dude’s going to go far: He’s a better singer than season 4’s Constantine Maroulis, and we saw how well that guy did throwing come-hither looks at the camera. But Ace’s midsong falsetto was scarier than Taylor Hicks’ dance moves, so unless he’s willing to settle for finishing mid-pack, he’d better focus on his lower register.
What was that? You need a second to go back and re-read that last sentence? Go right ahead — nobody’s going to blame you for needing some time to recover from that flashback of the gray-haired dude winding up his arm and thrusting his hips to the Doobie Brothers’ ”Takin’ It to the Streets.” Seriously, if I’d been in the live audience for that performance, I might’ve taken the song’s title to heart and made a run for it: Taylor is scary. But he also can conjure up a pretty good impression of Michael McDonald, and so he’s definitely going to make the finals.
That leaves only two spots for the four remaining men: Gedeon McKinney, Kevin Covais, Bucky Covington, and Will Makar. And, really, I shouldn’t lump Gedeon in that group, considering his ”When a Man Loves a Woman” was in a different vocal league. That said, his vaguely disturbing interview clips, and his tendency to deliver his material in a solid-but-karaoke fashion, means he’s not a lock to survive past Thursday night.
So who’s most likely to get ejected from the competition on Thursday? I’m guessing it’ll be Bucky and Will. I had to force myself to pay attention to the former’s ho-hum, sometimes off-key rendition of Pat Green’s ”Wave on Wave,” and as for the latter, we’ve already got Ace to do the Zoolander ”Blue Steel.” Do we really need to see that from a kid who’s still got his high-school tutor coming to the Idol set? I know there’ll be folks who like the fact that Will sings mostly on key, but to me, it’s not enough. It would’ve been less painful to hear him butcher ”How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” than to hear him just slowly drain the life out of it.
Of course, if I’m on target with my prediction, that means you’ll get to enjoy (have to endure?) one more week of Kevin Covais. Simon said it perfectly when he noted that the wobbly voiced teen’s take on ”Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” was enjoyable ”in the same way you like watching puppies.” Certainly you wouldn’t want to hear one yelping on the radio, but somehow, with the visual cues of Kevin’s geek-chic glasses, his lispy little lips, and his tragically bad haircut, he becomes your adorable grandkid, your hard-trying son, your helpless kid brother. Or something like that. And as they say in the newspaper business, never underestimate the power of babies. Or puppies.
What do you think? Were the guys’ song choices the main problem tonight? Did anyone stand out as the best? And which two do you think will be sent home on Thursday?