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"American Idol" and Other Notes

By admin Published: April 7, 2011

The blog has been a bit underserved of late, thanks in part to Charlie Sheen's appearance in Cleveland, and even more because of the final throes of my master's thesis. But entertainment goes on.

I was thinking about Sheen today and wanted to mention that, even with all the craziness around him, much of it of his own creation, that you can find some more than capable acting performances and decent movies on his resume. Look for "Major League," of course; "Platoon," "Eight Men Out," "Wall Street" (I don't know about the sequel but there's enough interest in it that the Akron library has 42 copies -- and 192 holds on them as of this morning), "Lucas" and "Rated X," a TV movie from 2000 with Sheen and brother Emilio Estevez as the notorious Mitchell brothers.

But I really checked in here to talk about last night's "American Idol," or as I am thinking of it, "An Overpraised Display of Moderate Competence." Regardless of what the judges and producers think, there was nothing in there that I considered download-worthy. And even some of the capable vocals were hampered by a lack of real stagecraft: Haley, Pia, Stefano all suffered on that score. More on this after the jump.

Being a television show as well as a self-proclaimed vocal competition, "Idol" calls on its contestants to exhibit personalities (evident last night in the discussion of which songs some would and would not do) and to offer a TV-friendly performance. Of course, some get a lot of help on the TV-friendly part via backing vocalists, stage stunts, camera angles, cheering crowds (including that thoroughly contrived-looking rush of girls for Scotty -- trained seals on the loose!) and judges euphoric beyond all reason. Is there anyone Tyler does not think sings beautifully? Is there any uptempo song that does not get Lopez bouncing in her chair?

But the sad fact is, when the camera is on the contestants, some of them show a stunning lack of understanding of how to sell a song. I am not talking here about Paul, whom I still hate, because he seems very comfortable and deliberately affable onstage even when his mouth is offering no more than a quack. (Last night I had to play a little Johnny Cash as a purgative.) I am thinking more of Haley, who grinned and near-winked her way through "Piece of My Heart," a song that calls for neither, because grinning is what she does; Stefano, who in moments of high emotion seems to be showing off his tonsillectomy, and Pia, who may be the best single pure vocalist in the competition but who even when trying to channel Tina Turner has no stage presence: Move it, girl! Turner would have been storming across that stage; Pia offered no more than a series of poses. Scotty, for that matter, was a pretty modest Elvis, singing the tune but not strutting and shaking it; his gestures were odd, as if he had transferred any hippiness to his arms and hands. Or so it seemed at the time.

Of course, there are others who have a sense of self onstage: Jacob, James (although I could have lived without that last scream, since he had avoided that cliche up that point), Casey, Lauren. But Casey and Lauren underwhelmed overall; if Scotty was Elvis Gone Mild, Lauren was the same thing with Aretha.

This also brings me to song selection. The show is terribly unimaginative when it comes to the songs. This is unfortunate in two directions at once: People who know these oldies may well be tired of yet another cover version, and a lot of young people who do not know or care about some of the songs. (Saw a young person on WJW this morning expressing a lack of awareness of Casey's song, Creedence's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" I wanna know indeed.) I don't mind them reaching into the old catalogs, but why for the same songs? Consider these possiibilities --

-- If Stefano wants to do Percy Sledge, skip "When a Man Loves a Woman" for "Take Time To Know Her." Sledge made high drama out of it, and it's not nearly as overdone as "Man."

-- Lauren could have bypassed "Natural Woman" for "Ain't No Way."

-- Pia put aside "River Deep Mountain High" for the intense but more soulful "I Idolize You."

-- Scotty skips "That's All Right Mama" but stays in Elvis's Sun legacy with "Blue Moon of Kentucky" or "Baby Let's Play House."

Might have made for a more interesting show. As things were, I had a case of the blahs.

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