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"American Idol": That '70s Show

By admin Published: May 5, 2009

They called it rock & roll night, then rock night, and brought in Slash. But a show that makes a lot of noise about being contemporary overlooked three decades of music to get to tonight's selections. The newest song was Styx's "Renegade," which hit the Billboard charts in 1979. "Dream On" and "Slow Ride" date to '76. "Come Together" is originally from 1969, but Aerosmith's cover is '78 (and, with "Dream On," that makes two songs tonight with Aerosmith connections. It's Bryan Adams all over again.) "Whole Lotta Love" charted in '70. And while "Cry Baby" goes back to '63 if you remember Garnett Mimms -- which "Idol" doesn't -- the show invoked Janis Joplin, so we're looking at '70.

Of course, this may also explain Kara's hair, which from the front kept making me think of Grace Jones.

But, leading into the jump, the show came up with a format that allowed them not only to showcase Adam but to bracket the show with him. ...

You may remember that in the '60s Ed Sullivan would make sure to keep the teen audience by bringing on the Beatles early in the show and then loudly promising that they would be back later. "Idol" plainly sees Adam not only as the presumptive winner but as a major audience draw, so why not contrive a format that has him perform at the beginning and end of the show without making the audience sit through performances by singers they don't care about, especially on rock night.

With Slash at the night's mentor and the contestants performing for him on a club stage instead of beside the "Idol" piano, Adam started with LZ's "Whole Lotta Love" and tore it up, although the more shrieky parts made me long for Robert Plant. Still, it was rock theater, and Adam even tossed a little Elvis into the middle of it. It was a show-closing performance positioned at the beginning of the telecast, and Simon rightly noted that it was pretty much impossible to follow.

That unfortunate task was left to Allison, who did a serviceable "Cry Baby" but was doomed to tepid reactions from the judges -- as were the other two guys, neither of whom has demonstrated a major rock vibe. It was funny, though, when Simon assumed that Allison had considered Queen's "Somebody to Love" ON ROCK NIGHT instead of the Jefferson Airplane warhorse. And where Allison was facing shredding by the judges, how intriguing that Simon said he liked her mouthing off -- clearly, Simon had seen dress rehearsal and knew what waited at the end of the show.

Then Danny and Kris did the night's first duet, on Styx's "Renegade," which was pretty but nothing more. Ryan made a point of saying that their phone numbers would not be onscreen during the performance. But why not? They sang, and the judges commented. What sort of illusion was maintained in not giving viewers a chance to see the phone numbers?

Kris then performed "Come Together." It wasn't bad. I kind of liked the vocal, but the judges did not consider Kris rock-worthy, and so determined that his performance was inadequate. Danny followed with "Dream On," and started terribly and didn't get much better and so was not rock-worthy either.

Then came the second duet, Allison and Adam on "Slow Ride." At first, it appeared that Adam was going to blast her off the stage but he played nicely after that, and they did the sort of duet that will probably play very well on the concert tour. It also seemed designed to keep Allison in the mix going to the final three, since she was presented as the singer most compatible with Adam.

But that also set a situation in which it appeared that "Idol" will be content to say goodbye to either Kris or Danny this week. I don't know if they want to keep the lone remaining womanaround for one more week, or that they assume that Danny or Kris is safe regardless of what they do, or it's again a matter of who will match well with Adam onstage and in the studio. (SO much talk about an Allison/Adam duet on CD.) But the only thing they could have done to make it worse for Danny or Kris would have been to force one to duet with Adam. That would have been deadly.

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