Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RECAP: Adam Lambert Mentors Top 9 in Vegas/Idols Thank Adam for Advice/Fear of Controversy = Elvis has Left the Building!

All the hype, and fear of controversy, leading up to the American Idol Season 9 'Elvis Week' broadcast with guest-mentor Adam Lambert was absolutely unfounded, and the could-have-been exciting performances practically all fell flat.

It seems that everyone tried to find excitement and controversy where there was none. Just a whole lotta mountains outta molehills!

As an example, this past weekend's trip to Las Vegas by The American Idol Season Top 9 "did not escape the notice of the Las Vegas press!

Las Vegas Review-Journal, gossip columnist, Norm Clarke, reported on the contestants in Vegas over the weekend. Friday night, the Idols took in the production of Cirque Du Soleil’s new show, Viva Elvis and were mentored on their song choices by Adam Lambert on Saturday. It’s Elvis Week on Idol, and the Season 8 alum gave advice to the new kids from the point of view of someone who has “been there and done that”. Those mentoring session were taped, and aired prior to the Idols’ performances on Tuesday’s show.

Clarke was present during the mentoring session, keeping fans informed of the proceedings through breathless tweets. But he hinted there was controversy afoot, that frankly, didn’t pan out. Promising a report on some “odd behavior” by a Season 9 Idol, it turned out to be Crystal Bowersox’s desire to sit alone during dinner Friday night at the Aria Hotel buffet. Behavior that Clarke claims “raised some eyebrows.” Shocking!

Crystal responded to Clarke’s report, in a tweet, “Big news!! “Crystal Bowersox sits alone!” We are surrounded by each other 24/7. I think I can sit alone for 15 minutes if I want to.” Ha.

Clarke even kept tabs on another Season 8 Idol, winner Kris Allen, who was also in Vegas, participating in a radio event across town called Pet-a-poolaza (listen to music! bring your pet!). Clarke teased that he would have more tweets on a “snippy” remark Kris made at Adam’s expense. Fan war ahead? Uh. Not quite. The “jab” as Clarke characterized it, involved Kris telling an audience member, self-deprecatingly, that her sad-looking dog “must be an Adam fan.”

The big “get” Clarke is chasing down now, is a photo of a “make-up laden” Adam at the Muse concert at the Mandalay Bay events center. Adam wearing makeup? Hold the presses! Will the controversy never end! Ha ha.

The Top 9 Idols went back to Los Angeles to shoot this week’s Ford video, per their latest series of tweets. A few of the kids made a point of thanking Adam for the swell advice:

“Katie Stevens: Ford shoot today!! Yayyyy I’m so excited for this week! Adam was incredible! I love you all!!”

“Casey James: It was great meeting Adam Lambert! He is really nice. It was awesome to talk with someone that has been in this situation. He had great advise as well. Thank you Adam.”

“Aaron Kelly: ford shoot today for the music video :) yesterday (with Adam) was alot of fun”

“Tim Urban: It was so cool meeting Adam Lambert! He’s such a great guy! He was a really cool mentor for this week!”

UPDATE: Also greatly exaggerated? Adam Lambert’s accommodations in Vegas last night. According to Fred Bronson of @IdolsNow, “Report that ADAM LAMBERT had “super-suite” at Aria not true; he stayed in a regular room while there to mentor Season 9 finalists.”

2nd Update: OMG Adam wasn’t at the Muse concert last night! Hilarious! Adam is back in LA and tweeted, “so embarrasing re MUSE: I had such a migrane by the end of the day that I had to skip concert & go to bed early! Was so bummed. Someday…” I guess that “make-up laden” Adam who was at the concert was a phantom…"

Then, we have the show itself. As EW.com put it, "Guest mentor Adam Lambert delivers some solid advice, but most of the remaining nine contestants fail to hail The King.

Adam Lambert and Elvis Presley certainly wouldn't seem out of place in the pantheon of great flavor combinations. Like chocolate and peanut butter, mushrooms and bacon, lobster and (mmm) butter before them, there's a tangy, cosmic harmony in the two singers' high-haired, hip-swiveling, big-voiced, glitter-bomb styles. Unfortunately for tonight's episode of American Idol, nine other ingredients got added to the Adam-Elvis batter, and not all of 'em proved pleasing to the palate.

Oh, sure, I'd get back in line for another helping of Lee DeWyze's ''A Little Less Conversation'' or Crystal Bowersox's ''Saved,'' but the bulk of the Top 9 (Version 2.0) performances sat like day-old, soggy corn flakes in the bottom of a cereal bowl. A teenage boy raised a white flag before he'd sung a single bar of ''Blue Suede Shoes,'' his disdain for the evening's Ye Olde Songboook barely concealed. A pretty teenager doing her best Pinocchio impression — she really is human, dammit! — awkwardly bopped her head in a weak display of ''swagger.'' And after pretending to pick his nose for the camera (what better way to show America you've got ''personality''?), a young father exhaustedly dragged his mic stand around the stage like Tony Dovolani pulling Kate Gosselin through a paso doble.

No, this was not a great night of musical entertainment. Just don't blame the inexplicably polarizing Mr. Lambert, an impish (and deliciously coiffed) presence who sagely noted that the nine remaining finalists needed to ''wake up a little bit,'' then succinctly summed up the particular performance problems each of the season 9 combatants was experiencing.

Ken Warwick & Co. must accept some culpability, though, for saddling the Idol hopefuls with the treacherous Elvis theme; for every timeless classic (i.e. ''Can't Help Falling in Love'') there's a precious museum relic (i.e. ''Lawdy Miss Clawdy,'' Casey? Srsly?) that not even a team of Timbalands and Linda Perrys could make current. And consider that in addition to Elvis Night, the additional four weeks of season 9 finals have found Idol reaching back — way back — to tackle the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and a list of R&B tracks mostly older than Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens combined. Don't adjust your AM dial, folks! The steady stream of Golden Oldies is not an accident at all!

Which is not to say that Lee DeWyze's ''A Little Less Conversation'' wouldn't fit right in at modern radio. I loved the way his acoustic guitar was front-and-center in the arrangement without turning it into coffeehouse piffle. There was something bracing and randy in Lee's gruff delivery — his inner caveman dispensing with the niceties and demanding physical satisfaction — but Kara was right that the Chicago rocker should've infused a little more playful flirtation into his performance. Even a hint of a smile (which Adam suggested) or a raised eyebrow would've helped drive home the song's sexual undertones, and made it more accessible in the process. Simon's ridiculous retort — ''what do you want, kittens?'' — was yet another ''throw-the-critique-out-with-the-Kara-taunting'' moment that proved neither entertaining, nor helpful to Lee's artistic development. Dude may be reluctant to play the heartthrob role, but if he wants to lay claim to a title held by David Cook and Kris Allen, then it's time to lose the soul patch (along with a button or two) and understand that there's a difference between telling the audience ''I'm enjoying this; I'm smiling'' and actually making us believe it.

Oh, and while I have to give mad props to Lee for hitting every single note in ''Conversation,'' I've got to point out the badly botched lyrics in the first verse (since zero out of four judges managed to make note of it). ''A little more spark a little less a little less blah, a little more somethin' a one more time'' does not equal ''A little more bite and a little less bark, a little less fight and a little more spark.'' That is all.

I'd contend the judges also whiffed a bit when it came to The Mighty Crystal Bowersox and her rollicking rendition of the Gospel-tinged ''Saved.'' Randy's babblespeak about sounding like a ''broken record'' and Kara's rote ''another solid performance from Crystal'' made it seem like the season 9 front-runner's standard-operating excellence is something we should all take for granted, like involuntary breathing, or ponies, or bite-sized candies on your coworker's desk. (Thanks, Annie Barrett!)

Okay, I've complained in prior weeks that the judges' unadulterated hype could cause a Bowesox Backlash. So perhaps I should zip my hyper-critical pie-hole and applaud the decision to make Crystal (and her fierce rockstar pants) open the show tonight, instead of holding her for the end and having the other eight contestants come off like a series of varied, and not always welcome, opening acts. But before I put on my Team Bowersox pajamas and head off to sleepytime, let me just point out that Crystal's ''Saved'' was actually an improvement on Elvis' sped-up (and somewhat hokier) version. Let's just hope her choice of a slightly obscure Presley number doesn't find our dreadlocked mama needing to be ''saved'' herself on Wednesday night — and not having anyone to do it.

(I know, I know...that's not gonna happen. But then again, Daughtry's unexpected fourth-place finish occurred during Elvis Week back in Season 5.)

Gah. Actually, let's not go down that road. The Idol deities (or at least the suits at Fox) aren't going to let Crystal get sent packin' before Andrew Garcia, the man voted Most Likely to Participate in Wednesday's Double Elimination. I mean, dude prepped the audience for his number by pretending to foist a finger up his own nose, then proceeded to deliver ''Hound Dog'' with all the swagger of a rheumatic canine sporting a plastic head cone. Kara was right: Andrew hid behind his mic tonight — perhaps trying to hide the fact that his alleged song-arranging skills had only managed to yield a sluggish, lounge-y ambiance that, frankly, called for a white polyester pantsuit and an even higher pompadour. Ellen, suddenly playing the role of an irrelevant season 3 guest judge, uttered the words ''I thought you pulled it off,'' and proved why she's been an Oscar host, but not an Oscar recipient. Adam's rehearsal quip — ''it's boring'' — was vastly more succinct, not to mention honest.

So who's most likely to go home with the man who's ''doing it for my son''? Probably not Michael Lynche, since eliminating two dads in one night would lead to a widespread outcry of ''What about the children?!?!'' (Sorry, just had a flashback to Adam Lambert on CBS' Early Show.)

And anyhow, the guy who responded to last week's Judges' Save with a combination of pouting and preening performed solidly enough on ''In the Ghetto'' (suggested by Siobhan!) tonight to buy himself a ticket to next week's Idol Gives Back extravaganza. (Perhaps that's when Idol will taketh away what it gave him last Wednesday?) Sitting at the edge of the stage, guitar in hand, Big Mike stripped down the arrangement and amped up the drama of Elvis' tale of a child's hardscrabble urban life, throwing in plenty of echo, a nice falsetto bit in the final verse and an impressive run at the end to add a little R&B twist to the acoustic-and-piano arrangement. Not a note was missed, and Mr. Lambert responded by giving what I believe was his only standing O of the night. I just wish Big Mike had been able to contain that smug smile after the judges finished heaping praise on his rendition. Because while Randy is right, Idol is a singing competition, it's also about finding a talented artist you won't mind spending your money on.

(Let me pause here for a second to send a special thanks to Idol executive producer Ken Warwick. Earlier this week, in a brief telephone conversation, I implored him to pull the plug on the studio Swaybots. And while he couldn't promise to totally nix those synchronized ghouls, he did promise me that he'd make sure his director aimed the camera upwards, to make sure those side-to-side arms didn't impede our view of the performances. And aside from a few wide-angle glimpses tonight, the Swaybots went 0-for-9 on the evening. Which is something worth celebrating — perhaps with a nice glass of champs, darlings!)

Speaking of robotic movement, let's talk about Katie Stevens. (Badum-bum!) (Sorry, sometimes it's just too easy.) Adam wanted to see her channel her frustration with the judges directly into her performance of ''Baby What Do You Want Me to Do,'' but perhaps because she was weighed down with 27 lbs. of gold accessories, everything about the performance felt labored and inauthentic. Admittedly, Katie's vocals were mostly in tune for the second week running, but there's no emotional gravitas behind the music. It's almost as if, as she's singing, you can picture Katie in her basement on a Thursday night stenciling ''Vote 4 Katie 4 Idol'' messages onto hot-pink slabs of posterboard. Maybe that's what Randy meant when he said she was ''letting all the vibes out.'' (Eloquent!)

Katie's low-impact performance puts her at risk to join Andrew for elimination this week, but I'm putting my money on Aaron Kelly, who explained that his song, ''Blue Suede Shoes,'' was probably the wrong choice ''in every possible way.'' It didn't matter where Aaron was standing — on the steps! behind the judges! at center stage! — nothing seemed to revive the kid's defeated energy as he pantomimed his way through emotions like ''anger'' and ''standoffishness.'' I'd be lying if I said the bluesy midsection breakdown wasn't an improvement on the first half of the performance, but I still think Ellen's ''A for effort'' nonsense should have no place outside a grade-school classroom.

Amidst all the drudgery, it was nice of Idol to bring back that 19-year-old summer camp counselor with the dreamy hair and the sing-speak phrasing to perform another ballad for our entertainment. When he got to the end of ''Can't Help Falling in Love,'' all the 14-year-old girls were swooning on the inside and declaring it the best campfire ever.

All right, maybe I'm being a little dismissive of Tim Urban, who stayed in tune (it's becoming a trend at this point!), played his guitar nicely, and seemed vaguely aware he was performing an actual love song tonight. (''I do know what the words are about!'' he insisted in his interview package, before presumably calling ''Mambo No. 5'' one of the world's greatest lovesongs.) All in all, it was low-key and competent, and might've been more interesting if Tim had listened to Adam's advice and finished in his head voice. But at this point in season 9, ''Can't Help Falling in Love'' is definitely going to be enough to propel Tim to a seventh-place finish, and might be enough to reach the top 5! But whether you love or loathe the wide-eyed Texan, he deserved more respect that to have a distraction from Ryan, who spent the performance breaking into a waltz with season 8's 10th-place finisher, Michael Sarver [UPDATE: It was actually one of Lee DeWyze's friends] and also referred to him as ''Turban.'' As a consolation prize, Simon trotted out his now threadbare ''zero to hero'' critique, while Kara offered damning praise: ''My favorite Tim performance ever.''

The judges were far less effusive about Siobhan Magnus, who is now being painted with the ''confusing'' brush, while simultaneously being asked by the judges to deliver the Siobhan Shriek without delivering the Siobhan Shriek. As for me, well, I had mixed feelings tonight about The Glassblower's ''Suspicious Minds.'' There were some lovely, impassioned moments (especially when Siobhan broke it down on the bridge), but I get the sense that her voice is like a wild mustang: It's lovely and powerful and doesn't want to be corralled, but it's also uncontrollable and a little dangerous and not always terribly elegant. The white business suit with rhinestone lightning bolts on the front and Frederick's of Hollywood day-wear cutouts on the back did little to enhance Siohan's star power, and while it seemed incredibly naïve that Siobhan thinks musical artists don't need to have a consistent vision of what kind of music they want to make, I did love watching her earnestly disagree with Simon, and watching him earnestly want to explode with fury.

And finally, we had Casey James, standing in the dreaded Swaybot pit and grooving out to the bluesy but dated ''Lawdy Miss Clawdy.'' (Didn't Casey learn from Matt Giraud and Kris Allen that no one benefits from feeding the zombies?) Adam made an excellent suggestion to build some dynamics — perhaps a beginning, middle, and end — to a song I have to admit I hadn't heard before tonight, but the performance drifted by like a passing cloud, and only the backup singer with the reddish hair on the step behind Casey was able to capture and keep my attention during the performance. Which is not a good sign for a budding solo artist who needs to always be cautious not to let his bluesy vibrato transform into a full-fledged bleat.

What did you think of tonight's show? Were you as turned off by Ryan's performance tonight as I was? (The Brian Dunkleman joke was at once startlingly unfunny and stunningly cruel; while the Adam Lambert tongue quip, delivered right next to Adam's mother was just deeply uncomfortable. Oh, and instead of discussing the Big Mike/Simon/Sumo-wrestler compilation poster, let's just skip ahead to tonight's scorecard:

Crystal Bowersox: A-
Lee DeWyze: A-
Michael Lynche: B+
Siobhan Magnus: B
Casey James: B-
Tim Urban: B-
Katie Stevens: C+
Aaron Kelly: C-
Andrew Garcia: D"

So, for all the hype, I give the show an overall grade of "C-". And to the feared controversy?? Adam Lambert was a perfect gentleman, and humble at that. Ryan, who tried to goad Adam into saying something controversial with his tacky 'tongue' innuendo, then proceeded to emcee the show with a drunken-sounding slur, and a bad waltz, helped to turn the negative camera lens off Adam and onto himself.

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*Special thanks to MJ's Blog and EW.com for article contribution

4 comments:

  1. This is a fabulous recount of all the action....I couldn't agree more with your grading scale. It will be very interesting to see who gets the boot tonight. I really have grown attached to them all at this point, but there are some clear leaders. I enjoy reading your posts!

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  2. Adam was wonderful! I still can't believe some of the ridiculous comments I had read on FB from homophobes worrying about what he'd do on the show! Then it ends up being their 'wholesome' Ryan Seacrest who gets offensive! hehehe

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  3. Go CRYSTAL Go!!!!

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  4. What a great mentor you make....and I always told my friends, last year, that you were the new Elvis....great job..... judy - toledo

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