Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gone country...for a night

Let's be honest, most of American Idol's faithful viewers dread country night. Die hard country fans probably watch Nashville Star and the like. While there is always at least one country contestant to watch in the top 12, there has only been one country singer to win in the show's seven previous seasons.

Last night was a tribute to the Grand Ole Opry with Randy Travis as the guest mentor. When I was little, my mom would play Randy Travis singing "Forever & Ever, Amen" and she would swoon. So, Randy is old school and was taken aback by many of the song choices, but he seemed pleasantly surprised by most of the twists they put in to make the songs unique. You aren't going to get a lot of harsh critisim from a good ole' boy. Seriously though, he's never seen a man wear nail polish? I know they get cable in Tennessee.

The winners of the night were all ballads. This shouldn't be a surprise because only contestants that are truly "country" would try to pull off an uptempo country song. (Try to imagine Anoop Dogg doing "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy.") Cringe. This is not the night to try to prove that you can cross over to other genres. No, the best bet is to go ballad and put in a little of your flavor, be it R&B or soulful piano. Several of the guys took strong female songs, which can always be dangerous, but surprisingly made them work.

I have ranked them in order of how I viewed last night's performances:

Matt Giraud, "So Small" by Carrie Underwood- Loved it. I haven't been a fan of his at all, but tonight he really stood out. I don't really like most of Carrie Underwood's songs, but I liked his version. I was drawn to a comparison of Joshua Kadison when he was playing the piano. If he can write songs, he may be able to garner even more appeal.

Kris Allen, "To Make You Feel My Love" by Garth Brooks- His version was so simple and yet the new arrangement really showcased his vocals. The fact that he played without his guitar really made you focus on his cute baby face. I was surprised to see him make it into the semi-finals, but now I get it.

Anoop Desai, "Always on My Mind" by Willie Nelson- I've always liked Anoop, but I knew he had to bring it since his last performance wasn't received well (though I enjoyed it.) He knew it, too, so he went to the other end of his spectrum and poured out his soul. Lovely, but the geometric-print hoodie was a little distracting.

Note to director: I wish the camera would focus on close ups when the contestants are doing ballads. They need to be able to look at the camera straight on to establish that important emotional connection. We don't need to see wide and aerial shots when they are standing still.

Adam Lambert, "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash (sort of)- He left everyone speechless with his Middle Eastern take on a classic song. I understand why he would do that--it is not necessarily an "untouchable" song, but it is a very famous song that defined a very famous artist that still carries a lot of popularity. How are you going to do it better than JC? By taking it where no one would ever dare to go. The David Cook-song rearranging-comparison is obvious, but this just took it to a whole other level. I think Adam probably could have done the traditional version just fine, but props to him for taking the risk. He's still my favorite.

Megan Corkrey, "Walkin' After Midnight" by Patsy Cline-I never know what to think about Megan. I love her voice, but Colbie Callait-type songs is obviously what she needs to be singing. That is what is so difficult about this competition. There are great singers that are perfect in their niche, but when forced to go outside of that, they falter because it isn't comfortable. Considering that she doesn't have a background in singing, she could do really well with some more experience under her belt. And, I never would have known she was sick last night, so she did a great job covering that up.

Danny Gokey, "Jesus Take the Wheel" by Carrie Underwood- I'm not fond of that song, but his version was better- maybe because it was shorter. Danny is a great performer- that isn't news. There is just something about him that I can't put my finger on, but he doesn't seem 100% genuine. I think the dead wife publicity has had the opposite effect on me--I'd like to see him shed a few tears over her. Entertainment Weekly's March 20th issue picked him to win, but an online article put him second after Adam. Hopefully, that holds true.

Allison Iraheta, "Blame It On Your Heart" by Patty Loveless- I like Allison and she really did great in a genre that I expected her to struggle with. However, her song just didn't stand out enough on a night when everyone else was making unexpected changes to suit their style. She proved that she can cross over, but we really don't want her to.

Scott MacIntyre, "Wild Angels" by Martina McBride- My first reaction was that he finally proved why he was still around and that he wasn't just a sympathy finalist. He made the song a little different and it was really pleasing. Scott and Matt were the only two piano players tonight and both sang ballads. Scott was toward the front of the show and Matt was at the end. I don't know if contestants are randomly placed or if these two were purposely separated to avoid comparison, however, you can't help but compare them anyway. Matt obviously wins.

Paula commented that she would like to see Scott perform without the piano so that he could better connect with the audience. I'm pretty sure that all of America was screaming at their TV in that instant and it sounded something like, "NOOOOOO!" He is blind. He's not going to be able to connect visually in the same way that other contestants are, but he can and does connect on a raw emotional level. I think there is a reason that Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles wore glasses and sang at the piano. Scott is obviously more comfortable behind the piano and he plays well, so hopefully he will ignore Paula-- the rest of us do.

Alexis Grace, "Jolene" by Dolly Parton- Alexis is one of my favorites from the beginning, but Brooke White just did this song last season, and frankly, Brooke's was better.

Lil Rounds, "Independence Day" by Martina McBride- I don't think the song was appropriate and was just a bad choice for her. She has crazy vocal skills and could have chosen a million other power ballads that would have shown those off. She didn't change it in any way and I just wasn't impressed.

Michael Sarver, "Ain't Going Down" by Garth Brooks- Always forgettable, Michael is the only real country contestant and therefore the only contestant doing an upbeat number. He was obviously having fun, but unfortunately, it did not stand out when compared moving mixes from the other contestants.

FYI...I love AI, but don't expect a review every week. I just wanted to weigh in at least once this season. I'm still crossing my fingers for an Aerosmith week.

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