Monday, January 31, 2011

Video Of The Day: Kris Allen Sings National Anthem At Pro Bowl

Well then. Since my earlier video of the day (of Bruce Springsteen dancing with his mom during a performance of Dancing in the Dark) was removed from YouTube, let's go with Kris Allen singing the national anthem at the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii yesterday. Kris does a great job with this, bringing a bit of the Aloha spirit to the song.

Video from MJ's Big Blog:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Video Of The Day: Sara Bareilles Covers Coldplay's Yellow

Sara Bareilles did a private acoustic show for and Z100 in New York on Thursday evening. She ended her show with a new cover of Coldplay's "Yellow". I never would have recognized it if not for the words. She completely made it her own.

Video below is from the live stream that Z100 hosted.

Big Pimpin' In Nashville

My biggest beef with American Idol over the years has been the producers' inability to let fans make up their own minds without a little maniuplation/pimpage. They have their vision of what they want the show to be and who they want to succeed, and they drop anvils on our heads to make sure it happens.

Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has been all over the press and twitter talking about a 15 year-old girl whose voice rivals Kelly Clarkson. We finally got to see what he was talking about at the end of the Nashville auditions. Lauren Alaina, a personable blonde from Rossville, GA with huge pipes, came in and blew the judges away singing Faith Hill and Tim McGraw's "Like We Never Loved At All". She also sang an "impromptu" "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" with Steven Tyler, showing she wasn't just a country singer.

Here's the thing (ew, Kara DioGuardi flashback! Sorry!): If Nigel hadn't been hyping this girl to the high heavens and invoking the name of Kelly Clarkson (I think at one point he even said she was better than Kelly. Oh HALE NO.), I might have been as blown away as the judges were. But between hating the pimping before her episode, hating that they added a sob story on top of the pimping (her cousin Holly has a brain tumor), the pimping at the end of the performance (Steven Tyler basically ending the show saying "I think we found the one") and expecting someone to out-sing one of the best singers out there right now, Lauren's performance was just met by a "she's good - we'll wait and see" shrug by me.

As much as I get annoyed by all the back stories, I must admit that two actually got me in this episode. The first was the audition of the two exes and former singing partners, Chelsee Oaks and Rob Bolin. They came separately but were brought in together into the audition by these oh-so-not-subtle producers who smelled a great story a mile away. The judges asked the duo to sing together (they did The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody"), and boy do they sound great together. The harmonies! They also had them audition separately, and they sounded good solo as well. Rob had a really cool blue-eyed soul vibe going on during his "What's Goin' On", and I love the huskiness in his voice. Chelsee showed a powerful sweetness in her voice singing Brandi Carlile's "The Story". The judges, and especially Jennifer Lopez, want them to get back together. Not even going to lie, so do I. He's clearly still in love with her. And I caught that look from the new boyfriend. Methinks he might be a little worried. Hmmm ...

The other audition story I enjoyed was that of Adrienne Beasley, an African-American woman who was adopted at a young age by a white couple. Her parents seem SO SWEET, and she clearly adores them just as much as they adore her. I was rooting for her so hard, but unfortunately was not as impressed by her audition as the judges were. She has a good voice, but that "something" in her voice that impressed Steven Tyler was something I thought was lacking. I thought she was lacking a little color in her voice when she sang Lady Antebellum's "American Honey".

I wasn't swayed by the story line of overalls-clad Matt Dillard, whose family takes in a ton of foster kids into their home. Matt surprisingly sang Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" while looking like Jethro straight off the farm. He's not really good enough to go through, but Steven and Randy surprisingly put him through. The guys also put through former Miss Teen USA 2009 Stormi Henley despite having a thin voice. She's better than some of the other people they've put through on looks alone (Bikini Girl!) but that was a total guy move.

Also going through to Hollywood were Paul McDonald ("Maggie May"), Jimmie Allen ("Sunday Morning") and Danny Pate ("Papa Was A Rolling Stone"). One of my favorites of the night was Jackie Wilson, the 28 year-old who shocked Ryan Seacrest by kissing who I'm sure he thought was her dad but was instead her much older boyfriend. LMAO. Jackie sang the crap out of "Until You Come Back to Me" (I was personally hoping for "Higher and Higher").

Trainwreck audition of the day: Christine McCaffrey, who walked into her audition singing/making cartoon-ish noises and then butchered "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack. She actually thought Steven Tyler had said yes to her. He said, "I'm going to say no", and she replied with "Awesome!"

Most offensive moment: Tattoo artist Allen Lewis said to the judges, "Everyone's got their own flavor of ice cream. Mine's vanilla and yours may be chocolate" while the camera was on Randy. :|

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Idol Goes Gokey In Milwaukee Auditions

Much has been said about American Idol shoving Danny Gokey's Ghoulish Widower (tm Kristin Baldwin) story down our throats early in season 8. And when the Season 10 auditions came to Milwaukee, the Idol producers upped their game with a (depending on which way you look at it) Gokey-like story that people are either going to see as incredibly heart-warming and inspiring or incredibly exploitative and manipulative.

Here's the situation: Chris Medina's fiancee was in an accident two weeks before they were supposed to get married. The accident left her brain-damaged and wheelchair-bound. Chris and his fiancee's mother are now her caregivers, and, as he said, "I was about to make vows just two months from the accident ... What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?"

That is where I think it should have ended with the backstory. They should have let him sing, rendered their verdict and then showed some celebration after he got his golden ticket. But NO. They had to show the judges asking to meet his fiancee and then her being wheeled in and them talking to her like a pre-schooler. To me, that was shamefully exploitative and manipulative. Let the man be judged on his own singing merits without slapping the audience with this big sympathetic backstory!

And I can't let Chris Medina off the hook either because although I think it's so commendable and admirable that he has never left her side through all this, I also think he could have done something to not allow this to be portrayed like this (such as not bring her to the audition). I understand that she is a huge part of his life and of course he's going to talk about her, but I also can't help but think of Season 7 winner David Cook, who refused to discuss his brother, who had a brain tumor, on the show. I respected him so much for that.

I'll try to keep an open mind about Chris, but if this becomes all about his story and less about his singing (which I didn't think was all that, to be honest. I didn't like the slowed-down arrangement of "Breakeven" at all, and it was a little boring) in future shows ... look out. There's a fine line that Chris needs to tread. Hopefully he can figure it out, and hopefully the producers let him.

The Chris Medina story wasn't the only thing that squicked me out in this episode. Let's talk about Randy Jackson for a minute. After Idol reject Vernika Patterson butchered Minnie Riperton's "Loving You", the judges were all about to give her no's. She asked them, "Is it because I'm not skinny like half of these females here?!" Randy replied, "This girl's not skinny, that first winner wasn't ..."

OH HALE NO, Randy. Kelly was not fat. And she has a name. It's KELLY CLARKSON, bitch.

I found myself disagreeing quite a bit with the golden ticket decisions in this episode. Emma Henry, the 15 year-old who sang "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper had a distinct voice and had some potential, but she went off the rails quite a bit during the chorus. She's very young, and her little meltdown showed that she's clearly not ready for this, as Randy said. She'd be much better off taking the next year to get more mature and get more experience before auditioning again. Inexplicably, however, Randy gets suckered by the tears and lets her go through. WTAF, Randy?!

I found Tiwan Strong, the 29 year-old daycare teacher, to be corny and old-fashioned when he sang "Twistin' The Night Away", but they let him through. I wasn't impressed with accountant Steve Beghun, who sang a rather ordinary rendition of The Script's "The Man Who Can't Be Moved". I thought the judges were mistaking loud with good in regards to Haley Reinhart, who sang "Oh Darling."

I don't begrudge these people their golden tickets, but I also don't get the hype: bar mitzvah singer Jerome Bell and 15 year-old Charice wannabe Thia Megia. Jerome, who sang "Let's Get It On", has a nice voice, but he came across as a bar mitzvah singer to me. It was just a little cheesy. Thia, who was on America's Got Talent two years ago, sang Adele's "Chasing Pavements" in a very affected manner, much in the same way that Charice does. She's talented but it just all feels like an act. If she's the one that Nigel Lythgoe has said outsings Kelly Clarkson, I scoff. HARD.

There are a few singers that I did enjoy tonight. Molly DeWolf Swenson, the Harvard grad and White House intern who got accidentally punched in the mouth by Randy was great. She sang "Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding and showed off a mature, sultry, yet sweet voice. Student teacher Scott Dangerfield surprisingly sang "Dreamin'" by Amos Lee. He has a really good voice and is kind of rocking the cool nerd look. Summerfest custodian Naima Adedapo has a great voice, and she showed that off with Donny Hathaway's "For All We Know". But song choices like that and a mature sound can only take her so far in a show being dominated by 15 and 16 year olds right now. Also faring well were Steven Tyler super-fan Alyson Jados, who sang "Come Together" and deep-throated country teen Scotty McCreery, whose voice makes him very distinct in this competition.

Steven Tyler quote of the day: After Scotty McCreery's audition, he said, "Well hellfire save matches *#ck a duck and see what hatches!" WHAT?!

Bad audition of the day: Tie between the civil war guy (Nathaniel Jones) singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and Packers super-fan Megan Frazier doing an operatic version of Justin Bieber's "Baby."

Grassy knoll alert: Usually you see "Previously on ..." montages before a show, and usually that footage is from a week or two before. For this episode, they put a montage together with auditions from Jerome, Thia and Scotty ... that had aired less than two hours prior. Can you say PIMPAGE?!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Video Of The Day: Laura Jansen - Single Girls

Most of the time, I'm wading through A LOT of crap while rating songs on Tonight, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a hidden gem in Laura Jansen's "Single Girls". Jansen is a Dutch singer-songwriter who has toured with Joshua Radin. I have never heard of her before in my life, but as soon as I heard this song, I downloaded it immediately. Love the song, love her voice.

Here's an acoustic in-studio performance of the song:

And the official video:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Judges Impress In American Idol Season 10 Premiere

There were quite a few question marks going into the 10th season of American Idol - could it survive without Simon Cowell? Would the new judges work out? Can they find more talent for the show?

The answers to all of those questions were answered in the season premiere with a resounding yes.

The new judging panel of Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are total naturals, providing a great mix of entertainment, constructive criticism and ... gasp ... heart. Moreover, unlike last season when Simon Cowell totally phoned it in while in lame duck mode, these judges actually look like they care.

This is not to say that I particularly cared for all of their decisions. There were a few people they put through that I was lukewarm on, but their choices weren't offensively bad/wrong, and I think you can chalk some of them up to being new and not wanting to break hearts.

For instance, the first two people they showed were not people I personally would have said yes to. Rachel Zevita got by on reputation alone because her audition to "Halleluljah" this year was not up to snuff, and if they didn't remember her from her Season 6 audition and were seeing her for the first time, I don't think she would have made it. Caleb Hawley's "Hallelujah I Love Her So" by Ray Charles was praised by Steven Tyler, but I thought it was kind of Constantine Maroulis faux-rock-ish. He even kind of sounds like Constantine. Which is an automatic turn-off for me. Heh. (I don't think I'll need to worry about seeing the next Connie on Idol much longer. Seems like Caleb has a quite a few shows booked in the coming weeks.

I'm also not pleased with the inclusion of Jersey Girl Tiffany Rios, who used her boobs as a gimmick and sang an original song that was about how American Idol needs her. VOM. Her voice, however, was pretty powerful, and she has talent. She's just doing too much to try to stand out, and it's off-putting. And Jennifer Lopez gave her some very wise advise that she needs to concentrate on her vocals, telling her that all these gimmicks and over-the-topness will prevent her from being taken seriously. Spoken from experience, Jenny from the Block? Regardless, it's sage advise.

The judges also let through an annoying little child robot named Victoria Huggins. The way-too-perky bot sang "Midnight Train To Georgia" well enough, but her personality is just TOO MUCH. Although she nearly won me over when she said "yo yo dawg" to Randy. I know the producers are all enamored over the young ones this year, but I'm hoping she's not one of them.

Perhaps the most questionable pass of the show came when they let through "Awkward Idol" Ashley Sullivan. She had quite the personality, and she sang "Gimme Gimme" from Thoroughly Modern Millie fine enough, but she's SO Broadway and so not a pop star. Oh, and she's kind of crazy. She managed to convince the judges to give her a golden ticket, but hopefully they don't let this go on much longer.

Naturally, a couple of sob stories got through. Although I do have to say that most of them backed up their stories with good auditions. Robbie Rosen is 16 and was in a wheelchair when he was younger! Melinda Ademi from Kosovo, who sang Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You", is from Kosovo! Briell Von Hugel's dad has throat cancer! Travis Orlando, the last auditioner, was homeless and living in a shelter in the mean streets of Brooklyn! He has a twin! I normally turn my nose up at such sob stories, but Travis ..... the kid is really, really good. He has great tone and showed some interesting song arrangements with "Eleanor Rigby" and "I'm Yours". And he's really adorable and reminds me of a 16 year-old Bruno Mars. Yeah, he's my favorite after the first day. #willnotgetattached

Another impressive audition came from Devyn Rush, the singing waitress who sang "God Bless The Child." She may be too jazzy to get very far in this show, but she has a great voice. Here's video of her doing an original tune, "He's Not You".

One other person who they showed making it to Hollywood was 15 year-old Kenzie Palmer, who did Carrie Underwood's "We're Young and Beautiful". She's cute and all, but 15? I think it's too young for the rigors and pressures of this show. Plus, these precocious kids are for the most part super-annoying. We'll see ...

I THINK this first show actually showed more good auditions than bad, and I'm happy for this trend to continue. Although I do have to give a shotout to Yoji "Pop" Asano for his Michael Jackson-inspired audition to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA". Just LOL.

All in all, I'd say Season 10 is off to a great start. But Season 9 started off well and then went way off the tracks. So I'm going to stay cautiously optimistic. But for sure, I think the new judges are a good fit, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing what kind of mischief Steven Tyler is going to get himself into.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Video Of The Day: Bruno Mars Covers California Gurls

Bruno Mars has been battling with Katy Perry for the top spot on the pop charts for a few months now, and now he's one-upped her with her own song, performing a stripped-down cover of her "California Gurls" on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge.

My thing with Katy Perry is that she really can't sing. Her songs are good and catchy, but her vocals are a hot mess most of the time. Bruno can SANG. And his take on the song is fantastic. Love the ad-libs and the giggling and the Beach Boys' homage at the end.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ten Overlooked/Underrated Performances On American Idol

I thought about doing a All-Time Greatest American Idol Performances list to kick off the 10th season, but that's so cliche, and it's all pretty much the same everywhere you go. You're going to see Fantasia's "Summertime", Kelly Clarkson's "Stuff Like That There", David Archuleta's "Imagine", Kris Allen's "Heartless", Adam Lambert's "Mad World", etc.

So instead of going there (again), I'm going to list, by season, what I think are the most underrated performances in Idol history - performances that have been overlooked amidst the contestants' more celebrated numbers.

Season 1:
Everyone remembers Kelly Clarkson's "Stuff Like That There" during the Top 6 show as the moment that she truly took control over the competition or her "Mariah note" in "Natural Woman during the Top 8 show. But I think her Top 10 performance of "You're All I Need To Get By" is what really started her ascent from overlooked underdog to immediate challenger. The whole package really showed off her pipes (despite a bout with laryngitis), her personality, and her innate likeability, probably the most important qualities to have in order to win this show, especially if you're a female.

Season 2:
Season 2 was all about Ruben Studdard vs. Clay Aiken, and their performances of "Superstar" (Ruben) and "Solitaire" and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" (Clay) were the most talked-about performances of the season. Top 3 week was practically a formality for the inevitable Cluben finale, but I thought Kimberley Locke stole the show that night with her last song, "Inseparable".

Season 3:
Fantasia's "Summertime" from Top 8 night seems to be generally accepted as the greatest Idol performance of all-time. I'm not as attached to that performance as the rest of the Idol-verse, maybe because I didn't see it in real time. The one performance from Season 3 that really blew me away was Jennifer Hudson's "Circle Of Life" on Top 9 week. Jennifer had done nothing to convince me she was going to be a major player on this show until that week. Her performance on Elton John week made her the top vote-getter of the week after just barely surviving the week prior. Also making this moment so memorable was the audience reaction. Look towards the right of the screen at 2:05. WHATEVIA!

Season 4:
On top of the front-runners Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, Season 4 had so many polarizing contestants like Constantine Maroulis, Scott Savol and Mikalah Gordon that contestants like Anwar Robinson were often forgotten. But he came out of the semifinals as one of the favorites after performances like "What A Wonderful World" during Top 16 week.

Season 5:
Chris Daughtry was the breakthrough star from this season even if he didn't win. Or even make the finale. Elliott Yamin didn't make the finale either, but I still contend that he would have won against either Taylor Hicks or Katharine McPhee if he had made it to the Top 2. His Top 20 performance of "Moody's Mood For Love" got both Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson out of their seats (not that that was hard to do for Paula, but still ... he was the second performer of the night!)

Season 6:
Oh Season 6. So maligned. But there were a lot of memorable performances in this season - Jordin Sparks' "I Who Have Nothing" and "A Broken Wing", Blake Lewis' "You Give Love A Bad Name", Melinda Doolittle's "My Funny Valentine" and "I'm A Woman", Lakisha Jones' "This Ain't A Love Song". Phil Stacey was eliminated after singing this song, but, let's be honest, with two people being eliminated that week thanks to the Idol Gives Back reprieve, his elimination probably had nothing to do with his performance that week of "Blaze of Glory".

Season 7:
I could go on and on about some of the amazing performances that year - David Cook's "Hello", "Billie Jean", "Always Be My Baby". David Archuleta's "Imagine". Brooke White's "Let It Be". Jason Castro's "Hallelujah". Michael Johns' "It's All Wrong But It's All Right". And I probably could do a whole Top 10 list of underrated performances from Season 7 alone, including Carly Smithson's "Here You Come Again", Brooke's "Love Is A Battlefield". Hell, even David Hernandez's "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone". But I'm going to go with one of David Cook's more "forgotten" numbers, his Top 5 performance of "All I Really Need Is You" on Neil Diamond week. As Simon said that night, he made it feel like the song could have been written that year instead of 30 or so years ago. And Cook really put his stamp on it - romantically acoustic in the beginning, leading up to a big swelling chorus. I am still very butthurt that they had him do "I'm Alive" for the studio recording that week instead of this one.

Season 8:
I think you're forever going to see Kris Allen's "Heartless" and Adam Lambert's "Mad World" on Idol lists. But you could argue that Kris's "Ain't No Sunshine" on finale night and Adam's "Tracks Of My Tears" on Motown night were actually better performances.

Season 9:
Well, I think it's safe to say we won't be seeing a Season 9 performance on many (any?) best lists, so I could probably pick any decent performance from this season and call it underrated. I guess I'll go with Casey James' "Don't" since it got him in the Bottom 3 that week despite being, in my opinion, the best performance of the night.