Tuesday, April 3, 2007

American Idol: The Final 9

"Let's Pretend We Love Tony Bennett!"

Nine is my favorite number, so now that "American Idol" is down to its final nine, I thought, "Why not start telling everyone what you think about the show?" Actually, starting with the Final Nine is entirely arbitrary - I just feel the need to write about this show all of a sudden, if only to make you (whoever you are) understand why this show is great despite being a sickening, self-congratulatory forum for musical mediocrity.

America is a pretty racist country overall, and it's worse than it could be because everyone's so busy denying it. As I've said before and will say again, "American Idol" is the great, ugly barometer of mass-market America. And when mass-market America casts more votes for Haley Scarnato than for Sabrina Sloan, you know something is horrifically wrong. Every year, black girls get sent packing weeks before their time, while barely competent white folk wear out their welcome, and this year is no different.

And yet there are always a handful of very good singers who manage to stick around a while (and sometimes win). This year has two undeniably good singers in Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones. Melinda will win. At first I thought she would win because Lakisha is just Too Black for Middle America. But now I think Melinda will win because she is deserving ... and because Lakisha is too Black for Middle America. In fact, I am ready to make the following prediction: despite being manifestly better than everyone but Melinda, Lakisha will not make the top 2. She may not even make the top 3. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Tonight was Tony Bennett night. He has an amazing voice, but he is ... Old, and he looked it; "Stop messing with the song, sonny." That was the gist of all his advice. One of my favorite parts of the night was hearing him tell Lakisha that she shouldn't do this little added vocal riff at the end of the song, and then watching her do it anyway. She sang the hell out of "Stormy Weather" with her breasts acting as a force of nature in their own right. She looked like she was wearing the drapes from her hotel room, but whatever. She is fierce and I definitely see myself buying her album some day.

Melinda sang "I Got Rhythm" - I don't think I'd ever heard the first part of the song before; it's all slow and weird and wrong. But once she hit the familiar part and it sped up, it was amazing. She has complete control, plus she sings with personality, not just hitting notes but feeling the song. Love her love her love her. She and Lakisha, vocally, are on totally different planets from the other contestants.

Sanjaya looked like a casino or brothel owner in South America somewhere circa 1958. He sang "Dancing Cheek to Cheek," and he was actually better than he has been in weeks. Plus he sang while dancing with Paula - high level of difficulty, as she is crazy and drug-addled and you never know what she is going to do. Simon is angry that Sanjaya keeps getting put through, so tonight he tried sarcasm, saying it was "amazing" or something like that. It seemed a little cruel and beneath him, actually. These damned judges should take Sanjaya seriously and critique him honestly. Right now they're just laughing at him, which only makes the Cult of Sanjaya grow stronger. If they treat him like just another mediocre contestant, then he will disappear like one. If they treat him like a freak show, then he stays memorable, becomes a martyr figure for tone-deaf teens, and stays around.

The aforementioned Haley and Phil "Penishead" Stacey are surely going to be the bottom two tomorrow. Unless Chris "Meth Dealer" Richardson sneaks in there, which is possible. Penishead sang the great "Night and Day" with all the snap and panache and sex appeal of boiled cabbage. Haley ... man I don't even remember, but her breasts are Spectacular. Everyone gushed over Chris's performance, but it was not good, whatever it was.

I have an inexplicable affection for Beat Box Blake. His voice is nice to my ears, and he is somehow cool in a way that is Beyond Boy Band. He is my pick to make the final two (unjustly) with Melinda. Jordin Sparks is bubbly and sweet and has a very good voice, but like Haley, she is too cutesy, like she's in the talent portion of a Miss Teen USA pageant. A little too put-on. I'm not feeling her pain or joy or whatever she's selling. Too Much Teen Spirit. Gina sounded very nice but boring as hell. Plus something pink took up residence on the top of her head and nobody bothered to tell her.

So my current rankings of the contestants (in terms of how much I do or do not love them):

1. Melinda
2. Lakisha
3. Blake
4. Jordin
5. Gina
6. Chris
7. Sanjaya
8. Haley
9. Penishead

I don't think any of my favorites are in danger. For now.

We'll see - tomorrow night.


Anonymous said...

I am utterly in love with Melinda. She is cute, kinda dorky, and tremendously talented. Lakisha has a great set of, er... pipes. I call Gina "Jine-uh" like I almost called Jayna from ENG 227 last year. I was sad to see Chris Sligh go, who wasn't good enough to make top 3, but he was funny and probably a better singer than 5 through 9 on your list.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and have you read Schilling's blog? If not, check it out at www.38pitches.com and tell me what you think. A Globe writer made the crack that it almost took Schilling 38 pitches to make it out of the first inning yesterday.

Orange said...

Speaking of "Jine-uh," did you see West Virginia's NIT championship t-shirts on TV the other day? They said "West Virgina." (I think that means the hymen is intact.)

Rex Parker said...

Chris Sligh went to Bob Jones University. And that is all I have to say about Chris Sligh.

Anonymous said...

Two things:
Don't you think another factor in getting Sabrina (and Samantha) booted is that if you are a soul/R&B fan the votes just get spread too thin? (Though I think you are right about both reasons why Lakisha won't win.)

As Sanjaya stays his powers grow stronger. Case in point: Me. I've really started to like Sanjaya as a brave 17yo kid who says f*** all of you, I'm here and I'm having a good time. At least, I hope that's what he's saying, and that he doesn't need lifelong therapy and anti-depressants because jackasses like Howard Stern decide that a high schooler is the perfect vehicle for his scorched earth brand of "humor."

OK, a third thing: Why is "Middle America" a synonym for "Stupid America"? Being a Middle American, I think that's crap. Does it mean non-Urban America? Middle-of-the-Bell-Curve America? Not to pick on you personally, it's just a phrase that I think has outlived its usefulness.

Rex Parker said...

Middle of the Road - not "Geographically In the Middle of the U.S. where Minnesota and Other States Lie."

Average White America. People who watch C.S.I. ... or NCIS. Decent, law-abiding, well-meaning, church-going folk, probably.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled across your crossword blog by accident, and good work on that. I have to take exception to your opening thought that America is a racist country, and that American Idol is little more than an expression of that racism.

Your phrasing implies that America is still knee-deep in the Jim Crow era, and that the "mass market America" would never let some black girl win over a pretty, corn-fed white girl. Any stripe of racial inequality today is a far, far cry from the institutionalized deprivations prior to the 1960's.

Invoking the ghosts of the Ku Klux Klan to take aim at a silly pop culture trifle is patently absurd. If you have to dilute your concept of racism to hang a scarlet "R" on American Idol, you're diluting it down to statistical insignificance and making it infinitely harder to have a relevant public discourse on the issue. If America has to culturally wade through a pointless debate on the 'racist' merits of American Idol, it's removing the focus from issues like failing schools, predatory bank lending, and sub-par health care; all of which are infinitely more important.

Furthermore, assuming that only white people can be "middle of the road" is insulting to every non-white community out there. It might not be your thing, but a large, large portion of the poor people in this country would love to be in the bland, "middle of the road" demographic. Does being Black or Asian or Hispanic mean rejecting the notion of a house in the suburbs, a boring desk job, and coming home to a wife and kids for a night in front of the TV? Or generally being a law-abiding, well-meaning, churchgoing folk?

Good work with the crosswords, though.

Rex Parker said...

The last half of your comment has nothing to do with my post, so I'll leave it alone. But I would have thought that someone who could think in sophisticated ways about race (as you seem to able to do) would see the Necessity of talking about Racism in its super-popular and essentially covert forms (i.e. there is no scarlet "R", nobody's wearing hoods or lynching anyone, etc.). My whole pt about racism in this country is people act like it's some spectre of the past as opposed to the most ordinary, and often unconscious, thing in the world.


Rex Parker said...

PS despite its problems, I LOVE "American Idol," and if I truly thought that the show was "little more than an expression of [...] racism" I wouldn't go anywhere near it.


PPS thanks for the nice words about my xword blog.

Jeffrey said...

Chasing after the ghosts of racism in its "super-popular and essentially covert forms" is a fool's errand at best, and at worst, blinds the pursuers to more insidious and relevant instances.

In the case of American Idol, you're on shaky ground from the start. Aside from Reuben and Fantasia emerging as champions, every field of contestant has been a racially diverse field. It's even harder to make the case that Stephanie was sent home on the basis of race, when of the three divas, she could be considered the "whitest" in appearance. Was it black on white racism that voted out Constantine? Or Kelly Pickler? Or just the tastes of the audience?

The reasoning that you use to declare "Idol" a barometer of covert racism can be equally applied to your dismissal of Chris Sligh above. Dismissing him because of his affiliation with a religiously charged university, despite the fact that he's come across as a pleasant and congenial fellow on TV, is prejudicial. Are you virulently anti-Catholic? Anti-Southern Conservative? Those are broadly drawn biases that will get you hung up under any equal opportunity laws. It might be popular with the 'in-crowd' to scorn a particular religious belief, but that doesn't make it any more correct. It's assumption piled on top of assumption, resting on a base of stereotypical, unexamined thought.

If it's important to discuss racism, it's far more productive to chase it in the open where it can be quantified to a reasonable degree, instead of in the shadows where it's based on guilt and assumptions. Perhaps the uglier truth, and the one you seem to acknowledge and not accept, is that American Idol might actually be a pretty accurate sampling of the mainstream American musical tastes. The viewing audience is massive, and the median point of taste is probably not what you like exactly, but hey, that's democracy in its purest form.

I'm not much of a fan of Idol, but I follow it because it gives me some nice common ground to share with my mom and sister who are huge fans. There's a lot of ways to attack the Idol juggernaut, but race isn't one. Given the massive numbers of votes that pour in across the multi-racial field of contestants, it's easier to argue that Idol is one of the most racially progressive shows on television.

Jeffrey said...

PS - I'm not trying to scold or attack you personally... please don't think I'm out to attack you. This is just far more interesting to contemplate than my job is at the moment!

Anonymous said...

First time poster, frequent reader. I usually just post on the NYT, but I found this discussion to be particularly interesting as I was once married to a black woman (think Theresa Graves from Get Christie Love), but I was a country club lawyer type who looked a lot like Tom Brokaw so I frequently heard "comments" that I probably would not have heard if people had known about my wife.

I often find myself thinking very much along Rex's lines whether I like to or not.

As to the singers, I think it is hard for Rex to explain Reuben beating Clay a couple of years ago, but I do think that race plays a factor. By the way, did you know that Jordin is the daughter of former NY Giants cornerback, Phillipe Sparks? I find that Melinda towers over everyone, with Lakisha a very distant second and Jordin a too young but nevertheless excellent third. I doubt that American will let it come down to three black women, so Blake (whose voice is too thin for my taste) may come in second.

Steve M

Orange said...

I imagine the producers of "Idol" strive to get a diverse group of finalists (or at least the "you're through to Hollywood" group). TV-viewing demographics!

However, most seasons do seem to have at least one African-American singer voted off while a couple of less talented white singers remain for weeks longer. When's the last time anyone complained that voting was messed up because a talented white contestant was voted off too soon? Please list their names.

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Anonymous said...

Melinda Doolittle in her first-ever Nightclub engagement

November 17-21, New York City

FEINSTEIN'S AT LOEWS REGENCY, the nightclub proclaimed "Best of New York" by New York Magazine, will debut MELINDA DOOLITTLE in her first-ever nightclub engagement from November 17 – 21. The “American Idol” finalist will perform an intimate evening of jazz standards, pop hits and Broadway classics, in addition to selections from her CD, Coming Back To You. All shows are at the Regency Hotel (540 Park Avenue at 61st Street). For ticket reservations and club information, please call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com