Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Idol Rules: Top 13

Tonight I actually rushed home so I could see the American Idol results show. I know, I know, that's probably something I shouldn't be admitting in public. But did you see last night's show? It wasn't the best show ever, but it was the first episode since Bon Jovi night in Season Six (we're in Season Eight now, folks) where I wasn't bored. This week's theme was Michael Jackson, which I think people, myself included, didn't realize the type of challenge such a theme would present until three or four songs in.

Michael Jackson isn't a singer -- he's a pop star who performs pop songs. Pop songs are usually not "singer songs", meaning that there usually isn't a range of notes and the melodies are catchy and uncomplicated. This became evident last night as the contestants tried to put their own spin on each song. Ultimately, performance counts more than technical skill, or to paraphrase one commenter I read this morning: Boring goes before bad. As a result, the contestants who were universally regarded as safe from elimination this week were ones who had more engaging performance. Those who were considered on the bubble were the contestants who tried to finagle the song but not necessarily have a good performance. Scott MacIntyre's performance fell into this trap, which led to one of the most awesome quotes from Simon: "You can be artistic, just not on this show." Because of this weird dichotomy of performance vs. talent, there was a lot of disagreement across the blogs about who would be in the bottom group and ultimately sent home. My predictions were dead wrong because I didn't consider which performances were objectively boring.

There were only two objectively bad songs last night: Megan Joy Corkrey's rendition of "Rockin' Robin" (which ended with a "caw caw" that I must have missed as I was twittering about the performance and not paying attention) and Anoop Desai's "Beat It". The latter song choice suggests another rule that contestant's should consider: If a song has served as source material for Weird Al Yankovic, it probably isn't a "singer's song" and should be avoided. However, both contestants were performing last night even though their song choices were questionable. They both hit the seal tonight, but survived.

The two who didn't survive were Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nunez. Both sang their songs adequately, though I only found one other reviewer who agreed with me that Jorge's song wasn't that bad. There was nothing particularly remarkable about either of their performances -- they just sort of sang their songs and moved on. No rocking out, no instruments to play, just standing there for the most part singing. Both were talented, but both were boring. The major problem I have with this particular elimination is that two of the four people of color in the finals this season have been eliminated and a third was on the cut line.

The results show was also intriguing, as this is the first time I think in the show's 8 year history where a results show contained more than 5 minutes of actual content. First, they introduced the Judges' Pass, where an eliminated contestant has the chance to get a reprieve if the entire judging panel thinks America got it wrong. It can only be used once and is available up until the Top 5. For starters, it creates the illusion that the departing contestant's singout is now a "Lip Synch for Your Life" type situation. I have a feeling the pass will likely be a non-factor, though I could see the judges using it at the Top 6 elimination just because five singers has always been an awkward number for the show to work with. Also, it doesn't completely eliminate the October Surprise shocker (i.e. Tamyra Gray, which still breaks my heart). There is a legitimate concern that Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert essentially have a free pass in their back pocket, but again I think that danger will happen after the pass expires.

Oh, and tonight's group sing (a mish-mash of "I Want You Back" and "ABC 123") was one of the best ever. This group sounds really good together. However, the less Danny-centric the choreography can be, the better. So much thrusting. Gross.

So what rules did we learn this week:

*At this stage of the competition, boring will lose out to bad.

*Weird Al's source material should be avoided.

*Your singout will not save you, so don't depend on it.

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