It makes perfect sense that "American Idol" would pick Elvis Presley as a theme this season. Like Elvis, "Idol" was once a young, fresh, exciting force that changed music and television. Now it's a bloated carcass of its former self that will probably end up dead on a toilet one of these days. (For the sake of argument, let's call the seventh and eighth seasons of "Idol" their version of the "'68 Comeback Special.")
In a move that raised some eyebrows, producers enlisted last year's runner-up Adam Lambert to mentor the top nine. Sure, the guy didn't win, and apparently he's not selling as many records as Ken Warwick had hoped, but Lambert knows how to use the "Idol" machine to maximize buzz and court media attention while on the show. Let's face it: Although Adam has one of the best voices in music today, why should he waste his time giving these "singers" voice lessons? That'd be like Jackie Joyner-Kersee teaching long jump to the legless.
Tuesday night's (April 13) show began with Ryan Seacrest over-emphasizing the stakes. "Two contestants must fall," Seacrest announced, an odd sentiment since the nine singers were all standing precariously on a staircase. (Although watching a few of these singers tumble down stairs would be infinitely more entertaining than hearing them sing.)
After a "Who is Elvis?" package recycled from season five, Seacrest sat down to awkwardly interview Adam Lambert, visiting the show with his mom. (How Jeremy Piven of him!) The chat began with "You got an extra two inches tonight!" (a reference to Lambert’s spikey coif, I hope) and ended with the tanned host saying, "My tongue is not nearly as talented as yours." I would have spit-taked but I was suppressing vomit at the thought of Seacrest doing anything with his tongue.
Before I go on a rant about how Lambert promised to be an "honest" mentor in the same breath that he said "they all have great voices," let’s get to the performances.
Adam Lambert (smartly) urged Bowersox to plug in and go electric for her gospel-meets-rockabilly cover of a song about being a party animal saved by Jesus. (Note to Brian "Head" Welch: This is your theme song.) The front-runner gave yet another solid, sparkling performance, this one punctuated with a sick-nasty half-time breakdown and a glittery guitar that made me ponder this philosophical question: If a bedazzled guitar makes a noise in a forest and no one can hear it because trumpets and keyboards are drowning it out, does it make a sound?
Oh, and obviously the judges loved Crystal's performance.
Song: "Hound Dog"
Verdict: Cruelty to Animals
Adam Lambert patiently listened to Andrew Garcia take "Hound Dog" for a walk and then said, "It's boring. I was bored. I'm going to be totally honest with you. I know I can be straight up with you." Yep. Lambert called him boring and then used the words "straight up." And the Emmy for Best Mentor Ever goes to...
Garcia interpreted Lambert's "punch it up" advice as "slow down the tempo to a snail's pace and add a misguided Latin flavor to it." But are we surprised? This is, after all, a man who thought pretending to pick his nose before a commercial break would be a fun idea. Besides, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" also applies to advice from successful glam poppers.
Somehow, Ellen liked this mess. Apparently, her idea of entertainment is a nasal singer angrily squawking about rabbits, haphazardly pointing at audience members and dragging around a mic stand like it weights 75 pounds. I'd be surprised if PETA doesn't issue a press release denouncing Garcia's vicious treatment of "Hound Dog."
Song: "Can't Help Falling In Love"
Verdict: And Then A Hero Comes Along
Fans seemed to be most excited to see Adam and Tim's rehearsal session. I guess the expectation was since Tim was a cute boy who likes Jesus and Adam was a boy who likes boys there'd be a flirty vibe that resulted in a freaked out religious boy. I'll admit I snickered when Adam pressured Tim into giving him "head voice" during the climax, but other than that, their time together was fairly uneventful. Both gentleman were professionals.
Ultimately, Tim didn't go the falsetto route, which as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing. (The "head voice" note was Adam's one bad piece of advice. Had he not gotten the memo that Tim's falsetto is as reliable as Amtrak?) Instead, Tim "Turban" Urban built up the plucky ballad to a belty climax, and that final verse ended up being my favorite moment of the night. (The rest of Urban's performance was on par with the rest of his "Idol" oeuvre, but he still had Ellen comparing Turban to tequila and Simon calling attention to his two-week ascension from zero to hero.)
Normally I'd trash Seacrest for slow dancing in the audience with a Michael Sarver lookalike during a contestant's performance, but I can't blame him. Turban's performance was that swoon-worthy.
Song: "A Little Less Conversation"
Verdict: A Little Less Screaming, A Little More Singing (Please)
Lee was (De)Wise enough to arrange "A Little Less Conversation" so that it didn't sound like that dated JXL Remix that Chris Daughtry and Jon Peter Lewis performed in the past. DeWyze's well-received version had an infectious dorm room groove that benefited from Adam Lambert's words of wisdom: "You're not in the studio. You gotta perform it!" DeWyze is definitely improving his swagger and his pitch. Next thing on the agenda? The screaming. If your idea of getting busy with a lady involves you shouting angrily in her face, "GIRL IT'S GETTING LATE, GETTING UPSET WAITING AROUND," I think you might need some anger management classes.
Song: "Blue Suede Shoes"
Verdict: Aggressively Average
Out of all the contestants, Aaron's voice is closest in timbre to Presley's. But his stage presence is less the King and more like the Feudal Serf. No wonder Adam Lambert barked, "Get aggressive with it!" during their rehearsal.
Aaron certainly sunk his (baby) teeth into the song, with a vocal that wasn't half bad. It especially picked up when the song's tempo dropped in half midway through. But Aaron's performance amounted to a skinny teenager walking through the crowd, occasionally stopping to do the twist half-heartedly, and (I think) winking at Kara DioGuardi. "I don't know that the song fits me. It's probably wrong in every possible way," Kelly said in his pre-performance interview. You get an A+ for understanding your limitations, Aaron. Now hone in on all the other things on your "Idol" to-do list, like proving to me that you aren't a grown-up version of Reed from the HBO documentary "Living Dolls."
During the judging, Simon blended all the disses he knows into one critique. Karaoke! High school concert! You're an old man!! And in an especially mean edit, producers cut to an audience member's sign that said, "Simon's not mean. He's truthful!" Ouch, producers. Now that is mean. Poor Aaron!
Song: "Suspicious Minds"
Verdict: Caught in a Trap
Adam's meeting with Siobhan was a tad anticlimactic. They didn't try to out-wail each other. They didn't trade paragraphs of "Twilight." Adam didn't give her the kick in the butt she deserves for singing like a senior citizen in the Shady Acres Beauty Pageant talent competition. His advice to her was pick up the pace on "Suspicious Minds" to make it less sleepy. That's a fine suggestion, but it's also a little bit like correcting Heidi Montag's grammar instead of addressing her unhealthy obsession with plastic surgery.
Dressed like a flight attendant from a 1980s futuristic disco musical and over-expressing the lyrics like a 14-year-old at theater camp, the first half of Siobhan's "Suspicious Minds" was a creepy bore. But then around the midway mark, Magnus half-timed the arrangement (Elvis loved that trick!) and brought a little pizazz to the proceedings (even if she failed to hit those signature high notes).
Kara's point about how the song perfectly summed up Siobhan's predicament. One half she's an old-fashioned crooner, the next half she's an intriguing imp. But Siobhan defended herself. "Even I can't pinpoint who I am," she said. "I've always kind of taken pride in that."
Meanwhile, Seacrest took pride in the fact that he's now getting inebriated before showtime. Does anyone have another explanation for the unnecessarily mean-spirited Brian Dunkleman jab Ryan took when describing the second location of the "Idol Gives Back" special?
Song: "In the Ghetto"
Verdict: A Hunk-A-Hunk-A Burnin' Like (Not Love)
I wish I was a fly on the wall when skinny white girl Siobhan told Big Mike that he should sing "In the Ghetto." Do you think there was ever a moment when Big Mike gave her a little side eye or a "say what?" look? I would and I'm not even black!
Lambert pushed Big Mike to tap into his storyteller skills, which prompted the young dad to go into "Danger! Danger!" mode since the judges told him to tone down the histrionics. His "In the Ghetto" was appropriately subdued, save for an over-enunciation on the refrain which made me think of Cartman's version of the song. Whoops. I guess I'm the only one who heard that comparison. The judges raved and Adam Lambert stood up for a big O. (Well, a standing O.) The saved man will continue to be a part from this tiny "Idol" baby a little while longer. Start saving for therapy, man!
Song: "Baby, What You Want Me To Do?"
Verdict: Put the Cut in Connecticut
Katie is frustrated with the judges not worshiping the ground she walks on, so she picked a song that allowed her to vent. Lambert told the 17-year-old to "get throaty," hardly the first time an older man said those same exact words to a young starlet desperate for fame.
People sat in on rehearsals and reported that Katie reminded them of a young Kat McPhee during this performance. Funny. She reminded me of a cat in heat. And what about the wardrobe? Stilettos, green army vest, blue blousy mini dress, hip clips galore — it's as if Michael Jackson, Jessie Spano, Mr. T, Paula Abdul and King Tut all styled her simultaneously.
The impending premiere of "Glee" made the judges rush through their comments, which probably helped Katie out. Simon didn't have time to elaborate on his "shrieky and annoying" review, Randy fumbled something about it being sassy, Kara neck-snapped some fake sassitude back at Katie and Ellen talked about the song being "horny" (as in it had lots of horns in it). Fun fact: By that logic, Paula Abdul's classic song "Vibeology" could be described as "horny horny."
Song: "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"
Verdict: Jailhouse Schlock
Raise your hand if you giggled when Adam told the cougar bait that he wanted "more of a climax." Keep your hand raised if you wanted to slap the grin off of James' face during his bluesy bar band performance. Raise your other hand if you were more interested in the background singers on the stairs than Casey. Last but not least, grow another hand and then raise it if Casey's goat-like vibrato made you picture Casey gnawing on an aluminum can.
The judges weren't too enthused with Casey either. He took the criticisms well, but his goofy smile was noticeably absent when Seacrest read his phone numbers. Here's an idea! Casey should get judged before he goes on stage, that way he'll be so unhappy that his grin will left off his mug while he sings the blues.
What did you think of Elvis night? Was Adam the best mentor of the season? Did that one piece of glitter stuck on his cheek drive you crazy? Between the slurred words, offensive jokes, oddball slow dancing and flirting with the old ladies, what in the hell was up with Seacrest? And is Mama Seacrest capable of doing more than just saying two words and winking every 15 seconds? Leave a comment below! And for more "Idol" and pop culture ranting, follow me on Twitter @jambajim.