Didn't we just leave this party?
Last night's American Idol is when I realized just how much this show relies on a strict template for every episode at every stage of the competition. Twelve guys sang, just like the 12 ladies the night before, and we'll lose two from each group this week. When it's 10 a piece next week, the competition eps will feel exactly the same. Instead of watching a variety of episodes that last forever, this is like watching one episode that lasts forever. And that is a whole lot worse.
After serving my first tour of duty in the trenches of reality competition shows last fall with Dancing With the Stars, I got used to a kind of instantaneous feedback of judges' scores, which were then somehow paired with viewer votes to choose a weekly loser. But Idol is different and keeps the power with the judges. They react after each performance, offering praise or criticism, but then they just say something like "Do better" or "Good luck." Then the phone banks open, people call and text, and a day or two later there's a results show. How much input the producers and judges have is, to make an appropriate reference, an X factor. They want a good show, not just a solid winner.
The guys were pretty weak overall, too, and in a different way from the girls. The girls on Tuesday night were bland and interchangeable, but not offensive to listen to; they basically sounded like the singers you ignore when you're ordering coffee. But several of the guys were just plain awful. Tim Urban, from Duncanville (which, dude, just say Dallas), was actually cut during Hollywood Week but got brought back into the top 24 when it turned out Chris Golightly was still under contract with a boy band. But, as Simon said after he sang, he was cut for a reason. Tim warbled "Apologize" and kept trying to use a falsetto with zero power behind it. I hit mute a lot.
There was also Alex Lambert, sporting a Carol Brady mullet and staring into the camera like he was constipated. He's from North Richland Hills (Texas is not looking good this year, kids) and is 19 years old and a high school student. That's too old, right? Even for a senior. You'd be 17 or 18, right? Anyway, he was joined in ignominy by Jermaine Sellers, who shrieked "Get Here"; John Park, who sang "God Bless the Child" with a total lack of soul; Lee Dewyze, who did a horribly growling cover of Snow Patrol; and really almost everyone else. Tyler Grady, who really, really wants to be Morrison or Jagger, did "American Woman," only he did the Lenny Kravitz version. Even Big Mike's Maroon 5 song fell flat, probably because it was a Maroon 5 song, and those are the worst. These guys have access to three decades of songs that have charted; why pick the dregs of the 21st century?
Only two guys were worth remembering. Casey James, who's from Cool, Texas (near Mineral Wells), did a nice version of Bryan Adams' cheesetastic "Heaven," and Andrew Garcia did a fun breakdown of Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Goin' Down," and not even that song's inherent lack of quality could dull his performance. It's worth noting that these two guys also play guitar and have proven before that they've got a sense of music and persona instead of just a vague desire to perform. If Casey breaks out the blues again, and Andrew comes up with another awesome re-interpretation like his version of "Straight Up," they'll go all the way. Right now, they're the only ones who deserve it.
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