"Idol" Wednesday: Please, Please, Please No More Whitney
by Mark T.R. Donohue
I suppose I should have seen this coming after two guys chose to do diva songs on Tuesday, but 80's night for the ladies of "American Idol" Season 7 was wall-to-wall sappy ballads. And Journey. I sort of feel sorry for young people today because there aren't a whole lot of options in modern music that are both widely popular and any good artistically, but each contestant by now has had three chances to pick a song that wasn't completely awful and 30 years' worth of music from which to select. There will be no more blaming of the producers for imposing arbitrary themes earlier on in the season than is the norm. It's Kady Malloy's own fault that she managed to hang around on the show for an entire month without ever doing anything interesting. Asia'h Epperson and Syesha Mercado both deserve to be sent home for dragging out the beaten corpse of Whitney Houston's career for two further ritual "Idol" floggings. Man, I wish they could all go home, and also Kristy Lee Cook for somehow overlooking one of the four or five basic precepts of 80's rock: Journey sucks.
Asia'h Epperson Asia'h's "I Want to Dance with Somebody" was a step up from her glass-shattering sustained bum note last week, but I am done giving her the benefit of the doubt -- she thinks she's something else, and she's at best slightly above-average. Why does she keep picking huge songs? The best-case scenario, which is what we saw last night, is that she does a capable job and doesn't cause anyone to hurl their notebooks at the TV. Asia'h doesn't have the raw pipes to be singing these sorts of songs. She lacks that extra gear that great singers can go to to make the audience shiver in delight. "Pleasantly diverting" is Epperson's ceiling, and in addition to the boneheaded song choice she saddled herself with a squelchy, over-synthesized arrangement that didn't ever sound completely in sync with the singer. She's good enough for the Top 12 but no better. 7
Kady Malloy It's hard to believe that Kady is still around. Well, that can be corrected easily enough. Malloy is the last singer alive this year who seems absolutely terrified to be on the "Idol" stage -- she's stiff at the microphone and in high-def you can see the thousand-yard stare in her eyes. It's one thing to be completely out to lunch for the first studio show, but I find it very difficult to work up very much sympathy for Malloy three weeks in. The judges have all but laid it out for her in terms of what they like about her style, and she picks a tepid ballad and sings it utterly without shading or emotional involvement. When it wasn't boring, it was ugly, as Malloy also delivered the most mistake-ridden vocal on the evening. I'm shocked that given the 80's theme she couldn't have picked something light and bouncy that would have let her display her sense of humor a bit. Jordin Sparks' chief weapon a year ago was her cheerful suggestibility... when the judges told her to go young she wore pigtails and bounced around like she was playing hopscotch. When given the chance to sing anything she wanted in the finale, Sparks simply picked her song from the season that had gotten the best response and sang it again. And she won the whole thing. There's a lesson in that. If Malloy hasn't gotten the hint by now, she's clearly never going to. I don't think that we need to worry about it, because it would be a major shock if she survives to hit the big stage next week. 5
Amanda Overmyer The most schizophrenic contestant in the field, Overmyer's voice can be like a gun without a safety sometimes, as last week's tragic "Carry On Wayward Son" illustrated. Then sometimes she nails it. I didn't think "Hate Myself for Loving You" was the best 80's rocker Overmyer could have selected but she did a beautiful job with the vocal and what's more, for one note, at least, she was electrifying. Maybe you remember the one I mean -- about halfway through, with a lot of grit in it. There hasn't been a single performance thus far this season that really made this critic sit up and say, "Wow, that was the whole reason for this show," but Overmyer got there for that one brief moment. Maybe if she had selected better material she could have sustained that level of awe for the whole two minutes. Her hair, downright frightening early on, is beginning to approach respectability, although she's still not going to win many fans on the basis of her looks. The best of the night, but I still worry for Amanda. One more unfortunate song choice could scuttle her whole run, because she's not musically savvy enough to find a way to compromise on a tune that doesn't suit her pomo Janis vibe. 9
Carly Smithson There's still something that strikes me as just a little off about Smithson -- maybe it's the way her arm tattoo stops suddenly at her elbow. Maybe it's that she's positioned herself as the slicker, more professional alternative to Overmyer even though she doesn't rock much if at all. Last year Smithson would have been out of her league, but it's a weaker female field this season and the judges seem to have a huge soft spot for her. Like all of her outings since she got over the illness that plagued her early on, Carly's "Drove All Night" was solid but not very surprising. I think she overdid it a little with all the high notes, as Smithson is more distinctive and charismatic in her lower register. That's the thing -- she has the look and the setlist of a rocker but the instincts of a diva. Maybe that's a winning formula, and maybe that's why the judges like her so much, but to me she comes across as insincere in much the same way that the ousted Robbie Carrico did to so many voters. 8
Kristy Lee Cook Dude, Journey? Really? Why? That was even weirder than David Hernandez doing Celine, although to be fair, Cook turned in a "Forever Yours" that wasn't awful. Simply slapping a steel guitar on top of a power ballad doesn't make a song country, but Cook did find the twang in her voice in response to recurring suggestions from Simon Cowell that she cowboy it up. I don't have a heck of a lot else to say about Kristy this week, other than that she's as safe as houses and that's not such a travesty. It's odd that she's going into the Top 12 as The Country Singer despite having not sung a single country tune to this point. At least she knows what country is supposed to sound like, unlike the departed Amy Davis. And, wow, she is like two feet taller than Ryan Seacrest. 7
Ramiele Malubay Same old story for Malubay, who will move safely on but is rapidly losing traction. Ramiele should be supremely confident, because she's obviously got the best voice among all of the girls this year. But she seems to be shrinking into herself, delivering okay technical performances that utterly lack the drama her instrument is manifestly capable of generating. "Against All Odds" (two Phil Collins songs in two nights? super weird) was a good choice for Malubay's style but she made some pitch mistakes -- from her we shouldn't expect any -- and even her big notes were blandly predictable. She's blown her chance to enter the next round as the prohibitive favorite among the girls, despite missteps from nearly everyone else. 9
Brooke White I don't know if I thought that White's stripped-down interpretation of "Love Is a Battlefield" was as ambitious as some -- in a rare moment of clarity, Paula Abdul suggested that White might have brought the band in midway through after starting with just an acoustic guitar accompanist. That would have been cool to see, because I am starting to suspect that White has more power in reserve than her early "Idol" screen time suggested. In White's favor, the Pat Benatar song was an imaginative and ballsy choice, and she sang it pretty well. One thing you can say about White that I don't think to be true about any of the other ladies -- I have absolutely no idea where she goes from here. I thought she was a sleeper from the beginning, but now I think so for completely different reasons. She's easily the most musical female in the field, the Benatar pick shows that her musical taste isn't quite as narrow as we were led to believe, and besides Malubay (who has her own problems) who in the field is obviously that much more powerful of a singer? 8
Syesha Mercado "Saving All My Love for You." Enough said. Syesha and Asia'h should both be summarily dismissed for being idiotic enough to drag out the dead Whitney horse, but I'm willing to settle for one of the two. It will probably be Syesha, because Asia'h is a marginally better singer and has the dead dad backstory working for her. Seriously, what can the "Idol" producers do to save these kids from themselves? I may have suggested it before but I think that maybe for the whole first few weeks of the show, during the cutdowns from 24 to 12, the producers and the judges should just pick songs for the singers, something that doesn't happen now until way later in the competition. If they're going to insist on stocking the casts every year with completely oblivious 18- and 19-year-olds for the sake of everyone watching they should at least enact an ironclad "No Whitney, No Celine" rule. 7
Does anybody have any idea what was going on with the judges last night? It honestly seemed like they all dropped ecstasy right before going on camera. Paula was sitting in Simon's lap for most of the show, and for the last several contestants, instead of taking turns giving criticism, everyone babbled incoherently at once, and mostly not about the singing they were ostensibly analyzing. It's kind of funny that the highest-rated show in American television often displays some of the very worst examples of broadcasting going over the air. I guess I would get bored too saying the same things, in the same order, two or three times a week every season for seven seasons.
Picks: I say Luke Menard and Chikezie for the guys and Syesha Mercado and Kady Malloy for the girls. Eight-sided die has David Cook, David Hernandez, Asia'h Epperson, and Kady Malloy.