I fear we’re in for a long, long season of American Idol, folks. Not since the dreary days of Sanjaya has a batch of male singers seemed so lacking in talent, charisma, and overall quality. Last night’s debut of the gents was filled with promise but left the judges, the viewers, and probably several network executives scratching their heads with disappointment. It was bad. And not like badass. I’m talking bad bad.
There was only one performance worth truly applauding, and the rest were just… awful. Okay, there were maybe two or three oooookay renditions, but in general, most of the guys couldn’t control their nerves, couldn’t hit the notes, or couldn’t connect with the music. Not encouraging.
Kicking off the show was Todrick Hall, the singer/dancer/Fantasia-name-dropper who had shown a touch of ‘tude in Hollywood week. Despite burgeoning diva issues, I’ve always liked his voice and his style, and I truly had high hopes for him on this first live show for the mens. I wouldn’t say that Todrick disappointed, but he certainly didn’t blow me away. The guy rearranged “Since U Been Gone” within an inch of its life, giving it a pseudo Bobby Brown flair (as one Twitter person, who I cannot remember, noted last night). I didn’t actually hate the arrangement. I thought it was okay. The problem was that Todrick had a whole bunch of nerves, a recurring theme for the night actually. He just didn’t sound on, and when he hit the big power chorus, it all felt flaccid and dull. Unsurprisingly, he received middling reviews from the judges, and I’m sure it took all the effort in the world to refrain from queening out on them. You know he wanted to pull Fantasia from the wings and have her yell at them in her raspy Toad-from-Super-Mario-Galaxy voice (yes, obscure reference, but if you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about).
Next was little Aaron Kelly. The kid was not just a deer in the headlights. He was a full on fawn. The only difference is that I like cute little deer creatures in nature, not on Idol. However, every season of Idol needs its prepubescent, inoffensive boy wonder who can thrill all the tween girls without scandalizing their mothers. Must we forget David Archuletta? Or even the least pubey of them all, Kevin Covais? Wel, Aaron Kelly joins that strong tradition of Idol singers who give sex offenders one more reason to live. His voice seems okay, in that generic Christian-rock sort of way. I’m not saying he’s a Christian rocker, but let’s be honest. He has it written all over him (and with a schnozz that would make Barbara Streisand proud, there’s a lot of space for it to be written). Anyway, the judges gave Aaron positive marks for his generally dull and uneven performance of “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts. I guess they see potential in Bambi, but all I see is spiky hair and nerves galore. Yes, the poor kid was so jittery that he unleashed one of those nervous frowns about five times. You know how those go: you mean to smile, but all that comes out is a strange frown. It’s a total betrayal of the facial muscles, and I couldn’t think of anywhere worse to do it than on national television. But that’s what wee Aaron did. If he sticks around — and he will — I think I’ll take perverse joy in watching his face continue to contort under pressure.
I was sincerely hoping that the third performer of the night would finally elevate the talent here, and why shouldn’t he? After all, this was Jermaine Sellers, the lovely angel who serenaded the judges, and by extension, AMERICA, with Joan Osborne during his auditions. My friend Michelle and I were so enamored by his performance that we became instant Jermaine fans, declaring passionately (the wine helped) that he deserved to go on not just to win the whole competition, but to have a life of happiness and love and good fortune. As such, I pretended to ignore his diva moment with band leader Michael during Hollywood week, lest that destroy that charming image I had of the chap.
I could not, however, ignore the piercing caterwauls that Jermaine let loose on stage last night. The guy took an Oleta Adams song (not a good choice to begin with), grabbed it by the neck, and stabbed it in the gut twelve times with a bowie knife. And that bowie knife was his voice. Jermain, you see, was not above getting The Nerves, and when his hit, he tried to counter by going on these insane vocal runs, but instead of gospel joy, all I heard was something in the realm of a slowly deflating balloon. This was not the Jermaine we knew and loved, and his attempts afterwards to deflect any diva label were thoroughly undermined when it turned out he didn’t even KNOW THE NAME of the band leader who he had allegedly made up with. Oh Jerm-Jerm, how the mighty have fallen.
Jermaine’s saving grace, however, was that he was followed by Tim Urban, who sang “Apologize,” — appropriate really as Mr. Urban owes the judges, OneRepublic, and the United States of America a giant apology for assaulting our ears in such a troubling way. Proving to be the nadir of the show, Timmy Urbs simply could not sing this song. It’s too bad really — his comeback story was all warm and cuddly (what with him getting a last minute chance to sing on the Big Shew after the dismissal of Chris Golightly). I was hoping that the only thing I’d have to hate on would be Tim’s giant, Zac Efron thicket of hair, but alas, there was so much more to mock. His falsetto seems like a great place to start. Well, his “attempt at a falsetto,” I should say. That was Tim’s big problem. He just couldn’t do it. I’ll admit, when he started off the song, he sounded okay. But once he hit the chorus, he couldn’t switch up into that falsetto. It sounded miserable, and he knew it. From that point on, everything else fell apart, and I think it was all Simon could do from taking Tim to the nearest vet and having him put down. I fear that Tim will not be long for this Idol world, and truly, it’s his fault. Who here hasn’t mastered that “Apologize” falsetto in the privacy of their car? I mean, it’s the best part of the song. It’s why anyone even sings along. The kid should have had it down pat. I know that I DO (although, an impromptu test just now has proven that I do NOT in fact have it down pat. But hey, I’m not the one on Idol).
It’s not too late to apologize, Timmy. It’s not too laaaaaate….
Next up was my least favorite singer of the night: Joe MuÃ±oz. Oh this guy was terrible. I mean, he wasn’t Tim Urban terrible, but he was totally forgettable and lame. First, he chose a bland Jason Mraz song (a.k.a. a Jason Mraz song) and then warbled his way through it in such a dull, annoying way that I was tempted to go back and rewatch Timmy Urbs one more time. At least T to the U chose a good song. Joe, however, was just an adult contemporary foray into dullsville. Just about the only thing entertaining about this little guy was his overgrown eyebrows, which would give even Peter Gallagher pause. One word: tweezers. I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy goes home tonight. He may be rescued by the Latino vote, but he made such a little impression, and coupled with his lack of screen time, I don’t think people will remember him.
Making more of a splash was Tyler Grady, who pranced onto the stage like a forgotten member of The Lovin’ Spoonful. The guy is certainly in love with the seventies, and so it was no surprise that he took on The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” a tune that more recently has been linked with Lenny Kravitz than anyone else. I had mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I was grateful for someone willing to do something fun and exciting on stage. On the other hand, I agreed with the judges that the whole rocker thing felt more put-on than authentic. It was certainly style over substance; however, I did think he had a good voice. It just so happens though that “American Woman” isn’t a terribly melodic tune, and so Tyler’s talent got kind of lost in the fray. Had he chosen a classic rock piece that was less about swagger and more about tune, I think he would have been received much more enthusiastically. So yeah, his fault. Other recommendations I have for him: come out one night with white face makeup and a purple suit. Let’s be honest: he’s the Joker without the makeup. Just sayin’…
Lee Dewyze took the stage next, and for about ten seconds, I was digging him. The smokey guitarist attempted “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, and as Lee strummed those first few notes, I thought we might have an Idol Moment (capital M). Too bad Lee totally WRECKED the Moment by screeching and scratching his way through most of the song, missing notes left and right along the way. There was so much potential in Lee’s performance and to see it squandered was a shame. The judges suggested that one of Lee’s problems was that the tune itself didn’t have much range and therefore wasn’t a solid choice. I disagreed — sure, it doesn’t have range, but had Lee simply sang it normally instead of going all over the place, he could have connected with the viewers. And let’s not forget, these singers don’t always have to take on the most difficult songs. They just have to find a way to have the aforementioned Moment. Didn’t happen this time.
Oddly enough, Simon all but got down on his knees in front of Lee’s crotch when he said it was the best performance of the night. Huh? It certainly wasn’t the worst, but it was not by any means the best of the night. Oh wait, what had we heard so far? Joe MuÃ±oz? Tim Urban? Jermaine Sellers? That little guy? Okay, Simon’s right. It was the best of the night, but only by default. Clearly the only reason Simon was gushing so hard was because he had fought for Lee to be included in the first place. That, or he has a crush on men who look like furry lumberjacks. I suppose it wouldn’t be the first recorded case in history (just look at all those housewives who quietly wish their Brawny paper towels would come to life, but I digress).
Then came John Park. Once again, hopes were high for this guy, but man, he was a mess. Crooning his way through “God Bless The Child,” John made some fundamental mistakes. First, he crooned. Second, he chose “God Bless The Child.” What was he thinking? Is this how you’re supposed to connect with a youth audience? Making matters worse was that he sounded terrible. He reached so hard for those low notes that I thought he may have been attempting a new version of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” I assumed John Park would surely bring his A-Game, but as I learned earlier in the evening, if Jermaine could falter, so could any of these guys. Shameful.
Ah, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And this light’s name was Michael Lynche. The big, puffy personal trainer strummed out a fun, serviceable version of “This Love” by Maroon 5, and while it wasn’t earth-shattering, on a night like this, it was a welcome reprieve from dreary standards (John Park) and butchered pop hits (Tim Urban). Michael hit the majority of his notes, and the ones he missed were excusable because the overall performance was enjoyable enough. He managed to earn positive feedback; although, Simon was kind of right by saying it wasn’t the most original or exciting thing ever. Truth be told that if the rest of the guys were bringing just a modicum of their talent last night, Michael would have been decidedly middle of the pack. But given that quality was in short supply Wednesday night, Michael quickly shot to the top.
Heading in the other direction was Alex Lambert, who boldly opted for a Rob Thomas lesbian mullet for his big debut. The guy has a smoky voice that at times sounded great. Unfortunately, the rest of the time it was abominable. The guy clearly suffered from nerves, as evidenced by his skittish screen presence which left him looking like a cornered hamster. He certainly is in jeopardy of going home, but I’d like to hear him give it one last shot. THEN we can cut him.
Just when it was looking like there’d be nothing memorable about this entire show, Casey James took to the stage. He started the night as my second favorite male singer (behind Jermaine), but I can assure you he is now number one. Not only did he select one of my favorite Lite FM songs (“Heaven” by Bryan Adams), but he sang it beautifully and sincerely. This wasn’t a guy who was just spewing out a love song. It felt directed at someone. I believed him when he said he was singing the song to somebody (possibly Kara). The girls will vote for Casey because he’s the most attractive, but really they should vote for him because he turned in the best performance of the evening, from vocals to emotion to sheer charisma.
It’s a shame the show didn’t end on that high note because we plunged back down into blahness with Andrew Garcia attempting to make something special out of Fall Out Boy. Just a general tip: when looking to draw from the well of inspiration, maybe keep your buckets away from Pete Wentz. Andrew started off decently with an acoustic version of “Sugar We’re Going Down.” It wasn’t amazing, but it was solid. Midway through, however, the band kicked in, and suddenly the whole thing turned into a gloppy, toothless version of the original. At least Fall Out Boy energizes their song with loud guitars and a rock edge. Andrew sucked the life out of it, forgoing both the drama of acoustic strumming and the power of electric guitars. Again, not the worst thing ever, but totally unremarkable.
So who goes home? Could be anyone. Probably Tim Urban and Joe MuÃ±oz. Or Alex Lambert. Let’s just hope we can purge the memory of this show forever.
What did you think of the guys? Who were your favorites? Your least favorites?