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Pop music legend Diana Ross has a new album and tour to promote. Idol's 12 remaining indentured servants are here to help.
My friends are all complaining that this is the most boring season of American Idol ever. And I see their point. There are really no surprises left, unless Howard Stern and VoteForTheWorst.com manage to mobilize the culture-jammer troops into a consistent showing for Sanjaya. Otherwise we're just waiting to see, in the words of my friend Tony, "which girl in a wig wins."
For my part, I'm just glad they're settling into a routine of a longish Tuesday night show and a shortish Wednesday elimination episode. Because the three-nights-a-week thing was really wearing down my will to live.
Tuesday's episode opens strangely. The schizophrenic relationship this show now has with Jennifer Hudson continues to be a source of odd fascination for me. They begin with a rearview shot of a female singer who is not Hudson. Her arms are outstretched. It's more or less an approximation of one of the Dreamgirls publicity stills that featured Hudson delivering "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." If you saw the movie or the trailer for the movie, you know the pose. I'm not certain I understand the whole "we love you, you ungrateful child" position the show has decided to take on this young woman. Back in the day, before everyone let it all hang out and decided to keep it real and vent their frustrated, ambivalent feelings 24/7, showbiz was about constant air kisses or flat-out feuds. There was no in-between. They either kept it quiet or they aired it flamboyantly. Truman Capote hated Jackie Susann and their public disses were entertaining. That's why I'm in full support of Hudson's recent Burger King quote, in which she wondered aloud if she should also run around constantly thanking them because they were her first job as a teenager. I'm a fan of that sort of sass-mouth. So is Burger King, because they ended up giving her free cheeseburgers for life.
I guess I should write about more than just a two-second opening shot, though. I have two hours of programming to cover here. What follows the opening shot is a montage of Idol winners and their accomplishments with some doofus voice-over stuff. So to wrap that part up I do need to give a shout-out to whoever the Napoleon Dynamite-ish weirdo-voiced dude is that they got to fake-announce Hudson's Oscar win over a clip of her singing since they obviously couldn't get permission to use the actual George Clooney voice clip. You sound like the biggest tool on earth, man. Well done.
Seacrest looks like hell tonight as he says, "This... [too-long pause] ...is Ah-MER-ican Idol!" He's wearing a gunmetal gray three-piece suit, which is awful enough of a choice, but then his shirt and tie are nearly identical shades of baby-shit brown. It probably looks very sophisticated in person. Maybe. On TV, however...
Cut to sign-holders in audience. The usual assortment of "Marry Me [Fill in the Blank]" and contestant support slogans. Chris Sligh's fans are holding up an especially annoying one that reads "Fro Patrol."
Seacrest introduces a montage about the career of the season's first celebrity coach, Diana Ross. This is the weird genius of American Idol's guest-star-procuring logic: They hook in the older viewers with a guest artist from two, sometimes three, generations ago and give that person another chance to be around something with more heat than their careers have had in years, while simultaneously teaching every elementary school kid watching a little bit about the history of American pop music. It's not as helpful as having a parent or older sibling who forces music on you like mine did, but it's helpful all the same. Now, about Diana Ross: Besides Aretha Franklin, there's not really another female recording artist of the past 50 years who's been more successful at maintaining and surviving. In fact, she's the living embodiment of one of the most important things that Idol represents, the triumph of women and people of color over white, male-oriented rock and roll. Pop has always been, in a very real way, music for girls to fall in and out of love to. Ross hasn't been on contemporary radio in I don't even know how long, but you can't turn on an oldies station without hearing "Where Did Our Love Go." Say all you want about Bob Dylan, but do you want to hear "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" while you're driving out to the beach? Doing the dishes? Having a party? No, you want to hear "You Keep Me Hangin' On." More importantly, did Bob Dylan ever tweak Lil' Kim's nipple on live TV? Hell, no. That was the effervescent Diana Ross who pulled that stunt. She's one good reason to love America.
The Diana Ross montage takes us from the Supremes to sometime in the mid 1980s, when she more or less stopped producing anything that anyone but hard-core fans and gay men (lots of overlap there, I know) were interested in hearing. Somewhere in the past few years she's had a kind of minor resurrection in gay dance clubs, but it seems like her biggest job of the past decade or so has been a regular series of appearances in public with big, crazy hair. Which is not to say that I think she's anything less than awesome. All the Supremes songs were incredible, and I'm a huge fan of solo material like "Upside Down," "The Boss," and "Love Hangover." And if you haven't seen the YouTube clip of former 5th Dimension lady Marilyn McCoo, flanked by two unitard-packed boy dancers, singing Ross's hit "Muscles" on SolidGold, then your week hasn't been as good as it could be yet.
Another thing about the Ross montage is how she keeps strongly emphasizing the word "mentor." She uses it in several sentences and she's sort of ALL-CAPSing it when she speaks. You have to wonder what's going on there. Naturally, for me, because my taste in music is frequently disturbing and unpalatable to others, it just brings to mind the brilliantly nasty old band the Mentors, creators of songs with titles like "Suck and Fuck and Cook and Clean." They were fun, those Mentors.
Brandon Rogers is up first. This week's personality reel will include each contestant meeting and worshipping and praising Miss Ross, working with her, then getting a critique. And with her first student, it's interesting to see how D.R. establishes alpha-dog presence. She busts out from behind a curtain, arms outstretched to suggest "I am much, much huger than you," wearing get-down-to-business black and then, at the same time, putting on a huge, happy, openmouthed grin that could suggest either motherly excitement or the implied threat of being completely devoured. As a stance, I like it. It's destabilizing for the contestants and helps keep the cells of their egos from rampant, unchecked growth. When that shit start to split and replicate and metastasize, you're in trouble for the rest of your life. And it's the happy, faux-loving flip side to last year's episode where we watched grumpy-bear Stevie Wonder get all prickly and recoil from the contestants' touch. Brandon Rogers is talking about something, what an honor it is or whatever, but I'm not listening to him. I'm very focused on D.R. Who wouldn't be?
Brandon sings "You Can't Hurry Love" like he's in a race with Suck. Suck, however, being faster and more wily, with tricks up its sleeve such as goofy dance move-infliction, lyrics-forgetfulness, and--my favorite--random honking sounds, speeds past Brandon, slows to a cocky saunter near the end, and swaggers across the finish line. What I like about Brandon, however, is his sheepish inability to front like he just did something awesome. It's not just that he's got, "OK, yes, I'm being sent home tomorrow" written on his forehead; he wrote it there himself with Sanjaya's eyebrow pencil.
Cut to the cast of Bones in the audience. Emily Deschanel is applauding and smiling because that's what you do. You're here to be an unavoidable reinforcement for the upcoming commercial for your show that everyone is going to fast-forward through on their TiVo. Your job is pleasantry. David Boreanaz didn't get that memo. He's smirking and his hands refuse to put themselves together in a convincing show of support. He's tough customer, that David Boreanaz.
Randy and Simon let Brandon have it. Paula tries to be nice. The audience boos Randy and Simon because the audience is a bunch of morons. I think I'm just going to cut and paste those last three sentences so I don't have to keep writing them over and over. I feel like I'll be needing them again soon.
Seacrest offers consolation. Brandon said that "nerves [came] into play." Oh, really? You're all freaked out? WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? Of COURSE you're freaked out. Suck it up. Jeez.
Commercials for Coke, Ford, Bones, that shitty movie TheHoliday, and one about how you shouldn't make your dog smoke pot with you.
And we're back. A new thing this season is people being able to e-mail in their questions for contestants. This'll be spontaneous fun. Can't wait. The first question is for Melinda Doolittle. "What's the hardest thing about being in the top 12?" asks someone from somewhere. Melinda's response is the high heels and the dresses. And because every time is a good time for Seacrest and Simon to engage in friendly gay-baiting banter, reminding all of America that that's the worst possible insult you can level at someone and therefore also the most hilarious, Seacrest asks, "Simon, any advice on the high heels?"
"You should know, Ryan," volleys Simon.
"Stay out of my closet," says Seacrest.
"Come out," says Simon.
And there you have it, kids. Simon Cowell wants all of you to come out of the closet. Especially all you Idol contestants, past, present and future. A spirit of bold new acceptance for openly gay contestants is in the air! Past winners, come out! Past second-placers, come out! Seacrest, come out! Sanjaya, make out with Blake onstage! It's all good! Simon just said so! Thank you, Simon. You're the Harvey Milk of right now.
Melinda takes a private(ish) lesson with Miss Ross and receives the biggest compliment we'll hear all night from D.R.: "When you sing I get goose bumps." Then Melinda makes that "golly gee, REALLY?" face that she can't seem to shake. And before I continue recapping what goes down next, I'd like to take this time to address a pressing Melinda-related concern. I am retiring the name "No Neck." A friend recently chastised me for using that name, and I realized he had a point. The music industry didn't have a place for this woman until now, and it's because she doesn't look like Beyonce. There's simply no other reason. Someone, or many someones, down the road said, "You're a phenomenal singer, but I can't sell you." So now she's using this show to run her game around the arbitrary obstacles of the business. It's not like it's her fault she has a big face and a small neck. It's her DNA, and I refuse to be a dick about it, even if it was meant in jest. So, Melinda Doolittle, I apologize for goofing on your neck. And now that you're wearing outfits that show it off and you've cut down on the shyly hunched up shoulders routine, you appear to be a normal, confident woman. I don't want to be responsible for being one more asshole media person who cracks on women's bodies in any way. I recently had to watch Because I Said So, and seeing Diane Keaton, at her age, be so self-conscious about her body was jarring. Who needs it? So there. If anyone tells you that we all can't learn and come together as a result of this stupid show, you just tell them that Dave White is a much better person now than he was last week, and he owes it all to 19 Entertainment.
Melinda sings "Home" from TheWiz. She knocks it out. She has no choice but to knock it out. She's a home-run machine. Paula bawls. Even Simon says she made "a very boring song fantastic."
Chris Sligh is nervous, thinks Diana Ross. This sentiment is countered by Chris in a separate interview, who claims to never be nervous. Then he compares his hair to hers. She offers him volumizing tips. To thank her for this he tells her that he's going to modernize (i.e., obliterate) "Endless Love" by completely changing the arrangement and the melody. She hates this, smiling, and tells him to find the melody. Translation: "Do you know who I am?"
So his performance is a weird hybrid of U2 and Coldplay and Sunday morning evangelical praise chorus. It's no longer a love song between two humans; it's one that Sligh is singing one-way to God. And dude, you are the best singer of the male contestants. Listen to Paula on this one. She just told you not to try so hard to be hip. Hip has no place on this show anyway. You think you're going to be the one to finally innovate shit here?
Gina Red-Streak meets D.R. and finds herself somewhat starstruck. She's going to sing "Love Child" and tells a cute story about having had a "Little Star Stage" when she was 4 years old and that her parents videotaped her singing "Love Child" on it. That's an adorable story. I love that story. Anyway, it's vocabulary lesson time. Did you know that "pronunciate" is an actual word? D.R. tells Gina that she must do that very thing if the words of "Love Child" are to be understood. Anyway, I looked it up. It's real. Pronunciate. That no one ever uses "pronunciate" in everyday speech is just another reason why Miss Ross is more special than you.
Gina's wearing a black jacket with a tiny Chris Daughtry wallet-chain on the left sleeve. Then she sings "Love Child." It's fine. I'm way more fascinated by the Gina Family of red-streaked support sitting in the audience. Even her mom. I want Sligh's family to get huge 'fro wigs. I want Phil's family to shave their heads. Blake's can all gel the shit out of theirs. Anyway, she finishes, and Paula tells her that she needs to "enunciate." Um, Paula, are you throwing down some sort of gauntlet to Miss Ross? Is this going to turn into an English-usage cage match? Because I would like that.
Poor Sanjaya is so lost. I can see the bewilderment in this kid's eyes. He's clearly overwhelmed by her, by the show, by the endless hairstyle changes, which now includes one of Oprah's old wigs, by the judges turning on him, by whoever it is trying to beat back his eyebrows. He's going to butcher "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and we'll all sit back helpless and watch it happen. Simon calls him "brave." So someone give this brave little song-ruiner a hug.
More commercials, more dumb questions from the viewers, more on-air plugs for Coca-Cola. And now it's Haley's turn. She's going to sing "Missing You." Diana Ross asks Haley who she's thinking about when she sings that song. Haley responds, "My fiance."
"Yeah?" says D.R.
WRONG ANSWER, HALEY! Diana Ross goes on to explain that she recorded that song about the death of Marvin Gaye. Unspoken message = Nothing anyone else can offer as a personal association with it will ever be the right one. Miss Ross also gets to slam Haley for having a "recording studio voice" that's too "inside." So go sit over there on the couch with Chris Sligh, kiddo. Haley continues to dig her own grave by saying that her goal tonight is to "enjoy the song" and "have fun out there." Because songs about death and grief are really how you GET THIS PARTY STARTED! WHOOOOO!
It's also awesome when you forget the fun words to the fun song about death and grief. Keep that in mind, future contestants. Randy gives it to her straight. She sucked. Simon, who's no dummy and who also knows that the show needs a new foxy chick now that Antonella's gone, transfers his big-boob loyalty and jumps to Haley's defense. This confuses Haley, who bursts into tears, baffled by the shifting goalposts. "I messed up my words and I feel like such a schmuck." (Yiddish slang for "penis," everybody. Did you know that?)
What follows is my favorite moment of the night. Paula says, "Half the time the audience doesn't know [when you've messed up the words]...they don't know anything."
And then the audience, who clearly agree that their heads are filled with the same substance found in s'mores-flavored Pop-Tarts, applauds that statement.
Commercials commercials commercials Nana Seacrest being adorable, etc.
And it's time for Nosferatu to haunt you with his musical stylings. Oh, you think I should stop calling him "Nosferatu" now that I've eliminated "No-Neck" from my vocabulary? Too bad. He CHOSE to shave that head and Windex it to a chromey shine. That ain't my doing. The name stays.
And speaking of pronunciating the words to "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," Mr. Feratu, did you just sing, "It's coming, your erection?" Because I just hit TiVo rewind several times and the fact is that you DID sing that, even if you might have meant to say "it's coming your direction." And he yells yells yells his way into our hearts. So much yelling. Simon agrees with me.
LaKisha, who, we learn tonight, is called Kiki by her mother, is going to sing Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child." She's allowed to do that because D.R. performed it in Lady Sings the Blues. Miss Ross talks about the circumstances of Holiday writing the song. "I think she wrote it on tour." And when she says "on tour" she means "on heroin." Did you know that Billie Holiday and fellow jazz legend Anita O' Day shot up together? They were junkie pals. I learned that from reading, kids. So get to the library. It's a world of knowledge waiting for you, and the government pays for all of it. For now, at least.
LaKiki is wonderful, as usual. No reason to dwell on her and Melinda's codominance. They will, in a perfect world where talent makes the rules, be the top two contestants. In Bizarro World it'll be Sanjaya and John Stevens.
Commercials commercials commercials question about nothing for Blake. He's here to remix "You Keep Me Hanging On" on his laptop. He "really just hopes she really likes it," he says. He's so modern. So fresh. So into "electronica," which is, as you may have heard, grown-ups, is the music of the young people. But in this song's much-covered history, his mid-tempo, vaguely hip-hop-oriented version is nowhere near as awesome as Kim Wilde's. Or Reba McEntire's. Or Vanilla Fudge's. It's somewhere in the neighborhood of Michael Damian's "Rock On." Nice tie and sweater combo, though.
Stephanie needs to be sexier, says Diana Ross. That's because Stephanie is going to cover "Love Hangover," the song about how Diana Ross just got super-laid. And you can't sing "Love Hangover" like it's "The Greatest Love of All." It is a requirement that you purr and growl and still have that sex-funk on you from the humping that you just now finished having and that was so-o-o good that you gotta sing about it. There's no gray area there. Weirdly, the arrangement adds lyrics I've never heard before and completely eliminates the song's up-tempo disco second half. She just decided to lop off that part. All foreplay. No orgasm.
Chris Not Sligh is going to sing "The Boss." As I mentioned earlier, I like "The Boss."
Then he sings it.
I don't think I like it anymore.
The show ends with Jordin Sparks singing "If We Hold On Together." It's from The Land Before Time. It makes sense that she would sing this. She's 17. That means she was born in what, 1989? 1990? She grew up watching that DVD over and over. I don't know what the song's supposed to be about. Asteroids hitting the Earth? Evolution? Something, anyway. And I have a soft spot for this child. She's adorable. Let her sing whatever she wants. Songs about dinosaurs. I don't care. She's sweet.
On to Wednesday night's elimination...
Seacrest recaps the previous night's performances. People forgot the words, people sang songs about love, people rearranged the songs, but most important, you should know that "Sanjaya put his TWIST on a classic...but Randy was there to STRAIGHTEN HIM OUT."
Seriously, who writes this copy?
Now it's time for gang-singing. "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "Baby Love" and "Stop! In The Name of Love." As awful medleys go, it's simply run-of-the-mill awful. I can't even work up a good hate-foam for it. More interesting is the way they cover Modest Mouse's "Float On" for the first of this season's Ford commercials. I think it's kind of funny to hear them doing the song. But again, much like Blake's cover of "You Keep Me Hanging On," this cover doesn't hold a candle to the Kidz Bop version. If you haven't heard it, you really should. It's kind of great. And as for the theme of the commercial--We're dressed like hippies and 80s hip-hop kids and wi-fi Children of Now! For no apparent reason!--it screams out for someone on the creative team to be fired.
Then Diana Ross comes out in a red thing with an even bigger red thing hanging off it. And if you're a Diana Ross fan, then you might want to stop reading right now because I'm not interested in hearing your complaints. But holy balls, I'd rather hear Sanjaya sing again than listen to this. I remember back in season 1 when the kids tried to drag Paula up on the stage to sing with them, and she wouldn't open her mouth. This is a good move if you know you've lost your ability to cut it live. But what she does have going for her is that phony, Vegas-y "I love you ALL!" thing that entertainers from her generation are so good at. I hope Miss Ross gets in a lot of rehearsal time before her upcoming tour.
And now what you've been waiting for, the bottom three: Nosferatu, Brandon, and Sanjaya.
Nos is safe.
Brandon is out.
Sanjaya seems embarrassed.
Here comes the first "You're Dead Now" reel, and there's a new song to accompany them this season, something with the words "I'm goin' home" in it. As songs of pain go, it's a little less irksome than "Had a Bad Day."
Simon and Paula remind everyone that it's a singing competition. "No offense, Sanjaya," they say. It's kind of like when your boyfriend hits you and then tells you he didn't mean it.