Saturday, March 05, 2011

Why I'll never be a judge on AMERICAN IDOL

Watching the twelve semi-finalist girls on AMERICAN IDOL earlier this week I was struck by how similar they were.  Big voices all doing Maria Carey and Alicia Keys.  Ya need someone to belt out a power ballad?   Ya need someone to show off and do useless runs in the middle of songs for no reason?  These are your gals.  The judges fawn all over them while I just shake my head.   Not only are these women becoming interchangeable from each other, they're becoming interchangeable from season to season.

Here are two women singers that I really like.  I'm sure many of you know them. They've sold a shitload of records ("shitload" being the official RIAA measurement for tallying music sales). I suspect neither of these girls would have survived day one of Hollywood Week, assuming they even got that far.  Clearly, my taste is not in line with what the producers of AMERICAN IDOL want. 

What do you think?  And you're welcome to call me crazy. I've been called a lot worse, this week even. Up first are two girls that I like.  Then two AMERICAN IDOL contestants that are wowing the judges. One was on the bubble, had to compete with two other girls, gave the worst, screechiest performance ever, just massacring a song, and yet she was still selected over the other more deserving two. 

Listen carefully because I'm going to ask you to vote.

Here's Nicole Atkins.  She's been called a female Roy Orbison.  Throw in a little Mama Cass. 

Next up, Feist (Leslie Feist). This song makes we want to dance and buy an iPod Nano.

And now here are IDOL standouts Haley Reinhart and Ashley Jones.

Okay America (and the world), it's your turn to vote. Of these four, which two would you keep and which two would you send packing? The lines are open!!   THIS is AMERICAN SOMETHING TO DO ON THE WEEKEND!!!!


David O'Hara said...

When was it ever about the singing? This show has always been about entertaining the Mouth-Breathers.


WilliamJansen said...

So this is how we vote?

I've got Feist and Ashley Jones. The female Roy Orbinson did nothing for me.

I do not know if it is an American thing, but in Denmark on our talent-shows, it ain't about the big voice, but the personality, the musicality, the performance and then the voice.

This 15 year old girl would have gone nowhere n American Idol, but she is causing quite a stir in Denmark.

Steve said...

Now see I came into this post as a Feist fan already so I'm all partial. Great song, plus, that is one fantastic music video. It *looks* simple and stripped down (compared to, say, a Gaga video), and all the more impressive for that.

Hadn't seen the Idol women before. They're both quite young, aren't they? The first woman...she had sass, but I had trouble understanding what she said. Like she was singing through a mouthful of Marshmallow Peeps.

Boswell said...

Yes, female Roy didn't float my boat either.

The second AI contestant was better, Billie Holiday should return from the other side & bitch-slap the first one. Have these people even HEARD Billie? That should be a requisite for anybody even singing, man or woman.

And Feist . . . like the Feist but, unfortunately, so do TOO MANY current chanteuses my way (Canada) where her clipped, fairy-Billie Holiday style is standard now . . . it's in commercials & represents, to me, an original, good thing taken over by a bunch of copycats.
So, sorry Ken, I'd probably opt out of this vote!

(Steven Tyler is a famous screecher . . . he seems to be enjoying this schlop)

Casey Reynolds said...

I don't watch American Idol. What is the point?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Just think, if Leslie Feist hadn't pursued her musical career, she'd probably with Sesame Street or the Muppets by now as a Muppeteer.

John G said...

I actually preferred Nicole Atkins over the others. The other one would be a toss-up between Feist and Ashley Jones. It sounded like Haley Reinhart wanted to sound like Holiday and others, but doesn't have the voice for that style.

From the start, I only, if ever, watched American Idol for the auditions. Call me cruel, but I liked watching the people with no talent and no friends (who would presumably tell them to not embarrass themselves).

It just seems that now I can watch any point during the season because the no-talent ones make it through to the end.

Jen said...

The men this year on Idol are way more entertaining - more variation in their styles, no sticks up their asses, just more fun in general.

The women are all robotic and similar, and they bore me.

benson said...

The female Roy Orbison, I can see why she's called that, but she also reminds me a bit of an Edith Piaf sound. The Feist songs is useless, flavor of the month. There's any number of female pop tarts doing that these days.

The two idol contestants. First one okay, but nothing to get excited about. Second one doesn't understand the meaning of subtle & controlled.

Marcel said...

Hmm, "This video is not available in your country" and "This video is not available in your country" versus the Idol singers. Tough choice. I will make up my mind later ;)

Chad said...

I've never watched American Idol, but I think you are comparing apples and oranges a little bit here. Those first two clips are finished songs in which the singer is an ingredient. The Idol clips seem to be about hearing a vocalist solo and show off.

I liked everybody.

Barb said...

I know, I'm off topic, but male contestant Paul McDonald intrigues me. His Maggie May was spot on.
I'd root for him, but I'm not so sure an American Idol win is always a great career move. What do you think, Ken?

Dodgers16 said...

If you really want to hear a good voice you might want to youtube an amazing singer from the UK by the name of Kaite Melua. Amazing voice especially live.

Pat Reeder said...

This is exactly why I stopped watching "American Idol." Maria Carey started this trend (a friend of mine who is a fantastic composer/producer once told me he had no idea whether Maria Carey was a good singer because he'd never heard her hold a note longer than one second). Christina Aguilera upped the oversinging ante by practically grabbing songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by the throat and pounding their heads against the floorboards. Now, as "AI" proves, we have an entire generation of young people who think that the more you oversing and torture a melody, the better a singer you are. I was walking throught the room recently when my wife was watching "AI," and someone was ululating "God Bless The Child" so wildly, I didn't even recognize it. And the idiot judges raved about how great it was. None of this has anything to do with expressing the melody or emotion of the song. The only message it conveys is "Listen to ME! Can you believe what I can do with my voice?!! Aren't I somethin'?!"

SHAMELESS PLUG: My wife, Laura Ainsworth, is a singer whose dad was a major big band musician/arranger, and she grew up watching him back real singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme. We're putting out her debut CD soon (independent, of course) with the Brian Piper Trio, a great modern jazz group. I've posted a few samples at and would appreciate feedback. You can hear sample tracks at or click the link on my name. "Dream A Little Dream" and a killer arrangement of "Love For Sale" aren't posted yet but will be very soon.

"Skylark," BTW, was recorded the old-fashioned way: in one take with no post-production, accompanied live by female jazz guitarist Chris Derose, a favorite accompanist of Michael Feinstein and Willie Nelson.

A Musician said...

"American Idol" is not about who sings the best. It's really more like "Survivor" for vocalists—who can survive the pressure cooker that these aspiring singers are placed in, with challenges (singing in a different style, preparing an ensemble piece, withstanding the attention of constant filming as they are working, and most importantly, being able to survive the 'judging' without breaking down).

Truly talented singers are cultivated, through long hours of rehearsals, coaching, practicing and performing in all sorts of situations, both good and bad. All that AI shows us is a popularity contest, and the way that singers win votes are their ability to withstand the pressure that the show puts them under. Many great singers that I know personally have fragile egos, and they've often taken years to develop incredible voices and stage presence.

And I do agree that there is an emphasis on screaming and working the crowd thru trite and overused vocal 'techniques', and someone who is truly creative musically would probably be punished by the voting system.

But Ken, you have to know that creativity and originality are undervalued in America today, in all art forms. It's sad, but it seems most consumers would prefer to be told what to like, on their TV, on their radio, in their books, rather than sample different efforts and make up their own minds. We gravitate to media phenomenons.

The Big Guy said...

Well, for my money Nicole Atkins is in and the other three are out. Never understood the allure of Feist. Still don't. Never understood AI either, except for the fact that it's about popularity, not talent. The most talented has only won this contest once, maybe twice since its inception. Most of the top two finishers are done being stars by time their second album is released.

YEKIMI said...

American Midol [yes, I know it's misspelled but watching it gives me cramps] is nothing more than a pretty boy/girl contest, doesn't matter if they sound like Gilbert Gottfried being castrated, as long as they look hot or don't frighten anybody [Adam Lambert anyone?] in middle America they'll get the votes. Where this "contest" should take place is ON THE RADIO or other non-visual medium where they can be judged SOLELY on their singing voices. But that would never happen, the "powers that be" wouldn't be able to make megajoules of money.

selection7 said...

Obviously Chad is right about comparing a finished single to a pressure cooker live performance. Having said that, I don't think it's true Fiest or Atkins wouldn't last. For some reason, the oversingers tend to tryout for AI more so you see them more in the finals.

IMO, Atkins handled the quiet passages wonderfully but I can imagine others doing the more forceful singing better. It's hard to say since creative license may have been involved. And it's not her level of vocal mastery I'm questioning here, which I agree, is often what these young AI contestants lean on because they've yet to develop the creative instincts (or lack the confidence or simply don't know any better).

Steve Zeoli said...

How far would Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan made it on American Idol? These are two of the most durable and popular singers of the past fifty years, and I doubt they would have even past the first round.

Cap'n Bob said...

Pat Reeder said it best. Yekimi, have you forgotten Ruben Studdard? Hardly a triumph of glamor over talent. As for voting, I use my usual yardstick: Which one would I rather bang? Tough choice, but I think I'd take Haley. For singers, Roy and the black girl.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I missed the night the girls sang (Well, "skipped" would be more accurate), but I watched the guys night, and then, when they annouced the Top Ten on Thursday, the viewers picked the exact same five men I did. That guy Paul is really good, very unique, interesting voice, and his obvious, unfaked enjoyment of performing is infectious, and J-Lo was right about his smile lighting up a room.

But no sexy guys in the top ten this time. (nor in the judges-expanded top 13) There were three big ole queens in the top 24, but only one of the queens, the black guy with the HUGE voice, made it through, after he butched up his performance on Tuesday.

RCP said...

That's an intriguing combination -Roy Orbison and Cass Elliot. Of course, if Cass were recording today, they'd find all sorts of ways to artistically hide her bulk, like they've done with Ann Wilson (amazing what can be accomplished with strategically placed shadows onstage.)

I agree with you, Ken, though I think Ashton has a very good voice. Thing is, she does sound exactly like so many other singers. AT least this makes the true originals really stand out. It would be nice to listen to a 3-minute song that doesn't contain 235 syllables.

jbryant said...

Nicole Atkins: Had never heard her; quite good. Ken, I think you'd really like a singer who goes by the name of A Girl Called Eddy (her real name is Erin Moran, but she doesn't want to get confused with Joanie from Happy Days). Her only album to date came out in 2004, and it's brilliant. A fine singer and songwriter, and the production is great.

Feist: I've always liked this.

Haley: Great voice; still figuring out what to do with it. That's the case with a lot of these Idol folks, many of whom, we should remember, are in their teens and early 20s, with varying degrees of live experience.

Ashthon (yes, that's how she spells it): Good voice, but lacks that special spark. It's going to be very interesting this season to see exactly what Jimmy Iovine will be contributing. Supposedly, his role will be helping the contestants become "artists" as opposed to just singers. The show has always paid lip service to this, but now it may actually factor in to the show, with Iovine and crew helping the kids come up with arrangements that fit their style. Casey Abrams and others can probably manage that by themselves, but most of these kids are just gifted singers with little idea of what to do with their voices other than imitate their idols.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I'll say this for most former AI contestants -- they don't seem to show up later claiming to be celebrities. Please learn from this, Real Housewives.

Also, AI is the best possible counterexample to the concept of crowd sourcing. Two of ten winners have been as successful as they should have been given this platform.

AI voters: batting a solid .200. Soul Patrol!

JustCorbly said...

I agree that the bombast is wearisome. Some of our pop singers actually have great voices capable of a lot more subtlety than we ever hear, like Aguillera. Pity they've sold out.

Didn't know Nicoles Atkins until I watched that video. Being called a female Orbison is quite a compliment. From listening, I see why. Good stuff.

I've never watched an entire episode of Idol. Ain't gonna start now.

Anonymous said...

Female Roy for me. Pass for the other 3.

Nicole Atkins is the only one whose voice & phrasing actually made me stop and listen.

YEKIMI said...

@ Cap'n Bob: Yekimi, have you forgotten Ruben Studdard?

Yes, I had forgotten about Ruben. So has the rest of America. He's even been forgotten by his record company which dumped him although he has been signed to another company. [His first release: 1.8 million sold. Last one: 50,000]. And since this is a "pick one you like": None of them does anything for me but if I had to I'd pick Fist or Fiest or whatever her name is.

WV: "diturit"-what someone playing tag says when they touch Dit

Ed D. said...

Just heard a new word for the vocal gymnastics we hear all the time... a la Christina Aguilera... and virtually every other young singer these days.


Went back and watched Whitney Houston sing How Will I Know and she did it perfectly, stirring in just the right amount of 'souling'.

Dan said...

Didn't Simon, the author of the original bible of pop, warn us about the perils of "Idolatry" long ago?
And didn't he also caution us to , "Judge not, lest ye be judged".

Leigh said...

Definitely Nicole Atkins for me...I'd never heard of her before this post, so thanks!

Ref said...

Well, gee, Ken. You're looking at two entirely different subsets. In the first (and obviously better one) two talented women are putting their own stamp on songs that they wrote or that were written specifically for their vocal talents. In the second, technically talented young women are being forced into imitating a certain genre of commercially successful singers.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I keep thinking I SHOULD watch American Idol, but I just can't seem to work up to actually doing it. I liked Nicole Atkins the best. I hate the vocal gymnastics "technique" whether it's the last two girls, someone singing the national anthem (both US and Canada--at the Olympics I'm talking about), or Christmas carols. Just sing the song with the melody as it was written, for Pete's sake. Don't guess I'll start watching AI anytime soon--especially as I find the whole voting process questionable.

Jenna said...

Atkins voice is unique, Feist's song is fun- she reminds me a lil bit of Bijork. As for the idol gals, I agree with you they are commercial and interchangeable. It is unfortunate for those who have talent that didn't fit the mold they were wanting to fill this season.

rhl said...

Don't forget that Crystal Bowersox came very close to winning last season, and she didn't fit the AI mold of the Mariah/Xtina belter.

Who even remembers the guy who won?

Anonymous said...

Nicol Atkins. The others may go.

kjb said...

Haven't read all the comments, but the Idol performances were LIVE, and Ken's favorites were official videos with heavily produced sound.

That said, my votes would go to Nicole Atkins and Ashton Jones. (Ashton, not Ashley.)