Thursday, March 10, 2011


What a love fest on AMERICAN IDOL. According to these impartial judges – who have no vested interest in hyping the singers to stave off eroding ratings – this year’s Top 13 is the greatest collection of young talent ever assembled on one stage.  They're good (a lot of them) but yikes.  You'd think they poop silver dollars. 

Jennifer and Steven may have their charms but gone is the reality check that Simon provided. And constructive criticism. Last year Simon would really break down a contestant’s performance. Last night Steven gave James Durbin this piece of advice: “If there was a review to be said about you, you just sang it”.  Huh?  What?  Well, he’s the expert.

But not the only expert. A new feature this season is having record producer Jimmy Iovine and his minion of music gangsta/hipsters (I’m sorry. I meant his minion of legendary music gangsta/hipsters) work with the kids during rehearsal. I guess that means the contestants this season will be robbed of the wisdom of Miley Cyrus.

The show again is filled with product placement. The Coke logo is everywhere. They’re shameless. At least when I plug my hilarious new book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED, and tell people it’s gotten great reviews and is available in all ebook formats for just $2.99 (which is less than one measly gallon of gas) and is the funniest book the IDOL judges have ever read, I at least have the decency to devote a dedicated post to it. I don’t try to just slip it in. Available in paperback coming soon!  Order your ebooks here.

Anyway, the theme this week was songs by the potential-idols' idols. In other words, they could pick anything. So let’s get started. “Get ready to vote, America. This is AMERICAN BLOWJOB!”

First up was Lauren Alaina, vying to become this season’s Kellie Pickler. Her idol is Shania Twain. She sounded like every country singer in every Holiday Inn Express Lounge in the south. Judges: Stupendous. Created a whole new art form. She slayed it.

Casey Abrahms did “With a Little Help From My Friends”. The Joe Cocker version minus the signature Grand Mal seizure. I like Casey. He claimed he was introduced to the song from THE WONDER YEARS. Hey, I was introduced to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE from Bugs Bunny. Judges: Phenomenal! Over-the-moon. The ultimate musician meets the ultimate performer. He slayed it.

Ashton Jones, the Diana Ross impersonator, followed – flapping her arms, mimicking the moves and facial contortions of the Divine Ms. R.  Ashton was such a blatant copy of Diana Ross that I’m surprised she didn’t go the whole way and sleep with Lauren Alaina’s boyfriend. I thought Ashton sounded shrill and screechy and her hair looked like the result of sticking her finger in a light socket. Judges: Amazing! Incomparable! The finest R&B performance of all-time. She slayed it.

Paul McDonald was next. His idol was Ryan Adams, but judging from his jacket, I thought his idol was Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor in SHINING TIME STATION. I had never heard of the song Paul sang. He’s a much better singer than we saw last night. Judges: Genius! Original! This man can cure lepers with his urine! He slayed it.

Pia Toscano saluted her idol, Celine Dion, by belting out “All By Myself”. Pia has an excellent voice and I appreciate that she didn’t just copy Celine Dion. She took the bold step of singing the song without fireworks going off and a volcano erupting. Judges: Greatest vocal performance since the dawn of time. Most beautiful woman to ever draw a breath. She slayed it.

Paul McCartney is James Durbin’s idol. He sang “Maybe I’m Amazed”. Judges: If Paul only had the talent James does. James Durbin is dangerous, America! He slayed it.

Haley Reinhart, in an attempt to make a Leann Rimes song her own, committed the cardinal sin of singing – she yodeled. Next to burning a flag on stage I can’t think of anything worse than yodeling. Judges: Crazy good! Through the stratosphere! She slayed it.

Jacob Lusk has a truly sensational voice but brings new meaning to the word overkill. Jacob is the gay version of Screaming Jay Hawkins. He sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” as if it were an aria, and he was joined by a full chorus. He did everything but come out of a coffin. Judges: Listening to Jacob sing is proof there is a God. The greatest singer that’s ever been. He slayed it.

Poor Thia Megia. She sang “Smile” and didn’t know that the song was written by Charlie Chaplin. In her little feature piece she makes reference to him as Charlie Chapman. Now I don’t blame Thia. She’s 8 for Crissakes! But why did IDOL have to air that sound byte? They purposely embarrassed her. To me that's inexcusable.  Her song started off great. She sang the first chorus almost a capella. But then, for reasons known only to her and her legendary music weasel, the tune suddenly became techno. Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chapman, George Carlin – anyone now deceased was turning over in their grave. Judges: They only thought it was transcendent so a mixed review at best. But she did slay it.

Stefano Langone chose to turn Stevie Wonder’s heartbreaking ballad “Lately” into a disco song. Do they even listen to the words? Someone from Japan, singing phonetically, would know not to turn “Lately” into a disco song. Where were the legendary music beatniks? Judges: He redefined not only music but architecture. He slayed it.

Karen Rodriguez followed. By the way, what’s with the heavy black eye lashes on everyone this year? Is Adam Lambert doing their make up? Karen sang a Selena song. I thought she was okay, not great. Randy, Jennifer, and Steven agreed. Judges: She’s one of the strongest singers in the competition. She sings like an angel.  She slayed it. Based on those comments I think Karen is in big trouble.

Resident country boy Scotty McCreery, hopped on his one-trick pony and sang Garth Brooks’ “The River”. If Scotty wants to win this thing he’ll find a way to sing “Sixteen Tons” every week, even if the theme is Girl Group songs. Judges: He’s a star! A sensation! He slayed it. Steven Tyler quoted some non-sequitor song lyrics that ended with “Roy Rogers” somehow.

Finally, in the pimp spot, Naima Adedapo, who is just one fruit basket hat away from Carman Miranda, electrified the crowd by singing and dancing “the Umbrella”. She’s got a great voice, and if she didn’t scare the crap out of me, I’d probably like her the best. Judges: They couldn’t speak they were in such awe. She slayed it.

I think Karen, Paul, and Thia might be in trouble. One of them is probably going home – to some portion of America that I write about in my hilarious new book, on sale here. I don’t mean to brag, but I slayed it.


jackscribe said...

Agree with your conclusion...but can't we send Karen, Paul, and Thia home tonight? The verbal fawning is overbearing but I enjoyed the Interscope producers' efforts to bring out the best of these kids. You gotta admit that Stephano knows how to sell a song. And Scotty may be a 'one-trick pony' but C/W fans are very loyal.

Phillip B said...

Carmen Miranda has a really strong Wikipedia entry, of special interest to readers under the age of 55:

Most interesting, she may be the first person to have literally died on TV. During the Jimmy Durante Show she started to forget lines during a sketch, and then fell to her knees after a production number.

Jimmy made charming ad lib remarks. She finished the show, went home to Beverly Hills untreated and died that evening.

And less interesting, she was able to give Mickey Rooney a hard-on. He has been married 9 times (so far) including time with Ava Gardner - so that is saying something.

I'll leave it to the younger folks to Google a picture of Ava....

GregN said...

OT, but I had to comment on The Book:
The best $3 I've spent in many a moon! It lasted for 4 1/2 commutes from the burbs to downtown Chicago (your mileage may vary), and the many smiles it generated didn't disturb fellow train passengers.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I have reached a point where I have forgotten that AI is even on.

But I didn't forget to download WHERE THE HELL AM I? Started reading it today; I'm lazy, so I'm not picking favorite cities, I'm just reading it chronologically.

I can tell you, thanks to the modernity of Kindle technology, that I have read nine percent of the book thus far.

And, yes, Ken, you are slaying it, dude.

Len said...

Now it's an Idol season. Ken is cracking wise on this mess. Great write-up and all the points are dead-on. There were at least four singers that Simon, in previous seasons, would have announced "pack your bags."

Janet T said...

Ok, ebook is purchased!
Randy has become the new Simon reality check- sad really.
I think if you painted Naima blue she could star in the next Avatar movie.

Aw hell- truth be told, the only performance worth hearing was from James.

And that little quote about Roy Rogers was from a little album called “ Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” penned Bernie Taupin

Sean Kernan said...

You slayed it, you redefined the way we look at American Idol and music in general. I am in awe.

Rich said...

Totally agree about the judges. At one point Steven made some reference to a movie or something that no one could understand. Sometimes he'd say something smart and useful, other times I wondered what drugs he did before the show. J. Lo is just too nice. Randy is still Randy, and I do miss Simon. These kids need some reality checks sometimes.

I don't get why everyone likes Ashthon, she hasn't sung well for several weeks. Same with Paul. If I don't have to look at him he's ok, but watching him is like watching someone having an epileptic seizure. Most people move to the beat, he's just all over the place.

Scotty may be only able to do country, but he does it extremely well. He sings from his heart & soul, telling the story the song is saying, not just singing words.

Love Casey, but not his best night, maybe because I have high expectations for him. You're right, Jacob way oversang! And he's getting in a rut, sounding the same every week. It's like he's singing the same song. Time to mix it up.

I thought James was the best of the night, really showed he has a great voice as well as being able to scream metal.

Great write-up as always, looking forward to more of your thoughts! :)

Anonymous said...


Enjoy your blog. Agree the contestants are good this year. Agree judges were too nice last night and Simon's brutal advice is missed. But they did have at least some reservations on several performances. Your description of them saying everyone was amazing doesn't ring true and makes reading your recaps less enjoyable for those of us who watch the show. Stay golden.

SpunkyBug said...

Love your recaps! I actually think Lauren, Stefano and Haley are in trouble, but your three sound plausible as well. There was something a little creepy about Paul last night. The lounge part of Thia's song was terrible. And I just can't warm up to Karen -- what is it with her, is it her blatant sucking up to JLo? Also, I think poor Ashthon is lost in the woods. We could just fast forward to Casey, Pia, James and Jacob, maybe Naima and save a lot time. But it is fun to plod through every week waiting for those rare truly memorable performances.

The part with Ryan trying to do Paul's dance was kind of funny. But he never would have tried that with Simon around. Simon was such a bully to Ryan -- so even though I'm not a Ryan fan, it's nice to see that maybe he's loosening up.

BTW, fake eyelashes have become almost mandatory in the last year or so. I find them extremely distracting on certain shows (Glee comes to mind).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ken -- spot on, as always.

I never thought I'd say this, but I miss Simon. It's a scary state of AI affairs when Randy is the only reasonable judge offering something close to reality-based opinions about the contestants' performances.

It's become a meaningless, syrupy mutual adoration club, and I cannot figure out on what basis these contestants were really chosen (for example, is Lusk really so great? the guy cannot stay in tune if his life depended on it).

The only one really talented and remotely interesting is Abrams, but he needs to let go of that screeching schtick already and actually sing (as he did with "Georgia on my mind" during auditions) to remind us why we should keep watching him -- and maybe vote, too.

The rest of them are mediocre and/or boring. Including the judges.

404 said...

Ken, this is one of the funniest damn things I've read in a long time, and one of the reasons is because it's so freaking true. I was watching last night thinking after almost every performance how terrible it sounded, only to hear one of the "judges" go on and on about how awesome it was. I mean, did they HEAR Paul singing? The entire first verse was nowhere close to being in tune! And yet they had nothing but praise for him and others. I think Jacob will give me nightmares. Am I the only one who thinks that his over-the-top style of singing, with the singer constantly half in tears, is nothing short of annoying as hell? And some of the others aren't much better!

word verification: trishati "a small, Italian pastry"

RockGolf said...

The one word that kept coming to mind when, in mid-song, we'd get a view of the judges' table:


Anonymous said...

Nobody wants to say it so I will: Kara DioGuardi was a better judge than these guys, and she set a pretty low bar.

Nathan said...

If Paul McDonald whitens his teeth one more shade, they won't need lighting for him. You'll just be able to watch him do a Cheshire Cat impersonation.

And then, him off.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken...You were kidding when you said Carmen Mirando instead of Carmen Miranda...right?

cshel said...

Ken -

Thanks so much for another AI blog post! So funny. Even if the judges didn't really tell everyone they slayed it.

I like all of the judges, but I miss Simon, too. For what it's worth, even Simon said this season of AI was much better than last season, so... He's also pursuing Paula to be a judge on his new show...

I find Steven Tyler fascinating to watch and find his comments very entertaining. I think he and JLo will get tougher very soon...I hope.

I can't stand Jacob's singing. I keep thinking it must sound sensational only in person. I like James and Casey. Paul's teeth are other-worldly-white, but I bet he's not going home.

This cracked me up: "Hey, I was introduced to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE from Bugs Bunny." Me, too. As well as THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Only I didn't know it until years later when I finally saw the film and got the joke.

I'll buy your book in paperback. But I'm really looking forward to that other book you're writing. Hurry up!

Ken Levine said...

Yes, Jeff. Just a typo. Thanks for the catch.

Anonymous said...

Ken said..---"Stefano Langone chose to turn Stevie Wonder’s heartbreaking ballad “Lately” into a disco song. Do they even listen to the words? Someone from Japan, singing phonetically, would know not to turn “Lately” into a disco song. Where were the legendary music beatniks?"---

Reminds me of when Katherine Mcphee tried to turn Since I Fell For You into an upbeat song and smiled throughout the whole thing.

analee said...

You have a great ideas about the American Idol..

Anonymous said...

Classic post. Your product placement slayed me.

"This man can cure lepers with his urine!" I don't know where this came from but haaaa!

Scotty can ride his one trick pony aaaallll day long in my opinion.

Going to the Idol panel Monday for Paley Fest - not sure what to expect...

Carmen Mirando said...

Wow. My one chance at some notoriety and I'm blown off as a 'typo'. Great. Thanks, all.

D. McEwan said...

I am surprised at all the venom in the coments directed at Paul, who is one of the very few interesting and enjoyable singers on the show this season, and the only reason I tuned in again this week (on DVR. I fast-forwarded through all the girls, except to hear SMILE destroyed by its arrangement. Poor song. In less than a month it has Celine Dion and now this.)

Paul has got a voice that is million times more interesting to hear than most of those cookie-cutter voices, and his grin is infectious and enjoyable.

jbryant said...

Yeah, Paul is cool.

I notice Ken gave Ashthon's second "h" to Casey AbraHms.

Steve said...

Great stuff. I actually laughed out loud several times. Hope you are well, and relatively sane.

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