A Little Slow, A Lot of Weird in Idol's Motown
Guest blogger Tamara Jones fills in this week for Washington Post television columnist Lisa de Moraes.
Note to Readers: Lisa will return to her regular posting schedule next week.
Motown, not slowtown.
In case you were wondering just how boring American Idol could possibly get this season, here's a clue: The show's own judges are now resorting to drawing mustaches on each other's faces during performances, and the stylists are getting their yuks by dressing the blind guy in pink pants.
And those were arguably the highlights of last night's tribute to the 50th anniversary of one of pop music's most influential labels.
"I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to it," judge Simon Cowell cautions before the show begins. Trust him.
In honor of Motown, the Idolettes take a field trip to the Motor City this week to visit Hitsville, where Berry Gordy launched the label and recorded most of its stars. Only powerhouse Lil Rounds, the sole African-American among the 10 finalists, seems to have any genuine grasp of the history the place holds.
Back in Hollywood, we discover that Smokey Robinson will serve both as guest mentor and living "help I'm stuck in a wind-tunnel" proof that men should not have face-lifts. Our hopes are raised for some great coaching.
Raised, and then dashed.
The Smokester thinks everyone is awesome and shouldn't change a thing.
Matt Giraud is the first of the 10 finalists to take the stage, showing off his falsetto for "Let's Get It On." Cowabunga! Vocal range ain't all he's showing. Matt is wearing beige trousers that are at least three sizes too small. Face, face! Pan the cameras to his face! Stay on the face!
The judges all like him, but given the way Kara Dio Guardi growls, "let's git it aawwwwwwwwwn," he may want to change hotel rooms. Or cities.
Kris Allen reminds us a bit of Dreadlock Boy from last season when he strums his guitar for a pleasant version of "How Sweet It Is." The judges agree it was a smart song choice, well-done, but Simon wishes Kris would learn to swagger.
"To be a star, you've got to be conceited," he instructs. (And wear sweat-stained t-shirts, too, O Chosen One?)
Scott MacIntyre learns the hard way that a) he is not the Lost Supreme and, b) he should demand a full description of the clothes Idol stylists put him in before wearing said ensemble onstage. "You Can't Hurry Love," but can we please hurry to a commercial break? Someday soon, you will open an overpriced greeting card at a Hallmark store and hear Scott singing. He's going straight to microchip.
Simon sums up his horror with a line from the song: "How much more can I take?" He even hates Scott's piano-playing, calling it "honky-tonk."
Paula claims to have liked it, and bases this on how placing the three backup singers right at the piano "brought whole new life" to Scott's performance.
"I don't agree with Simon very often," Randy begins, only to be interrupted by Paula shouting, "Yes!"
"No," he tells her. "I'm kinda agreeing."
Paula is puzzled to find herself back on Earth.
"Oh. You're agreeing?"
Randy and Kara offer their usual 100-calorie snackpacks of meaningless commentary, while Paula takes a solo spin farther away from the known galaxy.
"I have something for Simon!" she cries, diving under the table for several long, discomfiting moments. Ryan looks anxious. Simon looks happy. Paula resurfaces with a box of 64 Crayola crayons and a coloring book, "for the child," she triumphantly sniffs, plopping them in front of Simon.
Bad move. See 'mustaches,' above.
Host Ryan Seacrest explains the visual gag to MacIntyre, who makes a joke about the flesh-pink crayon color of his pants.
"How do you know they're pink?" demands Ryan, suddenly remembering that his contract requires him to ridicule the blind man at least once every show.
"They didn't tell me until 10 minutes before I went on," MacIntyre laments. We're thinking they also failed to mention the paisley shirt and the pinstripe brown jacket.
After a much-needed break, Ryan goes straight to Paula because, hey, short of "Intervention," when do you get to see live crazy on TV?
"Dare I ask what else you have under the table?" Ryan prods.
"It's under my skirt!" Paula crows.
Face, face! Please oh please keep cameras on face.
(Did we mention that Paula's skirt tonight is actually a tutu? The stiff kind like the ballerina from our girlhood musicbox except she didn't wear a dirty-girl corset with it?)
Oh boy, it's Megan Joy! (She used to be Megan Joy Corkrey, but amputating her surname was the only way they could save her after she became Patient Zero in the Idol flu epidemic last week.)
We are sorely needing something to cut the evening's persistent vanilla aftertaste, and we're sure we can count on beguilingly odd Megan ("half-jazz, half-cabaret," Smokey Robinson explains).
But Megan muffs it by choosing "For Once In My Life" and singing it like she was doing wind sprints on a pogo stick.
"That song was a trainwreck for me," Randy says.
Kara thinks she should've sung "My Guy," and demonstrates by singing a bar, with Randy's help.
Paula delivers her signature kiss o' death: "Your stunning beauty takes my breath away."
Simon adds, "Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. It was horrible. Whoever advises you needs to be fired. You're getting some really, really terrible advice."
Simon wants to fire Smokey? Can it wait until tomorrow? We were kinda hoping he'd get to sing.
Anoop Desai, who is at least twice his advertised age of 22, delivers a tender "Ooh Baby, Baby," but he looks so drowsy that we wonder whether he's mistakenly sipped from Paula's magic cup and lacks the built-up immunity to remain conscious. The judges like the song, but agree with us that he needs more RPMs. "Get the party on!" exhorts Randy, who should know better, sitting so close to Tutu Twitty.
Smokey, maybe worried about being downsized by Simon, finally offers some actual advice, warning oil-rigger dude Michael Sarver that he needs to "pound it a little" on "Ain't Too Proud To Beg." This is guy talk for, "Man, don't prissy up my song like that!"
Ryan reveals that Sarver was so sick that Idol Doctors ordered him to miss the Detroit field trip. "But I feel a lot better now," Sarver unwisely insists.
Never, ever give back the pity card.
Sarver promptly karaokes a follow-the-bouncing-ball performance so awful that even Miss Nicey-Nice is bummed. "Well, um, oh boy, this is hard for me," Paula stammers, before declaring it "a little old-Las Vegas-loungey..." Sarver coughs, trying too late to recreate the brave, consumptive Camille role that saved Megan Joy's fluey patootie last week.
"You have no chance of winning," Simon sneers.
Randy and Kara pile on. "You made it a little corny," Randy scolds. "It's not about singing, it's about artistry," adds Kara, who is starting to remind us of a snotty sorority president during rush week. You are so unworthy to pledge Kappa Kara Lessa.
Lil Rounds takes the Motown homage to heart, wearing stilettos, a fabulous fringed flapper-dress and a shellacked albeit lopsided Supremes wig. Smokey, obviously desperate to regain Simon's favor by stealing one of the judges' collective clichés, declares that Lil can sing the phone book.
Maybe she should've, then.
Cause "Heat Wave" doesn't exactly make us break out in a sweat. Lil does indeed have, as Randy puts it, "mad crazy vocals," but not tonight. He thinks she was rushing. Paula thinks Lil owns that song, which probably comes to a surprise to Berry Gordy, sitting in the front row. Simon wishes she had sung "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
But now the time has come to be either really, really entertained or really, really scared. Adam "Goth as Musical Theater" Lambert is about to give us his interpretation of Motown. We needed stitches after his interpretation of Grand Ole Opry, but we admit we're curious, in a masochistic sort of way. Also intriguing: During his coaching session, Adam has the smarts to ask Smokey Robinson what inspired him to write the song he's chosen.
One of the characters from "Mad Men" appears onstage in a sharp grey suit and hair that has been brutally Brylcremed into side-parted, slicked back submission. The stranger has stolen Adam's voice, and begins to sing "Track of My Tears" in fabulous falsetto. Adam's ballad manages to be both soft and taut, and thumpity-thump, take off the makeup and the nail polish, and the guy cleans up nicely.
Adam scores standing ovations not only from Paula and Kara, but from Smokey and Berry Gordy, as well.
"Unbelievably hot," says Randy.
"You are exciting, you are it," trills Paula.
"You really have emerged as a star," says Simon, completing the canonization ceremony.
Finally getting the hang of this coaching thing, Smokey warns Danny Gokey not to leave the signature refrain "you're outta sight" to the backup singers in "Get Ready." Danny agrees, then promptly disregards the advice.
Paula pronounces him "undeniable, identifiable, always reliable," then returns to her green eggs n' ham.
Simon decrees Danny's performance "clumsy and amateurish," but he doesn't even try to find words to rhyme with those. Spoil sport.
Randy and Kara, continuing their bold season-long experiment in fusion-judging, love Danny's energy, love his personality. But the singing? Eh.
Last, but determined not to be least, is magenta-haired 16-year-old Allison "Cherry Bomb" Iraheta, who slam-dunks "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," ending with a power note reminiscient of Kelly Clarkson's breakaway performances that won her the title in Season One.
Allison gets the same standing O's Adam did, but her victory lap is ruined by the antics of Paula and Simon, who were too busy playing with their box of Crayons to pretend to do the scant little they're being paid millions of dollars to do. Randy calls Allison "blazin' hot," and Kara rubs it in that Allison was in the bottom three last week, even though she sounds like a pro who's been singing "for 400 years."
When it's Paula's turn, poor Allison is visibly taken aback, and sounds justifiably hurt when she asks: "Why'd you hafta do that?"
The camera zooms to Paula's face, adorned by a black mustache that she giggles Simon has drawn on her. She makes a big show of covering it with her fingers and mumbling some nonsense praise. Simon tosses out a token "you're a survivor" at Allison between guffaws.
Too bad viewers can't just vote for the worst performance. A surprise judge elimination would be just the ticket to spice things up this season.
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