Sunday, May 28, 2006

American Idol Gala Extravaganza!

Ten seconds into his audition, I knew I wanted to see Taylor Hicks in the top twenty four, and figured he was just enough of a unique fringe talent to end up there after the Hollywood cuts. Even as recently as the top six, I didn't expect him to win once "goofy older brother" syndrome caught up with him and the voting public realized that he was a bit too eccentric. But in the end he pulled it out easily (note the lack of on-air talk about the voting results -- when the vote is close, AI always plays it up) as Katharine was back to wearing the "I know I'm fucked" expression all over her face as the results were read. Unlike the week when Chris was eliminated (the five seconds that followed that announcement, complete with Kat and Chris' priceless expressions, will stand out as the most oft-remembered moment of the season) she was entirely at peace with her all-but-certain fate this time around. And why not? Every actor on TV would have killed for the audience that had tuned in to watch her sing, making the finale had earned her a debut single no matter what the result, she'd starved herself for months to slim down to her season-ending scrumptious self and become probably the most gorgeous person on TV in the process.

Wednesday's finale drew 36 million viewers in the US, with a peak of around 45 million. In Canada, those numbers were 5.2 million and 8 million, respectively. That means roughly 1-in-6 Canadians watched the show compared to 1-in-8 Americans. Does the Idols summer tour come to Canada? Er, maybe it should?

Best of all, they ditched the usual format for the finale (which included an hour of waiting around backstage for the real show to start) and made it a full-fledged musical gala. The quality of the performances and guest artists rivaled the Grammys or the MTV Music Awards, and everyone was having so much fun onstage that it was easy to forget that we were supposed to be nervously waiting to find out who the winner was. Ignoring the silly but entertaining mock award segments and other miscellaneous taped/review bits*, here's a look at the performances:

*OK, I have to mention the Puck & Pickler segments, which were adorable and if FOX TV executives have any brains then they're hurriedly planning a role-reversed version of "The Simple Life" for the fall season.

1. Carrie Underwood returns again this season to capitalize on her country music awards momentum lead Taylor and Kat through Barry Manilow's "I Made It Through the Rain" (one apropos track among a spate of them during the final week) with the rest of the top twelve backing them up. Everyone is wearing white outfits and by the end of it I could swear that I'm watching, I don't know, "West Side Story".

2. Paris Bennett and Al Jarreau sing "We're In This Love Together", and Paris' huge voice utterly dominates Jarreau's in his very own song. As great as this was, by the time the night is over I'll have forgotten about this completely, which is a puzzling aspect of Paris' consistently fine performances, at least for me.

3. Chris gets to fulfill his dream by singing "Your Mystery" with Live, keeping in line with his usual habit of performing songs that nobody cares about when he could have sung "Lightning Crashes" instead. He easily outsings Ed Kowalcyk, which convinces me that as a "pure rocker", he probably does surpass Bo Bice. Bo is a versatile talent who can sing rock, blues, and soul in a multitude of styles. Chris can only sing "pure" mid-90's angst rock. Yes, he still sucks.

4. Has it really been fourteen years since "Bat Out of Hell II"? Time for Part III already? Realizing this has to be one of my top five all-time "damn, I'm getting old" moments. This oddly atonal arrangement of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" is validated by Meat's typically manic intensity and Kat's spectacularly cleavage-enhanced dress, the latter of which will be making pleasant appearances in my dreams for the next few years. In all seriousness, if all else fails (and even if it doesn't!) then she needs to tour with Meatloaf as the hoochie sidekick who duets with him on songs like "Paradise By the Dashboard Light".

5. During the guys' group medley, Taylor busts out his harmonica for the first time since the final Hollywood cuts. Last year's Idols were talented individually but never seemed to gel when singing together. This year's group doesn't have that problem. Bucky sounds about a million times better than he did at the start of the season.

6. Elliott and Mary J. Blige try to recreate her "One" moment with Bono from the Grammys. Elliott doesn't have a "big" voice, so once MJB gets going he smartly doesn't try to compete with her. In fact, he was mostly a spectator once she stepped on stage, standing off to the side and looking thrilled to be sharing a stage with MJB.

7. If Pickler could sing like Carrie, she'd have been in the finale with Taylor. If Carrie had Pickler's personality she'd be the greatest Idol winner ever. Although if Kat was half the singer she wants to be (= Mariah Carey) then she'd wipe the floor with them both. Hey, it's only been three paragraphs since I've mentioned how hot Kat is.

8. The evening's biggest trainwreck is Taylor and Toni Braxton struggling through "In the Ghetto". It wasn't Taylor's fault though -- Braxton sounds horrible, possibly because the song is in the wrong key for her. And call me a prude if you must, but rubbing oneself against Taylor's leg when singing a song about poverty feels a tiny bit inappropriate.

9. The female Idols parade through about 194 songs with the word "woman" in the title. OK, I get it, they're all women. Say it loud, they're women and they're proud. Nobody remembers Melissa McGhee anymore. I feel bad for her when she sings and nobody cheers for her. The whole medley felt like a diva display for Kat, unlike the guys medley where Taylor just blended in.

10. Michael Sandecki, AKA Clay Aiken's #1 fan from the auditions, is invited onstage to sing and can you see the Clay Aiken surprise appearance coming from ten miles away? Apparently Sandecki didn't (in post-show interviews, Seacrest states that he had to hold him to keep him from falling down, contrary to my suspicion that the entire segment was elaborately staged). I like Clay's new look, with his hair grown out and dyed brown, so sue me. At this time, let us recall that Simon Cowell, whose image of a pop star has been enforced by his work with Il Divo and Westlife, passed on both Clay and Taylor. He started by feeding them his "it's not just about the voice" criticism (i.e. "you're too ugly to be a star"), and berated their singing styles the whole season. With Clay it was "I feel like I should be hearing you on Broadway, not on the radio" and with Taylor he regularly interprets anything with soul as a drunk wedding performance (fine, Taylor's dancing doesn't help).

11. The entire top twelve performs a masterful ten-minute medley of Burt Bacharach songs, accompanied by Burt himself on piano. Gorgeous. Timeless. Who thought it would be a good idea to have Chris sing lines from "Arthur's Theme"? Chris sounds like shit when he's forced to do anything other than mid-90's angst rock : Exhibit ZZ. Dionne Warwick's walk-on is predictable but necessary, as is the closing "That's What Friends Are For" with the entire troupe. I've always hated this song, but in pro wrestling, this would be called "great booking".

12. The Brokenote Cowboys are surprisingly decent and not at all embarrassing. There's magic in the air tonight, folks.

13. Shocking doesn't begin to describe the appearance by Prince. He's a notoriously reclusive character who avoids awards shows like Ruben Studdard avoids exercise ... and he turns up on American Idol? Remember how big a deal it was when he performed on the Grammys with Beyonce in 2004? For whatever reason (Prince's ego?) this is a solo gig, which makes me wonder why he's here other than for self-promotion on one of the most watched shows of the TV season. Yes, Taylor and Katharine would both show him up height-wise, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have done a duet of "Kiss" with Paris.

14. Taylor's voice is completely unsuited for something as bland as "I've Had the Time of My Life". I'm overcome with new admiration for Bill Medley for somehow making this song work. It's a perfect song for Kat though.

15. The results are in, David Hasselhoff is crying (!!?!?!?!?!!!!), and I've now decided that Taylor's single, "Do I Make You Proud" is kinda awesome after all ...


Deidre said...

I loved Pickler, too! Someone needs to give her a TV show. Honestly, she doesn't annoy me at all for some reason! And I just can't get over David Hasselhoff. After Taylor winning, that was my second-favorite moment.

Barry said...

Actually announcing the winner was a huge anticlimax following the two hours that came before it, and Taylor's win was pretty much assured anyway. Then, in the midst of the most predictable moment of the show, they cut away to the most unpredictable sight you could think of -- Hasselhoff crying into his eyeglasses. Holee shit. Thank you American Idol.

ChrisSligh said...

I like your comments on last year's finale. I just thought you might enjoy my thoughts as I go through the AI process of auditions.

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