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The Very Best Moments of American Idol 2009 (Part II)

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Conclusion to Yesterday’s Featured Story

 

How Quentin Tarantino wound up a guest mentor is anybody’s guess.  If Idol wanted a film director, maybe Quentin was their second choice.  With a long history of weaving the most appropriate and moving musical selections into his films, perhaps the show’s first selection was Martin Scorsese. Witness Scorsese’s long-time association with the legendary Robbie Robertson, the singer-songwriter best known for his contributions to The Band and producer of a respectable body of solo work.  Hey, maybe Scorsese was tied up.  Then again, maybe he just valued his musical integrity too much to lend a hand.

 

While we’re on the topic of incongruous mentors, I would be remiss in leaving Jamie Foxx out of the mix.   Now, Jamie Foxx makes me laugh until I double over and his acting ability is evidenced by the Oscar he captured for his portrayal as the Genius of Soul, Ray Charles.  Unfortunately, Jamie’s no musical genius; he’s not even in the same galaxy.  Methinks Brother Ray’s portrayer woke up one day longing to be a rock star.  Instead, he settled for what’s been passing for music too long on commercial radio, because, hey, anyone can do it; no talent required!  In one of the most painful performances ever aired on an Idol stage, Jamie Foxx bopped around with his singing voice (what there was of it) pulled through a techno-fuzzbox.  Five seconds into the act, and this gal hit the fast forward button.   Thank God that in so doing, I did not miss the next greatest moment, which was …     

 

Adam Lambert.  All right, I lied.  Lambert was not the giver of a single moment of delight.  This oddball risk-taker was this season’s crowning glory, a ray of light in the stumbling darkness. Okay, dimness (Allison Iraheta’s pipes slew me for their likeness to a very young Joplin — Janis, not Scott; get with the program!).  Initiated by the Beatles, pushed further out of the envelope by The Stones, and elevated to an art form by David Bowie in his Spiders from Mars days, androgyny in pop-rock sells.  Contestant Adam Lambert had sexual confusion nailed; mainly, he confused the hell out of every viewer until solid evidence of his orientation surfaced, as do all things, on the Net.  Lambert, the glam-rocker of this year’s crop, was also in possession of serious vocal chops, an inspired balance of confidence and humility, and perhaps most importantly, a wicked fashion sense.  None of Lambert’s admirable attributes, however, could withstand the executive producer’s ego, a manifestation of which provided me with my next OMG moment, which was …

 

Fight the good fight, ’60’s style or go down tryin’.  At the finale, said producer Simon Fuller dictated two different yet legendary, politically charged songs to the two contestants still standing.  Grinning like The Happy Wanderer (a mindset to which fictitious mob boss Tony Soprano studiously aspired and never achieved), Kris Allen presented the most disturbing rendition of “What’s Goin’ On” that this music aficionado has ever heard.  Allen’s wussy-cheerful delivery of this iron fist-in-a-velvet-glove, anti-war treatise was enough to send the brilliant Marvin Gaye, the song’s original artist, spinning in his grave.

 

The piece de resistance, however, came on the wings of Fuller’s edict that Adam Lambert offer up Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”: arguably the most outrageous, surreal, and jaw-dropping moment this show has ever aired.  I never thought I’d live long enough to see a big white gay boy sing a gifted black man’s most poignant and haunting of pleas for racial equality.  But I did.  This was either an act of dementia on the producer’s part, or a crafty ploy to create the campiest moment that this warm and fuzzy family show has ever seen.

 

Although powerfully understated in his delivery — which is what the song, at the very least, deserves — this gentle protest cry was wildly inappropriate in the mouth of a guy wearing a silver suit and an earring in each ear.  But, hey, that guy in the silver suit and earrings accepted Simon Fuller’s doubtless unwitting invitation to put the nation on notice that not only was a “change a-gonna come” on its favorite family show, it already had.

The Very Best Moments of American Idol, 2009 (Part I)

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It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons: American Idol, 2009.  But now that it’s over, including the shouting, why dwell on the shortcomings of 19 Entertainment’s golden child, the American dream gone haywire?  Why do that when, week after never ending week, the show brought such fun into the living rooms of so many across the nation? 

 

Every viewer remembers with fondness his or her favorite moments.  Here are mine:

 

Hero worship of the Almighty Buck.  Who says capitalism is dead?  It’s alive and well on American Idol and thriving with each passing season!  Seven years after Kelly Clarkson, the show’s first winner, warbled her tearful victory song, Fox’s brainchild has come a long way from its illusion of empowering unknowns to realize the American dream through million-dollar recording contracts (from which, by the way, hefty promotional and other mandatory fees are sucked).  Now that Idol’s rampant capitalism is out in the open, I say, “Bravo!” for honesty is the best policy.  Simon Cowell, the business shark-cum-judge, is to thank for letting the cat out of the bag.  Early on this season, he deadpanned to a contestant not to his liking, “We are looking for the entire package” — thereby broadly hinting that said contestant did not represent that package.  If a candidate does not possess bodacious looks (or at best, inoffensive) along with a ready-made stage presence and oh yeah, a palatable voice, he or she has about a snowball’s chance in hell of advancing within the competition — if Simon and his fellow judges have anything to say about it.   And they do.

 

But this not about Simon.  I’m talkin’ important stuff here, the thing that pumps the heart of every megalomaniac.  Molded upon its British predecessor, Idol was, of course, conceived as a moneymaker.  With Season 8 less than 24 hours behind us, the show has far surpassed this gal’s original assessment of it as a goldmine.  From paid downloads to pricey post-finale tour tickets to a plethora of merchandise that has Disney, Idol’s recent affiliate, grinning like good ol’ Mickey Mouse, to the commercials whose airtime rivals that of the actual performances and has, in several cases, caused the show to run late, it is clear.  The economy is booming, at least for those at the top of the Idol food chain.  

 

The introduction of the fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi.  With the addition of seasoned songwriter, one Kara DioGuardi, Idol may have sought to offset the elevator-like moods of Paula Abdul or perhaps enhance the show’s respectability.  All hope died aborning.  Entrenched in 19 Entertainment’s stable of writers, DioGuardi is the author and/co-author of the schlockiest tunes that the show’s winners and runners-up are obligated to include in their first post-Idol CD’s.  As a bastion of blatant commercialism, Simon Cowell’s take on music is as far removed from a genuine art form as Michael Jackson is from reality.  However, on air during the finale, Cowell himself decried the cheesiness of a song penned by DioGuardi, a song intended as the show’s tiebreaker for the two who battled it out on stage Tuesday night.   That would be Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.  I had to clarify the combatants because the previous week, DioGuardi and Cowell themselves nearly came to blows on air.

 

The near-fisticuffs resulted from Simon’s criticism of a song that Kara both had created and chosen for Danny Gokey.  Danny is the guy who, hmmm, had held the third-highest spot in the contest before he was forced to sing Kara’s song and yes, subsequently got voted off.  As Kara and Cowell continued to differ over what constitutes musical artistry, DioGuardi’s hot, vitriolic salvo degenerated into biting imitation of the judge whose wardrobe consists of three T-shirts.  When host Ryan Seacrest admonished the judges throughout the season to “Play nicely, children”, he meant it … particularly the “children” part.  Which brings me to my next choicest moment, the Judge’s Save!

 

My favorite new addition to this season, the Judge’s Save blows to smithereens, once and for all, the delusion that the American public chooses which contestant gets the boot and which one lives to see another round.  By consensus and majority rule, the four judges are empowered to rescue a single contestant from the chopping block.  Alexis Grace, the tiny girl with the big, promising voice, was the victim of this subterfuge.  The precise moment that the kid opened her mouth to sing once more for her life, the judges went into a Hail Mary huddle, buzzing audibly over their decision: a resounding “No.”  How the judges could have heard Alexis perform as they yammered on will remain one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe.  Clearly, the panel had made up its collective mind well in advance.  So much for the deus ex machina.  The decision to pull somebody’s you-know-what out of the fire came much later in the season with contestant Matt Giraud.

 

Waffling between contemporary R&B, old school soul, and boy band sound, this young man with a sporadically decent voice and an unfortunate ubiquitous fedora failed to define his stage persona and, ultimately, garner lasting support from the viewers.  When America had had enough of this kid, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi rushed to his aid.  As a grateful Matt wept with relief, believing his talent worthy of the save, Simon Cowell viciously cut the celebration short.  He let the world know that Matt would not advance past the following week.  To rob that young man of his shining victory before the American viewing public was akin to watching someone kick a newly healed animal for the sheer, sick fun of it.  Cowell’s monumental hubris demands that he have the very last word, no matter how long its acid may scorch a contestant’s psyche or the minds of potential record producers.   And, Idol/19 wouldn’t have it any other way.         

 

Paula Abdul’s performance (singing, that is).  Whatever possessed a middle-age choreographer who could not sing a lick back when she was playing footsy with Arsenio Hall — and who still can’t — to take the stage during the world’s biggest singing contest?  Was it validation?  Record sales?  Exhibitionism? That nasally-thready voice robotized through an electronic box, the hairstyle and lighting calculated to disguise her age, the Madonna production-like sycophants lifting and tossing Abdul about like so much floss all added up to one of the most cringing moments of my life.  Sadly, that is not a moment I will ever get back.  Ever.

 

But hey, it’s not Paula’s fault.  She was simply jumping on the bandwagon of the show’s newest trend of giving airtime to people without an ounce of musical talent, i.e., the guest mentors!

 

Read Part II tomorrow on Write On New Jersey.

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