(I was going to post this right after the Michael Jackson week performances on American Idol, but then I got unexpectedly hijacked by a Simon Cowell obsession. Yes, I know. But look! He likes puppies! Anyway, since it was halfway written already, I thought I might as well just finish it up and slap it on here even though it’s unbelievably late. Country week tonight, yee-hah!)
Speaking as a total Michael Jackson lunatic familiar with pretty much every lyric, note and dance move the man has ever committed to public record, this was an interesting week for me on American Idol. Before the show, I tried making a list of what I’d have picked for each contestant and why, and found it fairly challenging. So many fantastic MJ songs are about delivering a complete performance rather than hanging everything on the sort of glory notes that get you praise on American Idol, and of course if you pick a song which is forever linked with an iconic performance, it has to be for the sort of contestant who can pull off a very different take. David Cook did a good job with Billie Jean last season, but I still credit Chris Cornell more for the success of that performance than David himself.
But then I watched the show and definitely got a couple of surprises. (Note: I didn’t do Youtube links to the performances because new American Idol vids on Youtube appear and disappear all the time, but just do a search and you should be able to find at least a few uploads that haven’t been deleted yet.)
I’d pick: Keep The Faith. Nothing has set her apart so far from the many shouty divas who initially impress but aren’t ultimately unique enough to stay. This song suits said shouty divaness, but also has plenty of room for showcasing subtlety, growly gospel riffs and all-round flava.
She picked: The Way You Make Me Feel. I didn’t like it at all, and don’t feel she brought anything new to it. I think the slower tempo lost her the exuberance of Michael’s version and didn’t gain her any sexiness or soulfulness in return.
I’d pick: Stranger In Moscow. Scott’s not my kind of artist, but I think he would do an earnest, clear-voiced performance of this song which would appeal to his core fanbase. Variety no, sticking to your strengths yes.
He picked: Keep The Faith. Strangely, despite Scott’s utter lack of above-mentioned gospel flava I think the performance worked out well for him. Most people don’t know the song so they won’t be making the same comparisons as I am to Michael’s version, and at least it was something a little different from his adult contemporary balladeer zone.
I’d pick: Man, I don’t know. I definitely don’t want any more Heroesque “lies in YOUUUUU” pointy gestures but I’m not sure he’s capable of dialling down the schmaltz. I wish Matt Giraud hadn’t already sung Who’s Loving You in the wild card round, because I think Danny could have done it better. (Not that any version will ever top baby Michael’s.)
He picked: P.Y.T. Not bad! A brave non-obvious choice and he threw himself into it with some abandon, which I liked, spazzy dancing included. Above all, kudos for not exploiting his (yes, admittedly sad) backstory by picking Gone Too Soon, because that would really really turn me off.
I’d pick: I don’t think this guy’s good at upbeat stuff, and am pretty amazed he got through the first week with that awful I Don’t Wanna Be karaoke. I think Human Nature is the sort of oh-he’s-such-a-SNAG-despite-being-a-roughneck ballad that would work for him.
He picked: You Are Not Alone. He did well to pick an arrangement that made the song less deathly dull than it is, but then he spiralled into off-pitch belting. Again, enthusiastic karaoke by a nice guy, but that’s just not good enough.
I’d pick: Black Or White. She needs to not do another treacly ballad, and this would be suitably upbeat. I still wouldn’t like it much, I reckon, but I’ll never like her much anyway.
She picked: I’ll Be There. Boring and flat, not just in pitch but in the tone of her voice and her rendition of the song. I don’t agree that she combined bits of the Michael and Mariah versions, I think she tried the straightforwardness of the Michael version without possessing the purity of his voice that made it special.
I’d pick: Remember The Time, because he needs to do something less Mickey Mouse Club than his previous Man In The Mirror, which I hated. Remember The Time is groovy and playful without requiring too much smoulder for his boy band face to handle.
He picked: Remember The Time. I’m really surprised at how much I liked this! The guitar may not have added much musically, but it did give the song a slightly different flavour from the original, and brought out an ebullient, charming performance from Kris which really should seal his popularity with the tweens. Hell, I felt the “adorable-sexy” too!
I’d pick: Give In To Me. I see her giving the verses the soulful, slightly melancholic feel she did with Alone (my favourite performance of the opening rounds), and then kicking into rock chick overdrive with the chorus.
She picked: Give In To Me. Didn’t like it! It felt like the whole song was in rock chick overdrive right from the start with no build-up, and with that awful outfit (she’s not fat but I’d still go easy on the leather shorts) it felt overdone, like she was in a bad soap opera’s depiction of a rock concert. Also, while I forgave her tendency to sing slightly flat on the high notes with Alone because the rest of that performance was so kick-ass, I’m going to stop forgiving her from now on.
I’d pick: The Way You Make Me Feel. Suits his stage presence and energy, and I’m guessing it’s within his vocal range.
He picked: Beat It. So awful that even Paula couldn’t manage to say anything good. If you do this song you have to change it up, but he sang it straight and sang it badly. I’m rather depressed about this, because I liked him a lot before the live rounds.
I’d pick: He could do the Spanish version of I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, maybe, but I’d pick Whatever Happens. It’s not very well known, but I think it suits his singing style.
He picked: Never Can Say Goodbye. I really don’t think this was anywhere as bad as the judges did. The arrangement and performance was corny, but that’s kinda what Jorge is, and I thought his vocals were far better than Michael Sarver’s.
I’d pick: Dirty Diana. He could either camp it up or strip it down, and either way I think he’d bring the drama.
He picked: Black Or White. I’ve never wanted to like Adam. I hate his hair, his fashion sense, and despised his Believe cover in Hollywood week. But somehow he managed to embrace the shitness of Black Or White and totally, electrifyingly transcend it! Like him or not, I think people will have to start admitting that they’re curious every week to see what he’ll come up with next.
I’d pick: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’? Some of the quirky vocal tics in the verses might suit her, but the minus is we’d get more of her hideous dancing.
She picked: Rockin’ Robin. Not as disastrous as I expected – there was one line where she did a pretty nice yodelly sort of inflection – but ROCKIN’ FUCKIN’ ROBIN, ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?! I want the awesome Megan that auditioned sounding like Billie Holiday back please, not this nightmarish shittypop equivalent of Kimya Dawson.
I’d pick: She’s Out Of My Life. I know he should probably do something more upbeat than another ballad, but it would help me figure out if overdoing the riffing is just something he did with Who’s Loving You, or something he does all the time.
He picked: Human Nature. It wasn’t perfectly sung but somehow I really loved the relaxed, carefree way he did this. He’s no Elliott but because I adore the song, am a total sucker for piano guys, and love the tenderness and delicacy of how he sang the “does he do me that way” lyric, this was my favourite performance of the night and I may be starting to find him a little dreamy.
I’d pick: Come Together. (Not a MJ song per se but still fair game since he recorded and released a cover version.) I’m personally not sold on her new pocket sexpot persona but the aggression and attitude of this song suit what she’s been trying to project.
She picked: Dirty Diana. The first verse was very promising, but it got a little repetitive after that. The song can handle a lot of oversinging, but Adam did a better job of oversinging while keeping things interesting than she did.