The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Since its premier following the second to last episode of American Idol last year, Glee has enjoyed a nice relationship with the “reality” TV juggernaut.
Maybe too nice.
Much has been made of the disappointing group of contestants for this year’s Idol which, along with the impending departure of Simon Cowell, is making Idol look like it’s on its last legs. That impression is crystalized in the final two on Idol.
I’m definitely backing Crystal Bowersox as the stronger artist and performer of the pair, like I did with Adam Lambert last year. But I don’t find her as compelling a stage presence as Lambert – though her Up to the Mountain last night certainly was a moment where we watched an artist find the proverbial next level. And Lee DeWyze has pulled off the feat of being even blander than last year’s winner, Kris Allen, which I why, unfortunately, I think he’ll win.
Yes, a diminution of talent, loss of a marquee judge, and a voting base that seems to be attracted to mediocrity make Idol harder and harder to watch.
And then it has Glee making it look worse.
Granted, AI is a mostly non-scripted amateur talent search show while Glee is a scripted drama with professional performers. But the centerpiece of each show is the same: reinterpretations of pop songs.
And even if the storyline on Glee has roller coastered this season, the performances are usually captivating, be it a frame-by-frame recreation of Madonna’s Vogue video or last night’s deconstruction of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face by Lea Michele as Rachel and Idina Menzel as her mother, Shelby – granted, the sex anthem was a strange choice for a mother-daughter duet.
Put that imagination and creativity next to the karaoke of DeWyze and most of his fellow competitors this season, and it seems like the best thing Idol can do to preserve some integrity next season – aside from coming up with a strong replacement for Simon – is put some distance between itself and Glee.
Los Angeles was coming across as boring as Chicago and most other “American Idol” audition cities this year that didn’t have General Larry Platt singing “Pants on the Ground.”
Then, Tuesday night, toward the end of the L.A. episode, we saw what the show needed: More Katy Perry. To be more precise, more Katy Perry going womano-a-womano with Kara DioGuardi. In the last segment, we saw a montage of little dustups between the two, including DioGuardi mocking Perry’s hit “Hot and Cold” and Perry threatening to toss the product of a primary show sponsor in her face.
But the line of the night, really of the auditions thus far — aside from “Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground” — was Perry’s response to DioGuardi’s evaluation of auditioner Chris Golightly. The curly-headed Californian definitely had a tough story, having gone through more than 25 foster homes as a child. And his version of “Stand by Me,” was poignant and well sung, with some flares of individuality.
DioGuardi started praising his voice, but then turned to his story, to which Perry quipped, “This isn’t a Lifetime movie, sweetheart.”
And she was absolutely right, drilling down to one of the things that is making the audition episodes such a slog. Yes, anytime you gather tens of thousands of people in arenas across the country, there are going to be some compelling stories in there. But now, “AI” might as well cue violins if they go out to an auditioner’s home to produce a featurette, because it will be some sob story that would make the judges look like heartless clods if they didn’t give the singer a golden ticket. And while there have been some compelling stories over the years, between Andrew Garcia and Jim Ranger Tuesday night, I was starting to wonder if fathering children was the sole qualification for a weepy feature.
Click the play button to hear our chat with Kevin Skinner:
When I first heard about the singing chicken catcher from Mayfield, Ky., I said, “Oh, no.”
My fears had nothing to do with cultural stereotyping, or anything like that. It was that Kevin Skinner was starting his run on America’s Got Talent hot on the heels of two spectacular reality show flameouts.
There was Susan Boyle, the frumpy Scottish woman whose first appearance on AGT’s sister show across the pond, Britain’s Got Talent, became a YouTube sensation. And then there was Adam Lambert, the enormously talented American Idol contestant whose performances put him in a class by himself.
Both looked like shoo-in’s to win their reality/competition series, and both did not.
Not to take anything away from Boyle and Lambert’s worthy competitors, but it felt from Internet chatter and general commentary that their losses were due in part to voter fatigue with them — with Boyle’s come-from-nowhere story and with Lambert’s boundless talent. In competitions like this, viewers don’t like to be told whose going to win (or who should win, in the case of Simon Cowell’s Lambert endorsement) and they can turn on frontrunners.
Skinner’s debut on America’s Got Talent (that’s the clip, above) was somewhat Boyle-esque. He came from exceedingly humble roots, had judges and the audience cackling over his accent and his accounts of chicken catching, and then blew viewers away with his rendition of Garth Brooks’ heartbreaking ballad If Tomorrow Never Comes. Right away, his clip was being singled out on morning talk shows that referred to him as an American Susan Boyle.
But fortunately for him, that didn’t happen — not that Boyle’s done bad for herself since BGT.
Now, I didn’t keep up with AGT religiously. It’s been a crazy summer. Skinner buzz sort of subsided, and there was even a moment I wondered if he was still in the running. Other acts caught the public’s attention, from opera singers to 75-year-old comedians, most of them very talented people in their own respects.
Skinner, like a humble guy from Mayfield, kept his head down and played his music, and ultimately still had the most viewer-voters on his side at the end of the competition. He avoided a trap of overexposure that had swallowed two talent show darlings earlier this year and came out a $1 million winner.
Well, it looks like it was well worth American Idol‘s time to come to Louisville last summer.
Kris Allen auditioned in the Derby City, and then much like this year’s Derby winner, Mine That Bird, worked his way through the field and finished first. Some Adam Lambert fans had to be like Jill Baffert, wife of Pioneer of the Nile trainer Bob Baffert, at the Derby saying “Who the (bleep) is that,” as Allen advanced through the competition. His audition barely registered on the Louisville audition episode, and early on, he seemed like one of those competitors who would probably be somewhat anonymously voted off in the winter.
But the dark horse kept his head down, worked on making some terrific music and wound up in the winner’s circle.
Give the man from Conway, Ark., a blanket of roses. He earned it.
Word came out early from the American Idol producers that Louisville had been a good city for the show. Simon Cowell dished out high praise, by his standards, telling Zap2it, “Louisville was good.”
Yes, it would have been nice to have had an actual Kentuckian who auditioned in Louisville in the final 13. That would have made the story of the Bluegrass State’s AI debut complete. But at least we can walk away from Season 8 saying Kentucky can pick a winner.
Some high notes:
- Heckuva a show for taking two hours-plus to tell us a few key words. I thought the return of Norman Gentle was great and the show kept getting better. It seemed Kiss had to be the highlight, and then Queen came out. Good Lord, Adam could front that band . . . As one who enjoys genuine surprise, Kris’ reaction to winning was delightful.
- Catch Adam Sandler’s University of Kentucky shirt in the Funny People commercial?
- Make sure to read Phil Stacey’s final Idol blog for LexGo.
- And take another look at our Louisville audition video, featuring Alexis Grace.
- Yes, Joanne Brokaw, it was the year of the worship leader.
- I was right. Wish I’d done that well at the Derby.
I’m going to take a quick lunch break here to join my fellow entertainment scribes out on a limb and make an American Idol prediction. It is a bit of a limb, because apparently this race is just too close to call. The website Dial Idol even says that, saying only 1.1 percent separates Kris Allen from Adam Lambert in their survey of busy signals for both contestants — a first in the site’s history.
And these are two very different cats, Lambert the flashy SoCal guy with a voice made for Broadway or glam rock and laid-back Midwesterner Kris.
One thing I hate seeing is this being boiled down to a Red State-Blue State thing, the presumption being the more conservative “red staters” will like humble Christian Kris and “blue staters” will like flamboyant Adam. It’s superficial and not fair to either contestant or Americans in general. Need we remind you of Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention speech. The Red State-Blue State thing is getting old, and it’s a lazy way to think.
Anyway, a matter of musical taste does drive my prediction: Kris Allen will win.
I pick him subscribing to the logic that Danny Gokey voters will naturally gravitate toward Kris. Yes, Gokey was a bit more of a vocal acrobat in an Adam tradition. But his overall vibe tracked much closer to Allen.
And Allen has been building momentum while Lambert has had a fan base for a while. Allen just feels like something of a Mine That Bird of American Idol, coming from the outside to overtake the front-runner at the end. Using that anology, will this be a Kentucky Derby or a Preakness for Allen? Remember, my limb is in the Bluegrass State.
I’d like to see Lambert win, as I have said before. He’s an amazing artist both as a stage presence and a creative force. And in the current pop landscape, Lambert is a true individual. Allen’s growth and artistry — particularly last week’s re-imagining of Kanye West’s Heartless — have been wonderful to watch. Neither of them would be an embarassing winner, but Lambert’s overall talent is still several shades beyond the rest of this year’s competition.
In the grand scheme of things Allen may be better served with the Idol victory, where Adam may do best if he’s a bit more free to chart his own course. And really, considering the Idol will be stuck with that horrendous No Boundaries song Kara DioGuardi co-wrote, the loser may be the real winner.
- For a second opinion, check Phil Stacey’s blog.
May15Filed under: American Idol, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture; Tagged as: Adam Lambert, American Idol, Anyerin Drury, Aretha Franklin, Chris Sligh, Christian, Christopher Cool, Danny Gokey, Elvis Presley, Eyesuponus, Joanne Brokaw, Justin McCarty, Kris Allen, Lil Rounds, Mandisa, Matt Giraud, Michael Sarver, Michael W. Smith, Mike Vandemark, Phil Stacey, Quest Community Church, Scott MacIntyre, Southland Christian Church, Whitney Houston, worship leader
This year’s American Idol finals offered the nation 13 singers from across the country with different strengths, looks, backgrounds and styles. But six of them had something in common, aside from wanting to be the next American Idol: They all had experience as church worship leaders.
That included two of the final three competitors in the eighth season of Idol, which wraps up Wednesday with a two-hour season finale.
Danny Gokey, 28, was praise and worship leader at two Faith Builders International locations in Wisconsin.
And Kris Allen, 23, has worked with praise and worship teams at two New Life churches in Arkansas.
Gokey was booted Wednesday night, so Allen is the one who is going on to compete in next week’s final against Adam Lambert, long considered the front runner in this year’s race. And that was fine by several Christian music observers.
“I see the worship leader in Danny, but Kris has more of the ability to be artistic,” said Joanne Brokaw, a Christian music writer who brought the preponderance of worship leaders in this year’s Idol field to light with a Feb. 27 post on her Beliefnet.com blog that asked, “Is this the season of the worship leader?”
Other artists in this year’s final group who have Christian music backgrounds were dueling pianist Matt Giraud, blind musician Scott MacIntyre, oil rigger Michael Sarver and Memphis mother Lil Rounds.
“The thing that really struck me was not just that they were Christians, but they were church worship leaders,” said Brokaw, who has since predicted Allen will win the finale, already being characterized by some as David vs. Goliath. “These are people who have actively been working within their churches as musicians.”
And that work can give a singer a leg up on the competition. Read the rest of this entry »
So there it is: Kris Allen and Adam Lambert are the last ones standing in the American Idol competition.
At this stage, it’s tough to see anyone go. And in the Copley household, we are very happy with the finale. Adam, the longtime frontrunner, and Kris, the underdog who sang his way through to the finale, all the while maintaining a trademark humility.
Funny thing is, in letting Danny Gokey go now, he got such an appropriate exit.
From the moment we met the Wisconsin man, his story has been the recent loss of his wife, Sophia, and Danny going on to compete in the contest she wanted him to try out for. Some complained the story got overplayed. I think that’s easy to say if you’ve never had the experience of losing a spouse.
That backstory also gave him the most fitting swan song, a not-a-dry-eye-in-America rendition of You Are So Beautiful. Freed from the competition, he seized the classic and made it his . . . and Sophia’s. To AI’s credit, they did not cheese it up, flashing pictures of Gokey’s late bride on the screen or anything like that. They let the moment be, and it was beautiful.
We all knew what it was about.
And do not worry about Danny. He will be fine. His phone is probably already ringing with serious offers, and he will be able to call his own tune. We will hear from him again. What a way to finish third.
With two weeks left in the American Idol competition, Entertainment Weekly came out with a bit of a bold cover story for its current issue: “Loving Adam Lambert: The Most Exciting American Idol Contestant in Years.”
Sorry Danny Gokey and Kris Allen, but one of the leading entertainment magazines in America is brushing right past you and presuming the man with the sky-scraping vocals should be anointed the newest American Idol. Bold, but OK, EW does pride itself on being a taste-making magazine — and this blog is on record as supporting the astonishingly-talented Lambert.
Here’s what was funny in EW’s headline and story. There was an asterisk on the headline, “*And Not Just Because He Might Be Gay.”
Initial thought: Being gay, alone, would make someone exciting? The bigger issue is that when you get to the story, the sexuality question is hardly an asterisk. After an opening that talks about how Lambert has defied an Idol history of humility and blandness with a bold, individual approach, writer Mark Harris zeroes in on the sexuality question and stays there.
The presumption seems to be that it would be groundbreaking for Idol to annoint an openly gay winner. For the record, Lambert has not directly addressed his sexuality in interviews with the craftiness of a politician not wanting to tick anyone off as the election draws near.
OK, Idol has not crowned an openly gay winner, yet. But in the world of pop music and pop culture in general, this ship sailed a long, long time ago. Regardless of what opinion polls have said, music fans have turned many artists who are openly gay or have ambiguous sexual preferences into big stars: Elton John, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and Melissa Etheridge, just to name a few. Ellen DeGeneres has become an afternoon television star, and got a standing O from her audience when she returned from a summer break and talked about her wedding, in which she married Portia di Rossi.
We may have expected EW to spend a paragraph or two on the gay buzz about Lambert. But what makes EW such a strong magazine is that it usually concentrates on the art, the product, and leaves the gossip rag stuff to magazines like In Touch Weekly and People. And there are interesting questions about Adam Lambert the artist I was frankly looking for EW to explore:
- Did his bottom three finish two weeks ago indicate he’s more of a critics/judges’ darling than fan favorite?
- He’s been in L.A. trying to break through for a while. Is Idol just the break he needs, or is his past an indication he’d be more of a Taylor Hicks than Kelly Clarkson if he won?
- Lambert is bringing a style — glam — to the Idol stage we have not seen in years, well over a decade. Could one American Idol winner bring a genre back?
After all, one of the reasons people started picking up on a gay vibe was Lambert’s penchant for theatrics and makeup. But back in the ’70s and ’80s, those things were de rigeur for many male pop stars, gay and straight. I remember jokes about whether Duran Duran bassist John Taylor and his supermodel girlfriend got their makeup mixed up. Lambert would have looked like a Marlboro Man on the L.A. hair metal scene.
So, Lambert’s run is fascinating, and Entertainment Weekly had a chance to make a bold statement with its cover story. Instead, they asked a pretty weak question and failed to talk about what makes him exciting.
A few weeks ago, I was mowing the lawn and listening to Led Zeppelin on my mp3 player. Listening to Robert Plant’s screaming, soaring, majestic vocals, one name entered my mind: Adam Lambert.
The America Idol standout has been teasing around this for weeks, letting us hear the pipes, and see the swagger. While the man has a musical theater background and has definitely taken on myriad genres since Idol started, it was always that late-’60s, early-70s rock deity that was lurking in him waiting to come out.
And last night, handed one of Zepplin’s migtiest creations, it did.
Lambert’s Whole Lotta Love completely did Plant’s original justice, while the Idol competitor still dabbed it with his own take — a little flourish here and there, a snarl in the wailing finish, which he completely nailed.
Two aspects of the performance place Adam in another league from his competitors:
1. He made me miss the original band. The man’s vocals were as mighty as Plant, but I was missing the trio of Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones churning beneath him. Wherever Lambert goes, he’s going to need to find a band worthy of his talent.
2. The judges spent the rest of the night telling the other competitors they weren’t in their comfort zones, but nice try. Lambert has certainly been out of his comfort zones before, but he’s always made it work. It’s called versatility.
Of course, Lambert hit the bottom three for the first time last week. Maybe he’s more of a critic’s darling than a fan favorite. Or maybe Adam Nation needed a wake-up call.
If he is sent home Wednesday night, he can claim a rock ‘n’ roll axiom: It’s better to burn out than fade away.
Also: Check out former Idol competitor Phil Stacey’s take on tonight’s show.
Tonight, we got the spectacle of American Idol‘s judges acting like they might just use their save on Michael Sarver.
Seriously. I don’t even think Sarver expected they would do that. He seems like a nice guy with a sweet voice and solid stage presence. But by beating out Alexis Grace he already made it farther than he should have expected to. He will be fine. I even suspect he may be courted by the Christian market, as he has the right profile for CCM and he is a church worship leader.
But the judges cannot use their one-and-only save this early on for one big reason: One week, Idol Nation may collectively go off the reservation and put Adam Lambert at the bottom, and if that moment happens, the judges have to have the ace in the hole.
Don’t think it’ll happen? Two words: Chris Daughtry. Remember, season five? He seemed like a lock and finished fourth.
Now, as an alert reader notes, the judges don’t have the save after the Top 5, which is a good point. But the judges need to hold on to this new privilege to save a serious candidate for the top prize, a contestant whose fan base maybe needed a wake-up call, and not blow it on someone who never had a realistic chance anyway.
Lambert cannot be Daughtryed.
I have not been glued to Idol for eight consecutive seasons. But in what I have watched, Lambert is the most talented singer to grace that stage. First, his vocals are unreal. He can easily be a throwback to those virtuosic screamers of late ’60s/early 70s rock — think Robert Plant or Ian Gillan. Pop music hasn’t heard a voice like this in a while.
But more important, Lambert knows how to use it, and he can truly make songs his own. Just consider the psycho journey into the desert of his Ring of Fire last week, followed by a rethinking of Tracks of My Tears that floored Smokey Robinson this week.
Now, in one way, you can use that old logic that contestants are better off as runners up, thereby gaining the exposure but guiding their own careers. And you could see how that might benefit Lambert, like it has Daughtry.
But do you think Simon Cowell and Co. like seeing No. 4 rolling up the hits while the winner that year, Taylor Hicks, gets dropped by his record label? This is supposed to be about finding the next star, not the next supporting player in Broadway revivals.
So the judges need to use this little bit of actual power they have been given judiciously, to avoid a really big mistake. And leaving Lambert out of the Final 5 would be huge.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich