Oh, American Idol. You know exactly how to get me every year. Around this time every season, I find myself reaching for the Kleenex, hoping to stop my tears from overflowing into my oversized Coke cup. And just when I think I can’t cry anymore, you give me something that makes me weep more than Ryan Seacrest peering at an out-of-business tanning salon. You force a stale performance of “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” on me.
Sure, the annual hometown visits are touching and all, but watching Wednesday night’s penultimate performance episode, I found myself shedding more tears hearing our Top 3’s disappointedly uncreative song choices. Really, Jessica? After already choosing overplayed Idol songs like “Turn the Beat Around” (Season 2’s Carmen Rasmusen, Season 3’s Diana DeGarmo, Season 6’s Haley Scarnato), “Fallin’” (Season 1’s Kristin Holt, Season 5’s Mandisa, Season 9’s Michelle Delamor, Season 10’s Haley Reinhart), “Try a Little Tenderness” (Season 4’s Nadia Turner, Season 5’s Taylor Hicks), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Season 4’s Constantine Maroulis, Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, Season 7’s Michael Johns, Season 8’s Adam Lambert), “Proud Mary” (Season 2’s Trenyce, Season 4’s Fantasia, Season 7’s Syesha Mercado), “You Are So Beautiful” (Season 5’s Taylor Hicks, Season 8’s Danny Gokey), and “And I Am Telling You” (Season 1’s Tamyra Gray and Melanie Sanders, Season 6’s LaKisha Jones, Season 8’s Nick Mitchell, Season 10’s Ashthon Jones, and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson), you decide to sing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” already performed on Idol by Season 2’s Josh Gracin, Season 4’s Lindsey Cardinale, Season 6’s Antonella Barba, Season 7’s David Cook, Season 6’s Allison Iraheta, Season 9’s Aaron Kelly, and Season 10’s Lauren Alaina? (For those of you keeping count, Jessica’s version makes eight — none of whom have killed it like Steven Tyler.) And seriously, Joshua? Choosing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song so manipulative, even David Archuleta’s dad is micromanaging it? (Imagine there’s no “Imagine” on Idol!) And, Phillip? Picking a song you probably got high listening to in your friend’s den while eating cheesesteaks? Well, at least you probably had more of a connection to Matchbox 20’s “Disease” than Joshua did with “I heard it on the radio” tune “Imagine.”
It’s actually concerning — while, in years past, we were forced to suffer the judges’ faulty judgment (you can blame David Cook and Allison Iraheta’s aforementioned performances of the Aerosmith hit on the judges’ choice), this is the first season of Idol in which I found myself questioning the singers’ tastes. I’d love to give them the benefit of the doubt and simply blame fatigue (see: Joshua’s dreary-eyed, Ambien-fueled responses to Ryan’s questions), but you’d think the contestants would at least have a few magical beans in their back pockets. It’s like Top Chef contestants showing up to the competition without at least one dessert recipe in their arsenal — it’s hard to accept a delicious main course if it’s followed by an underwhelming chocolate soufflé. So why not cart with you some extra recipes for success?
NEXT: Phillip: Music’s Twin Sets and Butterfly Clips.
So as much as I want to eat up our singers’ post-Idol careers, I’m finding myself wondering if they’re even ready to dig in. Would we be satisfied with a Joshua Ledet album filled with tunes so saccharine, they could fill a candy store? A Jessica Sanchez album so predictable, you can call it Randy Jackson? A Phillip Phillips album so 1990s, you could slap a pair of Doc Martens on it?
Perhaps my 1990s nostalgic has hypnotized me with visions of Lisa Frank unicorns and gelly roll pens, but I’m totally buggin’ thinking of that last option, Tai. Because while Joshua and Jessica’s choices were roll-your-eyes predictable, Phillip has managed to carve out an audience for himself that enjoys his particular recipe. Take one tablespoon of growl and combine it with one cup quirk and 100,000 screaming 13-year-olds, and you have a combination as delectable as it is cannibalistic. So while “Disease” might have been just mildly infectious, it was easy to forgive the performance after antidote that was Madcon’s “Beggin’.” (Holy English class, so many metaphors!) I have to give Randy-esque mad props to Steven Tyler for his unconventional choice for Phillip — his foresight let the contestant to deliver his best performance of the season. The acoustic beginning, reminiscent of Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” his playfulness with the melody, the outdoor concert vibe — it’s no wonder Steven called Phillip the “New Age Boss” after whipping out his poetry: “When you’re facing the sun, the shadows stand behind you. My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own.”
Though Phillip’s chest hair was screaming for it, the judges failed to give him a deserved standing ovation for “Beggin’” — but he did finally score recognition for Jimmy Iovine’s choice, Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” a lovely rendition that helped audiences remember that Phillip actually has a beautiful voice behind the guitar, growls, and dorm room move-in day wardrobe. (Even the insipid Swaybot clapping couldn’t bring him down.) Randy may be wrong calling it Phillip’s best performance yet — “Beggin’” and last week’s “Volcano” exploded on the Idol stage much more — but performing the song more than sealed a spot in the final two, especially after Steven’s praise: “Get used to it, because you never will. I still bleed and my lips still smile and my breasts won’t always be firm.”
But the pimp spot isn’t the only thing guaranteeing Phillip a Top 2 finish — his hometown footage in Georgia was far more touching than his other contestants’ visits. Watching Phillip go home, we laughed (the “Phillip, you still owe me $10” sign), we cried (the usually stoic Phillip breaking down, and subsequently breaking hearts, during the parade), and felt simultaneously touched, petrified, and eager to read up on gun laws seeing Phillip Phillips Sr., packing heat. Phillips spot in the final two is as sure as the future restraining order he will file against the rabid fan who pulled him out of his limo.
NEXT: Animal crackers in my Idol
Speaking of (pawn shop) turkeys, I have a feeling that Jessica will miss the final two, no matter how much she don’t want to. It’s too bad — the 16-year-old deserves a spot in the finals, if not a chance to soak in a confetti shower. And her approach Wednesday night was quite savvy for a girl from a generation that documents all their embarrassing teen crushes online. (The pen and paper won’t seem so lame in 10 years, kids!) Why not become the next Mariah Carey in a world all too devoid of ridiculous photoshopped albums full of ridiculously amazing vocals? So I wanted to love Jennifer’s choice, “My All,” as much as I did when I jotted down the lyrics in my eighth grade notebook. And I wanted to see the rainbow at the end of Jimmy’s “I’ll Be There,” a song Mariah herself covered dutifully and passionately. But it turns out Jessica and Mariah’s songs are as bad a fit as TRL and ice cream carts . The songs lacked Jessica’s patented pizzazz, her penchant for wowing audiences who underestimate her abilities because of her young age. Instead, her youth showed — as did the fact that she’s simply not Mariah, no matter how much Tommy Mottola is interested in her. Add to that yet another unsettlingly mature, midriff-baring outfit and a song of her choosing as plain as Liv Tyler and unfrosted animal crackers, and Jessica seems poised to settle for a Top 3 finish. That’s despite Steven’s assessment that Jessica might end up Season 11’s winner: Said Ryan, “Did you just predict a winner?” Said Steven, “Don’t I always?”
And isn’t that, ladies and gentlemen, the exact problem with our judges’ panel? Because while Steven might have supported Jessica following her performance of “My All,” he flip-flopped so quickly in Joshua’s corner, he might as well sit on an IHOP griddle. Because, once again, our panel of three cannot seem to jump off the Joshua train. Just see the trio’s standing ovation for Randy’s choice, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a performance so tired, it just read a Nicholas Sparks chapter and turned in for the night. (I’ll spare you the “I’d Rather Be Deaf” jokes.) Not to mention their love for the uninspired “Imagine” and Jimmy’s choice, Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” Look, I respect Joshua’s talent and feel for him knowing he’s been unable to score any constructive criticism, but an octave-spanning run at the end of Joshua’s songs is as expected as Strawberry Alarm Clock at one of Nigel Lythgoe’s parties. So as much as the lady who bedazzled Joshua and Jessica’s jackets might tell her cats that she hearts the contestant, Joshua’s performances are still anything but spontaneous, Jennifer. Still, the judges will continue to praise Joshua for schlocky stripping (“That’s what being a great artist is about,” says Jeff Timmons Randy?) until they’re riding with Twinkies, cockroaches, and John Cusack into the End of Times.
But with Idol’s end of Season 11 times fast approaching, can you imagine a final two with Jessica? Or do you agree that Phillip and Joshua are finals-bound? What made you cry more: Phillip’s hometown visit, or the fact that you felt jealous watching him caress his own leg during “We’ve Got Tonight”? Does Ryan deserve a raise of coping with two out of three contestants who are virtually not interview-able? Does Joshua have a future in politics, what with his skill for killing babies? And wouldn’t Stefon love West Lake, Louisiana? It. Has. Everything. Parades, crawfish, women who cry holding babies, women with pirate eye patches…
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Image Credit: FOX]
American Idol: Season 12 Will Boast 'Creative Tweaking'
Idol Castoff Hollie Cavanagh on Her Bond with Joshua Ledet and Colton Dixon’s Fangirls American Idol Recap: Hollie Go-Lightly-Away
Over the course of its 11 seasons, American Idol has produced a healthy supply of classic Idols. I’m not talking about the Carrie Underwoods or Jennifer Hudsons, superstars who, during their tenure on the show, only teased their future abilities, making us unsure as to whether they actually did have a shot to become an A-lister after the glitz of reality TV wore off. I’m talking about the classic Idols who not only accumulated an overzealous fanbase, but also managed to make an already addictive Idol even more intriguing, no matter their success level following the show. I’m referring Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Bo Bice, David Cook, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, Haley Reinhart, and, yes, I’d even say Blake Lewis, who revolutionized the series in ways no one gave him credit for. (No one truly made any song, as Randy would say, his or her own until Blake beat-boxed his way into our hearts, and then into obscurity, during Season 6.)
These Idols might not have been the most successful to grace the stage (Kelly withstanding), but they certainly were the most entertaining. They blew us away with their passion and talent, and drew us in even further with intriguing personalities. If we brought this to a rank, they might very well make up my Top 10, if we’re solely counting entertainment value on the Idol stage. So it’s surprising to hear the judges’ panel rank Joshua Ledet as one of the two best Idols of all time, when I’d be hard pressed to find him a spot in the Top 20.
Don’t get me wrong: Dude is talented and he might transform into an industry superstar, which is good since his “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” suit made it clear he has no future as a botanist. But, unlike the judges, I can’t see what’s unique and exciting about the singer, who’s failed to garner enough criticism to encourage him to show us anything unique and exciting. Instead, week in and week out, our judges give him standing ovations for churning out performances more fit for season 3 than a post-David Cook season 11. Not only that, but they named him one of the best singers to ever exist in 50 years. So, sorry, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Beyoncé. Joshua, a star of a reality show on a network that made a name for itself airing a show about bored police officers that bust drunk idiots, has got you had.
Look, I understand hyperbole. It’s likely the judges don’t actually feel Joshua could be stacked against those greats, no matter how many times the ejector button shoots them out of their seats. But Joshua’s “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” was a faithful cover of The Temptations hit that was only slightly better than George Huff’s rendition in Season 3. And, while Joshua ended “To Love Somebody” on many a high note, the performance was just as listenable as Clay Aiken’s version in Season 2, but no more. But perhaps nothing shows the judges’ unfair favoritism towards Joshua than their high praise of Joshua and Phillip’s duet of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” a performance not only horrendous because of its pitchiness, but also because of the fact that Joshua and Phillip failed to play sweaty shirtless volleyball after the performance. Steven, in fact, labeled it “perfect,” despite the contestants’ inability to keep a straight face during the entire performance — they broke so often during the song, all it was missing was Jimmy Fallon.
NEXT: Phillip's Self-Sabotage?
One could even say the judges also harbor favoritism for our favorite pawn shop worker, Phillip, who brought us self-sabotage of Jason Castro levels last night. There was the aforementioned “Lovin’ Feeling,” the worst duet to hit the Idol stage since James Durbin’s and Jacob Lusk’s “I’m Into Something Good.” There was his take on The Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” which saw him struggling on high notes he should have never attempted to hit. (The judges might have been surprised with his straight-forward take, saying, “He can really sing the melody!” but they failed to take into account that he couldn’t sing it well.) Then there was the biggest Idol no-no of all: The heartthrob brought his girlfriend to CBS Television City. Phillip had to have known that would send a flurry of his fans straight to their Lisa Frank diaries, where they bitterly write down Joshua’s phone number, sniffling away the tears as they realized that maybe Phillip wasn’t singing right at them every Wednesday night after all. Sniff.
But, as much as I adore Phillip and the gray, cringe-y way he makes Tommy Hilfiger cringe, self-sabotage is hardly as dumb as pairing with the cowboy during group week. In fact, Phillip would be much better off being sent home Thursday night, a scenario as plausible as the possibility that J. Lo will wear sequins and make me wonder who her very talented doctor is. As we’ve seen over the course of the past 11 seasons, a rock star winner on Idol is faced with a disadvantage. Forced into the music scene as a solo act showered in confetti on reality television, rock winners — see: David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze — have found it difficult to build cred in the industry. On the other hand, an artist like Chris Daughtry — who was just as recording-ready as Phillip during his tenure on Idol in Season 4 — managed to accumulate a group of fans dedicated to making sure he built the acclaim and respect he so deserved on the reality show. Because, at this point, Phillip doesn’t need Idol. He know who he is and what kind of album he needs to record — one that should include lovely and listenable performances like “The Letter.” As guest mentor Steven Van Zandt said, “Leave him alone. He’s good. Badabing, badaboom, parkway, other New Jersey stereotypical phrases.”
It’s hard to believe I’m imagining an Idol world in which Phillip goes home, and Hollie may stay. What is this, opposite night? Am I now supposed to compliment Brian Dunkleman on his hosting skills last night? Where am I? What year is it? How did I get here? Who does No. 2 work for? But not only do I believe Hollie will stay, but I believe she should stay. Granted, Idol set up her underdog storyline perfectly: After being at the receiving end of insults from judges and fans alike, Hollie began her Idol climb last week with, appropriately, “The Climb.” And now, we hand the British lass a British Night theme. Cut to: A tepid performance of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” that the judges conveniently failed to criticize as much as Jessica Sanchez’s Tina Turner cover, and a version of “Bleeding Love” that allows audiences to compare her with another reality show winner, the U.K. X Factor’s Leona Lewis. (Even though Steven couldn’t, since he managed to avoid all radios and doctor’s offices in 2007, having never heard the song before.) It’s no surprise the show seems to be supporting the contestant: Idol would be better off with Hollie on the show — there’s nothing the reality series’ viewers love more than to bash a contestant that undeservingly outlasted their favorite. (See: Danny Gokey, Sanjaya Malakar, Syesha Mercado, Scott Savol, etc.) To rid Idol of Hollie rids the show of some of some desirable intrigue that could make The Voice-hating ratings fairies at Fox celebrate.
NEXT: Where does Skylar fit in?
So I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollie’s reality-friendly storyline picked up the young female vote. Which means Season 11’s other young girls might also be in jeopardy come Thursday, especially if audiences failed to connect with Jessica’s spirited-but-disturbingly-sexy cover of “Proud Mary,” presumably performed against a backdrop of set items stolen from the set of Chicago. (I’ll take “Potently Inappropriate Dresses For a Teenager” for $600, Alex!) And it doesn’t help her cause that the judges criticized her for taking on the dragon that is Tina Turner, without having doled out the same criticism to supposed slayer Hollie. (Not to mention the fact that J. Lo wondered rhetorically, “How could you let this girl go home?” which pretty much introduces the possibility that Jessica could leave CBS Television City Thursday night.) But I’d find it impossible if anyone in the viewing was unable to connect with Jessica’s fittingly beautiful version of “You Are So Beautiful,” which was so alluring and perfectly executed, it’s despicable to think the young singer has never been gifted Idol’s pimp spot. (Predictably, Joshua scored the spot Wednesday night for the second time.) Come on, Nigel! She’s sitting on the floor! In the name of Fantasia and Katharine McPhee, don’t you know that floor-sitting leads to an automatic Idol moment?!
And then that leaves us with Skylar, the consummate professional who, week in and week out, offers up fun performances so contagious, I hope a trip with CBS Television City comes complete with a CDC vaccine shot. But that’s precisely her problem: Skylar lacks not only the tearful histrionics that garners votes, but the intriguing storyline that sends fans racing to their cell phones. Joshua is the anointed one, Phillip is the rebel, Jessica is the victim, and Hollie is the dark horse. But how do you categorize Skylar? Sure, her “Fortunate Son,” was a perfect song to show off her stage presence, and anyone who didn’t fall for “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” is as weird as that couple on the bench. But the CCR song’s counter-culture theme might not gel with her fanbase, and Skylar’s latter performance is far too perfect a swan song to quell my nerves surrounding her fate Thursday night. And after her bottom three visit last week, perhaps only luck will keep her from riding an ATV right out of CBS Television City. Perhaps she should have performed “Knock on Wood” after all.
Do you get the Joshua hype, readers? Who’s headed home Thursday? Did Jessica, Skylar, and Hollie sing “Higher and Higher,” or was the song performed by a series of American Girl Dolls? Why did Elise Testone get a goodbye montage in the opening credits, but Colton Dixon didn’t last week? And did Steven Van Zandt learn his chair-sitting etiquette from Flashdance?
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
American Idol Recap: Order Restored
American Idol Recap: They Want to Break Free
Ryan Seacrest Re-Ups with American Idol: Why We're Thanking Our Lucky StarsAmerican Idol
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.