Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Taking it 15 Minutes at a Time

Tonight marked the beginning of the competitions on two big-time talent shows: FOX's American Idol and USA's Nashville Star. I am inexplicably a fan of both, so it's about time for me to weigh in.

American Idol
AI has been on for weeks now, but everything prior to tonight has been preliminary rounds and eliminations leading up to the "real" contest between the final 12 contestants. If there's one thing this show does well, it's filling up blocks of time. During the semifinals, the show needlessly took up three nights of primetime, including lengthy coverage of auditions and general nonsense. Now the series will only be on twice a week, but the second night or "results night" generally consists of Ryan Seacrest trying to be cute while making the contestants sweat it out, horribly corny group performances and even cornier commercials for Coke and Ford starring the prospective Idols. That's it, AI...teach 'em to sell out before they even get in.

One thing that I noticed tonight is that the songs didn't seem as truncated. This could just be my imagination, but all the contestants seemed to perform longer than they used to. I looked around on the AI website but couldn't find any proof of this. This is a good thing though. I've been wanting them to change this since the first season. I don't see the point of these people getting all gussied up every night to go out there and sing for a minute. The songs are definitely still edited, but they seem much fuller. And even though the old Idol stand-bys are still being trotted out, contestants this year seem to be picking a lot of songs that haven't been done to death already. Yay for positive change.

The first night of the finals was "Stevie Wonder night," with all the contestants picking one of the legendary artist's tunes to perform. Probably more than half of the finalists didn't even know a good majority of his songs, yet they kept saying how "honored" they felt to be in the same room with him. Damn kids.

Now, without further ado, on to the contestants...

1. Paris Bennett - Paris is a really cute girl with a really good voice. Very spunky and young, I can almost see the diva inside trying to break free. I think she's a little too nice to go completely diva though. However, her little sing-reply routine with Ryan tonight after her performance immediately annoyed me. Simon looked annoyed too. Simon and I tend to agree a lot. And I still think he's hot, I'm sorry.

2. Kevin Covais - This is the kid who assures me that the judges don't necessarily pick the most talented people for the finals. It's quite obvious that they pick some of them based on ability, but then there are others who are thrown into the mix purely to make good TV and stir up controversy. Kevin is this year's token "nerd-boy." They have one every year. Last year it was a toss-up between doofy oaf Scott Savol and nerdy-cute Russo-American Anthony Federov. In Season 3, it was dorky redheaded crooner, John Stevens and Season 2 had Clay Aiken, of course. I can't really remember Season 1, but I remember that A.J. guy being kind of a dweeb. Anyway, Kevin is definitely the underdog of the show, which means that he will coast through to at least the Top 5 or 6, causing Simon to pop a vein when Paula sweetly defends his being there. The kid can kind of sing...he could probably find a few parts in some off-Broadway shows. Maybe. If he didn't have that damn lisp! But then, the lead singer of The Romantics had a lisp and they were a big hit back in the day. Who doesn't love that song - I hear the thecreths that you keep...when you're talking in your thleep?

3. Bucky Covington - No picture needed here. Bucky Covington. Get an image in your mind of what a "Bucky Covington" should look like and you're right. That's him. He seems like a decent guy, but he has no chance of winning. First of all, Simon hates country music. Sure, Carrie Underwood won last year, but she has "crossover" potential and a great voice. I don't think Bucky has either. He covered Garth Brooks's "The Thunder Rolls" last week, which sounded pretty good, but his first song on the big stage was "Superstitious" and it was not great.

4. Chris Daughtry - It annoyed me that Chris didn't know that Stevie Wonder wrote "Higher Ground." What Stevie did he think Anthony Kiedis was rapping about at the end of the Red Hot Chili Peppers version? Did he never look at the liner notes? I freakin' LIVE for liner notes. Anyway, I like Chris. He's got a really nice, strong rock voice and he has great stage presence. I'm not too into the bald men, but he's kind of hot. The overgrown soul patch needs to be pared down a bit though.

5. Taylor Hicks - I like Taylor quite a bit. He's one of the older contestants and he seems to actually really LOVE music. Not just performing, but everything about music. The judges always make fun of his dancing, but when he's onstage singing, he just lets it fly...kind of like Joe Cocker or some other choreographically-challenged white man. He really is a wonderful soul singer, very reminiscent of Michael McDonald. (Of course, he covered a Doobie Brothers song last week and nailed it.) Taylor is definitely a fan favorite, but he probably won't win the competition because he doesn't "look like an Idol," as Simon is so fond of saying. Apparently a guy can't be an Idol with gray hair, but it's okay if he's roughly the size of a barn. (Yes, Ruben...I'm talking about you.) The only thing that annoys me about Taylor is that Ray Charles lean-back move he does at the end of all his songs. I really, really want him to stop doing that.

6. Elliott Yamin - Elliott is one of those guys who just doesn't stay in my memory after the show is over, which is strange because he has one of the best voices in the competition. But, I swear he's sung a Stevie Wonder song in every episode, including this one. He's coming off as a bit of a one-note performer.

7. Mandisa - Mandisa is filling the role of yet another token player...the "fat chick." Of course Simon already told her in the semis that she needed to lose weight, Paula got indignant and Randy pretended to care while giving her backhanded compliments. But, all the judges have come to an agreement on one thing - girl's got some pipes! I dig Mandisa. She can really belt it out, and she's very sweet and classy.

8. Melissa McGhee - I don't get this chick. As Simon would say, she's "utterly forgettable."

9. Katharine McPhee - Katharine is one of the early front-runners, and she may very well go on to win. She definitely has a beautiful voice, and it seems to come so naturally to her. I like her for the most part, but there is something really quite annoying about her. She bounces around a lot and makes goofy faces and then acts like a complete spaz during her interviews. She just comes off as a bit fake. However,the way her hair and makeup was done tonight, she reminded me a bit of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Many of you already know of my monstrous lesbian crush on CZJ, so that resemblance certainly serves Katharine well as far as I'm concerned.

10. Kellie Pickler - Talk about annoying. Katharine McPhee, on her worst day, could never make me as nauseous as this chick. I am so sick of the "I'm just a sweet little Southern Belle who's never been off the farm so I don't understand the simplest things and gee ain't my stupidity cuuuuute" routine. Simon said last week that he prefers Kellie to Carrie Underwood. Here is one area where Cowell and I disagree. Carrie may have been fairly robotic onstage, but she had an awesome voice and didn't need to act like a moron to get attention. This girl doesn't have the vocal skills and she's annoying. Did I say she was annoying? Kellie Pickler is annoying.

11. Lisa Tucker - I want to like this girl, because she's young and sweet and has a nice voice, but I can't completely get behind her. She just seems like one of those kid stars who grew up onstage and, as a result, became very mechanical and fake. I feel like I'm watching a pageant every time she's on. And this week, I think she sang horribly and the judges still raved about her. They're way off the mark on this one. She did "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours", which is my favorite Stevie song, and completely screwed it up. I thought it was dreadful. Appalling. Karaoke? I'm trying to find just the right Simon-ism. Uh...I've heard better at weddings. No, no...on a boat cruise! That's it. That's the one.

12. Ace Young - "Hi, I'm Ace. Ain't I pretty? Please let my perfect teeth and wavy hair distract you from the fact that I'm kind of a hack." Sorry, Ace...can't do it. And you're not that cute either. Sorry.

So there is your final 12. I guess it's prediction time now, eh? Well, I'm going to guess that either Bucky or Melissa will get voted off this week. Bucky seems like he might have a fan base though, while Melissa could probably get lost in the shuffle a lot easier. Therefore, I'll say that Melissa will be the first to go. As far as who will go all the's a bit hard to say right now. As I mentioned above, Katharine is the current favorite. But I think a good guess for the final four is Katharine, Taylor, Chris and Mandisa. Mandisa and Taylor won't win because neither of them look the part. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say that Chris will win, because out of four seasons, three winners have been female. I have a feeling that TPTB want a man to win this year. Still, it may be hard to keep Katharine down. I can't commit to a final winner right now. I'll get back to you guys on that one.

Nashville Star
Here's what I love about Nashville Star - they don't waste precious air time. Tonight was the beginning of the season, and all they did was give a brief run-down of where they went to audition people, how they whittled down the contestants for the finals and then finally introduced the final 10 performers. All this in the first 10 minutes of the show, and they still had time for the first round and a performance by Big and Rich. Now that's an efficient show! On top of that, the judges eliminated one of the contestants at the end of the first episode, so they're already down to 9! Yes! Me likey!!

After the first episode, the judges are pretty much just there to mouth off (a la AI) and the viewers get to determine the winner via online/phone voting. The Nashville Star voting system is a lot better than the AI one too...but we won't get into all that. It's all been said before. Simply put, Idol could change things if they wanted to but they're more interested in high caller numbers and watercooler talk about the various "voting controversies."

Another thing I like about NS is that it appears to be embraced by the country music world, whereas AI doesn't have much cred with most serious musicians, especially in rock. It's nice to see big country stars like Martina McBride and Clint Black really supporting the show. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that contestants on NS aren't just merely performers - they all write their own songs and most of them play instruments. Nashville Star requires the finalists to play original material during the contest, which is the biggest difference between it and American Idol. Overall, the level of talent on this show is much higher and there isn't as much of a focus on style.

This year's finalists are...

1. Jared Ashley - Jared is an ex-Navy boy, so he's got that whole Officer and a Gentleman thing going for him. (Were they in the Navy in that movie? Or the Air Force? Am I thinking of Top Gun? Ah, who cares.) He dresses too much like Clint Black, which bothers me. He was pretty good, but doesn't really have any kind of "wow" factor.

2. Shy Blakeman - Is that a great name or what? His momma wanted him to grow up to be a country singer. In his pre-interview, Shy admitted that he doesn't have the best voice in the world, which is strangely endearing. He also got shot in the face once. Yowsa. He kind of looks like Christopher Atkins back in the Blue Lagoon days. No, scratch that. He looks like the love child of Shaun Cassidy and Donnie Van Zandt. Ponder that, if you dare. As it turns out, Shy was right...he doesn't really have the best voice but it's certainly not bad and he's a good performer. Besides that, he sang a song from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, so it's all good.

3. Jewels Hanson - I guarantee you that this girl's name is Julie, people used to call her Jules, and then one day she changed the spelling of it to Jewels and insisted that everyone call her that because she thought it was so cool. Either that or her dad named her after his nuts! Ha ha ha...oh, I crack myself up sometimes. Getting back on track - plural Jewel has a pretty decent bluesy-rock voice, but the song she was doing was so loud that no one could really hear it. She was trying too hard to be, well, hard. She really wants to fill the role of "tough chick with attitude." She kind of reminds me of JoDee Messina, what with the worn-out hooker look and all. But, JoDee can sing circles around this chick. I'd probably at least pay the $5 cover to see her play at a bar though. Then I'd get drunk and flirt with her bass player, most likely.

4. Nicole Jamrose - Another great country singer name. Nicole is apparently playing the role of "MILF making her last attempt at fame and fortune." When everyone sang at the beginning of the show, she sounded pretty good so I'm fairly certain she can sing but I didn't like the song she picked for her solo performance. It sounded more like she was talking through most of it rather than singing. I also think she's trying too hard to channel Sheryl Crow, hairstyle included. I'll have to hear what she does next week before I can decide if I like her or not.

5. Monique LeCompte - Monique dubbed herself "the fat chick," knowing full well that every reality show needs one these days. I didn't really think she was fat, she just has giant boobs. That certainly won't hurt her. Regardless of her size, her voice is really beautiful. She totally kicked ass on a boring Faith Hill song, yet some of the judges said her voice was too "theatrical." They didn't think she was country. And Faith Hill is??

6. Matt Mason - Matt's a pretty good looking guy, although he's kind of a weird cross between Elvis and Wayne Newton. He definitely has a good, solid country voice although he had a bit too much of that nasally twang that I really don't care for. But he was still ok.

7. Kristen McNamera - A blonde Britney-esque bimbo in a black bridesmaid dress and boots. Let's hear it for alliteration! I really can't root for the Barbie doll, but she actually sings pretty well. And hey, she even yodeled. It was cute at first, but I would've flipped after about another minute so I'm glad it wasn't a long song.

8. Casey Rivers - Casey looks like a typical frat boy, though I know in this picture he kind of looks like Frankenstein. Jeez, and I thought I was unphotogenic. He is better looking than this pic suggests. Not gorgeous, but not bad. He's got a good voice, but it's the typical modern country voice that I probably couldn't tell apart from a handful of other popular country singers. I like him though. He's definitely pleasing to the ears.

9. Melanie Torres - Here is a spicy little Senorita who is an ex-beauty pageant girl. She also looks like she should be working at Coyote Ugly. That combination usually results in a woman that I want to slap, but Melanie surprised me. I like her. She covered a Martina McBride song, which is always tough, and she sounded really good.

10. Chris Young - Chris is young. I think he's just about 20. Mmmmm hmmm. That's just about right up my alley. This boy is so darn cute...I know I say that these competitions shouldn't be about looks and they shouldn't. Really, Chris has a wonderful voice. It's a shock to hear it because it totally doesn't fit his body. It's very deep and rich - a good old fashioned country voice. So there. He has talent. Now that we've established that, I can go back to his other positives. That boyish face. That smile. Those dimples. Yeeeeeeeee-haw. Giddyup.

Before I make any predictions, I should probably let y'all know that the judges already eliminated Jewels, so we won't be treated to her rendition of "Piece of My Heart," which was surely on tap for next week. Now, as to who the viewers will vote off....that's a tough call. I'm thinking it's either going to be Jared or Kristen. I'll go with Kristen. And for the overall winner, I may have to pull the same thing I did with AI and get back to you later. However, my early feeling is that Chris, Melanie, Casey and Nicole will be in the top 4. Obviously, Chris is my favorite but I admit that I'm blinded by superficiality right now.

I just realized that I left some people out - the judges and the hosts. I should probably do a little side-by-side comparison of those folks too...

Ryan Seacrest (AI) vs. Wynonna Judd and Cowboy Troy (NS)
I don't dislike Ryan Seacrest as much as I thought I did. Yeah, he's kind of a schmuck, but he's easy on the eyes and pretty good as far as talking heads go. He seems to develop a good rapport with most of the contestants, too. I have to give him the edge here in the host category, mainly because Wynonna really irks me. She is so self-absorbed. Before the judges eliminated someone at the end of the show, she went on this big spiel about how many times she's been told "no" and how she has a great career, yadda yadda. Then she tries to get all Dr. Phil with the contestants like she really cares about them, yet any time one of them touches her she looks like she's about to whip out a can of pepper spray. I was never really wild about Leann Rimes (the original host) but now I miss her! I do like Cowboy Troy though - he brings a lot of humor and personality to the show. Maybe he should host by himself?

Randy Jackson (AI) vs. Phil Vassar (NS)
Randy has grown on me, but his vocabulary which consists of "dawg", "dude", "we got a hot one", "you did your thing," "you worked it out," and "what's going down" grows more tiresome with each episode. They could really replace him with a bobble head doll that looks like him. Paula could just push a button and it would say one of those phrases. Phil is kind of a cool guy, but he seems to have a limited vocabulary too. He says "great" a lot. "You were great, have a great voice...the whole thing was just great." Maybe his hero as a kid was Tony the Tiger, I don't know. Still, I think he knows more about music than Randy, isn't constantly promoting himself and dropping names and doesn't have a "dog pound" to do that outdated, Arsenio Hall-era "whoo whoo whoo" thing behind him. Therefore, I have to say I like Phil a teensy bit better than Randy.

Paula Abdul (AI) vs. Anastasia Brown (NS)
I don't even need to think about it - I pick Paula Abdul, hands down. Do you know how sickening you have to be to be less tolerable than Paula Abdul? Sure, Paula's breathy gushing over everyone drives me mad, but this Anastasia chick is just beyond repellent. Who is she? Why does she think she's an expert on anything? Why won't she just shut up?

Simon Cowell (AI) vs. No One (NS)
As if there could be another Simon. Come on. Nashville Star's 3rd judge this year is a rotating guest judge. And no, I don't mean it's someone who just sits there and spins around, but that would be funny! Maybe they could get Pete Burns from Dead or Alive. And I'm back from the pointless '80s tangent in 3...2...1. Yes, the 3rd judge is always different so there's no way to compare him/her/them to Simon. Not that anyone could compare to the brutally honest Brit. I'm so disgusted with myself that I find him so sexually appealing. I need help.

So there you have it...all you could possibly want to know about American Idol, Nashville Star, my strange attractions and obviously boring life.

Thanks to the AI Website and USA Network's Nashville Star page for the pics that I may or may not be allowed to use here.


Les Becker said...

Awful as it sounds, the only thing I like about AI is the very beginning shows, when all the creepy, crappy people that can't sing get made fun of. Once the good performers actually hit the stage, all the fun is gone for me. I'm a bad person.

Metal Mark said...

My wife and I have been watching American Idol this season. I like Chris, Katharine, Mandisa and Taylor the best. Kevin annoys me pretty badly.

Heather said...

I missed AI last night. Dang it! I like Chris & Mandisa the best. Kevin has got to go. It gives me a headache just thinking about him.

I saw the last 1/4 of NS and I have to say, they've got some talent on there this year.

Great, one more show I'm gonna have to TiVo.

Alice said...

i'm so with you (and everyone) on the kevin thing. please. just put him out of his misery. or.. well.. put him out of MY misery, i guess. and i agree re: kellie. however, she has 100% won over the heart of my boyfriend AND simon cowell, proving definitively that even normally picky men are won over by dumb blondes with cute accents. how depressing. :-)

LoraLoo said...

It was definitely time for Melissa to go. At this point in the game, if you're forgetting the words, you don't deserve to be there.

Chris is definitely my favorite, with Katharine close behind.

I actually liked Kevin until he got cocky with Simon. That was just not good with me. Simon knows what he's doing, and I have to say I almost always agree with him too. We all know he's not going to make it all the way, but I thought he was cute until this week.

Brooks said...

Anyone that is dumb enough to admit not knowing any Stevie Wonder songs doesn't deserve the crown. The bald guy has got a great voice and I like him, but admitting to not knowing Stevie is like being in cooking school and not knowing who Julia Child is.

I heard that Fuel asked Chris D. to be their new lead singer -- pretty amazing huh?


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