Thursday, April 14, 2011

American Idol or The Gong Show revisited.

Something very interesting is happening with American Idol. Angie is a dedicated watcher of the program and, consequently, I have sort of become interested myself. There is an unusually talented bunch on the show it seems to me. But that's not so terribly different from seasons past. No, the interesting thing this year is that each of the remaining contestants seem to be experts in wildly disparate genres of music.

Gospel is represented by one young man, jazz by another, grass roots country by another and, of all things, heavy metal by yet another. So what's happening here is that people aren't voting for the 'best' of the bunch of singers, but rather for the kind of music they enjoy. I really like this. It elevates this rather pedestrian talent show to something else altogether; a compare and contrast study of American music itself.

Last night the young man that sort of 'specializes' in jazz sang an old Nat King Cole tune called 'Nature Boy.' It was not even in the same league as the rest of the participants. For the first and perhaps the only time, this over-produced 'Gong Show' became something else entirely: a concert. And, quite to my surprise, I was really impressed with this guy's performance. It wasn't a bunch of caterwalling set to latter-day, bubble-gum tunes, but an actual, beautifully conceived performance. It was extraordinary. And I fully expect him to be voted off tonight.

This is the sad part of the show. Clearly the majority of voters are teenage girls. And I would be very surprised if they enjoyed that particular performance in the least. On the other hand (and the really cool thing about the show) is that this guy has been yanked from obscurity and placed front and center on America's stage to display his wares. And impressive wares they are.

Another of the singers on display is a young man (sixteen, for God sakes) with one of the purest country voices I've heard in years. It's a throwback to Hank Williams and George Jones and Johnny Cash and it's absoulutely riveting. Singing pure country is not easy. This is not 'cross-over' stuff, but rather the real deal. And I, quite surprisingly, found myself shaking my head in awe as he warbled out his song last night.

There's another young man (Angie likes him more than I do) who did a pure 'heavy metal' song last night. In fact the song was actually called 'Heavy Metal.' I'm not a fan of that style of music. I find it grating and, well, just dumb. But nonetheless this guy rocked it out. Even though I don't like the genre itself, there is no getting around that he does it exceptionally well.

And then there's the young guy that sings gospel. Last night he performed the great Simon and Garfunkel tune, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. This guy has the kind of voice that really shakes the rafters. He's not a great performer, per se, but that voice...heavens. The problem is, he's clearly rather religious judging by his comments during the show and like most religious dimwits, he's always trying to 'teach a lesson' through his music.

Oddly, the female performers this year are not up to the standards of the male performers. Generally, as I recall, the opposite has been the case in the past few seasons.

But again, this jazz guy, I think his name is Casey, he's the one to watch. Really a simply top flight artist. He plays the stand-up base with his work, and it is head and shoulders superior to everybody else on the show. Which is really saying something, because, as I said, this is an unusually talented bunch this year.

There are a couple of 'mentors' on the show this year that give advice during the rehearsal week about choice of song, etc. One of them is apparently the president of some huge record company and, naturally, he's always pushing for the performers to sing the lowest common denominator type songs. Something that will appeal to all the teenage girls, that is to say. Casey, the jazz guy, flat-out refused to do it. I liked that very much. The heavy metal guy also told him to take a hike. This guy, the 'mentor' (Jimmy something is his name), is a microcosm of everything that's wrong about American popular music today. He's clearly concerned with making money and selling records rather than actual talent.

Strangely, I find myself looking forward to seeing who leaves the show tonight. If for no other reason to see if my theory holds water. To see if America will vote out the one singer that shows true artistry. I hope I'm wrong but I suspect I won't be.

See you tomorrow.