American Idol, Week 4: Excitement with the Judges, not the Singersby Dana Walker -- 07/10/2002
Ah, yes… we’re down to the last group of ten. And as this fresh batch of kids perform, I find myself wondering how some of them even made it this far. But we’ll get to that.
We’re re-introduced to the judges, and Ryan makes a reference to the rumor that he and Paula are an item. (Tabloid fodder is almost never true and almost always ridiculous… this rumor is just further proof of that.) Simon comments on Ryan’s outfit – “Nice blouse. See-through is very good on you – does it come with matching panties?” (Score one more for the British guy.)
Now, last week Fox advertised that a finalist was being disqualified for not telling the truth. This provoked all kinds of speculation about which finalist was being disqualified for lying and what exactly the lie in question was. Someone emailed me, “It must be ‘your Justin’ lying about not being a signed artist. He’s too good to be an amateur.” Well, that being true and all, even the best are undiscovered at one point in their lives, and my Justin is no different. (And shame on you for doubting him!)
As it turns out, Delano, one of the final ten left to sing, had lied about his age. He told the show’s producers that he is 23 when he is actually 29. (And as we all know, no one over the age of 24 has any business trying to be a singer. How dare he claim to be talented? Doesn’t he know that all vocal ability is extracted from one’s body at the age of 25 and injected into every 15-year-old who ever made an appearance on Nickelodeon?)
Although I am being sarcastic, he should have either stuck with his lie or not tried to pull one over on the producers. Ejay Day is the first alternate and is called in to replace Delano. Delano’s little blunder is Ejay’s salvation; this guy is ecstatic. (Dana states the obvious.) He has no time to prepare, really, but he also has no time to sit around and get nervous. As I took all of this in, I thought to myself, “Yep. Ejay’s on his way to the final ten.” That’s always what happens in these situations. No pressure, no pressure…
The entire atmosphere of this episode is… well, tense, and that’s putting it mildly. Simon’s porridge must’ve been too cold that morning or something, and Randy Jackson was definitely looking for a brawl. (Have the judges been getting exposed to sunlight and watered regularly, Ryan & Brian? You might want to check on that.) But more on that coming up soon, too.
Our first pup out of the gate tonight is…
1) R.J. - He performs “I’ll Be There.” He sings, “I’ll be there to comforchew…” (Note to novices – never “chew” while you sing. In a word - ENUNCIATE.) Overall, he’s pretty good but kind of boring. I’m not impressed. Randy gives him a “very good,” noting that he loves the sound and tone of R.J.’s voice. Paula doles out her standard “solid performance, good job” observation. And Simon? Oh boy, Simon goes off.
We now interrupt the contestant reviews with a recap of the exciting battle.
Simon could not disagree with Paula more. He thinks R.J. was “average,” continuing on with, “We have to get this competition back on track. In the last two competitions, two losers were voted through based on nothing but the sympathy vote.” Randy and Paula begin the futile process of arguing with Simon, saying that you can’t go around calling people losers. Simon points out that he can say and do whatever he wants because he’s judging a talent competition and that he’s voicing his opinion. The statements “This is America! You can’t do that here!” and “You can’t call people losers! This is America!” get tossed at Simon more than once.
Um, hello… this being America actually gives Simon every right to call people losers. He actually has every right to come over to the self-proclaimed "land of the free and the home of the brave" and air his views, no matter how brutal they may be. Sorry Randy and Paula, but you guys need to suck that one up. It’s fine to get pissed and start a shouting match, but to brandish the phrase, “you can’t say such things in America,” in the process is simply contradictory.
Randy heatedly hops up out of his chair and moves toward Simon, shouting, “You wanna do something about it? C’mon!”
Was this staged? I don’t know. Simon looked genuinely surprised by Randy’s reaction, so I’m going to say it wasn’t. Not only that, but the show is already getting great ratings (doesn’t hurt to be almost the only new show on in the dead of summer), so to arrange that kind of thing isn’t particularly necessary.
Anyway, to sum up the evaluation of R.J. – Simon notes to him that he’s not referring to him in his use of the word “loser,” but he thinks that he’s average, that this competition is about finding the best of the best, and that he’s not it. After incredulously watching the judge’s confrontation, R.J. returns to the fold looking more confused than upset.
2) Kristin – she has to follow that? Yep. But she’s already proven her resiliency… this is the same chick that experienced her most embarrassing moment on national TV by skidding right into the judges’ table in Dallas, after all. (Her choice of song, oddly enough, is “Fallin.’”) Her performance is average… I’ve never thought she was a tremendous vocalist anyway. (I’d like to know what made her decide on pairing a white hot-air balloon with a top from the disco era, though.) Paula thinks she was disengaged from the song and didn’t do as well as she had hoped; Randy says that she’s not anywhere close to her best; Simon, who was once her biggest supporter, states that if he were judging a beauty competition she would win, but that she’s out of her league here. She goes back into the room with the other kids and cries, “At least he didn’t call me a loser.” While our very special co-hosts attempt to console her, she snaps, “Simon must’ve missed the bucket at the door, because that’s where we drop our attitudes.”
Yet another note to contestants: Again with the insecure, immature little catch phrases. Did you not read my note after Tenia’s embarrassing display last week? Stop this nonsense. I understand that your fragile little feelings are hurt, but believe me – when you look back on the show, you’ll be thinking, “Oh God, I said that?”
3) Mark – he’s the “Michael Jackson impersonator” kid that Paula fought hard for in Chicago. Paula – WHY? He chooses a classic Motown selection (“My Girl”) then sings it with all of the personality of an eggplant. He’s okay, I guess, but I’ve heard better in my local bar. (Of course, I saw The Calling twice in my local bar before they released “Everywhere You Will Go,” so I suppose I’m a bit biased.) And the outfit is – um – I’m not quite sure what to say about it, so I shall decline comment. Paula loves the sound of his voice but she doesn’t care for his song choice. Randy keeps it simple: “That wasn’t good tonight, man.” Simon says that it wasn’t good enough, then directs a question to Ryan and Brian: “You two think every performance is so great, but just what do you two know about judging a talent competition? Nothing.” Brian replies that he knows nothing about judging talent, but he does know that he doesn’t like to see good kids cry.
Okay, Brian, I hear ya shouting at me loud and clear. But let me tell you this: If any one of these kids can hear criticism such as Simon’s, accept it, and go on to become a successful performer, then he or she really does have what it takes.
4) Nikki – She performs the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” She shouts the entire middle verse. (No, that’s not the way to sing rock & roll.) But the judges all love her, complimenting her originality and style. (Do you think Pink likes her style, too? She must, since she showed up with it two years ago. I’m sure Gwen Stefani likes it, too, since Pink actually borrowed it from her.) Randy is really impressed; he loves her look, “even though you ran out of steam vocally at the end.” Paula really admires her originality, “that you march to the beat of your own drum,” but does note that she “shouted a bit.” Simon agrees with Paula, on both accounts, and continues by saying that Nikki is one of the strongest performers in this competition, that this contest is not only about vocal ability but also about finding someone who can do his or her own thing.
Wait… I’m confused. We want a superior vocalist here, right? She’s not one. We also want someone with “original style”? Well, she may be original amongst this particular competition’s Britney wannabes and pageant queens, but amongst today’s pop/rock artists, she’s not unique at all. (The contestant thus far who embodies this idea AND has killer vocal ability is Angela Peel from last week… but that’s just my humble opinion. I’m not judging this competition, either.) And the fact that Simon pounced on Jamar for shouting last week but lets it slide with this chick leaves me a bit miffed.
There’s some issue between Nikki and Kristin, but I missed what it was – something about an airplane – and I honestly couldn’t care less. But I'm not at all surprised by the sudden discovery that there are (gasp) contestants who don't get along(!) The whole backstage camaraderie thing is such a load of crap. Hello, this is a competition. Besides, singers are clique-ier than actors.
After the commercial break there’s an incredibly stupid plug for the website (www.idolonfox.com) involving Brian Dunkleman referring to himself as “Dunk.” It was horrible and not at all funny. Enough said.
5) Chris – He looks like Kirk Cameron. (That’s not to his advantage.) Plucked directly from some Midwest high school show choir, he’s so frighteningly average that I can’t even imagine how he got this far. What an appropriate choice, though – “I Swear.” (I swear, if this kid wins, I will go around and personally cut every phone line of every girl under the age of 17 in America.) Paula – “Great job.” (Can she say anything else?) Randy says that he has no energy and that it was really bad. Simon agrees with Randy on the lack of energy thing, saying that it’s really what this kid had going for him… he’s good-looking, but has an average singing voice, and that since his energy was what sold him before, he’s sold out. When Chris returns, either Ryan or Brian says that showing range isn’t selling out. (Well, if he had shown any range, then maybe you would’ve made a good point, but he didn’t. Point not taken.)
6) Melanie – She’s gorgeous, but damn it if she didn’t choose the same song that Tamyra did. (Don’t do that!! Tamyra was beyond amazing.) However, she sings it so well that I’m actually impressed for the first time tonight. While she’s singing, though, I realize that she sounds exactly like Jennifer Holliday. Then I recall that in her first audition, she sang “I Will Always Love You” and sounded identical to Whitney Houston. This no longer bodes well for Melanie in my book. Fantastic voice, but no originality whatsoever. Randy manages to give her a “good job;” Paula says, “Great job.” (Surprise, surprise.) Simon points out how beautiful she is and that she sung it well, but that he can’t help but think “Cabaret.” Melanie looks perplexed. “You mean like strip club?” (Oh, Lord…) Simon looks extremely amused. “No, like Las Vegas.” Paula backs him up, saying that Melanie’s hand movement at the end may have brought that to mind.
I’m noticing that Simon is containing himself… I’m sure he’s dying to say something about the connection between strip clubs and cabaret, but Randy might take a swipe at him if he does. Hold it in, buddy.
7) Ejay – He chooses, “I’ll Be,” which is the song that Adriel sang. Now, I don’t care for the tone of his voice, and I’m not crazy about the fact that he chose the same song as Adriel, but man, can this boy sing. His range is phenomenal, and his arrangement of the song is enough to make an impression. He is truly a very talented singer. Simon goes first: “No one has sung better than that today. Brilliant.” Paula: “You’ve blown everyone away.” Randy: “I didn’t know you had that kind of vocal range.”
Uh-huh. What did I say earlier? He’s a sure thing.
8) Tanesha – Her outfit is really cute. She sings well – good use of dynamics – but you can tell how nervous she is, and she really goes overboard with the riffs. (Sometimes it’s okay to sing the melody line, kids.) Paula thinks she has a beautiful voice, but that she did too much riffing around. Randy puts it very well: “You never found the note.” Simon: “You didn’t shine like a star. But so what? There are just better people. Sorry.” And he makes yet another good kid cry.
9) Khaleef – He chooses “My Cherie Amour” and performs it like a pale imitation of Stevie Wonder, hitting sharp notes all over the place while staring back at the camera like a terrified child. He looks and sounds really uncomfortable. Randy says he looked petrified and sounded just okay. Paula disagrees, telling him that he did a really good job and that he made the song his own. (Who were you listening to, Paula? Cause it wasn’t Khaleef.) Simon agrees with Randy, but lets Khaleef know that he liked the way he disassociated himself from his group in the second audition – “You are someone who cares about you, and I hope you win the competition.”
The kids get a moment to make fun of some of the other kids who auditioned but didn’t make the cut. This little skit is cute, and proves yet again how kids will take any opportunity to poke fun at each other, yet often can’t take the criticism thrown at them by a pro like Simon Cowell.
10) Christina – She’s the girl who sang “Isn’t He Lovely” to Simon in her first audition. She’s a really pretty girl, and although I’m not a big fan of her tremolo vibrato style, she’s a talented vocalist with good dynamics and a decent range. (She also knows the difference between singing and shouting.) Paula loves her, declaring that she has “such star presence;” Randy thinks her choice of song and its arrangement are very interesting and that her performance was good. Simon: “We’ve had a number of bland performances tonight, and all I can say is this – thank God for you. Fantastic.”
Admittedly, no one blew off my doors on this episode. Based on tonight’s performances, my choices are Melanie, Ejay, and Christina, but I didn’t bother to call in any votes. I know for a fact that Nikki will win one of the chairs, based solely on her “different” appeal, but I don’t feel that she’s a good enough singer. The other two will probably go to two of these three: R.J., Ejay, and Christina. (R.J. ONLY because of the backlash from Simon’s outburst.)
The results show begins by addressing the fight between Simon and Randy. Ryan asks Simon if he feels that the use of “loser” was maybe not the best choice of word. Simon slyly dodges the question, reiterating his opinion that two people have gotten through on the pity vote, which has kept two people with more talent from progressing. Paula pipes up that Simon’s flagrant abuse ends up perpetuating the pity vote (which is true: I got more than one email basically stating, “I’m voting for R.J. to spite Simon.”). Simon goes on to say that Randy got overemotional and that he cares passionately about the right person winning this competition, but that if he’s not allowed to express his opinion that won’t happen. Paula asks in disbelief, “Since when have you not been able to express your opinion?” Simon points out that Randy almost attacked him when he did, and Randy almost gets up again.
The tension remains high on the western front.
Ryan & Brian ask the kids for their feedback. R.J. was just shocked and confused about the whole thing. Kristin says that she doesn’t regret her decision to give up the Miss Texas pageant, even though Simon has basically crushed her. When Simon is asked if he’s changed his opinion about Kristin, he says that he hasn’t, because when she started out she was up against 100 singers, and now that the competition has been narrowed down she’s not good enough. He goes on to say that he refuses to patronize the singers, and he won’t patronize the viewing audience, either. Ryan or Brian asks Simon if he believes that the confrontation may have affected Kristin’s performance, he replies, “Well don’t blame me, blame Randy,” prompting Randy to get hot under the collar one more time.
In light of all of this heavy agitation, the judges’ are not asked whom they think will win the first chair. The first finalist is Christina, and all of the judges agree that she is the right choice.
The kids get a moment to vent about the judges (Simon) in another disgusting and pointless Ford promo.
The second chair goes to Nikki. Simon is pleased, because she’s not a wannabe. Paula repeats her hackneyed cliché – something about marching and drummers – and Randy recommends that she continue to challenge herself vocally, mentioning that he didn’t think she was shouting (even thought she was) and that the other judges don’t understand rock & roll (which doesn’t have to consist of shouting unless you’re not a good singer, like, say… oh, I don’t know… Lita Ford or Joan Jett come to mind.) Nikki says that it’s rock & roll so she has to shout to get the emotion behind it. She also refers to Bonnie Tyler in this statement, but I would like to point out that Bonnie Tyler never shouts a song because her belting range is amazing. (See, she can actually sing those notes in her chest voice rather than using the holy-hollerin’ technique preferred by Nikki, the supposed not-a-wannabe.)
Before we find out who the third winner is, the other six finalists are brought on to stage. The kids talk about stuff that happened to them last week because of their new fame. Neat. (A couple named their newborn baby after Tamyra, but I tuned out the rest.)
And Ryan & Brian ask the judges who they think the third chair winner will be. Simon (much to Paula’s delight): “No comment.” Paula: “Based on pure vocal ability, I’ll say Ejay.” Randy: “Ejay. He sang his face off last night.” (Wow, I hadn’t noticed that he no longer had a face.) Ejay is the third choice, and the judges are content.
But we can’t sign off quite yet. Ryan asks Simon who the two losers in question are. Simon admits, “Maybe ‘loser’ is the wrong word,” and goes on to say that Jim and A.J. don’t belong there, and ends with, “So prove me wrong.” (Guess his porridge was just right that morning.)
He then adds that he’s not going to pretend that all ten of these competitors will end up being successful pop stars, though, which swiftly brings the Simon we all know and some love (but most hate) back to life.
On to the Wild Card Special this Tuesday at 9 pm. And whom do I think will win the wild card spot? Well, I’m getting to that in an upcoming article. Hold your horses.
Dana Walker is a writer/singer/songwriter/former reality show contestant living in the Los Angeles area. Contact her at LilDanaSunshine@msn.com.
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