Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Favorite Idol Performances #12 & #13

I adore Dolly Parton. She's had a long career of looking dumb while being very very smart, and, unlike many of her contemporaries, she's done some of her best work in the past decade. So I was curious to see what the Idol kids would do with her songs last night. Aside from Kristy Lee and possibly Brooke, none of the other remaining Idol contestants struck me as country music naturals. Of course, as several demonstrated, Dolly's songs don't necessarily have to be sung Dolly-style, something Miss Whitney proved way back when. I must say the night was a pleasant surprise. Aside from Ramiele, who, cute as she is, seems incapable of connecting with any song, there were no Beatles-scale disasters and several excellent performances.

Brooke started things off, doing one of my favorite Dolly-penned songs, "Jolene." Great great song, and an excellent choice for Brooke, I thought. But, Brooke, this is a song about a woman pleading with another woman not to steal her man. It is intimate, girlfriend-to-girlfriend, desperate, sad. But ever-sunny Brooke lost her focus while playing smiley with the audience, and, consequently she lost the song. (Meanwhile, while Brooke was distracted, Jolene would've had that man right under her ivory thumb and between her ivory sheets.)

Jason did "Travelin' On," which was on the "Transamerica" soundtrack. Before he sang, Ryan showed everyone a stack of postcards all written to Jason from the same girl. "Your voice is as relaxing as the scene on the front of this card," Ryan quoted from the card, before showing a bucolic Colorado lake and mountain. Rocky Mountain High--that's Jason. The song suited him, and he did a trans-free, no alarms and no surprises take on it. Also no surprises from the previously mentioned Ramiele, who, like her voice last week, really needs to go "bye bye."

Carly chose "Here You Come Again," a song not actually written by Dolly and one of my least favorite of Dolly's recordings. It was during the era when Dolly was trying to cross over to pop stardom, which she did with some success obviously, but it was a low point in her artistic output. Good selection for Carly, however, as Dolly pointed out, since she gave it the pure pop sheen it deserved, Céline solidity replacing the twang. Simon--ever the fashion plate himself--trashed Carly's looks. She's not a style queen, for sure, but at least this week she didn't look like she was about to puke, and she's still got the best pipes among the girls.

David A. chose "Smoky Mountain Memories," which got Dolly teary-eyed, and she added that he "has the voice to really become a great great singer." I believe she meant it, and it snapped me back from the uneasy feeling that I'm either scared of or, more likely, scared for little David. The gorgeous purity of his voice during the ballads (which are his forte) paired with the doe-eyed gaze into the camera makes me imagine a roomful of salivating Christian music producers readying their kidnapping plan. (Imagine all the teen girls and gay boys converting before their Idol!) When he sings about "leaning on my Jesus" the conviction creeps me out a little. Just what this country needs: more Jesus (no offense to Jesus himself). David A. walks that fine line between hopeful sincerity and hopelessly contrived sentimentality, and if I hadn't paid attention to the rumors about stage-Daddy, and the fact that David's been on stage practically since he popped from Mama's womb, I might be less cynical. He's a true talent. He should be in the Top 3. I'm just more interested in what he'll become when he's a free adult than what he is right now. I suppose it would be out of line for me to suggest that Dolly take David to her ample bosom and adopt him for safekeeping?

Clever Kristy Lee made it through with flying colors (of the stars-and-stripes variety) last week to land in her country comfort zone. "Coat of Many Colors" wasn't a bad song selection for her, though story-songs lose something when they're chopped to Idol fragments. I've no doubt Kristy knows the songbooks of the Holy Trinity (or Trio, as the case may be)--Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou--but she lacks even a smidgen of the raw talent those girls had at her age. She might get voted off tonight, even if last night's was far from her worst performance. Maybe she should have chosen "Hello God" with full-hallelujah choir back-up to continue her over-the-top pandering? (I confess to loving "Hello God" in all its hokeyness. I've even made it the finale on several gift mix-tapes, probably to the chagrin of the recipients.) As it stands, KL should be sent on her pretty way to Shaniaville.

Syesha chose, huge surprise, "I Will Always Love You." (Somebody had to chose it.) Uh-oh. Didn't I tell you not to do Whitney, girl? (And you know whose version Syesha was putting herself up against: not Dolly's, not Linda's.) My boyfriend, the pitch queen, caught more than a few sharp shooters, but the thing I still love about Syesha is, even taking the obvious road, she puts herself out there on the cliff's edge of vulnerability and goes for it. She fearlessly pushes her voice beyond its comfort zone in both the big and small spaces, and she connects with a song, or tries damned hard to, however imperfect the results. Brooke and Carly and, lord knows, Ramiele could all take lessons about going for broke from Syesha.

Which leads us to the two best performances of the night, in my opinion, David C. and Michael (again), the mature brothers. I would buy full-length recordings of the Dolly songs they chose. (Which I can't say about Carly's and David A's performances.) David C. captured that haunted bluegrassy sound and married it to his rock strengths. It was perfect, despite Simon's misgivings. (Simon seems to have an irrational loathing of songs involving birds, as Carly probably recalls. Did he have a Hitchcockian bird trauma in his bratty youth? In general, his underwear were too tight or something last night; maybe he'd borrowed Randy's twisted panties from last week?) After reading today about what David was also dealing with--heart palpitations of his own and a brother's cancer along with the usual AI high-anxiety--I have all the more respect for him seamlessly pulling it off. And, David, the new hairdo was like a total 100% improvement, dude, take it from someone who's had his share of male pattern hairdo mishaps.

Michael, Michael, you bluesy ascotted studmuffin, you! I really had no idea what Michael would do with the Dolly canon, but in the rehearsal interview he came across as a genuine fan (I was smitten with his smittenness). He took one of Dolly's ho-hum songs and sang the shit out of it in a style not unlike that of the great country-blues singer, Delbert McClinton. Totally found your niche, baby, and watching it again makes me feel all funny inside.

My Bottom 3 would be Kristy Lee (of course), Ramiele, and Jason, with either of the girls going home, but I'm guessing it might go down differently, sigh. If you're sent packing, Syesha, you deserve better and you're still gorgeous.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the comments! Nicely written.

Anonymous said...

I totally loved the Dolly show and a agree entirely with your review. While I loved David A's beautiful performance of Smoky Mountain Memories, I too was creeped out by his comfortable conviction when singing about Jesus... at one point he had an uplifted finger thing going on, which seemed so Holy Roller to me. I didn't know that song, and had to play it back several times to really understand what it was about. When I did it reminded me of a friend who's family moved from Alabama to Ohio when he was a boy so they could find work. Very real and touching song and I loved the way Dolly got all teary when she was mentoring David! (Then I felt really bad for her last night when she performed Jesus and Gravity because I thought she sounded really pretty awful... )

Thanks for the entertaining review!! -Joseph

Anonymous said...

My thoughts almost to a tee.Dolly is awesome.I thought Carly was the best,though.Never knew the tempo of that song could be brought down with such a nice effect.She is my favorite so far.Thanks for the great review!