Idol Loves Idol

Stayin' Alive
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
May 11 2007 5:54 PM

Idol Loves Idol

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American Idol, final three. Click image to expand.
American Idol final three: Melinda Doolittle, Blake Lewis, and Jordin Sparks

Forget American Idol. Can we skip the end of this season and proceed directly to The Search for the Next Great American Band, the new Simon Fuller-produced reality blockbuster, announced by Ryan Seacrest on Wednesday's broadcast? It's a no-brainer premise: an Idol for bands, open to groups in all genres. Among other things, the show promises to have fantastic behind-the-scenes material. You don't need to have seen Some Kind of Monster to know that bands are the ultimate dysfunctional families, plagued by petty internecine rivalries, preening lead singers, sullen bassists who secretly loathe the lead singer, keyboardists who nod off during rehearsals, and, always, idiot drummers, some of whom spontaneously combust on stage. I also love the fact that there are no genre stipulations—I have a dream that a bunch of East L.A. mariachis, or maybe some Lower East Side klezmer punks, will take home the prize. But the smart money has to be on a wedding band who know a thing about making hairpin stylistic turns from Pachelbel's "Canon in D"to "Have I Told You Lately" to "Shout." In any case, I can't wait—I'm almost as excited as the guys from Grand Funk Railroad, who stand to reap a fortune in royalties.

Maybe LaKisha Jones should rustle up a backing group and enter the competition? LaKisha got kicked off Idol on Wednesday night, and though I've never been a fan, I have to concede that this was a small injustice: LaKisha was bad on Barry Gibb night, but Blake Lewis—my erstwhile favorite; oh, the shame, the shame!—Blake sucked bad. His voice is anemic; his vocal muscles seem to have atrophied as the season has worn on, to the point where he is incapable of projecting and has lost any semblance of range. His rendition of "You Should Be Dancing" was gruesomely monotone, coming to life only during the inevitable beatboxing bits. (The judges hated the beatboxing, but I liked it better than his ballyhooed Bon Jovi "remix.") His second song choice, the obscure Bee Gees chestnut "This Is Where I Came In," was simply perverse: Shouldn't he know by now that Simon Cowell never, ever likes songs that aren't monster hits? We get it, Blake: You're alternative, you dig the album tracks, man. Oh, and by the way: that new Pepé Le Pew look? Not working for you. Someone get Sanjaya's hairstylist on the phone.

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The truth is, nobody did very well this week, in part because Bee Gees songs are deceptively hard to sing. Blake called Gibb, "one of the pioneers of dance music," which gets it exactly wrong. Gibb is an old-fashioned song craftsman—a composer of beautiful, harmonically sophisticated pop songs who would have held his own back in the 1930s with Gershwin and Kern and company. This is the funny thing about the Bee Gees disco-era apogee: They were playing dress-up, shamelessly bandwagon-hopping, writing the same great songs that they always did, and tacking on a dance beat. They were disco manqué. LaKisha found that out the hard way, when she tried to navigate the tumbling octave drops in the chorus of "Stayin' Alive." No amount of gospel bluster was going help her pull that off —"Stayin' Alive" is a song, and it requires a singer.

Which is where Melinda Doolittle comes in. Ms. Inevitable Champion was smooth and supple as always, and she chose her songs well. ("How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was predictable, but I was delighted to hear "Love You Inside Out," a great second-tier Bee Gees hit. *) There's no faulting Melinda's chops, but Paula, of all people, cut to the heart of the matter, telling Melinda, in her halting roundabout Abdulian way, to inject a little more feeling into her technically flawless game. A flicker of humanity really would be nice.

Jordin, the other semifinalist (and soon-to-be finalist, once Blake is eliminated next week) has plenty of soul: She feels her songs, even when she's not quite singing them right. Which is why, despite the fact that she's a sappy ballad queen and can't sing half as well as Melinda, I'll be pulling for her in the next couple of weeks. She is, after all, just 17—she might not turn out to be, as Gibb predicted, "one of our greatest female singers," but the girl's got promise. The key for her the next couple of weeks will be song choice. "Woman in Love" was not a good one. Jordin, honey: No one but Streisand can sing Streisand. Even Streisand can't really these days.

Until next week, I'm off to listen to some Bee Gees—the Last Great Australian Band.

Correction, May 18, 2007: The article originally had the wrong title for the Bee Gees hit "Love You Inside Out." (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

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