Wednesday, May 06, 2009

American Idol, Top 4: Adam Lambert rocks the competition

Adam Lambert tore through Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" tonight on "American Idol."
Song-by-song thoughts on tonight's "American Idol" -- and on the idiotic, but not unentertaining, decision to have the contestants perform duets -- coming right up...

Once again, I have to rail against the bumbling on this show. Once upon a time, they were able to squeeze ten songs into an hour. Ten. Now they freak out if the number goes over seven, in part because four judges is too many, in part because all the judges talk too long, in part because there's too much window-dressing (I like Slash, but he's unnecessary), but mainly because the show has just become so fat and lazy and arrogant that they couldn't find a way to make it work. So rather than letting each contestant sing two solo songs, we got one solo apiece, followed by two duets.

And the duets were pretty good, actually. On "Renegade," Danny and Kris harmonized in a way that "Idol" contestants rarely manage to do with each other, and Adam and Allison just tore up the stage on "Slow Ride," but it had nothing to do with anything. It's not fair to judge anyone that way after it's been an individual competition all along, and the show seemed to acknowledge this by not running phone numbers under the performances or showing them as part of the end-of-show clip package. (They had the judges critique them because the last time they had the judges not critique a performance, Paula traveled through time, saw the future, and everybody got mad.) Even Simon admitted it was stupid, throwing up his hands after Kris and Danny's performance and suggesting half-heartedly that Danny "won" the duet.

And despite all that, the show still ran past its alloted time-slot.

Bumblers. It's an embarrassment. This stuff would have been cool as part of the results show, or in the finale, but it had no business being part of the episode where people are voting. Period.

Now, onto the actual solos, performer-by-performer:

Adam Lambert, "Whole Lotta Love": First off, Led Zeppelin is legendary for either refusing to license out their music or charging such a high quote that nobody (even their pal Cameron Crowe) can afford much of it. So either "Idol" isn't nearly as cheap with its music licensing budget as we all assume, or else the guys from Zeppelin really, really like Adam Lambert and dropped their quote for him.

I was, frankly, so gobsmacked by his ability to sing the song that it took me nearly half the performance to notice much about it. There wasn't a lot of surprise in it -- this wasn't Adam turning Johnny Cash into a sitar dirge, or going stripped-down for Smokey Robinson -- and I frankly prefer an Adam who restrains his tendency to wail a little. But I can't deny that in terms of charisma, vocal chops and ability to work the stage and the band, he's leaps and bounds among the competition every week, and particularly on this week. No contest. I preferred his "Tracks of My Tears" and a few other performances he's done, but this is gonna vault him into the finals. He barely needs to show up next week.

Allison Iraheta, "Crybaby": Shut up, Randy. Shut up, Kara. Shut up, all judges, in fact. Yes, there's a certain monotonous quality to this cut from the Janis Joplin catalog, but I though it was a perfect choice for Allison: quiet passion on the verses and powerful but controlled outer-range belting on the chorus. To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed listening to this more than I did Adam's "Whole Lotta Love," as my head starts to hurt a little when he stays in his upper register that long. Whether best of the night or second best, she was far better-suited to the theme than either of the guys who followed her, and I really hope she sticks around.

Kris Allen, "Come Together": I don't think the theme was necessarily a bad fit for Kris, since there are plenty of songs in the rock genre that'd be perfect for him. But the song was a bad choice (not that "Revolution" would have been better). "Come Together" is a weird, ugly song that requires a weird, (metaphorically) ugly singer. Carly Smithson fit the bill last year. Kris doesn't. He's too clean-cut to be singing about "walrus gumboots" and "toe-jam football," and he seems like he's trying too hard. The vocal itself is fine, and this is as good as he's sounded on the guitar (I think; with the "Idol" sound mix, you can never really tell), but the end result was awkward.

Danny Gokey, "Dream On": Ow. Ow. Ow. OW! Pardon me, but my ears are still ringing from those last few, agonizing screeches. This is the first time Danny has outright sounded bad on the show. And it's not that he can't sing rock at all -- he was just fine on "Renegade" (and, as Simon noted, better than Kris) -- but he has neither the range nor the attitude to take on Steven Tyler and do anything but look and sound foolish. Bad, bad choice.

Best of the night: Vocally, I might give a slight edge to Allison, but on the whole package, it's Adam. It's always been Adam. It's gonna be Adam until the end, and then we'll see what happens once people have the ability to vote against him in a 1-on-1 scenario.

In danger: Everybody else, really. Between Adam's bottom two scare last week and the way this theme fit him like a glove, he's in absolutely zero danger this week. Allison has bottom-surfed her way this far, and the judges damned her with faint praise -- but then, they did the same with Kris, and outright panned Danny.

What did everybody else think?

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