Tag Archives: American Idol

American Idol 8×01

I am not going to live-blog American Idol this year, for a number of reasons, the most compelling of which is that most people who read and enjoyed the live-blogging are now seeing the show three hours before me (even if I don’t timeshift, and I probably will), so it wouldn’t really be live.

But that’s not to say I won’t have thoughts about the show. Probably what I’ll do, though, is post them in the Tumblr section rather than the main blog section after this post. So look for American Idol stuff over there.

I really like the new judge, Kara (or Kahra, if you’re Simon). She’s sassy. She called Paula (or maybe bikini-girl, I wasn’t too clear on that) a bitch! Plus she’s a songwriter, and I’m cool with that. And Simon is being nicer this year, already. We’ll see how that goes.

As far as the contestants, haven’t seen a winner yet. Arianna Afsar and Stevie Wright are fulfilling my need for jazzy, bluesy singers, and Scott (the blind guy) has an extremely pleasing voice. And Emily Wynne-Hughes, the much-tattooed rocker that came early in the show, is there for the rock side of things. I liked her, but I’m not sure I respect her leaving her band in the lurch like that. In fact, I don’t.

American Idol Top 2

Is it just me, or were they REALLY pushing Archuleta for the win? I pretty much picked Cook over Archuleta every round, and then Simon did the opposite. Not that the judges and I usually agree, it just seemed like both Simon and Randy were giving Archuleta more praise than he deserved. His first song was not flawless, and the songwriters’ song he chose was not better.

So here’s the question. Are they pushing Archuleta for the win because they really think he’s better? Because he’s more marketable? Because they secretly want Cook to come in second because he’ll have more creative freedom without Idol’s contract? Because they secretly want Cook to win and they’re using reverse psychology hoping to motivate Cook’s voters? I’m totally overthinking this aren’t I?

And then the question for me, and how/whether I vote. I want Cook to win because I think he’s ten times better than Archuleta. On the other hand, I don’t want him to win because I don’t want him to make Idol’s record, I want him to make HIS record. Maybe I’ll just let it alone and save my cell phone bill. :)

In unrelated life news, I’m all moved out of Waco and am back in St. Louis for a couple of weeks before I drive out to LA and find an apartment. And a job. Hopefully will have leads on that before I go out there. So that’s what’s going on, for those of you wondering.

Objective and Subjective Aesthetics

There are a couple of month-old posts over on Gene Edward Veith’s blog that I’ve been thinking about for, well, a month. Not constantly, of course. And I haven’t commented on them, and probably won’t, because of the amount of time that’s passed, but still. I’m thinking about them.  It started when he posted briefly about aesthetics and American Idol, noting that Carly Smithson and David Cook were the two best performers, but that he liked Brooke White and Michael Johns the best. His point was that "liking" something or someone is not the same as it being "good." I’d agree with that to a certain extent, but I’m a little bothered by the way he just laid it out there without giving any reason why Carly and David are "good" but Brooke and Michael are only worthy of "like."  Everyone who reads me knows that I like Brooke a lot more than Carly, and I might be willing to go farther.

If you judge Brooke and Carly on vocal range, Carly wins, I’ll admit. If you judge them on vocal tone quality, I’m not sure. If you judge on sincerity, Brooke wins. If you judge on being an artist rather than just a singer, Brooke wins. I sense a singer-songwriter in Brooke that I don’t in Carly. Now, you can say that American Idol is a singing contest and not a singer-songwriter contest, and that’s fine. You might be right (though the judges’ praise of David C’s arranging skills tell a bit of a different story). Given that, you could probably say that within the context of American Idol, Carly was a more fitting contestant. However, my criteria for a good artist involve sincerity, artistry, and originality, and I see more potential for those things in Brooke than in Carly. Hence, I feel justified in saying that Brooke is better.

See what’s happened there? I changed the criteria for judgement. Within one set of criteria, the ones involving purely vocal ability, Carly is objectively better. But within the other set, which involves the way the vocal ability is applied, Brooke is objectively better. Okay, perhaps you can disagree with me about that (I have even more trouble removing subjectivity from musical taste than from taste in other art forms), which means that even that might be a subjective valuation, but my point is that you can make objective judgements, but they still depend on shifting criteria.  Who decides what the criteria are, and is that decision an objective one?

The second Veith post takes off from a comment made on the American Idol post about having to work harder for some great aesthetic pleasures – i.e., something you didn’t "like" at first can become a much deeper pleasure if you work at, which you do because you know it’s "good." I would agree with that, as well, but I still have reservations about the whole thing. The example used was Milton, and I’ll be honest with you, I can’t stand Milton. We were supposed to read parts of Paradise Lost in a World Lit class, and I slogged through as best I could, but I hated every second of it. Last fall, I had the choice between a seminar on Milton and one in Rhetoric and Composition. And I chose the class about teaching composition to freshman, a job I will never have, so that I wouldn’t have to take Milton. So I’m biased on that example. And, of course, since I just admitted that I haven’t read Paradise Lost completely, I can’t in good faith use it in this argument, so I’ll have to take a slightly different tack.

If there are truly objective aesthetic criteria, then theoretically they should be true for all times and places, yes? Yet when you look at literary history, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Values shift over time and from place to place…the French have never embraced Shakespeare, for example, the way English-speakers do, and it’s not merely a translation issue, because Germans valued him before even the English did. Neoclassicals appreciated Homer, but felt that he was too rough and vulgar, especially in comparison with later, more polished writers from the height of Greek civilization; when the Romantics came on the scene, they valued Homer BECAUSE he was rough and had greater vitality than later Greek writers. So which is the right objective criteria? Smoothness or roughness? Polish or raw vitality? The sublime or the beautiful?

The Victorian novel saw itself as, at least in part, a purveyor of moral lessons. Nothing should be depicted that might offend or lead astray. The late 19th-century realist novelists thought their mission was to show life as it was, whether or not it was pretty or moral (some, like Henry James, were sure that it was more moral to be honest about the dark sides of life). By the time High Modernism rolled around, the moralizing narrators of Dickens and Eliot had nearly disappeared to make way for detached, non-committal ones. So is the novel’s job to promote morality? Is it to depict life? Is it to be moral though depicting life? Is it to hold off judgement and allow the reader to do the interpreting?

I gravitate toward 20th century literature, enjoy some from the 19th century, and try to stay as far away from the 18th as possible, so you can probably guess which criteria I tend to pick when I’m deciding what to call good. Narrators/authors who let the reader decide what to think = good. Ones who tell the reader what to think = bad. Books that focus on consciousness and the inner life = good. Ones that focus on detailed physical descriptions and events = bad (or at least, less good – some authors do this to great effect). Art that is raw and vital and creates forms that fit the moment = good. Art that is perfectly polished according to specific pre-determined forms = bad. (And just to bring in Milton again, evocative simplicity = good, pretentious complexity = bad; I’m not a huge poetry fan in general, but I would much prefer to read Langston Hughes or Sylvia Plath or, like, haiku than Milton or most any other pre-Romantic poet, and even the Romantics frustrate me at times. Get over yourself, Wordsworth, for serious. Less is more.)

I can objectively say that given those criteria, the Romantics are better than the Neoclassicals and the Modernists are better than the Victorians. However, those criteria are NOT objective, and are based on, yes, what I like better, but not just me. Large groups of people have championed these criteria. But equally large groups of people have championed the opposite criteria, as well. So my question is – on purely aesthetic matters, how can the criteria by which something is judged be chosen in a completely objective manner, and who has the authority to choose that criteria? Maybe what I think is that you can judge things objectively, but you have to agree on the terms first. Kind of like for logical arguments to work, you have to accept the premises (or prove them, which is usually going to depend on other premises that have to be accepted or proven, and so on). And now I should actually go write my Victorian Novel paper, which is, ironically, about aestheticism.

American Idol Top 5

Random Thoughts.

1) I’m getting a little annoyed that pretty much all the themes are a person rather than a genre. Okay, so each person sort of represents a genre (Mariah Carey = pop, Dolly Parton = country, Beatles = classic rock, Andrew Lloyd Webber = Broadway, Neil Diamond = rock), but limiting it to that person’s songs is so…limiting. How are the contestants supposed to pick a song that fits them when nothing in the person’s catalog, you know, fits them? It seems to become little more than an exercise in promoting not the contestants but the celebrity performers/songwriters. Plus, I’m sorry, but it gets really boring to watch at times. I’ve been clamoring for a Broadway/showtunes night for two years now, and I only get Webber? Nothing against him, he’s got some great shows, but it’s such a teeny slice of Broadway – what about some Larson (RENT), some Kander & Ebb (Cabaret), some Bernstein (West Side Story), some Miss Saigon or Les Mis, some Wicked or for goodness sake, some SONDHEIM? (Sondheim might be hard to do in 90 seconds, but I’m sure something could be figured out.) The other themes, of course, have similar issues, I just know more about Broadway.

2) The results shows are just getting insanely packed with stupid filler. There is no earthly reason for it to have an hour-long slot instead of a half-hour. The calls from viewers? Stupid. Guest singers with no relation to the show? Stupid. Thank God for DVRs. On the opposite side, how rushed was that performance show? Geez. I’m surprised Ryan didn’t make them all sing in double-time. And Paula had notes from rehearsal, clearly, and got flustered. Let’s not make it more than it is.

3) Okay, performances. Jason’s back to pleasant but not outstanding for me. Ready for him to go not because I dislike him, but because he’s clearly out of his league at this point. Syesha is stepping it up for me a LOT lately. She’s got the most Idol-ready voice at this point, and though she’s still not the person whose record I would buy, I’ve got to admit that she’s probably the strongest vocalist, and has been for a while, even though I tend to ignore her because of my love for David C. and Brooke. David C., incredible, incredible, incredible. I’d buy his record NOW. Brooke, seriously bad choice on the first song, and didn’t even get a good key for herself. Much better on the second – that’s her niche, and I love her in that mode. David A., good vocals, but yeah, I’m sort of bored by him now.

4) Results. I’m not really surprised. I take that back, I’m surprised that Jason is still sailing through. But once he was on the couch, I wasn’t surprised. Brooke’s first song was REALLY rough, and I knew she wouldn’t win anyway. She’s great at what she does, but what she does is not really Idol’s thing. I’m glad she was around as long as she was, and I’m sure she’ll be fine, singing songs that fit her much better than what Idol’s been throwing her lately.

5) Hopefully Jason will go next week. After that, it’s a toss-up. Will it be David C., the most clearly talented singer/musician with the best chance of actually making a hit record, but whose demographic doesn’t traditionally jive with Idol completely? Remember Daughtry went home in fourth place. Will it be Syesha, who’s peaking at just the right time and would be a near-perfect fit for Idol’s niche, but who hasn’t seemed to gather the fanbase she might need to bring it home? Will it be David A., who has the teen girl vote locked up tight, but is starting to bore a lot of the rest of us? Who can say?

American Idol Top 7 – Mariah Carey

Oh, joy, an entire night of singing Mariah Carey songs. *eyeroll* And most of the singers aren’t really Mariah-style singers – which I think actually turned out well. It meant they had to come up with their own takes on the songs because they didn’t have a chance of singing her version.

David Archuleta – "When You Believe"
Good song choice for David, and he brought it home. Whatever I may think of Mariah (and to be honest, I don’t think about her at all, really), her suggestion to go into the falsetto on that one part was dead on. A bit too many vocal acrobatics at the end, but it is Mariah night. Someone had to do it.

Carly Smithson – "Without You"
I quite liked the low-pitched portion of this, but I always feel like she tries too hard on the high parts. Her low range is really strong and powerful but she’s not as good in the high range as she (or the judges, apparently) think she is. And I think Simon’s comment about her overthinking is exactly right, and I think it’s part of what I sense as a lack of authenticity. It’s like she’s always just performing and never really letting herself go to the music.

Syesha Merado – "Vanishing"
Technically solid as usual, but I just can’t bring myself to care very much. It’s really nothing about her, though, I don’t think. She’s just sort of on the bland side in terms of arrangement and originality.

Brooke White – "Hero"
I was really worried for Brooke having to sing Mariah Carey, which is completely outside her zone. And it wasn’t perfect; she did get a little nervous toward the end, I think, but got it under control. Overall, she remains one of my favorites, and I thought doing the acoustic take was a gutsy move which worked much better for her than any of her options would have.

Kristy Lee Cook – "Forever"
She’s getting stonger every week, which is nice to see. Really good job on the ending especially; I found my attention drifting before that. She doesn’t, I don’t think, have the chops to compete with the top three or four here, but it’s been good to see her improving.

David Cook – "Always Be My Baby"
Holy mackeral, that was incredible! Seriously, I think it’s time a rocker won the title. He’s original, he’s smart, he knows who he is and what he does best, and he capitalizes on it just about every single week. Best performance of the night by a country mile (which is appreciably longer than a city mile, dontcha know). I felt like I wasn’t watching a competition anymore, I was watching a concert.

Jason Castro – "I Don’t Wanna Cry"
Jason’s no longer one of my must-save favorites (that title now being reserved for Brooke and David C), but I do still like him, and I thought this performance was quite good. He kept it where he could handle it and handled it well. He seems to be getting more comfortable every week, too.

Best Tonight: David Cook, David Cook, and David Cook. And David Archuleta. The others were all good but not great for me.
Bottom Three: Syesha, Kristy, and…don’t know.

We can discuss the results in the comments after tonight’s show.