Idol Worship: 'Idol' 8.2 Redux

Joanna Welcome to an Obama-fied American Idol, brimming with stories of hope, struggle and unbridled optimism in this new era. Week two of the season 8 auditions brought dozens of contenders chanting "Yes we can" to Hollywood, but alas, San Francisco and Louisville's finest numbered relatively few. So instead, Kara and Simon's spats served as filler, along with some painfully awkward Paula moments, first courtesy of a clearly delusional Akilah Askew-Gholston and later with one Todd Plavsic, the straw-mooching tone-deaf nerd. We'd like to permanently erase them both from our memory, but there were a few auditions worth reliving. Here's our take on week two's most memorable moments:

1. Leneshe Young (Louisville)
Season 8's answer to Fantasia is the lovely Lenesha, whose tug-at-your-heartstrings back-story of homelessness and poverty was an obvious choice for the week's close-out segment. Only one thing made her audition just a tad more special than, say, San Fran's Kay Kalama (see No. 3): she sang an original song, and a decent one at that. Simon's already professed his love -- it's just a matter of time before the rest of America does, too.

2. Brent Keith Smith (Louisville)
The judges didn't let this looker talk very much, but we couldn't help noticing how chatty Kara and Paula suddenly got in his presence. Tongued tied, in fact, and bothered enough to duck under the table. Is the voice worthy of a one-way ticket to Hollywood? So far, we've only seen good enough in his Badfinger, but have some faith. 

3. Kai Kalama (San Francisco)
Looking for this year's Elliott Yamin narrative? Meet Kai, who spends every day caring for his ailing mother, the "only woman" in his life (yes, that means he's single, ladies). You knew this guy was going through, what with the build-up all episode long. But to our delight, Kai is not only easy on the eyes, but on the ears, too. The Top 12 is in his future, no doubt. We'd put money on it.

4. Joanna Pacitti (Louisville)
Carly Smithson, the sequel? Joanna Pacitti had a deal with A&M Records that went nowhere, but somewhere along the line, she managed to make an impression on Kara, which turned out to be a valuable, almost built-in endorsement. Having already paid her dues in L.A., the judges made it easy for the stunning Joanna and welcomed her back to Hollywood.

5. Matt Giraud (Louisville)
What Matt lacks in the confidence department, he more than makes up for with his Justin Timberlake looks. The girls were instant cheerleaders, while Simon had some criticisms, but in the end compared Matt's unexpectedly old school singing style to that of Elliott Yamin. We just like that he's a professional dueling piano player!

6. John Twiford (San Francisco)
As one of three successive contestants from L.A. to get a yellow ticket, they barely showed his San Francisco audition, but every season needs a long-hair and we like the look of John Twiford. First impression? He seems more Jason Castro than Bo Bice, but time will tell. And if he doesn't make it through Hollywood Week, at least home is but a few miles away.

7. Alexis Grace (Louisville)
We were expecting country flavor from this Memphis native and single mom, but cute-as-a-button Alexis Grace surprised us by braving Aretha and pulling it off (unlike the hot mess that was Tatiana Del Toro, No. 9). Simon made it very clear that she has a commercial, Idol-friendly look, but needs to "dirty up" a bit. We're not sure what that means, but here's to finding out.

8. Adam Lambert (San Francisco)
There's already been a good amount of buzz on Adam Lambert, the David Cook look-alike with an impressive theater background. Sure, he starred in the L.A. production of Wicked, but Broadway and Idol don't always mix, so we have our reservations. Still, Kara took an instant liking to him and even Simon fell in line. A little Idol makeover with less scruff and more shine could go a long way.   

9. Tatiana Del Toro (San Francisco)
With her Evanescence gown-gone-tragically bad and a full press kit in tow, trainwreck-in-the-making Tatiana broke one of Idol's cardinal rules: Don't try Aretha unless you are Aretha. But her all-drama vibe — hands clenched to heart — was apparently enough to get her through to Hollywood, to our astonishment. What were the judges smoking?

10. Jesus Valenzuela (San Francisco)
Ah, there's nothing quite like using children as Idol bait. Sure, Simon cut off this Aaron Neville wannabe four lines in, but somehow, Jesus managed to get through. Granted, his kids were cute, but his vocal abilities? Meh. We think Jesus might be better suited for Dr. Phil — after he gets the boot. And hey, it's never too early to teach your kids that life is full of disappointments, right?

Are we being excessively harsh on Jesus and Tatiana? What did you think of week 2 and who are your early picks for the Top 36? We wanna know! -- Shirley Halperin

January 22, 2009 in American Idol, Music, Television | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Idol Worship: 'Idol' 8.1 Redux

We're off and running, Idol fans, with two cities down on the Season 8 audition tour and six more to go. Perhaps you noticed some subtle changes during premiere week's first two episodes? Fewer freaks, faster turnaround, and a fourth judge who's not afraid to speak her mind. Judging by Kara Dioguardi's screen time, it's obvious the new girl's there to shake things up, and we welcome it wholeheartedly.

As far as the contestants go, for every diamond in the rough, there's the just plain rough, and Season 8 looks to have plenty of both. But so far, we've been pleasantly surprised by the talent turnout, or what the producers chose to show of it. Of course, well before Tuesday night's premiere, we'd already heard about bikini girl and the blind guy -- both of whom did not disappoint -- but we weren't expecting the Winehouse-ian display put on by so many of the female singers. With music sales (and ratings) down, at least we can still count on good taste.

We'll leave the live-blogging and endless pontificating about people whose names we won't remember five minutes from now to other Idol obsessives throughout the Web, and save our thoughts for the Top 36. But in the meantime, here are our picks for Week One's most memorable moments, ranging from the good to the great. As for the bad and, inevitably, tragic, let us know: who made your list?    

Emily Hughes (Phoenix)
Not only can she belt Heart's "Barracuda" and look like she's not even trying, this singer of an all-girl band did her Idol homework: She's ready to go the Daughtry route! And with her ridiculously adorable look (think: Drew Barrymore with tats), it's no wonder they put her through to Hollywood first.

Ariana Afsar (Phoenix)
At 16, Ariana's expressive, soulful vocal style is way beyond her years and she knows it. She nailed her audition with the Corinne Bailey Rae hit, "Put Your Records On," which should put some of the older contestants on immediate guard. Ariana's a no-brainer.

Casey Carlson (Kansas City)
Talk about the whole package, little Casey Carlton, who could easily double for Paramore's Hayley Williams, is not only a great singer, but fully understands the art of emoting for the Idol cameras. Even Simon was swooning, and her cuteness sealed the deal.

Lil Rounds (Kansas City)
A tug-at-your-heartstrings story, killer vocal chops and a great name, Lil is poised to be this year's Melinda Doolittle and is off to a great start. Weeks away from the Hollywood round, Randy has already compared her to Fantasia and Mary J. Blige!

Alex Wagner-Trugman (Phoenix)
Consider the geeky Alex Arizona's dark horse, with that Joe Cocker vibe and the confidence to call Simon out on one of his trademark nonsensical quips. He may end up outsmarting them all.

Michael Sarver (Phoenix)
He's got the backstory and the soulful voice, but also has the odds stacked against him. Still, the burly roughneck with the gentle touch makes for the perfect makeover candidate. Bring it on!

Scott Macintyre  (Phoenix)
A blind piano prodigy reaches for the sky and we think, "What is this, Dancing with the Stars?!" Cynicism aside, it was fairly obvious Scott would go through, considering they saved his extended at-home segment for last. His rendition of "And So It Goes" felt a little Phantom of the Opera to us, but there's potential there.

Von Smith (Kansas City)
With a voice that needs no amplification, Von could learn a thing or two about volume control, but like the judges, he won us over too. Of course, going a little less Broadway -- like losing the hat -- wouldn't be a bad idea.

Michael Castro (Kansas City)
Jason Castro's younger brother was one of the most anticipated contenders rumored to be trying out this season. He picked a great song (Gavin Degraw's "In Love With a Girl"), had an, um, interesting look (somewhere along the line, Michael opted for the punk rock route rather than the hippie train) and claimed he'd only started singing 20 days prior. And guess what? It showed. He was kind of meh. So now a slew of contestants are undoubtedly cursing the Castro clan's good luck. But we'll give him another chance.

Asa Barnes (Kansas City)
We love a snuggly velvet teddy bear as much as the next guy (or girl), but wouldn't necessarily object to a bit more of a Chris Brown vibe and a little less Luther Vandross. Could Asa be our answer? His take on "The Way You Make Me Feel" certainly showed promise. -- Shirley Halperin

January 15, 2009 in American Idol, Music, Television | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Idol Worship: David Cook Talks Tour, Season 8

Cook_set_list_6 It wasn't that we weren't ready for season 8 of American Idol to start, but on premiere night, we couldn't pass up one last look back at season 7. And so, instead of being glued to our TV at 8:00 p.m., we watched David Cook wow a crowd of several hundred diehard fans — live! — on the Jimmy Kimmel Live outdoor stage, in what was undoubtedly a stroke of booking genius. Perhaps you caught some of the performance on Tuesday night's show? Well, let us fill you in on what you didn't see.

Cook played a five-song mini-set that kicked off with his debut single, "Light On," and included a rousing version of "Kiss on My Neck," a bonus track offered with his self-titled album, as well as one very ambitious cover of Fleetwood Mac's 1987 hit "Little Lies" (see full set list lifted from Cook's guitar tech below). There was lots of sing-along going on, as the audience took over the chorus on "Declaration" and handled the breakdown in "Light On" with aplomb, which made for a cheery Cook and a confident, now super-tight band. Band members Neal Tiemann, Andy Skib, Joey Clement and Kyle Peek brought the rock, but it was Idol worship all the way. The proof was in the signage: "David Cook Is My Guitar Hero," "I heart DC" and "Marry Me, David," among other homemade banners held high by teens and cougars alike, some of whom had been waiting out in the L.A. heat all day in hopes of scoring a front row spot.

But we've got some good news for fans aching for their own live dose of Cook: He's heading out on a college tour starting Feb. 13. Following a performance to open the American Idol Experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando on Feb. 12, Cook will hit the road for a month's worth of dates, starting in Tallahassee, Fla.. The full tour routing should be announced this week, Cook told us after the show.

What else did our reigning American Idol winner have to say on this premiere night? Read on for our quickie Cookie Q&A...

What can you tell us about the tour?

We're gonna do a kind of grassroots thing and hit a lot of colleges. Because I remember going to shows in my college life and feeling like there's such a cool energy that you don't find in a regular venue. Like in the '70s, all these amazing bands were playing college circuits, and I want to get back to that. It's what I'm really stoked about — not only do I get to go out with four cool guys and have fun, but I get to do what I want to do.

Any thoughts on openers?

We'll take on any comers, man. My vibe right now is that we just want it to be real. I want whoever goes to the show to come out and feel like they got way too much for what they paid for.

Your cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Little Lies" was unexpected. Are you a big fan?

I'm more of a cursory fan. It was an idea that my guitar player Neil brought up, and I was, like, "Oh yeah, I remember this song." He and I tossed it around and worked it out. It's fun to play, it's got a cool energy and when you throw on the distorted guitars, it works.   

You're obviously no stranger to big moments on live television, but what was it like to receive your first platinum plaque on "New Year's Rockin' Eve?"

I was a little bit in shock, so my reaction was not indicative of how I felt. I was just so focused in on the performance that night that it was like, "OK, what?! There's a platinum record right there. It's legit!" But it was an amazing plaque and it looks very nice in the house. Hopefully I'll get a few more to add to the collection.

Idol is starting up as we speak. Will you be watching this season?

I Tivo'd it. But it's funny, I was telling my manager earlier, everything is so fresh all of a sudden. To talk about Idol again, I remember how it felt to do city auditions and get to Hollywood. I'm anxious and nervous for these people. So I'll probably watch it with half a fingernail hanging on, chewing them to the nub.

According to new judge Kara Dioguardi, the guys are looking good this year. Do you feel like you and David Archuleta had anything to do with an impressive male turnout?

Talent is talent and I'm certainly not at the point where I feel responsible for anyone. It's all much bigger than me. But I'm excited to see how the changes go and I'm always on the lookout for another good rocker. I'm still amazed that it happened to me! -- Shirley Halperin

January 14, 2009 in American Idol, In Concert, Music, Television | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Idol Worship: Welcome To Idol 8.0

Judges Welcome, American Idol fans, to our little corner of the ever-expanding Idol universe. Yes, we can't believe it's that time again, either. But just as the sun rises in the east, so dawns Idol in the month of January — one week earlier this year just to squeeze every last drop of recession ratings. (Thank you, Fox!) For the next four months, we'll be logging in on a semi-regular basis, keeping you up-to-date on America's favorite TV show with the latest news, behind the scenes reports, analysis and, hopefully, a minor scandal or two. There are lots of changes in store for season 8 — new judge, a Top 36, a wild card round —  and we'll dissect them all! Also expect some of our Idol alumni friends to drop by on occasion and chime in. The fun starts right here, right now with our first post announcing David Cook's forthcoming tour! Read on, pass it along, and do come back for another visit. -- Shirley Halperin

January 14, 2009 in American Idol, Music, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What's Logo Got To Do With It?

Metallica Bands and their logos are the subject of Band ID, a book by Bodhi Oser that Jaded Insider thinks could be the bee's knees. Made up of over 1,000 logos and short bursts of texts about them, Sleeveless, a blog about music and design, has gone to the trouble of picking out it's top 10 and then posting pictures of them. While Sleeveless picks the Rolling Stones "Tongue" as their fave Jaded Insider has to go with Metallica's for sheer badassery. The "M"and the "A" look like sharp spears that are looking for a face to stab. And that's just awesome sauce.

April 17, 2008 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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