Archive for January 7th, 2007

I lost my keys today.

While I’ve lost my keys, J.D. Matthews over at Musical Ramblings seems to think that Katharine McPhee has lost quite a bit more than that. Here’s what he has to say about her two-side single (“I Lost You,” which will not appear on her album, and “Dangerous,” which will):

It’s almost as if the single’s producers got together and said “hey, let’s go find the two crappiest songs we can get, throw a shorted-out synthesizer program into the computer, and put out the most poorly instrumented and packaged performance we possibly can.” Katharine’s vocals are spot-on on both songs. The only problem with that is that you can’t HEAR her half the time…And the musical accompaniment quite often sounds like my little sister when she was five banging on a busted Casio keyboard.

While I disagree with J.D. about Kat’s vocals being “spot-on” (true, she may technically be hitting the notes to precision, but her voice becomes weak, tinny and nasal, taking on an almost pre-adolescent quality, when reaching for those soprano notes), I agree that for the money that RCA must have to be shilling out for the likes of Nate Hills, Uness, The Underdogs et. al., the results so far (with the exception of “Love Story,” which I actually think is really good) are not that impressive.

J.D. also believes that the single is obviously a “gap-filler,” a sort of conciliatory release for all those people who missed the memo about her CD delay (indeed, my local media outlets were promoting her CD as just having been release on December 19). Interesting. I’ve been thinking something similar myself about the whole marketing strategy surrounding Katharine McPhee. Whenever you see Taylor Hicks, he’s, you know, performing–whether it’s at pre-booked gigs like the Orange Bowl or Christmas in Washington, showing up unexpectedly to accompany Snoop Dogg or Widespread Panic, or sitting in with jam bands. Katharine’s made a few singing appearances, too (most notably CBS’s Home for the Holidays special and the Tournament of Roses parade), but she can unquestionably most often be found posing on a red carpet or in a magazine. It’s almost as if RCA needs to market her as a celebutante first, to establish her as a fixture in the public eye, before releasing her album (either that or the girl just reeeeally likes having her picture taken). That could work, but then again, Paris Hilton’s CD didn’t fare so well.

Which brings me to J.D.’s final reflection:

…[S]ince the beginning of last year’s Idol, she hasn’t appeared to really know who she is. There’s so much about her that looks like a mask. Whether it’s her sultry look, her “I can swallow my own fist” smile, or her performances, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get out of her.

It’s true; Katharine’s image has undergone several drastic transformations, and she hasn’t even been famous for a whole year yet. From the sweet, wholesome girl with somewhat dowdy fashion sense, to the sultry siren who flaunted her assets but still maintained an aura of class (at least with regards to her physical appearance; her personality’s another story), to the omnipresent micro-minied, kissy-faced, squat-posing, leg-spreading Katharine of present, Kat’s appearance is evolving and transforming more quickly than necessary. Her vocal style has been overhauled, too; she listed belters like Whitney, Christina and Mariah as her personal idols early on, then became Queen of the Standards on American Idol, talked about putting out an album that could bring jazz and blues back to the Top 40…and then turned around and reinvented herself as the new diva of “rhythm pop,” a kind of hybrid between bubblegum sweetness and urban edge. I’ve heard her songs; she’s basically Lawrence Welk-ified Beyonce, with a few touches thrown in here and there for “street cred” (most prominently, her incredibly affected verb conjugation; “Love Story” contains the lyric “you was flirting with some guy”). No doubt Katharine has a fair amount of loyal fans who are enamored of her talent and beauty and who will stick with her even if she decides to release an album of polka music, but as Taylor’s recent sales numbers have proven, your fan base is only your first step. Kat will need to reach out to new fans in order to reap numbers even close to Taylor’s, let alone Chris’s, and add into the mix the fact that some of her Idol fans may be confused or turned off by her new musical identity, and…I have no idea what’s going to happen with this album. I can’t predict a flop (breathy-voiced pseudo-R&B is pretty popular these days), but I don’t see sales numbers blowing everyone away, either. Then again, I could be wrong on either count.

And in normal circumstances, I’d even throw out the old line that Taylor fans know so well–“it’s not about the sales, it’s about the music”–but Katharine’s songs seem so tailor-made for What’s! Hot! Right! Now! that she needs the airplay, the TRL appearances, the magazine covers and the red carpet walks to even come close to matching the career of a Beyonce, a Jessica or a Britney in her heyday. Besides, this style of music doesn’t tend to have that long of a shelf-life, and that’s even assuming that the performer doesn’t outgrow it–no TRL viewer is going to want to watch a 35-year-old Katharine shake her booty in a music video; by that time she’ll have to have moved on to singing a more timeless form of music if she wants longevity in the music business. But then again, there’s always acting, which she’s been vocal about wanting to segue into. Without the celebutante aura, though, Kat will lose a bit of her luster, and I’d hate to see her have to Janice her way onto a show like The Surreal Life, or act in fetid movies like Employee of the Month to keep her star shining (no, I really would hate to see it; maybe I don’t like her personality much, but hey, I don’t have to pay to see her movies). When the full album is released, we’ll have more to judge on, but for now, I doubt that Katharine can sustain a musical career on what I’ve heard so far. Then again, she’s already proven herself adept at overhauling her image in the blink of an eye, so maybe there’s hope for her yet.


What sound does a buffalo make?

As the nation gears up for yet another season of American Idol, The Buffalo News has done a series of pieces regarding the show, tackling the various business, psychological, and entertainment issues raised by the program.

The show’s “most unforgettable moments” include original co-host Brian Dunkleman bowing out after season 1; the rumored affair between ousted season 2 contestant Corey Clark and the incoherent but emotionally invested Paula Abdul; the advent of Vote For The Worst, one of the first websites to call the show out on its facade (it’s a television show, for entertainment; finding a talented singer is a secondary or tertiary goal); and the seasonal bitching and moaning from fans about clogged phone lines, which usually peaks around the time of the annual “shocking” boot.

On the show’s “ground-breaking” characteristics:

“This was absolutely nothing new,” says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

In fact, a broadcast talent show in which the audience voting to determine the winner predates television. The hugely popular “Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour,” which started on radio in 1934, offered “a telephone call-in with a special exchange in Manhattan, or you could send a postcard,” says Thompson.

That show eventually moved to the exciting world of television, picked up emcee Ted Mack, and became “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour,” which dwindled in popularity but hung on until 1970.

And this quote, referencing the producer’s promise of a major mid-season event that will “blow everyone away,” made me giggle: “How can the show top itself? An original tune and guest-judge stint from Bob Dylan? A live reading by J.D. Salinger?”

I suspect that as the show continues to grow not only in popularity, but legitimacy (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are major award winners, Fantasia’s latest CD has received critical acclaim, and Taylor Hicks has been a fixture on the underground jam-band circuit since his win), the celebrity guests will increase in recognizability. Not to say that Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart and Shakira aren’t worth their salt, but scoring someone like Bob Dylan (yeah, I know), Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston (who’ll probably be looking to increase her visibilty as she works on her new CD) or even Paul McCartney would certainly be a huge coup for the show.

The Buffalo News is also offering a brief synopsis of each season, but it’s probably stuff you already knew anyway.

January 2007
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What the kids are sayin’

"I hate them all. The judges, TPTB, the blatant manipulation, the songs, the contestants, everything. I'm a die-hard Cook fan, but for the love of god, at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself up there! Please? Syesha was awesome but she ruined it by being completely shameless and disgusting. Yes, being on American Idol is exactly like the civil rights movement, except for the part where you're fighting to make the world a better place."

"All I can say after the disgusting display tonight of favoritism towards the mediocrity that is David A. - good luck trying to market and make money off of that kid, American Idol. (Not to mention good luck dealing with his father.) All the teeny boppers may buy up his American Idol coronation single, but they will quickly forget about him before the album comes out. And I shudder to think of a David A. album - song after song of unrelenting sameness and heavy breathing. Why they are pimping him for the win is beyond me."

"This show was simply a hot buttered mess tonight. And Jason "needs to be arrested for what he did to I Shot the Sheriff. But I hope he stays. He amuses me. "