Archive for January 23rd, 2007

American Idol Auditions 3: Memphis

Well, finally, some actual talent is put through to Hollywood.

The good:

I’ve picked my pony, and his name is Sundance Head. I was incredibly impressed by his bluesy vocals. Inevitable comparisons to Taylor will abound — who has more soul, who has less soul, who’s weirder-looking and therefore harder to market — but vocally, I think the dude’s more similar to Elliott than he is to Taylor. Taylor rasps; this guy belts. And so far, I love them both.

Backup singer Melinda Doolittle also had a wonderful, powerful, controlled voice, and y’all know how I do love an alto making it through to Hollywood. I’m not sure she could inspire me to do more than just mildly appreciate her, though. We’ll see.

I thought that red-headed Wandera was just wonderful, but the judges threw her out on her ass with the old “there’s nothing special about you” line. Well, that didn’t stop them from putting Daughtry through last year, now did it?

The meh:

He may have looked homeless and given us some similar platitudes, but Castro Dude was not all that. Neither was Phil Stacey, who somewhat dickishly missed the birth of his child to go audition.

Danielle McCulloch had a passable voice, and has already been featured in commercials, but really, do we need to start with the trying-too-hard vamping and the eyefucking? No, we don’t. And I’d eventually like to see a woman past the age of 21 do well on this show. But if she does by some unfortunate event (or later display of vocal talent) make the top 12, I hope the Nikki McKibbin hairstyle is the first thing to go.

The ugly:
Topher McCain can’t sing very well, but he disses his ex-wife on national television, which depending on his actual backstory may or may not make him an ass, but I’m sure it felt good nevertheless.

Mumblefucking her way through her audition is Timika Sims, who may have a genuine speech impediment, so I won’t snark on her any further.

Oh…enjoy Sundance’s father Roy Head singing his #1 hit, “Treat Her Right,” below.

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Presenting Katharine McPhee: Princess of meh.

A couple of caveats before I begin this review:

1. This album isn’t terrible. It’s sure as hell not good, and some of the tracks flat-out suck, but we’re not in K-Fed territory or anything here. They are all, however, incredibly formulaic — verse/chorus, verse/chorus, bridge, DOUBLE CHORUS! Snore.
2. It’s not good because it’s bland, inoffensive, boring, and vague. Tweens will love it.
3. If you’re looking for a completely objective review, this isn’t the place to find it. I tried to be objective (which is why you’re not getting a “omg kat sux” review), but no, I don’t like Katharine’s affected vocals, her personality, or much else about her. So if you’re going to post one of those “omg ur so biased” comments that I’m so fond of…why don’t I just save you the trouble? I’m biased, all right. It’s not a crime.

The album smartly begins with Love Story, which is quite hands-down the best song on the album. Great old-school-style production values (which, as evidenced by Christina Aguilera’s smash “Ain’t No Other Man,” are pretty popular these days) and decent lyrics, this song would make a fine summer single (assuming anyone still cares by next summer, of course). Katharine’s vocals are decent here, although not spectacular, but her high notes are shouty and strident, and her melisma has an affected, whiny, sniveling, sulking quality to it, much like JoJo in “Get Out (Leave)”…and Katharine would be well-advised to avoid JoJo comparisons at any turn, because she won’t win that battle. All in all, though, a very nice song.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for Over It. This is her new single, and it’s…well, where exactly is Katharine on this song? There’s no hint of above-average vocal talent, her high notes are whiny and shrieky (seriously, why does she do that? Her voice is just fine in its mid range). It’s got stupid, grammatically incorrect lyrics (“your eyes…I’m over them”), which you just know were crafted deliberately and specifically to be as vague and trite as possible in order to effect a slew of little girls writing journal entries about how OMG, the words to “Over It” are, like, totally about their life and stuff! But is it a bad song? No, it’s not a bad song. Stupid and fluffy, but not flat-out bad.

Ahh, Open Toes. What can be said about “Open Toes,” other than that there is a very special room reserved in hell for the morons who crafted this little ditty? Katharine sounds pretty good on most of it, again until she reaches for those high notes–you can actually hear the power in her voice drop, because she really is straining there, and it just sounds awful. And the music? RCA hired “Danja” (who can’t resist egotistically shouting out his own damned name in the middle of the track) for what, $250-500K at least, and the best he came up with was a backing track that sounds like it was laid down by a five-year-old with a Krazy Kazoo? Good Lord.

Up next is the sentimental ballad Home. We begin with Katharine ripping off (or paying homage to, I suppose, depending on which side of the coin you fall on) Christina Aguilera’s patented introductory melisma. Katharine sounds wonderful during the first few measures of this song–this is perfectly within her range, and it’s where her voice is its most powerful. The song itself is a bit derivative of “I Am Beautiful,” but that doesn’t really matter. The problem, though (because let’s face it, there’s always going to be a problem) is that Katharine just kind of goes through the motions on this song. She hits all the notes, sure, and the melisma is on pitch and perfectly metered, but there’s just not a hint of passion or soul here. Which has really been the problem with Katharine the entire time, hasn’t it? Oh well. If you enjoyed her balladeering on Idol, you’ll like this track, and I have to say that it’s probably her best vocal performance on the entire album.

On her next track, Katharine would like you to know that she is Not Ur Girl. No, not “Ur” as in the Biblical city and birthplace of the prophet Abraham (I know, I thought that Kat was totally making a metaphorical statement about the subpar treatment of women in ancient Mesopotamia, too!), but apparently “ur” as shorthand for “your.” Now, I’ve seen “u” for “you” and “u r” for “you are,” but “ur” for “your?” Since my impulse is to pronounce it as “er,” I don’t think it works. And VH1 apparently agrees with me, since on the streaming radio they’ve corrected the spelling to “your.” So beautiful. But anyway, right, the song. Another strange backing track, this one sounding like it belongs in an Austin Powers movie. It repeats the same lyric from “Love Story” about “we started out as friends” (lazy, lazy writers!) I guess this song is okay, but it’s kind of boring, plodding, and ultimately forgettable for me. There’s no catch, no hook, but every record needs its filler songs, you know? Thankfully, though, Katharine doesn’t shriek her way to any high notes in this song, although she does faux-giggle obnxiously at the end.

Each Other sounds like a funeral dirge.

I believe I reviewed Dangerous earlier, but hell, why not once again for posterity? This is the song of the famous lyric “never saw the missile that sank my love ship down/oh, I felt the hit, it was hard as a brick/and made me shift.” Ha! Okay, this song is an attempt at dance music, but the production isn’t fabulous, the tempo isn’t fast enough, the lyrics are gawdawful, and Katharine really doesn’t seem all too upset about this dangerous man, to be honest. It’s the vocal equivalent of an eleven-year-old wearing sunglasses and a feather boa, singing into a hairbrush, which is to say that there’s no wow factor here. You know what? She actually sounds bored. Well, Katharine, why should I care if you dont?

Ordinary World is another ballad. I like the beginning–again, perfectly in Katharine’s range. It’s a little over-melisma’d, but it’s nice, and there’s none of this “whispery is the new sexy!” bullshit. But again, she starts whining on the power notes, detracting (for me) from the effect of the song. Again, though, one of the better songs on the album, if only because it’s semi-light on the too-high power notes.

And we segue right from the lovely “Ordinary World” to the hot mess of Do What You Do, which opens with strange orgasmic grunts and Kat changing “this is sick.” Oh, something’s sick all right, but it’s not the song; it’s my stomach. The song’s just bad; it’s got these ridiculous bouncing effects, stupid local-DJ trick effects (“all the boys, all-all-all the boys”), and a sad little Gwen Stefani-reject feeling overall. And seriously, “all da boys in da club want me/and all the girls tryin’ to be like me,” juxtaposed with the cutesy, baby-voiced chanting of the “if you can’t give me what I need?” Kat, are you kidding us with this shit? Ugh. It’s also painfully obvious that when she strains to hit a high note, the volume of her voice decreases in relation to the instrumentation. Because I don’t like this song, it will be her next hit. Watch.

As much as “Home” and “Ordinary World” are very nice, Better Off Alone comes up short. Kat is just at her most soulless here, as what should be a stirring, passionate, fiery ballad (as indicated by the swelling instrumentation) comes off as the mere fulfillment of an obligation. There’s no feeling here, no drive, and certainly no connection with the lyrics. Katharine probably put more effort into filing her nails than she did in singing this song. Well, in her defense, she was probably late for a photo shoot the day this was recorded.

Neglected doesn’t even pretend that it’s pretty much just recycling the strangely gothic backing track from “Each Other.” The odd minor-key synthing of Katharine’s voice on the chorus honestly just makes listening to this song one depressing experience. I’m all for a song evoking gut-wrenching emotion, even if that emotion is sadness, but this song just makes me want to go to bed for a week and pull the covers over my head. Not one of the better songs on the album. Props for her shout-out to her on-again, off-again album title (Never Saw it Comin’), though.

The album finally (finally) closes with Everywhere I Go. It’s a nice closer, evoking lovely images, but it’s ultimately unforgettable. There’s not much bad I can say about it, but there’s not much that’s good, either.

And there you have it. Clearly, the best thing about this album are the ballads, or at least the ones that Kat’s not completely phoning in, as she does on “Better Off Alone.” What’s unusual about this album is that there is certainly no unifying theme here. It’s as if her producers pulled the names of different musical genres out of a hat and then mashed them all together on the album. The result isn’t particularly impressive, but it’ll be enough to keep her in the public eye, at least until someone younger and with bigger boobs comes along.

Moral of the story? This album is bland, inoffensive, and never takes a risk. It’s a guaranteed platinum-seller! But seriously, Katharine’s fans, who are a pretty loyal bunch, have been waiting patiently for this debut (if only so they can display their embarrassingly bad grammar and spelling skills as they gush about their love for it on the Internet), and no doubt they will love it. (Hell, they even seem to love “Open Toes.”) At the end of the day, I’m not sure what grade to give it. A C+, I guess. The cool sound of “Love Story” and the lovely work on “Home” and “Ordinary World” save it from complete drudgery. But the lack of identity and the blatant, shameless, formulaic pandering to the lowest common denominator prevent me from stepping up into the “B” range. Shit, at least Taylor took some risks. Maybe he succeeded, maybe he failed, but he tried. The only think Katharine is trying here is to offend as few people as she possibly can by being as bland and unremarkable as possible.

Exploding with full-throated emotion.

VH1 is now streaming Katharine McPhee’s entire album. A little blurb in the site claims that the album “explodes the full-throated emotions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I can tell you right now, that’s a lie. But give it a spin anyway. I’ll have a review up eventually.


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. "
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