May 19, 2009

Idol Recap 5/19/09

So final performance night of Season 8 of American Idol. We're down to two contestants who really could not be much more (thank you for proofreading, wife) different. Kris who is comfortable with a guitar, a t-shirt and jeans, has a drop dead gorgeous wife, and comes off as a laid-back rocker. On the other hand, cake the makeup and leather on Adam, give him a massive stage show with multi-piece orchesta and smoke, and try to pretend that you don't know the answer to the worst-kept secret in the history of Idol (pssst... here it is... Adam is gay!!!). Season 6 gave us Blake vs. Jordin. Season 7 gave us the battle of the Davids. Both of those two prior seasons showed marked differences between the two finalists. I'd venture to say that the differences between Kris and Adam are ten times more significant than the differences between the Season 6 and Season 7 finalists.

Seacrest informs us that we need to set our DVRs for an extended finale on Wednesday night so that we don't all call our local FOX affiliates insanely mad on Thursday morning because we missed the announcement of the winner. Translation in general - the producers just couldn't resist all the B-list celebrities trying to cash in on the Idol results show and overbooked it. Also they just couldn't resist booking Tatiana and Norman Gentle for a reprise of the two strangest Hollywood contestants ever. Translation to me - instead of taking 10 minutes to watch the show on DVR, tomorrow it may take me 12 minutes to watch the show on DVR.

On to the reviews of what turned into a great night of competition, ending with a pretty clear winner...

Round 1
Adam - Mad World
Kris - Ain't No Sunshine

I had never seen the original performance by Adam of his song during birth week. I'm thinking that my trip to Italy possibly interfered. Randy gives Adam props for daring to pick a song that he had already sung during the competition when the 30 million watching worldwide realize that it's finally time to tune Randy out forever since he apparently doesn't listen to the groundrules of the performance he's about to judge. Adam gives a pretty damn good go of it although I definitely thought that he was possibly wearing a long gown when we just got the silhouette effect at the beginning. I was relieved that it was a long trenchcoat. Kris countered with Ain't No Sunshine, which I actually thought was not the best performance. I thought that Heartless and his song cover from movie week from the movie One were both far superior. I suppose I understand at the end why he picked Ain't No Sunshine given how similar Heartless was to his second round song and how recent Heartless was performed. I would agree with Kara that Kris finds a way to connect with the audience in every performance. I would disagree with Simon's belief that Kris won the round... I thought that Adam delivered a better performance. I do appreciate Simon's honesty for the first time in that he told us all that he believed that Danny belonged in the finals. Even couched in a positive review for Kris though it couldn't help but be taken as a subtle message that he never had any doubts about Adam.

Round 2
Adam - Change is Gonna Come
Kris - What's Going On

In this round, I also disagree with Simon's take - Simon told us all that Adam won the round and I thought that Kris did a better job. Again, how can the judges complain about song choice when the producer of the show picked the song? Not really fair. Adam takes on the Sam Cooke masterpiece and, in my opinion, just took it about eight octaves and four runs way over the top. Yes, he took it low to show feeling. And he took it high to show power. But he took it way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too fucking high. On the other hand, Kris lent an upbeat tone to Marvin Gaye's famous What's Going On that sounded a little bit like Jason Mraz. Kris proved that he can be a heck of a performer just stipped down to a guitar and some basic percussion around him... no smoke machines or ambient lighting. However, the judges fell all over themselves after Adam's performance and we almost saw the first simultaneous four-way orgasm in the history of network television. I'm not entirely sure there wasn't a simultaenous two or three way orgasm. The judges were swayed by Adam's vocal ability to take a song to insane ranges (even if a song truly doesn't belong there). I think that on pure performance it goes to Kris.

Round 3
Adam and Kris - Shittily written crap-filled drivel by Kara

So in theory they let Kara write the song for the finale, I can only assume, because they were disappointed with the outcome of the submissions from previous years' writing competitions. Really? Idol producers, you're going to tell me with a straight face that you actually think Kara wrote a good song? Alright, and I'll tell you with a straight face that there were the same number of people in the Preakness infield this year as there were last year. There was absolutely no way that Kris was going to win this round. The song was written too high for him. He doesn't have a strong enough voice to rise above a 20 or 30 piece orchesta behind him. If those are qualifications for the winner, Kris shouldn't win. I honestly didn't think either performer did a great job, probably because they were hamstrung by the song. Maybe in the future they can let the contestants pick one more song of their own choosing that they've never sung before instead of force-feeding their first single down their throats. I've written a lot without getting to the point that I didn't want to get to. Adam won. Adam won hands down. If this was boxing, about 35 seconds into Kris' performance, the referee would've stopped the fight. Even the judges were trying to be kind to Kris, begging the public to think about his season as a whole and not just his performance on this song, which was basically IMPOSSIBLE for him to perform in a meaningful way.

Way back about three months ago when the top 36 were announced I said that Danny Gokey, Alexis Grace, Anoop Desai, Allison Iraheta, and Stevie something-that-I-can't-remember-because-she-got-crushed-in-the-very-first-week were my five contestants to watch. I got two of the top four which wasn't so bad. But week-to-week, I think my predictions have been worse this season than in either of the two prior seasons.

That said, the Idol producers would have us believe that there were only one million votes separating Kris and Adam last week. About the only way then that Kris wins is if a sizeable number of Danny's voters jump ship (and Adam's supporters don't dial the phone 50 times in the next four hours). Given the sum total of Kris' work tonight, and given the sum total of Adam's work tonight over the whole season, I believe that Adam Lambert will be the next Idol champion. He'll be a worthy champion and I think will actually go on to a pretty decent un-Taylor Hicks-like recording career. In many, many, many ways.

Thanks everyone for reading these weekly entries and I hope you had fun watching this season and enjoyed reading these recaps and predictions. See you all in Season 9.

ESPN Misses Boat With Gruden on MNF

Jon Gruden, former coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was named as Tony Kornheiser's replacement on ESPN's flagship Monday Night Football broadcasts. Gruden is, obviously, very knowledgable and also very charismatic, but his selection fails to add anything to the booth already featuring play-by-play man Mike Tirico and x's-and-o's commentator Ron Jaworski.

Gruden will not disagree with Jaworski, and both men bring the same knowledge to the table. Also, both are unquestionably enthusiastic about football. I fear we will have the straight man Tirico surrounded by two cheerleaders who never disagree and never add anything to the other's comments. Plus, if Gruden ever wants to work again he has to watch what he says. ESPN either needs to drop the entertainment angle Kornheiser was supposed to bring, or they need to feature the third aspect of the sport and bring in a player personnel man.

Here are the groups I'd have liked to see.

1) Tirico-Jaworski-Millen - Matt Millen, while a disastrous head man for an organization, proved last postseason that he does know what he's talking about. Sure, execution is a problem but that hasn't stopped other former players and coaches from becoming good broadcasters. While Millen and Jaworski wouldn't necessary go at each other, it would be a nice third perspective.

2) Tirico-Jaworski-Dennis Green - If you want a former coach in the booth, and one with charisma, Dennis Green was the way to go. Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden are too similar, and both are harnessed by their desire to some day coach again. Billick and Jaworski have the same knowledge, except Jaworski is more commanding. Mike Ditka would just be out of his element surrounded by a pair of 120+ IQs. Dennis Green is the logical choice since he isn't likely to be a head coach again and offers a great likelihood of straying from the talking points.

3) Tirico-Jaworski-Joe Thiesmann - Yeah, I said it. Jaworski and Thiesmann would be at each other constantly. Nobody likes Joe, that's for sure, and I doubt his exile has humbled him enough to make the old "Joe is the smartest guy in the room, just ask him," adage any less true. Still, that would an entertaining booth.

4) Tirico-Jaworski-Wilbon - This is how it always should have been. Wilbon brings the same pop culture saavy to the booth that Kornheiser purportedly brought, and Wilbon actually follows sports. Wilbon would not express awe over Jaworski knowing how many officials are on the field. He follows golf, hockey, basketball and baseball. He can hold his own with Katherine Heigl. The plain truth is that they cannot offend Kornheiser by putting his old knockaround pal in the booth as his replacement, but that's how it always should have been.

5) Tirico-Jaworski-Former NFL Referee - This has been a long time coming. The NFL would not like having a former member of the flock in the booth to accurately criticize poor judgment and blatant misinterpretation of the rules, but it's the next logical step in building a lifelong fanbase. Plus, ESPN is broadcast overseas and Europeans need to understand the rules if the NFL is actually going to expand to a worldwide presence. Also do not forget that the game is played on Monday Night, so in the event of a snoozer, the official can explain weird and questionable happenings from the other 12 to 15 games from the weekend. Ideas like this are why I should be in charge of something.

And finally, the dream team.

6) Mike Patrick-Paul Maguire-Ron Jaworski - Patrick and Al Michaels are the gold standard in professional play-by-play men. They both infuse the perfect blend of enthusiasm and hyperbole without going a little Gus Johnson in a meaningless game. Many disliked Paul Maguire in the former configuration with Patrick and Thiesmann, but I give him the benefit of the doubt because he always had to correct and rein in Thiesmann. With Jaworski, I think you'd get two enlightening color commentators with a stellar play-by-play man. ESPN has all three men already, and I think this booth would make MNF an event again instead of a sideshow.

Tirico is very good himself, but I think he lends himself better to the college game. With the elder statesmen in that arena nearing the sunset, he could have positioned himself as THE big-game guy on ABC/ESPN. He has shown himself to be both opinionated and insightful regarding the BCS, and his growth would have been unlimited.

Honorable Mention: Bill Simmons, J.A. Adande, Gregg Easterbrook (TMQ)

Dishonorable Mention: Rush Limbaugh, Condi Rice, Dennis Miller

Any other ideas or suggestions? What other feasible pairings would you have liked to see?