Saturday, May 23, 2009
- The remarkable Yulkendy Valdez (Ferguson, MO), who spoke no English when her family moved here from the Dominican Republic in 2005. See also this NPR story.
- Three-timer Andrew Lay (Stanley, NC), creator of one of the best reaction shots in Bee history.
- Daniel Rosenberg (Marblehead, MA), who's blogging his exploits.
- Émilie Lafleur (Saint-Lambert, QC), a returning part of the Canadian invasion.
- More on Shonda fave (and four-timer) Keiko Bridwell (Duncan, SC), who says she can spell meningoencephalomyelitis and also won first place in the state Youth Bible Drill this year.
- Liam Twight (Redding, CA) wasn't allowed to leave the school assembly in his honor on Friday until he spelled a certain word from a Mary Poppins song. Of his chances this year, he says "I'm not expecting to win. I'm just going to enjoy the museums and the sites."
- Gina Liu (Charleston, IL) considers herself to be "one of those far-off people," claiming she does "stranger things by other people’s standards, like obsess about Tolkien and quote ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with my friends." Oh, Gina, wait until you find blogs. You'll fit in just fine.
And as in years past, there are sites on which you can make wagers on this year's Bee, including the gender/sibling status/glasses-wearing of the winner, length and part of speech of the final word, and a "who goes farthest?" between returning prime-timers Sidharth Chand (+180), Kyle Mou (+150) and Kavya Shivashankar (+125).
Friday, May 22, 2009
Meanwhile, the St. Joseph News-Press checks in with 2009 entrant Morgan Brown and takes a look at what's happened to Northwest Missouri's prior finalists since 1992.
Why do some people have to go to the choreography round while others get a ticket to Vegas right away?
People who do the choreography round generally fall into one of two categories: (1) untrained "street" dancers who are really good at their own thing but who may not be able to handle actual choreography taught to them by someone else, and (2) ballroom dancers. Why ballroom dancers fall into this category, I’m not sure, except that for some reason even very highly trained ballroom people seem often not to be able to handle hip hop or contemporary (the latter of which is another word for what I grew up knowing as “modern dance”). People who do lyrical/jazz/contemporary dance well have usually gotten the kind of training that gives the judges the confidence that they can handle choreography, so those people usually go right to Vegas.
If the judges are worried that someone may only be able to dance in one style, then how did Philly Tap Guy get to skip the choreography?
I was a little surprised about Philly Tap Guy, except that the judges seemed to take him at his word that he’d been trained in all these other areas. And I also suspect that they really want him on the show – the good looking blue collar guy from Philadelphia who happens to be an amazing tap dancer* is NOT something they see a lot on this show.
(Incidentally, it's not uncommon for the judges to be previously familiar with the work of some of the auditioners. Not just people who auditioned in prior seasons, like red-haired Natalie and the guy who got beaten out by Gev last season, but dancers who are already making a name for themselves in the dance world. Which, I gather, is a small world.)
* addendum from a friend of Marsha's who knows from tap, when asked what made Philly Tap Guy so good: "Most of the 'ooh/aaahh' steps were actually pretty easy, just fast -- but the definition in his sound was great. And he ended the routine with a bunch of single wings (which are advanced on their own), but then he did this brush-toe thing that was pretty awe-inspiring and he capped it off with some 'over-the-tops,' which were really smart to choreograph where he did." (Just in case you were wondering.)
When do they start explaining why I should or should not like what I'm seeing?
There are dribs and drabs of it mixed into the audition rounds (for example, when Sonya was talking about how one of the dancers had extended her arms starting in the center of her back and they showed a little clip of that moment), but it gets much more extensive once the final twenty are in place and the real competition starts. Even then, though, it will be a mix of comments on technique and comments about the individual types of dance. The classic example here is a dance called the paso doble -- anyone who has been watching this show (or Dancing with the Stars, for that matter) knows that it's a bullfighting dance where the guy is the matador and the woman is the cape, but I for one had never heard of it before SYTYCD explained it to me.
Who is Mary Murphy and what's with the screaming?
Mary Murphy is the show's resident ballroom dancing expert. She seems kind of nuts, and is kind of nuts – the screaming is her shtick, but she knows a lot about ballroom. Every once in a while she stops giggling and delivers an extended explication of some specific ballroom thing, and then we remember why she's there. It used to be that Nigel was the only permanent judge, and the others all rotated through (like Tabitha/Napoleon and Sonya last night), but a couple seasons ago she became a permanent judge with Nigel. Just get used to the screaming – remember that the dancers themselves all know about the screaming and they want the scream. Screams are good. Except that they're loud and tough on the ears. Keep your remote control handy.
Can I assume that anyone who gets some sort of intro where they’ve filmed friends and family and/or gone to their home is headed to Vegas?
At least for this first episode, they really played down the “terrible auditioners” thing in favor of a more up with people approach. Usually there will be clip packages for some terrible and delusional people as well as a few for people who are pretty good but don’t get through. But yes, a clip package often means “yay, we like this person, pay attention.”
What were your thoughts on the same-sex ballroom dancers?
For all matters relating to the depiction of gender roles on reality television programming, I turn the keyboard over to our resident ranter on the subject, Mr. Isaac Spaceman:
I really enjoy SYTYCD, let me make that clear. But they couldn't even wait one episode before prominently featuring the show's biggest problem, its relationship with sexuality. On the one hand, the show prominently features a ton of gay people -- for example, the only choreographers who I'm sure are straight are the male hip-hoppers (and Tabitha) and the rapey one. On the other hand, Nigel Lythgoe's favorite compliment is "masculine," and until last night, I don't think the show ever used the word "gay" (even going so far, at one point, to use "loves dancing" as an overt euphemism for "gay"). And then there was last night's rant. Nigel, a man who found it necessary to give detailed technical criticism concerning extension and movement to a woman missing 57% of her vertebrae, was unable to evaluate the artistry of a couple of guys who fell ass over teakettle because he was so distracted by the fact that two men were dancing together. It was nice, at least, how candid he was: "I think you've just turned off a sizable portion of our audience." But come on. Sonya and Mary's critiques -- which focused on the fact that ballroom depends upon two partners playing different roles, and the failure to maintain a consistent separation between those roles is distracting -- at least made sense. (Although didn't somebody, maybe Twitchington, do a two-matador paso doble that was praised for subverting gender roles?) Nigel's point just seemed to be "ick," which seems like as weird a sentiment in the world of dance as it is in the world of beauty pageants.
So answer this call to arms, and let's define our terms. We're teaching an introductory course on popular music to a lecture hall full of space aliens. We must come up with a syllabus, a survey of the songs that are essential for an understanding of modern popular music -- not our favorite songs, and not songs that illustrate the history of pop music, but rather the songs that are essential to any understanding of popular music.
Choose no more than five songs, and don't pick any songs that anybody else has already picked. Let me start: Satisfaction; Stairway to Heaven; Roxanne; London Calling; Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Adam: For the third straight season, America rejected the ready-made, already professional singer and chose the humble finalist whose full talents were revealed (and improved) over the course of the season. That's all this was. We like a good story, and we like the idea that the show can elevate someone from the sticks into stardom. (Okay, "the sticks" doesn't fit Jordin, but she was less in-the-industry than Melinda, and less polished than Blake.)
Regardless, the overall talent level of the finalists season was as high as the show has ever had, and America pretty much winnowed down the field in the right order. Yes, the producers/judges overmanipulated things and it may have bitten them in the ass, the switch from 24-20-16-12 semifinals back to three groups and a wild card was a mistake, and the "judge's save" was a poorly-thought and poorly-employed innovation. But on the whole, the show sustained my interest and entertained from start to finish, and we will certainly be hearing from Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta again.
Kris Allen won, and he earned it. In this new era of Idol where musicianship and narrative were as important as raw singing talent, he became someone we looked forward to seeing every week. He made interesting, challenging and utterly contemporary choices whenever he could ("Falling Slowly," among others, was a real risk), and he's got a real chance to go far in the industry. It's all up to him.
Isaac: The lesson from this season, trite as it may sound, is "be yourself." The final two had a better understanding of what kind of music they wanted to make in June, not just in May, and put a lot of thought into how they could present their ambition within the context of the competition. Lambert shrewdly alternated between his sensitive falsetto and his power-scream and picked songs that would let him feature those features. Allen bent each theme and song to his strengths, carefully building a body of work that was cumulatively more revealing and more consistent than that of most, perhaps all, of his competitors. Both Lambert and Allen made music that they seemed to enjoy, and it was apparent. The rest of the contestants, all of them, just played the hands dealt them, waffling or whining about song selection and flapping whichever way the useless judicial-advice breeze was blowing. They approached this competition as job applicants, doing what they thought would advance their candidacy without any particular joy or enthusiasm, and sometimes with open apprehension. Not everybody who stays true to himself will last in this show -- some people just suck, Scott -- but it may be that the days of the winners who sing straight versions of Disneyana and "Vincent (Starry Starry Night)" are over, and it seems to me that failing on your own terms is better than failing on somebody else's.
Kim: To replicate the path by which Kris Allen beat out Adam Lambert for the title, I think you'd need to follow the following course: Come From a Sociologically Cohesive, Smallish But Not Too Smallish State* with Liberal Text-Messaging Plans. According to lots of internet reports including the website of Arkansas's Speaker of the House Robbie Wills, AT&T has confirmed that of the nearly 100 million votes cast last night, 38 million of them came from Kris Allen's home state. That comes out to about 13 votes per resident of Arkansas.
*bummer for you, Jasmine Trias, that Hawaii has fewer than half as many people** as Arkansas
** sadly for you, Jorge Núñez, this analysis provides you no excuse
Taken another way: of Arkansas's 2,855,390 people, 17.8% are between 5 and 17 years old. That's 508,259 people. Let's say for the sake of argument that a quarter of them were in a position to do some voting. That's 127,065 tweenies and teenagers, about half of which are female. 63,532 girls voting 600 times each gets you 38 million votes if no other human being in Arkansas voted even once. And since the Speaker of the House has reported that between himself, his wife, and his 7 year old daughter, over 1000 votes were cast for Kris Allen last night, these numbers seem quite reasonable. Pity Adam Lambert for not hailing from Oklahoma. (Or maybe not.)
In reading and listening to interviews with both Kris and Adam over the last couple of weeks, the thing that has struck me most is the extent to which these two guys seem to really like each other. When asked by EW about his friendship with Adam, Kris responded:
It was just like this closeness, you know? I don't know what happened. I think we just felt each other's energy, and it was nice. It just became this really good friendship. Yeah, I adore the guy. I think he's a really great guy. I'm proud of him.Asked a similar question, Adam said:
We were roommates, so we were kind of thrown in together, and he's just like a really open-minded, good person. He's got a great view of the world. We share a lot of philosophies on the world, even though we have different backgrounds. You know, I've learned a lot about his relationship with his wife. She's great. We've hung out. He's just a good guy, you know? I'm so happy for him. He deserves it. He's so talented, and he's a good person.In a show that has rewarded a great American success story for at least the second consecutive year, the mutual backstage respect between two talented musicians is another story worth remembering.
First off all, kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Adam Lambert. I'm a loudmouth liberal blogger sports nut tax consultant living in Northern New Jersey.
How has this competition changed your life?
Well, I’ve had a lot of old friends who I haven’t spoken to in years get back in touch with me, if even to bust on me. I also rediscovered my love for classic rock. And while I haven’t tried this yet, I assume that I won’t have any problems getting reservations in good NYC restaurants.
Do you want to respond to all the rumors about your personal life?
I swear – I didn’t do it. It was like that when I got there. I didn’t have anything to do with “that incident” – I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that is all behind me now.
What happens to your dreams after last night's disappointing results?
Well, I know it isn’t the end of the road. I mean, the Cavs are only down 1-0 after that last minute shot by Rashard Lewis, so they can easily come back and win that series, especially with LeBron. For a Knick fan, it’s been one night of disappointing results after another this year.
Tell me what you really think about your competitors.
Well, being that I have worked at KPMG, Deloitte as well as Ernst & Young, all of them have some strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know much about PriceWaterhouseCoopers, but my wife didn’t really like the people there. KPMG was a pretty oppressive place when I was there around 15 years ago, and Deloitte was just a mess.
What will you remember most about this journey?
I’ll remember that no matter how long it’s been since I’ve spoken to someone, they can still pop up out of nowhere to give me shit. And that so many people that have no connection to each other all use the same joke over and over again. Oh yeah, and that some people are so gullible that they actually thought I was going back and forth between Hollywood and New York.
With whom would you like to work in the future?
Probably a high level political figure whose campaign I can work on and help (re)elect.
Finally, any fashion or style tips for our male readers?
I’ll have to ask the missus on that one – she is my fashion consultant and would be horrified if she knew that I was offering any fashion tips to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
The Galaxy is Expanding. SYTYCD mastermind, former dancer, president of 19 Entertainment -- and BFF of KCosmo -- Nigel Lythgoe sees the show's mandate as bringing dance to a larger audience. Every season, new choreographers and styles of dance are added to the show -- last season, we watched the dancers' maiden incursions into Bollywood (a roaring success), Texas Two-Step (an unmitigated disaster), Trepak (the Russian guys-in-fur-hats stuff), and actual honest-to-God ballet (a glorious pas de deux choreographed by Alvin Ailey alums Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden). And then there were all the usual styles -- contemporary, hip-hop (in its many flavors), samba, Viennese waltz, disco, Argentine tango, Broadway, mambo, jive, jazz, rumba, smooth waltz, cha cha, krump, non-Argentine tango, salsa, quickstep, lyrical jazz, foxtrot, West Coast swing, paso doble, and I'm sure Nigel will come up with a few new doozies this year.
The Experts Are Part of the Action. Unlike that other show where we see the guest mentor for maybe four minutes of clips one week plus a quickie performance of his latest song and then he's gone, never to be seen again, the choreographers on SYTYCD are as core to the show's narrative as the dancers themselves. We as viewers get to see how the choreographers create, how they use the talents of each dancer, and how they teach. And many of the choreographers sit in the judge's chair at various points through the season, giving us the chance to hear their views -- actual views, articulated clearly and usually concisely -- about each of the competitors' strengths and weaknesses. Who among the show's longtime fans isn't excited to see what Mia Michaels comes up with for this season? Wade Robson? Sonya Tayeh?
The SYTYCD Tour Kicks the AI Tour's Ass. It's ridiculous how much better the SYTYCD tour is than the AI tour. AI gives you ten discrete mini-sets from each of the ten finalists who made the tour (and aren't you excited to see Michael Sarver and Scott McIntyre concerts, America?) and . . . that's pretty much it. No interaction between the singers, no interesting duets or small group performances, nada. SYTYCD takes a totally different approach, cramming every great dance from the entire season into two hours of constant entertainment, plus oddly entertaining patter and comedic sketches from the dancers.
Cat Deeley. I love Cat. Everyone loves Cat. You, too, will love Cat. She's a big dorky geek trapped in the face and body of a Glamazon goddess. What's not to love?
See you tonight. (Can't wait until then? Our Friend Joanna Weiss offers her own views as to why SYTYCD is "TV's most satisfying reality competition.")
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
edited.10:30p: Thanks for participating in the chat, everyone. Let's move the conversation to the Comments, and we'll have summary thoughts later. For your amusement, do check out our preview show from early March.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I: SING IT AGAIN, SAM.
Adam: First off, I love the audition footage they dusted off for the intro package, especially with both Adam and Kris professing that each would be T.N.A.I. As for "Mad World," a bit too much on the dry ice, but it's a lovely song that Lambert, as before, aced. See, America? He doesn't have to screech! As for Kris, the nicest parts about his performance were the pauses. He's got a great way with his phrasing; he knows how to sell a song, and even without the greatest natural tools he knows how to maximize what he's got.
Here's a question: who's more poorly dressed -- Randy Jackson in that fugly suit, or Hokey Gokey rocking the plain white t?
Kim: Good lord, Randy's suit is Public Offender #1. Gokey's just broke from paying off the thousand dollar leather jacket from last week. And while Simon and Randy were busy vacillating between Phantom of the Opera and Twilight, they completely missed the fact that Lambert had in fact come to the party dressed as Neo. The smoke machine and the blue light were more than a little excessive, but yeah, "Mad World" was more or less the same as it was last time around for those of us who saw it. And having seen the rest of the show before writing this, I actually have a huge gripe with this song selection. When I heard he was doing "Mad World," I immediately said "ah, cool, this means a new uptempo rocker from Simon Fuller or at least a reworkable tune from Kara and her co-writers." Given what came later, I would never have picked a crooner for Adam's reprise. As for Kris, I loved the fact that he changed up his own "Ain't No Sunshine" a bit from the last go-round. The big piano instead of the keyboard, not bringing the guys from the band front and center with him (oh wait, we're saving that bit for his second number) -- Kris's reprise felt fresh in a way that Lambert's didn't.
II. SIMON FULLER IS AN IDIOT.
Kim: Well, Lambert's 2009 "A Change is Gonna Come" was certainly different from his 2004 version. I sat there the entire time thinking didn't I see this on youtube already? I have a little confession: I don't like this song. I'm sure that flags me as a social reactionary or something, but I don't like the song and, whether relatedly or not, didn't particularly care for Adam's performance of it. And then when we got "What's Going On" for Kris -- well, heck, what's with the social consciousness thing? Kris had the "this feels small" problem on this one that I was worried he might. (And, incidentally, I should have credited Mr. Cosmo with first coming up with this concern.)
Adam: I'm just going to assume that the people who don't like Adam will find his "A Change Is Gonna Come" indulgent. I guess I was hoping for that little wink that acknowledged the gravity of the change Sam Cooke was singing about and which Lambert presumably was connecting with in his own interpretation. But he cut both the "too hard living but I'm afraid to die" and "go downtown"/"don't hang around" verses, the latter of which especially would have brought that home, and so what we were left with was a song sung well but without the depth that could have made it transcendent. What change, Adam? And, yes, interesting that they gave both Kris and Adam social protest songs. Gawd, Kara is stoopid; I'm so distracted that I can barely evaluate Kris' performance. Okay, it was nice, but there was no greatness to it.
III. THE ROSES AND THE PONIES AND THE RAINBOWS.
Adam: First off, a non-rainbows and ponies thought: I think it's cruel -- but amusing as hell -- to do a group shot of the Fallen Idols and not tell Scott where the camera is.
Back to the roses and mountains. I hate these songs, except when Fantasia blew us away with "Believe" back in Season Three. Adam did what he could with it, singing it the way it was meant to be sung (to be used behind the pregame package of NBA Finals Game 1, presumably). Have they ever had them sing the same song back-to-back before? For the first time in a long time, I felt like the song was bigger than Kris -- I didn't think his voice was as big as the chorus needed it to be. If Kris loses this competition, it shouldn't be because he can't excel in a crappy inspirational pageant song, but because America thinks Adam has earned over the course of this competition the right to be the next pop superstar slightly more so than Kris has. Kris wasn't better tonight, but mostly because of a song he never should have had to sing to prove his worth.
Kim: Ugh. This is a particularly bad song even among the universe of bad songs that have been written for this event. I disagree with Adam, though -- even though Lambert technically sang the song better than Kris did, I think the song was more suited to Kris's style and thus I liked the Kris version a smidge better. Who cares, though, the song sucks. And it also sucks that they ended the already somewhat sucky show with this sucky song. I didn't get the sense during the show that the judges were consciously trying to throw Kris under the bus, but maybe the song order reflects something of a positioning for Adam.
IV. FOUR MONTHS AND SIX DAYS LATER . . .
Kim: I like Kris, I respect Kris and what he's accomplished this season, and I look forward to the prospect of Kris having a long and successful musical career. But for me there's only been one American Idol this season, and so my 20-minutes-worth of voting went to Adam Lambert.
Adam: Neither contestant "won" this tonight in the same way Jordin clearly wrestled the title from Blake two years ago. I'm voting for Adam based on the whole of the season, but both men, properly promoted, can have real music careers in a way that I'm not sure David Cook ever will.
And so that's it. We may be a little late in getting started on the CoverItLive-powered real-time rumination on the finale. (Recorder recitals and Girls Nights Out occasionally get in the way of important things like blogging.) But we'll get here as soon as we can, and it's not like there will be any results prior to sometime well after 10 pm anyway, so bring your popcorn and enjoy the festivities with us!
edited.to.provoke: Okay, how do we feel about contestants being able to spend money beyond the clothing budget, as USA Today mentions in an extremely revealing behind-the-scenes:
In other news from the gossip pages, Lambert & date spotted at Burbank's Outback Steakhouse, and their dining companions Anoop Desai & Megan Joy may also be an item. I am more surprised that Lambert would choose to eat at an Outback (and could do so without much hubbub) than I am by the other half of the sentence.
Inside the hip-with-cash store Traffic, Lambert and [show stylist Miles] Siggins fall in love with a faded denim shirt by Dolce & Gabbana. At $695, it comes close to his two-song budget of $800. Not that that would stop Lambert.
"He's broken Taylor Hicks' record for spending the most out of your own pocket," Siggins says, laughing. "And I'm not telling you by how much."
Lambert says the white suit he wore to sing the Rat Pack-era tune Feeling Good cost $1,700. "But in this competition, the visual is as important as the voice," he says. "I'll spend what I have to."
This year? Next Tuesday features the same type of written round (albeit administered in one day), followed by two oral rounds for everyone on Wednesday (3 points each), and then no more than the top 50 (of 293) scoring spellers proceeding to ESPN on Thursday morning. What this means is that there's a real need for the organizers to ensure that the words in these two oral rounds are distributed fairly in terms of difficulty -- or, as I put it during last year's first oral round:
Suppose you're Charles Smith, representing Hagerstown, MD. The four spellers before you receive "quandary," "ethanol," "brigadier" and "chary". Then you're asked to spell ahn-uh-MASS-tuh-kon, "a collection or listing of words especially in a specialized field." Yeah, life's not fair sometimes.Those first two oral rounds will be on ESPN360 and not broadcast. By comparison, last year's day one (also internet-only) featured the one oral round in which everyone participated, followed by the cut-down announcement and two sudden-death elimination rounds from which 45 spellers emerged. In other words, we've gone from three oral rounds on Wednesday, in two of which people can be eliminated, to having two oral rounds from which no one will be immediately eliminated, but still ending up with about the same number of spellers for Thursday morning.
One person I'm hoping to see again on Thursday is three-timer Kennyi Aouad of Terre Haute, Indiana, who's been invited to address all the spellers on opening day to calm them down. Why Kennyi? Watch this classic Bee video. Kennyi has said that if he wins, he hopes to help pay for his brother's college tuition and finance a family trip to Ghana, from which his parents came to America. If you find a great story about one of this year's competitors, let us know.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Kim: I don’t know that the one necessarily follows from the other. Yes, the best two performers are in the Finals, and as such I’m very excited for Tuesday’s show. (More on that shortly.) But I think there’s enough dissatisfaction about the road to the final two (dissatisfaction that I don’t particularly share) that you can’t necessarily say “yes, it was a success” just because we’re happy that it’s Lambert and Allen.
Isaac: I think how happy you are with this season depends upon how much you enjoy Adam Lambert. If you love him, and many do, you probably think this has been a remarkably high-quality season. If you don't like him, then you probably think this season honored showy but pointless vocal acrobatics at the expense of enjoyable music. And as evidence that the latter group exists, this season's insurgent challenger, for the third year in a row, is the one who spent the most time thinking about how to turn his 90 seconds into a pop song instead of an elaborate machine to inject his voice directly into your bloodstream.
Adam: We have definitely moved away from this being a "singing" competition to being much more of a performance-oriented show, in which originality and personality count at least as much as pipes. As far as the road is concerned, I agree with almost everything WTNS said this week, though I don't find much "rebellious" in Adam Lambert this year. Yes, it's clear that they over-pimped folks like Lil Rounds this year, and Scott MacIntyre should have never been allowed out of Hollywood, but even if it's Ricky Braddy and Ju'Not Joyner instead of Matt Giraud and Scott, we're still ending up in the same place, right? All the singers who made it in via the Wild Card were (initially) offed within the first half the finals, so maybe America's fine at picking their favorites the first time around. No matter how much Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta were underpimped, both still made it as far as their talents merited despite the judges' contrary intentions. But if Kris Allen is our David Cook, is Lambert our overhyped Young David Archuleta only with Colorful, Colorful Makeup?
Kim: This bugs me. Hokey Gokey was our YDA until America actually bucked the judges and offed him last week. So now all of a sudden it’s Adam Lambert who’s the target of the internet’s conspiracy theory ire? I get that Adam is polarizing, but it’s part of what’s made him so much fun to watch this season. I dare someone to come up with a scenario where a final two without Lambert would have been more fun than a finale with Lambert. (The solution does not involve Allison Iraheta – love her, but her shtick could not have handled three identically-arranged songs.) I am totally fine with either Allen or Lambert winning – I like both of them a lot – but the backlash bugs me. (The EW cover was a terrible, terrible idea.)
Isaac: No, Lambert isn’t YDA, and that's why I've found this season boring. I do not like the sounds that emanate from Lambert, but he seems like a perfectly agreeable guy to me. Thus, nobody to root against. I thought Archuleta was bad for music, but Lambert is just not my cup of tea. The contestants who were bad for music -- Jasmine Murray, Scott MacIntyre, Jorge Nunez -- were not good enough to be dangerous, so they went home pretty quickly. I do think, though, that the producers need to start doing things to make the show less dull for people who don't have a rooting interest.
Adam: Is it (still) the genres, or something else?
Kim: The genres are windowdressing around the main issue. If you don’t have someone(s) you’re rooting for, it’s just dull, period. So it’s not about enlivening the experience for people who don’t care about the singers, but about making people care about the competitors themselves. Which actually argues in favor of some editorial control by the judges – if you let Richard Rushfield’s army of tweenies take control of the semifinals (they’re probably a larger percentage of the voters at that point for lack of anything else to do, right?) without any guidance or direction (read – pimping), then you risk a much more homogenous set of finalists. So it seems to me that the secret is to (a) do a better job of picking their horses while (b) being a little less obvious about it.
Isaac: I don't disagree, but we may not see eye-to-eye on how to make people care about the competitors. I think the most important thing is to show them having fun with music. As Kris and Cook showed, audiences respond to that. That means opening up the song selection (by telling them the genres ahead of time, so that they can identify potential songs well in advance for clearance purposes), letting the contestants interact with each other musically, instead of just food-fightally, and maybe showing them working on arrangements or having fun in rehearsals. But the most important thing is setting them up to sing in the style that they think will make them successful -- you learn nothing and please nobody by making Michael Sarver sing disco or forcing Megan Joy Corkrey to flap her arms and make bird noises. That just turns people off, doesn't it? I agree with the basic point that the show needs to do more to get people to care about the contestants, but the question is how?
Adam: Well, what I'd do is go back to a 24-person semifinals -- we gained little by having a wild card this year -- and ensure that all 24 get audition packages or some focus during Hollywood Week. That work? And I will agree with Isaac's suggestion of more duets and collaborations, sooner, even if it's just letting Matt play piano for Lil or having Allison sing the female lead on Kris' "Falling Slowly" (without being officially judged on it.)
Kim: I’m a little nervous about opening the door for more collaboration on performance nights, as it will likely benefit the more versatile instrumental musicians to the potential detriment of those who just, you know, sing well. I do like the idea of perhaps including some more of that sort of thing on results nights. Cut the dopey group sings and go for some sort of small group performances. (I totally agree with Isaac, though, that there should be more time spent watching the contestants rehearse/plan/arrange – a la SYTYCD.) I also agree that 24 semifinalists is sufficient. But if you do audition packages on all 24, then you’ve eliminated any suspense whatsoever. “Oh, that guy got a package and he doesn’t suck, so he must make it through Hollywood.” If I recall correctly, there was at least one year where the final post-Hollywood decision episode(s?) had a lot more content from the auditions and Hollywood rounds. This year was kind of light on that – so perhaps do two hours of narrowing to 24 and give each person more complete treatment at that time?
Adam: That makes sense -- at a minimum, have a package for each semifinalists by the time you're done with the long-walk-to-the-big-room episode. Oh, and by the way: they're singing again tomorrow -- one new song each as chosen by producer Simon Fuller, one favorite from earlier in the competition, and the thing with the roses and the dreams and the hopes and the ponies. If you're Kris, it's too soon to do "Heartless" again, so "Falling Slowly" with a better sound mix?
Kim: Right. Singing. Regarding Kris, I have a bit of a concern as to how his style will play in the larger Nokia Theater – remember when Katharine McPhee resang “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” in the Final Two and Simon told her that it felt small? The performances where Kris has really excelled have been his more intimate ones, and I’m not sure how they’re going to play in the bigger venue. That being said, it’s been a long time since Kris first wowed everyone with “Ain’t No Sunshine” – I’d bring that one back. As for Adam: I was listening to some of his performances again over the weekend, and realized that we haven’t been entirely accurate when characterizing his song choices. We’ve been saying that his two modes are crooning (see, e.g., “Mad World,” “Tracks of My Tears”) and wailing (see, e.g., “Satisfaction,” “Born to Be Wild,” “Whole Lotta Love”), but he has one performance that doesn’t fit into either of those boxes. Remember his “Black or White” from way back on Top 13 week? It’s really quite good, and neither screechy nor moony. I suspect that it’s not the one we’re going to hear as a reprise, but it does show a sort of mid-range Lambert that might reassure some of the voters who have veered away from Adam over the last however many weeks.
Adam: I'd rather see Adam do a new rock song -- it's not too late for Guns and/or Roses, Mr. Fuller -- which suggests Tracks of My Tears for the do-over to me. Also, while they have to do the same song again, there's nothing that requires the same arrangement twice. I'd expect a surprise from Adam or Kris or both. Isaac, what about our beleaguered judges?
Isaac: If your comment is really directed at another judge, involves a metaphor or simile, suggests that somebody else is gay, or amounts to no more than I [didn't] like it, then shut yer yap.
Adam and Kim: Agreed.
On the one hand, I love the idea of one of my favorite shows having become so popular that it warrants this kind of treatment. But then again, summertime is SYTYCD time, and will we enjoy Cat and the gang quite as much when they're up against all the fall premieres? Time will tell. Ultimately, I think I vote yay, with some minor reservations.
Three more days!
Edited to add: The move is official – SYTYCD will air Tuesday and Wednesday nights. (Dollars to donuts Nigel can bring his shows in on time, unlike the yahoos who took over his little singing show.) I’ve decided this is a smart move – Tuesday and Wednesday nights belong to Fox Reality TV.
For the seventh straight year, we'll be giving full court press coverage to all the spellers and their exploits. Not much will change this year -- we will probably employ CoverItLive for the final televised rounds, but probably not for the day competition, and will be popularizing the #bee09 hashtag to draw folks here.
It begins, of course, by seeing who we've got, and these bullet points should whet your appetite:
- Unlike most years, there are no members of the five-timers club. The 4 four-timers, however, include ALOTT5MA fave Kavya Shivashankar, who's made it to primetime in each of her three previous years and is returning despite a missed word in her regional bee. Also returning from last year's primetime is 2008 runner-up Sidharth Chand, who is, indeed, sporting the 'stache this year, and Peoria's Kyle Mou.
- Other returners of note include four-timer Keiko Bridwell, once described by Shonda as a "super cute spelling hottie" who has "Cover Girl written all over her"; Long Island's Zachary Zagorski; and three-timer Morgan Gilliam, who we loved when she was the competition's youngest speller at 9 in 2005, who then returned in 2007 and is back for her third and final try at age 13.
- The Mattsassin is not returning, having lost in his county bee.
- One of the first-timers is Albuquerque's Hannah Evans, younger sister of now-retired five-timer Matthew Evans.
Finally, this housekeeping note: because she has finally decided to take a long-overdue vacation -- her first since Grey's Anatomy began -- our friend Shonda Rhimes will not be joining us for this year's coverage. Since 2005, we've been fortunate to have her join us here to supply her insight, her enthusiasm, and her voluminous crush on a certain diminutive South Asian speller from Texas, and we will all miss her this year.
We do look forward to the return of our regular crew of former National Spelling Bee finalists, and are always looking for other insightful voices. So if you've competed in the National Bee before, are a parent of someone who has or otherwise believe you should be involved in our team coverage (have you created a hit tv drama?) or just want to contribute a single essay, shoot me an email at email@example.com.
** Edited for clarification. We're only interested in public accounts like newspaper articles; please don't be hunting down these kids' MySpace/Facebook pages or other personal sites which were not intended for our eyes.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
As for the show itself, I've got no quarrel with a Will Ferrell's Greatest Hits show, esp. given the quality of the Celebrity Jeopardy! surprise guest. It was a slight, but amusing show at the end of one of the show's more influential seasons. We'll get to our own overall recap and the should go/should stay recommendations in due course.
P.S. Loved the final sketch. That said, if you can't identify Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon" more specifically than "a crazy nonsense song about being in Vietman [sic]", you shouldn't be writing about pop culture.