May 4, 2004

It’s Big Band night on American Idol—just to taunt poor John Stevens.

Diana comes out in a too-tight purple nightie and pretends to be a grown woman as she sings “Someone to Watch Over Me.” She’s allowed to hold onto the mike and give a little speech about why she choose the song and she does an ultra-sly dedication to “everyone who’s in the army” because they “watch over” us. She’s too cute and cheesy doing this speech, but you can’t blame the kid. Obviously, she was put up to it. She orders the audience to stand up—oh, how I hate when performers insist that the audience entertain them! I’ve always refused to take these orders and was reinforced in this resistance at an early age, in 1969, when Frank Zappa, leading The Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East, instructed the audience through various steps of an elaborate performance, which I didn’t do. After everyone (else) did it, he insulted them for taking orders and acting like trained seals. It’s odd that other performers don’t insult audiences for their fawning overenthusiasm. Instead, it’s all “I can’t hear you!” Now, Diana launches into a song “made famous” by “Miss Judy Garland”: “C’mon Get Happy.” It’s too easy to say but I’ll say it: I’m not happy. By the way, the reason the song gives for getting happy is that Judgment Day is coming. So apparently, it’s the mindlessly giddy who get to go to heaven. Another side track: the greatest work of art that I can’t stand is Michelangelo’s "Last Judgment". Apparently, for Judgment Day you not only have to get happy, you have to get naked. Diana gets praise, except that Simon criticizes her for singing in an "old" style, which is an idiotic criticism considering that the style was imposed on her.

Twenty minutes into the show, the second singer, George Huff, appears, and he’s singing “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”—a song I can’t help associating with the movie "Sibyl" (not "Top Hat"). George seems pretty comfortable singing like this, and his usual innate happiness goes well with the style. He takes the mike and doesn’t embarrass himself, then goes into “What a Wonderful World.” It’s nice to see this oversmiler sing a Louis Armstrong song, because the connection to Armstrong gives profundity to the habit of excessive smiling. Suddenly, I’m a Huffite! Randy says “Safe,” Paula is enchanted, and Simon agrees with Randy. Hmmm…. I may have to vote for the first time this season. The old “cruise ship” insult is wheeled out (sailed out).

Next is La Toya London. And let me just take this occasion to say that my father, who loved Big Band music, loved a singer named London and I grew up believing that the greatest musical genius in the history of the world was Julie London. And the model for all womanhood was Julie London. (My mother loved Big Band too: her favorite was Frank Sinatra, a fact that I believe I owe my existence to, because my father, as a young man, looked enough like Frank Sinatra that people used to ask him for his autograph. My parents met in the army—they were “watching over" us in WWII. So there are good things and bad that I feel I owe my existence to.) But back to La Toya! She’s got the marcelled hair that is a bit 20s for Big Band, but who’s going to notice? She sings “Too Close For Comfort”—great lyrics. She brings some good excitement to the song. In the talk segment, she loses it and garbles everything, then goes into a song from “Funny Girl.” Hmmm…. Let’s just pretend “Don’t Rain On My Parade” is a Big Band song. Let’s see if the judges call “Broadway” on her (that, along with “cruise ship” and “wedding singer,” is a favorite insult on the show). Randy is hooting, he loves it. You were meant to sing this kind of music---hmmm …. Doesn’t that mean she’s not suited to be the American Idol? Paula says this means she can put out an album of (presumably) Broadway songs and sell “millions and millions.” Well, if that’s the music business, why has “Broadway” traditionally been an insult on this show? Let’s see if Simon has the nerve to cut through this crap: “10 out of 10 for a very good Broadway performance.” But nothing more. Well, I can put 2 and 2 together. He doesn’t want to criticize her, but he just did.

Now it’s Jasmine. “The Way You Look Tonight”—a beautiful song. She has a beautiful tone sometimes, but hits a lot of wrong notes. And what’s with wearing jeans on Big Band night? Speaking of the way you look. The second song is “It’s Almost Like Being In Love,” another beautiful song. I see a vision of Jasmine being kicked off the show tomorrow night. Randy and Paula babble. Simon predicts doom. Me too.

Finally, Fantasia. Somehow she’s allowed to sing “a Queen classic,” “This Thing Called Love." Did I hear that right? I don’t get it. Then she gets to sing “a Barbra Streisand classic” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”—how is that the Big Band era? Anyway, Fantasia is screeching and utterly lacks the elegance for this kind of singing. These are love songs, but she says she’s singing to her little brother and her daughter. Randy finds her “absolutely brilliant.” Paula’s crying—give me a break! Simon says Fantasia and La Toya are “in a different league.” Which makes me worry that Fantasia’s in trouble--it's too much like the divas comment that led to Jennifer Hudson's ouster. And La Toya was clearly the better of the two, so that comment is going to cause people to pick which of those two they prefer. I think George was the best, and since he got comments that will make his fans see him as needing help, he'll be saved. Fantasia got overlavish praise, which could lead to complacency amongst the voters, and there have been no warnings tonight about the dangers of complacency--no reminders about Jennifer Hudson to stimulate the Fantasia fans.

I’m predicting the bottom three as: Jasmine, Fantasia, and La Toya. I see Diana and George as safe. Jasmine should go, but Fantasia might go! Tomorrow should be interesting: a possible shocker.

UPDATE: Given some of those song choices, maybe the original theme was something like "classic love songs" (or "tribute to John Stevens"). That would also have explained some of the costume choices, which were anything by the 1940s. It in no way looked like the great Big Band show from the first season (when Kelly really shone). But then, I'm thinking, they just for no good reason decided to let La Toya sing "Don't Rain on My Parade," which was the only song last night that wasn't a sweet, croony love song (of the type Stevens lives to sing), so they just renamed the theme, which left Fantasia looking silly. I almost suspect the producers of having decided to force the Fantasia-La Toya showdown to happen early, not to be the finale (which people seem to be predicting). You need that drama. But why they would want La Toya to survive and Fantasia to leave early is a bit of a puzzle? Fantasia is the most entertaining character among the contestants.