Thursday, February 21, 2008

MUSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF: Warning: Long rant follows. There was so much -- so much! -- hype about the quality and professionalism (or ringerism) of this year's American Idol crop that the show almost convinced us to forget that it's not necessarily the best singers who make the best pop stars -- it's the ones best able to connect with the current pay-for-downloading audience. It's a good thing that we had Simon to remind us, ever-more desperately, that he can't make money off of kids who do a great "Moon River" or "Where the Boys Are." One of the problems is that a lot of these kids are over-trained, and therefore have musical tastes that are wildly out of touch with pop music. The kids buying music don't want immaculately-performed songs that remind them of their grandmothers; they want music that will help them get laid, which is exactly what AI's audition process doesn't test for.

So there were a lot of structural problems with this round. The stage is built for AI v.1.0 performances -- the Justin/Kelly-model, back when Britney and XTina were huge recording artists and people were okay with disembanded singers marching around by themselves on a cheeseball stage with a dorky clip-art animation background. Now you can only do that if you're 14 and you have a show on the Disney Channel or you're 50 and you have a show at the MGM Grand. Allowing instruments is a nice concession to the modern era, but why not bring the band onstage and let the performers interact? And if you want "current" and "relevant," as TwoP points out, perhaps you should not make everybody sing 40-year-old songs (and you shouldn't let them be arranged in the worst Las Vegas way, with the tinkly 1980s synthesizer front-and-center).

But, as the panel pointed out, there are songs from the 1960s that can be covered in a way that is passably relevant. What is shocking is that not a single performer picked one (though Lushington at least tried). It probably is impossible for anybody but an expert, confident musician with an established musical personality to update 60s top-40 pop ("Happy Together"; "One is the Loneliest Number"; "Shop Around") successfully. How on earth could two of the top 24 think that the road to current rock stardom runs through "Happy Together"? Preposterous.

So fix it. Match a performer to a 1960s song that would best showcase his or her talents (or, for that matter, just pick a 1960s song suitable for covering). If you want to be realistic, try to pick one for which AI could get clearance -- meaning no Rolling Stones songs (they are iffy and take forever to clear), no Beatles (too expensive), and no Led Zeppelin (always rejected, unless you're Cameron Crowe).

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