Friday, January 28, 2011

American Idol' lacking bite in Music City

Delusional "singers" and camera-hogging novelty acts dominated the show, which took up an hour compared to the two devoted to the sonically richer environs of Milwaukee Wednesday. Somewhere Hank Williams is weeping.

Only a few stand-out singers appeared on the show. Best was Adrienne Beasley, a farm worker with a slightly unusual back story. She's a 22-year-old African-American who was raised by a white family. Beasley's style tapped into the deeper history of country music, bypassing the slick cliches of modern Nashville. Her unpretentious style suited the setting of the auditions, the historic Ryman Auditorium.
Also gaining traction, as well as the clear favor of the judges, was Lauren Alaina. She had a backstory, too (a seeming pre-requisite this year). The woman who inspired her to sing - her cousin Holly - recently went through chemotherapy for a brain tumor. Remarkably, Alaina didn't exploit this in front of the judges (who were surely tipped). She hardly needed the edge. Aliana ably navigated the tricky melody of a song Tyler had sung himself: Diane Warren's "Don't Wanna Miss A Thing."
The show opened with another compelling tale: a romantic couple who used to perform as a duo, but who now sing apart.  The male of the pair, Bob Bolin, stood out above his distaff half, with a voice that recalls Ray Lamontagne's.  The pair sang even better together, on the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" - an endorsement of coupled conventionality well-suited to "Idol's" insistence on family values over all.
Naturally, they both got the golden ticket.
A cluster of males, cordoned off into a montage, also made it through the old mill, all singing soul songs instead of country. Their chosen genre served to stress the power of both genres in this region.
Once again Thursday, other singers squeezed through by less earned means. Matt Dillard, a 27-year-old Bubba-type, sounded like an unseasoned Josh Grobin. The judges weren't wowed, but they moved him on, if only to fill out the ranks. Likewise, a former Miss Teen USA contestant improbably named Stormi Henley went on, even though the judges acknowledged that vocalizing wasn't her strong suit.
"That may be the smallest voice we've heard so far," complained Jennifer Lopez, who acknowledged the young singer's beauty.
It made for an odd moment, considering the ratio of Ms. Lopez's own skills. But at least it gave dull Nashville a shot of unintentional comedy.

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