Daily Archives: April 21, 2012

What Happened to “Diversity” on Idol (the Musical Kind)?

Funny, but in the previous thread, when someone posted a version of Eva Cassidy’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the comments section, it reminded me of her version of “Imagine,” which had inspired David’s memorable rendition of “Imagine” when he performed during Top 20 week on Idol. Of course, I got nostalgic and revisited that magical moment:

And just like that, watching this beautiful rendition, everything just clicked.  It’s that incessant question both TV viewers and critics have been pondering in the past few seasons on American Idol: Why do we no longer get “moments” on the show? It’s not for lack of competent singers, and this year alone, we’ve got some fine powerhouse contenders (Hollie, Jessica, Skylar, Joshua), but here’s the clincher:

Not since Season 8 has any contestant been challenged to sing outside of their “box.”  For it is moving beyond that “box” that we get the moments to happen.

Season 1, it happened when Kelly Clarkson took on the “big band” song, “Stuff Like That There.”

Why was this a “moment”? Because, up until that point, she’d been singing the power-belting adult contemporary/R&B tunes. She stepped outside her box.

Season 2, it happened when Kimberly Locke sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”:

Why was this a “moment”? Because, she stepped out of her “box” of usual contemporary staples and took on a classic standard and wowed with her vocals.

Season 3, again, it happened when Fantasia sang “Summer Time”:

Why was this a “moment”? Because, like Kim Locke, she took on a classic standard, stepped away from her staple of gospel and R&B, and sang the song! (IMO, she did the same when she took on Willy Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”.)

Season 4, it happened when Carrie Underwood stepped out of her “country” box and sang “Alone”:

I’m going to fast forward to Season 6, when one of my favorite “moments” happened with Melinda Doolittle singing “My Funny Valentine” with such perfection:

All of these fine moments of great Idol performances. Something that we don’t get, and I blame the producers for forcing contestants into boxes.  After David wowed us with “Imagine,” the next logical step was to give a diverse range of songs for him to continue having “moments” with, not just sticking to the “inspirational” kind. That’s what got him labeled “boring” by some.

And ever since David Cook changed up songs to “fit” his rock guitar style, other contestants in later seasons started doing this too.  Hence, we get audiences oohing-and-aahing that Kris Allen acoustified Kanye West’s “Heartless,” or just recently, Phillip Phillips slowed down Usher’s “You Got It Bad.”

Obviously, there are limits to fitting songs into one’s style, and I’m positively certain Colton got voted off this week for 1)ruining Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” through that atrocious rockified version and 2)rendering Earth, Wind, and Fire completely unrecognizable through his emo version of “September” (Get outta here with that mess! America obviously agreed with me.)

After awhile, I’m going to get bored with Skylar countrifying every song. I was impressed with her version of Whitney Houston’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” but why in God’s name couldn’t she have sung Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” straight? Why are producers forcing these contestants into their neat little boxes?

Because you know what? Sklyar could have a moment doing a big band song a la Kelly Clarkson without the country change.  In fact, if she had such a “moment” she could easily win.

Hollie could also have a “moment” if she took on a Barbra Streisand song. Imagine if she had to dig deep and do “The Way We Were” or “Papa, Can You Hear Me,” or a Broadway song like “Memories” or “On My Own.”

Imagine Jessica taking on Gershwin or Ella Fitzgerald? (And no, Jimmy, she doesn’t need to sing age-appropriate songs, she needs to feel her songs, whatever the age.)

Imagine Elise singing “Over the Rainbow,” or Joshua letting loose on “Unchained Melody” or singing a Broadway tune like “Impossible Dream.”

All could have genuine “moments” with standards.

Imagine (gasp!) Phillip Phillips getting rid of his guitar and singing a capella, like Bo Bice did back in Season 4:

And if PP can’t impress us by doing this, then he needs to get voted off like Colton. Cause yes, here is where I agree with Randy: This is a singing competition!

Diversity.  Musical diversity. That’s what the show is lacking, and that’s why I was not impressed with last year’s winner Scotty McCreery, who never once sang outside his country genre.  Would it have killed him to sing Barry White or Lou Rawls for example, other famous baritones? Previous contestants constantly proved their merit by changing and singing in different styles and genres. Worry about the “box” after the show, is what I say.

And push them out of their boxes, Idol producers! Have you forgotten how this works? Have you forgotten what makes for compelling TV viewing?

The remaining Top 6 contestants definitely have potential, but everyone’s playing it safe, and I for one will always appreciate David for taking the risks that he did, at so young an age, when others can’t seem to find their “soul.”