Archive for February, 2011

h1

Thoughts On American Idol’s Top 24 Contestants

February 24, 2011

And we’re at the point in American Idol where I actually give a damn. Starting next week there will actually be enough contestants where I can keep track. Thank God for online voting. Also, despite the lowered age limits, only 1/3rd of the top 24 are 20 or under. There are contestants I might love, hate, and snore through. For me, the best part of loving this show is hating this show.

8 Contestants I’ll Probably Root For

  • Casey Abrams – I’m normally down on the white guys with instruments (since three have won the past three seasons), but Casey’s bluesy growl, irrepressible sense of humor (“I like looking at you guys”), unconventional instrument choices (upright bass!), and no-bullshit talent make this guy one to get excited, go crazy, and just plain rock the house! Kathy is rooting for him because of his resemblance to Kevin from Top Chef (“He was robbed! Robbed I tell you!”)
  • Rachel Zevita – Her quirky fashion sense and super screech remind me of my season 9 fave Siobhan Magnus. She has the potential to display some range and she’s made a few tries at this, so having some experience under her belt could make her more of a pro. Let’s hope we see more of her grandmother. “Thank you and God bless you, Ryan.”
  • Julie Zorrilla – She has a look and singing style reminiscent of Lea Michele. The judges criticized her for a lack of emotion in her performances, but if she nails her them with the charm she’s displayed so far that won’t matter.  Bonus: for every round she makes it through, we can look forward to seeing her rocking a new pretty dress.
  • Jovany Barreto – This dude has some pipes and I like his classy style. He brings that classic charm of a late-90s latin pop singer or a 1950s Italian crooner. Hopefully he can do something lively.
  • Jacob Lusk – His range and command of his voice make him incredibly fun to watch. He carries himself with a certain animated, fey quality; kind of like Cee Lo Green. He just needs to lay off the old-timey piano-driven slow songs and do something different, something exciting.
  • Ashthon Jones – She can take on the Whitney Houston greats and come out swinging and was fun to watch in the group round. She seems confident and has a sense of fun about her.
  • Jordan Dorsey – He’s a stern perfectionist with the talent and musicality to match. He seems very particular with everything he does, which could potentially lead to interesting arrangements during the theme weeks. He doesn’t seem fun to hang out with, but he’ll be fun to watch.
  • Pia Toscano – She seems like a solid performer, and I agree with the judges that her takes on “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Grenade” were fun and expertly arranged. She brings deliberateness to her performances, but you couldn’t tell at first glance. She looks like she’s having a good time.

8 Contestants Where I’m Either On The Fence Or Indifferent Towards

  • Brett Loewenstern – At the start of the competition his mannerisms rubbed me the wrong way, but the way his bullying story was told highlights a rare androgyny among the contestants. His singing could go either way.
  • Scotty McCreery – He’s a little awkward, and his reliance on that one Josh Turner song got annoying. I think he’s very talented, though I wonder how his roots-country style will translate to Idol’s pan-pop format. He’s too nice, too aw-shucks, and maybe that’s because he’s too young. He just needs to make it to country week and he’s got it made.
  • Naima Adedapo – She didn’t really stick out to me, save for her janitor backstory and her tacky dress. She was ok singing.
  • Karen Rodriguez – During the final evaluation, Lopez remarked that Karen disappeared in the middle of the many audition rounds. As such, I’ll hold off making a call until later.
  • Robbie Rosen – His voice is fairly rich, albeit crackly, and he resembles a Jonas. Randy called him “unassuming,” and that low key nature has been proven a winning strategy over the last three seasons. I see him as pulling the teenybopper vote.
  • Kendra Chantelle/Campbell – Holding her own with an Alicia Keyes song shows she has the R&B chops. She’s pretty, but doesn’t seem to have much of a personality. Might be Nicky Hilton in disguise. Has a “first name as last name” the way a stripper might.
  • Lauren Turner – I don’t really have much to say for her. She didn’t stand out for me during the past few rounds and her hangar performance was pitchy and uneven.
  • Stefano Langone – Same thing as Lauren Turner – not a lot of screen time since the auditions, so I can’t make a call.

8 Contestants I Don’t Expect To Root For Or Am Actively Rooting Against

  • Clint Jun Gamboa: He has a decent backstory, singing talent and music taste, but dude was a dick in Hollywood week. He might make a good villain this season. Or he might pull an Anoop Desai and crank out boring R&B song after boring R&B song in a carnival of blown potential.
  • Haley Reinhart – During her performances, she has been all over the place. She seems solid enough at low volumes, but when she belts her voice takes on a weird, slurly growl that’s as unintelligible as the late Kurt Cobain. Watching her night after night could be a frustrating experience.
  • Thia Megia – Her twee vibe and her age will net her the parents’ votes, but her voice is too green. She needs to get more experience and get her chops.
  • Paul McDonald – His stoner mannerisms and weird little tics had him come across like Gollum during the Beatles round. He sings like James Blunt, and that’s not a complement. I’m tired of these white guys with acoustic guitars winning the prize. At least he’s a blonde.
  • Tatynisa Wilson – Her singing has been very “crash and burn” recently, and her relative lack of talent only makes it in through the judges’ producer-ordained niceness. She needs to hone her craft more.
  • Tim Halperin – Another singer-songwriter whose talent and sleepy singing come off like Ryan Tedder, a man responsible for a lot what I feel is wrong with pop music today. At least he’s a solid singer. I wish he had more of an ego so it would make it easier for me to love to hate him.
  • Lauren Alaina – What the fuck was up with that Toddlers & Tiaras getup she wore to the sitdown? I know she’s this season’s chosen one, but her performance style and song choices seem too middle school recital (she is 16 after all). Her whole gimmick seems to be the Katy Perry “tee hee, aren’t I cute?” schtick.
  • James Durbin – Adam Lambert without the fun or sex. Replace fun and sex with a super sad story and an untested bleating. The producers have made this guy out to be the next Adam Lambert, but this guy has no subversion, no open challenge to the show’s conventions (remember Lambert’s performance of “Ring of Fire”) and no sense of dramatic subtlety (remember Lambert’s performance of “Mad World”). Cry me a river, asshole.
Advertisements
h1

R.I.P. Guitar Hero 2005-2011

February 9, 2011

Image from MTV Multiplayer

“At the same time, due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing’s Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011…. These decisions are based on the desire to focus on the greatest opportunities that the company currently has to create the world’s best interactive entertainment experiences.” – from Activision’s recent financial statement,  2/9/2011

So it’s the end of an era. I’ll admit that when it comes to music games I’m more of a fan of Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, but Guitar Hero was the franchise that really blew up the music game genre in the West after years of trying by Konami and I respect that. While Rock Band catered more to the “music” side of “music games,” Guitar Hero was definitely on the “game” side and filled a real demand in the market. It represented the potential of the genre for straight up fantasy and with Warriors of Rock I thought it was beginning to find its voice. It’s a shame.

My sympathies go out to all the people affected by this announcement, especially the developers and their families, as well as all the business and support personnel who are stressing right now since their jobs are likely tied into making that franchise operate. If you look further into the financial statement and go into the “Business Highlights” section, you’ll notice only two franchises in bold: Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. In my opinion, that’s just bad business.

So here’s to you, Guitar Hero. You weren’t the first music game, you weren’t the first rock game, and you weren’t the first to use guitar controllers, but you made music games mainstream in America and we’re worse for your departure.

You can learn more about the announcement at Eurogamer, Kotaku, Joystiq, Rock Band Aide, and the Los Angeles Times.

h1

The Black Eyed Peas at Super Bowl XLV

February 7, 2011

Image from Popcrunch

Setlist: I Gotta Feeling / Boom Boom Pow / Sweet Child Of Mine (w/ Slash) / Pump It / Let’s Get It Started / OMG (w/ Usher) / Where Is The Love? / The Time (Dirty Bit) / I Gotta Feeling (reprise)

I was looking forward to this show. I’ve been a fan of the Peas as an alternative hip-hop trio since 2000, and again since 2005 as a dance act. Between the band’s David Guetta-assisted transition from pop to hard house and front man Will.I.Am’s embrace of any/all tech trends, the group has grown to be one of the biggest acts in the world.

So it’s fitting that the BEP’s are the first act to break the six year Super Bowl streak of classic rock bands that have performed the halftime show since the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004. Since that show, a reactionary succession of mostly boomer acts has dominated the stage:

2005: Paul McCartney

2006: The Rolling Stones

2007: Prince

2008: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

2009: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

2010: The Who

This halftime show was the first in seven years where all of the main performers were under 40. The idealist in me would like to think of this show as a break from the league’s social conservatism. Then I remembered the impending labor lockout from the Players Association, so…not so much….

Onto the show (which Popdust has if you missed it)! The BEPs’ LED show looked a lot like the halftime shows from years past. However, there were a few key differences.

  1. No Planted Audience: Instead of most halftime shows where the band has an audience jumping around and rocking out in front of the stage, the Peas had an army of dancers dressed in white and LEDs moving in step like an army, which brings us to….
  2. The Black Eyed Peas, clearly going for a Tron vibe, wore “futuristic” LED outfits, each with a signature flourish –
    1. Will.I.Am had a silver/clear headpiece that made me wonder about his receding hairline.
    2. Apl.de.ap had 3D glasses, so either he had a wicked headache by the end of the show, or he could see in 4D!
    3. Fergie had a glittery chest piece, which given the whole “football game” that was going on, was kind of appropriate.
    4. Taboo was covered virtually head to toe in LEDs. Seeing as SNL once referred to him as “that weird guy who dances,” Taboo doesn’t get much love, so at least he got the best outfit of the night.
  3. Guest Performances:
    1. Slash: He and Fergie performed the lone bit of classic rock, a cover of GNR’s “Sweet Child Of Mine,” with Fergie singing Axl’s part rather well and straddling Slash the whole time. Slash just kept to himself and shredded like the seasoned pro he is. His signature top hat should have been filled with LEDs.
    2. Usher: Similar to the Peas’ entrance, Usher dropped in from the rafters, except his entrance was super fast, so much that I was afraid his landing would leave an Usher-shaped hole in the stage. Usher and his backup dancers were dressed all in white and danced around for a minute or two while he sang “OMG” and Will.I.Am kind of stood off to the side half-assedly.
    3. I would have liked to see the guest performers stick around for the other songs. Slash is a guitar virtuoso, and he could have totally nailed the “Misirlou” guitar riff from “Pump It.” Usher could have sang Justin Timberlake’s part from “Where Is The Love.”
  4. Technical Difficulties: Over the course of the show, pieces of the stage gradually converged at the center of the stadium to spell “Love” from overhead. Except that half of the “v” shorted out so the overhead word came out as “Loie.”
  5. The Running Man: During their performance of “The Time (Dirty Bit),” the Peas and their dancers converged onstage to dance “The Running Man.” The back row of dancers was wearing “robot” heads that looked like clear Ikea drawer boxes. I’d like to see that at a Bruce Springsteen concert!

Overall I thought the performance was a great spectacle. The producers pulled out all the stops, the Peas did everything live, and it turned out to be a very fun show. I hope to see more of these blowouts at future Super Bowls.

Bonus!

  • Well, Christina Aguilera apologized for flubbing “The Star Spangled Banner.” If I were in her position, I might have messed up the lyrics as well, so I will cut her some slack. Besides, it’s a hard song to sing and from a singing perspective, she nailed it!
  • The Glee medley of “Thriller” and “Heads Will Roll” kicked ass! Best Glee song this season! (go to about 38:27 in the clip)