Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on Movie-Music Night

After this, I’ll only have one more of these to write from THE FUTURE. Then I’ll be back home, watching it in the past in Los Angeles. Will I ever see this show in the present? Who can say or even care?

The show begins with Ryan congratulating J.Lo on being named People magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Obviously, I’m not going to argue with the title. But is it right to congratulate someone on something over which they have zero control? Well, I mean, she brushes her hair, I guess. But still. Genetics, right? No one congratulates me on the way I look, and I am just as helpless over that as Jennifer Lopez is. Come to think of it, we are helpless over each other’s appearances, too, so I accept Ryan’s congratulations to J.Lo. We all win.

Tonight’s theme is “music from the movies,” and perhaps advance knowledge of this theme led to Pia’s being voted off — it was all to avoid her inevitable cover of “My Heart Will Go On.” Oh, and it looks like Will.I.Am is back. Let me tell you something: I was a pack-a-day smoker for almost twenty years, I quit five years ago, I’ve been around smokers hundreds of times in the last half-decade and I haven’t had or even wanted so much as a drag all this time. It’s been easy. But the merest glimpse of Will.I.Am makes me squirm as if I quit heroin this morning and he is a giant, hot spoon. I just want to get away.

Paul will sing “Old Time Rock & Roll” from Risky Business. Oh, the perfect number to kick off a night of music I’d rather not hear! Paul explains his song-choice philosophy: “Every week when I’m choosin’ a song, I’m kinda treatin’ it like it is my encore for a show.” So I guess the main course of the concert would be Paul McDonald originals, and the cover would be the dessert. Following that analogy, “Old Time Rock & Roll” would be supermarket sheet cake that’s 90 percent super-chemically frosting. Will.I.Am asks Paul if he’ll slide on to the stage like Tom Cruise slid into frame in the movie, but assures us he doesn’t want to see some dude in his underwear. Even though we see him readily agreeing “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” when Paul asks Will.I.Am if he means that he’d enter in his underwear. Busted, Mama! Paul wears a negative-image version of his white rose suit and sings an exceedingly dull version of that supremely played-out song. A sexy lady sax player is on hand to assure that maximum Vegasosity is achieved.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says every time Paul comes out, he goes further and further. Randy says that Paul is definitely an artist.
ME: So is Thomas Kinkade. I don’t know what Paul is doing on this show, really. Obviously, he wants exposure. But he’s clearly not that into the particular variety of cheese Idol serves, and I wonder why he doesn’t now do some stuff that’s even just a little bit closer to his own semi-soft stylings. I guess he’s going along to get along, and he aims to stay on TV for as long as he possibly can. Like a true artist.

Back from the break, Ryan reminds us the theme is “songs from the cinema.” Lauren sings a song from Hannah Montana: The Movie. Ah, the cinema! Jimmy Iovine tells Lauren she is a much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus and commands, “You have got to bury her on this song.” How did this just get so Dangerous Liaisons? Leave your weird grudge against a child out of this. Jimmy then advises Lauren to grab Pia’s fan base. Will.I.Am says some stupid shit too stupid for me to paraphrase. Lauren sings the song and does indeed bury Miley Cyrus. Or maybe she doesn’t. It’s one of those songs that’s so formless, bland and forgettable that I bet any one of us could do about the same job with it. Maybe it should be our national anthem! Oh, and I make no apologies for neither remembering nor looking up the name of the song. Do you really want/need to know?

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says Lauren doesn’t need to steal any votes because she’s earning plenty of her own. Randy says the Lauren they loved has come roaring back.
ME: This is one of those classic Randyisms that mystifies me. As it is with all of the contestants, Lauren has been doing the exact same thing the exact same way the whole time she’s been on this show. American Idol must be so much more dramatic when seen through Randy’s eyes. Maybe his glasses add artistic peaks and valleys and a layer of drama that are not visible to the naked eye. Even that American visionary Benjamin Franklin could not have foreseen his humble bifocals evolving into such magical entertainment aids!

Stefano says last week he was in the bottom three, but he is at peace with it. Perhaps he is taking ballerinum for anxiety. Jimmy Iovine tells Stefano to get out of his head and that he’s got the chops to win. To that end, Stefano selects Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” from Boomerang. Sure, that’s where everyone knows that song from. Boomerang. Whenever I hear someone even use the expression “the end of the road,” I always smirk and say, “What is this, the movie Boomerang?” As Stefano sings, we see a rapturous Jimmy Iovine in the audience, perhaps thinking, Oh, it’s the end of the road all right … for Miley Cyrus! Stefano does a fine job. He stays on pitch and sells the song as best he can. Just like Boyz II Men did in the movie Boomerang.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says Stefano did it tonight. Randy says Wanyá from Boyz II Men himself will no doubt text Randy that Stefano slayed that song!
ME: Randy’s name-drops kill me because they are never, ever impressive. Stefano is still in the contest.

Scotty is going to sing “Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me” from Midnight Cowboy. It sounds pretty good in the rehearsal clip and it isn’t a bad choice — it’s not strictly a country song, but still enough in that vein that he could pull it off nicely. Then Scotty reveals he isn’t entirely comfortable with this song and has the unmitigated gall to say he’s “kinda goin’ back to his country roots” and will sing “I Crossed My Heart” from what most agree is George Strait’s best movie, Pure Country. I guess he feels singing some rockabilly last week might have people confusing him with Ghostface Killah.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says everyone wants the judges to be tough, but it’s not easy when the contestants are so good! Randy proclaims himself a “ginormous fan,” expressing himself in a marginally more mature fashion than Scotty’s presumed fan base, millions of 12-year-old girls.
ME: Jimmy Iovine says Scotty could sing the phone book and it’d sound great. Well, Jimmy, make sure that phone book is from Nashville or Scotty can’t do it. During his cowardly spurning of “Everybody’s Talkin,’” Scotty referred to George Strait as “The King of Country Music,” and I thought, That can’t be right, right? George Strait is kind of a recent artist to be called “the King” of his genre, no? So I looked it up, and it seems Roy Acuff used to be the King of Country Music, but now George Strait is. It seems that in country music, there is an actual monarchy, and the crown passes to another after death. That and everyone marries their own cousins. POW! I can still mix it up with old skool jokes, gang! I came up through the clubs!

Casey wants to sing “Nature Boy” from 1948’s The Boy With Green Hair. This sort of thing is why I like Casey — he is interested in things that occurred outside of his own lifespan. Jimmy Iovine suggests he sing Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” instead. This sort of thing is why I don’t like Jimmy Iovine. Casey then says he wants to stick with “Nature Boy.” Jimmy makes a fair point, that at this stage of the competition, getting quiet (read: obscure) is a hugely risky move. But Casey sticks with the Nat King Cole classic, accompanying himself on a white upright bass and doing a straight-up lounge arrangement. It’s loungier than is comfortable, to be honest, but it’s clearly heartfelt. He’s doing a song he really likes they way he wants to do it. Full disclosure: there is some unfortunate scat singing.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J. Lo says Casey brings a type of special thing to music. Randy proclaims: “The world cannot live by pop stars alone! ... We need art to have that Zen balance!” Randy’s spirituality is as effective as his name-dropping.
ME: You know what? Good for you, Casey. Not only does he not need to win it — he’s smart enough to have observed that anyone who makes it this far in this competition will have opportunities — he also did a song he really wanted to do, and incidentally introduced a classic to a bunch of people who might never have heard it otherwise. My one quibble, really, is that he is helping to keep scat singing alive. Let it go, jazzbos. It’s embarrassing.

Haley is going to sing Blondie’s “Call Me” from American Gigolo. Dressed like a sexed-up stained-glass window, Haley does a pretty good job, with perhaps a few too many of her signature growls, but I am grateful for an up-tempo number and a breezy cover of a song I actually like. As much as Haley has grown on me, it’s not a great performance. I am still my own person. I am not a number, I am a free man! But I’m so glad it’s not something from Aladdin or some awful thing like that, I’ll take it. I guess what I am saying is, Haley’s growly, American Idol–length cover of Blondie’s “Call Me,” is better than digging ditches by the side of the road.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo is afraid to critique Haley because she doesn’t want any more girls to go home. Randy says it wasn’t a great showcase for her singing. Randy and J.Lo emphasize the importance of song choice. Haley says she gets it, song choice, right.
ME: Well, I don’t get why this was such a bad song choice. It’s a good song. It’s not a showy vocal, but maybe it’s smart to mix it up like that? I don’t know. Guess who else doesn’t know: the judges. They seem astonished by how America votes, week in and week out. They don’t seem to have any more of a handle on it than a guy digging ditches by the side of the road. So I am completely on board with contestants like Casey and Haley defying them or humoring them. By now, the contestants must assume it’ll come down to Scotty v. Stefano, so everyone else might as well do as they please. This show is dumb, did you know that? Ditch-diggers do.

Elvira is in the audience, dressed as Elvira. She is seated next to Rob Reiner and in front of Hank Azaria. Whatever any or all of them are selling, they are being super-subtle about it, because no explanation is given for this motley assemblage.

Jimmy Iovine rakes Jacob over the coals for preaching to America last week. I wish this had gone on for so much longer, but it’s still pretty satisfying. Jacob wants to sing “The Impossible Dream,” and Jimmy laughs in his face. He tells Jacob to stop being corny and to sing another song. Jacob offers “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” What? What movie is that from? The Pursuit of Happyness, of course. Ah! A cinematic loophole allows Jacob to oversing the living hell out of this Simon & Garfunkel classic. Smart. Jacob returns to form; this is Jacob in his “God Bless the Child” comfort zone. The crowd loves it. Iovine: Always two steps ahead. Miley Cyrus never had a chance.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo admits Jacob gave her the chills. Randy says it was perfect. I can’t help but notice how reserved the judges are when offering their Jacob-centric praise. They are giving compliments that would look effusive on paper, but there’s no real passion in their voices. They are clearly over this Lex Luthor Vandross.
ME: Jacob seems humbled by everything, which renders him totally boring. I hope he goes home soon, because the one thing he had going for him was hubris. Is there a German word for taking delight in someone’s unearned confidence? Because that’s what I got goin’ on over here.

James is going to sing Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal,” from the movie Heavy Metal. My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) In the rehearsal studio, Jimmy Iovine tells James he doesn’t want him to do “Heavy Metal,” pointing out that it has no hook (he misses a golden opportunity to add that it is not only hookless but also stupid and terrible). James challenges Jimmy and says no one can tell if a song is going to be a hit just hearing it on the piano. Jimmy points out that that is kind of what his job is as Jimmy Iovine. James sticks to his dumb guns and sings the dumb song, accompanied by Zakk Wylde and his dumb guitar. It’s like a dumb contest on that stage, and it ends in a big dumb tie. You know what else is dumb? Bringing a child into this world and then putting your selfish dreams above that child’s basic human needs. Like somebody on the stage did for sure. That somebody is not playing a dumb guitar.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo loves how really real it felt! Randy says he’s happy James stuck to his (dumb) guns, and hopefully America will bring metal back. What a wasteful use of hope. Let’s hope for better things, Randy. How about hoping that all the hungry people in the world can be fed? Too much to hope for? How about just all the hungry people in James’s house?
ME: As James’s confidence grows, so my tolerance of him diminishes. Before he was just doing awful metal versions of pop and rock songs; now he’s just gonna go ahead and cut out the middle, non-metal man? Hasn’t he made enough of an impact that he can just leave the show and join Rock of Ages? He and Constantine should have lots to talk about. Hopefully, the subject of child-rearing will not be broached.

NEXT: Someone goes home in my last dispatch from Australia. I am guessing Haley. But I tell you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for anyone to guess how America chooses an American Idol (Revelation 22:22).

You can listen to Paul F. Tompkins's podcast here, or subscribe on iTunes. He is also on Twitter as @PFTompkins.

Related: Watch Steven Tyler Mispronounce Common Musical Terms on American Idol

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX