I’ve got to get a life. Wait, I have a life, one that includes some amazing adventures but I keep interrupting it to watch “American Idol.” I realize this is an embarrassing confession for a grown man, especially one my age, but I have an excuse. As I’ve mentioned before I used to cover the music industry for the Today Show and after years of going to concerts and interviewing performers I am now a self appointed expert in judging musical talent.
Let me state up front, I can’t sing, can’t carry a tune, but I also believe I can recognize when others can’t find the melody, thus making me an official couch potato judge of the talent or alleged talent on American Idol. Which brings me to this experiment. I called one of my best friends, a professional musician who has played with many big names and who has produced Grammy winning albums. I asked him to watch last week’s show and then give me his opinions and I’d see if they matched mine because I’ve been disagreeing with the judges on the show.
OK first off, after thinking the contestants this year were, as a whole, better that in previous seasons they let me down last week turning in what I though were the worst performances from top to bottom. I immediately had to call my friend and apologize for asking his to sit through that. His thoughts in a moment, but first mine.
Steven Tyler, one of this year’s judges, said after an earlier Naima Adedapo performance that she had a sorcerer’s grasp of melody. He may have meant that as a compliment but I took it a different way, thinking that for her to find the melody and hold onto it would require a strong sorcerer’s magic or some kind of hocus pocus. He has not always been so lost from the notes of a song, but last week Paul McDonald was, to borrow a National Geographic analogy, the singing explorer heading out into the unknown searching for the source of the melody. Several others fell into that category as well, but two of the singers deserve special mention, James Durbin and Jacob Lusk. These guys have gotten consistently high marks from the judges, but the ability to shatter glass with high pitched screams should not be encouraged.
So what did my musician friend think? First let me say just because he or I think some of these kids are going off the Melody Ranch or that the ones who do sing on key may be boring doesn’t mean that won’t have music career or even successful ones. Nobody can predict that these days thanks to pitch corrections technology. But he agreed with my assessment and said they only three he really liked were Scotty McCreery the country singer, Stefano Langone who did an old Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes tune last week and Casey Abrams the singing bass player who took a big risk with Smells Like Teen Spirit. My friend, I won’t embarrass him by revealing his name, thought just those three had something he liked. By the way, this was the only time he has ever seen American Idol. As for James and Jacob the stratosphere singers my friend not only thought they had trouble with pitch but said Jacob’s singing especially reminded him of a Miles Davis story. At a recording session a musician was showing off playing all kinds of fast notes and runs when Miles stopped him and said something to the effect of, “Go outside and do all that stuff as hard as you can and get it out of your system. Then come back in here and don’t ever do that again.” Good advice kids.
By the way the video I’ve posted with this is from a story I did with Loretta Lynn & two of her kids in 1983. From the time she was a teenager it was clear she was a great singer and songwriter. Talent shines through early with the great one. As for her kids, one has it, one not so much. It’s not hard to tell who falls into which category.