Final Thoughts on American Idol and the Season of the Robot Women

So, you know how sometime, I stop covering Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and instead write about gender and race issues on American Idol?

… yeah, this is one of those days. I’m sorry. But for some reason, I cannot rest until I finish writing up my thoughts about this season. I need to give my thoughts on the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon. I need to talk about the continued robotization of Female Contestants. I need to talk about Jessica Sanchez’s race problems. And I need to squee about the awesome singing.

If it makes you feel better I promise that I will not write another American Idol post until… next season.

My fascination with American Idol began in Season 10, when I fell madly in love with Haley Reinhart, the blues-rock singer who never got the respect she deserved.* By all rights, my fascination should have stopped after Season 10 – Haley Reinhart was gone, and I’d never been a fan of the show in the first place. But I kept watching. And then I got obsessed.

Haley Reinhart What is and what should never be led zepplin

Haley Reinhart (still my favorite)

Partly it’s the singing. Yes, in spite of all my cynical presuppositions, there are some bloody incredible singers on American Idol. And I love watching them.

But mostly? Mostly it’s the sociological stuff. I find it fascinating  – and disturbed – that the five last winners were all white men (with guitars). I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the ways the fans act. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by American Idol commentary. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the producer manipulations.

Frankly, American Idol is a bizarre back window into America’s psyche. And I just can’t look away.

1. The Phillip Phillips Victory and the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon

Remember when I randomly wrote a giant post explaining why women can’t win American Idol? And then a few weeks later, I wrote a second post expanding on the lack of female winners?

Guess what?

A woman did not win American Idol this year.

Phillip Phillips beat Jessica Sanchez in the finale, making him the fifth “White Guy With Guitar” winner in a row on American Idol. The other four are David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze and Scotty McCreery. [White Guy With Guitar is often abbreviated as “WGWG”]

I am shocked [okay, that’s a lie. I’m not shocked at all].

Watching the fandom reaction to Phillip Phillips’ victory was… interesting. To say the least.

Someone would say: “Oh, boo, another White Guy With Guitar.”
Then the next person would say: “You’re a racist.”

Or someone would say: “And that’s 5 WGWG winners.”
Then the next person would say: “That’s racist! You’re discriminating against Phillip Phillips because he’s white and male!”

I never entered these discussions –  I was already violating rule #1 of keeping one’s sanity on the internet (Never Read The Comments). I was not going to violate rule #2  (Never Enter A Comments Argument).

The thing is, I’m one of those people who thinks that the five-year winning streak by white men is troubling. And it’s not because I hate all white men, or because I think Phillip Phillips is untalented, or because I think Phillip Phillips’ gender and race disqualifies him from victory.

So let me explain myself.

First, I want to clear something up: it is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that Phillip Phillips is a white man. It is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that he’s the fifth white man in a row to win American Idol. These are facts. If you’re arguing that Phillip Phillips doesn’t deserve to win idol because he’s a white man, then yes, that is discriminatory. And if you’re arguing that the WGWG streak proves White Men are better singers, then yes, that is racist. But to remark upon the phenomenon is not discriminatory in-and-of-itself.

When potentially problematic patterns emerge – when, for example, five white men win a competition in a row – it is normal and responsible to ask questions about the process.

And that’s the key here: the pattern. If you voted for Phillip Phillips over Jessica Sanchez, good for you! If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. If you prefer a white contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you [if you always like the white contestants and never like contestants of color, however, you might want to examine your internal biases]. The problem is not with any one person’s individual voting decision. The problem is with the pattern. Because once we rack up all the individual choices made over the last four years, and we map them out, the pattern is pretty damn clear: white men have a much easier time on Idol.

Again: I think it’s perfectly fine a white male singer to be the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. My problem is when people start trying to argue that every white male singer was the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. I don’t care what you say, there is no way you can argue that every single white male winner was a better, more consistent and more interesting singer than all his competitors. There is no way. And yet all five of these white male winners not only won their seasons, but none of them ever appeared in the bottom 3 contestants, no matter how poorly they performed

Women have a much harder time on Idol. People of color have a much harder time on Idol. And women and people of color cannot win Idol anymore. This is a fact. At this point, there is literally nothing a woman or a person of color (or a woman of color) can do to win the show. It has all been done.

This year was a case study in proving that no matter what female and non-white contestants do, they cannot beat a white male contestant. With Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, we had the best group of female singers on Idol in at least five years. They were original, they were interesting, they had an enormous amount of talent, they all had huge shining moments.With the exception of Hollie Cavanagh, who had a few bum weeks but then came roaring back, all of these women were consistent: they made very few mistakes. Meanwhile, with Joshua Ledet, we had – as far as I’m concerned – the best male vocalist on Idol since Adam Lambert. Joshua Ledet was incredibly consistent and high-powered; he almost always exceeded expectations.

I will gladly admit that Phillip Phillips had a good run. But I defy you to argue that he was more consistent than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. I defy you to argue that he was more original than Skylar Laine or Elise Testone. I defy you to argue that he had as many standout performances as Jessica, Joshua or Skylar. I defy you to argue that Joshua’s take on Runaway Baby, or Hollie Cavanaugh’s turn on Bleeding Love deserved a bottom three finish while Phillip Phillips’ Time of the Season didn’t. I defy you to argue that Phillip Phillips’ pitch problems were any less egregious than Skylar Laine’s country twang.

My point is: Phillip Phillips had flaws; he had bad performances, but they never seemed to matter. No matter how good, how exceptionally incredible Phillip Phillips’ competitors were, or how terrible Phillip Phillips was, he was never shaken. He never went to the bottom three. And they had no chance of beating him.

And that’s my problem with the White Guy with Guitar phenomenon. White men have it unfairly easy, while anyone who isn’t a white man has it unfairly hard. It’s a perfect example of white male privilege at work. It’s not that the five WGWG winners were untalented. It’s not that they didn’t work hard. It’s not that they don’t deserve good things, or that they’re bad singers. It’s just that, for them, things were easier. The standards were obviously lower (again: they never landed in the bottom three. Ever). Meanwhile, as I’ve detailed in my prior two posts on American Idol, the standards were much higher for women and for people of color. To completely purloin John Scalzi’s explanation of white male privilege: white men play the Idol game on the lowest difficulty setting. And women and people of color play it on a much, much higher difficult setting. [If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s post on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, you should; it’s brilliant]

As Michael Slezak once put it: “Am I going to argue that women have had an easy time on Idol in recent years? Absolutely not. You have to perform better than the men to stay in the competition […] and sometimes that doesn’t even work.”

The playing field is not level.

That’s my problem.

2. All Women are Robot Members of the Robocalypse

Speaking of American Idol and Gender issues! I’d like to share the #1 thing I learned on American Idol this year: all women are robots. They’re probably also all preparing to kill us in an attempt to institute the robocalypse… but I’m not sure about that yet.

a) All Female Contestants on Idol are Robots

Jennifer Lopez, critiquing Elise Testone: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”

After Jennifer Lopez said this to Elise Testone, I may or may not have thrown a magazine at the television screen (there were no witnesses. You can’t prove anything).

First, Elise Testone is a person. She doesn’t need to prove it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica; contestants aren’t required to take Cylon detection tests.

Second, Elise Testone is the last person I would call robotic. Elise Testone is the anti-Lady Gaga. She has no poker face. Over the course of the season, it was nearly impossible for Testone to hide how she was feeling [a problem, since she couldn’t hide her disappointment, anger or sadness].

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Elise Testone was called out for not being “human” enough. Because there is not a single female contestant this season who has not been called “a robot” or “inauthentic” or “soulless” either by the judges or by the fans.

Every. Single. Female. Contestant. has been called a robot. Every single one.

Men, on the other hand? Almost NEVER get the robot criticism.

Case in point: On the final performance episode, the top 2 singers have to repeat their favorite performance. So both singers are, by definition, doing something unoriginal. And neither Jessica Sanchez nor Phillip Phillips (this year’s top 2) made any radical changes to their re-interpretations of their chosen songs.
Let’s look at Jennifer Lopez’s critique of the two, shall we?

“I’ve seen Jessica do that before. And I just feel like that’s authentic Phillip right there.”

Wait, what? You’ve ALSO seen Phillip Phillips do that before. You’ve seen him do exactly. the same. thing.

Two contestants repeat a song. The female one? Inauthentic. Mimic. The male one? Authentic.

Yeah, no.

This whole thing leads me to believe that the “inauthentic” and “robotic” criticism is a lot less about the individual singer, and a lot more about… their gender.

Yes, indeed, all female contestants are robots.

b) All female fans are robots

Random fan critique: ” Oh Please. WGWGs win because young girls always vote for the cute guy.”

There is no myth floating around the idol fan-o-sphere that drives me more nuts than the myth that “teen girls are ruining the show because they always vote for the cute guys.” It’s also, sadly, the most pervasive myth. [And it’s the reason behind my original Why Women Can’t Win Idol post]

One of the more disgusting things about this critique is that it makes “cute guy” equal to “white guy.” So men of color can’t be cute? Girls aren’t attracted to guys of color?

Joshua Ledet Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I must not be a girl because I find this young gentleman (Joshua Ledet) very attractive.

Also, it’s incredibly heteronormative. Has anyone heard of lesbians? And bisexual women? They exist.

But what’s most annoying about the “teen girls always vote for the cute guys” myth is that it assumes that teen girls are entirely ruled by their hormones, and that they’re thus incapable of making an informed decision. They can’t just like Phillip Phillips because they like his music. No, it has to be because he’s a cute guy. That’s why.

And it needs no evidence! No market research, no rigorous studies, no sample size, no nothing. Because everyone knows that when a cute white guy strums on his guitar, teen girls become mind-controlled drones and start speed-dialing the cute white guy to safety.

Teen girls are robots. Their programming?
Vote for the cute white guy.

… Does anyone else see a trend here?

I find it endlessly hilarious (and by hilarious, I mean rage-inducing) that if fandom isn’t blaming the White Guy With Guitars phenomenon on teenage girls being completely mindless robots, we’re blaming it on female contestants being robotic.

What is it about being female that makes it so easy for people to compare you to a machine?

Female performers cannot be authentic. They can be great  singers. They can even be perfect singers. But they cannot be authentic, real, human singers.
Heart and soul? Only guys have that. Women just sing the notes.
Authenticity? Only guys have that. Women can only mimic.
Charm? Only guys have that. Women are cold and soulless.

Female fans cannot be authentic. They cannot vote for a contestant because they like that person’s music. They cannot vote for a contestant because they enjoy their performance style. They don’t watch Idol because they want to see true music.
No, they can only watch for the cute boys. And they can only vote for the cute boys
Only men can be real fans. Men vote for the best singer. Men watch the show because they care about music. Women watch the show for eye-candy.

So, from my viewing of American Idol, I have concluded that men are people and women are robots.

It’s the robocalypse, people. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

3. Jessica Sanchez and Racism

Okay, let’s be clear. I am supremely unqualified to discuss this topic. I am white. I also know almost nothing about discrimination against Asians in the United States; I know even less about discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.

Thus, my ability to analyze the discourse surrounding Jessica Sanchez is… limited. To say the least.
Usually in these circumstances, I go: “hey, look at all the smart, qualified people who have written about this! Read their stuff!”
But unfortunately (and bizarrely), no one else has really talked about this issue.** Or if they do, they aren’t doing it in any depth – it’s all “Jessica Sanchez was voted off, so America is racist!” Or”No, America isn’t racist!”

But the issue of Jessica Sanchez’s race, and how it played into her run on Idol, deserves some discussion.

So I’m going to try here. [If you’ve seen or read any pertinent commentary, please let me know. I’m begging you.]

Point the first: Jessica Sanchez is American. [This will be important later]
Point the second: Jessica Sanchez’s father is Mexican American. Her mother is Filipina. Jessica Sanchez is thus of both Latin@ and Asian (Filipino) heritage. She’s mixed race.

Jessica Sanchez Stuttering

Jessica Sanchez performing “Stuttering”

Crucially, Sanchez’s Mexican heritage was almost never discussed, either on the show, in American Idol commentary, or in fan circles. She was described as primarily Asian-American or Filipino-American.

I’ve written two long posts about how American Idol systematically disadvantages female contestants. But in the case of race – at least, in the case of race this year – I did not see a lot of institutional discrimination. The show itself was not putting Jessica Sanchez at a disadvantage because of her race (although they did put her at a disadvantage because of her gender).

But the fans and the critics are another story.

I’ve seen loads of comments on fan sites and on American Idol articles that say that Jessica Sanchez’s talent is a “cheat” because her “Asian parents” have been raising her to “compete” from “childhood.” She’s a “trained-since-birth” robot. Because her family is Filipino, they’ve “chosen one child to train as a prodigy.” She has a “tiger mom” who has trained her “since birth” to “win Idol,” and thus Sanchez doesn’t “deserve to win.”

It’s the “Well, of course she’s doing well in Math. She’s Asian” argument.

This, to me, is on the same level as the “Asian-Americans are stealing all the science jobs” rhetoric we see in the news. Or the massive”Asian-Americans have an easier time getting into college” freakouts.

As I like to put it when I’m being particularly sarcastic:”Oh no! Americans of color are actually doing okay! They’re doing well in school! They’re doing well on TV shows! They’re getting decently-paid jobs! Only real [white] Americans are allowed to get those things! We have to panic now!”

And the whole makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.

[Fortunately, I don’t live near any cliffs]

This “She’s successful because she’s Asian” argument is a particularly vicious way of dismissing Jessica Sanchez’s achievements. By these standards, Sanchez didn’t get to American Idol through hard work, determination, talent and luck. She didn’t get there because she loved singing. No, she got there because her family was Asian, so they “trained” her.

Moreover, Idol commentary and fan discussions have made Sanchez’s hard work the equivalent of an “unfair advantage.” No one is going “look how focused and dedicated Jessica Sanchez is.” Instead, they’re acting like her hard work is the equivalent of cheating.

I’m sorry, someone’s going to have to explain this to me: Jessica Sanchez is a hard worker, therefore she’s a cheater? Wait, what? Isn’t working hard to achieve your goals the opposite of cheating? [If working hard makes people cheaters, I think I’d best turn myself in to my University’s Academic Counsel]

I keep wanting to tell these people: You don’t think Phillip Phillips worked his butt off to get where he is today?

But somehow, it’s okay for Phillip Phillips to work hard. On the other hand, it’s suspect for Jessica Sanchez to do the same thing.

Frank Wu, a critical race theorist, explains this better than I will: “The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans themselves. It is two-faced. Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. […] To be hard working is to be an unfair competitor for regular human beings, and not a well-rounded, likable individual.” (Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White)

People perceived Asian-Americans as being an “unfair competitors” for regular human beings – and by regular human beings, they mean “white Americans.”

I think this is exactly what happened to Jessica Sanchez. Because she was perceived as a hard-working Asian singer, people saw her as having some kind of “unfair” advantage over other (mostly white) contestants like Phillip Phillips. Where Phillip Phillips’ hard work makes him a likeable individual, Jessica Sanchez’s hard work makes her robotic and unlikeable.

So yes. It’s racist. And it’s disgusting. And I’m sick of reading this kind of commentary. If you don’t like Jessica Sanchez’s singing, fine. Just say that. If you prefer another singer, fine. Just say that. If you think Jessica Sanchez has no emotional connection to her lyrics, fine. Just say that. But don’t accuse Jessica Sanchez of being some sort of Asian dragon-lady with “unfair advantages” over her competitors. Because yes, that’s racist.

The other really disturbing thing I see in commentary and fan forums is the discussion around Jessica Sanchez’s appearance.

Around top 8 week, I started noticing that, on the fan forums I visited and on youtube clips of Jessica or Hollie Cavanagh’s performances, there was a kind of universal consensus that Hollie was the beautiful one, and Jessica was…  not. Even people who said they preferred Jessica as a singer would say things like “but she’s not pretty like Hollie.”

This turned into a mini-phenomenon. I saw it everywhere. If you do a google search, you’ll find that there are a whole lot more results for “Jessica Sanchez ugly” than for “Hollie Cavanagh ugly.” And most of the negative commentary on Jessica’s appearance also talks about her race.

There were also entire lines of comments that argued that Jessica Sanchez shouldn’t win Idol because she doesn’t “look American” and it would be confusing if the winner of Idol wasn’t American. I counted fifty of those comments when I was compiling youtube clips for this post, and then I couldn’t do it anymore.

Pardon me for the temporary rant: Jessica Sanchez is an American. Jessica Sanchez looks American. Because she is an American. The End.

Someone, somewhere, will have to explain to me what these people mean by “looking American.” Because I think they mean “white.”

And, you know, I realize the internet can be a terrible place. I do. I really do. I know that people are asshats. But that doesn’t make their conduct okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. If there were no racial bias, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanaugh would probably get the same amount of “ha ha, she’s ugly” trolling. But because we tend to see white people as the “standard” of good looks, Jessica Sanchez gets the brunt of the “ugly” criticism.

Hollie Cavanagh American Idol Season 11

Hollie Cavanagh

Jessica Sanchez American Idol Season 11

Jessica Sanchez

Oh, yes. Now that I see their photos right next to each other, it’s SO CLEAR that Hollie is prettier than Jessica.

//sarcasm//

I would probably have let the ugly/pretty rant drop if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same thing happened with Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.

Again, many commentators pegged Phillip Phillips as the winner, because they argued that women and girls would vote for the cute boy.

But no one ever said Joshua Ledet has a chance of winning the “cute boy” vote. Once Colton Dixon was gone, everyone assumed that Phillip Phillips was the show’s only male heartthrob.

Phillip Phillips Heartthrob American Idol Season 11

Phillip Phillips

Joshua Ledet

Joshua Ledet

Oh, yes. It’s so obvious that Phillip Phillips is the only attractive one of these two guys. SO OBVIOUS.

[This is one of those cases where my personal taste goes completely against the public consensus, because I happen to think Phillip Phillips is somewhat bland, while Joshua Ledet is a Stone Cold Fox.]

My point here is: there’s a pattern where only white contestants are labeled – either by fans or by commentators – as attractive. The entire “girls will only vote for cute boys so White Guys with Guitars will always win” inherently assumes that only white guys count as cute. This is probably not that surprising to anyone who has studied race issues in the United States, but it’s still disturbing. And we should talk about it.

So yes. Racism has an impact on American Idol. And we should talk about it. We’re probably not going to, and if we do, it’s going to be along the lines of “white people experience discrimination too!”… but I’m holding out hope.

AHEM!

Now that I’ve finished covering the year in misogyny and racism, let’s… end on a high note, shall we?

Here are some of the great things about American Idol this year:

1. Michael Slezak, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Averett

Michael Slezak remains my favorite American Idol commentator of all times. There is no one who is funner to read or to watch. His boundless enthusiasm, his passionate love for the show and the singers, his burning hatred of producer manipulations – he’s amazingly addictive.

Slezak is my hero. Someday, if I work hard enough, and hide my female roboticness long enough, I might aspire to be half as entertaining and incisive a writer as he is.

Some actual quotes for our edification: “I can’t fathom what (aside from Uncle Nigel sending volts of electricity into their chairs) prompted the judges to give Deandre a Standing O for a vocal this week that was about as pleasant as listening to a Snowy Owl sink its talons into a frightened prairie dog and carry it back to the nest for disembowelment.” (Top 9 recap)

On Skylar Laine’s “Show Must Go On” “It was like watching the very first space shuttle take off, and you didn’t know if it was going to make it up into the atmosphere, and then it was like – oh my god, we’re in outer space. We’ve conquered outer space.”

Michael Slezak is also one-third of the team behind Idology, a weekly American Idol video recap where Slezak joins Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher of American Idol Season 6, to discuss the week’s results.

Melinda Doolittle Michael Slezak Idology

Idology with Melinda Doolittle and Michael Slezak

I love Idology with the passion of a thousand hopeful American Idol contestants. I love it because Slezak and Doolittle are having so much damn fun – sometimes Doolittle makes Slezak laugh so much I worry they’ll have to call an ambulance. The two have incredible chemistry.I also love Idology because the producer, Jason Averett, intercuts each video with amazing, hilarious clips from movies and TV shows. And it is glorious.

Averett is the invisible third commenter who makes himself known through his editing and his hilarious captions. During the first few weeks of the competition, for example,  Slezak and Doolittle argued over whether Colton Dixon or Phillip Phillips had a better shot at the title. Averett kept intercutting their discussions with a photo of Phillips and the caption “Spoiler: This Guy.”

Anyways. I love Michael Slezak. I love Jason Averett. I love Melinda Doolittle. I love Idology. I can’t wait for them to come back next year.

I only have two small quibbles [because you know me; I can’t ever just like something. I have to find all the problems]

One: Idology is too short. Last year, we had thirty minute episodes, so Slezak could really get into the nitty-gritty details. And he could invite guests, he could have guest performers etc. If possible, I’d like the longer length back, thank you very much.

Two: I really appreciate Slezak’s commitment to calling out the anti-female shenanigans on Idol. But I would also really like it if he stopped calling JLo a skank. Look, she’s a terrible judge, and I’m fine with you making fun of her and her singing and her terrible critiques. Just don’t use gendered slurs to insult her. You don’t use racist terms of insult Randy Jackson; don’t use misogynistic slurs to insult Jennifer Lopez. And stop saying that she’s setting back the feminist movement, or women’s rights. It’s annoying. One of the main points of “rights” is that they don’t go away just because one woman acts badly.

Reason #2 American Idol was awesome this year?

2. There were some damn fine Singers

It bears repeating: there were some damn fine singers. I don’t think there’s been a season where I’ve liked as many people as I did this year. Moreover, when we got to the top 10, there wasn’t a single singer that I actively disliked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hollie or Phillip, particularly near the end, but I thought they were fine.

In contrast, last season there was exactly ONE singer I still liked by the time Top 9 rolled around (the inimitable Haley Reinhart).

Haley Reinhart House of the Rising Sun

Gratuitous Haley Reinhart Cameo!

This season, I fell madly, passionately in love with Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. They were phenomenal. Unbelievable. And earth-shatteringly good. Joshua was all whiskey-soaked raspiness, unbridled emotions and glorious, explosive energy; Jessica Sanchez was gorgeous, finessed vocals; lovely rawness combined with a perfect range and a magnificent, terrifying power.

I don’t care what they sing. I will buy all the CDs. And the singles. Whatever. Everything. All the time.

Jessica Sanchez Joshua Ledet Knew You Were Waiting For Me

My personal top 2 this season

I was also deeply in love with Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. They are tremendous. Elise Testone is bluesy and rocky and her voice is so wonderfully bizarre. Skylar Laine proves I can enjoy country music: she was artistic, original and gutsy, and she had a massive voice on top of everything else.

Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On

Skylar Laine

Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love

Elise Testone

So yes. In spite of the misogyny, the racism, the producer manipulation, the judging issues… there were still damn fine singers on American Idol this season, and they gave some damn fine performances.

Because it’s my blog, and I’m ridiculously self-indulgent, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite twenty performances this season. And because it’s my blog, I don’t even have to be embarrassed that more than 1/2 of them are Joshua Ledet or Jessica Sanchez performances. [Okay, I am embarrassed. But I’ll live]

In conclusion! Hurrah for Season 11! And thank god I’ve got six months to recuperate before Season 12.

[These performances are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Don’t hurt me]

0. Jessica Sanchez You Are So Beautiful (also known as “suck it, trolls)

1.Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love (also known as “Hey, robots sing pretty good, don’t they?”)

2. Skylar Laine Stay With Me 

3. Jessica Sanchez Love You I do (also known as “C.D. falls madly in love with a contestant for the first time this season”)

4. Joshua Ledet No More Drama (also known as “Wait, why didn’t he make the final two again?”)

5. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet’s duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (also known as “C.D.’s personal top 2 make the world explode through sheer awesomeness”)

6. Hollie Cavanagh Bleeding Love

7. Joshua Ledet When A Man Loves A Woman

8. Elise Testone No One

9. Jessica Sanchez Everybody has a Dream 

10. Joshua Ledet Ready For Love (also known as “Joshua becomes C.D.’s other favorite contestant’)

11. Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On (also known as “Michael Slezak thinks this is the equivalent of conquering outer space”)

12. Phillip Phillips Volcano (I will admit, I’ve never really gotten Phillip Phillips. But I got him on this song).

13. Jessica Sanchez Sweet Dreams (also known as “the best song I’ve bought on iTunes in months”)

14. Jessica Sanchez Bohemian Rhapsody

15. Jessica Sanchez The Prayer (also known as “I’m not religious and I actually started crying in the middle of this song”)

16. Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Candice better come back next year, is all I’m saying)

17. Jessica Sanchez And I Am Telling You (I actually held my breath for the last minute. The entire song was like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and landing in a side-split handstand)

18. Joshua Ledet It’s a Man, Man, Man’s World (with Jessica Sanchez’s And I Am Telling You, the best ten minute block of the season. My brain almost exploded when these two songs happened back-to-back. The awesome was impossible to contain).

19. Jessica Sanchez’s duet with Jennifer Holiday on the finale (I take it all back. This was the best three minutes on the show on this season. Period. No questions asked. Do not mess with these two ladies. They will destroy you.)

Public Service Announcement: Haley Reinhart’s first CD, Listen Up, just came out. Buy it; it’s incredible.

P.S: Apologies for the spotty posting schedule. Fair warning: it may get spottier. I’ve been having some health-related problems, and they’ve been getting steadily worse over the past week or so. Hopefully I can keep a two-to-three post a week schedule… but I just started a medication that’s supposed to help my migraines and the side effects for the first two weeks are brutal. So if I disappear, my apologies.


April Reads are Trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle

First, I would like to thank my mother’s computer for allowing me to put up a blog post. As some of you know, me and my computer have been forcibly separated by circumstances beyond my control (*cough* Olive oil *cough*) and until some kind of brilliant solution is worked out, I need to mooch off of other peoples’ computers to get blog-related work done. So thanks, Mom! (and Mom’s computer. I’m sorry I made fun of you for not having an alarm clock.) It’s also a minor miracle that my mother and I are in the same city, so thank you, giver of miracles.

[My mother would like to take this opportunity to note that:
1. She doesn’t like my blog theme (hey, you should see the other ones. But shall work on it.)
2. She thinks it’s too hard to comment on my blog (fair point. Shall work on it)
3. She thinks I should talk more about why the title of the movie Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism (yeah…that’s probably not going to happen)
4. If I don’t talk about why the title of Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism, she threatens to take over my blog for a day and do it herself (oy! Get your own blog!)]

Secondly, I would like to register my outrage at the fact that Skylar Laine was eliminated from American Idol this week.
Skylar should not have gone home in fifth place. Let’s just say that when I found out, I used language that I would not repeat on the internet.

Skylar was not necessarily my favorite contestant – I kept switching between her and Jessica Sanchez for the female contestants (and Joshua Ledet for the male contestants) – but she was a bloody incredible singer and performer; she was charismatic and always fun to watch; and unlike certain other contestants, she was consistently improving, consistently pushing herself, consistently staying on pitch and on key, consistently challenging the boundaries of her vocal abilities.

SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE HOME FIFTH PLACE, is what I’m saying.
Heck, she made me, a non-country fan, like country music. Which is Saying Something – one of my best friends has been trying to get me on board the country bandwagon for years.

Skylar Laine American Idol The Show Must Go On

Skylar Laine: She was Born this Way (ie: Awesome)

Her ouster is particularly frustrating because the one contestant who messed up both of his performances (I’m sorry, Phillip Phillips fans, but he was off-pitch for most of the night, and the melody got beaten into a bloody pulp in his first performance) was STILL nowhere near the bottom 3. At this point, I think Phillip Phillips could kill a kitten onstage, and he’d still sail through to next week.

And no, I still won’t blame teen girls. I don’t need to. Last week, after a particularly bad Phillip Phillips performance, Jennifer Lopez said: “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
Did she say the same thing to Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine in one of their less-spectacular performances?
No.
Even in Phillip Phillips’ bad performances, he’s still tagged as the winner.
Bias? What bias? I don’t see bias!
(And Lopez, let’s be clear, is the judge who has explicitly said she wants a girl to win idol this year)

Bah. I shall bring this rant to a close, because, in the immortal words of Skylar Laine, the show must go on:

On with the (book-related) show!

Moulin Rouge Jim Broadbent show must go on

April Readings: Brought to you by Moulin Rouge

This is, of course, my monthly act of reading-related naval-gazing, whereupon I list and discuss all the books I read in the past month. Let’s look at my reading list for April, shall we?

1. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
2. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
3. Libra by Don Delillo
4. The Vor Games by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor
6. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot
7. Chime by Franny Billingsley
8. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

For those of you who have been following my monthly reading roundups since the start (ie: my brother)… have you noticed the drop? Eight books! Eight! That’s well below my monthly average of thirteen (for last year), and it’s a four book drop from March.
I would be worried, but, let’s face it: it was finals.
It’s surprisingly hard to read when you’re trying to memorize a hundred and fifty pages of lecture notes, or desperately trying to find your way out of Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle. (What is the hermeneutic circle, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know).

On the other hand, I enjoyed every single book I read, which is… rare. Very rare. It’s why I didn’t star and italicize the books I would recommend – because I would honestly recommend any of the books I read this month. Very bizarre. Very VERY bizarre, even. Maybe I’m becoming less picky in my old age? (hey, my brother thinks I’m old. And I can buy alcohol in the United States. That’s pretty old).

I even enjoyed Don DeLillo, who I was convinced I would dislike based on the reviews I’ve read of his work. I also tend to dislike contemporary American “literary” writers (*cough* Jonathan Franzen *cough*), but… I liked DeLillo. Maybe it was just the pre-finals adrenaline rush. Maybe it was just the fact that Libra is a spy novel, and I like spy novels. I’ll have to read something else of DeLillo’s, and make my mind up then.

The Jew of New York Ben Katchor Cover

The Jew of New York was the most painful read of the month, but it wasn’t the book’s fault (necessarily). For some reason, every time I tried to read it, I would fall asleep, which would, in turn, make me freak out that I wasn’t going to finish the book before my Graphic Novels final. Not a good reading experience. In the book’s defense, I think my falling asleep was due more to my finals-related exhaustion than to the contents of the novel – it’s not a boring read. Once I’d had a couple hundred cups of coffee, I really enjoyed it.

Of course, in a moment of supreme irony, I spent the days before my graphic novels final desperately finishing The Jew of New York… and it ended up being the only book of the entire course that I couldn’t find a place to talk about in the exam. We read 13 comics. I managed to talk about every  single one except this one. GAAAH. ( I added it to my definition of graphiation, just so I could say I’d covered every book. Yes, I’m slightly obsessive, why do you ask?)

The Vor Games Lois McMaster Bujold Cover

April would have been a good reading month if only because I continued my foray into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Yes, I do now understand why everyone in Sci-Fi is obsessed. I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar during winter break, and was immediately hooked onto the series (as evidenced by the fact that I put both books in my list of great SF books for women). Sadly, Young Miles, the omnibus that  contains The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, was unavailable at my local bookstore, and checked out of the city library… so it took me a while to get my hands on it.
I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t like Miles as much as I loved his mother, Cordelia Naismith (the hero of the first books in the Vorkosigan Saga). But although my love for Cordelia is eternal, I have managed to find a place in my heart for Miles, who is just… divine.

Miles Naismith Vorkosigan lives on Barrayar, a planet where physical strength and military ability are valued above all else. Worse yet, his father, Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, is an intergalactically reknown military hero (his mother, Cordelia, is also a military hero, but Barrayar is a highly patriarchal society, and thus prefers not to talk about a woman’s military achievements).
Unfortunately, Miles is a dwarf. A biological attack on his parents while Cordelia was pregnant with him permanently damaged Miles’ spine and bones, leaving him short and disabled. His bones break easily; he needs leg braces and canes to walk correctly. On Barrayar, someone like Miles would usually be aborted; only the courage of his parents saved his life. As someone with extreme physical disabilities, Miles has no real place in Barrayar’s militaristic society. Indeed, the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice sees him failing out of officer training when he breaks his legs on an obstacle course.

So Miles needs to find… alternatives.

Alternatives which include (among others): commandeering an ship, running guns to a besieged planet, impersonating an admiral and, somewhat accidentally, gaining the control of an entire mercenary fleet. For kicks, Miles wins a war and then goes to save the emperor of Barrayar from an evil plot.

He’s pretty resourceful, is what I’m saying.
All of Miles’s achievements should feel ridiculous, but Bujold crafts the character so well that I bought them, hook, line and sinker. I never felt like Miles was a Gary Stu. He’s real. And the stakes are sufficiently high, and the plot is sufficiently dark that the books are more than just a caper. When I started to worry that Bujold was making things too damn easy for Miles, she hit me with a great plot twist, and I was satisfied: there are consequences to Miles’ actions.

Yet even with the darkness, Miles is just so damn fun to read. I found myself laughing at the sheer audacity of his schemes, or cheering at his ridiculous and hard-earned successes. You can’t help but enjoy him. Case in point:

“Am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?” (Bujold, The Vor Games)

I, for one, can’t wait to see what Miles does for an encore. Damn, I love these books.

After the Apocalypse Maureen McHugh Cover Small Beer Press

I’ve been trying to read more short stories – they are not my genre of choice, sadly, but I’m learning to appreciate them. Since I was a big fan of Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, I thought I would pick up her short story collection, After the Apocalypse.
That turned out to be a good decision – as it turns out McHugh is one of a very few writers whose short stories I enjoy every time (Octavia Butler is another of this rare breed).

All the stories in this collection are linked by the title theme – they tell stories of people surviving after some kind of major, apocalyptic change. And, just as she does in China Mountain Zhang, McHugh focuses in on the stories of individuals, and the way they live (or don’t) in the midst of these changes.

Although I admired all of the stories in the book, I was particularly impressed by four: “The Naturalist,” “Special Economics,” “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” and “After the Apocalypse.” I’m actually glad I was spoiled for the ending of “After the Apocalypse,” because I think it would have been too much of a blow if I hadn’t known it was coming – it’s a tale of mother-daughter survival that… does not go the way reader’s expect (I shall refrain from spoilers). “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” is a bit of a companion piece to “After the Apocalypse” – it too, focuses on mother-daughter relations, although in this case, the “apocalypse” is a degenerative disease.

“The Naturalist” has a fascinating premise: Zombies have been confined into a sort of natural reserve; the government drops criminals into the reserve as punishment. One of the criminals (our protagonist) becomes fascinating by the zombies, and starts using his fellow criminals as bait so he can observe the zombies’ behavior when they feed (I mean, people have to find a way to occupy themselves…).
I suppose one of McHugh’s central questions is whether or not “natural” relationships and instincts are that “natural” when people are in extreme circumstances. Do mothers and daughters remain close in the face of the apocalypse? Do we keep our link with our humanity, even when we’ve been abandoned to die?  McHugh’s exploration of this theme is brutal (if fascinating) which is why I appreciated ‘Special Economics,” a somewhat more light-hearted take on two women navigating an exploitative Chinese company.

Kate Elliot Cold Fire cover

I also thoroughly enjoyed Cold Fire by Kate Elliot, but have no idea how to review it without giving spoilers for the first book in the series, Cold Magic. I’ll just say that you should check both books out: they’re pretty fantastic.
The series as a whole is:“An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”
And if that’s not enough to send you running to the bookstore, the series also includes irritatingly handsome men who would be more attractive if they weren’t trying to kill you, cat-human shapeshifters, dragons, trolls (the intelligent descendents of troodoons), witty (and less witty) banter, and an awesome protagonist who has her priorities straight (when married off without warning, first: locate food. When sent to the spirit word, first: locate food. When exiled to an island full of zombies, first: locate food. Priorities: Cat has ’em).

Oh yes. There are now zombies.
Seriously, why didn’t I know about Kate Elliot earlier?

(Dear Universe: When there are awesome authors I should read, please let me know about them early, okay? An intergalactic newsletter will do just fine! Thanks!)

Chine by Franny Billingsley Cover

Worst. Cover. Ever.

Okay, I lied before: the worst part of my reading this month was the cover of Chime. Seriously. Worst and least accurate cover ever. Yes, it’s pretty…I suppose. But why does Briony look like a half-buried barbie? For that matter, why is she so darn pretty? The cover makes it seem like poor Briony is off to a very, very bizarre school dance (she’s not).

If you can’t already tell, I REALLY dislike this cover. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood decapitating my barbies and burying them in the backyard (totally normal behavior!). Or maybe it’s because the book is about a girl who is convinced she’s a horrible witch who deserves to be hung, and not about a girl going to her prom (not that there’s anything wrong going to your prom).Chime is dark and edgy and tortured and the cover… is a very pretty version of that.
On the other hand I really liked the book, which is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read this year.. It’s very rare to read a young adult character quite as self-loathing as Briony, who is convinced she’s a witch, and responsible for the death of her stepmother, and the mental illness of her twin sister. Briony’s voice and her journey is fascinating. I was disappointed by the ending, which was a bit too pat for my taste – I was hoping that such a nuanced character would merit an equally nuanced ending. Or perhaps I wanted this nuance to translate to the rest of the “monsters” in the story. If Briony is redeemable, shouldn’t witches be redeemable as well? Are all (other) witches evil? Are all dark creatures evil? Did anyone else feel unsatisfied by the ending, or is that just me?

I also feel like there’s a trend in YA these days to write about protagonists who would usually be the villains – I’m thinking of Briony, of course, and also of  Cassel Sharpe in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. But maybe that’s always been a trend, and I’ve just missed it? The villain-as-hero seems particularly pertinent to the YA genre, in any case (since the genre is oriented towards teenagers).

The Stepsister Scheme Jim C. Hines Cover

I’ve been following Jim C. Hines’s blog for a while, and he did me a big favor a couple of days ago (he doesn’t know he did me a favor, and I don’t know him personally. He just wrote something very helpful on his blog). So I figured since I was getting so many benefits from his blog, I should probably buy one of his books (rather than just mooch off his free stuff).

The Stepsister Scheme is the very, very long epilogue to the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinderella (Danielle) and her prince (Armand) are happily married. Unfortunately,  Danielle’s evil stepsisters haven’t given up on marrying Armand themselves, and kidnap him (they’re persistent, you have to give them that). Danielle goes off to save Armand; she’s joined by two of the Queen’s employees, Snow and Talia.

It took me a while to get into the plot of The Stepsister Scheme – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. Since the story begins in medias res, it was harder to attach to the characters – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. I know, I just said I wanted more info-dump. I’m sure the universe will punish me for this horrific statement somehow…

Once I was hooked, however, the book was very good. What’s fascinating about the story is that it’s not just the epilogue of one fairy tale – Snow turns out to be “Snow White,” and Talia turns out to be “Sleeping Beauty”  The interactions between the three princesses – Danielle, Talia and Snow – are also quite interesting. They’re all deeply traumatized by their “fairy tale” experiences, and who can blame them?

I’m intrigued to see what else Hines does with the series – the characters are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the rest of the series. Plus, I’m hoping for the appearance of Little Red Riding Hood. Apparently, she’s an assassin now.

Random Other Stuff

Apparently, when I’m super -stressed out for finals, I find awesome things on youtube. Yes, those two things seem… incompatible. I am a woman of many skills.

BEHOLD!
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: a video-blog (re)telling of Pride and Prejudice. I loves it very much. It is my precious. And it is helping me get over the end of my Austen course.

And BEHOLD!
America’s Next Top Doll
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I, to my great shame, have watched every single episode of America’s Next Top Model. More than once. Yes, I pretended it was some kind of deep sociological problem, but really? I was hooked. Hooked on the weaves and the photoshoots and the drama. And hooked on the weirdness of Tyra Banks.

(For the record, my favorite cycles are 3, 6, 7 and 13).

I have since gotten over my obsession, but the scars of those months run deep. Very deep. And this youtube parody has helped me heal. With the gift of laughter.
(Oh, Michael Slezak, where would I be without you?)
Sadly, the season is not complete (and probably never will be…) , but my money is on Zombie-girl to win it all.

And that’s all for now! Hopefully my computer will be fixed soon, and I can return to some kind of normal blogging schedule… but until then, I remain, as ever, trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle.

(p.s: in my next post, there may be a cat. No promises, but I figured I’d give advanced warning just in case for those allergic to cat hair. And cuteness)

Related Posts:

March Monthly Reading Roundup Wins the Alliteration Awards

February Reading Roundup

Why Can’t Girls Win American Idol? (Hint: It’s not Teen Girls)

Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women


Trainwreck of Sin and Misery: Why I Started Watching American Idol

“There’s going to be a couple of trainwrecks. Haley Reinhart is going to be a trainwreck.” – Michael Slezak, TVLine, March 1st 2011

Trainwreck... of awesome

I don’t watch American Idol.
I mean, I didn’t.
Ever.
Oh, I knew it existed. I mean, I wasn’t THAT far under the rock. But my parents didn’t believe in TV, and they especially didn’t believe in reality TV.
Neither did I. In my teenager idealism, I thought American Idol was a  “commercialized, manipulative, exploitative piece of garbage” (I had a thing for adjectives). And I patently refused to support it. No, I would sit in my room and blast my African Pop, feeling virtuous. Youssou n’Dour was the sound of my adolescence, not David Archuleta or Jordin Sparks.

Yet American Idol crept up on me. Based on seeing his youtube performances, I became an Adam Lambert convert, though I still refused to watch show. And then I discovered a fantastic commentary writer called Michael Slezak. Unfortunately for me, Slezak wrote American idol reviews. But since he was fun and smart and snarky, I started reading his recaps anyways. Sometimes I’d go on youtube to see a performance – but usually Slezak’s writing was more interesting than the singers.

And then Slezak convinced me to watch season 10 contestant’s Haley Reinhart’s performances. One song later (“You and I”), it was all over for me; I was madly in love with her.

And I shouldn’t have loved Haley. I mean, she’s a jazz vocalist (I don’t like jazz). She picks weird songs to cover (I don’t like weird songs). She was on a show called American Idol (I don’t like American Idol). The entire production did everything it could to send her home early (I am usually easily manipulated by producer tricks).

But I loved Haley Reinhart. And I still love Haley Reinhart. In fact, I go all kinds of fangirl when I listen to her. I have listened to her new single “Free” approximately 20 times today. It’s a bit embarrassing.

But why? Why do I love Haley?

Well, I always love the underdog. And there’s rarely been as big an underdog as Haley Reinahart.

She was in the bottom three for her first two weeks on the show. The judges consistently trashed her performances. The producers hated her. She was, in other words, “cannon fodder” – someone who was never, ever, ever supposed to get into the top 10 of American Idol.

But miraculously, Haley didn’t go home. And she started getting better. Much, much, much better. She began at the bottom of the pack of contestants; she ended as someone who turned in the best performance almost every week. She began as someone no pundit could see winning; she ended in third place, knocking out early favorites like Casey Abrams, James Durbin and Stefano Langone.

And she did it without any help.

Even as Haley morphed into a genuine contender, the producers continued to ignore and sabotage her. The judges refused to give her any credit. In a season where the judges were notoriously easy on people – where they almost never called contestants out on pitch problems, missed notes and bad singing (and when I, with my complete lack of expertise, notice that someone is off-pitch, or singing badly, they’re REALLY singing badly) – where everyone got a “in it to win it” and a “gold star” – Haley Reinhart’s treatment was shocking. As she survived elimination after elimination, Haley became the one and only contestant the judges would critique – despite her noticeable improvement, and the fact that she always stayed on key.

Even when the judges finally acknowledged just how incredible Haley was – she did get the most standing ovations of the season (3 in a row, not counting her standing ovation from her duet with Casey Abrams) – it was always more muted than with other contestants. The others were so good that there was “nothing to judge here.” They were “in it to win it.” They were “the one.” On the other hand, Haley was, at most,  “the best performance the night.” Or she had a “good, good, good, good round.” No judge ever discussed her as a potential winner. No one ever said she could make the top three or the top two. No judge ever discussed her appeal as a potential recording artist. There’s actually a recording of Randy Jackson saying of Haley (during top 5 week, before the cameras were on him) “I’m not rooting for her.”

If you want proof of the blatant favoritism, look no further than top four week. After the first round of songs, all the contestants – Haley, James Durbin, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina – were called back on stage. Ryan Seacrest, the host, asked the judges who did had done best. Randy Jackson said – and I quote – “Uh, I think it’s a tie between Scotty, James and Lauren.”

(notice someone missing?)

I almost threw my coffee at the TV screen on that one. Seriously? Seriously.

When I say Haley was the underdog, I really, really mean: she was the underdog. No one was on her side. Not the producers. Not the judges. Not (initially) the voting public. And usually, when you don’t have all three of those guys in your corner, you are dead in the water. But not Haley Reinhart. And that’s why I love her.

Most contestants would buckle under the pressure; not Haley. Even when it was clear that no one thought Haley would win, she refused to play it safe. She pushed her vocals. She took risks. She choose songs that no one in their right mind would choose – a Led Zepplin song, an unreleased Lady Gaga track, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, the completely unknown jazz ditty “Moanin’.” And as Haley was doing everything a contestant should not do, she was also single-handedly destroying the producer’s genius plan for the final five.

Which is what’s so incredible about her: by throwing out every rule in the book (except for: sing like a queen) Haley Reinhart single-handedly destroyed the producer’s genius plan for the top three.

Haley Reinhart: transforming rule books into confetti since 1990.

With all of those things – the judge’s riducata, the production’s sabotage and Haley’s own grit and spunk – it was basically impossible for me NOT to root for her.

But even though I love an underdog – and I do always love an underdog – I wouldn’t love Haley nearly as much if it weren’t for that aforementioned quality: her talent.

And her jaw-dropping singing.

When Michael Slezak erupted with outrage at the Judge’s refusal to praise Haley’s “You and I,” I went to youtube, and watched it. And started laughing. Not because it was bad, no – but because of how ridiculous her voice was. The growl! The passion! The grit! The clarity of her tone as it hit the higher register!

And then I flipped to Haley’s “House of the Rising Sun,” and had a full scale meltdown of hilarity. I didn’t even know singers could do things like that. She looped her voice between low and high notes with a timing that left me gasping with laughter. She slid between champagne-velvet smoothness, and a powerful growl like a DJ flipping tracks – effortlessly.

One of the reasons I don’t watch idol is because I’ve found that, no matter how good the singers are, they don’t do anything I can’t find on my iPod, or in the current crop of recording artists. They’re fine, sure, but other people are fine too, and I don’t have to watch a whole seasons worth of a TV show in order to get my hands on their music. Adam Lambert is of the few exceptions to this rule – Haley Reinhart is the other. She does things that I didn’t even know were vocally possible, like go from her rich, bluesy, simmering lower range to the stunning clarity of her upper register in seconds. I’ve never heard a voice like hers before. It’s a medley of elements that shouldn’t go together – a warm, smooth velvet tone; a passionate growl; a rocker’s intense, sugar and alcohol-laced rasp; a yodel and a haunting, whispery register. Yet somehow, under Haley’s direction, all those different edges combine into utter perfection.

Haley was a convincer. She transformed Michael Slezak, who hated her at the beginning of the season, into an obsessive fanboy. She got the American public to vote for her all the way to the top three. And she convinced me. I didn’t think an American-idol singer would ever top my list of favorite musicians. I didn’t think I could ever love a jazz vocalist.  I didn’t know I needed a singer like Haley Reinhart in my life. But I need her now. She convinced me.

And in honor of the fact that she did the impossible, and made me, an utter music-phobe, care about American Idol – and also because her first single “Free,” just came out (it’s FANTASTIC) – I’m celebrating my favorite Haley Reinhart performances. Please pardon my utter fangirlness.

1. “House of the Rising Sun”

The best performance of season 10, hands down, and probably in the top ten performances on American Idol, ever. The a Capella opening sends chills down my spine. The way her voice loop up and down. The “breaks” in her smooth melodies. The way she handles her notes. Some of them are straight lines; others slide sharply around the edges of bubble, like she’s curving them, drawing a perfect 360 with her voice.
And then she rips into the melody with determination in her eyes and raw power of her tone, and it’s just incredible, especially as she draws back into the haunting stillness of “oh mother” before her voice explodes on the final few lyrics. She felt every word of the song. She, a 21 year old woman, embodied the mood, the power, the despair of a male Louisiana drug addict. Well played, Ms. Reinhart. Well played.

2. “What is and What should Never Be”

My favorite Haley Reinhart performances are the ones where she goes between her creamy velvety register, and her rock-and-roll rasp. And her “What is and What should Never Be” vocal exemplifies that: it’s blues and rock and jazz; it has elements of both ethearality and grit. There’s a magnificent, controlled-yet-raw sense to the vocal.

And you gotta love a girl who can fall down and still deliver one of the best performances all season, right? You also gotta love a girl who performs an obscure Led Zepplin song after being trashed two weeks in a row for bad song choice. Haley “I don’t care about your terrible advice” Reinhart.

I’m going to quote Beyonce on Haley’s song choice (because everyone should quote Beyonce at least once in their lives): “It shows her guts. It shows her *bleep*. It shows her strength and her fearlessness. She is a risk taker, because she didn’t pick a pop song or something that everyone knows. She has conviction. She makes you believe in what she believes in – which is a huge part of being a superstar.”
Oh, by the way? The guy on electric guitar? Her dad. The look that lights up her face as she comes down the stairs and sees him? Priceless.

(I am a total sap, and the first time I saw Haley and her father playing together, I MAY have teared up. Or I may just have had REALLY BAD ALLERGIES.)

3. “Bennie and the Jets” (exit)

Haley’s original performance of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” on Top 11 week put her on the map. It was a stunning vocal from a contestant who everyone had already written off – in the space of ninety seconds, Haley the inevitable loser had transformed into a bonafide dark horse.
When she reprised “Benny and the Jets” as her exit song, right after getting cut from the competition, it was even more incredible.
And this is after she’d been cut. AFTER.

I know some people think the performance shows Haley’s arrogance. I don’t get that. I think it shows her passion for singing; her love for her music. And that’s not something that always came across with other contestants. That’s not even something that comes across with professional singers. But with Haley – yeah. You can tell. She’s just living inside every single on of those notes, burrowing deep within, enjoying every second of being up there. And it’s almost impossible not to enjoy it right along with her (which is why I’ve watched this performances approximately eleventy five billion times)

The moment when she leans back and slides down the stairs, and her voice flies up to the rafters like a helium balloon on “magazine” is incredible. And when she changes the lyrics to include the names of the judges, softening into a lovely soprano for “Steven,” – I got chills. Or when she starts rocking out with her fellow booted contestants. Or that final run of notes, right before the end. And then her “This end of this! Shindig!” and hug with her parents was just –

I almost wasn’t upset that she’d been cut anymore.

4. “Moanin’” (duet with Casey Abrams)

I have nothing to say. Because it’s just too wonderful for words.

Oh, I’ve got something to say after all. Whoops. When Haley comes in to the song, her voice it so light and soft and lovely it barely touches the lyrics. And then she scats! SHE SCATS! (so does Casey, who I think is pretty fantastic here).

But the moment I fell out of my seat (figuratively) is at the 1:37 mark of the video. When her voice emerges from nowhere and hits that series of ridiculously high notes –  How do you even…

Just watch it.

5. “I (who have nothing)”

Let’s take a scenario here. You sing your song. You are the only contestant out of the four who is criticized. You are then brought up on stage where you are told that EVERY SINGLE OTHER CONTESTANT is beating you. The camera pans to you, and it’s clear that you’re on the verge of tears.

And then you have less than five minutes to pull yourself together before you perform again.

See, this is when it’s completely justified to be a trainwreck. Seriously.
Haley, though? Not having it. She comes back with a theatrical, bluesy, bordering-on-the-psychotic version of “I (who have nothing).” The performance oozes with longing and pain and is threaded with viciously powerful vocals.
It’s also proof that Haley doesn’t need her signature growl to sell a song.  She only uses it once in the entire song, and it’s still one of the best vocal performances of the season.

6. Oh, what the hell.

Like I could decide on the rest of them! I’m just throwing in her Top 3 rendition of Rhiannon, which is dreamy and cool and lovely in all the right ways. She puts the slightest hint of her growl into her creamy upper register, which gives the performance an undertone of the ghostly. And the way she pulls back her final note into the whisper? Girl’s got skills.

Oh, and her top 5 performance of “You and I,” which the judges hated. And which, conversely, made me fall in love with her. Judges: Go jump in a lake.

I will end with Michael Slezak, who says it all:

“Like a salmon swimming upstream and dodging the vicious claws of grizzly bear Randy Jackson and the gallons of pollutants dumped by toxic she-beast Jennifer Lopez, Haley made what has to be the most sensational (and artistically satisfying) come-from-behind run in Idol history. I’d also argue she scored more “Idol Moments” than any other contestant this season: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Moanin’,” “You and I,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “I (Who Have Nothing),” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and “Rhiannon. And in what felt like a love note to the fans who watched her grow from awkward, slurry cannon fodder to a poised and confident musical risk-taker, Haley turned what could’ve been a tearful exit performance into a moment of pure triumph.” – Michael Slezak, TVLine, May 20th 2011 

You go, girl.

GROWLER SAVED.

So apparently, the internet has found this post – my blog traffic suddenly spiked around two in the morning when someone posted this on the idol forums  Which is great, if a bit overwhelming (this blog is two weeks old – I have no traffic yet)! Hello, fellow Haley fans! Nice to meet you!

I’m assuming that if you’re enough of a die-hard Haley fan to find this post, you’ve probably heard every song Haley’s played off of her album, but just in case anyone hadn’t, I thought I’d put a collection of links below. I’m going by least-to-most trafficked on youtube.

“Now that You’re Here” – this is the newest I’ve found online, and it’s fantastic. I had the chorus stuck in my head after two listens, and my roommates kept asking me what I was humming while I was cooking.

“Hit the Ground Runnin'” (at House of Blues). My fingers are crossed that this will be her second single. As much as I love “Free,” “Hit the Ground Runnin'” is my favorite song off her album (that I’ve heard so far), and I think it would sell extraordinarily well to radio. Also: lyrics= win.

“Wasted Tears” (at Hard Rock Cafe). Apparently she sang this while sick. Which is ridiculous. When I’m sick, I usually curl up in a ball and die.

The lead single, “Free.” If you have not bought it, buy it. Because it’s incredible. I also highly recommend listening to her performance of it on the American Idol results show – her phrasing of the “let it be/let it be/just a beautiful memory” gives me goosebumps.

If anyone knows of other new videos and leaks, let me know and I will put them up!

Very Vaguely Related Posts:

Why this blog exists: (hint: American Idol is only the tip of the iceberg of the things I haven’t watched)

Nebula Nominations are… better than I expected

I complain about the Hugo Nominations before they even EXIST.

A Review of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo