Saturday, May 5, 2012

Phillip’s Head

Need A Screwdriver? Or Just A Screw?

"Yo Daddy let you date?"

If anything distances this season’s American Idol show from years past it might well be the sheer industry-ready professionalism of the top contestants. There’s no doubt all of them can sing, and most can work a stage. They all look pretty polished too. Actually, it’s kind of neat to cast one’s mind back to the days when contestants could dress themselves, picked songs by themselves, and didn’t get squat in terms of vocal coaching. It was a hot mess, and we kinda liked it because against all odds quirky no-hopers made it through on who-knows-what vote.

But it’s been steadily improving to the point where winning isn’t necessarily the best prize. Let’s face it: all of the top six at least will get record deals right out of the gate, as have some very successful Idol runner-ups in recent years. Kelli Pickler and Chris Daughtry have pretty solid careers.

Phillip Phillips, so good they named him twice

The idea of a professional safety net has meant that although no-one wants to go home and leave the fun (and grueling schedule) behind, their goodbye performances are now as good as encores, delivered with confidence rather than warbling tears. When Skylar Laine took the stage for the last time (as an active contestant), she gave it some wellie taking on Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” singing about going home to get her shotgun. A lot of folks might think she’s getting extra redneck on them as a parting shot, but Country music fans know this song inside out and recognize Skylar’s well-chosen (but predictable) model.

This song has never been sung with such a beaming smile. Completely inappropriate. 

Clearly the two best singers (if that’s what we’re still judging here) in the competition are Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez, whose performances drip with technical ability and showmanship, remarkable for their tender ages. But both are flawed: Jessica is simply too young to know better when it comes to delivering mature songs the right way, so that many of her performances look like highly competent talent show drills. Joshua can bring it when he’s singing, but when he’s not he’s a charisma vacuum, who looks considerably embarrassed to be on TV, especially around other men (his insistent avoidance of any physical contact with Phillip after their duet was painful to watch). The Inky Jukebox suggests this is because he is sensitive to the gay rumors that have followed him — mostly fueled not by his touching other men, but by his wardrobe choices and general mincing.

Did it get hot in here? 

Hollie Cavanaugh, the petite blonde fireracker with a disarmingly bizarre accent, though no stranger to the bottom three, has managed to slip through. Whether this is because she sings just well enough, or that people are rooting for her in the derby between Joshua and Jessica as the plucky gee-gee who could pip them to the post is anybody’s guess. People who recognize her parent’s accents will know that hers is a wrestling match between Scouse and South which might never come to a decision. At least it goes away when she sings.

Well, hello

But this post isn’t about those guys. It’s about the Dark Horse Phillip Phillips, the guitar-playing wunderkind whose eschewal of Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion advice has served him well. Sure, his singing is a kind of growling, and he is lauded as a musician’s musician, but some people wonder why he’s still in the competition. This is because they are either straight men or tweens. The reason Phil Phillips never gets a seat in the bottom three is because grown-ass women think he’s hot. And he is. He looks like a young Steve McQueen. He has that charming drawl and uses it to say things like “What’s yo number? Your Daddy let you date?” The reason people are voting for him is because they just want to see him on their TVs another week. The Inky Jukebox does.

Don't look down. OK, look down. You know you can't resist. 

The criticism TV talent shows get is that they are simply popularity contests, not ways to measure actual talent. Since all of the contestants have actual talent, and heaps of it, popularity is all we have left to go on. And popularity, as everyone knows, comes down to good looks. American Idol has been under the gun because for several years mildly gifted but decent-looking dudes have won. Mostly, they have used their win to disappear quietly and never be heard from again. The Inky Jukebox hopes that this doesn’t happen to Phillip. It’s entirely possible that Joshua and Jessica will cancel each other out leaving him holding the bouquet.

And when they do, he can bring it with him on that date yo Daddy doesn’t want you to go on, because you know what happens on dates like that. They never get off the bed backseat sofa table stairs ground. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Heading Into The (Joss) Stone Age: LP1

Sing It, Sister

Joss Stone has recorded an album in Nashville with Dave Stewart, and it’s pretty fantastic. Made from scratch in just six days, this, the first release on Stone’s own label, is loose and raw, the way you expect a record to feel if it’s been made so quickly — but in the best possible way. It lets you hear Stone’s voice as if the microphone — and by extension, your ear — were right next to her mouth. Every nuance of her sound is captured and if you didn’t appreciate the beauty of it before, you sure will now.

The Inky Jukebox suspects that a great deal of the people one attributes the platitude “they could sing the phone book” cannot in fact, sing the phone book. Joss Stone, however, really could. This is because her singing style is to basically talk, but to sing the words. This sounds more simple than it is. She can sing loudly and not scream; she can hit her bottom notes and not growl, even though her voice has some gravel in it.

Another thing Stone’s voice has is the ability to occupy her throat like cream, the vowels elongated so that they are made way up high near the roof of her mouth.

When Stone sings, it appears effortless. This allows her a measure of comfort and confidence on the stage that produces the ability to riff where the song takes her. A good producer will let her do just that, because it’s where her voice bends around corners that sells records.

It’s hard to believe how young Stone still is, given the professional stature she’s attained. This album is proof of that.