Bon Jovi Week on American Idol: Amazing TV
Tragically, nobody did "Bed of Roses"
Between Bon Jovi night on American Idol and the alternately awesome and frustrating spectacle of the Golden State Warriors almost blowing out the Mavericks in Dallas, last night was a pretty incredible night for TV. I was playing around with the idea of an entry comparing the amazing Warriors/Mavs series with 2005's Game/G-Unit beef, mostly predicated on the fact that Baron Davis is Game's son's godfather, but then I realized what a stupid idea this was. So instead, I'm going to write about American Idol for the third week running. After the rampant self-satisfaction of last week's Idol Gives Back special, it was particularly thrilling to see the show getting back to what it does best. And this is a particularly interesting time in American Idol's season. All of the remaining contestants have firmly established their characters. We've got the gospel-raised soul belter and the preternaturally gifted teenpop chick and the unforgivably cheesed-out beatboxing Incubus fan, and we know exactly what all of them can and can't do. And so now they have to compete with each other on the same playing field even though they all basically occupy different musical universes. The show's decision to base last night around Bon Jovi was inspired, given that none of the contestants has shown any real affinity for the sort of anthem-rock that that band does. Last night's broadcast ended up being a fascinating display of a whole range of singing styles and of the relative limits of singers' comfort zones. And it certainly didn't hurt that Bon Jovi songs tend to be great more often than not or that Jon Bon Jovi himself seemed to be the sort of deluded egomaniac prick who has no idea that he's a deluded egomaniac prick. Seriously, this thing was staggering all around.
Last night, the good performances were great and the bad performances were bad in interesting ways, which is all you can really hope for from American Idol. Let's start with the good. Chris Richardson, the show's resident aspiring Timberlake, did well with "Wanted Dead or Alive," managing to inject his trebly warble with something resembling grit, and with a song as unapologetically, theatrically ridiculous as "Wanted Dead or Alive," all you need is the vague impression of grit. LaKisha Jones twisted the forgotten mid-90s nugget "This Ain't a Love Song" around until it was exactly the sort of stomp-rasping soul howler she always sings, which is exactly what she needs to do. (Simon Cowell's "I could kiss you" comment was dead-on; the actual kiss that followed was not something I really needed to see.) And Phil Stacey, up until last night my least favorite contestant remaining on the show, absolutely wrecked shit on "Blaze of Glory." I've got a few extremely sunny memories of a time when tapes and cars and road trips were still major parts of my life and a $3 used-cassette copy of Crossroad made those road trips a whole lot more fun, and Stacey, who usually sings scenery-muching MOR ballads, seems to have a few similar memories. He completely understood the ludicrously gargantuan appeal of this band, and he did it justice. Stacey was a devil in the road, a six-gun lover, a candle in the wind, and he ended up with a scrappy underdog triumph of Golden State Warriors proportions. I think I'm actually starting to like this weird-looking chump.
Meanwhile, Jordin Sparks, usually my favorite contestant, tried to give a straight read to "Livin' on a Prayer" and completely shanked it. Her (unintentionally?) snarky gush that her mom grew up on Bon Jovi almost seemed like a response to JBJ's own comment that his kids love the show, and she sure teased her hair up like she was going to an 80s theme party, but she somehow failed to give the song the histrionic conviction it demands. Melinda Doolittle, meanwhile, did all she could with "Have a Nice Day" but couldn't overcome the sad reality that that song is straight dogshit. Still, the worst performance of the show was probably also the most memorable, as Blake Lewis, the beatboxing fool mentioned above, took "You Give Love a Bad Name" and gave it into a complete mindfuck of a wicky-wicky fake-DJ-scratched Euroclub remix, even staging a duel with an onstage percussionist. Seriously, I don't even know what to say about that thing; it was just the most deliriously weird two minutes in recent TV history. And the judges liked it. Whatever. I'm still trying to rap my brain around it.
To his credit, Jon Bon Jovi could barely hide his contempt for Lewis's version of the song. That was probably Bon Jovi's one good moment of the show; the rest of the time, he was hilariously terrible. He talked in a fake black accent to Melinda and LaKisha, he tried to tell Chris about the blues, and he did that thing where he and his piano player pretend to jam as the contestants show up, like: "Oh, hi, didn't see you there. We were too absorbed by our sick blues jam. Anyway, how can I help you?" Also, he apparently keeps oriental rugs on his wall and wears a T-shirt that says "Philly Soul". Not Gamble & Huff or Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes or the O'Jays or anything, just Philly Soul; I guess he likes all of it. But Bon Jovi somehow didn't end up being the biggest asshole on the song, since the end of the show was given over to a pretaped video of George and Laura Bush mugging at the camera. If Bush were able to run for reelection again and if his poll numbers didn't change, I don't for a second doubt that he would've shown up on Idol as a guest judge, just like Dennis Quaid in American Dreamz. This really is a new golden age for TV.
Fuck it, I'm just going to have to go ahead and write an American Idol entry every week until the season ends, huh?