Phillip Phillips: American Idol’s Next Great Thing

American Idol’s 11th season kicked off on Wednesday night with auditions from Savannah, Georgia. Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez went about their prelim business of saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the hopefuls’ trip to Hollywood. Ryan Seacrest carried the show in his typical professional manner, though this year a ‘wannabe’ Seacrest showed up and delivered the famous line, “Thisssss is AMERICAN Idol!” in impressive style.

There was the 15- year old daughter of former Cardinal pitcher, Joe Magrane, that stood six-foot tall and belted out an eight-foot tall bluesy number. Then there was the 24- year old girl who couldn’t afford a hotel room, and had been camping outside in a tent during the week-long auditions. And for the male-demographic, we were introduced to the NFL cheerleader, who not only had the “it” look, but sang pretty well too, not that the men listened that much.

Of course no first week of Idol would be complete without the absolute performance disasters. Yes, we had the young man from Africa who could barely speak English, but wanted to be the first African Country music star…really? Where are your friends and parents when you are thinking about this? And yes, we had our over-confident young men and women, that were apparently tone-deaf as well, that acted like they were heading to the electric chair when they weren’t given the famous ‘Golden Ticket’. Note to the American Idol viewer- if the pre-performance interview segment of the next contestant shows an over-the-top, diva-like person, you will likely see them bomb in the next few minutes.

Then came the last contestant of the Savannah auditions. The 20-year old son of a pawn shop owner, Phillip Phillips. Yes, so nice, they named him twice. Phillips casually walked onto the platform, wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, and sandals and shyly introduced himself with his charming southern accent. However from that point on there was nothing shy or ordinary about Phillip Phillips. He started by singing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with the flailing, electric energy of Joe Cocker, James Brown, and Dave Matthews all rolled into one. Though the song’s melody was still there, the arrangement was completely different and fresh. After his performance Jennifer Lopez stated that he appeared to perform with electricity running through his body. Steven Tyler just shook his head in awe, while Randy Jackson told Phillips to pick up his guitar and “give us more”. It was at this point that most of America knew that we were watching a star being born right before our very eyes. Phillips strapped on his guitar and jumped into his acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. It was one of those ‘goosebump moments’ when you knew you were experiencing something special. His sound was again very Dave Matthews-like, his confidence years ahead of his time. Phillip Phillips had performed his amazing rendition of “Thriller” in pure superstar fashion.

Obviously it’s far too early to tell if Phillips will win this season of American Idol, but there is no doubt that his father should be looking for more help down at the family pawn shop, because his son Phillip is going to be to busy in recording studios and concert venues to work there anymore.

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The Fall of the American Idol Empire

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First the good news- American Idol’s Tuesday (Feb.23rd) FOX broadcast scored more viewers over NBC’s Winter Olympics. Now the bad news- everything else about American Idol.

In a season that started with Paula Abdul calling it quits and Simon Cowell announcing that this season may very well be his last, the 2010 Idol campaign is off to a very shaky start. Newcomer, Ellen Degeneres  doesn’t have a whole lot of musical background, unless you count her dancing on her own show, and she isn’t really adding that ‘comic flare’ that producers had hoped. I liken it to when ABC Monday Night Football added comedian Dennis Miller to its broadcast team…and you know how that worked out after only one season. Randy Jackson is getting old with his “Yo Dawg”, though he often seems to be the only true voice of reason on the judges panel. Kara Dioguardi continues to try to find her place in the show. I would have thought this year would have been her year to shine without Abdul grabbing the spotlight and headlines, but with several weeks under her 2010 belt, not yet. And then there’s Simon Cowell. Not much else can be written that already hasn’t been. The auditions seemed to find a kinder, gentler Simon this year, but in his first week of Top 24 eliminations he seems to be at a loss of words by repeating himself quite often. The phrase ‘self-indulgent’ does not need to be used more than once a week (make that once a month), yet in the first two nights (Feb.23 & 24) Simon dropped it over and over in describing Idol wannabes. The big question is- has American Idol begun to lose its uniqueness and flare? Will Season 9 be its final curtain call?

As for this year’s batch of American Idol contestants- there are about three or four “Yays!” and about 20 “na-na-na-Nays!” Stop the madness now. Please. Tell the 20 to go home early, and bring us the Final 4 to battle it out for just one week, crown a winner, and show reruns of The Family Guy for the rest of the season. After watching this week I really wonder how they got to this point? Tuesday and Wednesday night weren’t bad, they were horribly difficult to watch (than goodness for DVR). I mean poor Alex Lambert. He’s the 19-year old from Texas that looked like he was waiting for an anvil to fall on him Wednesday night. Then there was 16-year old Haeley Vaughn from Colorado Tuesday night who took to the stage in what appeared to be a nurse’s Halloween costume, and proceeded to make John Lennon flip in his grave with her demolition of the Beatles’  ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. And so it went. On and on and on, endless ‘self-indulgent’, 1 o’clock in the morning karaoke renditions of what used to be good songs. I swear I have heard better at the Two Friends Patio karaoke bar in Key West. I know it may be early, but I see no signs of a Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, or Carrie Underwood emerging from this year’s crop.

So where does Idol go from here? Bottom line, the contestants have got to get better- if that’s possible. Forbid them to sing Whitney, Mariah, or songs that are older than half their ages. If things begin to turn really ugly on the pitch-scale, tell Rickey Minor’s band to just crank up the volume and drown out the contestant. Judges Cowell, Jackson, Dioguardi, and Degeneres also have got to offer better constructive criticism than their standard ‘I think you picked the wrong song’ or ‘It wasn’t quite the song for you’. I’ve always wondered why they don’t pick the songs for the contestants if they seem to know what’s best for them.

To end on a positive note, some contestants to watch with star-power potential are 24-year old Andrew Garcia who wowed the audience with his version of Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’, 24-year old Casey James with his good looks and down to earth demeanor, 22-year old Michelle Delamor from Miami, and Crystal Bowersox. This 24-year old from Ohio is the new millenium’s version Dylan, Joplin, and Morrisette all rolled into one. With her folk guitar, harmonica, and unique tone Bowersox may be the early favorite. Let’s just hope she doesn’t become too ‘self-indulgent’ (I’m growing to like that phrase) or pick the ‘wrong song’.