American Idol Redux

“Tea for Two”

Here's a recap of my latest post from USA TODAY. Here's a link:

Talk about a tight race. It’s tighter than the election of 2000, and if history repeats itself, the Supreme Court may have weigh in to decide the winner - the Court being those pesky purveyors of American Supremes; the Idol Mod Squad of Randy, Paula and Simon. It was a shame to see Elliot hit the road, but there couldn’t have been a finer tribute - kudos to the editors of those ‘farewell’ videos, they capture the essence of the Idols, and in this case, showed a heartwarming depature for a kid from the pharmacy counter in Virginia who went all the way to singing in his hometown’s baseball stadium. A classic Idol moment.

I think Taylor’s first solo album would aptly be named “Soul Patrol.” Why not? They got him this far, he might as well honor them with a nod. He’s going to have a lot of fun in the studio, with or without his hometown band, and he should build on his foundations with material from his root mentors; Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, or Michael McDonald. But there’s a few titles I’d like to hear from Taylor, like John Lennon’s “Imagine” done with the backing of a gospel choir, Ray Charles “You Don’t Know Me” done with Billy Joel, Van Morrison’s “Real Real Gone,” or any Muddy Waters tune, as long as he plays his blues harp on the tracks. He might give a shout out to Ray beyond the pearly gates by doing his own version of “America the Beautiful;” he’s got a shot of being asked to sing that at every down home grits fest they can get him to roll up his sleeves for. Kelly Clarkson scored with her version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” but “America” is more suited to Taylor’s chops. Other oddities come to mind; Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks “I Feel Like Singing,” a version of “Soul Man” with Clarence Clemmons backing him on sax, or “Midnight Rider“ with Dickey Betts‘ new band, “Great Southern.” His choice of Michael McDonald for the Idol Cd was sharp, but can’t wait for him to have some fun with “Sweet Home Alabama” or even my hometown anthem “Sweet Home Chicago.” I’d like to hear his take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” if only to see if he can match Jeff Buckley’s haunting version, which I can‘t seem to get off my car‘s CD player. As for duets, big blues voices like Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, or Bonnie Raitt would all have some fun with the funky white boy’s joie de vivre. I’d shy away from getting mired in the insipid song list the Clive Davis assembly-liners churn out for the Idol contractual CD’s - they’re hard to sing, have little or no soul, and although sell piles of ‘units‘, taste like Chinese fast food; listen once, you’re still hungry for something more substantial. Suffice to say, if it don’t fit like an old boot, don’t put it on your foot. Mr. Hicks is a triple threat, being able to sing, play guitar and harmonica, and despite having pitchy moments, technology can smooth out the pitchiest voice - including stars like Rod Stewart who returned to the show to prove why he sounds so good in the studio. (My mom asked why she couldn’t vote off Rod after his performance on the show.) The odd occasion Taylor hits a clam can be ironed out in post, and his live shows will drown out any sour notes via his megawatt enthusiasm. As for a producer, I’d drag Grammy winning Russ Titelman out of his Hudson River digs, and get him to work the same magic he did with Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan, Rickie Lee Jones and Randy Newman, among others. If Taylor stays true to his roots, he’s going to have a Kelly Clarkson career, no matter if he wins the Idol crown or not; it’s time for another “Blues Brother” wave to sweep the country. I thought Taylor should win from the moment he picked up his harmonica and wailed it at the gob smacked judges, seconded by my two year old dancing around the house chanting his name like a mantra. She‘s got his vote, even if it’s by a half point.

Kathering McPhee knocked “Over the Rainbow” onto Waveland Avenue, and wouldn’t hurt as a title for her first solo album. She really can sing a capella, and I’d love to hear her do a rendition of Tracy Nelson’s overlooked paean “When You Went Away.” I also loved the snippet of coloratura she did with Andrea Bocelli; perhaps she can strong arm curmudgeon David Foster into getting Andrea to do a Lucio Dalla “Caruso” with her. As odd as it sounds, a pairing with Kellie Clarkson would make synergistic sense - politics aside - since Simon pointed out how similar they can sound. Would love to hear them both wail on “It’s Raining Men.” Mac’s performances of Whitney Houston, or other “big vocalists” demonstrated how fearless she is at attacking songs that are out of her range - in the case of her own choice of material, I’d allow people like Simon to tell her what to sing, and how to sing it, as he was on the money with “Rainbow.” She may enjoy doing the wild stylings of a Christina Aguilera, but it rarely feels organic - and she’s scored best when she was singing fun songs, heart breakers, or even Aretha, when she obviously felt she had nothing to lose by kicking off her heels and rocking the house with “Think.” This is the kind of material she can own, and the women vocalists she’s tried to emulate by giving the songs the Michael Bolton full-throated blast have been the least successful. However, that being said, I’d like to hear her version of “Piece of My Heart,” Joni Mitchell’s “California,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold” or even a standard like “Autumn Leaves.” As for a producer, I’d cozy up to Glen Ballard, who when not winning Grammy’s for his work with Alanis Morrisette, has been known to create magic even in the San Fernando valley. I think Katherine is well poised to snatch the crown from Taylor, and I’ll polish my own apple by noting previously she’d have the chops to “sail under the wire” to the end. Her dad’s ubiquitous tears aside, I just happen to believe Taylor’s going to be doing the tears of joy with that smidgen of a point that decides the victor. However, my choice for Kat’s most sentimental duet on her solo album would be one with Elliot Yamin, who would bring a jazzy feel, an emotional lift and a cute counterpoint to her talented vocals. After all, wouldn’t they make the perfect American Idol twosome?

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