Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"American Idol" and... Dolly Parton?

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A certain part of me is more than a little bemused that I am blogging on "THE PHENOMENON THAT IS AMERICAN IDOL!" seeing as how I find the whole enterprise a remarkably unauthentic way of uncovering musical talent... but, nevertheless, on with the show!)

Last night's "American Idol" was a textbook illustration of where (and who) most of today's pop music had its origins, especially in the wake of yesterday's news that the New Kids are getting back together (more on that later). This week's "Idol" used the song catalogue of Dolly Parton, which seems like a strange choice.

I'm well aware that Dolly Parton is about as iconic a singer and songwriter as there is, with a catalog that stretches back to early roots of rock-a-billy and still influences pop music today. But if you were to ask the average "Idol" viewer who Dolly Parton is, most would say "that lady who has a theme park and freakishly large boobs" (there -- I said it... call the PC police and arrest me for using the word "boobs") and not "iconic singer/songwriter." That's just the way it is...

I, for one, greatly enjoyed last night's show, but not because of the performances; some were OK, a few were good, but the majority of the singers seemed to be either a) cowed by Dolly's presence and songwriting chops, or b) hopelessly outclassed by better material than their middling talents could master.

No, I enjoyed because I got to see and hear just how influential Dolly has been and continues to be on today's music scene (the emotions and harmonies of songs like "Jolene," "Here You Come Again," the "Smoky Mountain" song, and, of course, "I Will Always Love You" are the progenitors of 75% of the pop music on the radio today). Crikee! Having Dolly follow Lennon/McCartney week was like a master class in songwriting. Say what you want about her appearance or whatever, but the Woman can sing and write with the best of them.

The other reason I enjoyed last night's "Idol" was because it seemed like the judges -- Randy, Paula & Simon, or as I like to call them Dawg, Crazy Paula & Scrooge -- truly had no idea what to make of any of the songs or performances. Simon, for one, seemed like he was against choosing Dolly's catalogue for last night's episode from the start, basically torpedoing every performance on the basis that the songs just didn't fit them. And yes, the man is harsh and cruel -- he told Carly that she needs to have "a serious talk with whoever is dressing you" -- but he says what we are thinking, just in a very blunt fashion. I love the guy and would take his critiques more seriously than either Randy or Paula's.

So... interesting night of TV. My prediction: If 17-year-old David doesn't win, it could be the Australian guy (Michael), who's coming on. I can't wait for the chaff like Kristy and Rumeal Robinson to get dumped so the contest can really start.

As for the New Kids, well... maybe the New Kids on the Block/NKOTB/whatever have something to offer the world of music. I know one thing: As a Bostonian and child of the '80s, I'll be watching to see if this is a triumph or a disaster... which is probably why it's worth it to them to get the band back together.

In the meantime, here's some of their best work. Good luck, Kids. You're gonna need it...

"Step By Step"

"Please Don't Go Girl"

"You Got It (The Right Stuff)"

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