All I can say is — Lazaro Arbos must have a HUGE Hispanic fan base because he’s so darn Cuban, and also a fan base of little girl, teeny-boppers because he’s so darn cute. His singing isn’t what’s kept him in the competition. Not that he CAN’T sing. His nerves and confusion have muddied the waters for him as a viable contestant. And Ryan Seacrest needs to quit asking him questions that call for long-winded answers. It’s painful to watch the boy struggle so hard with his speech impediment. Though sometimes he seems to temporarily overcome it.
Paul Jolley was voted off, still convinced he had done nothing wrong. He felt he had done a commendable job on his Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby”, and had always known how to connect with the songs. His mates in the bottom three were Devin Velez and Amber Holcomb. Amber absolutely did not belong there. But her Beatle’s song was not her best. So many of these contestants need to listen to themselves realistically. But I also agree with Jimmy Iovine. The judges have got to quit molly-coddling them. Simon Cowell often went too far with his harsh personal insults, but it was his opinion that counted with contestants and audiences alike. His every word could dash hopes or send them soaring. To those whose futures hung in the balance, his words of praise were like pearls, because, like the oyster, they were hard to pry out of his mouth. But the singers knew if they got them they were earned.
I feel the same with Jimmy Iovine. He seems to have insight that goes deeper than just being a good judge of a song or a singer. I think it’s a gift. I’m not saying he can’t be wrong, or that sometimes I don’t disagree with him. But on the whole, he’s very much worth listening to. He’s paid his dues in the music industry and then some.
I also agree with Jimmy’s comment about his disappointment with the contestants not being familiar with the Beatles. It was an echo of my own thoughts. I mean, here are kids who have competed sometimes two or three times for American Idol. And the rest of them essentially say they’ve dreamed of being on the show and have watched it since they were in the womb.
So I’m confused. I watch Idol every year as a mere viewer. I know that the Beatles have been a regular hurdle on the show for contestants, and nearly every year some of them do not know enough about the Beatles to determine whether they are a singing group or an Orkin problem. Jimmy was so right to say that singing is a business, and these contestants should treat it as such. They should know their business. And if, as they say, they have watched the show so avidly, how could they not be familiar with all they will be asked to do, and then prepare accordingly? I watch Idol because it’s fun and entertaining (usually). But for those who want a future in the music industry, they should be watching in deadly earnest. It may be a reality game show, but it’s not a starry-eyed game for those who take the stage.
Every year during the weeding-out process in Hollywood and on up to the top twenty, you see good singers crying and quitting. Didn’t know it would be so hard. If they’ve watched it for years with a view to becoming a contestant, how could they possibly not know? Some of them act as though they’ve never even heard of the group round, or pulling all-nighters. Do they watch with blinders on, or with their heads so far in the clouds of fame and fortune that they are as blind as poor little Amber Holcomb in the stage fog on the stairs?
And let’s get back to the problem of the Beatles. The contestants should have studied the Beatles and their music before they ever vied for a golden ticket. Getting to know them in a few days or a week won’t cut it. The Beatles may sound simple to just a drive-by listener, but they are far from that. Their good music is complex, and the words and emotions even more so. To get all that together for even an experienced popular singer would be an awesome undertaking. The producers of Idol do not use the Beatles as a threshing mill to separate the good from the great for nothing. They know what they’re doing.
Take the song Eleanor Rigby (sometimes called “All the Lonely People”) which Paul Jolley sang and thought he had done well with in spite of judges’ comments and being voted off. If a singer doesn’t reach down to the depths and pull out every lonely feeling he’s ever had, he isn’t going to get the song, or be able to reproduce it, or make it his own. Even a young, life-inexperienced singer can do this. Even children get lonely.
Eleanor Rigby isn’t just a song. It can stand its own as poetry. And good poetry is complicated because it plays the emotions with a feathery touch that goes beyond mere words to a language of the spirit. A language that sings. And you can’t learn that language by repetition or conjugation or a tourist book. And beyond the language of poetry, when coupled with actual music, it becomes an unforgettable romance that stands the test of time. It may even be tragic like Romeo and Juliette, and often is. The music complements and dips down and down and down till it sinks into the words and draws emotions to the top like a bucket draws water from a well.
If a contestant is preparing to sing Eleanor Rigby, what does he do with words like:
Picks up the rice at a church
where a wedding has been.
What do they mean? Sounds simple. But in context you understand that Eleanor stands apart. She’s not a member of the wedding party. She picks up the dregs. That’s her life. She’s always on the outside looking in.
And what about:
Waits at the window wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door.
Who is it for?
It’s her public face, not her private one.
And what does Father McKensie have to do with being lonely? Why is he writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear? Is he just thrown in for good measure? Of course not. Father McKensie is a good man. But his sermon either falls on deaf ears (no one listening), or people don’t show up at all. His life goes on. He does ordinary things. In the night, alone, he darns his socks. What does he care? He’s done his bit to help people. But in the end, he can’t live their lives for them. And everyone has moments of loneliness. It’s an ingrained part of the human condition.
And what does it mean at the end when Eleanor dies and is “buried along with her name”? That’s a strange line. But it says that, though her name may be above ground on a headstone, that doesn’t mean her name, or her life, will be remembered.
Now for the music. How does it pull the words up so you may taste what they mean? The music starts out rather upbeat (though with the warning that the clock of life is already ticking). Could it be the sound of our youth with our future wide before us? Anything is possible and youth is immortal. But the notes of the music get increasingly somber. That wide open corridor of possibility narrows substantially as time goes on. And time is measured by the relentless chopping of the strings. Never slowing. Never waiting till you can get it together.
Paul Jolley has a good voice that could be trained and he could do well if he makes good choices with where he needs to go with it. But if he had studied this song when being a contestant was just a distant future dream, the outcome might have turned out much different. He could have dipped into that well of possibilities and drawn up his own version. But without knowing the extent of what the song says and what it is meant to convey, that’s not possible. Even one wrong note can change the entire character and feeling of a song. Whether he goes high or low, upbeat or minor key, a singer has to know why he does it, and how it will affect the entire complexion of the piece.
Is that a big job for young people? It certainly is. But it separates the good from the great. I’ve heard Idol contestants who have done songs better than the original because they made me feel them down to my toenails, brought me to tears, and to my feet. The greatest one was Adam Lambert and the other was Chris Daughtry with Johnny Cash’s, “I Walk the Line”. He sang it so different, but the heart was the same.
Yes. It can be done by those who want their singing to mean something beyond the vocals. The Beatles segment should be their time to show what they’ve really got. It’s a time for greatness if it’s there.