Oh Idol, Don't Be Cruel

By Matthew Jaffe

Apr 14, 2010

In the human equivalent of product placement, cast members from Glee were stationed prominently behind the American Idol judges last night while last season’s runner-up but true winner Adam Lambert came back to mentor our lost little lambs.

And what could be more relevant, more contemporary, more hot, more bomb-like, and less pitchy than to reach even farther back than The Beatles (right, Lennon-McCartney) and the Rolling Stones to that king of both rock and roll and jelly rolls, Elvis Presley? Especially when there’s an Elvis-themed Cirque du Soleil show to promote in Las Vegas.

What became obvious was that Idol needed Glee and Adam more than they needed Idol. Glee is skinny Memphis Elvis, Idol is fat, Vegas buffet Elvis. It’s a story as old as Hollywood, whether in All About Eve or A Star Is Born: there’s always some younger, fresher, and hungrier phenomenon coming up and right now on television and that phenom is Glee. Need evidence that Idol felt tired last night? Ryan broke out a Brian Dunkleman joke and slapped hands with the audience while saying, “Wassup!” Has that term been gone so long that it now has attained some retro cachet?

Like Idol, Glee features a group of kids singing their guts out week after week but it also benefits from a subversive heart that keeps it from being as sickeningly sweet as one of the slushies that gets thrown into the Glee kids’ faces. On Glee, you get the snap and sass of a gay character like Kurt instead of the towel-snapping exchanges between Simon and Ryan. Its musical numbers sometimes come across as over-produced and eight years down the road Glee may seem as tired as Idol does today But right now if you’re in the mood for polished, mainstream musical entertainment on television, Glee is the way to go. From Fox’s perspective, it’s only natural to pair the shows. Except that Idol’s strivers can’t match up with Glee’s Broadway- and professionally-trained performers and when seen together don’t benefit from the comparison.

Idol, with its real-life stories, should be more compelling. Until Idol, Crystal Bowersox was a struggling single mom and musician and Lee DeWyze worked in a paint store. Now they’re on the verge of national breakthroughs. Tim Urban was a cute guy from Texas with floppy hair and a nice smile and now he’s a cute guy from Texas with floppy hair and a nice smile. The format is so familiar and the process—whether the teen-driven voting or the relentless promotion—so creatively deadening, that it’s hard for anyone of substance to emerge. Which brings us to Adam Lambert.

Despite finishing second, he is clearly a rare Idol success story. He used the show as a rocket to fame, as Simon once described the show’s potential, and has largely transcended it by remaining true to himself and his talent. When Matt Giraud or Scott MacIntyre or Ruben Studdard come back to perform, they’re there to hold onto the piece of the fame that Idol gave them. Watching Adam, however, he reminded me of an outcast kid who attained stardom and then comes back to his high school for a celebratory assembly. The teachers are all still there, the auditorium is the same, and he knows that he has moved beyond all that.

Oh yeah, there was a singing competition last night. And it was decidedly underwhelming and predictable. My sense is that Aaron Kelly and Andrew Garcia are gone and that nobody else did anything to either hurt or advance their chances. Stray observations include:

—Elvis Presley songs are Elvis Presley songs because he sang them, not because of their inherent quality.

—Katie Stevens needs to work on her white girl head shimmy.

—Why are the judges so confused that Siobhan Magnus employs different vocal styles?

—Why did a Coke ad start flashing on the screens behind Siobhan when Ryan was talking to her before her performance? Does she get paid extra? Suspicious minds demand to know.

Now that you’ve seen them together, what’s your preference? Glee or Idol?

Follow TV.com writer Matt Jaffe on Twitter: @MattAtTVDotCom

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  • asya155 Apr 18, 2010

    Lee was awesome :)

  • chhristy Apr 15, 2010

    I am big fan of American idol . I watch every show and also i vote my favorite contestants . People crazy about this show and and love watch there favorite participant.

  • OrSoIThought Apr 15, 2010

    You know, the world turned inside out last night and TIM was my favorite. And I still don't care for Adam Lambert...why does he annoy me so much?

  • brandon--16 Apr 15, 2010

    2 are going home tonight right? My guesses are Aaron and Andrew.

  • wagonmonster Apr 14, 2010

    As much as it pains me to say this, Tim was good last night and Andrew was awful, I mean BAD.

  • simonsotero Apr 14, 2010

    Glee can be fun but is suddenly getting way over hyped. I definitely think Adam needed American Idol more than it needed him. What huge successes has he had that the writer of this article is referring to? Regardless, I'm hoping Andrew Mike go home tonight.

  • sequoa84 Apr 14, 2010

    The good: Crystal, Katie, Michael, Siobhan, and Tim. The not so good: Casey, Lee, and Aaron. The Ugly: Andrew

    As much as I hate to admit, Tim's performance was good. But again., the song is legendary, heartwarming, and would sound good even if Ryan Seacrest sang it.

  • parker_kincaid Apr 14, 2010

    I must admit that as much as I dislike Adam Lambert he did actually give some good advice. I'm not even happy to admit that. Katie did a good job with her song. Casey was okay but not nearly as good as the Lennon/McCartney week. Tim Urban stepped up and actually did solid. The beginning of his song was a bit lacking but he definitely made some changes and it was a good performance that actually showed us something. Michael Lynche performed far better this week although I am not sure that I'd ever like an album he released if he ends up winning. He's great when it's him and a guitar doing some "tender" song but I tend to not enjoy him when there is more of a band behind him. Regardless, I found it pretty interesting that Siobahn suggested he check out the song he sang. If anyone was going to sing that song it was definitely the better fit for Michael to do it. So, he's good but is he good enough? Siobahn... I think she did alright but not great and not awful. That said, the song did seem to have 2 parts to it where she sang very differently. I like the 2nd half better. More importantly, can she ever do anything right for the judges? They just keep on plugging away at her. If she holds back on every song they'll criticize her. If she belts out those high notes they'll criticize her. They've pretty much handcuffed her. Lee DeWyze definitely is getting better. He's more confident and it shows. He doesn't look petrified anymore. The more relaxed and confident he is the more energy he has to perform well. Andrew just didn't do well. It's unfortunate since there are things about him that I do like. He just wasn't good enough. Aaron fell short for me. He wasn't bad but I just didn't see what the judges did in his performance. Crystal did solidly again although I would have preferred to hear her more without the backup singers. Regardless, it was yet another good performance. Given what happened last week I can't even begin to predict how the voting will turn out but I would like to see Casey, Crystal, Katie, Siobahn, Lee, Michael, and Tim return next week. Now that I've seen a good perormance from Tim I really want to see him back it up with another one next week to see if it was just a fluke or not.