I tried an experiment last night with American Idol. All week I was thinking about this new show The Voice and couldn’t help but wonder what on earth those celebrity coaches will do without visuals for the show’s first round. (FYI: The idea behind NBC’s The Voice is that there are four celebrity coaches, who pick singers whom they cannot see and they form teams which are then cut down to four members who then compete against one another til there’s a winner.)
So I was wondering if I’d ever be able to select people without actually watching them – and then last night I turned on American Idol at the gym and inadvertently undertook a reverse experiment. Because there I was at the gym – trying desperately to forget that fact – and I watched the whole Idol episode without hearing a word. They had that closed-captioning so I could read what was going on, but no sound. It was incredible to watch. Now, I’d not yet seen an episode because I only tune in later – like now – when it’s a small group and all of them are going somewhere, so these seven singers were completely brand new to me.
Even without sound, each performer’s personality came through loud and clear. There’s something about people who have gotten this far and are uniformly talented – and the way they carry themselves that’s both fascinating and super telling — even when you can’t hear them. If you ever get a chance, definitely watch one of these shows without sound and see if you can judge based simply on the performers’ physicality. Then see if you can guess the reaction (and the ultimate verdict) based on this – it’s pretty cool to try and you might be astonished by how revealing it is.
Here’s what stood out, for me at least:
He might not win the whole thing, but there is definitely something about James Durbin’s sheer confidence that suggests he will go very far. Maybe on Idol – I hope so – or maybe he’ll enjoy a Daughtry-like success later. Nor is it just because he opted to sing a Muse song – I love this band but that particular tune’s a little too self-serious if you ask me. So maybe he was doubly impressive because I still loved watching him. The lack of audio made it impossible to hear Jacob’s powerful sadness, but it came though on TV just fine. Scotty McCreery looked like a kid in his parents’ basement and when I played him back, he sounded like a kid who goes from his parents’ basement directly into a squeaky clean country music career.
There was one instance where someone who didn’t pop without sound turned out to be better than I thought later. Casey Abrams gives off zero charm when you can’t hear him, and his movements seemed to me like your predictable garden variety Sensitive Rocker. When I rewatched the show later with sound, however, I was impressed with his singing. Knowing nothing about the season so far, this guy looks like the wild card. (By the way, even though I couldn’t hear them, I know people were shrieking when Casey kissed J.Lo…but why? Why is this anything less than an icky attention- getting move that often backfires and makes lots of people watching uncomfortable? I have never understood those in-your-face shock tactics.) The girls left almost no impression upon me, and I think we’ll want to see that kid who sang Ne-Yo sing other things because he didn’t stand out at all, either. What did you think? Did you think James Durbin was the best of the evening? The judges are sure a lot more in sync than when I watched clips a few weeks ago, although some of their comments seemed over-the-top effusive. Maybe that’s just me.
2) LeAnn Rimes
3) Luther Vandross