Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: I watch American Idol. I don’t vote, I don’t text, I don’t download performances off of iTunes (well, except for Adam singing “Mad World,” but the show ran long and my DVR missed it! Sue me).
Normally I’m bored and generally repulsed, even angered by Idol, because it seems to always boil down to the most histrionic, overwrought Mariah Carey wannabes who can’t hold a note for more than two seconds without tying it into a goddamn pretzel. It’s called melisma, and most of the contestants on this overblown karaoke-thon simply can’t resist contorting their high notes into some pseudo-gospel, neck-vein popping vocal run that’s supposed to make everybody in the studio audience shit their pants out of sheer wonder. They wave the microphone around in front of them like they’re charming a cobra, and they move their other hand around like they’re signaling for a Heimlich maneuver. Damn, girl, don’t pop an ovary. Save it for the show.
The only excitement over the past few seasons, really, has come from the non-singers. Is Paula screwing one of the contestants, and did she find a silver lining in his premature ejaculation? Does Simon really have a closet full of identical V-neck sweaters? Did somebody slip a Dilaudid into Paula’s Coca-Cola™? Is Randy Jackson going to keep expanding like the universe? Are Ryan Seacrest and Simon secretly gay lovers, and if so, why does Ryan have such poor taste in men? Did Randy eat Tito?
But this season actually has piqued my interest, mostly because there are some contestants who are genuinely interesting and show some phenomenal talent without hewing slavishly to a mainstream template. We’re down to a couple of boring white dudes and the two standouts, Allison Iraheta and Adam Lambert. Whoops, I just found out that Allison has been demoted back to high school. That sucks, because she’s way more interesting and has more of a powerhouse bluesy rock and roll voice than Biff or Doogie, or whatever the hell their names are.
Adam, who resembles a young Elvis Presley (only he’s more generous with the eyeliner and has his hair styled by a one-armed man at Jiffy Lube), is obviously the contestant to beat. His eye-crossing vibrato and operatic range remind me of no one more than Ethel Merman. I mean Axl Rose.
Which brings us to Axl Rose’s old bandmate, Slash. Once the most revered rock god on the planet (come on, vocalists are rock demigods at best), Slash began his long, slow slide towards poseurism the minute Axl quit G ‘n R. Well, I mean the last time Axl quit. No, wait…everyone else quit. That’s right, Axl had to hire, like, SIX guitar players to replace Slash.
So Slash went on to jam with every hard rocker who was willing to send him a limo full of Jack Daniels and double-jointed strippers. He partied with princes and shagged the wives of diplomats and prime ministers. He endorsed a line of leather top hats, which proved to be just as heavy and uncomfortable as they look. He signed on with the Guitar Hero franchise, which was equivalent to KISS appearing in a comic book about themselves. He joined the “supergroup” Velvet Revolver, which was basically a G ‘n R rehash, only with a different megalomaniacal peckerhead singing lead. He did interviews with Guitar Player (natch), People (uh, okay), Spin (of course!), and Scientific American (wait, what?).
All this, and not once in the last 23 years has Slash removed his sunglasses.
Can he still shred? Oh, yeah. For anyone who’s a fan of electric guitar, Slash is one of a handful of players like Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton whose tone is instantly recognizable. He belongs in the Rock Pantheon of Kick Ass Low Slung Les Paul Manhandlers With a Bad Attitude and a Marshall Stack. But as he continues to surf his dwindling wave of guitar idolatry toward the desolate beach of tattooed has-beens, Slash keeps making career moves that punch holes in the surfboard of his legacy.
(Editor’s Note: the previous sentence has just been seized by the Homeland Security Dept. and incarcerated as a possible device of metaphorical torture.)
So I turn on American Idol tonight, and there’s my boy Ryan Seacrest, telling me that the musical mentor for this show is going to be Slash. “What?!? That can’t be right,” I yell at Ryan Seacrest, startling the children. “Slash would NEVER do this show! I must not have heard him right.” But there he is, smiling and waving sheepishly from the audience, a double-jointed stripper at his side.
In case you missed the show, Slash brought to bear his decades of experience playing to millions of fans thusly: “Uh, dude, you gotta bring it, man.” Or this zen-like nugget: “Rock and roll is more than just a lifestyle, man. It’s a way of life.” He also had this bit of advice for Adam, who looks and sounds like he escaped from a 1983 Whisky a Go Go time capsule: “Don’t improvise so much in the high register, man, ‘cause when you go to, like, the lower register, it sounds really cool.” Mmm. Words to live by. To Adam’s credit, he kept an absolutely straight face.
Who gets the credit for these suddenly credible contestants in the final four? The American voting pubic? (buzzer sound) WRONG. They were stupid enough to vote Allison off the show because she doesn’t look like Taylor Swift, even though her voice makes Carrie Underwood sound like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals. But whoever it is who’s pulling the strings (hopefully not wrinkling his V-neck sweater), I have to grudgingly observe that American Idol has gained some relevance and credibility this season.
How much relevance and credibility, you ask? Well, if you believe that this is a zero-sum universe, you’d have to say exactly the amount that Slash lost by agreeing to appear on the show.[More words to live by available a couple of times a week here at NewWest.net/BobWire. Rock on.]