Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Best & Worst of American Idol Seasons 1-4 DVD is out now. Whether you like it or not is going to depend on how big of a fan you are of the show.

So I admit it. I'm a fan of the show. I wasn't to begin with, but like a tumor or fungus, it grew on me. I sort of dismissed it as bubble-gum pop, compounded by the fact that it's a reality TV show...just the genre I love to hate. I should clarify that I'm not now nor have I ever been a musical snob. I've never been convinced that one genre of music is "real music" or that any genre of music is NOT "real music." Professionally, I've worked for radio stations with rap, rock, country, and talk formats. Personally, I've gone through the gangsta, pop, R&B, and metalhead phases. It took several girlfriends to get me to listen to country, but I did. Now basically anything goes. Still, I'm not big on big staged productions, which is what I figured A.I. must be.

Still, I caught glimpses of the show. I guess my interest was piqued when I first saw Kelly Clarkson in a magazine spread with the poodle-haired frat boy Justin Guarini. I've had a crush on her ever since, and after checking out what she sounded like via Morpheus, I was blown away by her voice. Still, I didn't see the need to watch the show, as I figured her a sure bet to win. The next year I couldn't have cared less, what with Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, though I have since bought their CDs. The third season interested me a little bit with my hometown girl Trenyce in the competition, but again, it wasn't enough to hook me week after week, and I managed to get by just listening to Howard Stern sum up the performances in the morning.

Somewhere between the third and fourth season I happened to stumble across an American Idol DVD in the Wal-Mart bargain bin. It was a fairly comprehensive recap of the first season, and I figured, what the heck, for five bucks I could finally see what everyone saw in this show. I watched it, and I still don't know what it was about it, perhaps the slick production values, the editing, the whole Kelly Clarkson-ness of it, whatever it was I was interested in seeing the next season.

So I started watching season 4, and by the end of the second episode I had seen Carrie, predicted her ultimate victory along with the rest of the world, and couldn't miss it since. Call me a dork, but hey, there were 500 million plus of us dorks out there calling in and voting for our favorites.

As for Season 5, I will be watching with only one regret: that due to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in this city, American Idol was unable to host their auditions here (and I couldn't make it to any of the other cities to audition.)

Anyway, back to the DVD, you can buy "The Best of American Idol," "The Worst of American Idol," or get the combo set with an extra disc for a little over 20 bucks. The individual discs cost a little over 13 dollars. I bought the combo set, so that's where this review will come from.

A quick look at the back packaging shows that the runtime is give or take 600 minutes long. I thought that it must have been a misprint. That's over 10 hours of stuff. So I popped it in when I got to work (because I have a cool job where I can do whatever I want to for 8 hours a day) and got busy watching it. Each disc comes with a "Play All" feature, so I hit that and let the disc cruise.

The first disc features the best singers, concentrating mainly with the top two contestants of each year. The disc begins though with a montage of the worst ones and an Idol retrospective that documents the show's beginnings all the way back to Pop Idol in the UK. It introduces the judges, shows highlights and lots of Idol trivia, then launches into the individual performances. Each Idol winner has their final performance showcased as well as 2 or 3 other performances, and the runners-up have a couple of appearances themselves. When it comes to the 3rd place and down, there are performances by Tamyra Gray, LaToya London, Constantine Maroulis, and Vonzell Solomon. This disc focuses a lot on Season 4 winners. Also included are the original auditions from each season's top 2, from Kelly Clarkson to Bo Bice. The packaging describes them as extended versions, but they're still edited a bit. Then there's another set of montages showing how each top 2 finalist changed during the contest (gee, it's less than a year, they don't change much except Kelly striped her hair and Bo Bice grew a beard.) There are interviews with different groups from Season 4 about the tour. Each Idol (except Bo who was hospitalized at the time of the production and Nadia who is mysteriously absent from the entire disc set) dishes about doing number 2 in the bathroom, tour bus shenanigans, Bo-Savol pranks, and who spends the most time in front of the mirror. If you're not already tired of the disc by then there are more looooong interviews with Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice to round it out. And if, by chance, you're still there at the end, there are a couple of trailers for non-Idol-related documentaries.

The second disc is auditory agony as the worst possible examples of musician wannabes are showcased in all their ignominy and ingloriousness. William Hung is prominent here, and whether you like it or not, you will have his version of "She Bangs" in your head for weeks. I had a couple of problems with this disc, aside from the obvious. One is Mary Roach. She was by far the worst audition from Season 4, I'll grant that. But she has since made it known, via her website, that she was simply an actress trying to get camera time. It's impossible, or at least it would seem so, that someone in Fremantle Media or 19 wouldn't have picked up on this very public information. I don't see why they wouldn't distance themselves from that, since it does little to dispel the notion that a lot of A.I.'s auditions are staged. Problem number 2 is in the same vein: comedian Chris Wylde (nee Christopher Noll) as the rapping nanny. From the first time this was broadcast, members on the Idol message board, newsgroup, and various other bloggers knew and posted tons about this bogus audition. Yet, not only did they include this fake audition on the disc once, they did it twice (once in an extended uncut version.) They didn't even bother to mention it on the labeling. This kind of thing doesn't help Idol's credibility at all. But I digress. The disc starts with a montage of bad auditions, many of which (thankfully) cut straight past the singing and directly to the judges' stinging insults and mocking. Featured on the disc are several extended horrible auditions. These are often rough cut, unedited takes, and the sound on them is horrible. (Someone should fire the boom mic operator. They must do a lot of looping in post-production. I seriously could not hear a lot of the dialogue on two or three of these clips.) Rounding out the disc are montages of several commonly screwed-up songs, including Edwin McCain's "I'll Be," "The Star-Spangled Banner," and some Christmas carols. Oh, and those same trailers again.

The bonus disc is supposed to be the pay-off for buying the combo set. I'm a little wary of the vaunted bonus discs in most sets. Usually they have five or six featurettes that are about four minutes long apiece, and you end up feeling less than satisfied with it. Not here. There are HOURS of interviews on this disc. Carrie Underwood does two entire interviews. Bo does one. Vonzell does one. Constantine does one. There's extended footage from Bo and Carrie's homecoming (which as I remember, happened right before Vonzell was eliminated.) And finally Paula Abdul wraps it all up in one nice long bow with a hefty interview. Carrie and Kelly seem to be about on par with talkativeness, as both of them tend to run off at the mouth for extended periods of time without so much as a glass of water or a breath. Carrie talks about every single aspect of the auditioning process, the Hollywood trip, the interactions between the contestants, the various levels of the show, the plane trip back home, and a partridge in a pear tree. Bo, Vonzell, and Constantine talk about the same exact things, except Bo is a lot more interesting to listen to, whereas you can tune out Carrie and just stare at her face for an hour. I'm kidding of course, because they all have very interesting things to say. Seriously. Their perspectives are mostly divergent. Paula gives the judge perspectives, talks about Idol hookups (I didn't know Justin and Kelly actually dated) and teased about one short-lived romance in the past season but wouldn't elaborate on it. One huge omission is that she does not talk about the fourth season's Corey Clark controversy (say that five times fast.) His dismissal from the second season due to his undisclosed arrest record is, however, prominently featured (almost emphasized as if to say nyah nyah) on the first disc.

So anyway, this is a looooooooong DVD set. If you're just a casual Idol watcher, you won't care for it. If you are a curious fan, you'll pick your way through it, and you should probably get the less expensive single discs. If you're a die-hard fan, get the combo set and clear your day, because that's a lot of Idol you'll be watchin' there.


At 8:59 PM, Anonymous michael said...

I'm only a little ashamed to say I saw Kelly Clarkson in concert. My fiance took me. I'm typically not a big proponent of top 40 pop, but she puts on a pretty decent concert.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Mike said...

The first few seasons of the show were the best.

80s Music


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