Scott, To Be Certain


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Idol Top 5, Or How Natalie Learned To Stop Worrying And Become The Bomb

A tardy but no less warm hello to all and, because I'm feeling particularly inclusive, to sundry et al (where by "Al" I obviously mean Paul Simon).

It's true, S2BC has been about as lively and regular as a constipated quadriplegic of late, and for that you have my sincere apologies. I blame this principally on that pesky hindrance often referred to as "employment". It has a reputation for being somehow worthwhile (apparently it's financially advantageous) but in reality the periodic increases enjoyed by one's bank balance are usually, in my experience, offset by the diminution of one's will to live.

"At least you have a job"

Don't even get me started. It's possible my blogging lethargy was an intuitive foreshadowing of this divine woman's demise, one of the saddest days in the history of reality television. That this sassy, witty, hilarious and incisive interviewer - matched only by Andrew Denton in this country - is out of work not only signals the death knell for Big Brother (which will now literally be unwatchable under the custodianship of wretched reality TV monopoliser Kyle and devil incarnate Jackie O) but also begins to make unemployment sound rather sexy.

In terms of Idol, it's even more likely that my trips to the blogging well may also have decreased on the simple basis of a desperately underwhelming season.

My own personal 'snap' occurred when one of this season's most interesting performers, Ben McKenzie - who delivered the 2nd best performance of the season in "Mad World" and introduced Imogen Heap to the tweens - was turfed in 7th place. I was both devastated and yet completely unsurprised by this result, since the cyclical nature of this competition has taught us to always expect a frontrunner's demise on the back of a collectively disappointing mid-series performance show - this dependable formula for tragedy saw us lose Ricki-Lee after the Beatles' Night debacle in Season 2, Anne Robertson after the hilarity of Season 3's Motown night and last year Bobby Flynn at the same juncture.

The snap was then reinforced a week later when Kyle, seeing no reason to discontinue the show's disturbing fondness for gay double entendres, declared that the Australian public had "arseholed Ben". Classy. In addition, Marty Simpson was still inexplicably around: as of the Top 6, he was the only competitor not to receive a touchdown, which, as random they may now seem, is really all you need to know.

In many ways I felt burnt out by Idol, unable to summon any semblance of enthusiasm for any of the remaining competitors.

Until now.

My heart, and this competition, now belongs to Natalie Gauci.

Last night, Natalie erased every single one of her less-than-amazing moments - that time she declared Alan Jones Australia's best journalist, those hungry-crotched semi-final pants, that ghastly thematic interpretation of "Rehab" - and replaced them with a scorching, unforgettable get-out-of-my-fucking-way-as-I-stride-closer-to-that-recording-contract-thanks-very-much claim to the Idol throne.

It all started when she took to the stage with the kind of gorgeous, shiny hair that screamed unequivocally, "Get fucked Jessica Mauboy". Not content with cementing her place as next year's face of [INSERT BRAND], Natalie eased into a rendition of the Divinyls classic "Boys In Town" which initially appeared like an audition for the 3rd Veronica but which soon morphed into the kind of bold, attitude-laden but still technically excellent, broadly imagined and fully realised stage performance from an actual musician rarely seen on the show.

Sure, there was some obvious choreography, but there was also musicianship and stagecraft. There's simply no mistaking the passion and skill inherent in a performance which ultimately calls for a revision of S2BC's Top 20 Greatest Idol Performances. (YES, I will finish it, and this time, I will take Jessica's anthem one step further and commit to doing what I say. How about that?)

This was clearly the performance of the season, and the best and most worthy touchdown since Damian Leith's "Wicked Game" (No. 10 in the countdown).

What makes this stunning effort all the more impressive is that it is her first truly original moment.

Her previous highwater marks - Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" - were excellent but not altogether imaginatively realised. The first came at the right moment (in the Wild Card round amid a sea of mediocre competition) but resembled Fantasia's infamous "Summertime" theatrics far too closely (seated intro, similar genre and era), while the latter was a virtual copy of Mandy Moore's recent and far superior cover (even if Nat did dress up like a human piano and provide some visual irony by performing the song with drenched hair).

But never before had anyone STOOD ON A FUCKING PIANO IN HIGH HEELS.

In the most important of ways for both her fans and the entire Idol franchise, the performance was a reminder that Natalie is serious about becoming a real artist. And as a bonus for all the reality TV haters, Natalie has the requisitely genuine/struggling Missy Higgins-style profile too: did anyone else realise she was almost unearthed by Triple J? Her original music (accessible by the above link) is highly listenable - do yourself "a favour".

The rush of new love is blinding, but bear with me as I summon sufficient interest to cast a cursory glance at Natalie's nearest competition.

5. Jennifer Connolly, "20 Good Reasons" (by Thirsty Merc)

Jennifer, pictured above left in last week's pretty night-dress and denim ensemble, delivered yet another turgid ballad - straight from Marcia's Absolute Favourites Vol. 7,614. I bear him no ill will, but both the hair and the boring performances are indictable. Add to that the inane fashion, and you have your frontrunner at risk.

4. Marty Simpson, "These Days" (by Powderfinger)

Not the worst performer of the night, but still the most baffling member of the Top 5 since Hayley Jensen. Extra points for actually caring. And a giant retrospective high five to Andrew G for last week's catty pearler to Marty, his best contribution to the show in five years: "I guess you can get smashed by the waves or learn to surf."

3. Carl Risible, "Reminiscing" (by Little River Band)

It pains me to acknowledge that Carl was last week's best performer (perhaps another reason I chose to remain in silence). Last night he was insipid but tolerable, if a little too trigger-happy on the Mifsud epileptic hand tribute. (Mifsud's departure was one of this season's most just results: he was horrendous last week, absolutely murdering Esky Mojo's brilliant "From The Sea", one of the best Australian rock songs of the last 10 years.)

2. Parasite Williams Vushe, "When It All Falls Apart" (by The Veronicas)

I haven't heard such empassioned public debate about fakeness since the great Demet and Andrew tussle of BB07. To be frank, I couldn't really see what Dicko and Mark were talking about: whether Parasite's onstage fury was manufactured or channelled directly from her premenstrual soul, this was still an exciting performance, with all the hallmarks of a desperate attempt to revive Destiny's Child. She's a highly annoying individual with nothing to call on but her voice (and even then it's only appealing in the lower register and when softly used), which amounts to a fairly boring musical proposition in a Natalie-plus-piano-and-heels world - but this particular performance bore none of the qualities they accused her of. Perhaps it was simply the judges' aim to elicit a fiery response from Tarisai for once. It worked. Whatever the case, the issue prompted the most philosophical moment of Kyle's life, whereby he morphed from mean judge into advice columnist (and actually made sense), leaving the dirty work to Mark and Dicko. Meanwhile, Marcia decided not to help out a sister-girlfriend, electing instead to say nothing. Deciphering the meaning behind this enigmatic response has been the highlight of my day. Any thoughts?

So there you have it. Only one of the following contestants is worth getting excited about.

To the left, to the left

Thank you all for your heartfelt enquiries as to my whereabouts and well-being over the last week or so. Never fear, it's not Scott, To Be Curtains.

Like sexy and Backstreet before it, S2BC is back.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Do What You Do, Say What You Say": Inside The Vast Mauboy Oeuvre

Jessica 'Rhinestone' Mauboy was last year's Idol darling, using her runner-up status to catapult herself into the coveted Young Divas place vacated by Ricki-Lee (ignoring the latter's pleas not to touch it).

In addition, this year Jessica is the face (and hair) of Head & Shoulders, a fact reinforced by repeated airings of the relevant ad approximately 25 times per Idol episode.

It's a corker of an ad, about 20 seconds long, featuring a haunting performance by Jessica. On the whole, it is a stunning contribution to pop music:

In the ad, Jessica plays an enormous star with full-bodied hair, making references to bothersome ever-present spotlights and a need to remain presentable under them (see also above photo for irrefutable evidence).

Putting the Academy on notice, she delivers a convincing portrayal of somebody who actually has recorded output as a music artist. This is principally thanks to the rousing lyric of the song she performs in the ad:

"Do what you do/Say what you say/You know it's not over..."

This amazing lyric is so stirring and anthemic that we all instantly want to adopt it as our personal slogan. In fact, it's possible there hasn't been such a socially unifying act in this country for many years.

Is it too late to submit it for the ARIAs? This is surely one of the finest 4 seconds of songwriting genius the world has seen, devastatingly performed by Jessica, and dandruff-free to boot. What more could you possibly want from a pop icon?

To join this superstar's fan club and access her vast back catalogue of other imaginary hits, click here.

Please note that my review of last night's Idol may appear a day or two late this week. But don't fret: it will appear. Because I DO WHAT I DO and SAY WHAT I SAY. Know what I'm sayin'?


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Idol Top 7: Jumping The Shark

There have scarcely been more obvious truisms than this: I simply love Australian Idol.

I love it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

I love it with the abandon of Jennifer Keyte wrestling playfully with a handsome bottle of Veuve Cliquot on a summer's afternoon.

I love it with the kind of obsessive commitment shown by Rebecca De Mornay and a breast pump circa 1992; or like Nicolas Cage about 3 years later when presented with Elisabeth Shue's nipples and a whole lot of bourbon.

"If you lick this off my chest I could get an Oscar nomination"

But that love is now irreversibly in decline. Tonight we bore witness to incontrovertible proof that the show has jumped the shark.

'Jumping the shark' is a term which derives from an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz literally waterskis over a shark, a plot point deemed so preposterous that it signaled the decline of the show. In the intervening years the term has inveigled itself into pop culture to designate the moment where a once popular and successful show is identifiably past its peak.

The above photo is actually a fitting selection for this post's message: it shows Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in their Oscar nominated roles for Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas, a career apex for both (Cage even won that year). They've been rubbish ever since.

And so it is for the once-good Australian Idol. The bourbon and bare breast heyday of Guy, Cosima, Paulini, Anthony, Chanel, Casey, Ricki-Lee, Damien and Jessica is already a vestige of yesteryear, replaced by the B-movie mediocrity and misplaced ego of this year's batch.

Now don't get me wrong: no-one is particularly terrible, but then neither is anyone particularly good.

Let's turn to the history books for a bit of a comparison.

The corresponding week in years' past delivered to us the following unforgettable and justly lauded performances.

"When Doves Cry" by Guy Sebastian (No. 8 in S2BC's All-Time Greatest List)
"Freeway of Love" by Paulini (No. 12)
"The Prayer" by Anthony Callea (No. 4)
"I Have Nothing" by Ricki-Lee Coulter
"Special Ones" by Casey Donovan
"River Deep, Mountain High" by Emily Williams
"Constant Craving"
by Chanel Cole (No. 15)
"Wicked Game" by Damien Leith (No. 10)

The Series 5 competitors tonight served us up a mess of such vulgar ordinariness that I half expected plaintive bugles to be playing over the credits. It's hard to imagine they're part of the same show that produced the above roll call of fondly remembered alumni, half of whom are now Young Divas by either profession or demeanour.

As for rankings? Despite the presence of Carl and Marty, it's actually difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff: everyone was resoundingly off the mark. If I had to, I'd probably do it this way:

7. Marty Simpson, "Now We're Getting Somewhere" (by Crowded House)
6. Carl Risely, "Turn Your Love Around" (by George Benson)
5. Jennifer Connolly, "Another Day In Paradise" (by Phil Collins)
4. Natalie Mouskouri Gauci, "Endless Love" (by Diana Ross & Lionel Ritchie)
3. Daniel Mifsud, "Billie Jean" (by Michael Jackson)
2. Ben McKenzie, "Higher Ground" (The Chilli Peppers' version of Stevie Wonder)
1. Parasite Williams Vushe, "I Knew You Were Waiting" (by Aretha Franklin & George Michael)

But with qualifying statements that Tarisai wouldn't even get past Day 2 of the American Idol auditions on the basis of last night and that, if you closed your eyes, Marty and Carl actually weren't horrible. In short: a hodge podge.

There are, however, a couple of important individual observations to make.

Jennifer Connolly, continuing his march toward becoming the most overrated but nonetheless runaway victor in the show's history, chose a song that was actually released the year before he was born, performed it with the emotion of a toothbrush and then, on being criticised for the first time by the judging panel, declared that "1990 wasn't a very good year for music".


1990 gave us The Pixies' excellent Bossanova album, Wilson Phillips' peerless "Hold On", Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love", Aerosmith's "Janie's Got A Gun", "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega, Belinda Carlisle's "Summer Rain", Madonna's "Vogue", Kylie's "Better The Devil You Know" and Depeche Mode's brilliant Violator album. Sure - Jennifer wouldn't touch any of these songs with a barge pole (unless he could slow them down mournfully and turn them into clever laments) - but for him to make a statement like that in defence of his choice to sing a terrible Phil Collins song in boring fashion when that song wasn't even from the relevant year is simply frustrating.

Meanwhile, Natalie continues to yearn for the heyday of her youth on the arm of Sonny Bono.

And Tarisai made another pitstop on her tour of homages to crazy-haired sister-girlfriends. This week: Janet circa Velvet Rope, and Kelis circa hating someone.

And that's pretty much as interesting as the contestants got last night.

In such times of woe, thank goodness for Marcia Hines.

Methinks there was a little extra sumtin' sumtin' packed into Marcia's pick-me-up powder this week, based on her mesmerisingly quotable output.

Dressed like a jaffa in Buddhist curtains, she stormed out of the gate with this, to Ben:

"You were born the year you sang that song!"

This pearler came in a fit of uncommon fury from Marcia, who was riled up over ongoing criticism being levelled at Ben by Mark and Dicko. She slammed down her fist, said "shit" and uttered this at the peak of her anger, but it's the most sense she's made in a while.

Then, to Marty:

"Sitting on the stool gives you nice and solid."

It's possible she meant to say "shitting a solid gives you a nice stool" - it's such a tongue-twister.

To Daniel:

"That happens to be one of my favourite songs, and I was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson perform it live back when he was Michael Jackson."

And finally, to Jennifer Connolly, whose vibrato had just been dissed by Mark and Dicko:

"Tons of people have built amazing career around their vibrato, people like
Deni Hines..."


Oh Marcia. No matter that Deni is actually an excellent example of the point you were trying to illustrate - Deni's version of "Ain't No Sunshine" is probably the definitive version globally thanks to her distinctive vibrato - but name-dropping your own daughter in the same breath as the words "amazing career"... well, there's just no accounting for a mother's love.

So who will be leaving us? After a night of collective averageness, it's anyone's guess. For mine, I think it's Marty's time after a week's reprieve, but the girls could just as easily be in danger too.

The show itself, I fear, has already left the building.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Idol Top 8: UK Not Be Serious

Hello viewers!

I have finally returned from my two week sojourn in the Orient, in which I climbed the Great Wall, consumed copious amounts of duck, dumplings and tea, and learned to dramatically summon mucus from the deepest, darkest depths of my digestive tract for immediate disposal anywhere, anytime, and preferably when extremely busy.

No ellipses either, kthx

Sadly, I viewed no such discouraging signage: it remains a national pastime, and they are proud of it. I believe most Chinese smokers (overwhelmingly men) maintain their habit simply to ensure an ample reservoir of future chesty output. So I thought: when in Rome Beijing...

By and large China, upcoming host nation of the Olympics, is eager to portray its people as patient and considerate and who don't require signage that makes nasty assumptions. (Except when they do.)

A decent skill they are equally obsessed with is the art of the massage, particularly that of the foot. Some practitioners fancy themselves skilled in "special massage", which I discovered first hand, so to speak. If only I'd been female I might have also taken advantage of this bargain:

Now onto all things Idol.

Thank you to Woodsman who caretook S2BC in magnificent fashion in my absence. He has again blogged some tidbits from last night on his own site, Billable Units - do pay him a visit to ensure he makes those musings weekly.

The "theme" last night was 'Brit Pop'. For my return, The Marcia God actually dressed as God for the first time, draped in my parents' late 70s dining room curtains. There simply had to be some sandals underneath that desk to complete the ensemble, don't you think?

As for the contestants, they put on a fairly decent hour's worth of entertainment, which was mercifully straightforward and filler-free (just the performances and judges' comments - whooda thunk it?).

So how do they sit this week?

8. Jacob Butler, "Let It Be" (by The Beatles)

Oh how deliciously ironic that in BRIT POP WEEK, his absolute favourite genre, Jacob puts in the worst performance of the night, complete with botched falsetto and embarrassing faux dramatic posturing with the microphone stand. This career is not going to happen: perhaps he should look no further than his own name for an alternative. Mark still valiantly tries to find positives in Jacob's defence, but Dicko was beautifully blatant, also seizing the opportunity to label "Let It Be" a dog of a song. Of course, expert songwriter Marcia doesn't think there was ever a dog of a Beatles song, but she's wrong - there was "Salty Dog", from their Magical Mystery Tour album, which must be one of the most unsubtle examples of lyrical imagery in musical history.

7. Barty Simpson, "Naïve" (by The Kooks)

Barty inexplicably mimicked the British accent of the original vocal for most of this performance, not entirely dissimilar to that adopted by Kylie Minogue about 3 weeks after her first trip to the UK. He's clearly on borrowed time and it's painful to watch, with Dicko taking the unprecedented step of appealing to viewers not to vote for Barty on the basis that the show is an inappropriate medium for his talent. He even euphemistically asked for Barty to be euthanased, which one truly wishes were an actual ongoing voting option on this show.

6. Carl Risible, "Can't Buy Me Love" (by The Beatles by way of Michael Bublé, WHAT A FUCKING SURPRISE)

Utterly mediocre and virtually unlistenable, another example of his style aptly described last week by Woodsman as "spoken word". There's no semblance of vocal strength or control anywhere here, and the one-note nature of all his performances is fatiguing. Somehow Mark disagreed, commending Carl on "staying in his niche", or perhaps it was 'niece', but either way it sounds like something Mark would advocate. Meanwhile Marcia commended him on his props, which as usual amounted to nothing more than a skinny necktie and a microphone. Well, there was also that wet garbage bag mascarading as a leather jacket. WTF?

5. Natalie Gauci, "Rehab" (by Amy's Winehouse)

I have no doubt that Natalie shares some of Amy's white girl soul sensibility, but this was a woeful song choice. It's an utterly amazing song, musically and lyrically, but it's so idiosyncratic and specific to Amy's life experience that taking it as an allegory is simply not possible. It's like saying the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice" isn't just about responding to the media fallout of their anti-Bush comments, but also more broadly a haunting anthem for people uniquely unprepared for holidaying in the south of France.

4. Daniel Mifsud, "Message In A Bottle" (by The Police)

This guitar wishes it was a cane, Vaudeville style

It pains me to put him above Natalie, who is a far better contender. But based on last night - more thanks to Natalie than to his own output - he belongs here. It was adequate, although for the second consecutive week, Daniel showed that he genuinely believes enlisting some mournful strings and slowing down an otherwise uptempo song equates to cleverness. Dicko understands the folly of this strategy, but Marshmallow Mumu Marcia thinks that what the show is about. It's also clearly about playing songs exclusively from her vast Favourite Songs repertoire - this one is allegedly part of her "tapestry". Is that what she was wearing?

"I love that song too"

3. Ben McKenzie, "Wonderwall" (by Oasis by way of Ryan Adams)

This poor boy is being subjected to some of the most uncomfortably repetitious and almost predatory gay double entendres in the show's history. James Mathison introduced Ben with a tongue in (butt) cheek reference to his potential elimination tomorrow night, a misjudged bit of attempted humour that sounded exactly like cheeky post-coital banter, coming on the back of (<-- do you see what I did there?) last week's "If you want to get behind Ben..." Andrew G was in on it too, putting his hand on Ben's lower back and declaring, "This is what behind the scenes of Ben McKenzie looks like", then dropping the words "extra long 12 inch" into the following sentence, topping it all off with the enquiry "Do you get nervous when you're here?" HE IS 16, for Marcia's sake! And a Hillsong member (allegedly [thanks Franklin!] one of 4 in the top 8!)! Hang on, that's probably rather appropriate.

2. Jennifer Connelly, "Bittersweet Symphony" (by The Verve)

Looking like a jockey sponsored by David Jones, Jennifer sang about "all the roads he's been down" as though describing aisles in David Jones, where his Mum probably exclusively shops. The only genuine angst this boy has experienced is on the shitter after a particularly fiery chili con carne. Kyle summarised the production goals for this year's series when he said to Jennifer, "You could be a worldwide star." That's something Idol has never produced, so the producers are seeing their meal ticket with this guy, who could be the first slim, good-looking Australian winner ever. It explains Mark doling out the touchdowns willy-nilly, nonsensically distributing another here. But it was at least better than Daniel's last week, was stronger in most departments than everyone bar Tarisai and there's no denying he's interesting to watch.

1. Parasite Williams Vushe, "Somebody To Love" (by Queen)

The night was clearly Parasite's, who took her inspiration this week from some very successful bitches.

And girlfriend sho nuff done brought it on home! Mm-hmm. This performance was both extremely well executed and very clever: she balanced her trademark shouts with some gentle and beautifully controlled moments, and by introducing it as "A little song about me" she ensured that past criticisms of her failure to connect with song lyrics were obliterated. Freddie Mercury's words here lent themselves spectacularly to Tarisai's particular type of vulnerability as a single, diminutive, psychotic, God-obsessed non-Australian and allowed her to build the song memorably. There was light, shade, and various other components of a midsummer afternoon in a park, but ultimately this was ABOUT HER: "Everyone wants to put me down, they say I'm going crazy..." It was imbued with such a torrent of genuine feeling that we instantly forgive her those couple of bung notes.

It elicited the first quadruple standing ovation from the judging panel in a very long time. Marcia said she's feeling Tarisai, a disturbing admission; Kyle wanted to feel her, because she also looks like a black Tamara Jaber; meanwhile Mark tried to pull the poor bitch right off the stage with his touchdown high five tae kwan do move. It was a deserved touchdown performance - the ONLY ONE THIS YEAR MIGHT I JUST ADD.

My pick? Marty to go if they wisely follow Dicko's advice, otherwise Jacob or Daniel based on last night's performances and past voting patterns. It really is time that those 3, together with Carl, get the fuck off our screens to allow the decent ones to get down to business:

That's the only way this thing can go to make it both tolerable and meritorious.

S2BC's Top 20 Greatest Australian Idol Performances countdown will continue shortly, as well as some other equally earth-shattering goodies, so stay tuned.

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