John Stark, through his article in Next Avenue, made an intelligent assessment on why Harry Connick Jr. expresses restlessness as he mentors American Idol contestants Candice Glover, Angie Miller, Amber Holcomb and Kree Harrison.
According to Stark, what transpired on Wednesday's episode of American idol was something he had never seen before. The Wednesday episode, as Stark hinted only goes to show that the four finalists may not be truly great singers like Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone and Billy Eckstine.
The American Idol on Wednesday went by a theme of "Then" and "Now". Connick was all praises as he coached the contestants on the "Now" part. He seemed to be so impressed by the American Idol finalists that his hugs and jokes came as friendly as the best mentor/coach would be.
Connick's mood all changed when they get to practice the songs that the finalist would be singing for the "Then" part. The joking ceased and Connick became selfish with his praises. His attitude towards the five finalists had completely changed. He became so strict and hard to please.
As Stark put it in his article, songs of the past are an essential part of Connick's repertoire. He loves, respects and understands their exquisite craftsmanship. He knows how to make them sound "now" without losing they were "then".
Connick stopped Amber Holcomb few lines to her singing Rodgers & Harts "My Funny Valentine". Like an artist sensitive to his art, Connick asks Amber "What does it (song) mean? 'Your looks laughable? Is your figure less than Greek?"
And Amber got all dumbfounded. She obviously do not have the slightest idea about what she was singing. Connick went about telling her that "Lorenz Hart (the writer of the song) is a physically diminutive, closeted homosexual who died of alcoholism at age 48..." And before Amber could recover from Connick's 'lecture', he told her sternly to understand what Hart was writing about.
The same happened to Kree Harrison. She was stopped just after a few lines singing Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather". Kree was trying an Etta James rendition of the song - loose, bluesy manner. But Connick firmly explained to her that "the woman in this song is sad and depressed. You don't sound depressed." Connick asked her to do a rendition more like of Herna Lorne who first sung the song in 1940.
To Connick's disappointment, not a single finalist has heeded his suggestions. As Stark put it, substance was thrown out the window for pyrotechnic vocal tricks. Angie Miller sang Gershwin's "Someone to watch Over me a supposedly ode to vulnerability, in full-power voice. How she sung it was totally contradicting to the lyrics essence of being a "little lamb who's lost in the wood."
As much as the judges gave Candice Glover their standing ovation, Connick squirmed on his seat. During the mentoring, Connick advised her to "keep it simple (because) one of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is when the other person starts to drift away you." Yet, Amber did a piercing version totally throwing away all the poignancy of the song.
The judges added salt to the wound when Randy Jackson hinted that Connick's suggestions made Kree's rendition impersonal and confused whether her rendition was that of Etta, Lena or Kree herself.
Connick defended himself saying that the American Idol contestants didn't know these classic songs well enough to take liberties with their melodies and lyrics and in doing so, they were murdering the music. For John Stark, Connick's presence in the Wednesday episode of American Idol made an even bigger point - American Idol has always put value on over-the-top vocal performances. Subtlety and intimacy gets you to the boot.