The judges say “you could sing the phone book” all the time so I guess they are trying to prove a point this week. The American Idol Season 8 theme for the Top 5 is “songs made famous by The Rat Pack”. What’s next “songs of 19th century composers?”. Don’t get me wrong, these are great songs that are built for singers. They are just the furthest thing from contemporary you can pick.
The songs of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. represent the most optimistic, self confident music in American music history. The Rat Pack singers gained popularity in the 40′s and 50′s. This was the height of America’s power and respect in the world. The USA had just led the world to victory over the great evil of Germany and Japan in a two front war. The economy was booming as America rebuilt the world. That great generation (watch the series “Band of Brothers” sometime) had just faced evil, encountered death and suffered loss. This was a time for joy, love and forgetting.
Contrast that with the past 50 years. The 60′s marked a worldwide break with the modern philosophy triumphing the dominance of man on the world. Postmodernism with its rejection of the bland conformity and self assuredness of the mid 21st century pushed this music to a mafia controlled Vegas and to hotel lounges everywhere. We examined some of the truths we held confidently until 1965 and found that segregation, our treatment of women and the destruction of earth caused by the industrial revolution was wrong. Intellectual conflict, cultural criticism and generational warfare replaced our post war celebration.
Rat Pack songs perfectly capture the post war enthusiasm that just does not exist these days. These songs of wonderment, love found and loves lost do not reflect the angst of today’s music. I love these songs, but I think the Adam Lambert, Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Kris Allen and Matt Giraud will really struggle to find their emotional center in these American classics.
I know American Idol contestants have done well with jazz standards from the same era, but jazz was the anti-establishment music of post war America. Jazz, from the 1900′s through the 70′s was closer to modern music than jazz is today. These songs were the popular songs that captured the mood and psyche of the era. The American Idol Season 8 performers are as talented as any we have seen (see Top 5 power rankings). They will sing these songs beautifully, but a big part of their appeal is the acumen for arrangements and interpretation that they have displayed throughout Season 8. That will be difficult tonight. I don’t want to hear the judges utter the phrases “karaoke” or “old fashioned”, but I know they will.
American Idol will call on the Top 5 to perform two songs each tonight. After scouring my collection and tooling around iTunes, I cannot find 10 songs I can say the American Idol Season 8 performers should perform. Interestingly, I was able to find the most songs for Danny Gokey. I worry about Kris Allen tonight. If he pulls this off, I will be amazed. Here are five I would like to hear:
- Adam Lambert- Frank Sinatra’s “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die”
He can sing loud, dance big and belt some crazy screams.
- Allison Iraheta- Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”
She can turn this into a slow, burning blues number and bring the house down. If you don’t believe me ask James Brown and Aretha Franklin, just check this out:
- Danny Gokey- Frank Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”
The voice, the story and Danny’s interpretation skills could bring America to its knees with the sad, plaintive song about a love lost that will never be forgotten.
- Kris Allen- Sammy Davis Jr’s “As Long As She Needs Me”
Pull out your guitar, sit on a stool ans sing the song of love and devotion. Girls all over America will swoon.
- Matt Giraud- Frank Sinatra’s “Send In The Clowns”
Everyone has done this song but only Sarah Vaughn’s jazz arrangement has toyed with Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful melody. Matt sit down, show off your piano skills , add an R&B flair to your piano playing, but sing this song straight and show American Idol fans what a great singer you are.
I had much trepidation about disco night and even more about tonight. However, The American Idol Season 8 performers showed us their talent last week and maybe they will come through again tonight.
In the meantime, make yourself an American Idol Season 8 mixtape by downloading your favorite songs from iTunes