Five Questions on American Idol: An Unpleasant Evening With Billy Joel and the Top 10

All season, Grantland Idol experts Jay Caspian Kang and Mark Lisanti will answer five very important questions after each performance episode. Yes, “all season.” That’s a really long time, right? It didn’t feel quite that long when they agreed to this.


We’re down to the “Top” 10. (R.I.P., Shannon Magrane.) Who was the best of this sorry-ass lot on Billy Joel night?

Lisanti: Before I get to the unsavory task of selecting a favorite, I feel compelled to mention that this was one of the more miserable two-hour experiences I’ve had sitting in front of a television, and this is coming from somebody who live-blogged Human Centipede on VOD. Watching a Teutonic madman (rubber-glove-pound, Dieter Laser, you my junge!) lovingly sew anuses to mouths and then chase his shuffling abomination around a swimming pool like some kind of Mengelized Benny Hill at least made me feel something. Even the DVR skip button didn’t help things; I somehow caught up to the live broadcast and then had to slog through the last half-hour in real time, 28 minutes of which was comprised of Coke Zero commercials.

Anyway, I guess tonight’s best was J-Chez, who oversang but still met with universal judge/audience acclaim. Everyone else was predictable and/or mediocre. Billy Joel Night officially joins Disco Night and Late-Career Madonna Night as the least tolerable Idol themes. And I like Billy Joel. Ugh, I just threw a brick through my TV, retrieved the brick, then went over to my neighbor’s house and chucked it through his. He didn’t notice, though; he had killed himself during DeAndre’s set, and his lifeless body was gently settling into rigor mortis in front of the “keep or delete?” dialogue box on his plasma screen.

Kang: Agreed. It was absolute torture. But Diddy was the Napa Know-How Highlight of the Night. Not picking him in the Idol Draft was a huge oversight on everyone’s part. Sit him next to J.Lo and put Eminem on the other side so that all of us 30-year-old bloggers can reminisce happily about 2001.

I don’t “get” Billy Joel. At all. Sometimes I think he might be a spy from an alien race who, for whatever reason, has to maintain a very high public profile. On his planet, inexplicable brass sections are very popular and everyone cares about New Jersey. Sometimes I think he might be part of some plot by a particularly tone-deaf illuminati to bore America to death. How is “Big Shot” a song? Who likes hearing that Bam-Bam-BAMBAM rhythm over and over again? Or “Moving Out”? It’s all so bad Broadway, including “Piano Man,” the only stupid song whose stupidity still pisses me off. I’ve forgiven “Jar of Hearts,” I never had a problem with “Ironic,” but for some reason the laziness of rhyming “Davy” with “Navy” still makes me howl with anger.

Yes, I’m stalling because everyone was so bad last night and I can’t help but think that it’s mostly Billy Joel’s fault. “Piano Man” is his only karaoke-able song and the only one recognized by anyone under the age of 35. Forcing 17-year-olds to sing Billy Joel is like giving a 23-year-old consultant one of those Mustang 5.0s from Menace II Society. He’s too young to appreciate the car, which, incidentally, hasn’t held up all that well and can only be appreciated by people who still like to scream, “I want your Daytons and your stereo. And I’ll take a double burger with cheese!”

I didn’t particularly love Jessica Sanchez, but I think it’s about time we all acknowledge that she’s clearly the most talented pure vocalist to ever take the Idol stage. She’s Celine Dion, but younger and with a better growl in her voice for those angry notes in “Power of Love.” It’s not really close, is it? I can’t think of anyone, save maybe Melinda Dolittle, who just straight-up murdered every single note.


Who was the worst of Billy Joel night?

Kang: Tommy Hilfiger. Idol, I know you’ve made a ton of money and been on for 11 years now and that you’re not in the business of listening to suggestions, but l think you might have lost a lot of people last night. I finally watched The Voice on Monday. It somehow has even more filler than Idol, but they just do a much better job with the dead time. You find yourself watching to answer questions like, “Is Jewel pregnant?” or “Is Xtina’s boob finally going to flop on out?” Putting on Tommy Hilfiger and having him mumble about clothes made Idol feel particularly desperate for content, a problem that was made worse by the fact that none of the contestants really wanted to sing those Billy Joel songs.

Lisanti: Joshua Ledet. It’s not that he was awful. He’s incapable of being awful; he’s way too talented. But he was so obviously lost and out of his comfort zone with a Joel song he felt no connection to that they might as well have asked him to strip naked and hit a tambourine while Ryan Seacrest roller skated around him, scattering rose petals on the stage. (Hey, totally unrelated, but let me tell you about this weird dream I had last night.) At least they sent out the Emergency Choir to save him at the end.

Best moment of the Top 10: Steven Tyler admitting he’s never heard “She’s Got a Way.” Let’s cut him some slack, though; he did the world’s entire cocaine supply between 1977 and 1990.


Which member of your American Idol Overhaul Draft team did you most desperately wish would magically appear during last night’s show?

Lisanti: I’m tempted to go Suge Knight, but I think he would’ve stormed away from the judge’s table 10 minutes into the show. So I guess Courtney Love; she could’ve incomprehensibly rambled about how she used to strip to “Honesty” at Jumbo’s Clown Room, punched Steven in the nose for some perceived slight Liv Tyler perpetrated against her at the after-party for Man on the Moon, then heaved a Coke cup full of her urine into the audience for disagreeing with her 10-armpit-fart review of Hollie Cavanagh’s dress.

Kang: Ah, Jumbo’s Clown Room, the only strip club frequented by Yelpers and people who only consult the Internet for their restaurant choices. Of course you love that place, Lisanti, as your entire life is ruled by Yelp and its hordes of moronic commenters who cutely write reviews in poetic form, complain about service at a $4 pho counter, and then go listen to “talks” about “climate change.” All anyone outside of Los Angeles needs to know is that Jumbo’s Clown Room is the only strip club where the patrons “check in” via Foursquare or whatever. And it’s apparently Lisanti’s favorite place. Do you take photos of your food, Lisanti? Do you “check in” at French Laundry? (By the way, if you find yourself at a place like French Laundry or whatever Momofuku is the “real” Momofuku, how about you not take a photo and broadcast out to your friends that you’re dropping a thousand dollars on dinner? We’re in a fucking recession. You made your money because you were completely useless coming out of whatever small New England college and your friend happened to be working at Facebook and for years, all you did was delete fake accounts. Now you have a bajillion dollars and I’m not mad about that, but how about you show some restraint and not take photos of food that costs more than what most people make in a week?)

That felt good. Moving on …

Last night was the night we needed Jennifer Love Hewitt to go out and report on something. She could’ve replaced all the Hilfiger bits with interviews of kids from Hollie Cavanagh’s high school. “Do you like Hollie? Is she nice? Do you think you’re better at soccer than her? Than why does Hollie start at center forward while you’re stuck way back at fullback?”

Lisanti: Ladies and gentlemen, Condescending Jay Kang! You can book him for recaps, not just podcast appearances. Inquire within.

[Full disclosure: I haven’t been in Jumbo’s in 10 years, don’t have a Yelp account, and secretly wish I were looking at Foursquare check-in photos of a French Laundry meal right now.]


How did we feel about guest coaches P. Diddy and T. Hilfiggy?

Kang: Do you remember that MTV reality show with Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter (I think her name was Nautica) and her BFF? Back when I was living in New York, I was walking up near Barnard and a pigeon swooped in out of nowhere and startled me. Purely out of reflex, I kicked my foot out, somehow made the squarest contact I’ve ever made with anything, and sent that pigeon straight into Nautica Hilfiger’s BFF, who was carrying an armload of books. She dropped all the books, screamed, and then started laughing hysterically.

Until I just typed out that story, I always thought it was interesting and funny. Now I just kind of feel bad for myself.

Lisanti: The L.A. version of that story would’ve involved you pulling up next to Paris Hilton at a red light and then tweeting an ASCII penis at her. You haven’t been here that long, you’ll get your chance.

Seemingly the only person who took Hilfiger’s “advice” was poor Erika Van Pelt, who made the mistake of telling him she admires Pink’s style. Cut to: an emergency salon session, a scrambling pit crew of aestheticians, and Erika revealing a haircut that aged her up from “mid-twenties mobile DJ” to “fortysomething host of a Liza Minnelli-themed burlesque show.” Once they saw what Tommy did to her, the other contestants just kind of politely nodded through their “style consultations” and immediately burned whatever clothes he piled on them.


Please translate the following bit of inspirational Randy Jackson nonsense into English: “Those that do, should. And you just did cause you do and know who you are!”

Lisanti: “It’s OK if you categorically reject the useless advice of the supposed ‘experts’ on this show; none of us have any investment in your abortive musical career anyway, dawg! Might as well do it your way, these middle school girls behind me are gonna scream like Justin Bieber just shat a golden turd in their Trapper Keepers no matter what we say!”

Kang: Ahem.

Jay Kang maintains five discrete Yelp personalities at any given time. DivaFoodie32 is crazy about cheap pho places, while NauticaBFF2 is more of a white-tablecloth gal.
Mark Lisanti still has the pasties from his first Jumbo’s Clown Room performance. Also the burn marks from his fire-whip.

Filed Under: Fox, Idol, Reality TV

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti