Five Questions on American Idol: Why Is it Impossible to Sing That Gotye Song?

Fox American Idol

Whatever doesn’t deafen you makes you stronger: Grantland’s Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have returned, bowed but not broken, to tackle another season of American Idol. They’re in it to win it this time, at least until the tweens swoop in to break their spirit.


Why is “Somebody That I Used to Know” the Song of Death? Did it move itself into the instant retirement category in a single evening?

Yoshida: Everyone thinks they want to sing the Gotye song. Everyone thinks they can sing the Gotye song. After all, it’s got that really big chorus that fun and recognizable, and it’s on an indie label which means that the guy who sang it originally can’t have been that talented. Like, certainly no Keith Urban. So it should be easy to get the coveted “I liked that even better than the original” comment, right?

Here’s the thing: There are a lot of words in “Somebody That I Used To Know,” especially in the verses, which apparently nobody cares about enough to practice nearly as much as the chorus. And it’s not enough to be able to hum the song; you have to know how to fit all of the syllables in the exact right place or it throws the rest of the line off. I’ve seen would-be stars fall victim to this at the Brass Monkey karaoke bar in Koreatown, and now I’ve seen it on Idol more times than I probably needed to. There is no argument to keep this song in the Idol/Voice/Factor rotation; I’ve never seen a good performance of “Somebody” on any singing show.

Kang: I had a similar experience when I tried to sing Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” at Winnie’s in New York’s Chinatown. Was waiting to just belt out, “AND SO IT WAAAAAS THAT LAAAAAAA-YAY-YAY-TURRRRR…” but forgot that I had to recite the fucking Canterbury Tales in the first verse and got completely tripped up. I’m pretty sure there are five mentions of rabbits and farts in “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and you never realize it until you’re drunk at two in the morning and all your friends have gone home and you’re staring at a purple karaoke screen while a dwarf stands next to you, whaling away on a tambourine.

Lisanti: It’s like nobody watched Charlie Askew do it perfectly last week. Maybe they just don’t feel as deeply as he does.

And he didn’t need to scribble the words all over his body like a woman about to get her eyes poked out on The Following.


Who was your favorite out of the Girls group? Is this the most promising group of Girls ever, or will the talent instantly be thinned out the minute America starts voting?

Lisanti: Hold on, I need to go listen to Angela Miller again:

At the risk of stepping too far out on a limb, and of ignoring time-tested Idol history that includes Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Kat “I Sat Down on the Stage, Blew ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ Right Back to Munchkinland, and the Punishment for My Hubris is Two Years of Smash” McPhee, and of Jay Kang immediately offering 15 counterexamples of DivaRanked performances he knows to be irrefutably superior (only eight of which involve Fantasia and Jacob Lusk), this was perhaps maybe the greatest damn thing I’ve ever seen on this show.

“Good lord…” — Keith Urban, a man who on a nightly basis watches Nicole Kidman remove and buff her face, full of awe and wonder.

“Wow…wow…wow…really…we might have a show…wow…wow…wow…wow.” — Randy Jackson, briefly being summoned back from his feelings-proofed bubble on Planet Dawg by a beautiful siren song.

Mariah didn’t need to say anything right there, because she was secretly plotting to deploy Angela to kill Alicia Keys.

I am going to be devastated when the tween girls bounce her out in three weeks.

Also: That Angela Miller/Candice Glover/Janelle Arthur run last night was as good as anything Idol‘s ever thrown out there. We might have a show. You know how great it was? I didn’t even mention Melinda Ademi, YONKERS REPRESENT. That’s a thing we people from Yonkers say to everyone else out on the street in Yonkers, when we’re on our way to watch some thrilling horse-trotting at Yonkers Raceway, trying to win DMX’s bail money.

Kang: I’m with you on Angela Miller. She’s the Tori Amos that Idol deserves. I also just like her, in general. I like that she’s from Beverly, Massachusetts. I like that this is the first time she’s been out in public without her Tom Brady jersey. I like that she stapled a bunch of cocker spaniel ears to her head and called it “hair.” And I like that she’s reminding Lisanti of his days in high school, when his own “hair” reached down to his shoulders and his only ambition in life was making lead saxophone in the marching band.

1994 LISANTI: (sidling up to freshman theater tech) So, have you heard this Tori Amos chick?

FRESHMAN GIRL: My sister was telling me about her…

1994 LISANTI: You gotta listen. So much better than Ani DiFranco.

FRESHMAN GIRL: I don’t see how that’s possible.

1994 LISANTI: [Singing weakly.] Every finger in the room… is pointing at me… want to spit in the faces and something something… got a bowling ball in my stomach, got a desert in my mouth… [Gaining confidence.] I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets, been looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets…

Around this time every year, I get tired of listening to people sing 15 notes where there should be one. Get tired of hearing dudes that sing half a goddamn song in falsetto. Janelle Arthur and Candice Glover are the only two female contestants this year that never need to resort to lame vocal tricks. They just plant their feet and sing the goddamn song the way it was intended to be sung. I don’t think Janelle is as talented as, say, Lauren Alaina, but she’s certainly a lot more likable. And given what happened with Tate Stevens over at X Factor I think she has about a 15 percent chance to stop the impending Charlie Askew apocalypse.

Yoshida: Yup — great opening three; and really refreshing of the show to just hit us with Angela right at the top instead of teasing it all hour and potentially taking some of the air out of her performance. However, I was left feeling somewhat similar to how I felt after Nick Boddington’s solo last week — technically impressed, otherwise unmoved. I might like Angela better if I don’t have to look at her; there’s something about her physical performance that rubs me the wrong way. I might not have been in the right mood for it. This dawned on me when I looked up and saw the judges give their standing ovation and realized I was Googling “how do you die from exposure” for some reason during the performance. I’ll trust everyone else’s judgement this time around.


Kez Ban: Big mistake or mercy killing?

Lisanti: It made me a little sad, if only because she was clearly having more fun than everyone else on that show combined, even though she was quite obviously a terrible fit. That gag where she took over as boom operator was adorable, and I think she’s Ryan Seacrest’s personal assistant now. No, he’ll never get to another taping on time, his skinny mocha always comes back a tall-boy of Clamato, and there’s probably too much, “I’ll roll that call for you in a minute, I’m busy shopping for used fedoras online,” but his day-to-day will be much more interesting with the constant threat he’ll come home to a mansion filled with street-performing squatters. The guy who juggles human skulls is fun, though.

Yoshida: I honestly have my doubts about how much fun Kez Ban was having. Wasn’t she forced to go on Idol by her mother or something? I think Kez Ban liked having the cameras on her, but she also straight-up said she’d be relieved to be eliminated in the groups round. I always pull for the “oddball” performers, just because anything that keeps the show interesting is a plus for me and my life, but I also don’t like assholes. I mean, you can be a little bit of an asshole, like, Haley-Reinhart-eyeroll-level asshole, but don’t make exaggerated puking sounds when someone suggests you sing “Hit ’Em Up Style.” “Hit ’Em Up Style” is a perfect song, as proven by the Swagettes. Show some respect.

Kang: You know, if Kez Ban did a cover album of mostly old standards, I think I’d take the time to download and listen to it. I always really enjoyed the tone of her voice. Why not just keep her on and let one of the eleventybillion boring, inoffensively attractive belters go home?


Did you notice how totally cold-blooded Randy has become? Has the grind of 12 seasons of judging turned him into a heartless monster?

Kang: This is his best season ever. I find myself trusting his opinion on singers, and his general asshole-isness has been offset by Mariah’s “WHO FARTED?” and “ZOMFG WHO IS THAT BITCH?” faces.

Lisanti: He has become the last line of defense between his too-forgiving fellow judges and the total spraying-shit-all-over-the-theater-walls chaos of giving everyone a pass on forgotten lyrics. HAVE YOU NO STANDARDS, PEOPLE?

But there’s a weariness to him. “Randy couldn’t make it because a recording session went too long.” What kind of bush-league garbage is that? This is his job. You have to wonder if that thankless decade-plus of giving a millonty-billionty percent of himself has taken its toll. The Dawg gave and he gave and he gave, and for what? The occasional shoulder rub from Keith? That’s nice and all, and he has a gift for really working out the knots, but Simon Cowell bought his own planet. A nice one, too.

Yoshida: Randy isn’t allowed to miss another episode this season unless he’s stuck in negotiations at the MTV offices, passionately making the case to bring back America’s Best Dance Crew. Otherwise, he’s still dead to me.


Do the judges actually like Zoanette? Do you think she’ll make it to live shows?

Kang: I gotta say, that was an entertaining performance last night. I rewinded it and watched it again, which is a pretty big deal considering my main goal every Wednesday and Thursday night is to watch all of Idol in less than 18 minutes. At some point, the producers will huddle up and say, “We got enough out of this girl. THINK OF THE INTEGRITY OF THE SHOW!” But they will be wrong. With the help of, Zoanette could make it to the top five and would provide some reason to watch every single week. They should keep her on board as long as possible.

Lisanti: I was on board with every single second of whatever it was she was doing. I’d sign up for a three-minute drum solo every week. She can sing or not sing during it, doesn’t matter. Maybe we even get her one of those hydraulic Tommy Lee kits that rises 20 feet above the stage, shoots fire, and spins like a carnival ride. Or no drum kit, she just gets a flamethrower and a microphone. She’s opened up so many fun possibilities. I hope they keep her around.

Oh, man: Buddy comedy with Nicki Minaj. I think I just cracked the code. Let’s do this.

Yoshida: Yeah, I’m on #TeamZoanette as of last night. She’s a worse fit for this show than Kez Ban, but she’s way more fun to watch and seems to genuinely just love making music in between breakdowns and panic attacks. I think Nicki really does love her, because I now truly believe that getting Nicki to judge was Vote For The Worst’s last glorious coup before going out in a blaze of melisma and smeared mascara. Keith and Mariah are just doing what the producers say, and Randy is just shouting “NO WAY” and putting up his hand in a “shut it down” motion hoping that it hits at an appropriate moment.

Jay Caspian Kang has a full-back tattoo of Ani DiFranco. He can make it sing, but only if you buy him a new set of Birkenstocks.
Emily Yoshida likes karaoke, if you haven’t figured that out yet.
Mark Lisanti loses his mind when he sees the name of his homeland on the television.

Filed Under: American Idol, Idol, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest