Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Of Idol champs and runners-up

Opinions regarding the American Idol finale results have never been as polarized as they are this season. On the one hand, many are frustrated by how an obviously polished performer with all the vocal tricks up his sleeve could be trumped by an unassuming, guitar-toting neophyte. On the other hand, others are declaring that the overly theatrical glam-rock finalist could never sell as many records as the more radio-friendly, all-American boy whose every note drips with pure heart and soul.

Me? I've already absorbed that Kris Allen is America's new Idol, and Adam Lambert, his runner-up. It's time to move on and watch how these guys fare in the real world, away from reality TV. They do have big shoes to fill, after the relatively successful reign of the two Davids, Cook and Archuleta, considered among the Idol alums who earned the most profit in 2008 (with Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson above them).

Fresh from their performance at the Mall of Asia (MOA) concert grounds last week, last year's winners have so far sold 1.8 million albums combined since they debuted their CDs in November 2008 (based on album sales, Cook is the 7th best selling alumnus in Idol history, and Archuleta, the 14th even if their CDs have enjoyed the shortest time on the shelves)--a pretty good showing versus Season 6's Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis, who since 2007 have sold just 1.3 million, and better still than Season 5's Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee with 1.1 million albums in close to 3 years. 

After the Cook-Archuleta finals, it was evident where the challenges lay for these two. Cook had cultivated a clearly defined musical sense, but needed to develop a tighter, more personable connection with his growing set of fans. Archuleta, teeming with charm, needed however to establish a sound that would make him current and hip. But months of touring and collaborating with top-rate producers have placed them at the top of their game, and their concert in Manila proved this.

Because Cook's vibe is rich and dark, it was easy for him to get lost in his own performance at the MOA, with songs like LOST and DECLARATION from his album, and Fleetwood Mac's LITTLE LIES. Yet, he had enough presence of mind to draw his audience in, working out the crowd with his spiels and interacting with everyone by occasionally stepping off the stage and toward the spectators. And though he admitted belting out songs which most in audience had never heard, he rocked it, proving to be a most seasoned performer in so little time.

Archuleta, meanwhile, rallied the audience with his unique teen pop rock style. Too shy perhaps to engage the crowd and rushing between songs, he nonetheless enthralled with his velvety voice, flawless riffs and eloquent keyboards. Easy to the ear crowd faves were CRUSH and ANGELS from his CD, Vanessa Carlton's A THOUSAND MILES, and a soon-to-be-released dance track, ZERO GRAVITY.

What about our newest idols? It might take a long while before they come anywhere near Season 4's Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, who together have sold 10.4 million CDs to date (9.6M of which is Underwood's alone). But the momentum is with Allen and Lambert. After a sharp drop in Idol popularity since the time of Hicks and McPhee, record sales of and voting for Idol contestants have steadily increased in recent years (100 million voters this season finale, 38M reportedly from Allen's home state of Arkansas). 

Lambert may have to tone down his act while preserving the essence of his musical style, playing less on technique and building popular emotional rapport. Allen will have to push the envelope on his guitar act and reinvent the genre in the same way (and perhaps even more forward looking) as Jason Mraz has. Even more than the entire Season 8, this will be exciting to watch.

And the remaining idols of the season? It's noteworthy that although Hicks's and McPhee's CDs haven't quite sold as well as expected, Season 5's alums have collectively been the most successful in Idol history with 7 of them in the top 20 in terms of record sales to date. Chris Daughtry is #4, Kelly Pickler #8, Taylor Hicks #11, Elliot Yamin #15, Bucky Covington #16, Katherine McPhee #18, and Mandisa #20. Can this year's contestants top that? Now that the season is over, we can all wait and see.

Here's the top 20 list of successful Idol alumni based on record sales to date:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

That strange logo after Martin Nievera's version of the Philippine national anthem

Those of us who sat glued to the edge of our seats awaiting the Pacquiao-Hatton match on TV might have been caught off-guard by the logo that appeared after Martin Nievera sang his rendition of the Philippine national anthem at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas last May 2 (May 3, Philippine time).

Pictured above, the logo belongs to the National Historical Institute (NHI), an arm in the culture and development agenda of the government, whose mission includes promoting Philippine history and cultural heritage through research, dissemination, conservation, sites management and heraldry works. It is responsible for the conservation and preservation of the country's historical legacies, and includes among its tasks ensuring the proper use of the national anthem in accordance with Republic Act 8491 (Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines). I guess the logo simply indicates that Nievera's version is acceptable, unlike others including those sung in previous Pacquiao fights.

It will be recalled that Councilors in Davao raised their eyebrows after Sarah Geronimo sang the Lupang Hinirang before the November 2006 battle between Pacquiao and Erik Morales. The slow and kundiman-like rendition was seen as a bastardization of the national anthem, prompting Councilor Nilo Abellera to file a resolution reminding Davaoenos on the proper way of singing the song.

But Geronimo is not the only one to put her spin on the anthem. In the first Pacquiao-Morales fight (March 2005), and in the Pacquiao-Larios match (July 2006), Lani Misalucha and Bituin Escalante, respectively, also took liberties with the song. Meanwhile, in the January 2006 re-match between Pacquiao and Morales, Jennifer Bautista fell awkwardly off-key in the anthem's last lyric. And who could forget Christian Bautista's abbreviated version during the Gerry Penalosa vs. Bernabe Concepcion event in 2007? The string of events prodded NHI's Teodoro Atienza to remind Kyla (whom Pacquiao handpicked to interpret the Lupang Hinirang during the October 2007 rematch between Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera) about the mandatories of singing the national song.

But what are these mandatories? R.A. 8491 specifies that the Lupang Hinirang "shall be in accordance with the musical arrangement and composition of Julian Felipe." This means the anthem should carry a brisk and martial mood and tempo; after all, the original music was intended to be a march in duple time (2/4 meter)--and thus the emotional kundiman approaches are deemed unfaithful to the original spirit of the song. If properly rendered, the anthem should sit comfortably between 53 to 60 seconds. It should also be sung in the national language regardless of where it is played. Apart from these, R.A. 8491 prohibits the performing of the anthem for mere recreation, amusement, or entertainment except for the following occasions:

1. International competitions where the Philippines is the host or has a representative;
2. Local competitions;
3. During the "signing on" and "signing off" of radio broadcasting and television stations; and
4. Before the initial and last screening of films and before the opening of theater performances.

So apparently the NHI prescreened and approved Nievera's rendition of the national anthem. Good for the artist as singers who do not follow the guidelines set for the use of the song can be fined P50,000 or be imprisoned for 1 year, or both. But whether I liked the version or not is a different story. For now, you be the judge: