I wrote my first blog post about Casey James on May 4, 2010. after his performance of Blue Skies during Frank Sinatra week. It was his first performance without a guitar and it looked like it might be his last on the Idol stage. My goal then was simple, to get out the vote for Casey and keep him in the running to become the American Idol.
From that first post grew the original BurnThisMedia blog which was supposed to be a general blog about pop culture but turned into a blog devoted to Casey James.
This post contains all the articles I wrote about Casey those last few weeks from Top 5 to a post script on the Finale. Click on the links to each article to see the comments posted back then by his fans.
Casey James’ journey to lift himself out of his local music scene and propel himself to national attention began with a bare bones rendition of “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.” No big notes, no over-the-top gestures, just a simple song sung simply. Simon interrupted, “Casey, this is a bad audition.” Don’t you know you’re supposed to wow us, he seemed to be saying? This is a TV show, after all, and bigger is better. Kara came to his defense, he’s a good singer. Did Simon disagree? No. He said, “Doesn’t matter.” You know the rest of the story, how Casey’s “look” got him past the audition and on to Hollywood where, he promised, he would show them what he does.
And show them he did. Bringing out his guitar, he nailed “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” a perfect mix of blues guitar and whisky-soaked vocals. It was sultry and sexy and wowed the judges. His vocals on “Closer” helped him through the next cut and then his assured, unexpectedly tender take on “Bubbly” showed that the tall good-looking guy with the great hair could really sing. His vocals were smooth and rough at the same time and more than radio ready. He was an obvious front-runner.
Then, during his first performance as part of the Top 24, things took an unpleasant turn. As Casey was about to give one of his best performances, singing Bryan Adams’ “Heaven,” you could hear the laughter from the audience. It wasn’t directed at Casey, but at the spectacle in front of him. Kara was swaying and swooning like a twelve-year-old at a Jonas Brothers’ concert. What should have been one of many shining performances became a joke and talk turned from Casey the singer-musician to Casey the sex symbol.
This focus on his looks started a backlash that continues as he finds himself holding on to dear life, bottom three two weeks in a row. Kara, perhaps trying to disassociate herself from her adolescent behavior the week earlier, perhaps trying to save her marriage, ripped apart Casey’s pitch-perfect take on Gavin DeGraw’ “I Don’t Want to Be” during Top 20 week, mocking his guitar playing and devaluing his singing. She out-Cowelled Simon Cowell in verbally insulting the roaring, passionate, and evocative performance.
The next week, a vocally-perfect, tender and heart-felt performance of “You’ll Think of Me” was met with tepid responses from Kara and Simon, again. Soon, the media picked up on their critiques (ignoring Randy’s praise) and started dismissing Casey as just another pretty face. His rocking performances were ridiculed by Kara as him “trying to be a rock star” and hiding behind his guitar (as if you’re only supposed to be good at one thing). By contrast, Usher recognized that Casey is already a rock star – a guy he would “definitely keep his eye on.”
Simon at least was “really, really impressed with Casey” after “Hold On, I’m Coming.” Yet Kara and Ellen dragged out the old “safe” complaint – diminishing his talent with the throwaway that if it looks too easy, it’s not worth praising. They seemed to miss the point, he’s been doing this for a very long time, so it does look effortless. But it takes a lot of hard work to make it look easy.
Casey James is not a part-time wannabe musician. He’s not a poser. Casey is the real deal. Please vote to keep him on American Idol to the end!
The day after the results came in and Casey had made it to the top 4, I wrote this post:
May 6 — Casey James Fans Rally the Vote
Ah, isn’t democracy a wonderful thing? At least when the “candidate” you’re supporting wins, it is. On Tuesday night, the judges eviscerated Casey James on national TV after what was, admittedly, a sub-par performance out of Casey’s comfort zone (i.e., Dude, where’s my guitar?). But later that same night, the Casey army came out in full force speaking loudly that Casey deserved to stay on American Idol and continue his journey all the way to the finals.
They remembered his “Jealous Guy” performance — the artistry he showed in that raw emotion and vocal tenderness — they remembered the rollicking performance of “Hold On, I’m Coming” where he showed the range of his talent. They thought back to just a week earlier when his revelatory “Don’t” took their breath away. Each week that Casey has been on the American Idol stage he has brought it, performance after performance that has enthralled. And they said to the judges, you can’t erase all that from our minds.
When Casey mentioned Tuesday night the call he received about a local gig, that reminded the viewers that all efforts to label Casey a construction worker or, worse, Kara’s eye candy completely miss the point. Casey is a musician. He was one before Idol and he will be one after. He has been given an amazing opportunity thanks to AI and he is making the most of it. He, more than anyone left, seems to really understand and appreciate just how lucky he is to have a chance to play for millions instead of dozens. That is why he keeps such a good attitude, even after being ripped to shreds after his performance Tuesday night.
If Casey fans can keep up the momentum for one more week, Casey will be able to show all of America his roots. His hometown, his family, the small places he’s played and how long and hard he’s been working to get where he is today. If you need to be reminded why Casey should stay, go check out all his past performances on AI. Without the filter of the judges’ erratic responses (lavishing praise one week, destroying what they lauded the next) you will hear the next American Idol.
The next week, ahead of the crucial final four vote, I wrote the following article. It dealt mostly with the inconsistent and frustratingly biased judging and with the obvious fact that the public was being told how to vote despite what their ears might tell them.
May 10 — Judges Don’t Pick the American Idol — We Do
We should have known it was going to be one of those years when on the first performance night of the guys, the judges ripped 70’s rocker Tyler Grady – for singing like a 70’s rocker. Two weeks later they told Broadway performer Todrick Hall to stop being so “dramatic” and complained that he was too much a Broadway singer rather than a recording artist. The only compliment Simon gave him was that at least he performed – as opposed to the rest of the guys who just sat on a stool and sang which, apparently, is not performing. Someone should tell James Taylor — he’s been taking money under false pretenses for decades.
But I digress. The topic for today is the whipsaw. The dictionary defines this as “to cause to move or alternate rapidly in contrasting directions.” It is the perfect description of how the judges have dealt with top-four-finalist Casey James since his first audition in Denver. I understand that there are much worse things to deal with than negative criticism, that’s not the point. The point is that when the judges’ critiques are given so much weight, they should at least have a modicum of sense and consistency to them. When they don’t, they confuse the artists, confound the audience, and make a mockery of the concept of the show which was to find and help launch undiscovered talent – not build up and destroy someone alternating weeks to see how long they can handle the abuse.
Casey has received more than his share of mixed messages, contradictory critiques, and inconsistent feedback. It would be enough to make anyone go a little crazy and lose their confidence. But that’s the power of the whipsaw. He was picked for the show for his great bluesy vibe, and then dismissed as being predictable for playing a bluesy song. His country take on “You’ll Think of Me” was met with a tepid response not because of the vocals, but because it was “safe.” Then weeks later, a similarly brilliant country performance was raved about as the second coming. He was told he was channeling Hendrix by one judge, and then another mocked him for “trying to play the guitar.” He was ridiculed as “trying to be a rock star,” then a week later told he was a rock star. His voice was compared to dirt, he was called a bleating farm animal. Yet in the same moment he was being chastised for playing it safe, he was also told how consistent he is, always good, great voice, great tone, loved your vocals.
This has been a crazy year where it seemed not that the performances changed from week to week, but the judges did. One week, Simon complained about Casey “just”standing still playing his guitar, another week he raved about it. Randy was most consistent, praising Casey for his Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe three weeks in a row. But that’s where the consistency ended. Ellen and Kara loved it then hated it; Simon hated it then loved it. But let’s not get carried away with praise for Randy, who was the only one, not just on the judging panel, but within earshot of the performance, who didn’t unquestionably love “Jealous Guy,” alluding to some vague pitch problems in the moody, tender, and flawless vocals.
While all this is going on, there was the spectacle of Kara the Cougar hanging around objectifying Casey and indirectly belittling his years of hard work, his talent, and his drive. “The cougar is a fan.” “Did he not return your calls, darling?” “When Kara says show it all, she means…” These running jokes were a distraction at best, and, at worst, may have detracted from Casey’s performances. We’ve had attractive contestants in the past, but none has been treated like raw meat to the extent that Casey has. The ongoing joke isn’t funny anymore. Neither are the judges’ unpredictable hot-and-cold running critiques which haven’t been fair to him or to a number of the contestants this year.
The judges have been a mess this year in their efforts to evaluate the contestants’ performances. They could never articulate to Katie or Siobhan what it was about their beautiful and unique voices that they didn’t like, yet the same judges consistently fail to mention Lee’s obvious pitch problems. Their idea of providing feedback to Didi Benami was to tell her that she had “changed” and lost her way – not exactly razor-sharp criticism designed to help the contestant. The judges are long on complaining, short on explaining. But then, they apparently have an agenda. We’ll see if America agrees with their agenda.
Because agenda aside, the judges are not the final say on American Idol. We are. While the judges will do their best to try to manipulate, they don’t have a vote in who wins. We do. Casey fans need to speak in a unified and consistent manner, something the judges have failed to do. They need mobilize their efforts on Tuesday to make sure the right contestant makes it to the end.
Fearing the worst, I wrote the following post in the event that Mrs. Robinson was Casey’s final performance on the show.
May 12 — Here’s to You Casey James
As I go off to literally fight City Hall this evening (over a proposed cell tower in the neighborhood) I won’t be able to follow the results show for American Idol. I think that’s a good thing, because however it plays out, I know that I haven’t seen the end of Casey James. But it would be sad to say goodbye, especially after last night’s stellar performance.
We knew he had the talent. But last night he showed a steely determination and wry sense of humor that means you can’t keep this boy down. He came right at Kara and her merry band of accomplices with guns a-blazing. Objectify me? Make this year all about you and your boy crush, Kara? Well, here’s to you!
Not only did Casey have the cojones to play Mrs. Robinson to Kara, but he also had the — yes — artistry to do it in such a touching fashion. Despite the gibe intended, regardless of the message he wanted to convey, what he told anyone within earshot was that he is a gifted singer, a wonderful musician, and someone who’ll be around for years and years when all of this silliness has faded into memory.
I love that song and love the original, still I found Casey’s version to be breathtaking. It was mesmerizing and moving, the gentleness of his voice, the sweet changes to the melody, made it as much a prayer as a song. He took something familiar and made it revelatory and new again. I’ll never hear the song the same way again. It was his moment.
Of course, the judges couldn’t let him have his moment. Randy nitpicked, Ellen hedged her praise, Kara wrapped hers in jokes and conceit, and Simon, well I don’t know what he was doing other than furthering the stale jokes and trying to find a way to not praise what was such a lovely performance. The whole scene degenerated and a precious moment was lost.
I hope it isn’t the end of the AI road for Casey tonight. He has so much more to show and so many more performances to give — some that will be rollicking fun, and others that will show a more quiet and tender side. He, more than anyone else in the competition, has shown range and variety and a willingness to challenge himself and change our conception of who he is and what he can do. So three cheers for an amazing performance last night, Casey, and here’s hoping for still more to come!
Seeing the writing on the wall, with how the judges seemed determined to do everything to manipulate the final two, I wrote this article to sum up Casey’s journey and to argue why this was just the start of a new beginning for him.
May 17 — Don’t Count Casey James Out
Sometime last year a Texas blues player drove his mom’s truck up to Denver to audition for American Idol. As loyal viewers of the show know, before a contestant even gets in front of the judges they have to make it past an initial screening. We haven’t seen what Casey James did to impress the producers to make it to the judges’ round, but we can guess that they saw what his many fans have seen over the past few months – a gifted singer-songwriter-musician who lives for music.
Casey made a memorable impression on many levels during that first televised performance – he had a good voice, he was cute, and handled awkward situations with equanimity. But what was most clear was this was a dedicated musician who just wanted the chance to show what he could do. When Casey got to Hollywood, he did just that. He brought out his not-so-secret weapon, his guitar, and played and sang “I Don’t Need No Doctor” like he’d been doing it all his life. It was instantly clear this was a talented artist, not a wannabe musician who was trying to take a shortcut to fame.
Casey had no way of knowing what the whirlwind of American Idol would do to him. He is now known to millions, yet it’s not clear that the casual viewer really knows him at all. This became eminently clear as the first videos from this past weekend’s series of hometown visits started being displayed.
We’ve now been shown a side of Casey that only his fans from back home had seen before. He sang with abandon, he played guitar with gusto, he charmed the crowd, he reveled in jamming with his band, he sang a beautiful duet with his mom. Unlike the sometimes stiff, sometimes reserved Casey that we see on the Idol stage, he was fully in command of every performances. He was comfortable, he was dynamic, he was expressive, and he looked to be about the happiest guy on the face of the earth. Playing music to him seems as important as breathing air to the rest of us.
And this voice, sometimes so subdued on the show, came out of nowhere. He had a husky growl and a sweet falsetto; he had smooth sustained notes and a sexy vibrato. The voice was mostly bluesy, with a little country thrown in. He played an original song which, as they often say on Idol, could be a hit on the radio right now.
We knew Casey could sing, we’d heard him play around with his voice before, making it do so many different things on so many different songs. But set free from the time constraints – and maybe feeling the love of the home crowd – he was able to give some truly remarkable performances. And he was able to do what he appears to love the most – jam. He can play guitar better than anyone who’s ever taken the Idol stage, without question. He might be one of the best guitarists out there, period.
The contrast between the adored Casey back home in Texas and the underdog Casey in California was striking. This weekend, he was a star — clearly destined to be the next American Idol. Yet back in Los Angeles, Ellen and Randy have already written him off. So focused on their dream final of the two Midwesterners they don’t even mention Casey’s name in their interviews. Ryan, the good little soldier, was recently heard counting him out as well. But an interesting phenomenon is happening. The more people listen to Casey, without the American Idol filter to tell them what they think, the more the like him. Slowly, Idol watchers are seeing him as the dark horse that just might win the race.
They listened back to “Mrs. Robinson” and realized it might have been the best vocal of the year by any contestant, or at worst second only to his performance of “Don’t.” They realize that he wasn’t adequately praised for “You’ll Think of Me” and his ability to change up and rock out on “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was overlooked as well. They realize that no one has had as affecting a moment on stage this year as “Jealous Guy,” and that he can do all this while being a veritable virtuoso on the guitar. And maybe most importantly, they’ve checked out the many YouTube videos from this past weekend and discovered what a star he already is.
This competition is not over, despite what the judges might think. It’s not in the judges’ hands, it is in ours. The journey that began on the road from Ft. Worth to Denver can still end under the confetti next week in Hollywood.