VH1 Divas - Kelly Clarkson Shines, Miley Cyrus Shows Spirit

Paula Abdul Lip Syncs, Kelly Clarkson Shows Versatility, and Even Miley Rocks Out

VH1 ran its latest installment of its live VH1 Divas special on Thursday, September 17, 2009. Paula Abdul, who has been replaced by Ellen DeGeneres as a judge on American Idol, took up hosting duties. Paula was a decent host for this show if you could look past the fact that she had no spontaneity and the writers were horrible in parts. Paula clearly relied on the writing to get her through, and when the writing failed, she failed. When the writers gave her good material, she was funny and somewhat fluid.

However, I was not very pleased with Paula's dancing and singing intro. She lacked energy on the dancing and lip synched the whole routine. A show about divas that includes lip synching leaves me scratching my head.

The VH1 Divas show has had some real powerhouses in the past, but this group looked pretty suspect going into the show. Only three performers had the reputation of a "diva" level singer: Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and perhaps Leona Lewis if we are stretching it. Conversely, Jordin Sparks and Adele are rather new to the music world, and Miley Cyrus is not even considered a good singer by many music fans. Needless to say, it was interesting to see how this show would play out.

I don't want to rank all the divas, but I will say that I thought Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, two American Idol alums, were the best of the divas on this round of VH1 Divas. I am not a big fan of the direction that American Idol is going lately, but the show definitely has some diamonds among their sordid mash of rejects that get picked for ratings every year.

Kelly did a good but not spectacular number for her solo piece, but she really shined on her duet with Melissa Etheridge. I didn't know the song, but it was "Give Me Some Water" or something like that. These girls rocked the house, and Melissa owned on the guitar. The reason I think Kelly did the best tonight is the versatility she showed across her two performances. Kelly was like a rock star out there with Melissa Etheridge and displayed the classic, growly vocals you would expect from a rocker. Her power was also evident. In addition, her chemistry with Melissa cannot be denied. They looked like old buddies out there at a jam reunion.

Jennifer played to her strength - massive power - on her solo performance and her duet with Stevie Wonder. In addition, her range and ability to belt out high notes were on full display. However, that "Spotlight" solo piece did not do her much favors. There were no "highs" in that song, and it made me wonder why Jennifer is not getting more suitable songs for her. I was not nuts about Stevie Wonder's vibrato, but his range and power are still there in abundance. Some fans are saying they thought Jennifer was the best of the night, but I just felt that Kelly showed more versatility, and that's probably why Kelly and Melissa closed the show.

Leona Lewis reminds you of Mariah Carey. The comparison is just inevitable in almost every way. I much prefer Leona's laid-back personality, but Mariah had a better range in her prime and most likely belted out with more power. Leona survives by hitting really high notes, and that impresses a lot of people. But I just don't buy it the same way her fans do. Her voice is very thin, and that weakness showed during her duet with Cyndi Lauper. It may be beautiful, but where is the soul? That is what fans of other genres will always ask.

On a side note, I have to completely disagree with some of the petty remarks about her looks that I saw on the live viewing party over at vh1.com. Leona Lewis may not have the most classic features, but she is a stunningly sexy woman. I will be dreaming of her tonight. For that matter, why are people moaning about Kelly Clarkson's weight? She is there for her talent, not her looks. Get over it.

By the way, Cyndi Lauper was awesome. She has lost a little in her voice, but the emotion just pours out of her. She seems to really breathe and live out the lyrics in her performances. In my opinion, she showed up Leona on their duet of Cyndi's "True Colors."

Jordin Sparks did a fine job. I was pleasantly surprised to see much more mature vocals on faster songs like her remake of "Let the Music Play" that she performed on this edition of VH1 Divas. I thought her vocals on faster songs were weak on American Idol, and I see improvement there. Jordin may just work out to be a real diva one day. And her duet with Martina McBride, while a repeat of her "Broken Wing" performance from American Idol, showed some solid diva power. I am not a huge country fan, but Martina McBride showed much more power than I thought she would on this duet. She went for it, and I would say she was on about the same level as Jordin but maybe half a notch below.

For those who don't know yet, Adele is a British singer in the soul genre. Her first album is highly acclaimed, and I found her to be a good singer. Adele might not have the best voice, but she uses it very well. She is soulful and skillfully uses phrasing to display emotion in her performances. I recommend checking her out if you haven't had the time. In fact, she won two Grammy awards, so insiders love her even if her record sales have not exploded.

The only real downer for Adele on this night is that she was outshined by India.Arie in their duet. However, I got the feeling that Adele was nervous to be singing with an older and more established soul singer. After winning two Grammy awards, she really should be more confident than that. I really think she could have done a much better job, and I expect more from Adele in the future.

That leaves Miley Cyrus, the one who raised the most eyebrows before coming into this show. Of course, Miley is the Disney chick from Hannah Montana. Most of Miley's fans are teens and pre-teens who just love her, but some older music fans constantly rag on her vocals. Unbiased fans clearly do not consider her to be a diva just yet, but the show invited her, most likely as a ratings strategy.

At any rate, I am in the middle on Miley. She does have a nice mid-range vocal tone, but the problem is when she goes up for the higher notes. She is a bit screechy. One watcher compared her vocals to a chicken. That is absurd. Miley does have some problems with her rock power notes, but she is not that bad. In addition, she has spirit and great courage to go on this show and give it her all. In fact, her stage presence was great on her solo performance, and she actually sang the harder parts on her "If It Makes You Happy" duet with Sheryl Crow.

All things considered, I would not consider Miley Cyrus to be in the diva category of singers, but she is a solid entertainer. In her middle range, she is actually a good singer, so she would get less flack if she either improved her upper-range power notes or made better choices to stay within her "sweet" zone.

Paula Abdul had some highlights and lowlights in this show. When Kathy Griffin came out, Paula and Kathy had a raunchy little exchange that made me laugh. And Paula's impersonation of Ellen DeGeneres and her dancing legitimately cracked me up. But the Liza Minnelli segment was contrived and silly. I can't even blame Paula for that. Again, the writers are a bit weak on this show and really should put more brain power into putting this show together if they are going to include all these little guest segments.

All in all, I enjoyed this edition of VH1 Divas. While I thought only Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson reached diva status on this night, we had some good entertainment from Adele, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Jordin Sparks, and all the duet partners. And even Paula managed to get through the show without any major catastrophes. I will be looking forward to the next installment and can recommend a viewing of the countless reruns you can see on VH1.

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