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'American Idol': 'I don’t know anything about the Beatles, I just know they’re amazing'

February 24, 2011 |  3:04 pm

“You say yes, I say no / You say stop and I say go, go, go / oh no / You say goodbye and I say hello, hello, hello” -– “Hello, Goodbye,” The Beatles 

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Tackling selections from the Beatles’ catalog is still a relatively new concept to “American Idol.” 

Year in and year out, there are predictable themes that challenge the hopefuls during the live shows (disco, rock, country, etc.). Taking a page from the Lennon-McCartney songbook has been something the show has done only in the last few seasons -- around the same time "Idol" started allowing contestants to branch out and play their own instruments onstage.

The competition introduced the music of the Beatles early on this season -- making it apparent that they will bypass it as a theme night later on (well, we hope there won't be a repeat). In a series first, the show took the hopefuls to Las Vegas, as opposed to continuing in Hollywood for another round of cuts (because “the numbers were so big,” host Ryan Seacrest said) –- and in a too-easy-to-pass-up  cross-promotion, tied in the contestant performances of Beatles classics with Cirque du Soleil's the Fab Four-themed spectacle-tribute, “Love.” 

Hopefuls split into duos and trios and picked tunes out of a hat. Despite the Beatles easily holding the title as one of the best-known and most influential bands in music history, there were hopefuls who had no idea of who or what they were dealing with. It was shocking to see aspiring singers share sentiments such as, “I don’t know anything about the Beatles, I just know they’re amazing” or “I’ve never heard a Beatles song in my life.”

Is that even possible?

In the last few years, it's been tough to ignore the group, as another wave of Beatlemania seems to be swallowing a new generation. Be it in film (“Across the Universe”), video games (The Beatles: Rock Band), a slew of released remastered sets or the incredibly over-promoted addition of the band to iTunes. There have been more than a few opportunities to get well-versed with their melodies. 

There is no denying the universal appeal, and timelessness, of the Beatles -– as evident by the 5 million songs and 1 million albums they've logged since their iTunes debut in November. Still, their tracks blanketed airwaves decades before these contestants were born, so it wasn't surprising to see the show's youngest ilk struggle with selection and performance.

Backed by plenty of fog, a band and leftover props from “Love,” contestants tried their hand at some of rock's most famous songs. And as the show began filling spots for its top 24, the judges -- and producers -- had absolutely no tolerance for mediocrity. In one scene, two struggling -- and very young -- hopefuls got a mouthful from the show’s vocal coach, who was more than enthusiastic about telling them when they weren’t up to par. She even instructed one contestant to “tap dance on [her partner's] tongue.”

Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal Music Group's Interscope Geffen A&M Records, made his debut (albeit brief) as an in-house mentor for the show. Along with Iovine, hit producer-songwriters such as Rodney Jerkins, Ron Fair, Timbaland and Alex Da Kid will help with song selection and arranging and producing the musical accompaniment.

Iovine made it clear that he was not in the business of wasting time -- and quickly forced hopefuls to change their songs.

“If you’ve seen it at a wedding, at a happy hour, at the bar -- its not what we’re looking for,” he told a group after they'd performed for him. 

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

twitter.com/GerrickKennedy

Photo: Contestants perform Beatles songs on the Cirque du Soleil "Love" stage on "American Idol" on Wednesday. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox

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