The Art of Live Music: Reality TV Edition

I know at this point I shouldn't be surprised when a reality TV show can't put together a halfway decent live music performance. This has been going on for years. Unless the singer is particularly gifted, you cannot rely on a reality TV show to put out a cohesive or engaging live performance. Thankfully, for the second time in the history of America's Got Talent last night, lightning struck*. Daniel Joseph Baker, the flamboyant piano-playing singer with no professional performance experience, managed to rise above all expectations and actually delivered an engaging live show.

Last week, a professional touring musician--flamboyant piano-playing singer Dezmond Meeks--nearly put me to sleep at the top of the show. He didn't sing any of the actual melody to his song, did not command the audience, and had random back-up dancers swinging from a chandelier. It wasn't just bad; it was boring.

But total amateur Daniel Joseph Baker didn't fall into the same trap. Once again digging into the Lady Gaga wheelhouse, Daniel developed a stage show that--with refinement--could be the kind of presentation to headline in Las Vegas. If you read my live America's Got Talent recaps, you'll see me harp on Vegas a lot. Everyone should. It's the big prize of the show. You get to headline a Vegas variety show. If you do well enough, you're almost guaranteed a shot at a solo Vegas show. Too bad no one has managed it since Terry Fator.

This kind of performance could do just that.

First, his vocal is very strong. In his initial audition, he kept doing this combined guttural and nasally affectation that he mostly avoids here. He also--sweet mercy--actually sings the melody. This is not a performance of vocal histrionics. This is a controlled and measured live vocal that really impressed me. This kid has something going on that is marketable and unique. Why is it that a complete amateur is willing to take notes from a vocal coach better than all the touring professionals? Pride? Diva-syndrome? Who knows.

Second, the spectacle is there. The scaffolding frame is a little flat, but that's to bring all focus to Daniel. In his silver suit with gold accents, Daniel literally shined. Combined with that gorgeous zebra-striped grand piano (I'll take two, thank you), you couldn't take your eyes off of him**.

Furthermore, singers like Daniel really mesh well with dancers. If your gimmick is sitting at a piano or standing and singing, you need a little oomph during a big stage show. I know not all touring musicians do this. A pop concert is a different kind of venue than a Vegas show. These dancers added much needed flash and interest to Daniel's presentation. They did not distract from his performance; they just offered something nice for the eyes to look at on occasion.

I will be shocked if Daniel Joseph Baker does not move into the Semifinals after a performance like that. It was the best music performance of the night and America loves music performances. Every act that has won this show has been a musical performer. From the young teen Bianca in Season 1 to singing impressionist/ventriloquist Terry Fator in Season 2 and beyond, every winner has been a musician. While I hope a show designed to find a headlining variety act finally does this season, I will not be opposed to a performer like Daniel winning if he keeps up with this level of stagecraft.

What do you think? Should it be like pulling teeth to get a singer or band to put on a decent stage show for live TV?

*The first time was literal. Take it away, Arc Attack.

**Actually, you were forced to. Stupid monkeys in the editing room randomly smashing buttons.

The Library: "Bombs Over Baghdad" by Outkast

Do It Live: America's Got Talent: Season 6, Episode 15 (2nd Quarterfinals)