Whether Elton John aimed to appeal to a new demographic or simply wanted to cross “host SNL” off his bucket list, it was clear from the beginning of the show that he would be a charming, committed host.
By Molly Jay
While last week was studded with a few attention-grabbing events on television—Grey’s Anatomy’s musical episode, Stephen Colbert appearing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to sing the viral hit “Friday”—for the most part, programming seemed to be dominated by one individual, and for once it wasn’t Charlie Sheen. Instead, Elton John, who kicks off a worldwide tour on April 6, lit up the small screen, taking over Saturday Night Live as both the host and musical guest and appearing on late night talk shows. His presence was also felt on American Idol, as the reality TV juggernaut featured an all-Elton night.
It’s hard to believe that John, who has sold over 250 million records, has never served as SNL’s host and musical guest before. In fact, he only appeared on the show once before, as the musical guest in 1982, with host Johnny Cash. Now, however, John has joined the ranks of such performers as Ray Charles, Garth Brooks, and Britney Spears, as artists who have pulled a double duty on the late night staple.
Whether John aimed to appeal to a new demographic or simply wanted to cross “host SNL” off his bucket list, it was clear from the beginning of the show that he would be a charming, committed host. He delivered his monologue, which commonly drew laughs about his past drug use and pampered lifestyle, with the good-natured air of “laugh at me now, but at the end of the day, I’m still Elton John.” As he finished his opening, he promised a fun night and a great show. Unfortunately, what followed was an uneven program that may have had elements of fun but certainly wasn’t great.
However, the show’s flaws seemed to lie within lazy, tired writing—not John himself. In the first half of the show, John was often overshadowed by surprise guests Carmelo Anthony and Tom Hanks (Hanks appeared in the digital short and two sketches—one of which didn’t even include John). Half of the sketches featured John playing himself, which enabled him to deadpan a few catty comments that felt both natural and organic but kept his appearances fairly one-note. The other half of the show had John playing flamboyant characters, such as a gay movie critic who spent half the time kissing his partner (newcomer Taran Killam) and a unicorn-riding, turquoise-outfit-wearing cowboy. For a host as game as John appeared, it was disappointing that the writers felt the need to rely on stale, obvious material.
But perhaps John’s strongest showing this week was a television program on which he didn’t appear. On American Idol, each contestant had to perform an Elton John original, and the talented singers proved that John’s music is still relevant, with some kids turning his pop songs into country tunes, reggae jams, and hard rock anthems.
Perhaps most importantly, by allowing his music to be featured on the show, John has exposed a new generation to his music and undoubtedly picked up a few more fans. Though John did not perform on the Los Angeles-based Idol, most likely because he was busy rehearsing in New York for SNL, he told Jimmy Fallon last week that he was happy with the talent competition’s theme, stating it is always a compliment when artists cover his work.
By taking over the tube this week, John proved that he is charming and witty and, most of all, still relevant, which is impressive given his first appeared on The Andy Williams Show in 1971. It’s hard not to look forward to the next time John makes his way around the networks, though hopefully he’ll have better material with which he can work.
John’s latest album, The Union, was released in October of last year. While John’s tour will only be stopping in 12 U.S. cities, he will be swinging through the Northeast, playing in Rochester, New York on April 23.