At long last, American Idol entered the performance phase of the competition last night, debuting a dozen women who all attempted to win us over with their vocal prowess. The degree to which they succeeded is a bit murky. Some of them proved to have very strong voices, others were more emotionally effecting. None were full-on amazing, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone who possesses the raw power of, say, Melinda Doolittle or Lakisha Jones or — my personal high watermark for booming black diva voices on Idol — Mandisa. In fact, this batch of ladies seems less about pop or R&B, and more into the whole singer-songwriter thing. The change is refreshing, I suppose, and I’m not going to complain about being spared from hearing a dozen forgettable pop songs made even worse with uneven, warbly voices. However, I kiiiiiind of hate the whole singer-songwriter thing, and unless the guys inject some fun and excitement into the proceedings, we could have quite the boring roster of precious voices in front of us.
A full run-down, in no particular order, after the jump.
We didn’t have any full-on disasters last night, but Janell was pretty close. She decided to tackle Heart, a band that has slain many an Idol contestant in the past. In fact, if memory serves me, the only one who has ever been able to successfully step into the shoes of Ann Wilson has been Carrie Underwood, who rocked “Alone” back in the day. Since then, singers have tried and largely failed, and the thing with Heart tunes is that when not done correctly, they just sound tired and generic. Such was the case with Janell Wheeler whose uninspired take on “What About Love?” did little to impress the judges or the audience, I imagine. What’s even worse was that the entire thing was just completely forgettable (and performing second or third in the night, she could be in serious jeopardy of going home on Thursday). Lower tier, for sure.
Paige Miles kicked off the show with her own spin on the classic rock tune “All Right Now,” and while she was uneven and nervous at first, she seemed to get it together. The problem for her, however, was that the performance wasn’t anything amazing. Just solidly good — at best. She also doesn’t have the benefit of having had lots of screen time leading up to the semifinals; so I’ll be interested to see how she fares this first week. The judges praised her voice, but honestly, I didn’t think it was much more impressive than any of the other singers of the night. I’d place Paige right in the middle of the pack.
Here’s an interesting one. This girl is all bubbles and smiles, and I have to admit that I’ve been won over by her unctuous personality. Of course, I’m fully aware that if she’s still around in four weeks, I might be eating those words. For now though, I do like her. However, when I heard she’d be singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, I did groan a little. There are few Beatles songs I like less. Haeley’s sunny personality mixed with this teeny-boppy song was clearly going to be a disaster. I was most pleased then when Haeley took to the stage and performed a less poppy and more chilled out version of the classic tune. I gotta admit that I really dug it. Of course, there was that whole problem of her pitch, which sometimes got so wonky I thought a rabbit was being stabbed in the alley out back. The girl most certainly walked the line between singing and screaming, and the judges most certainly docked her for that. However, strange sounds be damned, I was won over by the performance as a whole, and it did rank in the upper tier for me (even if Simon called it a near disaster).
Oy. This one. I was already a bit resistant to Lacey before she even took the stage, thanks to her rocker version of a Mom haircut, but when she started squeaking and squealing her way through the classic Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide,” my disdain turned to disgust. This was not good. Not good at all. Lacey may have singing chops, as they say, but this was not the best vehicle for them. Pretty much the best thing about this performance was the backup singer, and that’s not a good thing. She could most certainly be going home.
Me likey Siobhan Magnus, the glass blower from Massachusetts. First off, she chose to sing one of my favorite songs of all time, “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. Second off, she sang the song WELL. The judges faulted her for not living up to her Stevie Wonder performance in Hollywood Week, but I didn’t care. How many times must we hear Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys on this damn show? I’m all about something unlikely, and “Wicked Game” was perfect.
You know, I never really liked this girl from the moment she auditioned. She’s pretty and commercial, but I was never convinced that her voice was anything terribly special. I thought for a moment, however, that she might win me over. Ashley attempted Leona Lewis’s song “Happy,” and I’ll give her two props: 1) she definitely looked more like a star than any of the other girls, and 2) I thought she actually started the song well. But when Ashley reached the chorus, it all kind of fell apart. We became very aware that she does not have the chops of Leona Lewis, and the performance thus became muddled and forgettable. Plus, she did herself no favors by choosing a song that kind of stiffed on the charts. Why try to win over America with a song that has already failed to do so?
Talk about forgettable. Michelle actually had a very good voice, but her performance of the over-done “Falling” by the over-sung Alicia Keys did nothing to help her stand out from the pack. A girl like this, who hasn’t had a lot of screen time, really needs to make a splash, and while she certainly didn’t fumble, I think people might just overlook her. I hope it doesn’t happen because I’d like to see her do something a bit more interesting next week, but I’m not totally sure she’ll make it that far.
Ah, the marvels of dental solutions. I’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen of Crystal Bowersox over the past few weeks, but I must admit I did have some apprehension about watching her last night. You see, she’d been rocking the nastiest, most yellow, cigarette-and-coffee stained teeth this side of Keith Richards, and it was getting difficult to ignore. However, when Crystal took the stage last night, her pearly whites were in fact white, and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Even better was that she was actually very good. I agreed to some extent with Simon, who said that she wasn’t any different than the thousands of people strumming their guitar outside of subways across the country, but that being said, I liked Crystal’s guitar-and-harmonica schtick and think she has great potential. Of course, she also massively ups the singer-songwriter quotient of the show, but I’ll just have to look past that for now.
Similar to Crystal was an actual street musician, Lilly Scott, who delivered my favorite performance of the night. Singing an old Beatles song, Crystal showed off a quirky voice in a way that was totally authentic and involving (unlike, say, Ashley Rodriguez). I loved the way she opened up her vocals but then brought them back in again — lots of good control, dawg. She drew raves from the judges, and I’m hoping she can ride the success through to the top twelve.
I kind of wanted to hate Katelyn Epperly, but that’s mostly because she spent the entire show upstaging every singer with her demonstrative dancing up in the Coca-Cola lounge. Nevertheless, with hair that was just a Vidal Sassoon spritz away from Tina Turner circa “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” Katelyn took to the stage and gave us a very, very strong performance of “Oh Darling.” Bad lipstick be damned, her voice was great. She could be one of the power divas of the season (not to mention sexpot, should she ever decide to tame that beast atop her head).
This seventeen year old girl has a very strong voice, but she used it to sing… Michael BublÃ©? Didn’t seem smart. Sure enough, the judges all critiqued her for attempting a song that was way too serious and dreary for someone her age. And let’s face it: the only people who listen to Michael BublÃ© are middle-aged housewives and apparently my friend IndianJones (he should be ashamed). As such, it was truly an odd choice for Katie, who will probably advance to next week with no problem, but let’s hope she’s not this season’s Lil Rounds — a.k.a. the girl with the great voice who just never understood what the HELL to do with it.
The judges really took Didi Benami to task for choosing the admittedly dreary and downtempo Ingrid Michaelson song “The Way I Am,” and while I agree that it was perhaps too mellow for a semifinal debut, I actually thought Didi was pretty great. The clarity and control of her voice was very impressive, and this is coming from me — someone who couldn’t stand this girl and all her crying. Of all the performances of the night, this was the one I felt was the most underrated.
What did you think about the singers? Who was your favorite? Who was your least favorite?