I thought I’d switch things up a little this week and write about the boyz and the girlz of American Idol all in one post. Why? Well, because I forgot to write about the girls yesterday. Nevertheless, after enduring a third improved but not necessarily exciting week of semifinals, we are poised to learn who this year’s top twelve will be. There seem to be some shoo-ins — Big Mike, Crystal Bowersox, Casey James. However, there are plenty of bubble performers, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we had some surprise eliminations tonight.
One thing’s for sure: this season has turned into the sleepiest, most boring, singer-songwriter disaster of all time. Every hour feels like a torturous sixty minutes with a Best Of Starbucks CD, and while there are those that like such things, I personally like a few drum beats here and there. And on the rare occasion that a contestant does something upbeat, it usually is cloaked in such bland adult contemporary trappings that it’s hard to get excited about it (ahem, Katelyn Epperly).
I chalk it all up to overly savvy singers. We’re now in season nine of this show, and people are getting the hang of how things work. They’ve studied past performances, and they know the ones that have earned the highest raves — from Bo Bice to David Archuleta to Adam Lambert to Katharine McPhee — are the stripped down, quiet, “powerful” arrangements that serve to showcase voice and lyrics over instrumentation and composition. That’s why we’re getting so many of these Quiet Moments. But here’s the problem: in a show full of Quiet Moments, the most memorable performances are now the upbeat ones. Too bad we really don’t get any.
Setting the tone for this dreary week of coffeeshop splendor was Katie Stevens, who sang first for the girls Tuesday night. I’ll cut right to the chase: she was awful. The girl was nervous and shaky, and even though she certainly has a powerful voice, she wasn’t using it to any remarkable effect. Plus, singing “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson was such a blah choice. It’s not one of Kelly’s best, and it’s certainly not terribly current anymore. Why not sing “My Life Would Suck Without You?” or “Already Gone?” I guess it really wouldn’t matter what she would have sung because her voice was horrendous anyway. Plus, coming at the top of the show, Katie is easy to forget. Definitely chopping block potential.
Next up was Siobhan Magnus, who made me a superfan last week with her Note of All Notes. Unlike perhaps anyone else who performed this week, I was truly excited to see what Siobhan would spring on us, and her rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” was pretty amazing. Slow and haunting with an a cappella vibe at the beginning, Siobhan succeeded in her Quiet Moment. Even better though was that when the band finally did kick in, the whole thing didn’t devolve into a jazzy karaoke mess, as is often the case when Ricky Minor gets going. Definitely one of the best performances of the week.
Also surprisingly successful was Lacey Brown, who finally found her (very, very limited) zone Tuesday night. I’ve been calling for Lacey’s ouster for two weeks now, but even I must admit she was pretty good with whatever country ditty she sang there on the steps. For the first time, her voice actually sounded good, and I could see that she did actually have some talent buried under that mess of hair. I still don’t find her particularly memorable, but even though I thoroughly dislike her, I’m always happy to see someone rise from the ashes. Now let’s send her home.
Meanwhile, Katelyn Epperly took to the stage and delivered a generic, forgettable, and utterly useless performance of “I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King. She sounded fine, but the performance had no charisma or personality or style. Yes, it was upbeat, but did Katelyn think that anyone under the age of 55 would connect with it? Why are these kids so afraid of taking on current hits? Why is their first instinct to head straight to the ’70s? I wasn’t pleased by this turn by Katelyn, but she’s done well enough in the past and is pretty; so she’ll probably advance to the top twelve where hopefully she can redeem herself.
Speaking of redemption, Didi Benami finally got her act together and delivered a lovely and powerful version of “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac. This was a marvelous choice of song because let’s face it — after Taylor Swift butchered it at the Grammys, anyone would sound great singing it. It also helped that Didi did actually sound great. Here’s a case where a ’70s song did work. I’m not sure Didi’s singer-songwriter style would make it a hit on the radio, but at least she honed in on the emotion of the song and made a connection, which is really the most essential part of performing. Happily, the judges all gave her rave reviews, with Simon saying the whole song was a “Wow moment” for him. I’ve been pulling for Didi (despite her annoying tears) for a few weeks now, and I’m delighted that she seems to be on the right path. Of course, should she make it to the Top 12, I full expect her to fall on her face, but hey, that’s half the fun, right?
Someone else I was pulling for after last week was Paige Miles, who had delivered a fun, upbeat, and current performance of “Walk Away.” I was a big fan of that performance and totally appreciative of her having the guts to sing something with a pulse, but the judges only gave her mix reviews, with Simon telling her she had to find out who she was as a performer. Well, I fear Paige crumbled under the pressure of finding herself this week because her rendition of “Smile” was beyond dreadful. I’m not sure she hit a single note. It was awful. Terrible. Horrendous. A choked up Paige later told us she sang the song because she loved it and perhaps her emotions got in the way of her singing, but if that’s the way she sounds flooded with feeling, I think that’s a pretty bad sign. I’d say there’s a great chance Paige will be going home this week, which kind of sucks because I’d want to see her redeem herself in the Top 12. Go figure that Lacey Brown will probably advance ahead due to one fluke week of good singing while Paige will be dropped for one horrendous misstep. Eh, neither of them could win this thing anyway; so I suppose it’s all good.
The one who could win American Idol this season is Crystal Bowersox, and she came on stage and absolutely teared up the Tracy Chapman song “Give Me One Reason.” I’ll be honest: I really don’t love the tune. I mean, it’s ooookay, but generally I find it to be boring and repetitive. However, it’s sort of an amazing song for Idol in that it can be energized easily and its simple tune allows for singers to really go all over the map with it without really betraying the core melody. And that’s just what Crystal did. The woman is truly a natural, and her effortless performance sealed her reputation as the frontrunner for the girls. And let’s not forget who also sang “Give Me One Reason” during the semifinals three years ago: Jordin Sparks. It was a turning point performance that suggested that she might be a dark horse contender for the crown, and we all know how that turned out…
Closing out the women was Lilly Scott doing her usual kooky thing, this time with “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline. It was fine. I liked it. I didn’t love it. She’ll be going through to the next round anyway; so who cares. For the record though, I’d really like to hear Siobhan take on a Patsy Cline song also.
As for the guys, it was more of the same: stools, solitary spotlights, and strumming guitars. Lee Dewyze started last night’s show with his take on “Fireflies,” a catchy but totally annoying song (the words “dweebie” and “pussy” come to mind). Like I’ve said in the past, I really want to like Lee, but the kid just misses too many notes. He’s pitchy, dawg! PITCHY! Plus, I haven’t really loved any of his song choices yet. He reminds me of a guy who shows up to a fraternity party and sings for the drunken masses (believe me, I’ve been there, done that — in terms of being in the drunken masses, not the singing). The judges continued to give him warm praise, and I seriously don’t know why they seem to overlook his flaws while they pick at the likes of Todrick and Casey so meticulously.
Nevertheless, our favorite comeback kid Alex Lambert took to the stage next with Ray LaMontagne, and I thought he did a great job. Considering he was a nervous, off-tune deer-in-the-headlights two weeks ago, it’s astounding to see his progress. The judges bashed him for not “feeling” the song and being stiff, but I didn’t quite agree with them. I thought the emotional resonance was quite fine, and furthermore, his mullet was looking quite dashing this week. I hope Alex sticks around, and I think he probably will. He’s very winsome in his humble, about-to-pee-his-pants modesty.
Also on the comeback is Tim Urban, who performed “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley / Leonard Cohen. When Ryan announced Tim would be singing this song, I groaned. It felt like a cheap ploy. The simple truth is that whenever anyone sings this song, it sounds amazing. The tune is so inherently powerful that it’s somewhat hard to fail with it, and for that mere reason alone, I rolled my eyes. But guess what — the ploy worked. Tim’s performance was excellent, and he sounded great. Was that the effect of the song, or had he gotten his shit together? Who knows. But the good news for him is that it elicited a hug from Ellen and will probably grant him a spot in the top twelve.
Heading in the opposite direction was Andrew Garcia, who attempted to mimic his “Straight Up” success with an acoustic version of “Genie In A Bottle” by Christina Aguilera. The good news was that this was his best performance since the semifinals began. The bad news was that it still was a touch boring, and the shadow of “Straight Up” still lingers over him. I think with him it’s been all the same shtick week in and week out. There doesn’t seem to be any versatility or exciting spark behind his performances. I’m not totally convinced he’ll make it to the top twelve. He might, but he’s very bubble. At the very least, I’m sure he can look forward to someday being featured prominently on the site Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians. Seriously, he looks exactly like this woman down the hall from me who may or may not own a Melissa Etheridge box set (if you know what I’m saying).
Next up was one of my favorites, Casey James. He sang a tender and sweet version of a Tim Urban song, and while the performance was certainly good enough to get to the top twelve, I must agree with Simon who said that in twenty-four hours time, we’ll all forget about it. Well let me tell you: it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and I have forgotten about it. I just remember that it was nice and pleasant. I’m still on the Casey train though.
I am most certainly NOT, however, on the Aaron Kelly train. In general, I’m usually biased against the prepubescent tween types who come on the show. Kevin Covais, anyone? Aaron is no exception, but I don’t dislike him because of his coltish demeanor and bizarre penchant for sticking his arm in the air mid-song. Okay, I do dislike him for that. But I dislike him even more for his warbly, uneven voice. This kid has potential — for sure — but he needs about three more years of training. Of course, anyone who heard his horrific version of “I’m Already There” by Lonestar would be shocked to hear the kid even has potential. This was rough, dawg. Very rough. It’s bad enough that I hate the song as it is, but then Aaron had to go and miss practically every note. Making matters worse was that he moved around on stage like a video game character; specifically, one of the video game characters featured on the American Idol video game Konami gave me three years ago. If I’m feeling intrepid, I’ll do a side-by-side video comparison.
Shockingly, the judges totally glossed over Aaron’s awful vocals. They again focused on his potential, admiring that such a big ol’ voice could come out of someone so young. First of all, the only thing that came out of him were abominable noises that should never be heard again. Second of all, the kid has no stage presence. Third of all, how many times must we hear Randy announce that a song is one of the greatest of all times or one of his favorites of all time. I suppose that has nothing to do with Aaron, but it’s a general comment. Nevertheless, I’d like Aaron to go home, but I think the old ladies, the tween girls, and the church-going Bible Belt folks will keep him around. Prove me wrong, America. Prove me wrong.
Well, after Aaron’s Lite-FM showing, I was absolutely thrilled that Todrick Hall came on stage and gave us something energetic and fun. Taking on one of my favorite Queen songs, “Somebody to Love,” Todrick was finally on his game. His voice sounded great, the arrangement was unique but not ridiculous, and the entire performance was engaging. In some ways, it was kind of my favorite of the night. Even better was that Randy and Ellen totally raved about it. Kara claimed she didn’t know if she should love it or laugh at it (wtf?) but conceded that the vocals were good. Simon gave Todrick mixed notices, saying that he was more of a Broadway singer than a radio singer. It felt a bit stingy to me (especially after Simon had given positive remarks to that awful Aaron Kelly), but at least Simon did allow that the performance was fun and refreshing. Hmmph. Why do I get the awful feeling that Aaron’s gonna stay and that Todrick will go home? And for the record, I don’t think Todrick is Broadway-sounding. But of course anyone who isn’t Freddy Mercury sounds like a theater star when they sing Queen; so go figure.
Last but certainly not least was Big Michael Lynche, who pretty much brought the house down with Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work.” I thought it was pretty amazing, and he too has solidified his lead as the singer — both of the men and women — to beat. However, I didn’t think the performance was as stunning as Kara, who literally was in tears next to Simon (who, for the record, is totally leaning into her, not the other way around — as has been debated). Mike not only has strong vocals, but he knows how to work a stage and a performance in a way that no one else seems to have a grasp of. Maybe it’s his theatrical background, or maybe he just feels the emotion (or maybe both), but the other singers could learn a thing or two about charisma from him. My only fear is that he’s going to get super cocky on the path to the top; something we’ve already seen hints of week in and week out. It’s still a bit early, but I most certainly have my insufferable-dar out and scanning.
What did you think about the singers this week. Who do you think is going home? Who should go home?
On The Bubble:
Dark Horse Rejects: