We’ve finally made it: after several weeks of auditions and testing, American Idol kicked off its semifinal round last night, and if you blink, you might miss it the whole thing because we’re only getting one week of this stuff before we go to the big stage. Correction: we’re already at the big stage. That’s right: the producers have attempted to up the excitement level by skipping the lil’ semifinal space, and I’d say that it actually worked. Things did feel a bit more exciting on the big stage; although, I wonder if we’ll miss some of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with ascending from semifinals to finals.
Either way, I’m happy to report that this retooled season has actually turned out to be pretty awesome. I had some serious doubts in the beginning, thanks to a boring spate of audition episodes. However, when the action moved to Hollywood, the show took off. J-Lo and Steven Tyler came into their own, and the producers managed to find all sorts of juicy drama with a two-hour group night that allowed us to truly bond with (and against) several contestants. Even better, the silly Beatles excursion to Vegas added more group fun to the proceedings. I don’t know why the producers gave us only one paltry hour of that stuff and then two painful, drawn-out hours of decision-making. We can only watch these kids walk down an ominous walkway so many times. And maybe it’s me, but I kind of miss the elevator of doom.Nevertheless, J-Lo & Co did a fine job in selecting a top 24 (although, wtf with no JC?). Unlike last season which saw a cast full of boring singer-songwriters strumming on their guitars, we have a wide variety of musical styles and personalities. The men alone proved this to be true with a generally solid outing tonight. Let’s go through them all, shall we?
Kicking off the night was Clint Jun Gamboa, who did a pretty solid job with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” I will have to deduct two points for lack of creativity, and then ALL THE REST OF THE POINTS FOR BEING AN ASSHOLE IN GROUP WEEK. I’m sorry, I’m still not over him kicking poor JC out of his group. I vowed to never endorse Clinty Clint, and I stay true to my word. I got your back, JC.
Next up was the resident Latino beefcake of the season, Jovany Barreto, who is a significant aesthetic improvement over last year’s Andrew Garcia. The problem for Jovany was that he picked a lame ass song by Edwin McCain. Did he really think he’d win over the audience with “I’ll Be?” Not a wise choice. In fact, it was a terrible, terrible selection that should be punished by ELIMINATION. Mwahahahaha!!! (insert ominous devil trident graphic Ã la Hell’s Kitchen here).
After Jovany came Jordan Dorsey, who’s sort of like this year’s Jermaine Sellers. Remember Jermaine? He sounded like an angel in his auditions — a sweet precious angel that you just wanted to set free into the world (in my analogy, Jermaine the angel is caught in a bear trap, or perhaps more accurately, an angel trap). But during Hollywood week, Jermaine became a jerk. We saw the REAL Jermaine — the Jermaine that wears a onesy when he sings. By the time he made it to the semifinals, he was cocky and insufferable, and worst of all: his voice sucked.
Enter Jordan Dorsey. His audition was flawless, his story charming. On Group Night, however, he headed south. First he was a prima dona about his group’s song choice, then he bailed on them entirely and found a new crew, and THEN he bashed his old crew. The guy had a lot of damage control to do, and quite frankly, he needed to nail tonight’s song to advance ahead.
Nail it, he did not.
Jordan nailed the song about as well as I nail anything to a wall, which is to say poorly and painfully. We knew we had problems when on the very first bar of “O.M.G.”, he swirled around cheeseball style and attempted to seduce us with his R&B ways. Too bad he was out of tune, and too bad when he doffed his blazer, his attempt to sexify the audience came off as merely awkward. Pants too high, sleeves too puffy, posture too crooked. Visually, it was a mess. And again, the notes — all over the map. Did I mention how terrible the arrangement was? To say it sounded like a cruise ship performance would be an insult to the hard working singers aboard Carnvial Cruises. Just about the only boat I’d put this performance on would be the Lusitania. Oh, and to add insult to injury, when Jordan got panned by the judges, he acted as if he hadn’t even chosen the song himself. C’mon, Jordan. We know you did. Pass.
Then came Tim Halperin, a cute guy with a nice smile. He looked poised to win over America. And then he sang a generic Rob Thomas song. See note above about Edwin McCain. ‘Nuff said.
Moving on, we arrived at the proud oddball of the group, Brett Loewenstern, who surely caused the ghost of Jim Morrison great distress with his loungey version of “Light My Fire.” I can’t say I loved this performance. It did gain momentum, but Brett’s take was entirely too neutered for such a sexually tinged song. All the Samantha Foxx hair tossing didn’t really help either. At least J-Lo liked it. Actually, all the judges really dug Brett’s performance, and that had me totally baffled. Really? I like the kid, but this was not his shining moment.
James Durbin took the stage next, and gosh I really don’t like this dude. I have a special hatred for Idol kids who come on stage wanting to be a rock star but not actually carrying any of the proper swagger. James is one of those. Sorry dude, but just because you wear a bandana in your hair sometimes does not make you a rocker.
Buuuuuuut… that being said, James was really good. I begrudgingly concede that his energy, voice, and performance was right on — even if his persona is utterly annoying. After last season’s tepid offerings, I’ll gladly take a Judas Priest thrasher, even if it is totally contrived.
On the other end of the spectrum was Robbie Rosen, who my friend affectionately noted looks just like Aladdin. Well, he showed us a whole new world of Sarah McLachlan as he did a lovely take on “Angel.” Forgettable? Perhaps. But it worked for Robbie, and his voice sounded more or less strong (save for a few falsetto transitions that were admittedly unpleasant).
Also coming on strong was Scotty McCreery, who crooned his way through a dull country ditty. Don’t get me wrong — he sounded great. I just didn’t love the song. Plus, I fear that Scotty’s range is too limited. Then again, that’s his appeal. How will he fare when he’s forced out of his genre? We have to keep him around to find out. (Fingers crossed for a Whitney Houston night)
Stefano Langone popped up next and sang Bruno Mars’ dreadfully overexposed “Just The Way You Are.” Barf. Didn’t these kids already tackle the song during Hollywood week? Either way, Stefano sounded shrill and annoying to me, but I guess his shtick worked because the judges LOVED him, even despite J-Lo wincing blatantly during one particularly awful note. Randy brushed off the poor singing, noting that Stefano had all the swagger of a natural performer. Watch it back at home, Randy, and then we’ll see if you’re singing the same tune tomorrow (no pun intended).
Faring better was the always exuberant Jacob Lusk, who sang “House Is Not A Home” by Luther Vandross. Jacob was great. He really was. And let’s not overlook the way he sauntered on stage as if he were Dionne Warwick. If Idol doesn’t work out, I think some sort of drag cabaret is in his future.
Jacob earned massive praises from the judges, but I could’t help but think that Jacob’s appeal will be severely limited. After all, he sounds like he’s singing to a group of elderly women enjoying tea. Not sure how his style will connect with the youngins in the long run. For now though, all the power to him.
I also wonder how Paul McDonald will connect with the tween set. On the plus side, the guy has a great smile and a self-possessed attitude that is always appealing. On the other, his quirky voice and palsy-esque body gestures might have people scratchy their heads. He sang “Maggie Mae,” which was a smart choice on his part; although, personally I thought his performance became a bit boring in the middle. If he doesn’t make it through to the next round by votes, I think we’ll see him coast on as a wild card. The judges love him.
Last but not least, we had the bearded Casey Abrams, who indulged (and I mean INDULGED) in “I Put A Spell On You.” While he hit his notes just fine, this performance was a total mess. Growling, screeching, and generally spazzing out on stage, Casey swung for the fences with seemingly every sound that came out of his mouth. I suppose I should applaud his ambition, but honestly, it just sounded indulgent to me. Clearly though it was fun to hear in person, which is probably why the judges adored him. Sorry, folks. I’m not buying it.
What did you think about the guys? Who was your favorite? Who was your least favorite? And what are your thoughts on the retooled season?