“american idol” top 4: consider the shark jumped.

If all of the preceding episodes of American Idol this season were distress signals, then last night’s performance episode was those signals flat lining. “Songs of the Cinema” night was an all-around disaster. The judges could barely muster up any relevant critiques, and even the praised performances were just so-so in comparison to other things we’ve seen from the contestants this season. This is the top four, people! This is the time when you need to step up your game, not sit back and churn out something mediocre that borders on karaoke.
Before I get to the actual singing, I have to address the ridiculous theme and equally ridiculous mentor. Ryan proclaimed that everyone loves the movies, but that doesn’t mean that everyone loves songs from the movies. Based on the pathetic list of songs the top four had to choose from, I gathered that the theme was actually “Songs Written Specifically For a Movie,” rather than “Any Song In a Movie/On Its Soundtrack.” Nine times out of ten, songs that are penned to play over closing credits of movies are dull and schlocky, which explains why I spent most of last night waiting for Idol to be over so Glee could start. This type of theme is usually a momentum killer, which is exactly what happened.
Jamie Foxx was partly to blame; he spent more time obsessing over his silly “artist” and “contestant” shirts than he did offering any useful critique. No, I don’t think sticking his face in Lee and Casey’s personal space counts as mentoring. Maybe I’m still riding high from the excellent mentoring of Harry Connick, Jr. last week, but it seemed like Foxx was just there for the face time and didn’t care too much about the contestants.
Lee Dewyze and his face full of spray tan opened the show with a shaky version of Seal’s “Kiss By a Rose.” First of all, way to pick an awful song, Lee, and second, please stop dressing like you’re performing at Zeta Chi’s Beer Bash 2010. The pitch was just beyond his grasp the entire song, and all of the words ended in a vague mumble. You know I adore Lee, but I had to hide my face behind a pillow in embarrassment.
Here’s a shocker: Big Mike picked one of Michael Jackson’s cheesiest songs, the Free Willy song “Will You Be There.” Nothing about this performance indicated that Mike has the chops to become the next American Idol. I’m hoping Big Mike will be heading home tonight. Free Willy, indeed.
I missed out on season 8, so I hadn’t seen any duets on Idol until last night. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m all for duets being introduced earlier on in the season. Group night creates lots of drama and entertainment during Hollywood Week, so why not carry that into the rest of the show? Lee and Crystal sang “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once. I loved how their mic stands were positioned to face each other, and I also loved that they both played guitar. I wasn’t too keen on how their voices meshed; Crystal’s Joplin-esque howl was a bit grating against Lee’s gravelly tone. Things definitely picked up around the chorus, and Lee redeemed himself for his hideous solo performance just minutes before. Bonus points to Crystal for calling Lee her “musical crush.”
Back in solo land, Casey chose “Mrs. Robinson,” which is hands-down my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song. It could have been okay, but he chose to sit in the crowd and play a mandolin to a slowed-down version of the song. The judges were so proud of themselves for making the connection between the Graduate and Kara’s supposed crush on Casey, but anyone with half a brain/knowledge of music history knows that the song was originally titled “Mrs. Roosevelt” and was changed only to fit in with the movie. Nice try, though, Randy.
Crystal was the only solo performer to change up her song a bit, but no amount of orchestral rearranging could hide the fact that “I’m All Right” is the song from Caddyshack. It was the best performance of the night, but that’s like saying it was the pile of dog poop that smelled the least. I did enjoy her boyfriend’s American flag pants, though. Forgive me if this sounds incredibly mean, but her boyfriend is way cuter than I thought the boyfriend of Crystal Bowersox should be.
The duet between Casey and Big Mike was like a nonentity, as I think one of them will be going home tonight and the other next week. I do enjoy “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” for the cheesy ballad that it is, and I thought the guitar stylings of the two gents worked well. Casey may not be the next American Idol, but damn, that guy can play the guitar. Their harmonizing wasn’t as bad as I thought, but someone was way sharp during the chorus (methinks it was Casey.)
Will there be a shocking, Chris Daughtry-type elimination tonight as we see who makes it into the top three? You never know with American Idol
Photo courtesy of Fox.com.

‘american idol’ top 11: too awful to make a witty headline.

I almost didn’t want to write about American Idol again, because I mentally checked out of the show about halfway through last night, and because it was so damn boring/awful/pitchy/etc. that I don’t care who goes home tonight; it could be any one of six people and I’d be happy. But I have some perverse dedication to this blog, even though about four people read it on a regular basis (Hi Mom!), and honestly, last night was just too awful not to discuss. The Idols could pick from any number one single in Billboard‘s 50-year history, and they managed to pick some of the schlockiest, cheesiest, over-performed songs on the list. Guest mentor Miley Cyrus wasn’t as bad as I thought she’d be, although her statement that, “People take me seriously because I take myself seriously,” proves all that is wrong with today’s youth.

Lee Dewyze, my current favorite, started the show with “The Letter,” by the Box Tops. The brass ensemble was borderline hokey, although it was a nice departure from the ‘dude stands behind mic stand with guitar’ performances in Lee’s past. I liked the vocals, and he definitely brought more stage presence, although he clearly had no idea what to do with his left hand, the one not holding the microphone, and flailed it around awkwardly.

Why Paige Miles thought it would be a good idea to pick “Take a Look At Me Now (Against All Odds),” a song already covered on Idol by Corey Clark, George Huff, Jessica Sierra, Scott Savol, Katharine McPhee, and Ramiele Malubay, is something I can’t fathom. Calling her performance ‘pitchy’ is an understatement. My living room cleared when Paige started singing. I think my dog was in pain. The girl sang better when she had laryngitis, for crying out loud. It was just awful.

Another performance that falls into the ‘just awful’ category is Tim Urban‘s take on Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Freddie Mercury rolled over in his grave, for sure, during Tim’s performance. There was nothing exciting about the vocals, and Tim’s attempts to be fun by sliding across the stage, touching audience members’ hands and standing amongst the audience were just cheap gimmicks to cover up the fact that he’s a terrible performer.

Aaron Kelly – whom Ryan called David Archuleta when giving out his numbers – picked another tried and true Idol favorite: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” It was okay. It’s nothing I’m going to remember in a week or two, but his vocals were decent, and his performance was another chance for him to show off his earnest faces.

Crystal Bowersox‘s “Me and Bobby McGee” was yet another crunchy granola acoustic jam, this time with a rug on the stage! She really makes it seem effortless, but homegirl has to mix it up with the musical choices in the upcoming weeks if she wants to be a true contender. Enough with the Starbucks music. Take a page out of the books of Lambert, Cook, Allen et al, and find a song that isn’t from your genre of music, and revamp it to fit said genre. Otherwise, I think Mamasox will find herself amongst the eliminated former front runners, including but not limited to Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, and Melinda Doolittle.

I missed Big Mike‘s performance; I’m not sad at all. I don’t like him.

Andrew Garcia‘s performance of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was cheesy and amateurish. I know, I know, this is an “amateur” talent competition, but I’ve seen more skill from drunken coeds doing karaoke. He lost the guitar and gained a whole lot of awkward stage presence. I won’t be surprised if he’s in the bottom three tonight.

Katie Stevens‘ attempt at being young and cool resulted in ill-advised suspenders and Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” It reeked of high-school talent show. I just can’t get behind Katie as a valid contender for the Idol crown. Her voice is great, just not technically at the level it should be to compete on a nationally televised talent competition.

I may be the only person who enjoyed Casey James‘ “The Power of Love.” Sure, Huey Lewis and the News isn’t the most current song choice, but Casey’s vocals were great. I could have done without the horn section blasting down from the band loft; they definitely contributed to the outdated feel that Randy spoke of, and they pretty much muted Casey’s guitar playing. (I did quite enjoy his comment to Miley that he’s a big fan…of her father. Zing!)

Didi Benami just plain sucked last night. There’s no other way to say it. Her performance of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” was cheesy, overdone, and flat. I believe I may have changed the channel to check the weather forecast during this performance.

Siobhan Magnus and her magnificent pink faux-hawk took on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Vocally, it wasn’t perfect, but I did like hearing Siobhan’s voice against a more upbeat, less morose song. “The shriek” is getting old fast, though, and while I don’t hate it, I find myself bracing for impact throughout her performances, waiting for that note.

My bottom three prediction for tonight: Urban, Miles, Garcia, with Urban going back to safety first and most likely Miss Miles heading back to her kindergarten class.

Photo courtesy of USA Today.

‘american idol’ top 8 guys: a crying shame

After viewing last night’s episode of American Idol, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or shake my fist disdainfully at the pathetic displays of talent that made up the semifinal round. Forgive me for repeating a sentiment many others share, but these 16 people are the most talented out of the thousands that auditioned? If so, I weep for the future of the music industry.
My favorite male contestant, Lee Dewyze, started the show with Owl City’s “Fireflies.” I grimaced when I heard his song choice because I think this is one of the most annoying songs on the radio right now, but Lee actually made it likable. I appreciate his willingness to take on a song that doesn’t fit his “style,” so to speak. What is up with Simon obsessing over performances having “moments?” Was he hired by Hallmark recently? It’s strange.
My second favorite male contestant, Alex Lambert, picked a great song in Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble.” I just adore the sound of Alex’s voice, and this song was a good showcase for it. The poor kid still has no stage presence, but there’s a marked improvement since week one and his deer-in-the-headlights performance.
That brings us to Idol punching bag Tim Urban. I believe my exact words when I heard he was singing Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” were, “What the hell?” This is a beautiful, nuanced song, and I couldn’t bear the thought of Tim vocally destroying it. However, it wasn’t all that bad. Was it as good as Jason Castro’s version (which still gets played on my iPod a lot)? No. Was it much better than anything else he’s sang on Idol so far? Yes. Nothing he presented last night merited a hug from Ellen DeGeneres, who claimed she’s been really hard on Tim for the last couple of weeks. If by ‘really hard’ she means ‘vaguely critical,’ then sure, hug away, Ellen.
The curtain has been pulled back to expose Andrew Garcia‘s talent to be mere gimmickry. One can only turn so many female pop songs into acoustic jams before America gets bored. His attempt to recapture the “Straight Up” magic by taking on Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” ended up working against him. He messed up the lyrics during the first few lines, his vocals were clipped and breathy, and the whole thing just came off as weird. He removed any and all range from the song, and believe me, Ms. Aguilera has quite the range. I think the neck-tattooed wonder might be in trouble tonight.
Casey James‘ version of Keith Urban’s “You’ll Think of Me” was much better than the goat vibrato he served up last week. He did some weird things to the melody of the song, but it was a decent performance.
Aaron Kelly picked possibly the cheesiest, most melismatic country song I know: Lonestar’s “Already There.” He started off very shaky and sharp, but he was able to recover by the chorus to give a passable performance. It’s hard not to like Aaron because he’s so earnest and he tries so hard. Props to Simon, though, for sticking up for Aaron after Kara claimed he couldn’t relate to a song about a dad on the road. I always think it’s such BS when the judges say stuff like, “You weren’t living the song,” or, “You didn’t bring the song to life.”
Todrick Hall finally lost the theatrics and sang a decent version of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” although I have a sneaking suspicion he used the arrangement from Glee. The gospel-lite arrangement suited his inclination towards dramatic performances, and he finally gave a straightforward vocal performance that showed why the judges wanted him in the top 24.
I totally called Big Mike singing last tonight, so I wasn’t at all shocked to see him in the pimp spot. (I’ll stop talking about the pimp spot next week, I promise. Even I’m getting sick of it.) Before the commercial break, when Ryan said Mike would be singing a Maxwell song, I turned to my mother and said, “If he sings “This Woman’s Work,” I’m going to barf.” I should clarify that I have nothing wrong with the song; Kate Bush’s lyrics about suddenly having to grow up and face reality in the time of a crisis are truly lovely and moving. Just reading the lyrics online makes me emotional. However, nothing about Big Mike’s performance was deserving of Simon’s “best performance of all these live shows by far” label, nor did it merit Kara’s apparent crocodile tears. For someone who had to tell all of America that she was crying, she sure had a dry face. Those falsetto notes Mike tried to hit were akin to a yowling cat, and it just got worse from there. All of his theatrics, from the dramatically raised hand, to the pained, supposedly emotional looks into the camera, felt so overdone and uncomfortable. When you’re singing a song that packs that much of an emotional punch, just stand there and sing it. No amount of fist-thrusting or shoulder shaking is going to suddenly turn Big Mike into the next American Idol. And no, Randy, he is not the person to beat. Stop saying that.
While I can think of four girls who might be in danger tonight, I can really only pinpoint Andrew Garcia as someone who might be watching his goodbye montage come 8:58 pm tonight. (Side note: how annoying is it that Idol and Survivor are on at the same time? I need a DVR, stat.)

‘american idol’ top 16: eight girls is enough.

I first need to acknowledge the wonder that is one-hour episodes of American Idol. All the filler was gone and the viewers were left with an emphasis on performances, as it should be. Last night was the final episode before the top 12, as we were reminded every five minutes.
Katie Stevens began the night with Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” I really should like Katie, considering we share the same home state, her mother is an alum of my college, and her brother is currently a sophomore at my alma mater. However, I find that Katie brings nothing new to the Idol stage. This performance was the youngest she’s ever seemed, which is about 30. She started the song too low, and then her voice just went flat on the chorus. Based on the judges’ comments, they seem to have given up on her. I think Katie may be traveling back to Connecticut at the end of the week. Simon’s comment that she “kind of sucked….the air out of the room” was classic Cowell.
Siobhan Magnus, however, won’t be returning to her home state of Massachusetts for a while. I don’t care what Simon said; her performance of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” was brave, on-key, and showed the amazing amount of vocal restraint she has. Starting the song a cappella takes guts and confidence in your vocal abilities. I hope Siobhan goes far into the top 12, because she’s the only female contestant I really enjoy.
I’ve been rooting for Lacey Brown since Hollywood week, and I think last night was the first time she picked the right song for her voice. Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” highlighted all the uniqueness of Lacey’s voice, and while it wasn’t a performance I’ll remember in six months, let alone six weeks, I think it’s enough to carry her into the top 12.
Katelyn Epperly may not have done enough. Her performance last night was the epitome of “phoning it in.” I don’t care if she claimed she was trying to be less cheesy; the girl stood behind her Wurlitzer with the same kind of enthusiasm I muster for folding laundry. Her vocals on Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” were okay, but it was like Laurie Partridge 2.0 with the plaid jumper and the lackluster musicianship. I think she might be in danger of going home tonight, unless the buzz from last week’s “The Scientist” can propel her into next week.
Watching Didi Benami‘s performance of “Rihannon,” I was sure that the judges were going to rip her apart. It was like a bad coffeehouse performance, and I’m not sure if Didi was actually playing her guitar. Poor Stevie Nicks; after Taylor Swift murdered this same song at the Grammys and Lacey murdered “Landslide” a few weeks ago on the Idol stage, she’s probably not very willing to lend her songs to others. I already aired my grievances about Didi’s tone and lockjaw, but tonight I realized she over-enunciates her words to boot. And seriously, enough with the waterworks. I don’t care if they’re happy tears or not, just stop. This woman is one criticism away from a mental breakdown.
Someone who rightfully shed tears last night was Paige Miles, who definitely reached the end of her Idol journey with a whispery, shaky take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” I don’t know why she picked the song if it evokes such strong emotions in her, because clearly her emotions got in the way of delivering a good performance. It was hard to watch a verklempt Paige try to explain her song choice to Ryan, when she clearly knew the song was her death sentence.
Unlike seemingly every person on the American Idol payroll, I’m not drinking the Crystal Bowersox Kool-Aid just yet. Her semifinal performances, including last night’s version of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” are good, but they’re a bit predictable. I know what I’m getting each week, and while the judges like to think it’s because Crystal “knows what kind of artist she’ll be,” I think it’s because she’s a one-trick pony. Just wait until the top 12 theme nights, Miss Bowersox. I can’t wait to see how she puts her girl-with-a-guitar spin on the Barry Manilow catalog, or better yet, disco week! I think Crystal may soon suffer from the backlash that comes from being excessively pimped by the judges. Despite what Simon claimed on Leno the other night, I don’t think this competition is Crystal’s to lose.
Closing the show was Lilly Scott, with a take on Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” She carried a mandolin, but I couldn’t discern it among the horrific sounds made by the Idol Karaoke Backing Band, nor did it appear that she played it very much. Instruments are not props, Idol contestants, but rather a privilege. The whole performance was weird, from the arrangement to the weird ensemble Lilly was wearing: balls of yarn hanging from her ear lobes, granny boots and a gray patchwork dress. The vocals were so-so, but none of the judges touched on that, maybe in their haste to end the show. I think Lilly is going to have to break out of her “look at me! I’m quirky!” box to be a true contender in the top 12.
The boys perform tonight at 9 – tune in for another hour of performances from men with middling talent. Seriously, this season kind of sucks.

american idol top 24: when good girls go bad

After what seemed like an endless round of auditions and a lackluster Hollywood week, it was finally time for American Idol to go live and put the power in the viewers’ hands. It was also time for new judge Ellen DeGeneres to prove herself on a live telecast, and to be honest, she didn’t add much. The top 12 girls took the stage last night, and despite Simon proclaiming to all available media outlets that a girl will win last year, the performances were mostly misguided song choices with off-key vocals.
As Ryan introduced the girls, I wondered if a Forever 21 had taken them hostage prior to the taping. Didi Benami appeared to be wearing an afghan knitted by her Nana, Paige Miles had on a lace romper that caused me to physically recoil, and Katelyn Epperly looked like a hooker from a Hefty factory. Yikes. Someone get these women a stylist, ASAP.
Paige Miles had the unfortunate task of opening the show. I say unfortunate, because prior to her intro package, she had about 5 seconds of airtime. She chose Free’s “All Right Now,” which always reminds me of a car commercial. It’s a strange choice for her, since she has a more soulful voice, and Simon, as usual, was totally right in calling it a “wedding singer song.” It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very memorable, either. Hopefully she’ll still be here next week to show America why Simon thinks she has the strongest female voice in the competition.
Ashley Rodriguez made the terrible decision to sing Leona Lewis’ “Happy.” Any time an Idol contestant tries to sing a big-voiced belter’s song, (Celine, Mariah, Whitney, etc.) it comes off as a pale imitation of the original. Ashley’s performance was no exception. It was okay, but her voice isn’t rich enough as Leona’s to do the song justice. You could tell she wasn’t pleased with the judges’ reaction to her performance, which I’m sure she thought was stellar, so I suggest a less predictable song choice if she’s around next week.
Janell Wheeler, who may or may not be Tim Tebow’s girlfriend/ex-girlfriend, stood out to me in Hollywood Week with her cover of Estelle’s “American Boy.” It showcased the unique tone of her voice, which is exactly the opposite of what Heart’s “What About Love” did. Janell needs to learn to embrace the raspiness of her voice instead of pushing for the glory notes. You are not Ann Wilson, my friend. My mom kept saying, “No emotion! Make sure you write that down! She has no emotion!” Yes, Mom, Janell was lacking emotion. (I take notes during Idol; don’t judge.)
Lilly Scott finally did what the first three singers didn’t do – she picked a lesser-known song (“Fixing a Hole” by the Beatles) that suited her voice perfectly and didn’t evoke the original version. She has a strange voice and I’m not sure yet if it’s unique or just odd, but she’s smart when it comes to song choice, which can take you a long way in this competition.
Katelyn Epperly, the aforementioned Hefty bag hooker, tries her darndest to cover the Beatles’ “Oh Darling.” From the first few notes, it becomes apparent that she’s trying way too hard to push the notes, which is so obvious right after Lilly’s effortless performance. Whether or not Katelyn liked Kara’s critique of her terrible ensemble, copping an attitude during judging is a surefire way to get a one-way ticket back home. No one likes a snotty Idol.
Haeley Vaughn chose the third Beatles song of the night, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The arrangement was nice, but her vocals were vaguely shrieky. I find her lisp very distracting, and Simon was right that her perma-smile became kind of creepy.
I loved Lacey Brown‘s audition and subsequent Hollywood Week performances, but last night’s version of “Landslide” was all kinds of awful. That song is one of my favorites, but I don’t think Lacey’s voice was right for it. Nothing sounded like it was in the right key. She is strikingly beautiful, though, and I think there were others who were worse than her, so I hope Lacey is safe until next week.
Michelle Delamor seems to be filling the token diva role this season, and her choice of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin'” was a predictable one. The chorus was a bit flat and the arrangement sucked all the life out of the song, but Michelle has a strong voice. It appears that Simon has taken over Paula’s “you look great!” schtick, as Michelle was the second contestant he complimented thus far. I also noticed that this was the second consecutive judging where Randy gave astute, helpful advice. This disrupts the fundamental structure of the Idol judges’ panel and makes me confused.
I never quite got the Didi Benami hype that’s been steadily building, but I found her performance tonight to be fairly enjoyable. Didi and her afghan vest sang Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am,” which was perfectly suited for her voice, but the arrangement seems a bit slower than the original. There’s something about the tone of her voice that seems affected, and I noticed last night that she does this weird lockjaw thing that’s a bit irritating.
Siobhan Magnus had done nothing memorable so far except dress like Punky Brewster, but after last night, I think she might be the dark horse of this season, even if she doesn’t know what that means. (Side note: Does she have a Mary Poppins tattoo on her arm? I could swear that it’s the silhouette of her holding an umbrella.) Siobhan chose Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” a very interesting choice, but I think it worked in her favor. Her lower register is rich, and I think she needs to pick an uptempo number next week to show her range.
I’m fairly certain that Crystal Bowersox has no idea how Idol works, as she herself admitted she’s never watched an episode before. Her performance of Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket” was good, but I totally agreed with Simon that I can go to any subway station/bus station/street corner in America and hear a busker singing an equally passable rendition. She really needs to reinvent a song, a la David Cook, Blake Lewis, Adam Lambert, etc., but I have no doubts that she’ll live to sing next week.
The lucky recipient of the producers’ pimp spot this week was Katie Stevens, the 17-year-old wunderkind from Connecticut. I think I’m legally obligated to root for Katie, as we’re both Connecticutians, but there’s nothing I hate more than teenagers on Idol. Take your precocious talent and go to prom. Graduate from high school, then get back to me. Katie definitely has a good voice, but everything about her performance last night, from the twee red bow in her hair to the dramatic arm motions, reeked of a voice recital. Her choice of Michael Buble’s “Feelin’ Good” made it feel even more amateurish. Simon and Ellen were both right when they said the song was too old for her. The Golden Child will have to loosen up and think outside of her talent show box to stand out.
To address the elephant in the room, Ellen added nothing of value on the judging panel. (Sorry, “E”.) Every time Ryan went to her for a critique, she stammered and “um”-ed her way through her thoughts. Maybe it’s just first live-show nerves, but I wasn’t impressed.
Overall, I thought the show was kind of underwhelming. I’m hoping the boys will bring the heat tonight to make up for the lukewarm beginning to the semifinals.