Posts Tagged ‘pop’

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 11

March 14, 2012

Image edited from original by maveric2003 via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Note: The show eliminated Jermaine Jones due to a criminal charge and outstanding warrants that he allegedly concealed from producers. The show strung the audience along but the local news affiliate here in DC spilled the beans. I thought the show’s filming and airing of the producers eliminating him was tasteless and tacky. This is American Idol, not The First 48. I understand why Fox fired Jermaine, but they should have broken this news quietly and discreetly. Shame on them.

Theme: Contestants sing songs from the years they were born.

Mentors: Jimmy “I can’t believe this dopey goomba signs Dr. Dre and Lady Gaga’s paychecks” Iovine and Will.I.Am, who should replace Steven Tyler on the judge panel.

Here are the Top 11 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Phillip Phillips – “Hard To Handle” [1990] Fun fact! This song came out in 1968 from Otis Redding. It’s only “1990” because the Black Crowes’ version is the most famous (surprise props to Randy Jackson for calling Phil out on this.) Already I’m against this dope and he hasn’t sung a note. All that snobbery aside, Phillip actually did a pretty good job with the song. He stayed on key and his growl matched the bluesy tone of the song. He also wasn’t hiding behind his acoustic guitar. He fell apart into some mumbly mumbly at the end and he didn’t nearly take as many vocal risks as he should have, but this was actually an ok start to the show.

2. Jessica Sanchez – “Turn The Beat Around” [1995] Fun fact! This song came out in 1976 from Vicki Sue Robinson. It’s only “1995” because Gloria Estefan had a decent run with it. I like the song and the upbeat choice (after all, you can’t do ballads every time), but fuck, is this going to be a pattern tonight? Old-ass songs getting by on technicalities? To Jessica’s credit, she pushes the tempo for the whole performance and displays some fancy footwork to go with that stage presence. It’s a shame that her big vocal moments come up a little short, though not nearly as abrasive as some of the other flubs I’ve heard from her competitors. I credit her for picking a fun song, but I think she could have been more polished. I hope she doesn’t listen to Steven Tyler who says she should sing more ballads. Idol should have eliminated that creepy dipshit after last season.

3. Heejun Han – “Right Here Waiting” [1985] Bahahahaha! While I believe this song came out in the year it was supposed to come out, Heejun just has no taste in his song choices. He also fails to hit most of high notes in the chorus. Heejun recovers in time for the super big note hold, but it’s like an oasis in a desert of flat singing. Emotionally he tried to come across as vulnerable, but ended up looking desperate and pathetic in all the wrong ways.

4. Elise Testone – “Let’s Stay Together” [1983] Fun fact! This song came out in 1971 from Al Green. It’s only “1983” because Tina Turner had some success with it then. COME ON, CONTESTANTS! When Elise takes the mic, she sounds wavering and uneven until the song gets upbeat. Then she started to sing with a little more conviction and things got interesting. Her raspy tone provides a nice contrast to the vanilla backing track and her above-average belting fills out the rest of the space. Elise beat my expectations, that’s for sure.

5. DeAndre Brackensick – “Endless Love” [1994] Fun fact! This song came out in 1981 from Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. It’s only “1994” because Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross redid it then. [Shakes head] It’s also way more boring than the song DeAndre sang last week. To his credit, he keeps things calm and restrained, which I appreciated since on ballads like these there’s a big temptation to go full power. DeAndre smartly waited until the end to whip out his falsetto superpower so it felt earned. I thought his singing was kind of uneven, but it didn’t suck. It’s just that song choice. Zzzzzzzzzz….

6. Shannon Magrane – “One Sweet Day” [1995] Alright, another song from the year it actually came out in! We get a little more Mariah with Shannon’s song choice. I thought she’d trip out on the song’s built-in harmonies (since it was made famous in part by Boyz II Men), but no, she trips on her own mediocre vocal runs. This feels like the same garbage from the past two weeks. Was she really one of the best the judges could pick from? I hate to say this, but I think she should have listened to Iovine and gone with “Don’t Speak” (or even better, “Just A Girl.”)

7. Colton Dixon – “Broken Heart” [1991] Now we get a power ballad from the twilight of pop metal. Colton doesn’t turn out one of the worst of the night. The arrangement was quite bombastic and upbeat, which I got into (though it sounded kind of messy.) His dancing was awkward as hell, but at least he was committed. His singing seemed mostly on point, though intermittently he sounded like a whiny teenager, which is not the worst thing I could say about his performance. I didn’t hate this.

8. Erika Van Pelt – “Heaven” [1985] EVP makes a bid for the top spot with this Bryan Adams classic. I have to ding her a few points for doing yet another damn rock ballad, but she probably executed the best of all the contestants. She is just pleasant to listen to and tonight was no exception. She nailed all of her notes and sounded really full and rich. She also has the fun showboating down pat. All Erika has to do is rock more uptempo material and be more emotive. Go DJ!

9. Skylar Laine – “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” [1994] Props to Skylar for sticking to her guns in the wake of mentor meddling. Just like Jessica, she used the stage to its fullest and came off as super fun and genuine. The music was churning and fun and her singing was big and brassy. Skylar had lots of swagger and the pipes to back it up – no twitches, no crap, no flubs, just solid execution. I think she just might pull out of the shadow of Lauren Alaina. Well done!

10. Josh Ledet – “When A Man Loves A Woman” [1992] Fun fact! This song came out in 1966 from Percy Sledge. It’s only “1992” because Michael Bolton got famous with it…and I’m out of expletives. That jacket Josh is rocking is pure 60s as well. Josh’s performance is fairly predictable (too slow!) but at least he 100%-On-Expert-Difficulty killed it with all those singing riffs, runs, and screams. When he looked into the audience with that purpose and grimace, you could feel the charisma radiating from the stage. The jacket removal was just icing on the cake. Other than the song choice that was pretty damn good, dude.

11. Hollie Cavanagh – “The Power Of Love” [1993] Oh man, I heard this on The Voice already! The Celine selection continues to scream “pageant” which I feel has been Hollie’s problem since Top 24 week (that dress doesn’t help, either.) Hollie actually does a pretty good Dion impression and I didn’t hear much in the way of flubs or mumbles. I was just bored with it. Erika had the same problems concerning emotion but at least she tried to connect with the audience and stayed away from the early-90s slow song well that this show keeps going to.

And what would I have sung? Let’s see, I’ll be turning 30 next year, so let’s head to ’83. Going though the Rock Band song list, one song that stuck out to me was New Order’s “Blue Monday.” It’s not a song I recall hearing a lot on this show, it’s a neat mix of depressing and dancey, and it was made famous by Bernard Sumner, another guy with a limited range. I’d do the first verse with the original keyboard and bassline along with punched up drumming, after which I’d bring in the drum break and switch to the Orgy version for the third verse and final “HOW DOES IT FEE-EEL!” power belt. If I go out I go out with a bang.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Skylar Laine
2. Josh Ledet
3. Erika Van Pelt

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Fox, for it’s tasteless airing of Jermaine Jones’s firing from the show
2. Heejun Han
3. Shannon Magrane

Ouch. Tonight’s show sucked. 5 of the 11 songs were not originally from the years the contestants were born, 5 of the 11 songs were boring ballads (though some were well-executed), and it felt like there was just a lot of bad singing to go around. Some contestants came off well (including a surprisingly effective turn from Phillip), but I would rather forget this episode.

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 2

March 12, 2012

Image edited from original by KellBailey via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Last week’s battle rounds had too many ballads and not enough excitement. Let’s see if this show can produce some real carnage!

Extra Mentors:
Team Adam: Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke
Team Blake: Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert
Team Cee Lo: Babyface and Ne-Yo
Team Xtina: Jewel and Lionel Richie

Team Xtina: Geoff McBride vs. Sera Hill – “Chain of Fools”
While I’m a little disappointed that this show is going to the more old school soul that is Idol’s stock and trade, at least it’s upbeat and has a good brassy quality to it. It might lend itself to a more fun battle. Both competitors have the vocal power moves, so this match could go either way. This show feels like it’s trending towards more of a conventional reality show mix, so I predict a win from the younger, more charismatic Sera (plus she got a duet with Aguilera.) Then Geoff will take off his sunglasses and blow a hole through the ceiling. Scott Summers isn’t the only guy with that superpower, Lionel Richie.
The battle turns out to be quite the event. The opening harmony hook is spot on! Geoff and Sera go so well together. They both bring the acting chops as well. Sera goes at Geoff like she has no time to suffer a fool like him (check the head turns and hand raises) while Geoff bears down on Sera like he has taken down punks like her for decades (check the lunges and the removal of the glasses.) Despite their different ranges, damn they play off each other well! Both demonstrated fabulous vocal runs, though Sera fell apart a little at the end. Still, what a great start!
Winner: Sera (Fair! She gave a great performance, though I was rooting for Geoff. Also: Called it!)

Team Blake: Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land – “Pumped Up Kicks”
This song will be a challenge both for its controversy-baiting school shooting lyrics and annoyingly flat and whiny vocals in the original song. It’s your basic indie shit. Who will make this bad song sound good? I predict a Charlotte win, because she got four turns in her audition and Blake will want another vote-puller on his team, whereas Lex is more of an underachieving underdog. That said, Charlotte came across as a bit of a passive-aggressive tool on TV (though I appreciate her sense of spectacle) and Lex has Miranda Lambert as her mentor along with the Kia endorsement.
Charlotte came out low and flat. To her credit she developed a bit of a range to go with her attitude. Lex came out low and mumbly. To her credit she tried to do a few runs on top of the whispering and kind of succeeded. Really the problem is that this is the wrong song for both singers. Charlotte has the punchy, deep vocals that might be better suited to Fiona Apple’s music, whereas Lex can rock the sparse and quirky, like maybe a Yael Naim tune.
Winner: Charlotte (Fair! Though I don’t care for her schtick, I can understand how her singing style will better win over a voting audience. Called it!)

Team Cee Lo: Sarah Golden vs. Juliet Sims – “Stay With Me”
Who can best convey the drunken pathos that is Rod Stewart? I predict a Juliet win, because her attitude and off-key vocal styles will jive better with Cee Lo, based on his past pick history. That said, I think Sarah is just overall a better singer so maybe she can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Her down to earth singing style reminds me a little of Paul McDonald, who was like Rod Stewart part 2 last season on Idol.
This battle is a hot mess. Sarah is off-key and quickly overwhelmed. She also melts in the wake of Juliet’s more aggressive stage presence. Juliet in turn sounds like one of the shaggier tertiary Jim Henson creations, maybe one of Jareth’s goblins singing “Magic Dance.” At least she projected better against the music, so it was like listening to garbage in high definition audio.
Winner: Juliet (Fair! Nobody won that battle, so either pick would have been wrong for Cee Lo. Called It!)

Team Adam: Whitney Myer vs. Kim Yarbrough – “No More Drama”
This could be good. Mary J.’s music is quite vocally challenging, though I haven’t been able to sit through this particular song (Blige’s “Family Affair” is so much catchier.) I feel like both contestants displayed a lot of vocal chops, though their song choices undercut my appreciation. This should be more of the same, but an even fight! I can’t make a prediction.
Throughout the song, I feel like Kim is more in control of her performance. Her steady notes and understated stage presence force Whitney to pull out her crazy moves and unearned attitude. Whitney’s no slouch, and she gets by with quite a few cool vocal tricks. She also had more energy. When Kim finally does pull out the power vibrato 80% into the song, it turns the tide like a Critical Edge in Soul Calibur V. My initial reaction was “aw shit, now she’s pulling ahead!”
Winner: Kim (Yay! Her understated blaster strategy carried the day.)

Team Xtina: Lee Koch vs. Lindsey Pavao – “Heart-Shapred Box”
Ooh! We have a battle of the quirky set to some depressing-ass In Utero-era Nirvana. I predict a Lindsey win. She seems to have more investment in the material and might better be able to pull of the emoting necessary to convey this alternative classic. Meanwhile Lee’s twang sounds more like Kurt Cobain, especially when Cobain sang acoustic. Also, who in ‘94 could have predicted that Lionel Richie would be teaching a competitive singing contestant how to sing Nirvana?
To Lee’s credit, he did a great job of playing the understated, put-upon, and decaying everyman in his emoting and his sonorous singing. In turn, Lindsey’s quiet-loud vocal dynamics and purposeful off-kilter stage presence reminded me of the great Tori Amos, who annihilated Nirvana’s material back in the 90s. Also, check that slow-burning piano + drums backing track and unrelenting blue+green lighting. You aren’t gonna see shit like that on Idol!
Winner: Lindsey (Yay! Both singers nailed the notes and emotions, so either pick would have been right for Xtina. That said, I expect way more fun material from Lindsay in the live shows. Called it!)

Team Cee Lo: Jamar Rogers vs. Jamie Lono – “I Want To Know What Love Is”
Here we have another case of two great singers with impressive auditions having to sing a ballad I don’t care for, partially because it seems to go on and on and on (was “Cold As Ice” taken?) Who can cut through the histrionics with genuine emotion? I predict Jamar. His story likely jives better with the producers and quite frankly I think he can strike the balance between fun and empathy. Jamie’s another low-key guy with an acoustic guitar. He’ll have a tough mountain to climb.
Jamie seems to get 75% of the lead vocal parts, and he chokes like someone who bit off more than he could chew. Just by looking at his facial expression you can see how scared he looks and hear how off-key he sounds. Jamar plays the hand he’s dealt and kicks those held notes’ asses! What a power wail! What a stage presence! What a blowout!
Winner: Jamar (Yay! That was no contest. Called it!)

Overall I think this week’s battle rounds were a huge improvement over last week’s. The songs were overall more upbeat or just more engaging and I either supported or respected all of the picks. This was quite the turnaround.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 13 Super-Truncated Results

March 9, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

So Wednesday night we had the gender-bound theme of men singing Stevie Wonder and women singing Whitney Houston. I thought there was a surprising amount of decent performances, but we’ll have to see how the voting shakes out.

Bottom 3 Men
1. Jermaine Jones: Boo! He certainly didn’t bring his A-game, but he had one of the better performances.
2. Josh Ledet: Boo! This guy tries to have some fun and he’s punished for it? What the fuck, Idol?! He’ll be singing vaguely inspirational clunkers the rest of the season to stay safe now.
3. Jeremy Rosado: Fair! While Jeremy isn’t the worst singer among the men, his performance last night was pretty damn boring. I wish he’d bring a little more confidence (or at least steal some from Colton.)

Bottom 3 Women
1. Shannon Magrane: Yay! I can’t stand this annoyingly wholesome rich girl’s act and the audience clearly couldn’t stand her abrasive singing.
2. Erika Van Pelt: Boo! DJ EVP is one of the most consistently competent singers this season, and her power ballad performance was at least a little interesting. She deserves to make it at least to the top 4, so long as she can push the tempo a little bit.
3. Elise Testone: Fair-to-Boo! While I wasn’t offended by her audible-call rendition of “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” I can see how her gravelly performance wouldn’t go over. Kathy told me afterward that she wasn’t feeling Elise’s singing, and I’ll concede that if she goes on she’ll probably do crummy ballad after crummy ballad.

Bottom 2
1. Jeremy
2. Elise

The Loser
It falls to the judges to decide who will be the first casualty of the top 13 and they send Jeremy packing. It’s kind of a shame since his singing was merely boring whereas some of his competitors took turns figuratively pooping on the stage (I’m looking at you, Colton and Phillip.) I feel that he did deserve to go home more than Elise did, and this does put the men and women on equal footing, numbers-wise. We’ll just have to see if Elise can redeem herself because she is on thin ice. As for Jeremy, he shouldn’t let this elimination get him down. He’s young enough that with some formative experiences he can develop artistically, put some punch in his singing, and go clean up on The Voice in 5 years.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 13

March 7, 2012

Image edited from original by Mil on Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Theme: The men sing the songs of Stevie Wonder. The women sing the songs of Whitney Houston. We got gender policing and a death cash-in, baby! Bottom vote getter in each gender is up for elimination, which the judges decide. It kind of reminds of the elimination system on So You Think You Can Dance.

Mentors: The punchable Jimmy Iovine, and Mary J. Blige, who’s all right.

Here are the Top 13 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Josh Ledet – “I Wish” Wikki wiki Wild Wild West! Gospel boy has to do something upbeat? This could be interesting. To his credit, he really gets into the material and his consistent belting matches the bombastic backing track nicely. And other people might ding him for this, but I appreciated his spastic dancing around the stage, particularly near the horn section. Also props for the James Brown/Axl Rose on-key screech finish. I wish Jacob Lusk was this upbeat last season. Nice start, dude!

2. Elise Testone – “I’m Your Baby Tonight” Alright, another upbeat song! This is actually one of my favorite Whitney songs and its brassy, sexy tone is a good fit for Elise. She flubs the lyrics early on, but quickly finds her footing. Her voice was smoky and gravelly, but her singing was on key and on point. I also give Elise points for really getting into the emotion of the song. The judges did have a point that she could have taken things down a notch, but I didn’t hate this performance.

3. Jermaine Jones – “Knocks Me Off My Feet” Vocally Jermaine is killing it up there. He stays in his range and manages to pull off a few nice runs and holds without overdoing things. What I think he could do better on is really connecting with the emotional vulnerability in the song. I want to feel the lovesickness in the piece and I wasn’t feeling it. Despite the slower tempo of the song, Jermaine also kept things upbeat like a really good (albeit showy) karaoke performance.

4. Erika Van Pelt – “I Believe In You and Me” DJ EVP turns the Whitney showcase song into a power ballad. She does well to bring the song into something she would do otherwise. Still, Erika takes a few risks by doing the traditional diva vocal progression of starting really quiet and singing almost contralto and gradually building to a series of vocal acrobatics. She nailed all of them too. I love that flawless execution! Despite the rock flourishes, I still wasn’t feeling the song choice that much. I also (shudder) agree with the judges in that she could have maybe gone a little bigger and taken some more risks. She has the talent to take these kids to school.

5. Colton Dixon – “Lately” Sigh, another slow song. And what the hell is up with the tone of Colton’s voice? He’s so slurred! He wants to be going for Rufus Wainwright but he could be any lite-grunge singer from around 2002 (I’m thinking the guy from Lifehouse), plus that falsetto was total ass. I can pick up maybe one word out of every 10 off-key, whiney sounds this clown admits. Heaven help us all if he gets to peddle this shit on the radio. What a fucking mess!

6. Shannon Magrane – “I Have Nothing” Shannon sounds thin and buried in this performance, even with the anemic 1991 backing music. Her articulation is only slightly better than Colton’s and emotionally she’s only slightly more engaged than a preteen beauty pageant contestant. Even with those strikes against her she could have nailed the big notes. She did not nail the big notes. Nerves or not, that performance was underwhelming and sloppy. She can go back to her mansion.

7. DeAndre Brackensick – “Master Blaster” Mr. Falsetto kicks things into full on reggae territory that makes me remember how much Naima Adedapo got robbed last season. Nice choice, man. DeAndre kept things fun and bouncy. He was casual but committed in his animated dancing. He also used a slightly wider range of his voice and didn’t cower in the high notes like last week. He was still a little flat, but damn that was fun to watch!

8. Skylar Laine – “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” What, she’s not singing “I Will Always Love You” (since Dolly Parton did it first?) Wow, I’m surprised. Anyways, Skylar still does a predictably country rendition of the song and while it’s not my favorite I commend her for injecting just enough twang to be genuine. She also did all the big vocal tricks, was on key, and used enough of the stage to convey just a smidge of emotion. The escalating notes at the end felt forced, but Skylar was poised and professional, which not every teen contestant can say.

9. Heejun Han – “All Is Fair In Love” Another slow, plaintive song from Heejun? Wow, I’m not surprised. Poor Heejun just couldn’t project, even against the fairly sparse arrangement. He was so quiet that I couldn’t understand what he was trying to convey. The performance felt so stiff and awkward. I expect that in a shoegaze show, but not in what I assume is a fairly faithful Stevie Wonder cover. Dude needs to get some distortion effects pedals and meet the guys from Sigur Ros, stat!

10. Hollie Cavanagh – “All The Man That I Need” This performance was an improvement for Hollie. She stayed in control of her voice through the performance and had way better diction than last week. Still, a supersize hold, impressive at it is, doesn’t quite cut it for me. I still can’t buy someone Hollie’s age singing the kinds of themes that were in this song. If she messed with the song like Skylar did, I might be tempted to cut her more slack. This performance was technically awesome but lacking in originality.

11. Jeremy Rosado – “Ribbon In The Sky” Jeremy’s singing was kind of messy tonight. I’d like to think that he was trying to get into the meaning of the song, but I don’t know what this is about. It can’t literally be about ribbons in the sky, right? In terms of song choice this was a bit of a snoozer, just like Heejun’s. At least Jermaine put a little upbeat fun with his tenderness. The performance sounded ok, but I would steer clear of it otherwise. This felt boring.

12. Jessica Sanchez – “I Will Always Love You” Ah shit! We all knew this song was coming, but it still hurts when it arrives. All Jessica can hope to do is perform well within the boundaries of the piece. She hits all the notes with the flair of a performer thrice her age, though she has vibrato so pronounced it might as well be coming from a helicopter. I feel conflicted, because fuck this was predictable, but also fuck this gave me chills. You know what sold it for me? When she gave a slight smile about 2/3rds into the song in the middle of a note run. That’s when all the pretense and cash-ins and claptrap faded away. She was happy. She was in sync with all the cathartic emotion in the song. She was GENUINE, and that’s such a rare thing on a show like this. Dammit, I’m tearing up as I’m typing this and I’m embarrassed.

13. Phillip Phillips – “Superstition” This song is fun to do, just because its bassline is so fucking hot and upbeat nature courses through it. Phil turned it into some snarled grungy bag of crap. His singing was off-note and forced, his emotion was totally inappropriate, and his music arrangement was tonally clashing like an amateur mashup. Just shave your head already!

And what would I have sung? Since I’m a guy, I have to sing Stevie, so I would have gone to one of my two favorite songs by him: “Higher Ground” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Both tunes are pretty upbeat and fun, but I have to consider my extremely limited range. I suppose “Higher Ground” has a more gradual build in the verses and the chorus sounds good without a lot of strain. As for the arrangement I’m thinking of a sleek, distorted electronic background (think Goldfrapp circa 2002) with punchy blues shuffle drumming (like The Black Keys.) If I actually wanted to stay on the show, I would play it safe and do the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Jessica Sanchez
2. Josh Ledet
3. DeAndre Brackensick

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Colton Dixon
2. Shannon Magraine
3. Phillip Phillips

So tonight we had by my count five clunkers, three mehs, four solids, and one huge fucking surprise (still dealing with a few residual tears here.) Honestly this was a pretty decent show. I just hope the judges don’t let the new elimination decision power go to their heads and take out one of my favorites.

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 1

March 6, 2012

Image edited from the original by me’nthedogs at Flickr

I apologize for the delay in this post. Things have been a little rough at my job and when I get home I’m not always in the mood to recap. Accordingly, I DVRed yesterday’s episode and am recapping it today. So the auditions are finally done. Let’s have a battle!

Guest Mentors:
Team Adam: Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke (Canadians in the house!)
Team Blake: Kelly Clarkson (American Idol? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Miranda Lambert (Awww and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!)
Teem Cee Lo: Babyface and Ne-Yo
Team Xtina: Jewel (Platinum Hit and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Lionel Richie

Note: I’m happy to see that the boxing ring set is back. I also like the WWE walk-ons. If only the contestants got to do poorly written banter beforehand. [“Do ya smell what the RaeLynn’s cookin’?!’]

Team Adam: Tony Lucca vs. Chris Cauley – “Beautiful Day”
From a pure story perspective, Tony will likely win this battle because of his ex-Mickey Mouse Club story. This U2 smash could be a challenge because of the understated quality of the verses and the big sustained, yet muted belting in the chorus. Who will be more messianic?
These two guys start out eerily alike until Tony compacts into itself like he’s desperately trying to stifle a yawn at church and Chris starts to foolishly emote like he’s singing alone in the car. You have to be open and cathartic with a song like this. I can relate to that. It turns out he can hit his notes a lot better than Tony. Tony flubbed his opening notes and belted quite abrasively, erasing what goodwill I had for him going into this episode.
Winner: Tony (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Blake: Adley Stump vs. RaeLynn – “Free Fallin’”
Based on past choices, I predict Blake will pick RaeLynn because of her upbeat personality and overall green quality (basically a twangy Xenia.) To me this Tom Petty classic seems to be more about evoking imagery in the singing than pure vocal prowess. Hopefully these contestants won’t overdo it on the chorus.
RaeLynn comes out the gate way too hard and ends up sounding off-key and forcibly twangy. By contrast, Adley does a quiet-loud thing that reminds me of Melissa Ethridge. Her approach sounds more like some saloon torch ballad, which works for me. I give both contestants props for not overdoing it on the chorus, but they harmonize like ass.
Winner: RaeLynn (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Xtina: Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou – “The Power of Love”
I wish these contestants were singing Huey Lewis and the News, but nope, it’s Celine Dion. This has “recital” written all over it. Brace yourself for a lot of vocal pyrotechnics. This could be close. Supertechnical Chris could court the lite pop Josh Groban demographic whereas Monique has the better “a raw beginner can be a winner” story, which might be more palatable to a TV producer. The montage had them on equal talent footing.
I think Monique sounded a little buried in the mix. That or her naturally softer voice fit better into the backing music. Chris’s tenor cut more into the mix, which got my attention but felt somewhat annoying. Technically both singers were spot on and did a really good job harmonizing with one another. My only criticism outside of not liking the song was that for a song about the power and passion one feels with a lover, both singers seemed to be more about selling the song than conveying true heart-bursting emotion. Eh, if you’re gonna oversing, oversing to Celine.
Winner: Chris (Yay! Monique was good too. She would have gotten a yay as well.)

Team Cee Lo: Cheesa vs. Angie Johnson – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Cheesa and Angie each have the raw power, but Angie has the devil-may-care sense of fun that might better endear her to Cee Lo. While this song is also a schlockly ballad mess, it has the built-in theatricality that can win over curmudgeons like me (Kathy and I have this song in Rock Band.) It’s also written as a duet, so these contestants will really have to play their parts.
In the slow build into, Cheesa has the clear advantage with the lower key, but as the song builds in its intensity Angie gradually comes into her element. This was another even match as neither contestant seemed to really waver, be it on the harmonizing, the power belting, and the emotional low intro. It’s a fight to the end.
Winner: Cheesa (OK! Cheesa really brought her A-Game to the song and deserved to win, but honestly I was rooting for Angie.)

Team Blake: Jordis Unga vs. Brian Fuente – “Ironic”
So we’re seeing a lot of slower, quiet-loud songs today. “Ironic” is a good song, but come on, can’t we do some INXS? Oh wait, then Jordis might be a little too familiar with the material. Seriously, I would like to see something more uptempo in the battle rounds. At least this Alanis hit has a great singalong quality. Nail those lyrics, kids!
Jordis kicks things off faithfully, then one line in gets bored and starts doing vocal runs just to get in Brian’s head. When his verse comes up, he tries to match Jordis’s power belting, but his range is too limited. On the chorus, Jordis sings herself into a corner, but it’s an energetic corner of goodness. Brian has a little more contour in his singing, but he can only do so well. This was another song that called for domination and Jordis conquered!
Winner: Jordis (Yay! Brian got maybe 5 seconds in the audition episodes. He was cannon fodder from the start. Also, Jordis tried a lot harder.)

Team Xtina: Anthony Evans vs. Jesse Campbell – “If I Ain’t Got You”
I’m tired of this song, and that’s entirely because of its overexposure back in ’03 and for its status as Idol audition staple. This song is slow and has lots of emotional belty parts over sparse accompaniment. I predict a lot of hard charging. I predict a Jesse win because he got 4 turns in 4 seconds back in the audition rounds. It would be hard to turn that kind of in-demand singer down. Who will make the dogs howl?
How do they differentiate? Anthony goes for the playful approach, with lots of cute hand motions and understated singing. Jesse goes for the professional power approach, with effortless belting that slashes through the music like a katana. Vocally Jesse was tops, as his voice was naturally more commanding. However, you had a sense that Anthony was trying a lot harder. When he came forward on the second chorus, holding onto that note like it was a life preserver, I could feel the conviction and that really resonated with me.
Winner: Jesse (Boo! I mean, yeah, he sang better, but it was singing with natural effort. Anthony sang well too and he tried way, way harder.)

So this wasn’t the best start for this round of the show. There were too many ballads and I was ok with maybe half of the winners. Still, with 36 contestants still up in the air a lot can happen.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 25 Results

March 2, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Since Idol’s results shows will likely be on the same night as Project Runway, I will not be doing same-night recaps in order for Kathy to do hers at Plastic Runway. I’ll then do a quick hit on Friday. In my opinion, this is a good thing since it keeps out the padding, vamping, and tragically hokey Ford Music Videos, and points the focus straight at the results. I’ll still be doing the same-night performance show posts. Let’s break out the results!

Top 5 Men

1. Phillip Phillips – What a shocker! The guy who’s like the last four winners moves on to the next round. Verdict: Root Against

2. Heejun Han – He’s been disappointing musically but kinda cool offstage. I hope he develops better taste in music. Verdict: Hold

3. Josh Ledet – I think this gospel singer’s going to end up just like Jacob Lusk – awesome pipes wasted on boring R&B and Gospel numbers. Verdict: Hold

4. Colton Dixon – He doesn’t deserve to be on the show, his hair sucks, and his confidence in his abilities makes his histrionic performances extra unbearable. Verdict: Root Against

5. Jermaine Jones – While I haven’t been the biggest fan of his slower performances, at least this guy doesn’t overindulge in his singing. He also comes across really in this really unassuming way, so when he hits those super low notes it’s like “Boom! Bass attack!” Verdict: Root For

Top 5 Women

1. Jessica Sanchez – Well, she’s the only person of color among the women, which is reason enough to keep her on, but she did a pretty good job Wednesday night. She came off as mature and soulful, regardless of her age. Verdict: Root For

2. Hollie Cavanagh – One more blonde from the southern pageant factory. She’s too immature for this competition. Verdict: Root Against

3. Shannon Magrane – How dare this one-percenter bring her empty affirmations to the stage without the slightest bit of fun or menace. I spit on your inspiration-bait claptrap! Verdict: Root Against

4. Elise Testone – Decent talent in a package devoid of originality. Since her main rival got bumped off, maybe she’ll seem less cloying. Verdict: Hold

5. Skylar Laine – While she seems like what would happen if Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery got fused together in a nuclear meltdown, she gives a lot of effort and sings decently. She’ll be more about fun than Verdict: Hold

Wildcards, bitches!

1. Jeremy Rosado – I still think this teen is a mediocre performer, but he does have decent pipes and Kathy liked his song on Tuesday. Verdict: Hold

2. DeAndre Brackensick – Well, Eben the Lil Bieber is out of the game, so this guy must be this season’s cute teen boy. At least he’s more talented. He just needs to stop leaning on his falsetto like a crutch. Verdict: Hold

3. Erika Van Pelt – EVP has a lot of the qualities I look for in a contestant – good backstory, a nice sense of showmanship, decent singing talent, and above-average taste in music. If she be this season’s rock star, then rock on! Verdict: Root For

See you next week!

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 12 Women

February 29, 2012

Image edited from original by Brandon Heyer on Flickr, used under Creative Commons.

The voting kickoff continues with the Top 12 women contestants taking the stage. How come there got to be one more guy? I don’t know. Seacrest even highlights the fact that a woman hasn’t won the show since Jordin Sparks won season 6. You can hear the sadness in his voice. I know it’s shitty, dude. This is American Idol!

Notes: Man, Steven Tyler loves those long shirts and hats. He looks like such a tool! Also, note all the white, blonde contestants standing up there. There looks to be one, maybe two women of color onstage. Yay for diversity?

Theme: Contestants can pick any song. Same as last night.

Here are the Top 12 female performers in order of appearance on the show.

1. Chelsea Sorrell – “Cowboy Casanova” I don’t know this song, but it sounds really upbeat and rich. It was a good choice to start off the night. However, I can’t say the same for the live mix of the music or for Chelsea’s slightly delayed singing and nasal belting style. She was really awkward on the staccato parts of the buildup to the chorus. I also wish she emoted more. I failed to feel the hot, casual lust that was in the lyrics. It wasn’t a shitshow, but she could do a lot better. Also, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Tim Riggins-lookalike fiddle player this season.

2. Erika Van Pelt – “What about Love?” For a big ballad like this Heart original, there’s the temptation to oversing like crazy, but Erika keeps things dialed back and lets her volume build and build until the big held note climax at the end. She has a lot of control in her delivery, and her deep melodic singing style reminds me of Cher (that’s a good thing in this case.) She exuded defiant confidence, and I really got into that. Kids, EVP isn’t fucking around. As Lil Wayne would say, “Go DJ! That’s my DJ!

3. Jen Hirsh – “One and Only” Another Adele song? Jen finds her groove late into the song, and while she’s belting like a pro, her performance feels cold and plodding. I felt like she was mugging way too much onstage, especially for a song like this. It failed to pique my interest….ZZZZZZZZZZZZ………….

4. Brielle Von Hugel – “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” So she’s the one with the pushy stage parent? Well, maybe she would have coached her not to sing below her range. Jeez, the first verse sounded like a dryer cycle. Halfway into the song, Brielle found some energy and caught my attention. Her big gospel ending felt cloying and tonally inappropriate, but technically she was ok. She’s the middle of the pack.

5. Hallie Day – “Feeling Good” Jazz standards like this are done to death, but you could make the case that the “new dawn, new day, new life” lyrics work with Hallie’s backstory. Vocally Hallie was noticeably off-key, but she had a good sense of timing and command of the stage. And that big note at the end was totally earned and gave me chills! When Hallie is on she’s on, but otherwise she can be a hot mess. [Sidenote: Stop talking about Adele, judges! She’s good, but she’s one singer! And no, Lana Del Rey doesn’t count. Do you have any other cultural touchpoints?]

6. Skylar Laine – “Stay With Me” Dressed like a Mardis Gras float, Skylar lays into a song I haven’t heard of. I give her points for delivering one of the more energetic performances of the night. Her delivery was a little unintelligible, but she hit every note but the last big one (which…ouch….) Her bopping stage moves were awkward and klutzy, but maybe that will come off as endearing. I give her points for trying to be fun and not completely choking onstage.

7. Baylie Brown – “Amazed” Another country performer? And this overdone wedding staple? Baylie needs to deliver a flawless victory. How did she do? OK, remember Denise Richards’s Becky Leeman character from Drop Dead Gorgeous? Entitled, overconfident, smug, and underwhelming? Well, this is what Becky Leeman sounds like singing “Amazed.” Her performance was off-key, bleating, messy, and harsh (and her ill-fitting “don’t vote me off” dress is just icing on the cheesecake.) I hope I don’t have to listen to her failures for much longer.

8. Hollie Cavanagh – “Reflection” Are all these contestants blondes from Texas? It’s like the cabinet of the George W. Bush administration up in here! The ersatz, schmaltzy music arrangement that accompanies Hollie screams “pageant” to me. Did you notice that Hollie wasn’t really articulating the lyrics outside of “MY RE-FLE-EC-TION?” I’ll concede that for her big notes Hollie did a decent Xtina impression, but outside of that her pitch and delivery combined to form a slurry of immature singing.

9. Haley Johnsen – “Sweet Dreams” Haley comes across as likeably quirky and I really want to root for her, especially for bringing a new wave song to the Idol stage. Sadly, she had the same problem as some of her competitors – singing below her range. Haley and the house band were so divergent key-wise I thought they were performing two different songs. The big belt-off at the end was cool, but so were those from a lot of the other contestants. Let’s go back to Haley’s montage that showed her doing gymnastics. If her performance was a floor routine, she would have scooted her ass around the floor for 5 minutes but she would have totally stuck the landing!

10. Shannon Magrane – “Light Your World” I don’t know this song either! I feel so out of touch! This feels like another one those shitty inspiration-bait songs. I blasted Creighton for this shit last night and I’m blasting Shannon for it now. The empty charity lyrics and tacky arrangement seemed like bedding for cheap vocal fireworks. And that pageanty sound-off didn’t help either. Chant it with me now: One percent! One percent! Jennifer Lopez, Shannon may have good passion for a 16 year old, but if a 28 year old went on stage and did that same shit would you be giving the same kudos? This stupid panel!

11. Jessica Sanchez – “Love You I Do” Project, dammit! When Jessica isn’t belting she’s like a shy Joss Stone. But I think she’s one of the better singers among the women in that she can hit the notes, whip out the vocal firepower, emote like someone who understands her song, and command the stage. I feel weird rooting for a teen contestant, but Jessica came across like an experienced professional. You go, player!

12. Elise Testone – “One and Only” Didn’t Jen just do this earlier in the show. Well, that’s points off for not finding another damn singer (or at least another damn Adele song) to perform from. Elise’s performance was competent enough, but for fuck’s sake I couldn’t feel this one. Hey Adele, can your label temporarily forbid contestants on this show from performing your music?

In conclusion, I think the judges did a horrific job picking female contestants. While last night’s performances were overall decent with two clear clunkers, tonight I saw mostly trainwrecks with two clear winners. It was so hard to pick a third “top” from this group. Seriously, these were the twelve best female singers of the audition pool? There had to have been a better bunch of contestants out of thousands of applicants. And so many of these contestants look the same! This cannot be reflective of America! Tonight felt like some craptacular pageant. I really hope that some of these contestants can wake the fuck up and convince me to root for them. I want to root for them, especially since guys have won the past four years, but I can’t abide such bad performances.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Erika Van Pelt
2. Jessica Sanchez
3. Skylar Laine

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Baylie Brown
2. Shannon Magraine
3. Elise Testone + Jen Hirsh [Tie, because they sang the same song]

Some housekeeping: Kathy will be busy recapping Project Runway on Plastic Runway on Thursday night, so expect a quick post from me tomorrow or Friday about this week’s results.

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