Archive for March, 2012

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 9 Results

March 29, 2012

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

This week we were back to the vague themes and questionable tastes as the Top 9 sang songs from their “personal idols.” About half of it was ok. Let’s see who heads home tonight.

Here are the musical performances in order they were on the show.

1. Ford Music Video: You know, an 80s pop metal theme night might not be such a bad thing, especially if the contestants all had to all dress up in neon, spandex, and hairspray. It might motivate some of these jerks into being entertaining.

2. Nicki Minaj – “Starships” Well, Nicki isn’t even trying to lip sync and it shows in her lack of energy in the performance. This is in spite of a decent melody and perfectly danceable beat (along with a completely different-sounding hook a la “Party Rock Anthem.”) The realistically-dressed beach bum backup dancers were refreshing and enthusiastic as well. It’s just a shame that Nicki didn’t bring the fire she has in her studio recordings. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind if she bumped Steven off the judging panel.

3. Scotty McCreery – “Water Tower Town” The season 10 winner’s performance has a few things going for it. One, Scotty lost that performance tic where he holds his microphone like a flute. Two, his singing is quite on pitch. Three, the melody is upbeat and breezy for a pop country song. It’s just that I can’t get behind that small-town whitewashing and as Robot Chicken Charlie Brown might say “Strong Christian Overtones!” Those themes will resonate with a big audience, but I wasn’t feeling them.

Bottom 3
1. Hollie Cavanagh: It was only a matter of time. Hollie seems stuck in pageant mode almost every time she gets on stage. She executes like a great technician, but the only spark of life I have seen from her was in the Madonna medley. Maybe the music of Madge will inspire her, should she stick around. What she needs to remember is that 66% of her competition whips out vocal acrobatic ballads on a weekly basis. She can win by doing different things. Remember, performing the same thing week after week is what got Erika the boot.

2. Heejun Han: I’m tired of alternately being disappointed by and feeling sorry for the comedian. His caving into producer pressure to be boring drained every last drop of goodwill I had for him. I’d tell him to be more upbeat, charming/awkward, and self-aware, but he embodied those qualities during Billy Joel week and he was in the bottom three then. If only he put a little more thought into his song choices or tried to embody more of a party spirit like he did offstage, he could have been more of a contender.

3. Skylar Laine: OK, so Skylar didn’t bring her A-game this week but COME ON PEOPLE! Skylar balances the masculine and feminine in her stage presence, sings like she gives a damn about what’s going on, and knows how to engage the audience like a seasoned professional. I’m normally down on the teen contestants but Skylar, like Jessica, blasts that away with attitude and true talent. If she’s out I’ll be disappointed.

The Loser
First, it’s a good thing that Skylar is quickly sent back to the chairs. Otherwise I’m ok with the Bottom 3. I would have been disappointed about this a few weeks ago, but it looks like the comedian gets the big cane-yank offstage. Heejun followed the trajectory of contestants who seemed interesting but had terrible taste in music. I had hopes for him after he performed “My Life,” but it was an aberration instead of a sign of change. Maybe he’ll find his groove in another setting.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 9

March 28, 2012

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

Opening moment: Seacrest says to the contestants “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Wait, so in addition to singing the contestants must hunt and kill each other until one is left standing?

Theme: Contestants sing songs by their “personal idols.” On paper these vague theme nights should be good for variety, but based on past song selection I bet we’ll still see a lot of boring ballads. To fill out the show contestants will also sing in groups of three, Also, Tommy Hilfiger is still on the show? And they have an American Idol fashion brand now? This show finds new ways to disappoint me every season.

Mentors: Jimmy Iovine and Stevie Nicks. Guess who has aged better.

Here are the Top 9 performers and 3 trio medleys in order of appearance on the show

1. Colton Dixon – “Everything” (Lifehouse) Aw man, not Lifehouse! If Colton picked a Christian rock artist with more verve (Plumb, Jars of Clay, even Relient K) he could come off good. Instead he picked one of the nu-grunge hunga dunga durr acts that helped me define the kind of music I didn’t like when I was in high school. As for the performance itself, Colton’s singing is improved, though it’s still whiny and flat. He does the “breathy” thing ok, but he’s just not very engaging. Don’t put the audience to sleep so early, dude! Also, I guess we have a new chosen one (aw shit!)

2. Skylar Laine – “Gunpowder and Lead” (Miranda Lambert) Skylar’s opening is a bit to nasally for me. She picks up in the chorus when she’s cushioned by the backup singers, but she’s not bringing her A-game. I think that she’s trying too hard to sound like Miranda Lambert and her naturally hard nasal twang. It’s a shame because otherwise Skylar has performed really well this season and this song has a lot of power to it. In theory these two should go together like no other, but it didn’t quite work. If Skylar tried to put her own spin on things she could have brought the house down. She’s still really good and there’s a chance this could still be the best of the night, but this is not her best work.

3. Trio: Colton, Elise, and Phillip – Well we kick off the trios with two really bad guys and one lady who’s been getting better every week. Colton is first on stage and once again he puts me to sleep with “Landslide.” Elise thankfully puts a stop to hit with surprisingly on-point belting on “Edge of Seventeen.” Then Phillip finishes things with “Don’t Stop.” That’s such a happy song and Phillip looks really happy on stage. It’s just a shame that even when he’s dorking it up like a Disney World cast member he sounds like he’s going to rip your head off. To their credit, this trio harmonized pretty decently

4. Heejun Han – “A Song For You” (Donny Hathaway) Just as predicted, Heejun goes back to the boring ballads after ending up in the bottom three for doing something clever and fun. At least he’s singing pretty well on this song. Seriously he’s showing the most vocal range since the audition rounds. The tune still sounds plodding and stale, but at least in those confines Heejun executes really damn well. Piss on Tyler and Iovine for boxing the comedian in and trying to obliterate his personality.

5. Hollie Cavanagh – “Jesus Take The Wheel” (Carrie Underwood) Zzzzzz…. Didn’t Lauren Alaina do this last season? This song feels so overdone that even if Hollie exuded genuine emotion and elicited super pathos (which she didn’t), I wouldn’t be able to connect with the material. Just like the rest of her performances, Hollie blasts out a lot of the big notes and does some cool vocal swan dives, but it feels so calculated. Even if she sounds better than other contestants, she won’t place as high because her performance wasn’t as fun. Also, it looks like the producers got rid of the Tim Riggins-lookalike fiddle player and replaced him with some nondescript guy in ill-fitting business casual.

6. DeAndre Brackensick – “Sometimes I Cry” (Eric Benet) DeAndre gets off to a great start by showing off some good contour in his range. Then 20 seconds in he stalls out in falsetto land and I lose patience with his overreliance on the tip top of his range. If he actually tried to sing a little tenor, he could have had a chance of placing with me, as it’s not like he has heavy competition tonight. Instead he comes across more like some semi-chipmunk novelty act.

7. Jessica Sanchez – “Sweet Dreams” (Beyonce) I should be a little upset with Jessica for forcing an uptempo song to be yet another damn slow song in this groaner of an episode, but she deserves points for actually making changes to a piece of music and making it more her own. She showed considerable restraint in her delivery, even as she was chewing the scenery and gliding across the stage. When she went for the colossal notes, this time it felt heartfelt, genuine, and just a little melancholy. It was pretty cool. Welcome back to the forces of good, Jess.

8. Trio: DeAndre, Heejun, and Josh – For this Michael Jackson medley, the three high-voiced guys do a lot more trading off of parts than the last group. As a result, it feels more like a true group performance. They also harmonize really well. The medley starts out with a whimper with “The Lady In My Life,” the lone bad song on Thriller but quickly dispenses with it for “Rock With You” and “P.Y.T.,” which both kick ass. We also see that DeAndre can pop, Josh can moonwalk, and Heejun either can’t or won’t keep up with the choreography. Dammit, Heejun this is the one time where falling in line is a good thing! Otherwise, decent performance!

9. Phillip Phillips – “Still Rainin’” (Jonny Lang) I give Phillip props for sticking to his strengths and going with a blues-rock artist from the past twenty years who makes him sound really authentic. Phillip’s blues rock schtick can get annoying, but here’s a situation where it makes sense. The arrangement really compliments Phillip’s growly belting and his pained wails at the end (the vein was popping out of his head) had me convinced that he was really trying. He demonstrated a good sense of build and he nailed most of his notes. What a pleasant surprise!

10. Josh Ledet – “Without You” (Mariah Carey) First, points for Josh for choosing someone of the opposite gender as his personal idol. Otherwise his performance felt a lot like Hollie’s. Don’t get me wrong, Josh sang circles around Hollie, but in the end I felt like this was more of a vocal show-off session than anything with an emotional connection (or, you know, a song.) This felt cold, calculated, and pageanty. It’s a pity because Josh is so freaking talented!

11. Trio: Hollie, Skylar, and Jessica – OK, Hollie needs to do more upbeat dance pop, since she is killing it on this medley of early Madonna music. Jessica dominates “Like A Prayer” with her laser-beam singing and tough stage presence as everyone expected her to (with the white jacket and pants to boot), but when the music switched to “Borderline,” Hollie belted with near perfect pitch, showed just the right amount of attitude, and most importantly connected with the audience. She looked happy to be up there and she wanted the audience to feel just as happy. Poor Skylar was a fish out of water and could barely keep up with her competitors. She looked like she wanted to rush through the song and sink into the background. This just wasn’t her thing.

12. Elise Testone – “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) Just like Josh, Elise deserves credit for picking an inspiration of opposite gender. And that’s where the comparison stops. Elise brought some much needed ROCK to the proceedings. She had the Robert Plant blues wail, vocal power chords, and manic stage presence. And that on-key screech at the end….fuck. Elise was unyielding! With her blonde locks, bell bottom pants, and slinky stage moves, she even looked like Plant did back in the 70s. Like the song says, Elise just took her competition to school. I was rooting against her early on in the season, but every week she has shown improvement and a willingness to attack the gaps in the song choices to stand out. Worst to first!

And what would I have sung? This is a tough one, as most music figures I consistently admire end up on the producer side of the studio and don’t sing much: Fatboy Slim, Mark Ronson, Freemasons, etc. To be a personal idol one should be cool as a person and make good music to boot. That’s why I have to go with something by Pharrell Williams. Since the early 2000s I have admired Pharrell’s catchy production catalog, willingness to blend music genres, personal style (though I would never attempt it), and ability to be simultaneously popular and dorky. We’re getting into the tough middle third of the show so for song choice I’ll go with something familiar, cool, and bouncy – his Grammy-nominated Jay-Z collaboration “Frontin’.” My falsetto isn’t nearly as convincing or sustainable as Pharrell’s, so for my arrangement I’d keep the Neptunes drum track but lower the key to something more like the Jamie Cullum cover. To keep things exciting I would drop in some of the Jay-Z verse on the bridge before one more chorus.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Elise Testone
2. Phillip Phillips (Commencing heart attack in 3…2…1….)
3. Jessica Sanchez

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Colton Dixon
2. DeAndre Brackensick
3. Heejun Han

This episode was alternately hard to watch and awesome to watch. On one hand there were too many slow songs. I like to get into the music and for me that’s easier with uptempo goodness. Half of the contestants seemed to focus on technical execution rather than having fun or giving the audience pause. Luckily there was that other half. Big ups to Elise, Phillip, Jessica, and Skylar (who was barely edged out for the top three) for making the night fun.

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 4

March 27, 2012

Image edited from original by Mr. Fink’s Finest Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

OK Voice fans, we are at part four and the hopeful conclusion of this round of battles. Once the show is done with this round it will have 24 contestants, which will still take a lot of time to get through. Will more battles follow or will another oddly effective gimmick take its place? Will the show make good on its promise of live shows next week? Sometimes I suspect this show keeps throwing in crazy gimmick rounds because it knows that as soon as the public voting starts, it’s basically Idol with a trimmed staff and more diverse contestant base. Anyways, let’s get this party started!

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 Cee Lo: James Massone vs. Wade – “True Colors”
Dammit Cee Lo, stop trying to do these gimmick battles. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” sucked last week because neither contestant could really touch it. Poppy James and Stax-y Wade are both way too fun for this inspiration-bait song. Creighton Fraker crashed and burned when he did this on Idol and I don’t have high hopes for these two guys. They’re both so good otherwise. Wade sounds a little better in his practice session while James sounds a little too shrill, so I predict a Wade win. Nonetheless, if James wins he could go pretty far with his very current R&B sensibilities.
The little vamping is kind of off. Throughout the performance James sounds like he’s about to teeter off the cliff. Wade just can’t those high belty notes when this should totally be his thing. I think the big problem is that this song doesn’t really go anywhere. Neither singer can really build to something so they’re left running in place. Wade especially wants to build to something so bad and he ends up in a crazy mess. James didn’t take as many risks, so he comes off better.
Winner: James (Yay! While I was rooting for Wade, I respect where James is coming from and expect good things from him. Also, the UN needs to haul Cee Lo Green’s ass to The Hague, because once again he’s been committing war crimes in a battle.)

Team Adam: Nicolle Galyon vs. Mathai – “Love Song”
Ooh! Shouting song! I associate this song with a bunch of drunken spontaneous singalongs from my second year of grad school. That may not translate well to on-pitch performances. Nicolle can really work the human connection thing, while Mathai can punch through the tension with her belting. The winner will be upbeat to the point of just shy of obnoxiousness. The song has a very deep, warm quality too it and the sound of Nicole’s voice might fit better, so I predict a Nicolle win.
Mathai’s having better luck with her runs but as predicted Nicole sounds better when she’s straight up singing. I wish Nicolle brought out more power, especially at the end. I wish Mathai would pace herself so that her big sing-off was more earned. The whole thing hits the skids when they try to harmonize, for it’s about as welcome as Rick Santorum at a Scissor Sisters concert. Wow that was horrendous! It wasn’t enough to kill the performance on its own, but that endeavor as a whole was fair to disappointing.
Winner: Mathai (Meh! She rocked in her audition round but the more I hear her singing the more I fear her voice will combine with Erin Martin’s to break all the glass in the world. If she dials her intensity back she’ll be great!)

Team Xtina: Moses Stone vs. The Line – “Satisfaction”
Oh snap! It’s the battle of the leftovers. If Christina really wanted to do something to challenge both country and hip hop artists, she could have picked something by Big and Rich, Cowboy Troy, or even Everlast. I’m nervous about both artists, since The Line is a duo and gets an unfair advantage, while Moses is novel for a show like this but sounded sloppy in his audition. I’m rooting for Moses, but I predict a Line win since their built-in harmonies will fill out the big loud show that is this song.
You know it’s a good sign of a performance when I can’t bring myself to type anything until the song is done. This has the potential to be one of the best performances this episode. The song was arranged in such a way that both sides got to vamp a little and play to their strengths: The Line got to harmonize a bunch while Moses got a reworked verse and drum break that was conducive to some moderate speed rapping. To their credit, both sides took a few risks and succeeded. Moses actually sang pretty damn well and took Christina’s belting lessons to heart. Both Line members struck out to sing on their own and showed that as they deserve to be here as individual talents, not just as a duo. I was nervous about this one, but props to all performers and Christina Aguilera for a fabulous show!
Winner: Moses (Yay! Again, both sides were great but I’ll take the individual act over the duo anytime. I also want Moses to be the gateway act that gets other rappers interested in competing in reality competitions.)

Team Adam: Karla Davis vs. Orlando Napier – “Easy”
Adam did kind of a cool thing in the practice rounds by acknowledging that his original pick “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates didn’t work for either singer. Rather than letting the performance go on and subjecting us all to a possible shitshow, Adam changed the song to this Commodores number. Neither singer really impressed me in the auditions. Orlando had slurred delivery while Karla got so little time she seemed like cannon fodder. Based on producer screen time allotment, I predict an Orlando win.
At the start of the performance Orlando dominates the track for better or worse. His singing is about as good as Nicole’s this round. The performance gets interesting when Karla gets her moment. Her singing tone is soft and idiosyncratic without being annoying. At her best I want her to cut a few soul singles with Jamie Lidell. Then she tries to hit the high notes and all hopes are dashed. Orlando is worse at straight-up singing, but his belts aren’t cringe-inducing. I hate to come off like Randy Jackson, but I think that if Karla took fewer vocal risks she would have come across better.
Winner: Karla (Yay! She had lower lows, but she shows way more promise than conventional ol’ Orlando. She needs to get a better feel for her range if she wants to make it out of the top 24.)

Team Blake: Jordan Rager vs. Naia Kete – “I’m Yours”
“I’m Yours” is probably one of my least favorite Jason Mraz songs. It’s so damn mellow. Nonetheless, the syncopated singing built into the song might make for a good round. As the practice clips imply, this battle is Naia’s to lose. The hippie vibe in the Mraz original fits perfectly with Naia’s acoustic guitar street performer aesthetic. Jordan could make the song if he could put in a little menace and twang on it, kind of like RaeLynn only earned. Alternately, he could go supertenor, channel his inner “jerk with an acoustic guitar,” and surprise everyone. Nonetheless, I predict a Naia win. She’s like Dia Frampton Part II, and Dia was the top vote getter on Blake’s team last season.
First, props to both Naia and Jordan for some really effective harmonizing! The singers really knew when to push forward and when to support each other. Jordan had a more commanding vocal performance in the verses, as his singing style is richer overall. Still, Naia’s no slouch and where she slips a little on the vocal tip she makes up for on the scatting bridge. When it comes to the reggae folk action, she’s a pro doing her thing.
Winner: Naia (Yay! I was rooting for her, but I concede that Jordan totally got robbed. He tried his best under the circumstances, but based on his 5-second audition package he was probably cannon fodder. Poor guy.)

Team Cee Lo: Tony Vincent vs. Justin Hopkins – “Faithfully”
This could be a great battle. Both Tony and Justin are great belters, and Journey is a great band to belt to, whether it’s a ballad like this or a chugging rocker. Justin has a warmer quality to his singing, so he might be better at connecting with the audience. Tony has stronger pipes can project like whoa, so he’ll win by wowing the crowd and putting them in awe. Justin has fewer obstacles to victory, as it will be easier to Tony to go off the rails into the imaginary chasm of shrillness, so I predict Justin will be the last contestant to make it into the Top 24.
This was the other performance that was so good I couldn’t type anything until both contestants were done. Tony delivered on his potential by wowing the crowd with his passionate singing right before the big arrangement kicked in. What’s more, he made an emotional connection. You see that pained look in his face? That’s love so hard it hurts. I was welling up. Then Justin came on and kicked it like a pro. You could feel the warmth and earnestness in his movements and his belting. He looked so happy to be there singing this song. Fuck…they’re both so damn good! Not since Jessica Sanchez annihilated my expectations covering Whitney Houston on Idol have I been reduced to tears like this.
Winner: Tony (Yay! Hot damn I can’t wait to see what this theater supervillain can do! I really hope Justin goes on to some great things because he needs to keep at it and share his talents! You just may have redeemed yourself for earlier tonight, Cee Lo.)

While this episode wasn’t as good overall as last week’s, it had two superb performances that really engrossed me. As far as team mixes go, here is my ranking, along with whom I’m rooting for on each team.
1. Team Xtina: Ashley, Chris, Lindsey, Moses
2. Team Blake: Erin, Jermaine, Jordis, Naia
3. Team Adam: Katrina, Kim, Pip, Karla
4. Team Cee Lo: Jamar, James, Tony

The battles are over! The voting rounds begin! I’m sure excited, if only because the solo performances might bring with them the Unintentionally Funny Backup Dancer Group. See you next week!

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 10 Super-Truncated Results

March 23, 2012

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

Note: Starting next week I will start doing more fleshed out recaps of the Idol results shows.

So for Top 10 week the contestants sang the work of Billy Joel. While the performances were a little too slow for my taste, I was still pleased with the overall quality. Let’s see who was on the chopping block Thursday night.

Bottom 3
1. DeAndre Brackensick: Fair! DeAndre was way worse last week, and he deserves points for starting things on an upbeat note. Still, he had the misfortune of going first and performing in the middle of the pack, quality-wise. He also maybe leaned a little too much on the high end of his range.
2. Heejun Han: Boo! Come on, people! Heejun actually brought a performance with the teeth to match his offstage persona. He acts like he’s above the whole proceedings, but last night he was willing to let the audience in on the joke. Now if he stays on he’ll probably go back to the same old “apprentice Josh Groban” boring bullshit.
3. Erika Van Pelt: Fair! I’ve been rooting for Erika all season but I understand her placing in the bottom. Between her mobile DJ backstory and the recappers pegging her as this season’s hard rocker, I was expecting more upbeat material from her, or at least something with teeth. She just kept doing her “pop ballad or power ballad” thing, and after last night I understand if some voters got tired.

The Loser
I’m not too happy with this Bottom 3, especially since Colton hasn’t been able to sing all damn season and Phillip and Hollie keep going through the motions (though props to Elise for her recovery!) Still, someone must depart and it’s….DJ EVP! It’s a bittersweet loss, since Erika is incredibly talented and demonstrated a lot of potential on the show. However, as good as she was she never really progressed beyond those initial few successes. When the rest of the contestants got better while she got worse, the audience lost patience with her the way I lost patience with The Walking Dead on AMC. Goodbye Erika. You were one of the best singers in the Top 10. Here’s hoping you can have some fun outside the grip of Idol.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 10

March 22, 2012

Image by gagilas via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Theme: Contestants sing songs by Billy Joel.

Mentors: Jimmy Iovine and Diddy with style tips from, wait, Tommy Hilfiger? He hasn’t been hot since Playstation 1. Why are we taking style tips from him?

Here are the Top 10 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. DeAndre Brackensick – “Only The Good Die Young” DeAndre gets things off to a good start with this fairly straightforward take. I think this was a good call on his part. His falsetto is a good fit for the song’s high key, and the arrangement was big and crazy. I wish DeAndre would sing a little bit lower from time to time and that he’d bring a little more neediness in his stage presence. After all, to me this song is about begging for sex and not being afraid to look like a dork. Nonetheless, this was a good start for the night.

2. Erika Van Pelt – “New York State of Mind” I don’t know this song at all. When the performance starts I hear big, slow and plodding music combined with a lot of oversinging on Erika’s part. Honestly this felt like audition fodder: keep the track slow and sparse and make a lot of vocal runs on top. If Erika suddenly started to sing “What A Wonderful World,” or “Georgia On My Mind,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. What’s worse, she couldn’t quite hit some of those big notes, so the performance felt like a lot of pomp for nothing. I’m started to get bored with DJ EVP’s parade of slow songs. As for her haircut, Kathy and I love the cut but don’t care for the color.

3. Josh Ledet – “She’s Got A Way” Here’s another slower song that feels older than it should be. To Josh’s credit, he plays things quite evenly in both his body language and how he sings. Unlike Erika, Josh knows how to build in intensity so his melodic vocal run at the end don’t feel forced. The arrangement also felt well paced and not overstuffed. I agree with Jennifer Lopez’s criticism that while Josh executed very well vocally, he didn’t quite get the emotion across in the song. When I hear a Billy Joel ballad I want to feel loneliness and heartache. Josh was just a little too triumphant in his singing.

4. Skylar Laine – “Shameless” Now here’s a little more emoting! Even if you’re not connecting with the lyrics of sacrificing integrity in the face of love, the belting on “SHAMELESS” felt genuine and spot on. Like Josh, Skylar built to a big crescendo and executed solidly. It’s not my favorite performance of hers, but I really couldn’t find too much fault in her execution or her emotion. Maybe if she faltered or went lower every so often so that her build wasn’t as even, it might have felt more real. Otherwise I wish she’d go back to her uptempo material. Was “You May Be Right” taken?

5. Elise Testone – “Vienna” Lyrically this song feels like inspiration bait, but it has a rolling tempo that reminds me of Gaga’s “You and I,” and that may be a comparison that benefits Elise. Her gravelly alto growl is a good fit for material like this. She sung on point and did her best to connect with the audience so the inspiration felt authentic. Other than a few vocal flubs, Elise came across pretty well. If she gets voted off, she can go off with integrity and pride.

6. Phillip Phillips – “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” Compared to the past five contestants, Phillip’s performance didn’t feel that difficult. While it’s a little refreshing to not hear so much oversinging, this performance still left me feeling bored. I feel Phillip has one performance emotion and that’s subtle, seething anger. No matter who he’s covering, he’s singing though his teeth, growling (on key, to his credit) and doing the drinking bird dance. Sad as I am to admit it, I agree with Diddy’s suggestion that he should have ditched his guitar and channeled his energy into his pipes and stage presence. I would have respected him more, that’s for sure.

7. Hollie Cavanagh – “Honesty” First, what’s with the disco suit and sparkly tube top? Unless she was going to do a super-uptempo version of “I Go To Extremes,” this look wasn’t appropriate, especially in a song that sounds a lot like what she sang last week. Hollie’s singing, while quite professional and mostly on-key, failed to help her rise above the pageant vibes that continue to dog her. I feel like she could have been more minimal and more emo this week. She should either turn inward or turn up the BPM.

8. Heejun Han – “My Life” Wait. Might this be a spark of life from the comedian? This is what I’ve been waiting to hear from Heejun all season! He has a confident swagger as he struts around the stage and plays off the judges. Better yet, he sounded good! He stuck to his range, got in a few good power belts in, and got me emotionally involved in what often feels like so much forced nonsense. I feel that he needs to stay along this path. The fun songs will better match his offscreen persona and make him way more relatable. Keep it up, dude!

9. Jessica Sanchez – “Everybody Has A Dream” Jessica’s vocals are unwavering and in terms of execution she’s as good as her star turn back in Top 13 week. She has no vocal flubs and musically executed with power, complete with all the standard diva power moves including the rarely-used songbird chirp (it was towards the end of the song and sounded like Mariah Carey.) This brings me to why I didn’t like the performance – it felt calculated to allow Jessica to show off all those moves high-caliber female R&B-pop singers are supposed to show off. Even when she did the finger waves and stiff arms it looked like she was mimicking the form of attitude instead of conveying actual attitude. The lack of apparent connection to the song made it feel stale, like a yellowing motivational poster of a stock image and trite saying. Erika was livelier tonight. I’m disappointed.

10. Colton Dixon – “Piano Man” I was initially looking forward to this performance, as Colton’s balladeering tendencies would serve this song well. Two things hurt him on the way to the end. One thing was trying to modernize the song so it sounded like it was by The Fray – low moaning, slow tempo, and a big, ersatz backing track. I don’t like that kind of music. It’s Grey’s Anatomy Rock, not the kind of music you’d hear in a dive bar. The second thing that hurt him was horrendous car alarm singing. It sounded like every fifth note was a screechy flub and I ended up questioning his credibility. Bad singing + bad arrangement = worst of the night.

And what would I have sung? While Joel’s “The Downeaster Alexa” is really tempting, I think I need to go to my favorite Joel album Glass Houses. To stand out among this ballady crowd I should sing something more uptempo. I think “Sleeping With The Television On” could be a good fit. The lyrics are self-deprecating and relatable. The music’s propulsive tempo would lend itself to a slight drum machine rework. To really modernize the song I’d go with a dubstep arrangement at half-time for the chorus. The audience will love it.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Skylar Laine
2. Heejun Han
3. Elise Testone

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Erika Van Pelt
2. Phillip Phillips
3. Colton Dixon

Overall I liked tonight’s episode more than last week’s, if only for the consistent material and mostly good singing across the board. Don’t get me wrong, there weren’t a lot of head-turners, but I wasn’t covering my ears. I would have liked to see more punchy material, or at least edgier material (“Captain Jack,” anyone?) Still, this is an improvement to me. Keep getting better, Idol!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 3

March 19, 2012

Image from [auro] via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Welcome Voice fans! We’re halfway through this round of the battles and I’ve been pleased with about half of the outcomes. Let’s see how this next group shakes out!

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 Adam: Pip vs. Nathan Parrett – “You Know I’m No Good”
Oh snap? Not Adele?! This is a nice pick from Adam. Amy Winehouse’s range was low and dynamic enough that these guys will have lots of room to show their chops. The challenge will be to convey the damaged goods narration and not overdo it vocally. A good performance will elicit pathos through solid singing. Based on blind audition screentime, Pip will eke out a win. Nathan got maybe 2 seconds in his audition, so the audience isn’t likely as invested. Neither am I.
Pip pulls out the Broadway oversinging way too early in the song. He showing off in his belting and arm flailing. It’s inappropriate and clashes with the tone of the music. It’s incongruent enough that I actually end up rooting for Nathan by the end of the song (also the Andre 3000 ensemble isn’t doing Pip any favors.) He didn’t show off too much. If anything did him in, it was his hesitation before some of the big horn swells and his willingness to take on Pip directly in the belt-off at the end. Nonetheless Nathan sang solidly and seemed to better understand the song. In Glee terms, Pip is Rachel. Nathan is Santana. We all know who sang Winehouse better on that show.
Winner: Pip (Boo! Pip’s a great singer but he was not invested in this song. Nathan tried way harder and delivered the goods.)

Team Cee Lo: Erin Martin vs. The Shields Brothers – “What’s Love Got To Do With It”
This will be a crazy battle. The Shields boys are your basic pop-rock duo whereas Erin is super crazy and raspy. Neither has the pure vocal chops to directly take on Ms. Turner. Erin will have to project and the brothers will have to sing decently while not relying on each other to be the chorus. I predict an Erin win, as she seems like she has a little more vocal control and TV-friendly image. If the boys make it through, they’ll get eaten alive in the voting rounds.
Since neither performer can rise to the occasion of the Tina Turner original, the arrangement tries to split the sound to match both Erin’s twee quirkiness and the Shields’ meatheaded rockism. So half of the song is “Hey There Delilah” and half is “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone,” and not in a clever mash-up way. Neither side can deliver vocally. Even their stage presence was like three drunk theater kids jostling for the mic at a karaoke bar. I think the blame for this shitshow lies at the feet of The Lady Killer. Also, cut the leering come-ons, Blake Shelton. That’s unprofessional! Sigh….
Winner: Erin (Meh! If that was a battle, Cee Lo Green should be tried for war crimes.)

Team Xtina: Ashley De La Rosa vs. Jonathas – “No Air”
This will be a tough battle! Both contestants had fabulous auditions, though Ashley’s was a little bit on the cannon fodder side. I’m not a fan of this song, though that’s maybe because Chris Brown performs on the original. I predict a Jonathas win based on his R&B chops and relatively higher screentime.
Early on Ashley is off key and anemic. Jonathas can’t quite sing on the off-beat rhythm and it’s jarring. He definitely has more stage presence and charisma, but when it gets time to go high-volume, Ashley kicks things into high gear. By the end of the song, it was clear that she was the better singer. I think Jonathas was more believable onstage, but I think Ashley has more long-term potential. Props to both of them for trying to play off each other.
Winner: Ashley (Yay! She certainly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and from one of the show’s probably chosen ones. Keep it up!)

Team Blake: Alyx vs. Jermaine Paul – “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car”
….And we get the first fun song of the night, and it’s 80s cheese to boot! I predict a Jermaine win. He has the professional power and the Alicia Keys patronage. Plus Blake already picked one green teen for his team with RaeLynn (and she’s way more country than Alyx.) Who can belt? Who can convey effortless charisma? Who can make the performance feel more fun than Rock Band night at Jon Hamm’s house?
This is no contest. When Jermaine’s not doing nice little runs all over the place he’s doing subtle, popping dance moves and working the crowd. I appreciated his efforts! Plus he made Alyx look stiff, unpleasant, and way too serious about the whole proceeding – precisely the opposite of what I wanted to hear and see.
Winner: Jermaine (Yay! I appreciated his efforts to get the audience invested in the cheese! He also sang really, really well!)

Team Adam: Angel Taylor vs. Katrina Parker – “Bleeding Love”
Dammit Adam, this song is Ryan Tedder-penned midtempo claptrap! This is gonna be sad! That’s my bias though and it’s not the contestants’ fault. The challenge here will be to engage the audience without resorting to blunt vocal exercises or excessive whininess. I predict an Angel win, especially after Sera Hill’s win for Team Xtina. Adam will need an answer for a singer like that, even with Katrina’s TV-friendly second-chance backstory.
It’s clear that Katrina has more range than Angel. The tone of her voice takes up more of the empty space in the song and her parts feel riches as a result. I feel that Angel is trying harder to emotionally connect with the somber, grisly lyrics of the material, though her stiff stage presence may have been a little too much. If Katrina could improve on anything, it would be to take on a little more emotion and not come across so pageanty.
Winner: Katrina (Yay! She was so much more pleasant to listen to! She fought off an opponent skilled in the emoting trade and came out stonger.)

Team Blake: Gwen Sebastian vs. Erin Willett – “We Belong”
Wow, I think Blake made the best song picks tonight! I’m certainly shocked. Gwen is certainly more in Blake’s comfort zone, though Erin’s no slouch and her sad backstory may also help her cause. I predict an Erin win. Based on our Rock Band sessions, I think Kathy does a great Pat Benatar rendition. According to her, the keys to a good Benatar performance are to project on key with just a little attitude on the verses and fearless belting on the chorus. Her best songs are unpretentious, but they still demand that you sell them. They’re not ballads, but they demand vocal power! Let’s close this out!
This was some of the best harmonizing I heard all night. Gwen and Erin actually tried to play off each other and work together rather than dominate or oversing each other. The solo parts came in the quieter verses and both did a good job with those, too! Predictable Gwen was twangier and Erin was more soulful, but the end results are still solid. It’s ultimately a matter of taste.
Winner: Erin (Yay! While I was rooting for her, either singer would have been a good choice. Sob story or not, Erin has the pipes to show she deserves to be here.)

This was an entertaining episode! I was annoyed or disappointed with the first 1/3rd of the show, but then things really recovered. I expect to have a solid stable of contestants to root for in the voting rounds. Other than the first two picks turning out differently, the only other way this could have been better would be to replace Carson Daly with Mark Dacascos as the host of the show. He would make these battle rounds so much more theatrical!

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 11 Super-Truncated Results

March 16, 2012

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

On Wednesday night we had contestants singing songs from the years they were born and really singing songs from the 60s and 70s. I wasn’t happy with a lot of the performances

Bottom 3
1. Elise Testone: Fair-to-Boo! Once again Elise ends up in the bottom 3 with a performance that was really quite middle of the road. She was at least as good as she was last week, but some her competition got comparatively better, at least on a technical level (see Phillip and Hollie.) Accordingly, I’ll concede how easy it became for the audience to forget about her.
2. Erika Van Pelt: Boo! I’m still rooting for Erika and her pipes of near-perfection. She is just so damn competent in her singing! Her risk is turning into a technician. She can execute like whoa, but she’s wanting a little in the emotional department. Also, she really needs to do something uptempo. I’m not saying she needs to be a full-on singing DJ like Colette, but if she wants to be rocker she should do a song that should make me want to throw up the rock horns.
3. Shannon Magrane: Yay! I’ve been down on Shannon for her one percent background and religious vibes these past few weeks, but when it comes down to it she just hasn’t been very good at singing. Week to week she has demonstrated consistently off-key flubbing. At her best she’s as talented as your garden variety show choir/glee club also-ran, which means thousands of kids probably could have had her run and done just as well. Shannon is one reminder of why the seeming meritocracy that is The Voice got popular.

The Loser
OK, did everyone see that bottom three is made up of all women? Especially after Heejun crashed and burned and DeAndre put the audience to sleep? I’m starting to worry that we’ll start to see the disparate impact voting that tarnished last season. The judges’ save is gone and it looks like the audience votes will determine who gets kicked off. This time, Shannon gets the boot and it’s about damn time! If she was allowed to keep going despite her mediocre singing and poor taste in music, I might have had to give up on the show. She can go back to school.