h1

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: