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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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