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!



  1. I browsed over the sites, and finally found one n only (your review) to be agree with! thank you

  2. […] reality tv show, isn’t he? He was on American Idol last night! I’ll borrow (steal) from Joe at The Ruined Auditorium: “He hasn’t been hot since Playstation 1.” His brand got so diluted, he was shilling […]

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