Archive for April, 2012


Thoughts on The Voice Top 8

April 30, 2012

Image edited from the original by Andrew Senay via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

All right, Voice fans! We have reached the semi finals! It’s been nearly three months, but the home stretch is in sight. We have a fairly decent Top 8 for the show, but it remains to be seen if they can deliver. Let’s do it!

Here are the contestants in order of their appearance on the show.

1. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “How You Like Me Now?” This was a slow starter.
Tony was flat as a pancake during the stair descent (“but he had to balance those models hanging off of his shoulders!”) Then he found his inner dance dork and cut loose. He was a bit bleaty from time to time and his dancing was silly, but he managed to project over the big brassy sound and showed great vocal control. I appreciated his big buildup and sense of fun. Dare I say it, this guy is growing on me.

2. Erin Willett (Team Blake) – “Without You” She’s doing that thing where she purposely sings way off the beat. I think it was meant to show emotion, but it came off as messy. I should give her points for doing something different with a popular song, but she went the wrong way. I’ve liked Erin the best when she brings the uptempo power show. Instead she sang only the boring parts from this David Guetta hit. When this song comes on the radio, I’m willing to deal with the beatless Usher verses that sound like a crummy photocopy of “With Or Without You” for the sake of Guetta’s visceral Fuck Me I’m Famous beats. There was no payoff to this performance – not even her vocal runs, solid as they were.

3. Chris Mann (Team Xtina) – “Ave Maria” My knowledge of opera is limited to when I interned in the marketing department of an opera company in college, but this sounded ok. Straight-up worship/performance songs like this don’t lend themselves to the performance rubric beyond technical execution (as opposed to songs or arias that relate to the actual plot of an opera, where the emotion is key.) I think Chris sounded decent within the conventions of performing stuff like this, but those conventions made it kind of boring. And that piano was way too high in the mix. Its countermelodic playing was jarring.

4. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” Does Cee-Lo wish he was a judge on Idol (or Jimmy Iovine?) Why is he picking such stodgy songs? Jamar’s retouched arrangement isn’t as radical as he thinks it is, but he sure can sing. He managed to stay grounded in his spot on the stage, but still made use of the space with the strength and variety of his vocal moves. The way he projected was intense without oversinging, and that crazy downshift at the end was pretty hot. To cap it off, he managed to have the emotion of last week’s performance with the solid singing of his early performances. Props for making the best out of a difficult situation.

5. Team Adam and Team Cee-Lo – “All These Things That I’ve Done” They have to pad this show out somehow. Juliet continues to sing on-key. Katrina was a crackly hot mess early on but righted herself quickly. Jamar tries to steal the show and succeeds for 15% of his mic time. Tony’s Bruce Springsteen impression was a tad anemic.

6. Jermaine Paul (Team Blake) – “Open Arms” Jermaine’s execution is flawless – seriously he missed not one note. I was a little nervous about this performance since this song in the wrong hands has the potential to be way too plodding and saccharine, and for the first verse it was. Then the rock parts kicked in and Jermaine found his emotional levels. His emotion matched the power of his belting. I felt passion. I felt commitment. I felt strength. I was almost at the crying level. Well played!

7. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Killing Me Softly” I kind of wish Katrina would get into the performance a little and bop to the beat (the backup singers were getting into it more,) but we’ve established that swagger just isn’t her performance style. She prefers to stay grounded. That said, this is The Voice and that performance was really fun to listen to! It was crazy catchy and Katrina nailed the torchy sensuality that a proper vocal performance of this song demands. She was on key and unwavering, and her commitment as she hit note after note was quite charming. Way to bring the A-game!

8. Blake Shelton – “Over” Blake sounded buried in the mix, which really detracted from any vocal performance he brought. Not that his singing was that hot to begin with. It was bleary, off-key, and just a bit hunger-dunger-dang. Look at how the other coaches were reacting. Christina was doing that robotic head nod thing combined with a stare that looked like she wanted to set Blake on fire with heat vision. Meanwhile Cee-Lo looked confused and disconnected, the way I probably look upon seeing the controls to a Madden game or when someone tries to explain the concept of a “standard deviation” to me. Why is this guy a coach?

9. Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina) – “Skinny Love” I should have seen this coming – the indie singer does the song from the whiny indie band. “Say Aah” this is not. At least she’s singing more coherently than Justin Vernon and his band of Civil War reenactors when they were on SNL. To her credit, Lindsey sang with a delicateness that was pleasant to hear and moderately engrossing. She managed to be dialed back and restrained and still execute with some coy emotion. She was a bit mushy on the mic, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

10. Team Blake and Team Xtina – “Edge of Glory” Jermaine sang too high. Lindsey sang too low. Erin sang too quietly. Chris oversang. There you have it, four ways to get to the same result: Wrong.

11. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” Even with all the negativity I’ve written about Juliet on this site, any doubts I had about her abilities were gone after that performance. Her snarly emoting gave Jamar a run for his money. In the past three weeks she developed the sheer stamina to sustain those growl holds, which seem difficult to nail in the first place. She also stayed on key despite all the soul power poses and vocal swan dives that would have turned a lesser performer (which was her in the Top 32 and earlier) into a scratchy trainwreck. She wins because she went for difficult material, avoided overindulgence, and came off as charismatic and entertaining. Way to stick her in the end, producers!

My Performance Ranking
1. Juliet Sims
2. Jermaine Paul
3. Jamar Rogers
4. Katrina Parker
5. Tony Lucca
6. Lindsey Pavao
7. Chris Mann
8. Erin Willett

Tonight was a pretty good night. There were maybe two performances that I didn’t care for. Otherwise we had a solid mix of standout performances. I kind of feel bad for having to rank Tony and Lindsey as low as I did, but it’s all relative. Here’s hoping for a smashing final four. See you for the results show!


Thoughts On American Idol: Top 6 Results

April 26, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Last night was all over the place. Let’s get to it.

First, here are the musical performances in order they were on the show.
1. The Queen Extravaganza – “Somebody To Love” I should have known I couldn’t escape this reality competition staple. The contestant avoided it, so now this cover band has to pick up the slack. I’m sure you could find a band of comparable talent at your county fair this summer. The last-minute appearances by Brian May and Roger Taylor couldn’t redeem this act. Was Adam Lambert busy?

2. Ford Music Video: That performance was so wooden the stars of Ax Men would have a field day.

3. Stefano Langone – “I’m On A Roll” What has Mehfano been up to these days? I should like that he’s doing dance pop, but with singing this flat it’s like he never left the show. And I was so happy when he left the show. Looks like the D.O.D. project team overseeing the clone farm that spawned this guy still needs to work on their musicality processor.

4. Katy Perry – “Part of Me” Don’t get me wrong, I think this song is catchy. That said, this performance is as bad as the last time KP performed on Idol. She was vocally flat and off key and her dancing was awkward. Just like how she used Kanye West and Rita Repulsa’s Putty Patrol from last season, she used her brigade of military-themed dancers and the onslaught of smoke and sparks to hide her mediocre stage presence. As she might sing, she’s hot in the studio and cold on the stage. Why does she keep trying to do it?

Bottom 3
1. Elise Testone: It’s not that she crashed and burned last night. I for one approved of her risk-taking. I just wish she did it earlier in the show and saved her no-bullshit performance for the end. It would have helped her stand out more against the hot competition in the first half and the claptrap in the second half.

2. Hollie Cavanagh: Here we are again. Hollie performs on this show the way I play NBA 2K12 – perpetually losing.

3. Skylar Laine: Phillip musically scooted his ass across the stage on Wednesday. Not 10 seconds after she is sent to the bottom three, Seacrest sends Skylar back to the couch for tonight there is a smidgen of justice.

The Loser
Elise had a few close calls, but all things considered she made it pretty far on this show before she got the boot. She didn’t deserve to get the boot this week, not after what Hollie pulled last night (“The Climb?” Seriously?). Still, I can take some consolation in that, free from the grip of Lythgoe and Iovine, Elise can have a nice career with her band or on her own. I wasn’t into her style at the start, but she won me over.


Thoughts On American Idol: Top 6

April 25, 2012

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

Theme: To pad the show out, contestants perform two songs: one by Queen and one open pick.

Mentor: A quick session from Brian May and Roger Taylor and nothing more. Sweet.

Here are the Top 6 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Top 6 with Brian May and Roger Taylor – “Queen Medley” Elise and Josh own this shit early on. Skylar’s not too shabby either, especially on the shouty parts. Jessica gets a few good solos in, but she sounds thin. Phillip was the last guy I expected to sound out of his element, but then this is a big loud show and Phillip is Mr. Down-To-Earth. They should have done “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with its multiple vocal parts and song styles. That would have been great for this group! Instead we get a shoddily harmonized “We Are The Champions.

2. Jessica Sanchez – “Bohemian Rhapsody” So she keeps this song for herself! What greed! She did the initial “mama” part fairly well, as the soft stuff is her bread and butter. Then she abruptly jumped to the hard-rocking part with nary a “scaramouche.” She hit the notes but lacked the defiant swagger necessary for an anthem like this. She also lingered too long on the outro. For the first time in awhile this season she looked like a child instead of a seasoned performer. Bad call, Bebe Chez!

3. Skylar Laine – “The Show Must Go On” Skylar shows great vocal control in the buildup to this slow-burner. It’s a testament to her performing ability that for a “country” contestant she can rock out pretty damn hard. For the chorus she shouted with charisma and emotion. Other than lingering a little too long on some of the verse notes, she dominated this track. Sometimes I wish she would have been a little showier in her stage moves, but all things considered I thought this was pretty good.

4. Josh Ledet – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” Josh’s take on this tune is way louder than the original, but in a live performance setting I think his choosing to melodically shout his way through was actually a good call. He had a carefree sway to his stage moves as well, and it worked for me. I think Josh is at his best when he cuts loose and doesn’t have to work too hard. His urgent singing kind of wore out its welcome by the bridge (where he should have dialed it down a notch). Nonetheless he came off well.

5. Elise Testone – “I Want It All” This performance was no-frills straight-up rocking. Elise stuck to her spot with her tambourine and went to work. She had the power notes in all the right places, and her singing was on point if a bit shrill. She had a solid emotional investment in the song, evident in her vocal ad libs. It was good. My only problem was that the back-to-basics approach didn’t stick out against the back-to-back beatdown that was Skylar and Josh’s time onstage.

6. Phillip Phillips – “Fat Bottom Girls” But we just heard this song! This was one time where Phillip should have played his guitar, as his stage presence was skittish and perpetually collapsing. That’s not how you want to come across when singing something as joyous and lascivious as this jam. Meanwhile he was vocally straining the whole time. He sounded like he forgot how to sing from his chest. It was dangerously close to “squeaky-voiced teen on The Simpsons” levels of off-key. Ouch.

7. Hollie Cavanagh – “Save Me” I can understand Hollie wanting to do something more ballady compared her competitors’ mostly punchy song choices, but I don’t have to like her choice. She executed like a pro, and that moment where she kicked her voice up an octave to rise above the backup singers was awesome. That said, I was underwhelmed for the same reason that a lot of her performances underwhelming – too held back and too stale-sounding. It was only a few notches above her early pageant work.

8. Jessica Sanchez – “Dance With My Father” Hey! Just because Jermaine Jones got tastelessly booted off the show for his legal issues doesn’t mean that his singing record gets redacted. Don’t forget that he kicked that song’s ass in Top 24 week. Also, there are other Luther Vandross songs and other ballads! Jessica does ok, but she’s just holding her own. Her singing isn’t her best, either. For me, any emotion that came across was negated by all the other baggage.

9. Skylar Laine – “Tattoos On This Town” And we’re back to straight-up country. Skylar’s performance was pretty grounded, which makes sense given the rootsy romanticism of the source material. Her vocal runs were like rolling waves in how she delivered them, yet she didn’t seem too indulgent like some of Josh’s worst performances. On the downside, those same runs felt a little too big compared to the music. Still, if that’s the worst thing I have to say about this performance, then Skylar did ok.

10. Josh Ledet – “Ready For Love” Josh had a bit of a rough start with his singing, with quite a few flubs early on. He righted himself about 50-60% into the performance and whipped out quite a few nice notes that were loaded with emotion. Dare I say it, at times he even reminded me of some of the best soft moments from Adam Lambert’s run on the show. His ending dip-and-run was not nearly the moment he wanted it to be, but it didn’t detract from the emotional highs of the overall piece. Nice job, dude!

11. Elise Testone – “Bold As Love” This isn’t hooking me. Elise is showing off a lot of her range and showing it off quite well, I must say, but this still sounds like a less catchy version of “You And I.” She tried her best to emote and really get loose with her hippie stage moves, but the noodly music and lacksadaisical lyrics didn’t connect with me. I respect her risk taking and choosing difficult material but if she wanted to do Hendrix she should have done “Fire.”

12. Phillip Phillips – “The Stone” This sounds like open mic night, and that brick backdrop isn’t helping. This was a poor song choice because it lacks a hook and doesn’t really have enough musicality to allow Phillip to really sing. Instead he was just quietly mumbling and trying to be introspective. I respect his risk taking and choosing difficult material but if he wanted to do Dave he should have done “Crash Into Me.” Kathy posits that he’s checked out of the show and I agree.

13. Hollie Cavanagh – “The Climb” I thought this was a good song choice for Hollie because it was originally made famous by Miley Cyrus, another teen singer. I thought this was a bad song choice for everything else. The pace is plodding, the lyrics are inspiration bait, and the music isn’t nearly dynamic enough. And Hollie just regressed right back to pageant mode – big notes, stiff stage presence, and the emotional investment of a cynical technician. What a sad finish!

And what would I have sung? Well since “Another One Bites The Dust” was taken, I’ll go for the only Queen song to get a cover by Electric Six – “Radio Ga Ga.” The part in the song where the music drops to just the drum track and the “Radio Ga Ga/Radio Goo Goo” lyric would be so fun for leading the audience in a clap-along. For the free choice, I’d go with “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro. I like its techno broadway musicality and catchy shuffle beat. Its lyrics are full of emotion and spirituality, but it is still ultimately a love song. Vocally there are a few neat parts that don’t require a lot of power singing. Based on what the judges were saying about not taking chances…well I’d get the boot in Top 24 week, but to hell with that. When “Black and Gold” comes on it’s time to dance like Taylor Hicks and vamp like Blake Lewis.

Performance Rankings
1. Skylar Laine (#1 in Round 1, #2 in Round 2)
2. Josh Ledet (#2 in Round 1, #1 in Round 2)
3. Elise Testone (#3 in Both Rounds)
4. Jessica Sanchez (#4 in Round 1, #5 in Round 2)
5. Hollie Cavanagh (#5 in Round 1, #4 in Round 2)
6. Phillip Phillips (#6 in Both Rounds)

This ranking was easy to do. I thought the contestants were consistent from round to round for better or worse. I was surprised and disappointed with how the judges were repeatedly making explicit was has often been the implicit rule on this show: “Don’t take chances.” I’ll concede to knocking Elise and Phillip for picking somewhat obscure songs in the free round, but that was more because I thought their songs weren’t catchy or relatable and I don’t know much about the back catalogs of Hendrix and Dave. Steven Tyler’s end-of-the-show speech in disagreement with that rule made him the unlikely voice of reason. Also, go Skylar.


Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Adam vs. Team Cee-Lo Voting Results

April 24, 2012

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

Last night’s Voice was a disappointment. There were too many slow songs and underwhelming performances. Other than a few upset performances from contestants I was rooting against up until now, the bright spots were the sudden eliminations of Pip and James Massone. Let’s see who else has to stop appearing on my TV.

Here is the guest musical performance….

Florence and the Machine – “No Light No Light” I haven’t been too keen on the music from Ms. Welch and co. (too square and stuffy), but this sounds pretty cool. There’s darkness and urgency here and I can get behind that. Flo’s no slouch on the mic either. She rocks hot power belts all over the place and that note hold towards the end was killer! Nice booking, Voice!

Now for the vetted teams….

Team Adam
1. Tony Lucca: He won the vote because he’s starting to reconcile his crazy backstory and halfway decent singing ability. He shouldn’t take himself too seriously. Also, he shouldn’t preen. Preening dropped Pip and it will drop him.

2. Katrina Parker (Adam save): She’s hot in a sparse arrangement or crazy vocal run but cold when singing against the big sounds. I feel cooler with her than I do with Tony, but I wish her straight up singing was stronger.

Team Cee-Lo
1. Jamar Rogers: I’ve been cool with this guy up until now, but he must try to have more fun. If he’s the predicted winner for this season, then his march to victory should be as engaging and entertaining as possible.

2. Juliet Sims (Cee-Lo save): During her desperation song, her vibrato was bleaty like a goat. But other than that mistake, she was at her best this week. Juliet picks decent songs, but is only just now figuring out how to sing them. That makes me uneasy.

The One-Name Losers
– Mathai: I’ve been watching too many of these shows. I say this because this was the reaction I had to her desperation song: “She’s talented, but so inconsistent. She’s all over the place and can’t decide on a performance style.” It was even in the voice of Randy Jackson. By the end of Mathai’s run her performances were getting annoying.

– Cheesa: She demonstrated some of the strongest singing of the top 16 and she had the power stances down pat. If she won it would be a validation of the show’s emphasis on vocal abilities. So why didn’t she move forward? I respected her performances, but other than “Don’t Leave Me This Way” I didn’t like them. Perhaps the voting audience felt the same way? Regardless, I felt she got robbed in the Cee-Lo pick.


Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Adam vs. Team Cee-Lo

April 23, 2012

Image edited from the original by Scott Beale via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

The quarter finals continue tonight, Voice fans! On teams Blake and Xtina, some of the probable winners unexpectedly choked and were sent packing before the voters could save them, making the show way more interesting. Will we see similar upsets happen to the shoo-ins on Teams Adam and Cee-Lo? Let’s see….

Here are the contestants in order of their appearance on the show.

1. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “It’s My Life” Whoever decided to run this song in half time made a bad call. The sludgy beats alone made the song feel plodding. Even though Jamar sang pretty well and with a surprising amount of restraint (for him,) the bad arrangement made me anxious. His stage presence was solid, blue collar emotion, but the bad arrangement undercut it. So far Jamar has been at his best on songs that rock hard and never let up. This could have been one of those songs, but it came out boring. It was good and Jamar executed well, but this early on in the show I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s not his fault.

2. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Jar of Hearts” This song choice seemed fairly predictable for me. Katrina went for the time-honored practice of singing against a sparse piano in order to give her voice maximum wiggle room. As a result, I kind of felt like she was going though the motions. To me she started out strong but got lukewarm about halfway into the piece. It’s not that she was coasting, for she seemed committed to beaming the song out until the end, but the end result felt flat. It was a solid effort.

3. Team Cee-Lo – “Dancing In The Street” Juliet fell flat. Cheesa oversang. Jamar held his own. James sounds good on this kind of song (though Kathy noted that he gave off quite the Mickey Mouse Club vibe.) Cee-Lo dominated the proceedings in terms of execution and mic time. Carson Daly gave a “tribute” to Dick Clark that felt more like a poor-taste parody.

4. Mathai (Team Adam) – “I’m Like A Bird” Mathai actually had a solid performance with this song. She felt mostly on key and used her vibrato to fit the quirky tone of the song. However, after a few more neat vocal runs her voice did a weird vocal shift that was both too high and too low and by the end Mathai was singing like Danny Elfman on a bad day. Also I wasn’t quite feeling her hamming it up in the stiff way she did. I saw Nelly Furtado live at the peak of that song’s popularity (summer 2001), and when she hammed it up she bounced around like an athlete. It was fun instead of awkward like Mathai’s stage presence.

5. James Massone (Team Cee-Lo) – “Just The Way You Are” I don’t know where to begin. The musical arrangement was incredibly dated and cheesy with its anemic drumming and stale keyboards. The persistent saxophone just took it over the top. Meanwhile James tried to go for the teen idol thing with his varsity jacket and singing to some girl with a chaste distance. He wasn’t just singing on the Mickey Mouse Club, he took things right back to the Annette Funicello era. Billy Joel couldn’t have sounded this ersatz.

6. Goodie Mob – “Fight To Win” OK, where did these guys get their costumes – from Madonna’s halftime show this past Super Bowl or from The Black Eyed Peas halftime show from the Super Bowl the year before? Also, it’s clear that any group dynamic this group once had has been obliterated by Cee-Lo’s individual star power. The other guys in the barely got any mic time. I expected to hear some solid Southern hip-hop that had Cee-Lo’s voice as one part of the appeal. The beatless, indulgent classic rock arrangement felt like so much wankery from the Lady Killer. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of future material these guys come out with.

7. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “Baby One More Time” Hey! Speaking of the Mickey Mouse Club, Adam and Tony take the audience to Metatown on this Britney cover. It had kind of a bluesy feel, almost like if it were covered by Tracy Chapman or the Black Crowes. Tony performed rather well here. He had some good wailing that was on-key and tonally appropriate. He also dialed things back for the verses and amped things up on the build to the chorus, which is evidence of great control. In my opinion, the is the best performance Tony has given since the audition.

8. Cheesa (Team Cee-Lo) – “I Have Nothing” I thought that this might happen. To be fair, Cheesa carried this song way, way better than Shannon Magrane did back in Whitney/Stevie week on Idol. She had some fabulous power belting at quite a few key moments throughout the song. This song just feels so overdone that what little emotion Cheesa showed in the performance was quickly negated by the song’s depressing arrangement and trite nature. This was so much pageantry, and just because Cheesa comes from that background doesn’t mean she should do throwbacks to that era. Zzzzzz….

9. Pip (Team Adam) – “Somewhere Only We Know” On paper this is a good song choice for Pip. The original has a sweet, lilting, emotional quality that makes me well up inside even though it’s supposedly whiny wuss rock. It’s both soft and urgent. Pip’s performance was neither. His stage presence was preening like a Glee-era high school show choir, which is not how he should have conveyed the vulnerability in the lyrics. Meanwhile his singing was ass from beginning to end. On the soft intro he went low on each of his phrases way too early, resulting in an off-key sound. He blew a lot of the big notes in the middle and end which just annihilated any speck of emotion that was standing after those stage moves. What a waste!

10. Team Adam – “Instant Karma” Mathai redeemed herself quite nicely. Katrina seemed a little lost. Tony was a bit flat. Pip phoned his performance in and still managed to be the second best singer on the stage. Adam stuck to playing the drums and didn’t sing at all, which (like Blake last week) was pretty cool since it’s his job to coach and not dominate. Take note, Cee-Lo Green.

11. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “Cryin’” There have been too many ballad performances tonight. That said, Juliet managed to find that balance between her powerful growl and the musicality necessary to win a show like this. For once she found the notes and it was good. She still held on to her power and desperation from past performances. For a 90s-era Aerosmith song, you need to have a little bittersweet desperation to convey the song’s intent. The big solo note about two-thirds in was super flat, but otherwise this was her best performance this season. Way to turn things around!

My Performance Ranking
1. Tony Lucca
2. Juliet Sims
3. Jamar Rogers
4. Mathai
5. Cheesa
6. Katrina Parker
7. James Massone
8. Pip

The Sudden Losers
• James Massone (Team Cee-Lo): Poor little guy! He started off so promising with his R&B pop performances. Then he tried to go the slow song route and made musical Velveeta. If he stays with music, he should stick to what he likes and what he’s good at. The ladies will come later, bro.

• Pip (Team Adam): Pip had some potential with his sense of showmanship and dynamic raw singing ability. It’s just a shame that he displayed the charisma of an annoying theater kid (and this is coming from a former annoying theater kid) and couldn’t even keep his pipes in tune. Let’s give him three cheers: Pip! Pip! See Ya!


Thoughts On American Idol: Top 7 Results Again

April 19, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

I have to hand it to Idol for last night. By cramming 14 performances into a 2-hour block, they kept the judge and Iovine banter to a minimum. As a bonus, not all of those performances sucked! Now will the show follow past precedents and boot two of the contestants this week or will they stretch this thing out by another week?

First, here are the musical performances in order they were on the show.
1. Top 7 Contestants – “Dancing In the Streets” Josh and Skylar managed to make the most of that recital-grade rendition. The others could be replaced a random sample of nearly any five teens in America. Also, why was the show squandering the talents of Quest Crew as backup dancers? What a waste!

2. Ford Music Video: Skylar comes out on top again, for when all the other contestants looked like extras on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, she looked like La Roux’s Elly Jackson.

3. Kris Allen – “The Vision Of Love” The most interesting thing about that performance was the rotating piano platform in the middle of the stage. Come on, Kris, Adam Lambert had no problem hitting those high notes and he lost to you. WHY CAN’T YOU HIT THOSE NOTES? What a waste!

4. LMFAO – “Sorry For Party Rocking” This song is new to me. Also, unlike other dance pop performances on this show SkyBlu and RedFoo sounded bad enough that they had to be doing it live. Otherwise that performance was a big crazy crass catchy loud superfun show. With Quest Crew. And two people doing the running man in a zebra costume. Yes.

Bottom 3
1. Hollie Cavanagh: It feels like Hollie has been in the bottom three so much that I’ve run out of critical things to say about her. I’m disappointed in myself.

2. Elise Testone: Poor Elise just can’t catch a break. She turned out one of her best performances this season and got kicked to the edge. She could have picked some better songs and been livelier from time to time, but ultimately she has had quite the growth during her run on the show.

3. Colton Dixon: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA it’s about time! I have liked one, maybe two of the performances from this square in punk’s clothing. When he has me rooting for the low key white guy with an acoustic guitar to beat him, he has accomplished something truly special.

The Loser
And there was a collective WHA?!!! followed by a YEAH!!! as Colton is revealed to be the bottom vote getter. With Jessica having already taken the judges’ save, nothing can protect him from elimination. Good riddance I say. His time on this show was painful to watch. Plus there was the whole thing of the judges and/or producers letting him in when he didn’t formally audition for the show. Like Dante Hicks at the Quick Stop, Colton wasn’t even supposed to be there this season. Now he is out. Might there be hope for this show? Probably not, but I can still count my blessings.


Thoughts On American Idol: Top 7 Again

April 18, 2012

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

Theme: To pad the show out, contestants perform two songs – one #1 hit from the Billboard charts from the past 12 years, and one retro song inspired by Soul Train.

Mentor: Jimmy Iovine all by himself, though with all these songs his screen time is thankfully limited.

Here are the Top 7 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Hollie Cavanagh – “Rolling In The Deep” Heh heh heh whoever picked this song needs a creativity transfusion. Or a self-awareness graft. OK reality show contestants can we agree to no more Adele covers until 2013? Sigh. Now is Hollie at least trying to a different mix? Other than an acapella intro, Hollie’s performance is pretty note for note. As well as she executed, I’ll say the same thing that I said about her that I said about poor little Eben Franckewitz: she’s singing about emotions she’s likely too young to have felt. This is just slightly better than her pageanty tripe. Way to start the night!

2. Colton Dixon – “Bad Romance” I’m not sure that I’m ever going to get over the tone of Colton’s singing. It’s so abrasive and whiny, unless he’s singing low and fades into the mix. Nonetheless this performance was ok. It was all rocked up and Colton was wailing like Matt Bellamy doing “Uprising.” He also gets props for playing with the order of the song section to make it more like a well-executed highlight reel. Also, he finally did some uptempo material!

3. Elise Testone – “No One” Elise deserves a little praise for taking a risk and going outside her blues/rock hot zone. However, this performance felt repetitive, plodding and anemic (though that’s somewhat because I’m not a fan of the original song.) Elise’s singing was at maybe 66% effectiveness as well – every third note felt like a flub. I will complement her for her emotional commitment – based on her body language she seemed fully invested in the performance.

4. Phillip Phillips – “U Got It Bad” This is one of my guilty pleasure slow jams. All Phillip changed with the song was its instrumentation, but otherwise it was a pretty faithful performance. Phillip’s growly singing style really conveyed the earnest lyrics and heartfelt tone in the Usher original. His singing was occasionally strained, but it wasn’t a big distraction. He looked like he was really getting into it emotionally as well. Props for including the cheesy sax again too.

5. Jessica Sanchez – “Fallin’” Another Alicia Keys song? Yeesh. To her credit, this is totally Jessica’s bag and she does this tune pretty well. She kept her vocal runs well spaced and varied in execution. Her stage presence and emoting were dynamite, and that super low vibrato about 2/3rds in rocked pretty hard. It’s what took her above a mere copy of the original, which is what I dinged Hollie on. Only jeers were for the dirge of a song choice.

6. Skylar Laine – “Born This Way (Country Road Version)” This was a pretty good fit for Skylar. I wish she went beyond the first verse and the bridge, though. When Gaga sings “If I wanna make it country it’s ok,” she is taking a legitimate risk and is “born to be brave,” since she’s otherwise a dance artist. When Skylar sings it, she’s playing it safe. If she wanted to really embody the spirit of the song (unlike the billion other times it’s been played on this show on group medleys,) she would have sung some of the song’s other verses or chorus parts. Then again, that would be against Idol’s rah rah spirit and would result in a near instant boot, which is a shame. Still, Skylar executes like a pro and delivers a fun performance.

7. Josh Ledet – “I Believe” Josh’s singing on this song was some of the technically best of the night. He also stuck to singing the song, using a few select vocal runs at the show-off points. That shows maturity as a performer. Otherwise the performance felt kind of rote and depressing. It was a stock motivational poster of a song. For me it wasn’t emotionally engaging or fun or listen to. Zzzzzz….

8. Hollie Cavanagh – “Son of A Preacher Man” I think Hollie stepped up her game for this performance. She had some great runs in the song and she seemed a lot looser onstage. It felt more genuine as a consequence. I think she tends to come off better when she can find moments both to belt and to dance awkwardly. It makes her seem like a regular person with a good voice.

9. Colton Dixon – “September” This sounds like a Fray rip off – sleepy, flat, and blandly faux-emotional. It would be perfect for Grey’s Anatomy or Private Practice or Combat Hospital or any of those shows. There weren’t even any neat vocal runs to break up the bleating. This was even more boring than Josh’s “I Believe” performance. Thumbs down for taking a dance classic and turning into a mushy piece of junk.

10. Elise Testone – “Let’s Get It On” OK this was a super step up for Elise. Just like Phillip on “U Got It Bad,” Elise struck a fine balance between committing to the song and not taking herself too seriously. After all, to me a song like this is soft, sexy, and just a little silly. She also whipped out more of those screams that she used to rock out on “Whole Lotta Love,” a few weeks back and it still all fit together. This was one of her best performances in awhile!

11. Phillip Phillips – “In The Midnight Hour” This feels like the first time I’ve seen Phillip do upbeat material sincerely sans guitar and actually do ok without sounding angry or retreating into his shell like some kind of Teenage Mutant Singing Turtle. Vocally this was more of a step back to me. I’m not sure he could have done much on top of the big instrumentation, so when he did go into his runs, he was mushy to the point of falling apart.

12. Jessica Sanchez – “Try A Little Tenderness” Jessica found a new way to surprise me with her vocal arsenal. For about 80% of the song, she sang pretty decently and had a few solid holds with the occasional bout of mush mouth. She danced around a bit and had some fun with the piece. It was solid. Then she got into the part that seemed to be lower than her range, dropped her voice an octave, and answered the question “What if Ja Rule performed on Soul Train?” The kicker is she still managed to hit the notes. It was kind of weird but the more I think about it the more I liked this performance.

13. Skylar Laine – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” Skylar shows off her music history knowledge by kicking out a performance based not on Marvin Gaye’s version or CCR’s version, but Gladys Knight’s. Listen to Skylar’s phrasing – it sounds a lot like Knight’s. The song’s core had a good oomph that let Skylar add some country-fried instrumentation and mad hot belting. At times she sounded messy, I’ll concede, but I thought she executed really well while managing to be stylistically consistent.

14. Josh Ledet – “A Change Is Gonna Come” Unlike his performance in the first half of the show, Josh came off much better in this song. He carried himself a lot better and let loose with the emotional moments (vocally and physically) for the big middle and end. The song itself felt more genuine as well, so it doesn’t feel like Josh is wasting his talent. The emoting was grounded earned. This style is fairly predictable for Josh and for most singers would come off as mere audition fodder or inspiration bait, but somehow I felt ok with this performance.

And what would I have sung? For the “#1 Billboard Song” challenge, I’ll go with “Cry For You” by September, which hit #1 on the Billboard dance charts around 2006. It’s both catchy in its production and cathartic in the built-in belting, so I could really emote with this one. If the band lowers the key to my range I just might be able to knock it out. I will also continue my practice of dancing around the stage like a dork.
For the retro soul challenge, I’ll keep things uptempo with the Dazz Band classic “Let It Whip.” The bassline alone is super-fun and it’s not too vocally demanding otherwise, though I might try for some falsetto moments on the bridge.

Performance Rankings
1. Elise Testone
2. Phillip Phillips
3. Skylar Laine
4. Jessica Sanchez
5. Hollie Cavanagh
6. Josh Ledet
7. Colton Dixon

This ranking was difficult to do. I thought Skylar and Jessica were consistently better performers, but they didn’t have the “Wow!” moments that Elise and Phillip did, and I watch this show for the individual performance moments. This is why past performance doesn’t have any bearing on my rankings every episode. For a similar reason, I ranked Josh and Colton, the contestants with the two individually worst performances, at the bottom of my list. Overall I feel like the second half performances were better overall, but a show like this tends to be more comfortable with the retro material. See you for the results show!

Finally, rest in peace, Dick Clark. His programming and music taste helped form the pop music landscape of the past few decades. His American Bandstand show laid the groundwork for modern music competition shows like American IdolThe Voice, and more. As I said on Twitter, he was pop culture’s master of ceremonies. He will be missed.