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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 7

April 11, 2012

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

Theme: Contestants sing songs released between 2010 and 2012. How can they pull this one off when it seemed that the entire Adele catalog was sung out by Top 24 week? I’m not expecting wall-to-wall Dr. Luke and David Guetta music but they can’t all sing songs by Bruno Mars, can they?

Mentors: Jimmy Iovine and Akon. If I think about Akon’s 2010s output, I guess “Sexy Bitch/Chick” was pretty catchy. And that Idol brand clothing looks like ass, Tommy Hilfiger!

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

1. Skylar Laine – “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You?” I’m normally down on contestants going to instruments, but Skylar has sung long enough without one that when she goes to her guitar it doesn’t seem like a crutch. While I’m not familiar with this song and probably wouldn’t be into the original, I liked this performance. Skylar’s belting, while a bit mushy, sounded on key and felt totally genuine. She seemed pretty down to earth and comfortable with the material. This was a great bounce back from last week.

2. Colton Dixon – “Love The Way You Lie” Ick! Colton finds a perfect match in this dumpy clunker from Skylar Grey and Alex Da Kid. I really, really, really don’t like this song (or any song by those two,) so it’s a credit to Colton that his normally bleaty singing style fits this to a T. He’s close to going off the rails but he manages to stay in his range. He had a pretty damn good vocal run about two thirds into the track and it was the most entertaining part of the performance. Colton’s style is all punk or whatever, but he doesn’t have a dangerous bone in his body. Props for execution, piss on the song choice.

3. Duet: Elise and Phillip – “Somebody That I Used To Know” Well, Phillip seems more grounded this week. Both Elise and Philip sing well on the song until they have to belt or sing one of the sudden super high notes. Phillip’s snarl is quite tonally appropriate for the track and Elise kills it with her wail holds. I’m not sure if Elise was right to belt harder or Phillip was right to dial things back. The best part for me was on the harmonies. These two seem both kind of rootsy, so their singing styles complement each other fairly well.

4. Jessica Sanchez – “Stuttering” Once again, I don’t know this song and probably wouldn’t like it if I heard its original version, but fuck yeah Jessica dominates. She could have been cardboard pageanty, but once again she gives her full emotional investment. Did you hear those little quivers in her voice during the bridge? Those hand waves? Those little runs that were both so consistently good and so casual that it’s no big thing? And when I looked down to start typing this recap, I did not hear a teenager singing. I hope this show’s audience respects her rare combination of talent and commitment. Well done!

5. Josh Ledet – “Runaway Baby” Here’s the Bruno Mars song! And it’s a fun song to boot! Josh cuts loose on this retro-flavored scorcher and really works it out. He was doing that slightly awkward, dorked-up dancing that he displayed during Stevie/Whitney week and once again I found it quite charming. Also, dude actually sang along with the song instead of taking off to do his own thing! He sang with reckless abandon and attitude but managed to stay on key the whole time (even with the Little Richard shout towards the end.) This is the most energy I’ve seen in a performance on this show in the past 2 weeks! Do more of this, please!

6. Duet: Colton and Skylar – “Don’t You Wanna Stay” After the stellar performances by Jessica and Josh, this feels like such a bringdown. Both Colton and Skylar sing reasonably well individually, but neither is bringing their A-game on this track. Did you catch the bemused look on Colton’s face as Skylar did the Clarkson runs 6 inches from his face? It made up for the ugly harmonies, that was for sure. This was a throwaway for me.

7. Hollie Cavanagh – “Fuckin’ Perfect” Did she just perform “Jesus Take The Wheel” again? This felt like a step back for me. Vocally she hit all the notes and made some good holds, but her articulation was sloppily slurry. While she scores points for doing a sparser arrangement, I wasn’t feeling any emotion from her. When doing a Pink song like this, you have to be ok with snarling and being vocally imperfect. Her music is genuinely engaging because it’s not afraid to be a little ugly. The way Hollie was singing this song, it was more like a Jenna Maroney rendition in its calculation.

8. Phillip Phillips – “Give A Little More” This has got to be one of Phillip’s better renditions on this show. The arrangement of this song had a nice crescendo (plus that sax was cool) and his singing matched it in its intensity. He didn’t growl a ton through the song, nor did he try to hide in the intensity of the music. He dialed it back and delivered a solid bounce-to-the-ounce performance that was great to listen to.

9. Trio: Hollie, Jessica, and Josh – “Stronger” For such a rote-sounding song, I thought that the three technically strongest singers still in the game delivered on this fairly well. All three harmonized off each other fairly well and had decent solo runs. Jessica and Josh stood out the most on their parts at the end, but that just seems right to me.

10. Elise Testone – “You And I” This is a good choice for Elise. It fuses pop country, glam, and classic rock, all genres she’s good with. Plus her performance during Billy Joel week reminded me of this track. Overall this was a pretty good performance. She was fairly on key for most of the performance, she had some passionate runs towards the end, and I really felt the urgency in her delivery. My complaints with this performance were little things. There were times where she should have sustained her notes instead of backing off, or did a run where she should have waiting a few bars, but overall I feel like she delivered the goods.

And what would I have sung? Most of the current music I’ve bought in the past two years has been female-fronted dance pop (Kanye and Cee Lo notwithstanding), so I feel like I should go to that. I’ve been picking songs by dudes all season, so this theme could be a good opportunity to do a song by a lady. I would do a gender-flip rendition of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” In the original Robyn shows off some pretty solid, emotional singing without any obvious pops-production support. It also has a few lines that I would love to sing, especially the first verse. I think that if the house band lowered it to my range I could pull off the little runs in the buildup to the chorus. Plus I would totally sing on a wireless mic and dance around the stage with minimal grace and maximum seriousness. I could only hope to match the charisma Robyn displays in her live performances.

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

Overall I thought this was another decent episode. While I was meh on most of the group numbers, I think five of the seven contestants delivered good-to-great individual performances. Josh and Jessica clearly took my top two spots. Elise, Phillip and Skylar were all solid and could conceivably switch around in my rankings. I thought Hollie and Colton executed ok vocally, but failed hard on respectively emotional investment and song choice. Tonight wasn’t quite the big show that some of the past weeks have been, but I appreciated this nod to current, relevant music.

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