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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.

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