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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 3

May 16, 2012

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

Theme: To pad the show out, contestants perform three songs a piece. Plus there are the hometown visits. Can’t they just sing two songs each and let the show be 90 minutes? There better be some entertaining songs tonight!

Round 1: Judges’ picks
Round 2: Contestants’ picks
Round 3: Jimmy Iovine’s picks

Here are the Top 3 performers in order of appearance on the show. Lets see who has the worst taste in music.

1. Josh Ledet – “I’d Rather Be Blind” Randy’s musical conservatism rears its head. He’s right that this retro soul is Josh’s bread and butter. Josh’s vocal runs and stage presence each have some moderate pacing, which fit the slow burning nature of this song. I also give him points for waiting until the end to go off the lyrics and nailing the scat section. My problems? He sounded off for most of the song. The notes weren’t quite there. While Josh held back on indulging his talents, he overcorrected and ended up coasting. I can’t tell who to blame for this performance: Josh for failing to deliver or the judges for picking an old, plodding song.

2. Jessica Sanchez – “My All” Jennifer sends Jessica into mid-90s slow song land. The sparse instrumentation and slow pace of the song forced Jessica to sing well below her power range. She hit the notes fine and seemed to grasp the emotional intimacy of the piece. The big issue was the glaring vibrato that tends to pop up whenever Jessica has to sing in the low end of her range. It was really pronounced tonight, almost to the point of being funny. It was kind of like an Aaron Neville impression. I had a hard time taking this performance seriously.

3. Phillip Phillips – “Beggin’” I initially had to look this song up, but when Phillip sang the first few notes this clicked with me. It turns out that this is a crossover cover a la his rendition of “U Got It Bad.” And like that performance, Phillip had the good sense not to screw it up. He stayed in key while still showing some effort in the form of his blues growl flourishes. He stuck to one spot, but really conveyed the emotion in the song through his vocal contours. Plus that rendition was like a direct rock transposition of a dance track. I think this was the best performance of the first round, but I’m troubled. Why? Because of course the judges hand Phillip the only modern song and the only fun song. Seems a bit like favoritism to me.

4. Josh Ledet – “Imagine” I give the self-described “preacher’s son” props for singing a song that challenges the existence of an afterlife (check the opening lyrics.) Josh sang quite strongly in the performance. I felt like he excelled in the straight-up section and he earned his vocal runs. The arrangement was a little too schmaltzy in my opinion, but it could have been way worse. He could have picked any number of inspiration bait slow songs, but he picked something that actually has some challenging content, at least for this rah-rah show. Good pick, Josh!

5. Jessica Sanchez – “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” I don’t like this song. There are so many better Aerosmith songs. There are so many better Aerosmith ballads. I don’t like this song. Jessica’s pick of this song basically reminded me of Lauren Alaina’s kiss-ass audition that incorporated this song last year. I don’t like this song. Jessica’s singing was decent for most of the performance, but that last power belt was…ouch. Did I mention that I don’t like this song? Did Hollie Cavanagh leave some lingering pageantism on the stage? Because that performance was infected. Bad pick, Jessica.

6. Phillip Phillips – “Disease” I’m not familiar with this Matchbox 20 song, but I think Phillip does a decent Rob Thomas impression. He’s also had success with this somewhat intimate low-key performance style. This didn’t seem like a very challenging song to do, unlike the other two contestants picks. It was pleasant to listen to and had some decent faux-artsy emotion to it, but just like Josh in Round 1 Phillip kind of coasted here, and the judges called him on it. He’s so going to win and performances like this, while individually good, feel like a tiring march to the end. Good pick, Phillip, but you can do much better!

7. Josh Ledet – “No More Drama” This feels like the only Mary J. song that anyone goes to on shows like this. That said, this performance sounded good. Despite a slow start bobbing up and down the whole song, Josh showed great vocal control. He knew just when to go off like a remote controlled bomb and hit the rafters. When he went on his extended riff 4/5ths of the way in, it felt really legitimate. Also props for good play with the audience. Good pick, Jimmy Iovine!

8. Jessica Sanchez – “I’ll Be There” So many slow songs! Once again Jessica is on the lower end of her range but this time she has none of the choppy vibrato. This time it’s straight-up singing and it’s on! It initially seemed like she was coming on too song and saccharine, but she found her groove. By the end of the song she came across as reassuring and real. It connected with me and made me smile. Good pick, Jimmy Iovine!

9. Phillip Phillips – “We’ve Got Tonight” Phillip is rubbing the heck out of his left thigh. His face scrunches in pain with every moderately high note, which both makes him seem like some tortured soul (OMG emotion!) and Chris Martin at his mopiest. His singing was certainly pleasant, but he looked so uncomfortable out there. I was surprised with some of the notes he was able to hit. I agreed with Jimmy that this was a sweet song, but something felt off with me here.

And what would I have sung? I have no control over what the judges or Iovine would pick for me, but I can pick one song for the contestant round. I was saving this song for country night, but since that didn’t happen I’m singing it now – “Bad Things” by Jace Everett. Most people know the song as the theme to True Blood, but I think it’s catchy, sexy, menacing, and great for my low range. The third chorus builds to what could potentially be a an excellent opportunity for a devil-may-care big note. The song’s lively shuffle pace alone would stand out against all these ballads, that’s for sure.

And if I was a judge, like I pretend to be on this site, what would I have picked for the three contestants?

• Josh Ledet: Josh is at his best when he can kick out the big notes without a lot of effort. He’s also proven to be quite adept with uptempo Stax-y material. As such, I would pick the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse version of The Zutons’ “Valerie.” He’d get to build to some great vocal moments, have some great opportunities to work the stage like the showman he is, and even show a little subtlety in his delivery.

• Jessica Sanchez: Jessica has the biggest voice of her competition and she can kick out the dance numbers. She’s pulled off dance pop from past decades, but how would she do with something more recent? She should sing “When Love Takes Over” by David Guetta and Kelly Rowland. Its verses allow for medium-powered singing that doesn’t dip into flat or breathy delivery, either of which are out of her wheelhouse. And those colossal runs on the chorus would hit that audience like the hammer of Thor.

• Phillip Phillips: Phillip’s range is more limited than his competitors, but he can still hit the occasional high note. He should do a straight-up rocker that can match his rootsy vibe. I’d have him sing “I Need To Know” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It would have to be in a lower key, but it would be good to see Phillip really rock out. Plus if he successfully hits the high notes on the chorus’s “if you’re making me WAI-AIT” he would earn way more points with me.

Performance Rankings
1. Josh Ledet (#2 in Round 1, #1 in Round 2, #2 in Round 3)
2. Phillip Phillips (#1 in Round 1, #2 in Round 2, #3 in Round 3)
3. Jessica Sanchez (#3 in Round 1, #3 in Round 2, #1 in Round 3)

This episode felt way too long and no contestant was consistently good. I would like Jessica and Josh to be the final two because they’re the best singers, but I think we all know that’s not likely to happen. Phillip could have done all Lou Bega songs tonight and he would still make it to the final two tomorrow. Tune in tomorrow and hopefully this show will once again prove me wrong!

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