Posts Tagged ‘Skylar Laine’

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Thoughts On American Idol Finale Part 2: The Decision

May 23, 2012

Image edited from the original by Bill McIntyre via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Two surprisingly talented contestants have duked it out this season, but only one can win! I voted for Jessica. Let’s see if it made a difference. Buckle up!

Here’s most of this show’s padding, the musical performances in order of airing:
1. Top 10 who are out of the running – “Runaway Baby + So You Think You Can Dance Promo Breakdown” So Jermaine Jones really did get the hard boot from the cast. That said, I’m glad they reprised one of the more fun performances from this season. In a sea of bad harmonizing, Josh and Hollie’s voices stood out. The dance breakdown with the abrupt music changes was fun, but jarring. I will be watching So You Think You Can Dance tomorrow.

2. Phillip Phillips + John Fogerty – “Have You Ever Seen The Rain? + Bad Moon Rising” Fogerty has to be 2-3x Phillip’s age, but he is way more lively than the mellowed out finalist. He’s also doing a much better job at hitting the belt notes on “Rain.” Phillip can’t shake that cartoon dog singing style for this song. For the second song, Phillip woke up. He looked much happier to be up onstage and slowly began to match Fogerty’s energy as the performance went on.

3. Josh Ledet + Fantasia Barrino – “Take Me To The Pilot” Josh’s voice is in top form tonight. His vocal runs were cool, casual, and awesome. He should be one of the finalists tonight. I never saw Fantasia’s season 3 Idol run, but I thought her super high signing was unique and on point. This performance was just two talented singers jamming out, and I appreciated the relaxed tone.

4. Idol Ladies + Chaka Khan – “Ain’t Nobody + Through The Fire + I’m Every Woman” Erika and Elise have an ouch of a start, but quickly find the soul hook. Shannon sounds much more competent than I remember her. Skylar kicks ass. Hollie gets in two solid notes and Jessica gets one short ad libbed run before Chaka Khan enters the stage. She starts off buried in the mix, but she kicks out enough power notes to show that she’s doing it live. She had a few rough runs up there too, but she had more enthusiasm than at least a third of the ladies on that stage.

5. Ford Music Video – “I Was Here” At least the gimmicks were cute and silly from video to video. It’s just a shame that Phillip wasn’t in the last third.

6. Rihanna – “Where Have You Been?” This is much catchier than “We Found Love” and the bigger stage production allows for a bigger spectacle than when Ri-Ri performed this song on SNL. It still sounds like the hooks of three songs instead of one fully formed song, but I dig its driving beats and laser pyramid. Its production is emotionally devoid, but on a show like this it’s an oasis.

7. Skylar Laine + Reba McEntire – “Turn On The Radio” This rocks! Skylar and Reba sound tough and triumphant. Skylar has been my favorite country contestant this show has offered in a very long time, and that’s because of her transcendent talent and no-bullshit style. She also has way more chemistry with Reba than Lauren Alaina has during her duet with Carrie Underwood last year. That performance felt combative, whereas this performance felt like a passing of the torch. I had a lot of fun with this one.

8. Jessica Sanchez – “I Will Always Love You” This performance didn’t affect me to the same level that Jessica’s first go at the song did. There wasn’t the same emotional rawness that was there the first time, and maybe replicating that was an impossible task. Jessica’s delivery hit most of the notes but sounded a little flat. I felt like she was trying, but it just couldn’t live up to her earlier run. It’s too bad.

9. Idol Guys + Neil Diamond – “Coming To America + Rosy Child + I’m A Believer + Sweet Caroline” Colton sounds high and nasally. Heejun hits the notes but is digging way too low into his range. DeAndre actually did aim for the low end of his range and sounded good enough that the falsetto payoff was worth it. Jeremy had no memorable moments, but he didn’t choke. Josh’s vocal run 3/4ths in was a nice touch. When Neil Diamond came out for the last song, he got most of the spotlight. He didn’t exert any effort on his vocals, but like Chaka Khan he did it live. I just would have liked it if he didn’t perform like he found out he wasn’t getting paid after the show.

10. “Sing The Phone Book skit” The premise was silly enough, but the takeaway was that Shannon Magrane was a better singer than I ever gave her credit for. Where were these notes and this enthusiasm when she was actually a contestant?

11. Jennifer Lopez ft. Lil Jon, Flo Rida, and Wisin and Yandel – “Going In + Follow The Leader” I’m not a fan of the sequined pajamas that J.Lo is rocking, but “Going In” is moderately catchy. I like the ebb and flow of its bassline. Flo Rida’s bridge was abrupt and workmanlike. Then “Follow The Leader” came on and shit got real. That beat was so slinky and W&Y’s hip house flow sounded so freakin’ cool. Lopez also sounded quite on her game. I might have to seek out more from these guys.

12. Hollie Cavanagh and Jordin Sparks – “You’ll Never Walk Alone” The music is still plodding pageant fodder, but I have to hand it to Hollie for upping her emotional game. She made some subtle changes to her stage moves that she seemed to form more of a connection to the material than she would have earlier in the season. Jordin Sparks knocked her part out like it was nothing. Both ladies sounded spectacular. I just wish it was on a cooler song.

13. Idol Guys – “Robin Gibb Tribute – How Deep Is Your Love + How Can You Mend A Broken Heart + To Love Somebody” The guys (minus Phillip – where the hell has he been?) can actually harmonize together pretty well. Other than a botched falsetto run from DeAndre, they kept the vocal theatrics to a minimum. Jacob did a reprise of “To Love Somebody” and it was minimal, tasteful and classy. Given the limited amount of time the show had to prepare a tribute, I thought this was nice.

14. Jessica Sanchez + Jennifer Holliday – “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” When Holliday whipped out her vocal ion cannon 2/3rds of the way in, all Jessica could so is stand there and shake her head as if to say “yeah I can’t touch that.” It was actually kind of neat, because otherwise these two women matched each other pretty closely for most of the song, right down to the super-growly nightmare belt at the very end. It was like a bombastic guitar battle for singers and it was surprisingly cool.

15. Aerosmith – “Legendary Child + Walk This Way” This new song sounds like a slurry blend of “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” two Aerosmith songs that are actually good. This song, not so much. It’s basically a “here’s our crazy life story” that name checks their albums in the lyrics. Joe Perry can still shred like whoa, but really that’s all this performance has going for it. Steven Tyler’s vocals are flat and the harmonizing by Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton is off-key. Not an Idol-worthy performance, that’s for sure. And then when the band did perform “Walk This Way” Tyler could barely hit the notes. The little jam-out at the end was cool.

16. Jessica and Phillip – “Up Where We Belong” This syrupy ballad is in Jessica’s wheelhouse. She sounds right at home. Phillip kept up with her for most of the song, but he ultimately gave up with a string of flubs on the last chorus. Still, these two crazy kids are nice and I hope they both find some success. Jessica just deserves to win this show more.

The Winner
I think we all saw this coming. I said as much back in Top 24 Week. One low-voiced white guy with an acoustic guitar passes the trophy to another low-voiced white guy with an acoustic guitar, as Phillip Phillips is the season 11 winner. I’m not as mad as I am with last year’s results, as Phillip actually turned in some top-ranking performances this season, but for shit’s sake how much longer is this going to go on? See if I tune in next year, Idol….

Thank you all for reading these recaps. I’m happy to bring this run to an end.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 5 Results

May 3, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

While there weren’t a ton of wow moments last night (that and nobody sang any Spice Girls songs during British Night), we still got a solid show. Who will make it to the Top 4?

First, here are the musical performances in order they were on the show.
1. Ford Music Video: Given the number of times she’s been in the bottom three, Hollie should have stayed in that egg cage. Also, Phillip Phillips is too good for this Ford Music Video shit, since he was nowhere to be found.

2. Coldplay – “Paradise” They’re still hawking this song on TV? I’m not into Coldplay, but this song isn’t too bad. That piano track is solid and the rhythm section has some nice bounce to it. Vocally Chris Martin was all over the place. During the verses he stayed in his range, but when he tried anything resembling a vocal run (or a high note) he sounded unprofessional and tired. That mic feedback didn’t held either. Was it just me, or was Chris’s own chorus too high for him to sing?

3. Carrie Underwood – “Blown Away” Underwood’s quiet-loud vocal dynamic probably sounds better on the studio recording of this song. Otherwise I thought this song sounded ok. It had a nice rolling intensity and when it was firing on all cylinders Carrie’s belting sounded great! I’m not sure if she pulled off the “stiff, damaged, and intense” look, though. Her stage presence seemed more uptight than it should have been.

4. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” I like that Chris is trying to vamp up the crowd like he’s in The Prodigy, but this just isn’t that kind of music. He looked and sounded tired. While his singing was much better than in their first song, he still sounded bleary and out of breath. Kathy said that he’s getting too for this shit, and I’m inclined to agree.

Bottom 2
1. Hollie Cavanagh: Five times in the bottom. Is she going for a record? For all the defeats she’s suffered, she has the tenacity of a Bowser. Sorry Phillip, but the American Idol title is in another castle.

2. Skylar Laine: Normally Skylar is a power pro, but last night was heavy on attitude and light on commitment. I think those messy performances were reflected in her vote pull.

The Loser
Sometimes a night’s performance can mean everything. For her elimination song, Skylar chose to sing “Gunpowder and Lead,” a song that I don’t recall her doing very well on when she first sang it. Tonight she sang it much, much better. She had better pitch, better emotion, and way more commitment than her original run. If only she kicked something like this out the night before. It’s really too bad, but with talent like that Skylar is going to be ok.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 5

May 2, 2012

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

Theme: To pad the show out, contestants perform two songs: one from the 1960s and one from a British artist. Because there was way too much current music on this show, am I right?

Mentor: Jimmy Iovine and “Little” Steven Van Zandt, who goes back far enough with Iovine that he can bust his chops with impunity. I’d probably tie him with Will.I.Am as the most fun guest mentor to appear on this show.

Here are the Top 5 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Hollie Cavanagh – “River Deep, Mountain High” If you do a Tina Turner song, you can’t let the backup singers look livelier than you. Even that little shimmy she did halfway into the song looked stiff. Meanwhile her singing, while on key, sounded like she way reading from cue cards. I get the feeling that if she truly got into the song, she would have channeled her inner life force into a big sonic blast like she was a Dragon Ball Z character. Instead she was softballing. I like that she tried to be fun again, but at this level I expect expertise.

2. Phillip Phillps – “The Letter” Well, Phillip seems like he stopped checking out. For better or worse, this was a return to form for him: guitar, growling, and awkward stage moves. From what little I know of the original track, I think Phillip did a good job of fitting it into his bluesy aesthetic. Some of his held notes were pretty solid, though sometimes I felt like he was just messing around. That will sit well with some folks, since he played with the space and got into things, but I wasn’t wowed be it.

3. Skylar Laine – “Fortunate Son” For an antiwar protest song, Skylar sounds way too happy. Unless she was trying to do one of those ironic Chumbawamba-esque deliveries, she completely missed the intent and emotion of the CCR original. She got the Fogerty drawl and the notes down ok, but something else was off. Was her delivery forced? Maybe she got caught in the crossfire between Iovine’s boomer rebel nostalgia and the producers’ rah-rah conservatism (the lyric in the third verse is “I ain’t no military son.”) Still, I feel like she could have pulled a better performance out of a bad situation.

4. Josh and Phillip – “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” Well that was like a head on collision. Phillip’s understated emoting was ok, but his vocal tone was a little too flat. Meanwhile Josh did his solo part straight on and super high. Individually they were both okay, but when they got together it was horrific. They just could not find a middle ground between their ranges and singing styles. I think they should have put on Navy uniforms to get the nudge-nudge-wink-wink vote. Jennifer Lopez could have played Kelly McGillis’s part. Hey, Seacrest said as much.

5. Jessica Sanchez – “Proud Mary” Let’s see if Jess can do Tina Turner better. She definitely got the dance steps better, even if she didn’t remember them until halfway into the intro, but it took her a little while to hit the notes. Up until about halfway into the fast part, she sounded like she was shrinking from the high notes. Eventually she whipped out all the proven singing moves, including that fabulous soul growl, but it may have been too late.

6. Josh Ledet – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” I think this song was a fairly safe choice for Josh and that his Boyz-II-Men meets BeetleJuice jacket was a bigger risk, but ooh wee that was cool! Josh sung the song straight on for the most part, except with a little more volume and conviction than I would have expected. Then the bridge came in and he turned on the juice! He was doing the melodic James Brown screeching and tight stage moves from his best past performances. That booya hit at the end was icing on the cake.

7. Hollie Cavanagh – “Bleeding Love” On a performance that’s softer than the Leona Lewis original, Hollie keeps things low key and grounded. I think this was actually a good call for her, as her positioning and the arrangement’s slower tempo allowed her to really bite into the lyrics and grasp the lovesick intent. By making a few subtle facial expressions and closing her eyes more, she looked like she was getting into the emotion more. To top things off, she hit what seemed like 99% of the notes and her one big vibrato moment was totally earned. I don’t even like this song and I feel like she did a good job.

8. Phillip Phillips – “Time of the Season” This was a good choice for Phillip. He slowed things down just enough that he could channel the guileless rustic romanticism of Dave Matthews in ways that he couldn’t when he was actually singing Dave Matthews. On the verses Phil was singing quite well, even hitting some of the high notes. Then the chorus came and broke him like a cheap string of love beads. Any attempts at singing here were just painful. Kathy likened it to a teen boy going though puberty onstage.

9. Hollie, Skylar, and Jessica – “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher” This is the best I’ve heard these three perform together. Skylar had her power twang, Jessica had her soul runs, and Hollie jumped between alto and falsetto in ways I have not heard many of these contestants before. They were each able to play to their strengths and jump back to let others have their moments. Bonus points for the super-unified harmonizing. Cooperation leads to success. Way to kick it, ladies!

10. Skylar Laine – “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” That couple on the bench was a gimmick straight out of The Voice. Skylar did well to distance herself from it. She also did well to belt that one out of the park, especially coming right after the trio. She showed off good vocal control matched the tone of the piece. On the downside, she still had a little too much vocal attack from the “Fortunare Son” performance. Still, I think she came off nicely.

11. Jessica Sanchez – “You Are So Beautiful” I think the pageant bug jumped from Hollie to Jessica tonight. Early on she tried to do the downcast emotional thing, but she couldn’t help looking right out at the audience with a look that said “Don’t vote me off.” Plus the Joe Cocker original had the neat juxtaposition of pretty music against a gravelly voice. This performance was just too superficially pretty in sound and presence. We’ve seen Jessica do the melodic gruff thing before. Couldn’t she have done her Ja Rule impression tonight? Zzzzz….

12. Josh Ledet – “To Love Somebody” I thought the Bee Gees were from Australia. I guess not. To Josh’s credit, I cannot imagine this song being sung in the Brothers Gibb’s signature falsettos. It’s a testament to his talent that he can put such a spin on the music he does. Once again he shied away from obnoxious oversinging and went the straight-up emotional route. I could really feel the confidence in the ease he executed his vocal runs. It was consistent with his other good performances, but like Phillip’s performance in Round 1 it didn’t really wow me.

And what would I have sung? For the 60s round I’d do The Rolling Stones’ “Paint, It Black.” I first got into this song when it was used in the credits for Twisted Metal Black. It’s a little heavy handed, but I think it has just enough menace for Idol. I’d start with an ominous ambient into, like in the Skream remix of La Roux’s “In For The Kill.” On top of that I would try to sing plaintively on the high end of my range. For the second verse I’d have bring in a fairly punchy drum track that was faithful to the original and straight up belt over it. And I’d totally go for the end part where Mick Jagger goes crazy in his repetitive wail as the music crescendos. For the British round I’d make a beeline for “Apply Some Pressure” by Maximo Park. It’s a very sweet song and the original version rocks quite hard and fast. Paul Smith’s deceptively simple vocal has quite a few little runs built in, and there are lots of cool harmony moments to have with the backup singers. I’d sing from the original version for the first verse or two and then drop out the music for the start of the second chorus. I’d sing the “What happens when you lose ev-er-y-THING?” acapella for a few notes before bringing in the string section and crazy backbeat from the Mark Ronson version. Then I’d build up to the big “You just start A GAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNN” belt-off. I’m rocking out tonight.

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

I was surprised with how this ranking turned out. I expected Josh to end up near the top, but I was not expecting Hollie to end up behind him. I was also surprised when Jessica and Skylar ended up in my bottom 2. I suppose it’s a consequence of the narrowed playing field. I’ll be curious to see how this week’s results shake out.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 6 Results

April 26, 2012

Image from Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com 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.

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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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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.

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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.