Top 14 Performance Night

Before we get to the singing, a little stage setting…

  • The contestants all waved to the crowd like they knew each other, which seemed strange at first but I had forgotten that there is a dress rehearsal before the show, with the same crowd. They did know each other.
  • The four fast-passes were my ‘big two’ – Dalton and Olivia – along with Trent for his voice, and La’ Porsha for her personality. I was mildly surprised they didn’t take Sonika over Trent, but Sonika shouldn’t have any trouble getting the vote out while Trent might have, so I’m glad they chose the way they did.
  • It’s too bad La’Porsha didn’t get to perform, she is having a great hair day.
  • The singers tonight will be reprising songs from earlier in the year, which makes me wonder how much effort the show is putting into getting them a variety of songs to choose from. I understand that it’s the last season and they aren’t drawing 30 million viewers anymore, but they have made a FORTUNE over the last 15 years. Spend a few bucks and get the kids some new songs, ok?
  • The big stage has swallowed up its share of singers over the years and the first big stage performances are always an intonational nightmare – so don’t expect anyone to have perfect pitch tonight.
  • Kymberly Willoughby, who could show these kids a thing or two about singing herself, is guest-judging with me tonight. Her takes on each performance will be underneath mine, and I’ll mark ‘em clearly so you know it’s her.

Ok, let’s have it, guys. The singers, the songs:

Manny Torres, “Master Blaster”

Manny bores the hell out of me. He doesn’t have any high range, and he always looks to me like he’s posing, like a Chippendale dancer. I hate it when the judges tell singers to ‘connect with the song’ – mostly because the phrase is one of their favorite smart-assy ways of saying “sing better” – but Manny didn’t even get close to the song. He needed to sing way better. He didn’t look comfortable up there.

Judges: Keith gave the obligatory ‘way to open the show’ speech, then said “sing better.” Not in so many words, but that was what he meant.

Kym: “Manny has a lot of charisma and energy, but not a great song choice for him tonight IMO. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance….but he’s shown us enough in previous weeks, I’m not totally convinced that he won’t make the top ten.”

Verdict: It’s the first dammed song, get off me. Seriously, Manny could be in trouble but then again this might be the best it gets. It’s the first song. He wasn’t very good, and I don’t know if he’s very popular.

Gianna Isabella, “I Put a Spell on You”

Gianna’s inexperience shows up in her phrasing as much as anywhere else – she sounds really amateurish whenever she has to do a complicated rhythm – plus she has that dreaded early adolescent upper range problem (she ain’t got none). She could have used that big note at the end, and she tried to find it but all she could manage was a harsh, sandpapery silhouette of a high note. All that said,though, I thought she was pretty good by her established standards tonight, and she’s getting better every week.

Judges: Jen gushed.

Kym: ”Gianna looks like she’s having the time of her life. I didn’t want to like her, because of her annoying mother but I have a soft spot for those that have fun on stage over those who sing flawlessly (probably from years of running Karaoke) not a mind blowing performance tonight, but I still like her.”

Verdict: Seeya next week.

Thomas Stringfellow, “Story of My Life”

T-String was in tune, which doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but that’s actually the part of his show with the highest degree of difficulty. For the baseball fans out there Tommy is a singing metaphor for the Robin Roberts, Catfish Hunter family of pitchers. He only has one pitch, one primary skill, but it’s one hell of a skill and he has such remarkable command of it that he can keep bringing it, over and over, without losing effectiveness.

Judges: Harry told him to stop throwing his pitch.

Kym: “Thomas has more fun on stage than anyone else I think. He’s quirky and unique but I’m not sold on his style.”

Verdict: Harry should know better than to tell him to change his vocal style right now. What a horrible piece of advice, like telling a NASCAR driver to keep his hands at 10 and 2 right before a green-white checker restart. Save that advice for the end of the season.

 Tristan McIntosh, “What Hurts the Most”

The way she started, almost running out of breath at the end of her first phrase, I was worried that she was going to get sideways – but she got it together, took a deeeeeep breath for the next phrase, and blew the doors off the rest of the song. We may look back on this performance as a moment later, especially if Tristan makes it deep in the competition. She was brilliant once she got her feet set.

Judges:  Keith gushed, Jen slobbered.

Kym: “Tristan has a lot of talent and she took some risks tonight, but so do a lot of other girls in this competition. I don’t know if she stands out enough.”

Verdict: Kym knows things about singing that I don’t know, which gives me pause, but my take is that Tristan is safe as hell.

Avalon Young, “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”

Her stage presence feels forced to me, but she’s trying and I think she’ll loosen up and look a little less play-acty as she gets some reps. Her voice stands out – even following Tristan she sounded strong – and her tone is as cuddly as a care bear wrapped in a Fabreze scented dryer sheet.

Judges: gushed.

Kym: “Avalon confuses me. I think she could sing the phone book, she is such a pretty girl, but her fashion choices don’t match her looks and vocal ability. Her song choice didn’t do it for me tonight. I like the song, but not on her. She could’ve done better.”

Verdict: Avalon wore makeup tonight, which I don’t think she had done before. She usually looks like a tomboy.

Jenn Blosil, “True Colors”

I had a hard time getting past the eyebrows, they looked like they were coated in sand. She probably should have stuck to the blue theme from last week. Vocally she was all over the place, even more than usual, though she did stick one great note. It might hurt her that she sang that song; she ain’t going to out-weird Cyndy Lauper. She should have done “Hanging Tree” from her showcase round; she was impressive that week.

Judges: Harry talked her up bigtime; he knows Jenn is important to the television show aspect.

Kym: “Jenn is another quirky and unique singer and if there is only room for one in the top ten I wouldn’t pick her. I didn’t love what she did with that Cyndi Lauper song tonight. It could’ve used a bit of polish.”

Verdict: We will find out what the voters think of Jenn this time around.

Lee Jean, “Make It Rain”

I had a weird Tracy Chapman flashback early in the song… Lee’s performance was split – the first half (and the end) were terrific, sweet and strong. The middle part, though, his nerve endings tensed up, almost like he was having nerve cramps, and he had to fight through it. He did, and I give the kid a lot of credit for it, but he was straining on notes he usually nails. Nerves have destroyed many, many Idols over the years … Lee struggled with nerves last week, too, so he’s going to have to find a way to relax or he ain’t going to last long.

Judges: Keith noted the nerves, too.

Kym: “Lee is adorable. I love everything about this kid. He’s got a voice like butter, just the right amount of charisma without being overly cocky. I want to put him in my pocket and carry him around with me.”

Verdict: chicks dig the cute boys – that has to be a good sign for Lee.

Sonika Vaid, “I Surrender”

Her first performance of this song is on her bio page, and if you listened to it you know she wasn’t nearly as good tonight. She nailed the higher register parts, but her phrasing was all over the place and her rhythm sense was so bad that I thought the band was going to have to stop and wait for her at one point. Her tone when she first came out gave it away: nerves, nerves, and more nerves. As she warmed up her beautiful tone came out, but she never really got the nerves tamped down. She needs to relax even more than Lee does.

Judges: Jen blathered like a vacuum cleaner salesman, making sure the voters knew who to vote for. Keep talking, keep selling, Jen. The show needs Sonika.

Kym:  “Sonica couldn’t have a better stage name! Her voice is so clear pure. She can you pull you in with those big brown eyes.”

Verdict: She should be safe as hell, even with a rough performance.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell, “Ring of Fire”

I have no idea what to think about lil’ June Junior. I like her – hell, even Mikey from the old life cereal commercials likes her – but she has the weakest voice in the competition and she phrases as poorly as the other 15 year olds. Speaking of, how many 15 year olds are there? I think four out of the ten singing tonight were 15 when they auditioned. Jeneve’s chances are as live as any of ‘em.

Judges: “pay no attention to the shitty singing, please vote for our southern meal ticket”

Kym: “I don’t think she has the chops. She can play the $#&@ out of any instrument she picks up, but this IS a singing competition, right?”

Verdict: We’ll see. There are a lot of “we’ll see” singers, aren’t there? I think this is a good thing – Eclectic Idol – and Jeneve is as interesting and entertaining, all things considered, as any of them.

MacKenzie Bourg, “Roses”

I don’t remember him having breathing issues before; he ran out of breath in the middle of a couple of phrases, and a couple of his high notes could have been stronger…. But don’t get me wrong: This was a strong performance, right there with Tristan as the best of the night. MacKenzie wrote this song; if Idol was still pulling in 30 million viewers this song would get a million Youtube hits by the end of the season. Somebody remind me to check it later, to see how many it ends up with.

Judges: gushed.

Kym: “MacKenzie looks like my cousin. His smile is infectious. He’s believable and brings his own thing to his performances. I’m not quite ready to let him go.”

Verdict: seeya next week.

Safe to in Danger –

Safe as hell

  • Sonika
  • MacKenzie
  • Tristan
  • Lee

Wild Cards – who knows?

  • Gianna
  • Thomas
  • Jenn
  • Jeneve
  • Avalon
  • Manny

I thought Gianna would be in the safe group but they gave her a horrible, awful edit in the end-of-show reprisal of their performances; they found every bad note she hit. Of the ten, Gianna and Manny had the worst edits.

Jeneve and Jenn – my brain tells me that they are both gone, toast, dust … but they have had amazing staying power. Avalon deserves to advance, but it’s a numbers game. Did she stand out enough to get voters motivated for her? If it were up to me I would take my four safe singers plus the two Jens, just because they are the most interesting, but Tommy and Avalon probably deserve the final two spots based on their voices.

        Kym’s safe to in danger:

  • Sonica
  • Jenn
  • MacKenzie
  • Gianna
  • Avalon
  • Lee
  • Tristan
  • Manny
  • Thomas
  • Jeneve

If you have your own safe to in danger list email it to me or post it on one of my facebook entries. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding them, I’ve been shilling my blog like a friggin’ salad shooter for weeks.

Four go tomorrow night! Bloody! Messy! See you then!

Power Rankings – top 14

Here is your cheat sheet for Wednesday night’s show. Print this out, and when the singer’s name is announced you can read the entry below and have an idea what your eyes and ears are about to be assaulted with.

14. Avalon Young: Wants to be Rhianna. Looks like an East L.A. skateboarder. Sounds like Beyonce. Why bother? Her gummy tone would make beautiful radio babies.

13. Manny Torres: Wants to be Bruno Mars. Looks like Brutus from Popeye. Sounds like Stevie Wonder a little, his tone does, but his style is closer to Adam Levine. He’s pretty much one big o-face, all the time. Why bother? No idea – he bores me.

12. Gianna Isabella: Wants to be a diva, I imagine. Looks like Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing.” Sounds like a pageant contestant who has been practicing for the talent competition since she was three years old when she sings, Tony Soprano’s daughter when she talks. Why bother? Her voice is genuinely good; if she can pull off one minute and a half without any big mistakes she could create a moment.

11. Jeneve Rose Mitchell: Wants to be June Carter. Looks like somebody dressed up Daisy May’s little sister in the clothes off the Tom Mix display model from L.L. Bean. Sounds like somebody stepped on a cat. Ok, that’s not fair. She sounds like every average-voiced kid who dreams about being on the Grand Ole Opry, singing in the shower at the top of her lungs, with no fear or self-awareness. Why bother? She is magic with just about any instrument she grabs onto, and she has personality oozing out of her pores.

10. Lee Jean: Wants to be Dave Matthews. Looks like Lou Brock at 12 or 13 years old. Sounds like El Debarge imitating Dave Matthews. Why bother? His tone is diabetic coma inducing sweet, and with that nice a tone he is always one perfect vehicle from a moment.

9. Jenn Blosil: Wants to be herself, but with more money. Looks like a thorazined Cindy Brady grew up and got a job in a methadone clinic. Sounds like … there have always been these sorts of singers around. I don’t know who the template is. Maria Muldaur on horse tranquilizers was my first guess, or something like Tinkerbell dropping to earth and becoming an ecstasy-addicted German cabaret singer. Why bother? Why do we watch reality television in the first place? Jenn is a lot of things, but boring ain’t any of ‘em.

8. Tristan McIntosh: Wants to be Carrie Underwood. Looks like Marilyn McCoo. Sounds like a very green, very young Carrie Underwood. Why bother? That syrupy tone could create a moment at any moment, if – like several others, this is a pretty young crew – she can avoid inexperience-driven mistakes.

7. Thomas Stringfellow: Wants to be Ed Sheeran. Looks like Buh-Billy from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sounds like Buddy Holly, trying to sound like Ed Sheeran. Why bother? He seems popular, and despite the gyrations he puts his melodies through he sings in tune very well. A perfect song for his style could certainly create moment potential.

6. Trent Harmon: Wants to be … I have no idea, really – I’m sure there’s someone out there just like him, but I don’t know who it is. Looks like Goober Pyle – the walk, the talk, the body type – but with Jethro Clampett’s face. Sounds like Elton John when he sings, Goober when he talks. Why bother? Trent has one of the highest ‘seat of your pants’ factors on the show; you will never know what he’s going to do next, because he has a terrific voice that can do crazy things.

5. MacKenzie Bourg: Wants to be the ostrich guy, Five for Fighting. Looks like a scale model of Robbie Benson, the 1970s actor. Sounds like Paul Simon. Why bother? If we get a Simon and Garfunkel theme week and he sings a Garfunkel song I’ll be pissed.

4. Olivia Rox (Hill): Wants to be Taylor Swift. Looks like the little girl in the Chocolate Factory who ate the wrong candy, but instead of turning purple and blowing up she just keeps stretching taller, and taller, and taller…. Sounds like Jennifer Warnes a LOT, but with an extra gear at the top. Why bother? She has every dammed trick in the book, and no idea what to do with them all in a minute and a half. If she can get them all together one time, though…

3. Sonika Vaid: Wants to be Celine Dion. Looks like Shriya Saran. Sounds like Celine Dion. Why bother? Well, because we have ears. And eyes. And souls.

2. La’Porsha Renae: Wants to be Tina Turner, I suspect. Looks like a chia pet mixed its DNA with a panda bear and mated with Aretha Franklin. Sounds like … I think she sounds a little like Gladys Knight, with a little scratch and the types of trilling she likes to do. Why bother? I’m already a little tired of the ‘she’s so brave’ narrative, but she is charismatic and fun – and she can sing a little, too.

1. Dalton Rapattoni: Wants to be Justin Timberlake. Looks like Rod Stewart’s cuter little brother. Sounds like every boy band singer ever. Why bother? History. Dalton is going to be the last American Idol.

Don’t take the rankings too seriously. I am pretty sure I have the right one at the top, but numbers two through 14 are wide open. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of them go home Thursday night, or stand next to Dalton for his confetti shower in May.

Vote in the poll below for your favorite singer (vote once this time).

Semifinals – first 12 perform

Semifinals first 12: safe to in danger

harpHere are my quick-takes on the performances from the first semifinals round. I’ll go ahead and put a letter grade on ‘em, mostly for fun and comparisons with Bob Gregory. I try to stay consistent with my grades, so it will look like I’m getting softer and softer as the show goes on. What’s actually happening – or at least what usually happens – is that the singers get better and their performances get tighter. Tonight was pretty loose, so the grades will be lower.

Stephany Negrete semifinal performance: “Mama Knows Best” – Jessie J – C+

Steph was a little stiff, a little imitate-y, and a little out of tune. She has a big voice, but the competition is too stiff to let her keep making mud pies. She needed to be noticeable to have any chance; the show expressed their opinion about her chances when they gave her the opening spot. That spot is death in the semifinals, even when the judges are doing the voting.

MacKenzie Bourg semifinal performance: “Say Something” – A Great Big World – B-

The original version of this song is really quirky, sort of like an REM album cut. MacKenzie, who usually makes his versions quirkier than the originals, actually made this song less quirky. I don’t think that’s a good move for a guy who doesn’t really have a deep arsenal of vocal calisthenics he can draw on.

Jenna Renae semifinal performance: “My Church” – Maren Morris – C-

Jenna has a terrific voice and she can sing melodies all night long, but whenever she tries to go big or go low she loses her intonation. I think she needed to be perfect tonight, and she wasn’t.

Sonika Vaid semifinal performance: “Safe and Sound” – Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars – B+

Most years Sonika would have competition for her style but she seems to be the only one who sings the movie themes and whatever Celine Dion just put out. She stuck the ending like a champ, which should make everyone forget a couple of wonky notes in the middle. Her tone was beautiful, and she nailed her dynamics.

James Dawson VIII semifinal performance: “Love Lockdown” – Kanye West – B-

I loved it because I love his style, but J8 gave ’em an album cut on singles night, and nobody was happy. He’s going to be white knuckling it.

Jeneve Rose Mitchell semifinal performance: “Angel” – Sarah McLachlan – B+ (singing only D)

It’s impossible to not love her. Her vocal technique is awful, her range is limited, and her tone is all over the dammed place, but it doesn’t matter with her puppy dog eyes, her 47 instruments that all sound like they just got done playing “Amazing Grace,” and her heart-on-her-sleeve emoting. Whatever ‘it’ is, Jeneve has it. Now, for chrissakes, will somebody teach her how to sing?

Gianna Isabella semifinal performance: “I put a Spell on you” – Annie Lennox – D+

I don’t know why they called it an Annie Lennox song, but whatever. Gianna has a strong, richly textured voice, and just enough knowledge to get herself in trouble. She’s like a good high school golfer: she can hit long straight drives, crisp irons, smooth chips, and strike firm putts. If she doesn’t hit it crooked she can shoot a score that looks as good as a pro’s score – but if she mishits juuuust a little bit the whole world is reminded that she’s not a pro. Not yet, anyway.

Emily Brooke semifinal performance: “I am Invincible” – Cassadee Pope – D

Oh Gawd that was a total train wreck – she was out of tune from the first note to the throne she threw up all over afterwards. This would have been bad drunken kamikaze karaoke. From mortal lock to already gone in sixty seconds. Apologies to the late, great Glenn Frey and the not so late, not so great (kidding) Nicholas Cage.

Avalon Young semifinal performance: “Love Yourself” – Justin Beiber – C+

I felt like she was trying to do too much – trying to ‘perform’ instead of just being natural – but her gumdrop tone came out and she finished strong. She always sounds like herself, which I think might be what the judges were saying unconsciously. They want her to have another facet. I don’t know if she does.

Jordan Sasser semifinal performance: “All by Myself” – Celine Dion C-

Eric Carmen,  but never mind. He did Celine’s version, which was a bad idea in front of judges old enough to have heard the original.

I hate the song choice for Jordan; he’s already at risk of sounding too white, and he sang one of the whitest songs ever written in one of the whitest ways possible. None of that would have mattered if he nailed it, but I felt like he promised this massive thing and then he delivered something smaller, like watching someone light off a huge firework and watching it fizzle and pop a little, then fall over. The whole thing was underwhelming and unimpressive to me.

Jordan needed to be better than this tonight.

Tommy Stringfellow semifinal performance: “Creep” – Radiohead – B

My only reservation comes from liking the original version of the song so much that Tommy’s version was a little jarring. The judges hammer singers for not sounding emotional enough all the time, but what it actually means is that they want to hear a more emotional delivery, not that they need to actually feel the emotions. Tommy doesn’t ever have to worry about it because his natural delivery is emotional. Tommy has to be careful on his high notes – he was on the edge (or over the edge, depending on your tolerance for edges) of screeching there for a few notes.

La’Porsha Renae semifinal performance: “Proud Mary” – Tina Turner – C (but an A for bravery)

Getting the pimp spot means she is about as safe as she can be, but hoo boy that was not the safest song choice and Chia Girl stood toe-to-toe with Tina Turner herself, practically copying her arrangement down to the dance moves. I know she’s safe, but if one of the less safe contestants had done that they would be in trouble. She couldn’t hit her high note at the end, either, without catching her breath and setting her feet first. That was weird and uncomfortable.

Shelbie Z

shelbie zIt’s too bad Designing Women isn’t on anymore. Every time I see Shelbie I think of a hairdresser, prattling away while she snips and combs, gossiping about her family, her co-workers, and whomever else we both know, with a husband at home, about eight kids, fat underarms that keep slapping my ears – but she has perfectly coiffed hair and she smells amazing.

I think that’s my largest reservation about Shelbie’s chances. She has the biggest voice of anyone on the show, just a massive howitzer of a vocal jackhammer. She seems to have gained the range she was missing at her audition and during her run on the Voice. 

Shelbie’s showcase performance:

There is no reason to think she can’t contend for the confetti, except that she looks like a middle aged hairdresser. If she looked like a middle aged waitress maybe, but hairdresser? Oh hell, she might do ok anyway. It would be hilarious if she won Idol, the show that looks for the whole package, after a show that claims to be ‘all about the voice’ dumped the biggest voice they had the week after they got a look at her.

She ain’t going to win, though. She has a huge voice, but she doesn’t have the control or the variety of styles that she would need to last past the middle rounds and go deep. She might make the tour, though.

On the Voice. Gotta love a harmony singer who carries the mail.

Semifinals

Shelbie Z “Work Hard, Play Harder” – Gretchen Wilson: B-

shelbieHarry was fine with it but the other judges dunned her for singing in too low a key … my take is that the key was ok, she just didn’t have as much power as she normally has. She mucked up her first up-scale run, and I think she sang a little scared after that. The song choice was right in Shelbie’s wheelhouse, so she really should have been more impressive, but she was still pretty good.

Shelbie with Constantine Maroulis “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Watching Constantine talk and sing is so weird, like Keanu Reeves singing like Freddy Mercury. Shelbie is over whatever made her nervous last night; she sounded like her old self. I would have put a little bit more harmony in the arrangement but they decided to keep it simple. It worked, the performance was good.

I have no idea what the judges were talking about. Are they looking to dump Shelbie too? I thought she was pretty safe.