As promised in my most recent post, you can expect to read a lot about American Idol in future weeks. It's how I process the results of the often maddening, but often fantastic TV talent show. Here we go.
I have to admit that I was skeptical of the one-week, all or nothing semifinal round this year, but that I found it to be surprisingly thorough, and all the ones I thought were terrible (with only three maddening exceptions) got cut. Jordan Dorsey and Clint jun Gamboa saw the effects of their Hollywood Week d-baggery come to term, and the frightening visual components to Brett Lowenstern's and Rachel Zevita's performances properly put people off. While I put Rachel in my "good" category last week, I'm happy to admit that she seemed a little "too Broadway" (to borrow an original from the Simon Cowell lexicon) for Idol's big stage. As a collective viewing public, we weren't ready for her.
I also should admit that although I spent most of the performance episodes vehemently disagreeing with S-Ty's and J-Lo's vanilla critiques, they selected a worthy group of sing-for-your-lifers (with the exception of their undoubtedly producer-infused exclusion of Lauren Turner, whose sarcastic magic will live on in the short-term memories of Idol fans for...at least one season), and then made an awful lot of sense with their selections (controversial, yes, because based on talent alone Kendra Chantelle should have gotten in over Ashthon Jones, but from a demographics standpoint, they made a smart move). One of my favorite Idol moments of the season was when J-Lo knowingly told poor, adult contemporary Jovany Barretto: "You did all you could do." In comparison with last season, which was basically an act of endurance until Crystal Bowersox performed, I'm [dare I say] excited [GULP!] about this season.
Here's what I think of the top 13 in order from my favorite to my least favorite:
1. Casey Abrams. He's a BASS PLAYER! (I'm a bass player, btw, and we get no respect.) I thoroughly enjoyed my multiple viewings of his angry-but-working-it rendition of "I Put a Spell on You", a song that I've always found a little meh. I like that he growled [mostly] in tune, and that he's clearly got some musical ambitions for his Idol run. Still a fan!
2. Paul McDonald. My sister totally called this one. After the Nashville auditions, she told me to watch out for the "Maggie Mae" guy, and even though he was given about 8 seconds during that episode, he's emerged as a standout in the last couple of weeks. I LOVED his whispery, slightly drunken encore of "Maggie Mae". My only sadness is that we'll never get to see him and Kendra Chantelle duet on the Idol big stage, like in this video. (Amazing, right?)
3. Naima Adedapo. She reminds me of a late-nineties version of Lauryn Hill. In spite of, or perhaps because of, her [shall we say] eclectic wardrobe choices, I enjoy watching her perform. It was risky for her to sing "Summertime", as Fantasia OWNS "Summertime", but she didn't do anything with it to disrespect Lady Fantasia's history with that song. Her sing-for-your-life song, though, Donnie Hathaway's "For All We Know", was magical. She didn't over-sing it, and she was feeling it. It was an unexpectedly beautiful moment. There's only a few people in this competition that I think are actually artists, and she's one of them.
4. Stefano Langone. Speaking of unexpected Idol moments, how about his lovely and emotional "I Need You Now" during the wild card round? That Bruno Mars cover during the performance round was forgettable and too self-conscious, but I really liked what he brought to his sing-for-your-life performance. I like my favorite contestants to be capable of having these kinds of emotional, slightly over the top, but still heartbreaking performances. Don't know about you, but I find Stefano really likable.
5. Lauren Alaina. Any ill-will I harbor towards Lauren is a direct result of the producers forcing her on us as "the next big thing". That said, it's hard not to like her when she's on stage or doing cartwheels in her clip package. She's a little bit of a spitfire, perhaps too precocious, but a darn good singer at the end of the day, and really quite charming. Her Reba McIntire cover was fine, if not particularly memorable, but she sauntered onto that stage with more confidence than most contestants at this point, and brought a presence that most underage contestants never have during their Idol runs (Jordin Sparks and Allison Iraheta are, of course, the exceptions). If she chooses songs wisely and stops sucking up to Steven Tyler, she'll make the top three.
6. Thia Megia. I liked her unusual showtunes selection for the performance show, and admire the fact that she went the minimalist route with it, since bandzilla and the backup singers can really make contestants with smaller voices disappear on that stage. I also think she's got nice pitch and an artist streak that we haven't fully seen yet (which is why her Bill Cosby sweaters are actually awesome). My sister is an astute reality TV critic, and she loves her, so I'm giving Thia the benefit of the doubt.
7. Pia Toscano. Yeah, she's alright. Judging by the people on the interwebs, though, I may be the only person not awed by her performance of "I'll Stand By You". It's a great song, but she sang a fairly uninteresting cover, which only made me want to listen to Chrissie Hynde singing it instead. After reading all about it online, I watched her performance again to see if I remembered it wrong, but no. Pia can sing well enough, but is she an artist?
8. Karen Rodriguez. Unlike a lot of skeptics out there, I think she's really quite good, and I like that she sings in Spanish on the big stage. "Hero" is a super-predictable, overdone Idol song, but she sang it fine. There's more in the tank with her, and I hope she's able to convey it to us before she gets voted off.
9. Jacob Lusk. This guy falls so far outside of my Idol boxes, that I forgot about him when I was thinking about this post. The jury's still out about him for me. I like that he managed to restrain himself enough to deliver a pretty good performance on Tuesday's show, but I just don't see him as a contemporary artist. He could be a great Gospel singer, but not a top 10 contemporary pop singer, even with a great song. That said, though, I still think he's bursting with raw talent, and I look forward to seeing what he does with theme weeks.
10. Ashthon Jones. She's got some pipes and she's pretty enough for Tyra to give her the makeover of death on ANTM (e.g. infuriating bangs or bleached eyebrows), for sure, but that random Monica song she sang on Thursday's show had no discernible melody. And observing her behavior during the results show made me think she's got a stank attitude. Stank.
11. Haley Reinhart. Her Alicia Keys train wreck last week did nothing to convince me that she can sing, and coupled with her frighteningly "sexualized" performance style, I think we may have found season 10's resident Sanjaya (re: a polarizing and apparently vocally limited contestant who gets to the finals and bugs us until his/her inevitable ouster two to six weeks later).
12. Scotty McCreary. I hate to pick on a 17 year-old kid just because he's on my TV, but I really blame the judges and producers for allowing him to get here. I find him inauthentic, and I don't buy his "country boy" schtick, in spite of the kinds of songs he has been singing. Just because one can smirk and tilt one's body like a country star, does not mean one is a country star. Like most 17 year-olds, I don't think he has an understanding of who he is, and I definitely don't think he's an artist yet. Like with that pale little crying girl that J-Lo told to come back in 2-3 years, I think they should have let this guy grow up a little bit first. He can't be an artist if all he knows how to do is imitate Josh Turner.
13. James Durbin. To borrow a term from my seventh grade self, this guy's a total poser. Like with Scotty, he seems to be a guy that one day happened upon a crazy thing he can do with his voice, and decided to injudiciously make that thing his trademark. "Screamer 2.0", as he will heretofore be known, is a poor man's Adam Lambert, minus the vocal training, theatrical performance savvy, charisma, and self-knowledge. I am NOT pleased.
There you have it. What do you dis/agree with? Comment below!