You guys, I'm really excited about American Idol this season. There are about 10 contestants remaining that I actually like! In the last three or four seasons, I'd say that I have actively disliked at least half of each group. This year's crop for the most part seem to have what I like in an Idolestant: Vocal chops! Personality! Musical taste! The ones I don't like, well, they're pretty much of the season 9 mould (excluding Crystal Bowersox, who is AWESOME): Vocally unsteady. Overly confident. Not ready for primetime. I think, and you may disagree with me on this, that Whitney Houston/Stevie Wonder night was among one of the best openings to the finals that I can remember, and obviously with the Whitney juggernaut looming, it could have been a disaster. Going into it, I would have described last week's theme as the Hunger Games arena of theme weeks: only one or two will be left standing. Thankfully, that was not the case. I can't remember liking so many performances in one performance show since season 7. Let's just hope the contestants can build on previous performances and get creative with their songs from here on out. I'd love to have a crazy combination of vocal powerhouse Idol and song arrangement Idol smacking us in the face each week for once. Here's to early season hope!
Here's my list of favorites in descending order:
12. Jermaine Jones: Ugh, this guy. I know his initial pre-top 24 elimination was "emotional" for the judges, but they should have trusted their initial instinct about him. His voice is certainly interesting, but not necessarily in a good way. His performance last week was all over the place, and if I'm being honest, I don't like the sound of his voice anyway. Plus, his stank, entitled attitude during the elimination episode, coupled with Ryan's constant description of him as a "Gentle Giant" (do we need one of those?) have solidified his standing at the bottom of this season's talent.
11. Shannon Magrane: Poor, tall Shannon. Kid's just out of her league. She seems like a sweet girl, and I like the personality she's shown in the non-singing portions of the program, but her ill-advised attempt at "I Have Nothing" last week showed all her flaws. It was also a little troubling when she told the cameras backstage that apart from the one note, it was a good vocal. Mmm, girl: it was not.
10. Joshua Ledet: I think this is controversial. I can't deny that Joshua's voice is awesome. It's objectively great, in fact. Something about him, though, is not connecting for me. For one, I'm not crazy about his song choices, but at this point in the competition, that's not totally fair. In the Hollywood rounds, I was still suffering from PJLSD (you know, Post Jacob Lusk Stress Disorder), and it seemed like Joshua, as a gospel singer with an ability to go way over the top with his vocals, might be reviving horrible Lusky memories. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case either. I'm optimistic about Joshua, but for right now, I'm going to need something more to draw me in.
9. Deandre Brackensick: He seems like such a sweetie! It was nice to finally see him come out of his shell a little bit when Ryan questioned him about his cry-reaction to making the finals, and it seems like he's finally gaining some confidence. I really liked his performance last week, even though I would never be able to tell you without cheating 1) the name of the song he performed; or 2) any of the words from it. I also liked that he put his hair back for the performance: a subtle, but significant styling choice that made all the difference. Like with Joshua, what could potentially push Deandre over the edge for me is song choice. I'm a fan, though!
8. Heejun Han: Ha! What a goober! I love this guy's personality and think he actually has a shockingly beautiful voice. I don't think it's as strong as Joshua's or Deandre's, but when he's in his pocket, it's lovely. My fear for Heejun is that he'll survive in this competition too long, at the expense of some people who are a bit more versatile as vocalists. Until he sings something up-tempo or even something that reflects his personality, Heejun is going to be a question mark. Love him, though!
7. Hollie Cavanagh: The adorable little woodland creature! Hollie is so good when she's confident. Of all the contestants on this show, I think she's got the greatest shot at having a true "Idol journey this season, and if she keeps singing solidly, revealing a little bit more personality (and her fantastically bizarro hybrid accent!), she's got a legitimate shot at the title this year. I'd love to see something like that!
6. Colton Dixon: Loved, loved, loved his performance of "Lately" last week. He David Cooked it a little bit with the arrangement, while managing to maintain the integrity of the melody. His vocal wasn't perfect, but the changes in that song are brutal and I thought he did an admirable job. If Colton could fix his hair, I'd probably consider myself a fangirl. I really like the way he sings. I think he's extremely radio-friendly right now.
5. Jessica Sanchez: Her vocal on the Whitney Houston (ahem, Dolly Parton) Beast last week was undeniable. Wowsers. I think that song requires more of a build than 90 seconds can give it, but no one has ever sung it that well on Idol before, and previous seasons are littered with the eliminations of those who have tried. My favorite part of the performance occurs in this video at about the 1:30 mark. In spite of how well she had sung up to that point, I was nervous about the final "And I-ee-I-ee-I..." bit. At that point in the song, however, she got this little smirk on her face that alerted us to the fact that she was in control of what she was doing. I've heard that she's been criticized for being too robotic/unemotional when she sings, but I'm not too bothered by that when she delivers a vocal like last week.
4. Elise Testone: I'm so sad she got turned into a punching bag this week. How quickly we forget that she was the Katniss in the Adele semi-final arena two weeks ago (y'all, I'm really excited for Hunger Games next week. NEXT WEEK! SQUEEEEEE!!!). Her vocal was still solid on the song she didn't choose to sing, but almost resulted in her elimination nonetheless. Last week, Elise had Carly Smithson syndrome: she tried to please, when she should have stayed true to her instincts. I think she'll win back voters, but I'm so sad that one of the most interesting vocalists in the competition almost got voted off in week one.
3. Phillip Phillips: What can I say about Phillip? That his voice sends me into a frenzy every week? That I find his spazzy performance antics adorable and I love them? You've heard all that before. I think I'm liking Phillip right now because of how much he seems to love the music that he plays, and the way it spills out of him in every performance. So glad he's doing well on this show, but I want the winner this year to be a lady, so I'll enjoy him in the meantime.
2. Skylar Laine: Skylar's the real deal. J-Lo's made the apt Reba comparison a few times, but I think Miranda Lambert needs to be thrown in there as well. There's something very un-Idol about a country girl singing with authenticity. I liked Lauren Alaina last year, but I didn't think she was ready to be a country star, and Skylar's performances show exactly why not. Country music is at its best when singers tell a story and you can believe that they're telling the truth. Skylar gets that in a way that neither Scotty (ugh) or Lauren did last season. To take Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and to turn it into what sounded like an actual country song was genius. I believed the story she was telling. Actual vocal chops to go along with the whole package certainly help matters, as well!
1. Erika van Pelt: EVP! I'm such a fan! The restraint she shows every single time she sings is so refreshing on this show. I love her vocal power, but I love that she knows how to harness it for what the songs need. Her performance of "I Believe in You and Me" was my favorite of a very good night because of the vocal choices she made with it. Rather than the nervous fumbling that often characterizes Idolestants early in the season, I felt like I was watching a pro. She's fantastic! Now, if we could just get the Idol stylists to quit hating on her....