On Tuesday's American Idol, another dozen was sent to the chopping block. Three will move forward; the rest will soon be appearing at a steakhouse near you. Overall, it's a tough call: There were many promising performances, to be sure, although most of the finalists were plagued by various issues about song choice, styling and displaying their true personalities to full advantage. Who will make the top 12? Read on to peruse my admittedly amateur observations, and then weigh in on who you think deserves to make the cut.
Hey folks, Mickey O'Connor here, filling in for Erin Fox tonight. I'm one of those fair-weather American Idol fans who usually doesn't start paying attention until it gets down to the finals, so I haven't really been watching. I apologize in advance if I say something stupid due to my early-season ignorance.
I will say that I'm not a big fan of the "12 perform, three survive" system they're trying this season. It seems unduly harsh. Also, how much can America really get to know these kids after one performance? For the record, although I supported the idea of a fourth judge, and initially I liked Kara's moxie (and her obvious expertise), I think she's kind of a pill. As such, Simon remains the only judge who gives substantive critiques, so I'm glad they're changing up the order in which the judges give their critiques. Though he still has to fight the booing crowd (so rude), at least he no longer has to fight the clock as much.
Tonight Simon floated an intriguing idea: Simon Cowell Week, in which he picks all the songs for all the contestants. I always enjoy seeing which songs the judges choose in the later weeks of the competition, so I say bring it on! For now, we have to be satisfield with tonight's loose theme: songs that appeared on the Billboard 100, which is basically every famous song ever recorded. Let's see how they did:
Von wisely addresses the shouting criticism that the judges gave him during Hollywood Week, where Simon called his singing "indulgent nonsense." Von sings "You're All I Need to Get By" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, which, ironically, has a somewhat shouty, exuberant vocal. (Check out Diana Ross' version for a smoother take.) His performance is appropriately restrained, and it's clear this kid has some talent. Randy notes his improvement, Kara says he's coming into his own, Paula says "America's going to remember you," and Simon, perhaps somewhat unfairly, compares him to Clay Aiken, taking a particularly unnecessary jab at his "dress sense." This is especially dumb considering Von's wearing a gray suit. Shocking! But Simon also says he sang very well. Von is diplomatic about the Clay comparison, which is a smart move. Claymates everywhere will vote for him.
Sweet, 17-year-old Taylor sings "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys. She's crazy-tall next to Seacrest and very cute, but her vocals are a bit shaky. She attempts to replicate Keys' staccato phrasing, but to my ear it falls flat. Thank God for backup singers because it's only when they join Taylor that the song takes off. Kara wants to go shopping with Taylor to learn more about her personality because "that performance leaves me a bit cold." Paula criticizes her decision to reprise a song she sang during Hollywood Week. Simon mocks Kara's critique, and then says that he genuinely couldn't remember her, and calls her performance very generic and bland. So essentially he agreed with Kara, but apparently just wanted to be a dick.
Alex says after reading on the Internet (never do that, Alex!) that people think he's wimpy, he decided to start going to the gym so he can "fill out a shirt like Simon." Heh. He sings "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" by Elton John. Alex appears to have watched too many Joe Cocker videos. He sings with lots of growly flourishes and throws the mic stand all over the stage. It's entertaining, but underneath it all, he doesn't have the pipes to back it up. But, it should be noted, the audience loves him. Paula has an annoying spat with Simon, and then says that Alex channeled his inner rock star. Simon aptly observes that he had fun watching him, but not listening to him, and that he's a hamster trying to be a tiger. Randy makes the Joe Cocker comparison as well, but it's not a favorable one. Kara chirps that "at least you're you." "I was just trying to have fun," says Alex. And at that, at least, I think he succeeded.
I know Arianna doesn't want us to say it, but she is cute as a button. She sings "The Winner Takes It All" by ABBA. She's quite expressive for a 16-year-old. Out of all the ABBA songs she could have chosen, this one seems a little too "drama club" for Idol. As such, I don't love her vocals. Simon thinks it was absolutely terrible, and that the song was way too big for her. He also says it sounded too old-fashioned, and Randy agrees. Kara thinks it was too dark and depressing, and that she needs to be younger. Paula acknowledges that there were bright moments to the song, but basically agrees with her cohorts. Arianna argues that she tried to make it contemporary, but unfortunately the judges aren't buying it.
What's a "business owner"? I hate when people have gimmicky auditions. In Ju'Not's case, he brought his adorable kid to the auditions to distract the judges. Ju'Not is singing "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's, a song that always makes me sad because the guy wrote it about his high school crush, and she was all: Ew, no. But then he took her to the Grammys or something, so: yay? I like Ju'Not's slow-jam twist on the song, and his delivery is stripped-down and honest, but it's important to note that his performance isn't spotless. Randy and Kara like Ju'Not's interpretation. Paula just wants to see the baby again. Simon says Ju'Not exceeded his expectations, but that he wanted him to strip it down even further. Then Ju'Not says he had a Cortizone shot in his butt or something, and the producers hit the panic button. Just as the trap door is about to open, Seacrest cuts him off.
Kristen rehashes the Hollywood drama before singing "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. (Ooo, someone should sing "Fast Car" — that would be a delicious disaster!) The arrangement of this song is shameful, as it completely strips the song of its inherent soul. I picture Chapman's sad moon-pie face with a single tear rolling down it. Kristen's voice is decent, but the performance is a little safe. Kara wants her to do something with more of a rock edge. Paula, Simon and Randy all say that Kristen may have betrayed the image they saw during Hollywood Week. I like that she admits that she's hopeless, fashion-wise. She's sweet -- I hope she gets the help she needs.
His piercings make my face itch. Nathaniel likes to cry, I guess. But he's done crying; he wants to be goofy. (Uh, dude, check out a mirror.) He sings "I Would Do Anything for Love" by Meatloaf, which is my idea of what's playing when you arrive in the waiting room of hell. I applaud his effort to give the treacly song an emo edge. He really butches up when he sings, huh? But in the end, it's not campy enough to be fun and not rigorous enough to be emotional. Simon says "I think you would" in response to the song's lyrical claim, and criticizes the guy's distinctive look — headband, my aunt Cheryl's 1984 hairstyle, etc. Simon mitigates his meanness by admitting that Nathaniel is fun. So fun, in fact, that Kara wants to go sing karaoke with him. But, she says, he needs to choose the right song, and that wasn't it. Amen. "I'm used to Nathan's music," says his grandmother. "I love to hear Nathan sing." Aw.
So apparently Felicia was cut, but then she was brought back? She looks hot, but she also looks 38. (How you doin'?) She sings "No One" by Alicia Keys, which I would imagine is a tough song to sing. To my ears, Felicia has some trouble, but she manages, even if it does sound really close to the original. Which could be a good thing, I suppose. I like the tone of her voice, which Randy observes is different from Keys', and that she should exploit that more. Paula is sold, and thinks her talent is unbelievable. Simon observes, rightly, that her rendition was a bit copycat. Kara really noticed her tonight, and really likes her new look. The bangs do make a difference.
Full disclosure: I'm not a Bruce Hornsby fan. He played at my small college in the early '90s, and I got so drunk the night of the concert on kiwi-lime Mad Dog "wine" that I puked green. Scott doesn't know this, or else he wouldn't have sang "Mandolin Rain," a song that probably wouldn't prompt me to dry-heave otherwise. Probably. He has a nice voice, and it appears the stylists are doing their best to tone down his Greatest American Hero look. Randy says his performance was uneven, but that he can feel the passion. Kara says that he moves mountains, which might be overstating it a tad. Simon thinks there are better singers in the competition, but that he's growing on him. "I'm going to be amazed if you don't sail through to the next round," Paula says. Seacrest calls him Scotty the Body, which is gross, and then Scott shows he's game for a laugh by claiming to be a "stationary target" for another high-five. Anyone who mocks Seacrest wins points with me.
Kendall's dad does an "alligator dance" when his daughter wins something, which is cute, but I wish it was "gatoring," a term I remember fondly from The Official Preppy Handbook. Any-hoo, Kendall sings "This One's for the Girls" by Martina McBride, and while her voice is quite strong, I think this song is lame, country-fried piffle and might have been stronger if it was recorded as a pop song. Kara disagrees, though, and thinks she picked the right song and likes her personality, but says she had some trouble with the notes. (Details!) Simon thinks she made the right choices; she's definitely a country girl. But! "Halfway through, I couldn't wait for it to end," he says. "This is so surreal," Kendall responds. Tell it, sister-friend!
Hate crime! The judges criticized Jorge during Hollywood Week for his Puerto Rican accent and dancing. He sings "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" by Elton John, and, I have to admit, I kind of see what they mean. The accent is distracting when laid over a familiar tune. Paula applauds him for working with a dialect coach, though, so I guess it must have been much thicker before? "You heart him, don't you?" Simon says, which makes me LOL. Simon reverses his position on the accent, saying he should sing the way he sings. If I were a contestant, such conflicting advice would piss me off. Paula then asks to hear his accent, and Simon rightly points out how patronizing that is. Randy says if his vocals are good, an accent doesn't matter. Kara says that singing is "his gig." And then he cries, so Paula does too because she thinks he's so cute. Stay out of Paula's hot tub, Jorge! She can't control herself! He is so emotional that he can't even think in English — qué lastima!
Randy described Lil as "a mixture of Fantasia and Mary J. Blige" during Hollywood Week. So it makes sense that tonight she's singing "Be Without You" by the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, which she dedicates to her three children, without whom she hates being. I think MJB is a hard act to follow, but Lil acquits herself pretty well. Simon says she's brilliant, but that she shouldn't have chosen an MJB song because she sounds too much like her. Kara says she's a powerhouse, a "steady boat" and that she can't wait to see what she does next week — and the week after that. Randy says she kept her swagger on. Paula says she suspects we'll be seeing many more Lil Rounds.
For what it's worth, if I was in charge, we'd be seeing a lot more of Von, Ju'Not and Kristen, though it pains me to leave Felicia and Lil off that list.
What did you think? Who are your top three?
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