Tuesday, February 17, 2009

American Idol Semifinals- Group 1

Welcome to another season of American Idol commentary on cgpolitics.blogspot.com

In past seasons, I have written why I find this show entertaining and why I enjoy making judgment and predictions on the competition aspect of it.

I should emphasize, as I go about this post tonight, and in future weeks, what I am offering are stream of consciousness thoughts as they relate to the thoughts I had as I watched the episode and after (and I am going to do my best to do these, as I am tonight, before I check any other blogs on the topic.) I am not at all focused on spelling, grammar, or trying to to write well. This season, I want to list the songs that were song as well, but I may not be precise on all the titles. I just want to offer the thoughts I had. I will be judging the contestants in my rankings, based on vocal ability for that night alone. I will not take into account previous weeks, if I like them or hate them personally, what they look like, whether I liked the song or not, etc. So, it should be pretty simple what I am attempting here.

Some general top of my head thoughts before I begin the recap of who sang what and in what order tonight.... which will be followed by the rankings and predictions....

Before the episode, I saw a list of song spoilers and order of performance on a very reliable and popular American Idol blog.... they were way wrong. Not sure what happened there, but I guess I will find out tomorrow.

I really enjoyed Season 7 of American Idol and have said before and still believe, that this season will have a tough act to follow, perhaps in terms of talent, and almost certainly in terms of devoted fan base. The final two last season of David Cook and David Archuleta are both doing pretty well right now on the charts and should expect to have successful careers (especially Archuleta). I am not sure the eventual winner this season will be able to claim the same. This could be a year where it's more about personality and likeability and who can best adapt to the pressure cooker of a show, more than who will definitely be a "future star."

Last year, the contestants were allowed to play instruments on stage. Nobody did tonight. Maybe they should... it could have helped some others stand out more. We saw five good to very good performances tonight, but I do not know if any of the 12 in Group A were truly at their best. This round was stacked, particularly with the 6 guys, of judges' favorites and front-runners, so people really needed to be on top of their game to have a chance. Unlike the last few seasons, and in a move which I wish were not the case, Idol is sort of returning to their roots, with people automatically making the Finals, after one performance. Although, the twist is that it will be the top male, top female, and next highest vote getter. Additionally, there will be a wild card round. I am not sure how many contestants will make the wildcard, if the next highest vote getter who did not get through has an automatic invite, or even if they may bring singers from outside the Top 36 in.

So, what I am awkwardly trying to say was that in the past few years, contestants had to really hope not to be among the very worst. This year, if they want to make the Top 12, they have to be sure to be among the best. Obviously, this format greatly aids the American Idol Powers That Be in constructing the Top 12 they want... in a huge way. Thus, I don't really like it. But I do like the fact with so much on the line, contestants in this round have much more leeway in picking their own songs than they did last season when they were limited to decade theme nights.

I am probably forgetting a lot more than I could say, but I really need to begin the recap soon.... just one final shout out to Joanna Pacitti, whose tenure as an American Idol semifinalist was about as long as Bonnie Newman's as a U.S. Senator..... and maybe not too much shorter than that of Roland Burris. Roland would have been great on Idol by the way. He could have put it on his tombstone...

Anyway, here is how the show went down from beginning to end:

Jackie Tohn- "Little Less Conversation"

Jackie hopes to be what I believe would be only the second Jewish-American ever to make it to the Finals of AI (Elliot Yamin being the other) and in the spirit of that, there was a little shake up of how Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell were sitting, with Randy, on the right of our tv screens being the first to speak and then moving left, followed by Kara DioGuardi, the new judge and daughter of a former Republican Congressman.

Jackie, who once played Stevie Van Zandt's characters daughter on one episode of the Sopranos, and who has been mentioned as a sort of female Taylor Hicks like manic performer went all goofy on this Elvis number. She knows how to work a stage to be sure, but I agreed with Simon that it was the wrong strategy. She came off as a performer and not a great singer. Maybe that is a way to stick out, but I think it will probably backfire for her. Yes, she is crazy and zany and all that, but that makes her more of an actress than a singer. And apparently her father is a member of the NYC based Guardian Angels.

Ricky Braddy- "A Song for You"

Someone named Ricky Braddy sounds more like a fictional NASCAR driver than an American Idol contestant, but this singer, from the Idol factory of North Carolina, has not been given much exposure on the show, and that might be to his detriment, at least temporarily. Because, he was pretty darn good tonight. I think a lot of people will sit up and take notice of the contestant whom Paula Abdul had already declared was one of her three early favorites. Again, I agree with Simon in the sense that he is lacking in the way of charisma and star quality, and I think he may need to try too hard to have that come across for him, but he has a good voice and that was very evident tonight. He managed to exceed expectations and one way or another, he will sing again on an Idol stage. And apparently, the people who own the copyright to the Brady Bunch logo will be suing his parents.

Alexis Grace- "When You Love a Man"

I am not so sure it was very wholesome of the judges back in the auditions to tell a fairly young, unwed mother to "dirty herself up" to better her chances, but it just might have been sound advice. Alexis definitely came across as sultrier than the typical girl next door tonight in her song and wardrobe choices, but she sang really well, and like Ricky Braddy, managed to greatly exceed expectations. Already, Simon is calling her a dark horse, a la Kelly Clarkson. That might be a little early, but I sort of do have the feeling, that in a season in which I think the guys have a clear advantage, she may manage to outlast most or all of the other females. Get ready for overly cheesy "Amazing Grace" references, etc. And apparently, her father is the lost Allman Brother.

Brent Keith- Hick Town

Obsessive Idol watchers may have read that Brent was previously a contestant on Nashville Star, so he certainly has some experience. I am not a fan of country music, but when I saw his audition, I figured that because of his background as a marketable male country singer (something that is not very common on Idol), he would be a shoe-in for the finals. But other personalities got far more attention as the auditions and Hollywood round progressed, so he really needed to bring it tonight in order to possibly get a wildcard invite, as the top two males in this group had been pretty easy to predict.

He sang a horrible country song that I had never heard before of course, and it sounded like he strugged technically at times on it. Brent is smart to want to really appeal to the country fan demographic as his niche at this stage in the competition, but he should have maybe picked a more well-known current or classic country song that was more recognizable. He was also done a great disservice right before he sang on the live show when his videotaped intro piece did not appear and for a couple seconds it looked like he would have to sing for his life, without the exposure that the others would be getting. But it was worked out eventually, even though it might have momentarily rattled him.

Basically, I think Brent probably blew his chances though by being sub-par, and he did not seem very happy on the couch with Seacrest after the judges' comments. And apparently, that is really his wife.

Stevie Wright- "You Belong With Me"

When I saw her audition, I had high hopes for Stevie. She is a very likeable 16 year old girl, who comes across as being mature musically and personally beyond her years. The judges though told her to come across younger and so she picked a Taylor Swift song, and totally and utterly bombed it. So, the contestant who at one point I thought had a great shot to make the Finals, was done wrong by that advice. Additionally, she was just out of tune and looked very nervous. As to be expected, she got bad comments from the judges, but she seemed to take it all in stride very well and hopefully will benefit in her life and future career from this experience at a very young age. So Stevie, although I think you were pretty bad tonight, I wish you and your seemingly very supportive parents well.... no snarky comments about them.

Anoop Desai- "Angel of Mine"'

When the singer who is now known by many as "Noop Dogg" walked into the audition room, I thought he would be another one of the horrible intellectual type college students who was just doing this to get on tv and have a good laugh with his friends about a temporary moment of fame. But as soon as he started to sing, it was obvious... he has an amazingly good voice. I was intrigued enough, as many other Idol fans have been, to look up some of his past performances on YouTube that he did with his University of North Carolina acapella group, and that stuff was really good as well.

So, a few weeks back, I sort of decided that he may very well win it all. It's hard to explain exactly. He obviously has a good voice, but there is a certain "regular" quality to him that I think will endear him to people and allow him to go far. People just like that sort of "underdog story." It also does not hurt to be of an ethnicity that will be quite loyal in their voting habits. Needless to say, Anoop is far better than Sanjaya ever was, and along with Slumdog Millionaire and Bobby Jindal, his Indian background may be sorta in among some aspects of mainstream America. I do wonder though if we may wind up with some controversial speculation over if telephone call centers in India are somehow "illegally" voting this season.

More importantly, I think on a show which is perceived to be typically dominated in voting by "tweens, teens, and grandmas", Anoop sort of appeals to the 18-40 demographic, which may not have been as into the show in previous seasons. Even males of that age group may not find it too embarassing to admit they like his stuff.

So, if I have a personal favorite at this early stage, I guess it would have to be Noop Dogg. I just have a horrible feeling I may find out eventually that he is some sort of big Democrat.

As for his singing tonight, I thought it was really good... but yet at the same time, a misguided move.

Like past contestants Melinda Doolittle and David Archuleta, I think Anoop probably has the best pure voice and natural talent out of anyone this season. He already has a huge fan base, so basically he was going to be in the Top 12 after tonight, no matter what he did. He is also probably smart enough to know that. So, he picked what was perhaps somewhat of a safe (although maybe difficult to perform) song choice which made him sound good (I know nothing about music, so it was hard for me to tell if he was flat as some of the judges claimed) but was sort of uninspired. He is a great singer, but if he is to surpass the final placement of Melinda and Archie, he may need to be sure to show more sides of himself musically and not wind up as predictable. He runs the risk of falling into that trap if he insists on going sort of the easy listening Brian McKnight R&B route in future performances.

So again, I don't think he has much to worry about as far as being eliminated now, but it's not like he will have a chance to perform next week and show a different side of himself. The next time is almost certainly going to not be for a few weeks, on the big stage. Maybe he will really blow everyone away at that point, but I think it would have behooved him to maybe have done some Hip Hop (as he successfully pulled off in his college acapella career). That would have really caused America to take notice and there would have been all sorts of water cooler talk about him tomorrow and what he will do next. He sounded really good tonight to me, but I think he is capable of better. His parents look like professors or doctors. I don't know if they are or not.

Casey Carlson- "Every Little Thing (s)He Does is Magic"

Nikki McKibben did this song in Season 1 and was panned for it, and eventually wound up on Celebrity Rehab. This, was so, so, so much worse. Casey, what were you thinking? Completely wrong song choice and she sounded very bad on it. Furthermore, she looked very surprised when the judges told her how terrible it was and did some pouting. Amazing that Stevie would not wind up being the worst one tonight, although it may have been close.

Casey is quite easy on the eyes, but I really wonder if there was any reason other than that why she was put into the Top 36. And yet, she herself compared herself to Jordin Sparks? Please. Casey really better hope that every male in America has seen her bikini photos on the internet and that inspires them to miraculously vote her through, but that is doubtful to say the least. Like other Idol fodder of past seasons, maybe she can get some sort of cable tv gig for this though... or a feature in Maxim. Her parents were also very supportive, although her mother looked like a librarian trying to pull off the middle aged rocker chick thing.

Michael Sarver- I Don't Want to Be"

This is a song that I really like, and one that has been done several times already on Idol. Michael surprised me the first few seconds and I thought it might be very good... then it sort of fell apart on the chorus. I think he has a lot of fans, but is up against too much male competition to be voted in, even with his Texas residence and the support that could come from that. He really needs to hope for some sort of wild-card invite, but I do not know if that is coming.

Much has been made about Sarver and his background in the dangerous job of being a roughneck. I am sure he is one tough dude, but to me he sorta seems like he has gone Hollywood metrosexual and there will be no turning back. Bald welder Matt Brietzke may be more of the real blue collar deal. His best bet would have been to try to market himself as a country singer (a la Josh Gracin, whom he sort of sounds like), but like Josh early on in Season 2, he seems to really want to be some sort of pop or R&B singer.

So, this may be it on American Idol for Michael Sarver, but he has talent, and I don't think he has to worry about going back to the oil rigs or whatever he does. And I am too afraid to make any snarky comment about his mother because he could hunt me down and kick my ass.

Ann Marie Boskovich- "Natural Woman"

Kelly Clarkson did this song on Idol way back when and it went a long way towards her winning it all. I thought Ann Marie, who has a lot of Nashville experience, did decent enough on it and sounded ok, but it was still probably out of her range. I may have liked it a little more than the judges, and I give her some credit for trying to do something to make her stand out, but it just might not have been enough. She has an outside shot at a wildcard round invite, but will probably have nightmares about this evening, especially after the singing ended.

Awkward! Ann Marie tried to defend herself to the judges (maybe not the best idea when America is just getting to know you) and somehow managed to insult Sara Bareilles and all her fans. You could see her wishing to take those words back in a flash. Then, there was an unfortunate incident involving a couch and a water bottle and talk about awkward..... poor girl.....I felt too horrified to even notice her mother and sister really.

Stephen Fowler- "Rock With You"

The first part of Hollywood week showed he has a very good voice but I have no idea why he was put through after bombing later on with that David Cook Magic Rainbows song and then basically walking off the stage in embarassment. Some sort of racial quota perhaps? He has talent, but maybe Jamar Rogers was a little more deserving. I sense AI wants him off the show because they played up his failure in Hollywood and Seacrest kept talking about forgetting lyrics, etc.

So, he did a Michael Jackson song, that I have memories of someone else once butchering on Idol during the semifinal round. Tonight, I thought Stephen did ok with it, but it wasn't great. I thought it was better than the judges did, but I knew it wouldn't win him many converts and that he was total fodder. Maybe I was just happy he did not forget the lyrics. His chances would have been so much better though if he had tried to stand out by playing the keys and singing something less corny. His wife apparently had to stay home so I felt sorta bad when Stephen had to walk off the stage alone after Seacrest gave his number, but hey, he got on tv!

Tatiana Del Toro- "Saving All My Love For You"

The most talked about and controversial contestant on Season 8 was next, damn near the pimp spot, and Idol definitely wants her in the Finals.

A thesis could be written about this. Is the girl just bats*%t crazy? Is it an act? Is it both? If she is acting, was it a brilliant way to become famous? What kind of reality show will she get after this?, etc. etc.

Like so many others, I have found her to be annoying beyond belief so far and was really hoping that what little integrity the show had could be salvaged by getting rid of her as soon as possible. But you know, I have to admit, the girl can sing. I think I may need to submit because I think she is probably going to make the Finals. AI wants drama. America loves drama. What will she do next? People will talk about her and then tune in to watch her.

Tonight, she made the audacious choice to take on a Whitney Houston song, and while it was far from perfect, she was good and probably shocked a lot of people. Compared to most of the other females tonight, she proved she belonged, on vocal merit alone. If people are skeptical, it might help to listen to her with your eyes closed, as she has proven herself to be so annoying in the past and the fact that she is not exactly gorgeous.

I really wonder about all this though. She has obvious talent as a singer. If this is really an act on her part (and I have to laugh at how the other contestants are going to have to put up with her and even pretend they like her on the air), why is she doing it? Maybe because she is not an amazing singer and because of her looks, she just found a very unique way to make herself part of a pop culture phenomenon and she may do that evil laugh all the way to the bank. And apparently, no blood relative was willing to be part of the shtick tonight.

Danny Gokey- "Hero"

And finally, the first pimp spot obviously went to the most pimped contestant in the history of American Idol. It's not usually good to be the frontrunner from the start. They usually do not win. But my goodness, are they pimping this guy to the high heavens. Paula Abdul and Kara treated him as if they were Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann talking about Obama.

Let me be clear, I think he is a very good, maybe even great natural singer. I really have nothing against him. He lost his wife a short time ago, and I cannot imagine how difficult that must be for him. It makes sense that it would be something that is weighing on his mind at all times. And of course, it makes sense why AI wants to play that tragic story up and why Danny would not exactly recoil from the sympathy factor. It has been talked about so much now though, that while it will undoubtedly earn him absolutely fanatics to his campaign this season, the pimping and the sympathy card are going to rub a lot of other people the wrong way.

I cannot put my finger on it, but there is just something about him I find a bit creepy. Maybe it is because he is likely a Green Bay Packers fan or that he looks a lot like Robert Downey Jr.

Danny is going to be an absolute lightning rod though. I think he is going to get praise he does not deserve in some quarters and will get dislike he will not deserve from others. But he is going to be around for a very long time.

Much of this is going to be related to his Evangelical Christian backgroud. After he explained his song choice tonight, it was obvious how influenced by that sector of religion he is. That is going to really earn him a ton of support in mainstream America. Personally, as a conservative Republican (although a somewhat secular Jew) who very much regrets the cultural attacks that are often leveled against people of faith, I cannot help but respect Danny for his beliefs. But let me tell you, it's going to bug a lot of people about him.

As for the singing, the most important aspect tonight, I thought he was really good on the Mariah Carey song (better than Brooke White sadly last season), but it was nowhere near as amazing as Randy, Paula, and Kara proclaimed. I'm with Simon. Total overhype there. Danny sounded good and has confidence in abudance (some may see it as arrogance eventually) but you could hear his breathing affected by singing. And yes, I always deducted points when that was obvious from David Archuleta too. Last year, when he was heavily praised after his first performance (but nowhere near Gokian standards),I only had him ranked 4th, because I was not yet totally able to get past the breathing issue.

Apparently, there was no time for any Danny relatives to speak on his behalf afterwards because Paula and Kara had to be revived.

So, at long last, to rank them tonight from 1-12, here is what I have.

1. Anoop Desai
2. Ricky Braddy
3. Danny Gokey
4. Alexis Grace
5. Tatiana Del Toro
6. Stephen Fowler
7. Ann Marie Boskovich
8. Michael Sarver
9. Jackie Tohn
10. Brent Keith
11. Stevie Wright
12. Casey Carlson

My top five were clearly the best. They will all be back, one way or another. But how exactly will it shake out?

If I were picking on merit, it would be Anoop, Ricky, and then Alexis as the top female. Maybe I am biased for Anoop for some reason, but I think he was just narrowly better than Ricky. I would make Danny an automatic wildcard invitee.

My predictions is though that I think the votes will almost certainly be for Danny and Anoop for the guys and then it's questionable, but I will say that Alexis will narrowly edge out Tatiana and her friends from Vote for the Worst to become the top female.

Ricky will and should be a wildcard invitee and if Tatiana is not placed into the Finals by the voters, the judges will definitely invite her back and allow her to have a grateful meltdown to end all meltdowns.


At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About American Idol, Stephen Fowler will win. Whenever I listen to him, I get this thrill running up my leg, and that's an objective assessment.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get that too often BTW.

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gomer, I do NOT see another guy winning the American Idol crown this year.

My money is on a girl, maybe the Redhead girl.

It's looking very likely the Top 12 could be ALL-WHITE.

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