Tuesday, March 03, 2009

American Idol Top 36-Group 3

Let's see how quickly I can churn this out...

Can I say once again that this may be the weakest overall season of Idol ever? I said at the tail-end of last season that Season 8 would be a down year, but I do not think I expected the semi-finals to be like this. Sure, the show is always entertaining, but even I was losing some interest during a portion of the two hour program tonight. Again, a lot of people may just have turned it off. With just a group of 8 or 9 wild-card contestants set to allegedly sing (the same song they already did?) for their Idol lives on Thursday night to go, it will then finally be time for the Finals.

This week saw perhaps the most ecletic group of 12 American Idol singers ever assembled. I have to say that nobody really came close to blowing me away on this episode. One performance I would classify as very good. One other I would classify as very bad. The other ten were all in the same range of mediocrity or under-achievement. Thus, it was really hard to rank them this week as about 10 of them were really grouped closely together. But I know how much you all count on it and I soldiered through.

Here is how the show went down:

1. Von Smith- "You're All I Need to Get By"

I think it was just about a year ago, when I was over at my parents' house and my mother made me watch a YouTube clip of Von singing the infamous Dreamgirls song. She had seen him perform it on The View, as Von had been "discovered" on the internets by Rosie O'Donnell and brought on to do some screaming/singing in between Rosie's rants about the supposed 9/11 conspiracy during her one tumultous season on The View.

My mother said something at the time like, "This kid is so good. You have to watch this. He is better than anybody on American Idol this season. If he went on, he would totally win it." So, I watched the video and then decided that there would be no way in hell he could ever win Idol or was as good as many of the Season 7 contestants. While you cannot deny that he has a "powerful" voice, it is just way too Over the Top to appeal to a large segment of people. My mother really liked it at the time though. Then again, she also used to like Clay Aiken way too much, which is whom Simon Cowell compared Von to this evening, and to which Von did not look overly pleased to hear.

Anyways, Von's arc on this season of Idol is how he was blasted for screaming too much and then took that advice to heart and decided to tone things down. So how did he do tonight? At parts, I thought it was decent, but at others, I still could not get past the near screaming and the weird faces. I know I am judging on vocal abilities alone, but I think it affected the overall sound of his performance. Von has talent, but he still needs direction on how to dial it back. In many ways, he is similar to Adam Lambert with the oversinging, but for a variety of factors, including what seems to be a more trained voice and the ability to do nuance, Adam is not criticized for it nearly as much. The judges liked Von tonight more than I expected they would.

At one point, I would have thought that Von would stand a very good chance of getting into the Top 12, just because before his Idol audition, he probably already had the biggest fanbase of anyone who would be put into the Top 36 because of YouTube and Rosie. Still though, the gaydar of a lot of people are going to ping because of Von and while he comes across as more "mainstream" than some of the other males on this season with whom he might have that in common, that's almost going to work against him because all of the fans he may have already had going into this may have just become more captivated by the whole Lambert thing. Von just will never be able to do flamboyance as well as Adam or even another one of his fellow Group 3 singers. I think he has a narrow shot of being voted in tonight, but most likely, this was his one and only shot and it's over now. It's really tough going first in a two hour show.

2. Taylor Vaifanua- "If I Ain't Got You"

Simon Cowell may never remember Taylor again and she herself may wish to forget this performance. She was not horrible, she has talent, and the makover people did a good job on her (at least in making her look a little different than Jordin Sparks as she did in her audition) but this was the wrong song choice for her, and while she said she was tearing up out of joy after her performance, it looked more like sadness. Her parents were sitting pretty stone-faced in the immediate reaction shot as well. Syesha Mercado did this song better last season and that was not nearly as good as the original either.

So many teenage girls (and guys) get to this stage and just underachive in a big way and Taylor was not really an exception. It should make everyone appreicate the talent of Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta from past seasons and Allison Iraheta from last week even more.

I think Taylor may possibly be Mormon, (why is there a city in Utah named Hurricane? Do they have hurricanes there? ), so that factor never hurts on Idol and if there is a surprising number of Samoan Idol voters, that could help too. Also, I find her last name tougher to remember how to spell that than of American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega.

3. Alex Wagner-Trugman- "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues"

Oh, Alex missed a golden opportunity here. I speculated last week that while there is probably nothing too great about his voice, his personality and sense of humor could really help him pull off an upset in the voting with the whole "adorkable" deal. (For the record, since I discussed my theory on Alex probably being Jewish last week, there now seems to be circumstantial evidence that Adam Lambert is also of a Hebrew background. Of course, Adam had some not very Kosher photos come out to the public yesterday which got a lot more attention on blogs.)

Anyways, back to Wagner-Trug, (and if he ever did get famous, he would probably have to drop part of the hyphenated name, I was happy when I heard what his song choice would be. It's a great Elton John tune, that I do not remember ever being sung on Idol before. The first two seconds of Alex's singing sounded pretty good and then... for whatever reason.... disaster. Alex was deliberately acting goofy and trying way too hard to sound like Joe Cocker and while it was entertaining in a trainwreck sense, it was vocally horrible. Whey they showed his dress rehearsal clip in the recap at the end of the show, it really was not very good either, but it was still a heck of a lot better than the live air performance. It's almost like AWT sabatoged himself. He may not be a fantastic singer, but he had to know what he was attempting Was he just trying to appeal to the Vote for the Worst website to get them to not support Nathaniel Marshall? Guess what? It worked! Nate has to be crushed! I really have to think that Alex decided to take this about as seriously (maybe less) than Normund Gentle did last week. Poor Cody Sheldon. He got passed up for this and all the teen emo girls/Jonas fans probably would have voted Cody into the Top 12.

I think the real irony is that if Alex had just sung it in a regular voice, the other factors of his Idol identity might have actually gotten him voted into the Finals. I would be really surprised though if this did the trick. At least he will live in YouTube infamy though, or until Freemantle Media takes all those clips down.

4. Arianna Afsar- "The Winner Takes it All"

I think Arianna may be the first Idol contestant of a Middle Eastern background to make it to this point and they said she would be singing the first ever ABBA song ever to be done on Idol. I expected something upbeat and thought that would be a good move considering the popularity of the Mama Mia musical and all that, but the song, which I did not know, was really kind of very somber and for the 17 year old girl, it was very High School musical theater like at the beginning. She did hit a pretty stong note at the end but it was probably nowhere near enough and Arianna and her folks both looked pretty upset during the judging. I think she is another one who blew an opportunity, perhaps because she seems to have an aversion to being referred to as "cute as a button", as if that is a bad thing in wanting to be voted through. If she made the Top 12, she might have been carictatured as the "good" teenage girl to the "bad" aura of Allison Iraheta, who we can already credibly see as maybe winding up in rehab one day.

5. Ju'Not Joyner- "Hey There Deliliah"

Let me start off by saying I hate the original of this song and do really prefer Ju'Not's version. However, they showed him performing it during Hollywood week and I thought it was actually really good then (and I thought it was better than Jamar Rogers' version of the same song in the same package clip) but I don't think this one was as good. It was pleasant for the most part but Ju'Not did seem to miss some notes and even sounded to me like he was a little sick. Sure enough, after the song, he volunteered the information that he had just been injected in the butt with a cortisone shot. I just want to know if A-Rod's cousin was somehow involved in that or if Bud Selig has any comment.

Paula Abdul was I thought surprisingly coherent much of tonight but there was some inconsistencies in how she criticized Taylor ( I think) for doing the same song she did in Hollywood week but was far more accepting of Ju'Not doing the same thing. I guess that has been done in past seasons, but I really do not think it happened at all last year. I do not blame Ju'Not or the others for trying to throw their best bullet out there, but it makes you wonder just how versatile they can truly be if they have to rely on one song.

Ju'Not seems like a nice guy, but musically, he may be the poor man's Chikezie. I think he may have needed his little son on stage with him to try to get votes but I have a hunch he could possibly be back on Thursday to get a chance for the wildcard, as the Idols Powers That Be may turn out to be desperate to try to inject some more racial diversity in the Top 12.

Horribe pun alert- Would a freshman Alaska state legislator be referred to as a Juneau Joiner?

6. Kristen McNamara- "Give Me One Reason"

This is one I think I liked a more than the judges who seem to be oddly pre-occupied with Kristen's fashion choices. She had previously been a contestant on Nashville Star but apparently fancies herself as more of a Kelly Clarkson or a Leona Lewis. I think she has a really strong voice and was able to really change this Tracy Chapman song around and make it sound more interesting. There just is no wow factor there and I do not know if her personality (perhaps she is not being fake enough) might be enough to get her voted in. Vocally though, it sounded pretty competent to me tonight, at least as compared to many of the others.

That's all I have to say about this one? Wow, odd. Let's hope the trend continues.

7. Nathaniel Marshall- "I Would Do Anything for Love"

As already mentioned, his once chance of getting through with the help of VFTW may now be gone, so I think that was an interesting song choice for Nathaniel. Vocally, it sounded good, and not very over the top, (Meatloaf himself perhaps has more vocally in common with Von and Adam) and Nathaniel seemed comfortable on stage. The kid looks like a freak of course but the performance itself was maybe too mainstream for what he wanted to accomplish.

I have to say though that I have always been a little surprised that such a self-admitted drama queen like Nate who during Hollywood week would cry at the drop of a hat has so many piercings and tattoos. Didn't they hurt? He must have cried like a bitch.

Let me also be nice to Nathaniel by saying that while he certainly is "out there", besides respecting his talent, I also have to give him some props for putting himself out there on American Idol the way he did (and apparently the schtick this year is going to be more of Simon Cowell as America's Favorite Homophobe). Life probably has not been easy for Nate but he has not been afraid to be himself regardless of what others might say. It was nice seeing his proud grandmother get a little bit of attention by Seacrest too. It's almost like Idol was trying to get him some more votes.

Anyways, the irony for this contestant is that if he had done "Disturbia" again as he did in Hollywood (although he would not have been able to use his guitar) or "Bleeding Love" as he once did in an airport YouTube video, he would have sounded even better and probably would have been the best male singer of the night.

8. Felicia Barton- "No One"

Speaking of YouTube clips, Felicia who was the late replacement for the dq'ed Joanna Pacitti, did the same song she had done before on a performance already found by many Idol junkies on YouTube. Of all of the contestants tonight, I think Felicia probably has the most natural talent of almost anyone and she certainly had good moments this evening. On others though, some notes sounded off to me and I was thinking that there maybe too many runs on this second Alicia Keys song of the evening and that it could not measure up to the original.

I think people will like Felicia though. She happens to have a Christian music background and maybe some Red State voters will pick up on that (despite her husband looking like a dirty hippie and her very little son looking unimpressed by the whole thing). But I also think that the "hipster" Idol voters may like her style and potential as well.

Why was she not chosen to go to the Top 36 in the first place though? That does not really make sense. She clearly has the talent but the producers and/or judges had first decided she was not worthy (which seemed to really shock her at the time). But now Felicia has her second chance and it may be enough to keep her going.

9. Scott MacIntyre- "Mandolin Rain"

I do not know this song either so I am not sure how it was supposed to sound. All in all though, I think Scott did a pretty good job and while it was a little rough at times vocally, you cannot help but be a little inspired by him and his story. Idol did not really dwell on it this evening but it should be pretty obvious to most people that Scott is severely visually challenged. I wonder though how many just absolutely dense or shallow people out there may have a hard time with Scott because of the apperance aspects of his handicap. More importantly though, Idol stylists should really consider getting him a hair straightener.

Of all the contestants, Scott, who is probably a brilliant pianist, was most hurt by not being able to play his keys as he sang. But he did the best he could and while there were some issues, it was hard to say it was not good. Randy Jackson started off by saying "look dog", which may have been a poor choice of words, so eventually all the other judges said "listen" instead. Scott giving Seacrest a chance to re-do their audition High Five was also a funny moment.

I think there is little doubt that Scott will be voted into the Top 12 tomorrow. It is great that he is getting to do what he loves, just like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles were. He probably also already has a higher job approval than New York Governor David Paterson. A lot of older and more conservative minded Idol voters are really going to like the style and sound of Scott's voice. I do not know if he would ever be a huge mainstream star, but he could make a name for himself in singing some (perhaps boring) Josh Groban like fare. I think he will do even better in the Finals once he can play the piano or keyboard. As for now, I look forward to seeing him do the cheesy Idol choreography in the group number tomorrow night.

10. Kendall Beard- "This One's For the Girls"

This was a really tough one for me to judge, because I wanted to find things to critique about it, but when I heard her sing it, it sounded really decent to me. The judges really liked it far less though. What is it? Was I perhaps a little too focused on her apperance and resembelence to former '80s Growing Pains actress Julie McCullough? I guess part of me hopes she makes it to the Top 12. I sort of miss the Kellie Pickler dumb blonde act on Idol (and what the hell did she do to herself since Idol?). Maybe I want to see her father do The Gator as promised if she advances one more round.

I think it was a smart song choice for Kendall to sing country, and in particular this well-known girly empowerment anthem. I think it will get her a lot of votes as will her Texasness. Look at what happened with Michael Sarver. That is not to be ignored.

I really tried to be objective and judge all the contestants based on vocal performance alone, but I think most others who do rankings are going to wind up having her lower.

11. Jorge Nunez- "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me"

He was going to do what song? How many times has that been done on AI, usually in the last two weeks? Was he trying to get the Archuleta fan vote by doing it? Was it a dumb choice? This is a tough one for me. In some ways, it was better than I thought it would be, but still I liked it a whole lot less than any of the judges did and I have always sort of felt he was overrated. He might make somewhat a career for himself in the Latin market, but I don't seem him ever coming close to Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias levels of fame.

He sounded good and in tune on the song, but maybe because it has been done so much on Idol, I felt it a little lacking as well. I really expected him to sing something in Spanish and that could have been a smarter choice. (Simon apparently believes that any Latin person is "Spanish") Paula gushed about how his accent was less thick than before, which I did not really notice if it was. It's hard to determine if I find it distracting or not.

So, after getting all sorts of good reviews, Jorge busts out the Miss Puerto Rico routine and started seriously tearing up and was all verklempt. Are you kidding that the one Puerto Rican contestant to cry while being judged would not wind up being Tatiana Del Toro? The worst part is that I don't think Jorge was acting.

Here's my question; does the Island of Puerto Rico get to vote? If so, will they power-vote for Jorge and maybe put him through based on that alone? I really do not see the larger Hispanic-American population rallying behind Jorge. I understand that Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans have some issues with each other, but who knows. What are the Idol voting rules on this though? Can they vote in the semifinals (primaries) but not in the Finals (general election)? I am not sure if the male family member in the audience was his father or not, but he did look like the Puerto Rican Billy Ray Cyrus.

While I do not agree with it, Jorge has a chance to be voted in tomorrow. If not, he stands a very good chance of being brought back for the Wild Card group and it would be between him and Ju'Not from tonight because of the diversity factor.

Finally, am I crazy, or does Jorge very much look like the C. Thomas Howell character in the '80's movie "Soul Man?"

12. Lil Rounds- "Be Without You"

As expected, the pimp spot went to Lil, who is clearly going to the Finals tomorrow as clearly as Octo-Mom will be talked about on Entertainment Tonight the same evening. Lil Rounds would be a perfect rap name of course, but she is more of an R&B belter and while some think she is overrated, I think she is actually really talented and was by far the best of the evening, although it still lacked the sort of "wow" factor that Allison brought last week.

The Mary J. Blige song was a really good choice for her (and would have been for Anoop Desai as well). The only awkward moment is really related to the one bad word in the song that Lil was obviously not going to be allowed to sing,but she has to act like she was censoring herself by saying "we got real sh...", just say "real stuff" instead and be done with it.

I like Lil though. She and her family have been through some natural disaster related sh... I mean stuff, and they are obviously on their way to a better life now. I bet she finishes in third place as an African-American female every season almost always does (and she will be the only one). While she doesn't seem overly sophisticated or "put on" in talking, she is still quite likeable and not diva-ish, although she does seem to have a thing of referring to herself in the third person. Bob Dole may like that.

Finally, I think it is clear that she has earned the support of Sir Mix A Lot.

So, it's about time for the rankings. Again, spots 2-11 are all really not that far apart. I did not think this was a very strong group but for the first time this year, a group of girls was better than their male counterparts. That probably gives the producers great hope that they can get two females voted into the Finals this week and potentially wind up with a somewhat more reasonable 7-5 male advantage in the Finals.

1. Lil Rounds
2. Kendall Beard
3. Kristen McNamara
4. Felicia Barton
5. Scott MacIntyre
6. Nathaniel Marshall
7. Von Smith
8. Ju'Not Joyner
9. Jorge Nunez
10. Arianna Afsar
11. Taylor Vaifanua
12. Alex Wagner-Trugman

So, if it were up to me, Lil and Kendall (I still laugh at that one) would advance with Scott, all the way in a close 5th, picking up the slack for the guys. I would then give Kristen an automatic wildcard invite.

What will happen? Well, Lil and Scott are probably in for sure (haven't seen Dial Idol yet) and then the third one is really much tougher. It could be a few people, and while I think Kendall (Country Music/Hot/Texas) is going to be in the game, I will go out on a limb and say Felicia Barton gets the final spot.

And since they will probably announce the wild card round contestants tomorrow, I will predict (hard to rank all 36 against each other to see who would be most deserving) that if they give 9 people another shot they will be:

1. Anoop Desai 2. Ricky Braddy 3. Tatiana Del Toro 4. Matt Giraud 5. Megan Corkrey 6. Jasmine Murray 7. Ju'Not Joyner 8. Jorge Nunez 9. Kendall Beard (or Felicia if she doesn't make it instead)

Obviously, I want to see them sing first (and will rank them on Thursday night after the fact), but I have to think that Anoop, Megan, and Matt have the edge in being picked by the judges, even if they do not wind up doing that well.

So, that would make a Final 12 featuring one African-American, one Hispanic, one Asian-American, and nine white kids ranging from multiple church worship leaders to one whom the producers hope will fly his freak flag high in order to creative buzz and controversy for the show in order to help ratings.