Saturday, February 27, 2010

American Idol Top 24

The season of American Idol has begun and as mentioned, I am only able to offer some detailed thoughts a few days after watching the episodes. So, these stream of consciousness ramblings may be shorter and more disjointed than in past seasons. This could be a tough year for American Idol. The talent levels are perhaps more suspect than they have been in the past. Still though, it should be fun to follow the competition and watch the growth or lack thereof, of the performers. I prefer this year’s format to last year’s, in which we have a Top 12 Girls and Top 12 Guys, with instead of that nonsense about wildcards and only the top two (and one other) advancing out of a group of 36, etc.

As my standard disclosure, I am going to write these fast, with very little attention paid to spelling, grammar, word repetition, or overall writing fluidity. It’s just not worth the effort. American Idol is supposed to be a diversion for fans, not real work… (unless you get paid for it.)

On another note, I went looking this week for my blog archives from a year ago, and there were three American Idol posts from the early portion of March that did not come up. When I logged into the blog, I was able to locate them, but for some reason, they are not showing up on the main pages. Not sure what that is all about, but I am sure that nobody really cares anyway, as they are old anyway.

Tuesday night was Ladies’ Night and we got our first real look at the group that the judges are saying the next American Idol will come from:

Paige Miles- “Alright Now”

We had barely seen Paige in the audition rounds, and it is of course very tough for anyone to have to go first and lead off the show. Every season of American Idol has featured some semblance of the “Black Diva”, a very talented African-American female R&B singer. Based on the song choices and performances of the two black female singers tonight, this season will end that trend (Todrick Hall may need to fill the void.) Paige seems quite likeable, but I did not really think she gave a strong performance. Something was off with the way she enunciated the lyrics of the song. The judges (especially Simon who made the outlandish claim that she has the best voice of the all the females) seemed to like it a lot more than me. Based on the fact that she led off the two hour show and her relative anonymity , I thought Paige was very likely to go home. Grade C-

Ashley Rodriguez- “Happy”

From what she had demonstrated in the audition rounds and her appearance, I would have pegged Ashley as likely to get into the Finals this season. For her first live performance, she took on a boring Leona Lewis song that I had never heard before (perhaps to try to get on Simon Cowell’s good side) and was somewhat underwhelming. It seemed like she was holding the microphone too close towards the beginning and there was some feedback. As one of two Hispanic girls and one of two from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, would her song selection and having to perform so early in the show turn out to be a Martha Coakley like blunder? Grade C

Janell Wheeler- “What About Love”

Janell is a perky blonde from Florida who is rumored to have dated the famed college QB and non-aborted Tim Tebow. She also seems to have great taste in music as her American Idol profile page lists Steve Perry of Journey as one of her favorite singers, and she chose to perform a great 1980s song by Heart. But unlike a certain redhaired rocker at this point in the competition last year, she definitely failed to take advantage of it. The song just seemed too big for her, and while it started off nicely, once the band kicked in and she had to get to the chorus, things started to fall apart. Still though, like he did with Ashley, Simon predicted Janell would be back next week. Grade C

Lilly Scott- “Fixing a Hole”

I had never heard or heard of this Beatles song before Lilly sang and it was different enough to be somewhat interesting, and I think she did a fairly decent job. Playing the guitar was definitely the right thing for her to do. I am not sure how much America will take to her Indy chick sort of niche vibe though for the long haul. Being different, white hair and all, might make some people take notice at first, but then it might be tougher to get people to keep paying attention. Lilly might have a place in today’s diverse music market, but as far as the American Idol show goes, I think she and a very large amount of others this season could have difficulty adapting to the different genres and types of music they would be made to sing. Grade B

Katelynn Epperly- “Oh Darling”

Another Beatles song I do not know much about, but I thought Katelynn gave a good, if not loud performance. For some reason, she seemed to be trying harder than some of the others who had gone thus far, but I think it was a fairly strong vocal, if not a random song choice for her. Kara DioGuardi had some issues with Katelynn’s “makeover”, but to me it just seemed like a tribute to the John Hughes films of the 1980s. Grade B

Haeley Vaughn- “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

The Beatles trilogy concluded with one of their most known songs. Haeley is really interesting, being a black teenage girl, who plays a weird looking guitar, and wants to be a country pop singer in the realm of the massively popular Taylor Swift. She also seems to resemble Swift if the fact that singing live might prove to be very difficult. I really did not like Haeley’s vocals on this song. It really seemed off, and she could benefit from some seasoning and perhaps voice lessons. As far as her personality is concerned, she walks a fine line of being endearing and annoying. It was a little more annoying for me this week. I figured she would earn the support of Vote for the Worst and I was not mistaken. I really had no doubt she would stick around for another week, and she may be this year’s Sanjaya, staying around far longer than she should. Poor Angela Martin, to have lost out to Paige and Haeley.- Grade D

Lacey Brown- “Landslide”

I think Lacey is probably really talented, but she had some major issues with her performance on Tuesday. Last year, she lost a sing off to Megan Joy for the right to join the semifinals, and that was probably a mistake by Idol. The judges were really hard on her this week though, and I might have liked the performance more than they did, but Lacey did sound a bit like a goat at some parts. There were numerous predictions that she would be voted off this week, but I thought the sympathy factor, plus the fact that she was representing Texas would save her. Grade C+

Michelle Delamore-“Fallin’”

Michelle was another contestant who had gotten very little in the way of screen time until this point. Her performance of a well-known Alicia Keyes song was quite competent. She did nothing at all to embarrass herself, but it might have seemed like she was trying to hard to copy the original, and that is never going to really go over well. Still though, she did a good job and probably avoided the ire of many Idol viewers. Michelle is very telegenic and while she might not have a huge music career to look forward to, she could possibly break into television, perhaps in the ever growing Latino market. Grade B-

Didi Benami- “The Way I Am”

I was really impressed by Didi in the Hollywood auditions. I am not a fan of the type of music she does, but I think she is a very good singer and does it quite well. The judges probably were somewhat unkind to her on Tuesday. They said it was a bit boring, and maybe it was, but vocally, it sounded pretty good. When she first began the song, it sounded more like a recording than a live performance, and that should be considered a compliment. I could definitely see Didi fitting into today’s music industry somehow, but it will be interesting to see how she handles other genres of music. I am sure she will be playing her guitar on stage fairly soon. While she has been living in Hollywood and trying to make it in music, her roots are in Tennessee, and thus, if she wins this season, that could be enough to continue that whole “Red State Idol winner” thing that has been impossible to break and that I find so fascinating. I maintain that the winner of American Idol this season will once again come from a state that George W. Bush carried in 2000 and 2004. Grade B+

Siobhan Magnus- “Wicked Game”

Vocally, it was ok, perhaps even quite good, but it is a creepy song, and I was perhaps distracted by the fact that I cannot help but find Siobhan pretty creepy too. Maybe it was because she had never heard the term “darkhorse” before. I do not know what it was, but I was worried she would give me nightmares. There is some obvious musical talent there, but I am getting the vibe that she is the contestant this year most likely to one day go all stalker on someone or embark on a murderous crime spree. Why do I think that? That’s probably really unfair to her. I made her my prediction for the surprise boot of the week, perhaps thinking that other Americans would find her as creepy as I do, and because of the split Massachusetts vote with Ashley, and maybe getting lost in the shuffle with all these other chicks with tattoos. Clearly, I was wrong though and I should prepare myself to have to face her on the television again. Grade B-

Crystal Bowersox- “One Hand In My Pocket”

First off, it’s great that Idol gave her some teeth whitening strips. She deserves to not have them be a distraction because she is really good. Based on the audition rounds alone, I have thought that she is the best one this season so far, and her performance Tuesday was very good, although a little on the safe side. She also probably could have done without the several bars of harmonica playing, (while also playing guitar… two instruments at once!) on the Alanis Morrisette song. It was perhaps a bit of a safe song choice, and the judges pointed that out to her, but I think she has a lot more to give and look forward to see what will come next. What might be the most uncomfortable (and entertaining) is seeing how she has to get through those horrible, cheesy group song and dance numbers. She really has to be hating that. In fact, on the dreadful “American Boy” lip synch performance on Thursday night, I don’t even think her voice was even included. Grade A-

Katie Stevens- “Feeling Good”

All throughout the episode there was significant pimpage by Idol of the 17 year old Katie. It was quite obvious and that is never a good thing for a contestant to be a front-runner this early on. Plus, she is from a Blue State. That being said, it was interesting just how tough the judges were on her after she performed, saying that she needed to come across as younger. Could that all be part of the great strategy? So many theories to be had. Vocally, it is hard to deny that Katie is quite talented, but she comes across very much like the Rachel character on Glee. She is going to be easy to dislike for many people. When the producers had her on the chopping block Thursday night, as one of two people who were about to be sent home, it was fairly obvious that she would be the one to survive, but she looked like she was just about to pass out. As for the song, I have written in the past that it is one that might be cursed on American Idol. A few years back, it sent two singers home the same week during the semifinals, and I believe it even got Adam Lambert in the Bottom Two last year. Perhaps Katie’s take on it was better than most, but perhaps that song should never be sung on American Idol again! Grade B

So once again, my rankings for the girls, on vocal ability alone, best to worst:

1. Crystal Bowersox
2. Didi Benami
3. Katie Stevens
4. Katelynn Epperly
5. Lilly Scott
6. Michelle Delamor
7. Siobhan Magnus
8. Lacey Brown
9. Ashley Rodriguez
10. Janell Wheeler
11. Paige Miles
12. Haeley Vaughn

Who should have gone home: Haeley Vaughn and Paige Miles
Who I predicted would go home: Paige Miles and Siobhan Magnus
Who did go home: Janell Wheeler (gracious in defeat) and Ashley Rodriguez (pretty pissed)

So much tougher to predict eliminations at this round in the game! Last year, it was a lot easier to predict who would advance, but I do prefer this format. Ashley and Janell were just done in by singing too early in the show and by wrong song choices and subpar performances. A week ago at this time, I would have thought both would make the Top 12. I think they had much more to offer, so it’s unfortunate in a way they will not get the chance. Still not sure how Paige managed to survive and I will be waiting to see just how long it takes for America to recognize the potential danger that lurks within Siobhan Magnus.

The guys went on Wednesday night, and man did most of them stink up the joint!

Todrick Hall -”Since U Been Gone”

Todrick is one of several guys these season who are coming across as toolish. There is also that whole matter with him scamming some kids out of money related to his producing some sort of Wizard of Oz musical thing, and others have had bad things to say about him. I guess you have to sort of give him credit for trying to rearrange a popular song and the risks involved there, but I agree with the judges that it was an experiment not worth doing. I did not like what he turned the Kelly Clarkson tune into and his time on the stage seemed to be more about performing and moving around than on pure vocals. I thought he would be in serious risk based on this performance, but I did not know what was to come! Interesting that they gave Todrick the “death spot” as the number one singer, just like they did for Paige the night earlier. Looking back, it really seems like a black singer is always given the first spot to sing in whether in the Top 24 or Top 12 rounds. Why is that? Grade D

Aaron Kelly- “Here Comes Goodbye”

An ominous song title for an elimination competition on a fairly boring Rascall Flatts song written by ex-Idol contestant Chris Sligh, but despite appearing quite nervous at parts, Aaron had to realize he was unlikely to be voted off this week. Like Taylor Swift, he is a young country pop singer from Pennsylvania of all places, and the soft-spoken, seemingly humble younger is likely to appeal to young girls and their grannies alike. So, basically, Aaron can expect to make it to the Top 10 and the summer tour, without breaking too much of a sweat. Unlike the Hollywood auditions, he did not forget the lyrics and proved that he has quite a nice voice for country music. However, if he continues to be compared to the vastly more talented David Archuleta from Season 7, Aaron might really wind up looking bad in comparison. A big test for him will be to sing something up-tempo and non-country on the Idol stage. Grade B-

Jermaine Sellers- “Get Here”

Jermaine is one of three male semifinalists from the Chicago area this year (the other two are from nearby suburbs from where I live) and is most experienced as a church singer thus far. He has talent, but oversang much of his song on Wednesday. The song choice itself was very Justin Guarini/American Idol Season Oneish. Singers like Jermaine have just not fared well in recent seasons, and I do not think this will be exception. He already got some pretty bad exposure when he was shown “throwing the band under the bus” during Hollywood week, and there were some awkward moments related to that in his chat after. I thought he would split votes with Todrick and could be very much in danger. Grade C-

Tim Urban- “Apologize”

While initially cut during Hollywood, Tim Urban (is there a singer named Keith McGraw?) got to call back after Chris “The Orphan” Golightly was disqualified for either being under a recording contract or having really weird hair. Based on his performance on Wednesday, one can surmise that Tim was brought back not for vocals, but to fill some sort of “cute boy” void. His take on “Apologize” was really quite subpar. It’s not the right sort of sing to sing without playing an instrument in a space of one minute and thirty seconds, especially if you cannot sing falsetto to save your life. Many expected Tim to be cut, but I figured he would have the sympathy factor in his favor after looking like a wounded puppy after the performance. Like the Chicago area, several of these male singers are also from Texas, and while that is risky with the vote being split, it probably still worked to Tim’s advantage. He looked shocked on Thursday when he advanced. Grade D+

Joe Munoz- “You and I Both”

If one were to look up “American Idol Fodder” in the dictionary, you would probably find Joe’s picture. He was certainly done no service by having been given such little airtime leading up to this and with the other Hispanic male singer from California having so much more buzz. Joe’s vocals were ok, but maybe just ok. It was hard to find any star power or potential with his performance, except for the fact that he resembles Ben Stiller. A week ago, I would have expected him to go home, no matter how he did, but others were so bad, I predicted he would survive. I should have trusted my instincts, especially after he seemed to be asking Mexican nationals to cast votes for him while chatting with Seacrest. Grade C-

Tyler Grady- “American Woman”
I had somewhat high hopes that Tyler would be good and looked forward to seeing what he would do with Classic Rock songs on the Idol stage. This performance was pretty dreadful vocally though and it seemed like he was just off key for most of the song. He was criticized for spending too much time perfecting his early ‘70s performance faces and prancing about and less on the vocals, dawg. I thought there would be enough Cougars out there who would vote to save him though. Grade D-

Lee Dewyze- “Chasing Cars”

Lee is originally from a neighboring suburb of Mount Prospect and as a White Guy with Guitar, has already drawn some comparisons to David Cook and Kris Allen as a potential dark horse to watch in the competition. While I was not blown away by his performance Wednesday, I did tend to agree with Simon that it was a good deal better than anybody else who had gone to that point. I do not see him as a rocker though, but as more of an alt-rock type singer, and I like the way he changed up the otherwise boring song he did. At some points in the audition round, he came across as perhaps being a bit of a jerk, but he seemed genuinely humbled by the moment after his performance. All three singers from the Chicago area are really quite different in style, but now it seems like Lee might go the farthest of them. Like Crystal though, he is going to hate the cheesy group numbers and that aspect of the show. Grade B

John Park- “God Bless the Child”

Next up, was another singer from suburban Chicago, who after his initial audition, was receiving all sorts of plaudits as a potential front-runner in the competition. Why he picked the song he did, one may never know, but it was the wrong choice, and he sang it pretty poorly. John said he selected it because his family had struggled with money and when the cameras shot to his Korean parents, they looked horrified he would say that. I am not sure how true that might be, since he is from the upscale Village of Northbrook too. John will likely stick around a bit more, as the only Asian-American in the competition, and because he likely has far more talented than he demonstrated Wednesday, but he is going to have to step it up if he is to go at least as far as another preppy ex-University acapella group singer from last season. The judges were pretty harsh on John, who could have really used Shania Twain on the panel. Grade D+

Michael Lynche- “This Love”

Despite the rumors, Big Mike had not been disqualified, which would have been pretty odd considering much time Hollywood Week was devoted to him and discussion of his wife’s cervix. I sort of have been impressed with him thus far and I thought his performance on Wednesday was fairly decent, though the acoustic guitar appeared to be little more than a prop. He is pretty different than anyone who has been on Idol before stylistically, and that, and his personality, will probably put him in the Top 12. However, it is clear that his shtick every week will to threaten to pummel Simon or anyone who dislikes his singing. That could come across as arrogance for some. Grade B-

Alex Lambert- “Wonderful World”

Did they put this guy through just because his name is A. Lambert? Did Idol think it would bring in more of the clinically insane fans of last year’s controversial glamster? Wasn’t this Alex kid on the old Fox Show, “The O.C.?” He sure looks like that guy. Why does he have a mullet? Why is he 19 and still in High School? Why was his singing so horrible? Man, that was bad. I could not wait for it to be over and Alex probably could not either. He looked scared to death about 5 seconds in the performance and that never surmised. The judges say he sounds like James Morrison (who I don’t really follow) and compared him to an unripe banana, but I thought he should have been tossed into the American Idol reject garbage bin, peel and all. Like Tim though, the sympathy and the Texas factors managed to save him, to my surprise. Upon hearing the news, he apparently unleashed some profanity bombs which got the audio dropped briefly from the broadcast. I also think I caught him mocking Seacrest during the opening of the show on Tuesday night. So, keep an eye on this kid, but maybe not for the vocals. Grade F+

Casey James- “Heaven”

First a warning to all Idol fans to be careful Googling his name. There is another Casey James from the entertainment industry out there. As for this Texan, the story is going to continue to be that Kara has a thing for him. She and Randy Jackson were engaged in shenanigans during the beginning of the song that were unfair to Casey and the viewing audience as they took the focus off of him and made him almost laugh a little bit as he saw what was happening, and that affected what was otherwise a strong performance (at least by the horribly poor standards of the evening overall.) What’s next? Ellen DeGeneres developing a crush on Siobhan? Seacrest and Aaron Kelly? While I thought Casey’s initial audition was subpar, I liked what they showed of Casey in Hollywood and he has the potential to appeal to a large segment of Idol voters (horny women like Kara), as well as country music fans. His somewhat low-key, guitar strumming take on a classic Bryan Adams song, which I do not think has ever been sung during an Idol voting round was a smart strategic move and I think Casey has a lot of potential as sort of a Blues Rock singer on the show. He will be another one who will be fun to watch during the cheesy dance song and dance numbers. After seeing 24 singers, I think Casey is probably the most likely of anyone to actually win at this point, though that might not be saying a whole lot this season. I wonder just how much there is to those DUI arrests in his past though. Grade B+

Andrew Garcia- “Sugar, We’re Going Down”

The pimp spot went to Andrew, and like Katie with the girls, the judges seemed intent on taking him down a notch after the performance. At this point, Andrew probably has the most fans of the Top 24, perhaps because he has apparently been a bit of a YouTube singing star. His acoustic take tonight on a Fall Out Boy song seems very much like something one would see on YouTube with a lot of views. The same can be said for how he did an acoustic take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” during Hollywood week. Perhaps, he should have saved that ditty for this round or later though. Vocally, I think Andrew has a lot of talent and he is very likely to go far in the competition. I have a hard time seeing him win it all though, perhaps because of the huge tattoo on his neck as much as anything else. We have seen much of his backstory regarding the young son and the ex-gangbanger parents (the father has a tattoo on his neck too) and there are aspects to him that will both appeal to and maybe turn off mainstream America. Overall, I liked the performance Wednesday a bit more than the judges, but perhaps I graded the last two singers of the night on a curve, based on what had proceeded them. Grade B

Ranking from (relatively) Best to Worst:

1. Casey James
2. Andrew Garcia
3. Lee Dewyze
4. Aaron Kelly
5. Michael Lynche
6. Jermaine Sellers
7. Joe Munoz
8. John Park
9. Tim Urban
10. Todrick Hall
11. Tyler Grady
12. Alex Lambert

Who should have gone home: Alex Lambert & Tyler Grady
Who I predicted would go home: Alex Lambert & Todrick Hall
Who did go home: Tyler Grady & Joe Munoz

Again, harder to predict at this point and perhaps this season than ever before. There are a lot of lucky people who will be back next week. Perhaps most surprised that of all four to lead, Tyler would be one of them, although he was most deserving.

Let’s hope next week is better! It can’t really get any worse.