Saturday, March 13, 2010

American Idol Top 16

The semi-finals are over and next week it will be time for another cast of American Idol Finalists to reach the big stage. First though, this week saw four more singers get cut, with some pretty controversial and surprising results as part of the mix. At this point, I have to agree with the perception that “pound for pound” this is the weakest Top 12 yet. Many long-time fans of the show are fretting that this will be a “bad” season.

In a sense, they are right, but people would be wise to keep the perception that is just a television show and an entertaining diversion from the stresses of everyday life. The person who will ultimately be crowned the American Idol in May, will have more or less earned it by merit, just as the winner of every past season has, and it will be fun to watch the journey. Now, will the hoopla and the passion of Idol crazies surrounding the big summer tour be as deep as the past two years? Probably not. I also wonder if we are headed for a season where one singer is simply viewed by most as the best each and every week. That could get a little boring, as the show seems to like having different people step up from time to time. But the judges and the Powers That Be can always be counted on to push an agenda on the viewing audience and the analysis of those actions are pretty important as to who will eventually win. In short, this season’s easily deserved front-runner, Crystal Bowersox ought to be quite leery of the pimping that Simon Cowell and others are giving her. If it keeps up, the odds are her finish might not match that of the Rubens, Fantasias, and Carries, but more along the lines of more recent non-winners such as Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, David Archuleta, Danny Gokey, and Adam Lambert.

On Tuesday, the schedule went back to the original plan with the 8 remaining girls taking the stage, this week, as the ones with a day less preparation:

Katie Stevens- “Breakway”

Back in Hollywood week, young Katie was talked about as a “potential winner” and that aura seemed to be a big part of how she was presented in the Top 24 week. Her performances on the semifinals stage though have been considered lacking as Katie has struggled to come through vocally and personally. The judges told her to pick a young song and one that might reflect what she is feeling in her life. Taking that advice, and trying to claim it was about “breaking away” from her small town life, she picked a number from the original American Idol, who has now had three of her songs already covered this season. While she has talent and like so many others this year could benefit from more seasoning, Katie’s performance left a lot to be desired. Clearly, she is no Kelly Clarkson. It had to be tough for her to stand on the stage after the song and once again hear some harsh criticism for the judges. I was waiting for someone to throw a Slushee in her face like they would to that Rachel character on Glee. I really thought she might be voted off on the basis of never meeting expectations and having to sing first, but the sympathy factor could never be discounted. Grade C+

As most will know by this point, Katie is in, and as one of two minors who will also have to continue to balance the school thing with American Idol, it will be even tougher for her. The backlash against both her and fellow teen Aaron Kelly as unready “pageant bots”, whether fair or not, will also be tough to shed as long as they stay in the competition. When Katie was announced as the last of the Top 12 to go through on Thursday night, it was hard to ignore the surprise and maybe even disappointment of the other contestants. This should continue to be an interesting character-builder for Katie, but she should consider herself fortunate if she sticks around to make the Top 10 and the Tour. As I will do for every Finalist, I will make a just for the heck of it guess and say she finishes 10th.

Siobhan Magnus- “House of the Rising Sun”

With each passing week, I am thankfully finding Siobhan less creepy and more interesting, at least as a singer. Her father looks like he could have been in Scorpions or something. She is not technically perfect, but in a season that includes so many low-key guitar strumming coffee house types, her big voice and eclectic and perhaps disjointed song selections should be one of the things to look forward to each week. She started off singing the first verse of this song acapella, which is quite a risky thing to do, but her skill allowed her to pull it off (thought its weird of course that the verse is about being a “poor boy.”) Then, as the band kicked in, Siobhan continued to give a strong performance. There seemed little doubt that she would have her ticket punched for the Finals. Grade B

Siobhan is gaining steam among Idol blogger types and is seen as the potential “dark horse” to win the competition, much like the past two winners David Cook and Kris Allen did. I think she will go far, but ultimately, being a bit on the weird side, and hailing from Massachusetts (Scott Brown aside) will make it very tough for her to win. I will say she finishes Fourth.

Lacey Brown “The Story”

Never heard this alt-country song before. I think Lacey has an interesting singing and speaking voice and this was maybe her best performance yet. At times, she sounded almost like Dolly Parton. However, it still seemed leagues away from a performance from a potential American Idol winner. Since she got some praise for it though, I thought it would be enough to get her into the Finals, barely. Grade C+

After just failing to make the semi-finals last season, and surviving some tough odds this season, Lacey should feel very fortunate to have gotten to this point. I think Texas had a ton to do with her advancing thus far. I really wonder how she will be able to pull off a Rolling Stones song on the big stage though. It could be a total mess. Perhaps, she will make an attempt at doing Susan Boyle’s version of “Wild Horses” while sitting on a stool or something, but with the genders now being thrown in together, and with some other Texans in the mix, my hunch is that Lacey will be the first one voted off, in 12th place.

Katelyn Epperly- “ I Feel the Earth Move”

In the wake of Haiti and Chile, perhaps this was the wrong song choice. Katelyn has impressed me the first two weeks of the competition, giving two very different performances, and perhaps because of that goodwill, I thought she was pretty decent, seemingly in tune at least for this performance as well. I wasn’t so sure about the standing up and playing the keyboard thing though It did seem like she was going for a more laid back vibe, and perhaps confident of advancing, had maybe made the strategic decision to coast a bit this week. I thought she would have little difficulty advancing, but clearly we were both wrong about, in what would be the biggest surprise result to me . If this is indeed the weakest season of American Idol yet, I thought Katelyn ( I have been adding an extra n to her name all along) might be good enough to go very far and potentially even contend for the crown, if she continued to have musically substantive performances. But alas, she is gone now, and I wonder if the semi-bitch face she seemed to be sporting in the balcony, while listening to the other girls, and after having been panned by the judges was a part of it. After being cut on Thursday, she seemed pretty sad, and then pissed off when Katie made it over Lilly. She and Lilly who seem to have bonded can at least have more time to spend together now than they otherwise would. Grade B

Didi Benami- “Rhiannon”

Playing her guitar for the first time in the competition rounds, Didi was so much better than last week and it was a very enjoyable performance. She certainly has one of the best pure voices in the competition. However, I just wonder how versatile she will prove to be. Last week proved that things can really go off kilter when she tries to veer away from her musical comfort zone. For this week at least though, her acoustic, minimalist take on a Fleetwood Mac song was very good. Grade B+

What is she going to sound like on a Rolling Stones song this upcoming week? How will she do disco or Latin or hair metal or whatever else they may throw at her? Is she going to be teary, either out of happiness or sadness every week? There are few if any contestants this season that are as ready to make a record now as Didi, but if she is unable to adapt to various styles and is seen as too emotionally fragile, she may be headed to a Sixth place finish, though she might deserve better.

Paige Miles- “Smile”

As the only hope for a woman of color making the Finals, I expected to see the judges pimping Paige’s performance, even if she was just as marginally successful as she has seemed to be thus far. But this was bad, from the dreary song choice, to the arrangement, to the weak vocals. I thought there was no way Paige would survive and kept flashing ahead in my own mind to the sad fact she would have to sing this song about smiling while your heart is breaking, in two nights, after she was voted off, and would likely never be heard from again. Just who exactly is voting for Paige? Is there a large African-American base vote keeping her in this? She did not even try to appeal to that audience, by going the R&B route, nor did she attempt to sing a sorta rock song as she had in the two weeks previously. I just did not get it at all for her this week, and I was wondering if there was something else going on such as an illness or distraction that caused her to be worse than she had been before… and I was not even impressed then. She seems like a nice person, but I was maybe a little taken aback about how she showed no shame about making it to the Top 12 over Katelyn. Grade D

As the endorsed female candidate of Vote for the Worst, Paige better hope they make her their choice over Tim Urban in the Finals. I have been predicting elimination for her three straight weeks and have been wrong each time, so I am pretty leery. Of course, we will have to see how she does on the big stage (and if American Idol past history is any indication, the black girl always seems to get the first performance spot on Top 12 night), but I think that any remaining African-American fans might gravitate more towards Big Mike at this time and that Paige is destined to miss the tour and finish 11th.

Crystal Bowersox- “Give Me One Reason”

Crystal sounded great, as usual, and it was cool to see the first female really play an electric guitar on the Idol stage (though Allison Iraheta did it for a few seconds last year). I would much rather hear Crystal sing this song than the original artist Tracy Chapman and it was good to see her do a small amount of vocal gymnastics towards the end of the song. There was no doubt that a place was reserved for Crystal in the Finals. Grade A-

As of now, I am predicting Crystal to win American Idol Season Nine and finish in First place As mentioned though, the pimping she is getting, especially from Simon, could cause a big backlash for her and if she has a bad week coming up, there will be conspiracy theories about how she tanked on purpose. People like underdog stories on American Idol and the whole “growth arc.” For those of us losers, who do our power rankings weekly based on the performance, if Crystal is in first each and every week (which I really suspect could be the case for me… perhaps more about the others than her), there will be a lack of suspense. Also, there will be concerns about her health related to having already been hospitalized due to her diabetes and the fact that American Idol will get even more emotionally and physically grueling for all these Finalists. I noticed how she sat down on her amp to listen to the judges’ comments after the song and how the cheesy group number seemed to be designed around her remaining seated. There have been many comments about how she looked a little ill on Thursday night, but that could have been about the emotions surrounding the loss of a couple of friends. I think Crystal radiates a genuine personality on the show and is not trying to be anything she is not, but it’s interesting to note she has been pretty emotional when others have been voted off. It is hard to imagine an Amanda Overmyer getting that invested.

Hopefully Crystal will be in good enough shape to sing well every week and be able to meet the requirements of the summer tour and whatever other good things may come from her soon to be promising career. It is hard to imagine how bad it would be if she were forced to drop out of the competition for whatever reason. There is a long road ahead for the most talented contestant thus far, but I think she may finish atop a relatively weak field. While she has spent some previous time living in Chicago, she comes from Ohio, a state that Republicans carried in 2000 and 2004 (and quite the national bellwether) and thus if she wins, I will declare my Red State theory to be alive.

Lilly Scott-“ I Fall to Pieces”

As the last contestant (typically a desirable spot) of the evening, Lilly sounded pretty good (despite playing some sort of small stringed instrument) as she has thus far, and while it was not my favorite performance of the night, I figured she would make it into the Top 12. However, it is true that all of her performances were seemingly morphing into each other and as I said a couple weeks ago, she is interesting, but might have a hard time holding people’s interest. This Patsy Cline tune was perhaps a bit boring. While Lilly is somewhat different and seemingly confident on stage, she was splitting votes with every other female performer, with the exceptions of Paige and Katie. The strong fan base for Crystal and the emerging one for Siobhan, along with a rebound performance by Didi, left Lilly joining her BFF Katelyn as one of the odd women out. She was never going to advance very far because of that, but it is a bit surprising it caught up with her this fast, even with having the pimp slot this week. When those results were announced on Thursday, Lilly did not hide her sense of disdain and the 20 year old (who looks a good deal older, perhaps because of the white hair) took a bit of the low road for calling out America for not getting her and that continued into her round of media interviews later, in which she has seemed to insult the American Idol viewing audience and all but declared herself too cool for the show anyway. Good luck to her. Without the exposure that AI brings, she will need all she can get. Grade B-

Ranking them vocally from best to worst:

1. Crystal Bowersox
2. Didi Benami
3. Katelyn Epperly
4 .Siobhan Magnus
5. Lilly Scott
6. Lacey Brown
7. Katie Stevens
8. Paige Miles

Who should have gone home: Paige Miles and Katie Stevens
Who I predicted would go home: Paige Miles and Katie Stevens
Who did go home: Katelyn Epperly and Lilly Scott

I really blew this one!

Wednesday night was time for the gentlemen and more blahness:

Lee Dewyze- “Fireflies”

This song and the band Owl City are apparently really big now, but I am really feeling old because I just do not know anything about them and I hated the song. I found Lee to be very impressive last week, even with some pitch issues, but I was really disappointed by how he sounded this week. I could not help but notice all the vocal imperfections throughout. I want to root for Lee, at least a little, but with this group of guys, I thought almost all of them were at risk of being one of two to leave. Grade C

It will be interesting to see how Lee takes to the bigger stage and the bigger audience when he takes his shot at a Rolling Stones song on Tuesday. If he can gain confidence, he could do very well in the competition. Like so many of the singers this year, he needs more experience and seasoning. There have been so many male singers the past couple of years who are ahead of where Lee is now, but if he can continue to come across as the Poor Man’s David Cook, I think he can probably finish in Fifth place.

Alex Lambert- “Trouble”

For starters, did he maybe look a little stoned? Does American Idol have random drug testing? Anyways, to Alex’s credit, he did indeed get better every week, which was not hard to do considering how horrific he was the first week. He has an interesting voice and has potential to grow as an artist, but I still found him lacking a bit vocally on this performance (Taylor Hicks once did this song a lot better… and look at him now!) and whether it is nerves or whatever, there seems to be very little emotional connection between Alex and the audience. Like everyone else, I was not going to be shocked if he was voted off, but I was a bit surprised when he ultimately was. From glancing at American Idol fan comments, it seems like a lot of the older women have taken a liking to him, maybe because of maternal instincts of whatever. To many of them, it is the bitter disappointment two years in a row over a Lambert elimination. The other contestants perhaps feel the same way towards him because of the emotional aftermath of his ouster. Maybe Alex just has some self-esteem issues or something, but he can feel good about the fact that he got some experience doing the show and got better as it went along. I just do not agree with those who were claiming he was one of the male frontrunners and had potential to go very deep in the competition. His ouster this week might also be because of the fact that in a fast-moving show, he was immediately followed by another Texas dude with weird hair, who played the guitar and sang the same type of song and would surprisingly do decently… Grade (for Alex) C+

Tim Urban- “Hallelujah”

He was going to sing what? I expected this to be a train wreck and for Tim to embarrass himself. I also thought he had earned the ire of all the Jason Castro fans and the disgust they would feel over the subpar Tim taking on a song Jason turned in a memorable performance on. I almost really wanted this to be bad (and I think it was for the first few seconds) perhaps as a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, as the song went on, I have to admit, Tim exceeded my low expectations and it was amazingly competent. Perhaps the expectation thing made it seem better than it was, but I think it was easily Tim’s best performance and also earned him a hug from Ellen DeGeneres, in a breach of Idol protocol…. (though I do remember Simon kissing LaKisha Jones on the lips after she gave a great performance). So, at this point, I was wondering if perhaps Tim would be the safest bet to advance of all the guys. Grade B

As the male Haley Scarnato, I think Tim is going to make the tour and bow out in say, Seventh place. If he goes even that far though, it might involve the leaking of some more Facebook photos or something to keep the young girls and gay males in his corner. Another though about Tim is that I think he is a total b.s. artist. Whenever he gets a good comment or is told he is safe, his eyes get really big and he looks shocked. Maybe I am just cynical, but that comes across as a bit of an act to me and he seems like someone who is always trying to give a facial expression or a fake smile for the sake of the cameras. I say that especially because he mimed surprise and gave the same sort of look when Seacrest announced that Andrew would be up next singing Christina Aguilera.

Andrew Garcia- “Genie In a Bottle”

While subpar singers Alex and Tim have been gradually progressing, the more talented Andrew has been regressing and I just did not like his performance. The judges have been trying to get him to do something along the lines of the Paula Abdul song he did in Hollywood (interesting that least year’s semifinals saw a bunch of reprised Hollywood songs, but none this year) and it just seemed all a bit too gimmicky. If Andrew wanted to sing an acoustic guitar version of a female pop song, there would have probably been better choice (the lyrics are a little suspect when a guy sings them) and for some reason, I got a bit of a resigned vibe from Andrew after the song and when he was getting bad critiques from the judges. It was really hard to pick who the second guy to home was, but I figured it just may very well have been that Andrew never lived up to the hype and would get lost in the shuffle. In the meantime on Wednesday evening, four guys had performed, and my rankings were a complete mirror image of what I had expected. What was going on here? Grade C-

As the only Latino in the competition, and with a fan base from YouTube videos, Andrew still has potential to go far in the Finals. However, he really needs to improve. If he has been this subpar on the smaller stage, the big one might make things even worse for him. My guess at the moment is that he finishes in Ninth place.

Casey James- “You’ll Think of Me”

I do not know this Keith Urban song and found it a little boring, and on the safe side for Casey, but he sounded pretty good on it, and on a night of mostly disappointing performances thus far, I found it a bit refreshing to that extent. It was a performance that would appeal to the large country music loving audience out there and I figured it would certainly be enough to get Casey into the Finals, although he would perhaps be splitting the country fan vote with Aaron Kelly. Before Randy Jackson had made the comment, I had noted that Casey seemed to really be more of a Stevie Ray Vaughn blues-rock type of singer. Grade B+

Casey will likely be the last Texan standing this season and will continue to appeal to the cougars. Thus, I think he will stick around for a while. He does have a lot to be desired though in the star quality factor, but if he wisely plays to his audience, he can do pretty well, up against this year’s competition. I am envisioning an impressive Third place finish for him at this point.

Aaron Kelly- “I’m Already There”

Definitely a smart song choice to appeal to country pop fans and one that I think Aaron’s core voting audience would appreciate, although I noted, before Kara DioGuardi, that it was weird to see the 16 year old Aaron (who looks about 12) sing about talking to a son on the telephone. There was a bit of a moment when Kara DioGuardi called him on that, and Aaron defended him by saying he was merely narrating the story, and Simon took Aaron’s side. That little exchange probably earned Aaron some sympathy points and helped put him in the Finals, because vocally, it was quite a mixed bag. It started off extremely pitchy and headed for a disaster, but somehow, I thought Aaron was able to right the ship a bit and got better at the chorus. There is no denying that he has a powerful voice that is well suited for this kind of country music, but he needs a lot more training and seasoning. Still though, I got the impression that he has been singing this exact song for quite a few years at county fairs and whatnot. I also find something odd about his performing style and the way he rocks back and forth and holds his arms up. I know that has nothing to do with his voice, but he really needs some better moves, because it does look as if he is a bit robotic and just trying to do the moves he has been programmed to do. Grade B-

Being the youngest competitor in the game, and because of the whole backlash thing, Aaron is going to have a lot of the same issues that Katie Stevens does. It’s just not going to be cool for people to admit they are voting for him. Even girls above the age of 14 might find that tough (and may gravitate more towards Tim at this point). So, I think Aaron’s main source of support are the grannies. I think they will probably carry him to Eight place. That would place him somewhat better than a Kevin Covais, but still in a different talent level zip code from a David Archuleta.

Todrick Hall- “Somebody to Love”

Last week, I seemed to think Todrick was better than most anyone else thought, but going into this week, there was little he could do to avoid being one of the eliminated guys. So, he sang Queen. Go figure. All and all, I thought it was pretty good as far as the gospel spin he put into it, but it did seem a bit too musical theater and I thought there were some bad moments with it too as a vocal, though I guess it was good that Todrick did not sit on a stool unlike so many others. (He sang it even better on Thursday after eliminated.) So even though Todrick got the most praise he had from the judges who would have been expected to try to help get at least one of the two African-American males into the Finals, I still thought he would be eliminated. It definitely would all depend on how Big Mike did next in the pimp spot. There is just something about Todrick (perhaps those weird gloves) that, with apologies to Andrew Garcia, rubs people the wrong way. I definitely think he has a future in show business though and should try to get a foot in the door on Broadway. Also, he was easily the most prepared of the four to be eliminated Thursday and seemed to handle it with the appropriate amount of grace, and as mentioned, went out on a high note. It’s going to be a weird Idol year with no Black Diva in the Finals. Grade B-

Michael Lynche- “This Woman’s Work”

You can’t say that Big Mike is not in this thing to win it. Of all the singers this year, he might be the only one that really has the fire in his eyes about this thing, and I think that is a plus for him. This was another song I do not know, but after he sang it, it was clear that Mike would be in the Finals, and perhaps had earned himself several weeks of safety. It seemed to be continuing the theme he started last week and won praise for with the song about it being a man’s world that would mean nothing without a woman or a girl, etc. etc, and this song is apparently another homage to the fairer sex, and probably great strategy to try to get all those estrogen laden Idol fanatics ready to pick up their phones for him. What other songs along those lines can he do? Did the Rolling Stones ever honor the ladies? As far as the vocals are concerned though, Michael was pretty impressive, demonstrating an falsetto at the beginning and the end, and an emotional interlude in the middle. It turned Kara DioGuardi into a blubbering mess, with her morph into Paula Abdul being near complete (apparently Kara has been trying to have baby and this song got to her, and maybe she thinks that by leaning into Simon the whole show, she may get knocked up.) Grade A-

I think it is likely that the flannel wearing, guitar faking Big Mike from Week 1 is gone and he will instead try to sing big songs that will appeal to both older viewers and African-American R&B/Soul fans. It has been years since a black male finished any better than 10th on American Idol, but I think Big Mike is going to do very well. I had that impression about him during Hollywood week, but others had dismissed him at the time. His oversized personality and abundance of confidence are going to turn some people off, while appealing to others, but in a season like this, if he can continue to impress vocally, he can get all the way to the Nokia Theater and perhaps finish in Second place. He lives in Florida now, right? That was a Red State in 2000 and 2004.


1. Michael Lynche
2. Casey James
3. Tim Urban
4. Aaron Kelly
5. Todrick Hall
6. Alex Lambert
7. Lee Dewyze
8. Andrew Garcia

Who should have been eliminated: Andrew Garcia and Lee Dewyze (feel really bad about even posting that, because that would not have been a just result based on talent level or potential in the competition, but simply based on what I thought were the two most crappy performances Wednesday)

Who I predicted would be eliminated: Todrick Hall and Andrew Garcia

Who was eliminated: Todrick Hall and Alex Lambert

On to the Top 12, where expectations will be high. Will the first singer be made to sing Start Me Up? Will the show give us any sort of Satisfaction? Will we instead be left with Mixed Emotions? Will pimping be front-running Crystal’s Beast of Burden? Are the Idols moving into the Mansion or a hotel? They definitely won’t be asking the producers to Gimme Shelter. For us fans, while it is true that You Can’t Always Get What You Want, let’s hope the night is not bad enough for fans to declare Paint It Black of the entire season.