Tuesday, March 01, 2011

American Idol Top 12 Guys

The tenth season of American Idol is here, and it's another year for me to offer some very rambling stream of consciousness thoughts about the episodes after watching them. I will try to remember to do a spell check before posting, but expect some grammar issues and various typos to appear. I am sure whomever reads this and also watches Idol will get the gist of what I am trying to convey. I will grade the performances each week, on vocals alone, and then rank them as well, in order to determine who should advance, before making predictions as to who should advance.

Tuesday night gave America a glimpse of the Top 12 males, as they sang and were recorded on the big Idol stage on Friday evening. Thus, it is very possible the producers did some editing stuff at their whim. I would rather it have been a live program, but oh well.

Along with two new judges, the rules this year for the semi-finals are also a bit different. The top 5 vote-getters for the males and females this week will advance to the Finals, which will begin next week. The judges will also pick wildcard contestants. Since there are three judges, I am going to assume it will be a Top 13 this year (as in Season 8), and that at least one guy and one girl will be picked to continue.

This semi-final system is somewhat preferable to me than the one that was used in the early years of Idol as well as Season 8, but still, I would very much prefer what was used last year and others, in which the contestants have three weeks of semi-final opportunities, with only the bottom two being voted off each week. That gives the contestants a bit more of a chance to grow and America a greater opportunity to see all that they have. For the first time ever, the semi-finalists are singing on the big Idol stage, instead of the traditional smaller stage used at this point in the competition, and that seems a bit odd to me. I feel like the Top 24 has yet to earn the right to sing there. We still do not know enough about them yet, and they seemed a bit like interlopers.

Anyways, on to the performances..... If recent Idol history is any clue, the winner would have gone tonight, because despite producer wishes, it has become nearly impossible for a female to take home the Idol trophy. Those who actually vote in heavy frequency for this show, (a coalition of girls below 18 and women who could be their mothers) are perhaps not so interested in voting for who has the best vocal talent, but who they think would make their most ideal boyfriend.

1. Clint Jun Gamboa-"Superstition"

To me, the karaoke host performed like a very above average karaoke singer tonight. He has some vocal chops but I do not think this song, or the somewhat manic way in which he performed it, did him a whole lot of favors. He also sort of resembles a mix between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and the late baseball broadcasting legend Harry Caray.

The biggest problem for Clint though, who did manage to receive compliments from the judges, is the "villain edit" he had received on the show during the Hollywood rounds, after he kicked the cherubic 15 year old Jaycee Badeaux out of his group. One could have quite a debate as to whether it was a heartless action or simply an accurate representation of the dog eat dog world of show business. To most Americans though, Clint came out looking like a jerk, and that already put him in a difficult position. In order to advance, he may need the votes of his fellow Filipino-Americans, who always seem to love American Idol. Grade: C

2. Jovany Barreto- "I'll Be"

I was somewhat surprised when the judges advanced him this far, although the clip they showed of his "sing for your life performance" on the "Green Mile" episode was pretty good. Jovany looks like he might belong on Jersey Shore, but is one of two Louisiana contestants, who sang back to back this week, and thus might split the vote down on the Bayou.

His take on the Edwin McCain song was ok, but maybe just ok. It was in tune and all that, but it's a song that has been done better numerous times before. Grade B-

3. Jordan Dorsey- "OMG"

Like the previously mentioned CJG, Jordan also got a "villain edit" during Hollywood for refusing to let people into his group and then leaving a group of his own. He may have been merely trying to look out for himself, but the rest of America is going to think he is a tool.

Tonight, he gave one of the most inauthentic performances seen on the Idol stage in recent years, and was willing to admit as much. Trying to sing and act like Usher just was not Jordan's thing and it seemed all kinds of awkward and vocally problematic. People who attended the taping said that he had a prolonged discussion with the judges as to why he chose to sing this Usher song, which he seemed so ill fitted for. The t.v. audience saw him acknowledge that it is not the kind of artist he is or wants to be, which will leave them asking, why he sang it at all. Apparently, at the taping, he alluded to his being asked to sing it, but that was mysteriously edited out of what aired tonight. In any event, Jordan was pretty bad on his big opportunity, and I think the African-American Idol vote is going to skew heavily towards another contestant tonight. I feel it is safe to say that Jordan blew his shot. Grade: D+

4. Tim Halperin- "Streetcorner Symphony (Come on Over)"

Before tonight's broadcast, I would have actually predicted Tim (Middle America-ish white guy who plays an instrument) as one of the serious favorites to win the whole competition, but he was surprisingly bad in this round.

Apparently, none of them were allowed to play an instrument on stage tonight, so that seemingly really hurt Tim. I do not know if he plays the guitar or not, but we have seen him play the piano, and he probably could have been a whole lot better on a song in which he could have accompanied himself. The tune he did this week just did not suit him and his vocals seemed way off base the whole time. I think he is probably a lot more talented than he exhibited tonight, but with the voting system the way it is this year, it may not matter for him at this point. There was also something a bit too "rehearsed" about the way he interacted verbally with Seacrest when he was not singing. It's shocking to me in a way, but I think he is major trouble, unless Texas votes heavily for him. Grade: D+

5. Brett Loewenstern- "Light My Fire"

The curly haired ginger teenager, the first of three Jewish boys (just seven short of a minyan) to sing tonight already probably had a significant fan base going into this episode. I think a lot of Idol voters will take to his story of being an outcast in school (perhaps bullied) and not really fitting in. A lot of young pre-teen and teenage girls I think will be motivated to vote for him. The smart ones will realize that he may not be into them romantically, but they could see themselves hanging out with him at the mall or something.

I actually think Brett has a lot of talent, but is still developing. His take tonight on a Doors classic was reasonably good (with a lot of obviously deliberate hairography.) Unlike a couple of guys who proceeded him, he seemed confident in himself and prepared to perform. The whole "hippy vibe" in his song and wardrobe will likely appeal "artsy" young girls and to nostalgic boomers. I think Brett is probably going to be around for a while, and I hope we get to see more of his mother! One day, Brett himself is likely to look just like Woody Allen though perhaps. Grade: B

6. James Durbin- "You've Got Another Thing Coming"

Thus far, we have learned that James has both Aspergers and Tourettes (was someone actually holding a sign in the audience at the beginning of the show in honor of Tourettes?) and he likes to scream in a way that he thinks resembles former Idol Adam Lambert. While he seems like perhaps not the nicest guy in the world, I am perhaps motivated to root for James, just to see how much it pisses off Lambert's ridiculous collection of cult-like worshipers, who already have seething hatred for the new contestant in regards to the Glambert comparisons.

But come on? He did Judas Priest on the Idol stage! Never in a million years did I think I would ever see that! It was not horrible at all, but I think he received too much praise from the judges, especially legendary Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler who should know better (I have to admit, I think a little more Simon Cowell negativity would have been appropriate for a lot of these dudes tonight.) Durbin definitely vocal ability, and could probably make some nice money fronting some sort of 80s hard rock cover band (music that I really love), but I bet there are many singers who are able to do what he can do. Grade: B

7. Robbie Rosen- "In the Arms of An Angel"

Based on what we have seen him do in the audition rounds, I truly believe that my fellow Hebrew Homie might be the most vocally talented male this season, with the potential for current credibility in the music world. Tonight though, I think he played it too safe and disappointed. A factor as overlooked as a split Jewish vote could surprisingly leave him out in the cold later this week.

This situation reminds me a bit of Anoop Desai a couple years ago, who went into the first performance show with all sorts of buzz, but sang a boring ballad and did not receive the votes he needed at this time. I think Robbie is a really good singer, but he had definite pitch issues tonight, and I do not know how many people he might have truly motivated to pick up the phone (or for the first time open a web site) and vote for him. Grade: B-

8. Scotty McCreery- "Letters From Home"

Baby lock them doors and...,sorry it's sort of instinctive when discussing this deep voiced southern High School student. I am definitely not a fan of the style of old school country music that Scotty loves, and cannot imagine how he has a prayer of winning this competition strictly in that musical zone, but tonight, at least he knew what he does well, and did it well.

It will remain to be seen how much range he really has, but he did the right thing, starting off, to stay in his wheelhouse and I imagine he will not have much difficulty advancing. The vocals were pretty good (though maybe not exactly challenging for him) but there's something odd and off-putting about his facial expressions that will probably continue to bug people. His remorseful tears in Hollywood though (assuming they were real) in regards to the Jacyee Badeaux group scandal, probably has him vindicated in that regards, unlike Mr. Gamboa. Grade: B

9. Stefano Langone- "Just the Way You Are"

While it was certainly not a perfect performance, this was the only one tonight that was both good and had any relevance to the pop scene today. I have the same sort of premonition about car accident survivor Stefano that I had about Kris Allen from the beginning. I think he is going to last a while in this competition.

There may have been a rough note for Stefano when he attempted to sing a very high one, but all in all, it was a very good performance, and smart of him to sing one of the biggest songs on the charts in the past few months. Grade: B +

10. Paul McDonald- "Maggie May"

Taking on the same classic Rod Stewart song that we saw a brief clip of him doing during his initial audition might or might not prove to be a smart choice for another contestant whom many longtime Idol junkies have viewed as an early front-runner.

Paul has a definitely unique tone to his voice (which is similar in some way to Rod Stewart himself) and a lot of people who watch Idol will absolutely love him. Perhaps though, tonight he was a bit too quirky, especially since he was not able to play his guitar. It seems to me like Paul has more experience performing before crowds than any of the other guys in the competition, and I liked the vocals, to an extent, but still not knowing a ton about him, his whole style of singing comes across to me as a bit affected and maybe "put on to an extent." While I try to not judge based on it, he is another one with weird facial expressions. The judges liked his smile, and while he may have nice white teeth, I thought he was smiling too much, considering the somewhat wistful nature of this song. I had really thought he was another one to watch in this competition, but after tonight, I am not as sure. Grade: B-

11. Jacob Lusk- "A House is Not a Home"

First of all, this guy is a spa concierge straight outta Compton. I find that so remarkable in a few ways, but I guess I got to give him his props, for being himself and surviving that locale.

Jacob has amazing vocal ability. I probably will genuinely enjoy his journey on Idol, but even if he wins (which I doubt will happen), I do not see where he would fit in the mainstream music world. He may very well use this opportunity though to make it on the gospel scene though or perhaps on Broadway. He received all sorts of comparisons tonight by the tearful judges to the late Luther Vandross, so he probably should be feeling good about that. Something tells me he will living in a nicer portion of the Los Angeles area than where he grew up soon.

I have to say that he was really good tonight and demonstrated the right mix of vocal passion and restraint. It might be a difficult balancing act for him in the future and might need to show some greater variety, but there is no doubting his talent, and I think the older, church-going contingent of the black Idol voters are going to vote strongly for Jacob, and a lot of others will too, at least for now. He definitely deserves to continue and I am sure that it will not be too much longer before I can watch him do his thing on stage, without wondering if perhaps he might not be better cast on RuPaul's Drag Race. Grade: A

12. Casey Abrams- " I Put a Spell on You"

He has to also be Jewish right? Casey may not look like an American Idol (or someone who is just 19), but he can definitely sing (and will likely soon be playing a variety of instruments such as his Upright Bass) on stage. I think his "oddball" persona will benefit him in the competition, for a while at least, and it's not unthinkable that he could win, a la Taylor Hicks. If he does though, it's hard to imagine him topping the Billboard Hot 100.

Thank goodness though that Casey was able to take the stage on Friday night to tape this performance. The internets were reporting he had been hospitalized with severe stomach pains and needed a blood transfusion. Had he not been able to perform, he would have been out of the competition ( I guess it would have been impossible for Idol to delay the guys until a live Wednesday night performance, with the girls going on Tuesday) but Casey went out there and did his thing without any evidence of the gastrointestinal distress he had dealt with. It was certainly an odd song choice for American Idol, but he sang it with a lot of angry passion and was quite impressive. Soon, the Idol people will give him a makeover, and he will advance a good deal further. Grade: A-

Ranking them from worst to best:

12. Tim Halperin
11. Jordan Dorsey
10. Clint Jun Gamboa
9. Robbie Rosen
8. Jovany Baretto
7. Paul McDonald
6. James Durbin
5. Scotty McCreery
4. Brett Loewenstern
3. Stefano Langone
2. Casey Abrams
1. Jacob Lusk

So, count down from five and those are the five who deserve to make it into the Finals via the viewer voting. I think it would actually be an interesting and diverse mix of guys. Still though, it's almost hard to believe that there will be no more semi-finals, and so many of the rest will be gone. I really think James, Paul, Robbie, and even Tim would have a greater chance of advancing, if only the bottom two were going to be voted off this week. I think it is safe to say that at least one of my bottom 7 will be in the Finals via wildcard, but I will be a stickler for what Seacrest tells us and compare the guys and girls I will have ranked between 6-8 to see who deserves to advance based on merit, and not a gender set-aside. I will try to play close attention to see if the word "Top 12" is definitely mentioned. I am going to expect a Top 13.

I am about to go check Dial Idol after I post this, but with the online voting now, maybe that site is going to now be even more inaccurate. Predicting the top 5 is tough right now. The only thing I would put money on is that it will be the end of the road for Jordan Dorsey. Thus, I am just going to put my faith in America and say that all of my top five for the night are voted in.