Monday, March 05, 2012

American Idol Top 25 Week- Part II

On Wednesday evening, the Top 12 females too the newly renovated Idol stage to compete for spots in the Finals. While the crop of them seem to be superior to the guys in talent this year, if recent history is any indication, none of them will have much of a chance to win. As mentioned yesterday, it is odd how there is not a single African-American lady present to hold down the prototypical diva spot, but there sure are a lot of blondes, and girls with similar sounding names. Idol and the music scene has changed in such that we now have a lot of female singers trying to sound like Adele and less who try to resemble Whitney Houston. Nonetheless, this coming week will see the remaining girls attempt to do Whitney justice.

1. Chelsea Sorrell- “Cowboy Cassanova”

It is always tough to start off a two hour broadcast, and it seemed right from the beginning that Chelsea, one of three country singers among the 12 girls was fodder. She really did not anything memorable or noteworthy with this Carrie Underwood song, and right off the bat, the judges were harsher on her than they were on any of the guys the previous evening. Grade: C+

  1. Erika Van Pelt- “What About Love”

While it has been done on Idol before, I liked the song choice for Erika. Being a bit older than the typically successful Idol female and hailing from a state like Rhode Island, she was really going to have to do amazingly to be confident of advancing here. I thought she sounded pretty good, but I also found myself agreeing with Jennifer Lopez that she was maybe holding back a bit on some of the power notes on this Heart classic. Grade: B+

3. Jen Hirsh- “One and Only”

I believe Jen had been extremely impressive in the audition rounds and I had pegged her as someone who could go far in the competition. She also reminded me a bit in various ways of another Californian, Katharine McPhee, who was the runner up several years back. On Wednesday though, Jen sang an Adele song (which she was later criticized for) and was just ok in my view. At times, it sounded like she was screaming a bit more than she should have been and the overall performance just lacked impact. Grade: B

  1. Brielle Von Hugel- (“Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay”

The odds were against the Staten Island teenager from the start, after the producers had highlighted her colorful and not always pleasant stage mother all throughout the audition rounds and tried to show how Brielle was maybe a chip off the old block herself. With that edit, it was going to be hard to advance, and Brielle's oldies song selection was not going to help matters. However, the judges seemed to love it and I thought she sounded a bit better than I expected as well. Not sure how that was supposed to really showcase her as a relevant current artist though. Grade: B

  1. Hallie Day- “Feeling Good”

I was also impressed by Hallie in her first audition (and the fact that she is married to a dude who really looks like he should be way out of her league) and thought she might be a good bet for the Finals. While I thought she sounded very good vocally on Wednesday evening, something seemed like it was missing. For one thing, she should not have picked this jazzy song which has been overdone over the past several American Idol seasons and has had very bad luck for many who have sang it. Randy Jackson, for whatever reason, seemed to put her on the spot after the song, trying to get her to defend the choice, in a way he did not for anyone else last week. I thought she sang it well, but her personality came across too bland perhaps. Grade: B+

6. Skyler Laine- “Stay With Me”

I do not think there has ever been a voice like her on the show before. Her kind of Reba McIntyre-ish gravelly country is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but many will love it. This week, I thought Skyler sounded ok but it seemed a little rough. She really got into her performance though, almost in a manic way. The judges liked it though, comparing her to Tina Turner. If the proud hunting Skyler lasts a while in the competition, I wonder if PETA will protest her. Grade: B

  1. Baylie Brown- “Amazed”

The next country girl's Idol journey began way back in Season 6, when she was turned away during Hollywood week as a 16 year old. The now 21 year old blonde looked like an early front-runner this season, with a snippet from her audition being featured on Fox commercials for the upcoming Idol season. However, after waiting all these years for that elusive live performance, things did not turn out the way Baylie must have planned. She looked really nervous (and would blame the tightness of her dress) and sounded pretty shaky for most of the song. The very end was more acceptable. Thus, singing poorly was bad news, and she was left to just hope that maybe the offending tight dress could get her some votes at least. Grade: C

  1. Hollie Cavanaugh- “Reflection”

Yet another name from recent Idol past among those who were cut just short before they got to the voting rounds, she had not been seen much thus far this season and nothing had previously been mentioned about how the judges (or producers really) cut her last year.

With another year of experience under her belt though, Hollie (not to be confused with fellow blondes Hallie or Haley) came out with something to prove, and while it may be dangerous to sing a Christina Aguilera ballad as she did, managed to show off impressive vocal prowess. Until it is addressed, some people may wonder why the young Texan has a slight British accent when she speaks (I think I remember she is originally from there), but if this past week is a sign of things to come, Hollie is going to be one of this season's contenders and she was done a great favor last year by being cut when she was. Grade: B+

  1. Haley Johnsen- “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”

The judges and much of America probably hated this, but I will actually give Haley credit for doing something a bit out of the box on a well-known song that had never been done on Idol before. Of course, it would have been a bad idea to completely try to imitate Annie Lennox, but Haley's interpretation of the song was a good deal more dramatic and theatrical than anything else that had been seen that evening, as she needed to differentiate herself from fellow blondes Hollie and Hallie (not to mention Baylie), so while the vocals may have gone off the rails at times, I actually did not hate it at first listen. Grade: B

  1. Shannon Magrane- “Go Light Your World”

She is just 16 years old and is already an imposing six feet tall (almost all these chicks seem to tower over Seacrest this season), so comparisons had already been made to previous semi-finalist Ayla Brown. I guess that means that Shannon's father, former MLB pitcher Joe Magrane can get elected to the U.S. Senate in a few years.

Many people viewed Shannon as likely fodder this season, and while she will have a long road ahead of her, the performance she gave this week reminded me more of Jordin Sparks. That is not to say that Shannon is likely to win, but she can clearly sing and has come across as pretty likable and “normal”. I have no idea what the inspirational song she sang was, but she pulled it off, and with the long white Prom dress, it looked like she was already in the middle of “Idol Gives Back.” On results night though, she teared up talking about her past struggles (interesting for the daughter of a wealthy ex-pro athlete, which Miss Sparks also was ), so I would maybe advise her to sort of avoid emotional displays like that, at least for now. Grade: B+

11. Jessica Sanchez- “Love You I Do”

Just 16 years old, she has apparently already sang live on television on “America's Got Talent” and while her audition on Idol was not even shown, she has to be considered a major front-runner to take the title this year. All things considered, she is probably the most talented singer in the entire competition. It was interesting that Seacrest and the producers played up the angle of Jessica being under the weather and uncertain about her performance on Wednesday, but after she finished singing, the consensus was that she nailed it.

Jessica is reportedly both Filipino and Mexican, key to some important Idol voting constituencies perhaps, especially in a season where racial and ethnic diversity is not that apparent among the girls. Additionally, her musical style and voice may appeal to those who are bemoaning the lack of an African-American “diva.” Based on her voice and personality, in which she does not appear like she is trying to be “America's Sweetheart”, I think Jessica will last a lot longer than last season's Filipino teenager and America's Got Talent alum Thia Megia. Grade: A-

  1. Elise Testone- “One and Only”

For starters, I am curious as to why this Jersey girl wound up living in Charleston, South Carolina. A bit older and more experienced than the other girls, Elise should be considered one of the more talented singers this season, and for some reason I think of her as someone I could see in drug rehab one day, which is probably a good thing for young ladies trying to break into the music biz.

On Wednesday, she sang the exact same Adele song as Jen Hirsh did (wonder what that all involved backstage), but is believed to have pulled it off more credibly. Elise was also the only female to attempt to play an instrument in this round as she began her song at the piano. All in all, it was a worthy pimp spot. Grade: A-

Ranking them vocally in increasing vocal success:

12. Baylie Brown
11. Chelsea Sorrell
10. Brielle Von Hugel
9. Skylar Laine
8. Haley Johnsen
7. Jen Hirsh
6 Erika Van Pelt
5. Hallie Day
4. Shannon Magrane
3. Hollie Cavanaugh
2. Jessica Sanchez
1. Elise Testone

After I watched the show, I looked at my Top 4 and figured that they all would be voted in. Instead of Hallie Day in 5th though, I predicted that Skylar Laine would be voted into the Finals.

I guess you will all just have to take my word for that because that turned out to be a pretty good set of predictions. Tomorrow, I will wrap up this Top 25 review by posting a recap of who made it through to the Finals and the always dramatic “Sing For Your Life” wildcard performances, where I also was able to psychically excel, without the aid of spoilers.