Monday, March 12, 2012

American Idol Top 13 Week

Having watched the performances live on Wednesday and being too busy to have the chance to go back and review them again for a second time, my memory of what I saw may not be stellar, but as mentioned, I did find it an extremely strong lineup and will just have to go with some top of the head recollections. The boys all sang Stevie Wonder and the girls paid homage to the late Whitney Houston, despite the fact that if she had been alive, Randy Jackson would have warned them against doing so.

1. Joshua Ledet- “I Wish”

Nobody wants to go first, but he got the program off to a fast start. To me, sounded uncannily like Stevie Wonder for the first part of the song and then was able to put a bit more of an original imprint on the song. It was an impressive vocal and he looked quite at ease performing to the crowd on stage. In the weeks that follow, will Joshua be able to show more nuance and variety though? Grade: A-

2. Elise Testone- “I'm Your Baby Tonight”

One of those whom I had pegged as one of the best in the competition had a more different go of it this past week and may very well have been the lowest vote getter. She changed her song from “Greatest Love of All” to the more upbeat Whitney number, but maybe that was a bit of a mistake. Elise did the best she could with it, but this was just not the right kind of a song for her and I agreed with the Randy Jackson comment that she seemed to be “battling” it throughout. It did not appear easy for her to be able to stay true to the song while also trying to adapt it to her style. Grade: B

3. Jermaine Jones- “Knocks Me Off My Feet”

Well, he certainly sang it better than Sanjaya at least. He is not everybody's musical cup of tea and received a mix response this week from the judges as well, but for variety sake, I sort of appreciate his rich, baritone voice. It's not ever going to “move” me, but like Scotty McCreery last year, I can acknowledge Jermaine's typical technical vocal purity. He has also seemed like a pretty nice guy in these shows, although he found a way to come across as a bit of a diva after receiving criticism on results night. I do not know if he can adapt to other styles if called to, but may be eliminated before he has to anyway. Grade: B+

4. Erika Van Pelt- “I Believe in You and Me”

At first glance, one might think that as good of a singer as she is, she may struggle to take on a big Whitney ballad. However, I think Erika absolutely delivered and was probably better than the Jennifer Hudson version of this song from several years ago (which one can see often as part of her Weight Watchers ad.) Erika, who impressively sang Heart and was superb on Lady Gaga last week, did equally as well with her song choice this week, and has the kind of “regular” appeal that might win her votes for quite some time. Grade: A-

5. Colton Dixon- “Lately”

Among all contestants, he felt the need to most change up the arrangement and style of his song and that was probably a good idea, although Colton is coming across to me as a less successful David Cook. As mentioned by the judges, I thought he was a bit shaky in the verses, but a lot better as he powered through the chorus. He can certainly afford to be middle of the road in a strong field at least for a little while longer. Grade: B

6. Shannon Magrane- “I Have Nothing”

Whitney Houston, we have a problem. (Rimshot). It's not that I think Shannon was horrible. In fact, I think she probably sang this ultimate diva ballad about as well as half of American Idol female finalists ever could have through 11 seasons, but still, she was way too ambitious by picking this. She has real talent and in a few years, and with a lot less nerves, she could be significantly improved on it, but this was a hard one to totally handle for her voice and there were some off moments. My initial grade was probably being generous, perhaps out of sympathy. It would have been far better for Shannon to play to her youthful side with some earlier Whitney and done something up tempo and perhaps “easier” such as “How Will I Know.” I noticed that she seemed to have a bible quote bracelet on as she was singing. Shrewd technique there. Grade: B-

7. DeAndre Brackensick- “Master Blaster”

This was the one song of the night that I do not think I have really heard before, and while DeAndre gave a decent performance, I am sure it paled vocally to Stevie. The people I was watching with remarked that they could not understand a word he was singing, but I think it was probably a good choice for his style and since so many will love his dancing ability and the way he whips his hair back and forth, (when it is not in a pony tail), he is going to likely make it into the Top 10 at least. Grade: B

8. Skylar Laine- “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”

It was going to be interesting to see what an old school country girl could do on an R&B/Pop ballad like this. From what I remember, I thought she was maybe just ok for the beginning of it, but there was one impressive chorus where she really just let loose and belted it out. That one moment probably had a powerful impact for many, and I think she is a contender to go very deep into the season. Grade: B

9. Heejun Han- “All In Love Is Fair”

This song has been done before on Idol and I find it kind of boring, which is the way I viewed Heejan's vocals on it as well. That is contrast to his very funny deadpan humor, which is his saving grace on the competition. I think he has a nice tone to his voice, and I believe he was improved over last week, but I just do not know if he has the overall vocal talent of the other Finalists. Grade: B-

10. Hollie Cavanagh- “All the Man That I Need”

For the second week in a row, young Hollie went with a ballad that calls for big notes, and while she will eventually need to change things up, it probably played to her strength. She got better as the song progressed and was impressively able to belt out the chorus. It is tough for me to see her being voted out too early this season, but that's the kind of thing that myself and many others were saying about Pia Toscano last year. Grade: B+

11. Jeremy Rosado- “Ribbon In the Sky”

Early on in the very first season of American Idol, eventual runner up Justin Guarini sang this song and for some reason, Jeremy's smooth voice reminds me much of him. That would have probably served Jeremy well in Season 1, but a decade later, he just did not seem to be what the producers, judges, or America was looking for. While it might not have been an exciting performance, and while Jeremy may lack “star quality”, I still found it very good vocally. Grade: B

12. Jessica Sanchez- “I Will Always Love You”

Again, I have only thus far watched this performance once, but seeing it live and anticipating what I knew the reaction from the judges would be, etc., it felt like one of the select few best performances in American Idol history. I guess singing Whitney's “signature song” so close to her passing was bound to have an emotional impact on many people. Jessica's vocal style is a lot like Houston's, and it did seem perhaps as if she were trying to copy her version of the song note for note. So perhaps a bit karaoke, but excellent karaoke if that were the case. I can certainly overlook a lack of orginiality if Jessica is going to sound that good week in and week out. She clearly is the one to beat at this point this season, although that has been more of a curse than a blessing in AI history. Grade: A

13. Phillip Phillips- “Superstition”

First of all, I hope “P2” has gotten over those kidney stones by now. He extends a three season streak of one of the supposed frontrunners having to be hospitalized the week of their second live performance. The only contestant to play an instrument this week, the guitar playing Phillip sounded decent enough on a song that has been done at least once or twice on Idol before, but following Jessica's moment, felt a bit anti-climactic and not very deserving of the pimp spot. As he was singing this song, I kept trying to think where I had heard him sing it exactly the same way before and I guess it was the song he first sang to the judges during his audition. Grade: B

Rankings as first posted on Wednesday night:

13. Shannon Magrane
12. Heejun Han
11. Elise Testone
10. DeAndre Brackensick
9. Colton Dixon
8. Phillip Phillips
7. Skylar Laine
6. Jeremy Rosado
5. Jermaine Jones
4. Hollie Cavanagh
3. Erika Van Pelt
2. Joshua Ledet
1. Jessica Sanchez

The rule change for the week was that the lowest vote getting guy and girl would be announced and the judges would vote one off X-Factor style.

Who should have been eliminated: Shannon Magrane

Who I predicted would be eliminated: Jeremy Rosado

Who was eliminated: Jeremy Rosado

As I anticipated, Jeremy and Elise were the two in jeopardy, and while I think she has more potential to get critical acclaim this season, I thought he was stronger on the night. But alas, I knew what would happen, and there were no sing for your life show-offs, and the decision was apparently unanimous as nice guy Jeremy was the first to say goodbye. It was a great opportunity for him, and I think his talent was maybe a bit under-recognized, but show business and the machinations of the American Idol Machine can be a tough business.

This week, it will be “Songs from the Year You Were Born”, which will be a perfect way to make me feel older than I should.