Monday, March 19, 2012

American Idol Top 11 Week

I need to make this kind of quick. These American Idol updates are not really a priority for me this month, but I still want to do it.

Looking back now, I wonder if the elimination of Jermaine Jones was as rumored a “set-up”, produced for television drama all along. Last week, I talked about the schedule and how there would have to be a double elimination week. To my surprise, that is indeed what happened here. As Idol fans will know, Jermaine was disqualified for being less than forthcoming about recent law enforcement issues. That has not really happened to an Idol contestant since Season Two's Corey Clark. We saw a clip of Jermaine rehearasing his song, and he sounded pretty good on whatever it was from some sort of Disney movie or something, but then the British producers Nigel and Ken sat down with him to tell him he was off the show. We never really did hear much of an explanation from Jermaine on air, and I wonder if the entire clip came off as a tad bit “racist” to some of the politically correct crowd out there.

So Jermaine did not sing live this past week, but if he had, he probably would have been likely to have been voted off this week anyway. Based on who was left in the competiton, he was unlikely to have lasted more than a couple more weeks. On Wednesday night, the new Top 11 took the stage to sing songs from the year they were born (or songs selected for them by Jimmy Iovine.)

1. Phillip Phillips- “Hard to Handle”

Let's see how well I remember these performances nearly a week later. I was struck first by the fact that I remember when this song came out so well, and it's hard to believe P2 was just being born. Much was made over the painful kindey stone issue he was having and how somehow he had just had surgery but was still going to sing. The details of that seem pretty murky to me though as to just what kind of surgery it might have been and when.

The mentor for the kids last week though was, who had done the honors several times last year. In honor of Phillip's medical condition, perhaps he could have introducted himself to the mentor as phill.i.p. Anyways, I was somewhat surprised that Phillip did not use a guitar this week and while he did decent enough on the number, it felt a bit disjointed to me. Perhaps, he can be given a pass though if he was under all that pain from the stones. Grade: B-

2. Jessica Sanchez- “Turn the Beat Around”

This has to be the first example of an older song that was merely covered the year a contestant was born. In retrospect, we can salute front-runner Jessica from taking a bit of a risk and not singing a ballad, as so many others would do on the evening. In order to stand a chance of winning, Jessica definietly needs to do what Pia Toscano failed, and show some musical diversity. So, it is clear that is what Jessica intended early on. While she obviously has a great voice, this was not a great song for her to do, and as mentioned on results night, she might have fallen off the rails a bit when she attempted a scream in the song, which would go on to mess up her rhythm, with the fast pace lyrics that were needed. Grade: B

3. Heejun Han- “Right Here Waiting”

Out of all 1989 songs, this one seemed like the most obvious to predict that Heejun would attempt. It also comes across to me as one that is probably a not very difficult one for a singer to tackle. The first few notes I thought started out decently, as Heejun has a very nice, pure tone. Then, it got a bit breathy and the same kinds of technical issues were apparent. He might be the wittiest guy on the show, but he is certainly not the best singer and it's hard to really imagine how he would sound on anything other than a ballad Grade C+

4. Elise Testone- “Let's Stay Together”

First of all, how the heck is this a song from 1983, when “old lady” Elise was born? This Al Green tune came out about 1971. I am not sure what the rationale wound up being, but that distracted me throughout the entire segment, as did the AI producer choice to transpose Elise with Barack Obama's recent attempt at a couple lines from the song at a fundraiser. Way to polarize her performance before she sang one note.

Anyways, those side issues notwithstanding, I thought Elise sounded pretty decent though days later, I am finding it harder to give a specific reason why. Grade: B+

5. DeAndre Brackensick- “Endless Love”

First, he planned to sing Elton John's “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” before Jimmy basically forced him to do this song which was most famously done in the early 80's, but was apparently re-made the year DeAndre was born. This is another one thought I thought started off pleasant and then it just got pretty boring and DeAndrew was looking less than pleased with himself. The talk afterwards, though he never confirmed it in so many words, was that he really did not want to do this song, but got rolled by the big evil music mogul Jimmy. Grade: C+

6. Shannon Magrane- "One Sweet Day"

Oh really Shannon? After last week's misguided attempt at Whitney Houston, you are going to try a Mariah Carey song? I really hate this song by the way, but yes, 1995 was horrible for music. Shannon might not have had made all the errors as the week before, but this still was the wrong kind of song for her. She needed to at least attempt to do what Jessica did and sing something youthful and uptempo. Instead, this was just a bit like decent karaoke. Grade: C+

7. Colton Dixon- “Broken Heart”

I certainly remember White Lion from the Hair Metal glory days but I am not sure I remember this song. I wonder how Colton came to know of it or decide to do it. It was an interesting and probably smart selection, as it was so unknown, it would feel like an original vibe, on a night when so many others could possibly be compared to the karaoke thing. I thought it started off extremely well, but then kind of fell apart for Colton on the chorus, when he tried to hit some more powerful notes. I have seen it written, and I can agree, that his voice sounds a lot like a Jonas Brother vocally at times. That is probably not a good thing. J-Lo and Randy Jackson seemed to like it though, while legendary Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, who was having an unusually candid and critical evening, seemed to really dislike it, to the surprise of many. Based on a critique given as well to James Durbin last year, I have a hunch that Steven does not like any attempts to sing the songs of those who might have once been competing on the Hard Rock charts with Aerosmith. Grade: B

8. Erika Van Pelt- “Heaven”

She sang the Bryan Adams song, not to be confused with the Warrant tune of the same name, and it is indeed a great song and I really think that Erika has a great voice. However, the changes that she worked out on the arrangement with Jimmy were not good and it took away from the performance's effectiveness. I would have loved to have heard her just sing the song the original way. The fact that she is a female would have taken some from any copy-cat critiques. While I feel like it was a strong showing, the changes made to the melody of the song distracted me too much. Grade: B+

9. Skyler Laine- “Love Sneakin' Up on You”

She stood her ground against Jimmy who wanted to change her song, which I appreciated. I thought her take on this Bonnie Raitt number might have been a bit boring, but Skyler impressed me by making it sound original and interesting. I cannot really recall a whole lot about it, but I remember thinking she did a very good job at what she wanted to do, and looked like a natural performer on stage. Grade: B+

10. Joshua Ledet- “When A Man Loves a Woman”

Before he sang, Seacrest rolled out a whole bunch of crawfish, which seemed to be a bit unfair to Joshua, but he reacted in a totally non-plussed manner. I think he had a lot of confidence in what he was about to do and knew he would be raved on for it. I have to agree that it was an extremely strong vocal performance. J-Lo said it was the best thing she had ever seen on American Idol, and I think it at least deserves to be in the Top 20 through all the seasons.The range, control, and power demonstrated i the song were definitely worthy of praise. My mind wondered what last season's Jacob Lusk was thinking as he watched.

All that being said, I just see no way the immensely talented Joshua wins or even comes close. There might be some demographic/cultural/personality factors in play, but beyond that, Joshua is just a great old-time kind of singer. As someone who is judging just on the vocals, I can appreciate that and want him to do well, but I do not think he is going to motivate a whole lot of young kids or white middle aged cougars to pick up the phones and vote for him though. People like my parents will likely love him almost every week though. Grade: A

11. Hollie Cavanagh- “The Power of Love”

She sang the Celine Dion song and not the Huey Lewis version, as someone did a couple years ago. So, of coure that meant another ballad for the big voiced, but petite Hollie, and once again, I think she was very good indeed in this pimp slot performance. She has some really impressive pipes and looks like she is definitely not lacking in self-confidence or ambition. That will probably continue to keep her around for a while, but if she only sings ballads, the Pia Toscano question will come into play. Last week, Jessica took a risk in trying to do something different to mixed results, and Hollie is going to need to sing something uptempo soon as well. Grade: B+

From worst to best:

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

Wednesday was the day for results, and while I thought everyone would be safe and the votes would carry over to combine with the upcoming week, Idol had their opportunity to lose two in one week, getting their Top 10, who will be going on tour. Very bad news in the bank account for the 11th place finisher. That person got to go on tour last year.

To my complete unamazement though, three females made up the bottom three, and as I predicted, the lowest vote getter was Shannon.

We found out unfortuantely that the “save” rule was still in play and Shannon had the pointless task of singing for her life in the competition. She reprised “One Sweet Day”, which of course got her in the position she was in. Not sure, if she had to sing that song for the save, as Season 9 kids had to in that circumstance or if she had other options. Nonetheless, it was obvious they would not save her, unless it was a situation where they were going to call a last minute mulligan on the whole week. Shannon started off ok, but then lost speed, similar to how she did the night before. Grade: C+

Who should have been eliminated, if someone actually was going to be: Heejun Han

Who I predicted would be eliminated if it came to that: Shannon Magrane

Who was eliminated: Shannon Magrane

Thus it was over and the daughter of a former big league pitcher struck out and will be headed back to High School. I still think she has real vocal talent, but while she came across as “normal” the first week of the competition, she then seemed a bit too “entitled” in the next two weeks. Somehow, I think she will be ok though in whatever she winds up doing. She sort of looks like a very young Erin Andrews, and perhaps once she hits her 20s, we can see her as one of those sideline reporters somewhere.