Wednesday, February 20, 2013

American Idol Top 40- Group A Females

So much was different for me back in May, when I last watched and blogged about an American Idol competition show, but I like the fact that the diversion that is this show is now back. I am looking forward to what could be an interesting season, especially since all the other singing shows, such as X Factor and The Voice, fail to live up to the original premise and tradition as Idol.

As has been the case in recent seasons though, changes are afoot, with new judges, new formats, and new twists. While it is likely to change soon enough, I am sort of enjoying the feedback that Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban are bringing, and certainly cannot argue with the musical pedigree of Mariah Carey.  Also, it just would not be the same show I suppose without Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest. So, welcome back American Idol. I am sure you really want a female winner this year, so good luck with that. As I have been doing for several years, I will do my best to rank the performances in each of the shows and offer some disjointed thoughts.

Tonight, we saw ten out of the twenty females who are still alive sing on stage in Las Vegas for the judges and a studio audience. Tomorrow night, ten males will perform. These performances were pre-recorded, but I did not seek out any spoilers as to what happened. After the singing, the audience was apparently not sent home, so after the judges made their advancements and cuts in this "sudden death round", I imagine the results might have leaked to the internet, though I did not see them. I can also believe that the four judges aside, the opinions of Idol producers like Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were really all that mattered.

There was some good talent shown tonight, despite some unfamiliar songs to me, and even if there may not have been a ton of drama as to which singers would advance and which would see their journeys end. Hopefully, next week's group of girls will be grouped together in a fair manner, so that we do not have to look back in regret at about three singers this week who were cut, but probably still had potential.

So, let's get to the performances, no letter grades this year, that takes too much thought:

1. Jenny Beth Willis- "Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love"

Thank you Google for helping me learn what this song was called and for informing me that it belongs to Trisha Yearwood. As the first performance of the season, in the largest group of semifinalists ever, it seems as if she will be cannon fodder right off the bat. I do not recall seeing her featured in any of the audition episodes up to this point and I wonder if Jenny Beth Willis may be related to Peter Tom Willis, an unknown former Chicago Bears Quarterback.

Anyways, I suppose she gave a somewhat credible country performance, but something felt missing vocally and there definitely was not much star power present, so I knew that the first of several High School girls  would be going home at the end of the evening. She will not ever be able to try out for Idol again, but at least she got to sing a full song on television.

2. Tenna Torres- "Soulmate"

Fifteen years ago, this New Yorker sang for Mariah Carey at some sort of camp named after her, but now Tenna is 28 and this is probably her last chance to make it in the music industry.

Vocally, she was pretty good on a song I had never heard before, while walking a line between impressing on the runs and trying to a little too much with the song. The judges really liked her vocals, but Nicki echoed what I had said, when I noted how ridiculous Tenna's wig was. Ms. Minaj said that the contestant should lose the hair, and it would have been a perfect opportunity for Tenna just to snatch that wig off and throw it into the Mirage audience, demonstrating that what happens in Vegas can stay in Vegas.

3. Adriana Latonio- "Ain't No Way"

The next contestant is just 17 and the first contestant from Alaska to ever make it this far. I bet Sarah Palin can relate in a way. Also, when asked by Nicki Minaj, she confirmed she was Filipino, which is certain to garner her a lot of votes (perhaps even from outside the U.S.) should she make it to the Finals.

This was another song I did not know and Adriana was another contestant I really did not remember being shown on any of the previous episodes this season, so I was really pleasantly surprised to hear her sing so well. She gave a vocally mature and confident performance that I think delivered quite an impact and while it is still early, I can see her being a force to be reckoned with this season

4. Brandy Hotard- "Anymore"

Brandy is 26 years old and is a psych nurse, but if this singing thing does not work out, I can see her perhaps putting her looks and camera poise to use as a tv news personality or something like that. She may need to change the unfortunate last name however.

Here was another country song that I did not know, and I think the results were mixed. On the low notes, I thought Brandy sounded pretty good, but I also think she struggled to hit some of the bigger ones in the song and those sounded a bit off key to my untrained ears. The judges probably had a relevant point in saying that she did not appear to connect emotionally to the song as well as she could have, smiling in spite of the lyrical content, and that was a bit "pageanty."

5.  Shubha Vedula- "Born This Way"

Finally, a song I know, and one song by a contestant I definitely remember from her audition and Hollywood Week. Besides the way that Randy was perhaps a bit buffoonish and ethnically insensitive by making fun of her melodious name, I remember that this 17 year old could really sing and had a powerful voice reminiscent of Christina Aguilera. I figured her for being one of the early frontrunners this season for the girls, and also would not have been surprised had she simply returned to the stage as "Shubha."

This was perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the night. She started off seated and playing the piano, the only contestant to attempt to play an instrument tonight, and sang a slowed down acoustic version of Lady Gaga's number one hit. I knew right away though that she would be quick to stand up and speed up the tempo. That is what happened, and the performance started going downhill fast. She was just attempting to show off too much in a brief time and the vocals suffered for it. The judges would later remark exactly what I had been thinking in that if she had stayed with the piano based low-key version, it might have been much better. Also, it seems like she might have changed the lyrics around a bit to what is considered to be a gay empowerment anthem, and perhaps that was to the chagrin of a clear majority of the Top 20 males that the Idol producers have advanced this season.

6. Kamaria Ousley- "Mr. Know-It-All"

Has Kelly Clarkson ever dedicated this song of hers to the creepy Clive Davis, whom she really seems to hate? I digress. Anyways, Kamaria is from Oakland and has sang backup for P. Diddy and others. I do not remember seeing her on the show previously this season, so I wonder what she might have done that was good enough to have advanced to the semifinals.

This was not a good performance for her, whether she was producer fodder or not. Vocally, it seemed out of tune and her voice just had a weird tone to it. It was obvious to everyone that she would not be staying and certainly would have been obvious to her as well during the judge's comments. To her credit, she certainly seemed professional and classy in taking all the criticism in, both after her song, and when she was called out at the end to be formally dismissed.

7. Kree Harrison- "Up to the Mountain"

Hailing from Nashville, Kree has a bit of a sad backstory and it was also interesting to me tonight that she had seemingly gone out of her way to be about as casually (but conservatively) dressed as any Idol female has in several seasons. I sort of like that she dared to be different in that way. Something about her entire vibe is a bit unlike any of the other girls who appeared in this performance night, so maybe she is just one of the "true artist" types. I also like that her fanbase is apparently going to called the "Kreepers."

Kree was very good during last week's Hollywood episode and I thought was really impressive tonight, while I also note that this was supposed to be Crystal Bowersox's "winning single" a few years back, and it reminded me of when she did it on the show. Nonetheless, Kree gave a very strong vocal performance, mixing country and gospel and while some people might have thought it started off a little boring initially, she really got into it by the end and poured in a lot of emotion. I definitely look forward to seeing what else Kree can deliver in future weeks.

8. Angela Miller- "Nobody's Perfect"

Hailing from Massachusetts, Angela sort of looks like she could be a Kennedy. Perhaps it is the teeth. Specifically, she seems to resemble one of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Maria Shriver daughters. While it is doubtful that anybody from the Bay State can win any sort of national voting competition, Angela gained a lot of notice last week in on the Hollywood episode where she impressed on a song she claimed to have written herself. I could certainly see it as possible that she might be one of the producers' "chosen ones" this season.

Taking the title of her song into account, I do not think her vocals were quite perfect, but they were still very good and she gave a very strong and determined performance that I think will have impressed many people. Watching something like this just makes me realize how the females on Idol (at least at the stage in the competition) are able to impress just by their voices, and without the need for all the background onstage hoopla like we typically saw on Simon Cowell's X-Factor.  Another one of the younger females this season, Angela is probably going to be around a while and is one to watch.

9. Isabelle- "God Bless the Child"

Coming at us next, with just one name is "Isabelle." Apparently, that is her middle name. She auditioned with her real full name I believe, but is now apparently a big enough star to just need require name. I also misheard her in what I initially thought was a reference  to herself in the third person at some point in this evening's broadcast, so it seemed as if there may have been a bit of an ego present. She has talent though, and perhaps feels as if she is a totally different person after losing a whole bunch of weight after High School and dying her hair blonde.

I do not really like this song and part of me wanted to not like this performance, but as it went on, she really was quite good, and ended on a strong note. While I wondered if it would come across to the public as a bit too old fashioned, there is no doubt that she has a powerful and well-trained voice. In retrospect, it might have just been the song choice itself that did her in.

10. Amber Holcomb- "My Funny Valentine"

Just one singer left, and Amber was another one I do not remember from auditions or Hollywood (either this season or last) so with five contestants seeming to have made strong cases to move on, I sort of expected this to be one of the underwhelming performances of the night, despite being in the pimp spot position.

The first few notes seemed a little rough to me, but Amber got a lot better as this song went on. While it was not jumping out as incredible to me, especially since this other old fashioned standard has been done on the show before, there is no doubting that Amber had a lot of talent and impressed the judges. Watching it a second time made me appreciate the vocal performance a bit more. I would love to hear what she can do with something more current. Perhaps, she was placed in this spot as the producers as a potential sleeper contender.

Raking them worst to best:

10. Kamaria Ousley
9. Jenny Beth Willis
8. Shubha Vedula
7. Brandy Hotard
6. Tenna Torres
5. Amber Holcomb
4. Angela Miller
3. Isabelle
2. Kree Harrison
1. Adriana Latonio

I thought that six of these ladies definitely were at least a step above what I had as the bottom four and it would be a shame that one would not advance. The judges' decisions would be coming up right after the break and while four spots were a given, I wondered what would happen with the final stool. I envisioned a controversial and combative deadlock, leaving it up to Jimmy Iovine to break the tie and send someone home in an unpopular decision. However, that would not be needed as the judges were able to reach consensus on each individual singer. During the brief time I had to make a "prediction", I just decided that that they would go along with what I had as my top five, although I had a hunch Isabelle could be in danger.

Who should have been eliminated: Kamaria Ousley, Jenny Beth Willis, Shubha Vedula, Brandy Hotard, Tenna Torres.
Who I "predicted" would have been eliminated by the judges: Kamaria Ousley, Jenny Beth Willis, Shubha Vedula, Brandy Hotard, Tenna Torres.
Who was eliminated by the judges: Kamaria Ousley, Jenny Beth Willis, Shubha Vedula, Brandy Hotard, Isabelle

Once Isabelle was sent home by the judges, in what I think was an unfortunate, but not completely tragic decision, there really was zero drama about who else would make it. Some really talented singers have now advanced, but Isabelle has a right to feel a bit bummed by the result. While Tenna Torres was quite good this evening, hopefully, she can be even better next time to justify her spot in the Top 20.

My review of Thursday night's Idol performances and results, involving the first ten guys will be posted sometime before the end of the weekend.