Wednesday, March 13, 2013

American Idol Top 10

Tonight, the Season 12 finalists performed for the public's vote for the first time, and the theme was the songs of the previous 11 Idol winners. They were able to sing something that the past champs had done on the show during their season (even if it was not exactly considered one of their most memorable performances) or in their post-Idol career. Of course, only two former Idol winners have really been able to achieve mainstream success.

I am going to try to recap the show, which I watched live a few hours ago, without the aid of going back and seeing or hearing the performances again, so this may be brief, but at least I will be on time in getting this posted. That would be in contrast to Nicki Minaj, who somehow was late to the show and missed the entire first segment and singer altogether. When she did finally make it to the table, she had sunglasses on and what looked like a black hooded robe, which looked like it could have been some sort of tribute to the first ever Jesuit Pope, who was chosen today. At one other point in the show, the judges appeared to be engulfed with white smoke, which seemed to fit in with the theme of the day.

Ten songs in two hours equals a lot of commercials.

1. Curtis Finch Jr.- "I Believe"

This was really sort of a predictable song choice for him. Curtis is definitely not the first Idol contestant to attempt to cover the winning single of Fantasia several years ago. Everybody who has tried it before has always fallen far short of matching the impact and emotions of the moment when Fantasia performed it. I sort of would have liked to hear Zoanette Johnson's version though.

Curtis is a talented gospel singer, and of course this performance had the requisite choir of backup singers, etc, but it really seemed flat to me. Some of his vocal choices did not sound pleasant to my ear and if you ask me, Curtis approached this all far too confidently. Sure, he can maybe do what he does for a few weeks, and hope to be noticed by the Gospel music community for a career after the show, but if the types of songs he has done thus far on the broadcasts are all that he is capable of, he is not going to be around that much longer anyway. A ton of Idol junkies really seem to hate him, both musically and personally.

2. Janelle Arthur- "Gone"

I had pegged Janelle for being likely to do a Carrie Underwood song, but instead she did one of Scotty McCreery's most acclaimed performances from just a couple seasons ago. It was a good choice for her to do something uptempo as opposed to another ballad, but vocally, I thought this was a disappointment.

Janelle comes across as such a nice and bubbly person and thus it was hard for her to really seem credible on a song where the lyrics dictated she was supposed to be angry. The first few moments of the performance indicated some potential for it, but it never really seemed to go anywhere and Janelle appeared to very much out of her comfort zone while attempting to sing some notes.

3. Devin Velez- "Temporary Home"

It was the young man from Chicago who was the first to take on a Carrie Underwood song; this one being one of her recent numbers, which I did not happen to be too familiar with. This week, Devin deviated from his previous practice of singing half of a song in Spanish, missing out on an opportunity to capitalize on the hype surrounding Pope Francis from Latin America. Devin could have sang bits in Italian and Latin as well. Seriously, it's good he took a week off from the Espanol.

Technically, Devin made less mistakes than the first two performers, and it started off sounding nice, but then it just felt a bit boring and "safe."  Of all the guys left in the competition, I think he certainly has one of the better voices, but he still needs to work to have a really standout performance. Eventually, he is going to have to do something uptempo. At this point in the show, I had been underwhelmed by everything and hoping that things would soon get better.

4.  Angie Miller- "I Surrender"

This was a standing ovation worthy cover done by Kelly Clarkson back in Season 1 and if the comparison is to that, Angie fell far short. However, luckily for Angie, she just has to be compared to this seasons' contestants, and at least compared to the three who had gone before her, this was extremely good in comparison, so she got a standing ovation as well. Her outfit was a bit interesting too, and not exactly one someone would associate for what has been mainly a Christian singer thus far.

To be certain, Angie is a very talented singer and an extremely engaging performer, even when she is not playing the piano. I do not necessarily agree with Jimmy Iovine that she is performing like a beauty pageant contestant, even though Nicki would compliment the way that Angie walked in heels. The start of this song felt a bit restrained in the bigger notes, which is in contrast to what Kelly once did, but Angie saved it all for a big vocal conclusion at the end. It was good, but I do not know if she has a strong enough voice to try to compete with some of the previous big voice Idol divas. Jessica Sanchez, from last season,  probably could have nailed this song.

5.  Paul Jolley- "Amazed"

Last week, after getting voted into the Top 10, Paul somewhat unwisely took the stage to perform "Alone", which could have fit the category as that was something Carrie Underwood did in her season. Maybe he had been considering that for this theme week if he had advanced before deciding against it. Instead, he picked a better song for himself and sang something by Lonestar, which has previously been done by many Idol contestants, including former winner Scotty McCreery.

In this talk with Paul, Jimmy advised him to be less "dramatic" when he sings, which sounds to me like Jimmy was really asking him to be less gay. There was some weird banter with the judges after the performance as well with Nicki continuing to cross the appropriate boundaries for family viewing hour. As for the song? Paul sounded pretty good, although it was clear he was trying to hold back and play it safe in parts. Maybe that was the appropriate strategy for him though in this early voting round.

6. Candice Glover- "I Who Have Nothing"

All season, it has been hard to believe she got cut in Las Vegas last year, but she has been looking far improved and her voice has been stellar on everything she has done this season from the get-go.

Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks had a breakthrough performance with this older song during her season, and a few years later, Haley Reinhart sang a somewhat different styled version which the judges gave a standing ovation to. What Candice did tonight was probably better than both of those.

She made the song her own, and even made it seem current and relevant, all while delivering near flawless vocals and on-point emotion. It was the performance of the season thus far and when she was done, Candice had a well deserved look of triumph on her face. She seemed so genuinely overwhelmed with emotion last Thursday after making it through to the Top 10, but it was definitely deserved and the more she is shown, the more likeable I think she is coming across and the easier it will be for people to root for her.

7.  Lazaro Arbos- "Breakaway"

First, let me say, that I thought Lazaro sounded decent when he sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on Thursday's Results Show. However, those sort of performances seem to be the exception for him this season.

Let us be honest. He has been getting praised, because people are amazed at the way that someone who struggles so mightily at times just to get words out in speaking can sing without stuttering, and with a nice pleasant tone to his voice. However, if Lazaro did not stutter, he would have been cut from this competition a long time ago.

Tonight, Lazaro came out looking scared to death, sweating heavily again, and just was not very good.  This post-Idol Kelly Clarkson hit was just not a good choice for him, even if he was able to relate to the lyrical content.  Is Naples, Florida considered a small town though?

Yes, he can sing far better than he speaks, and for his sake, I really wish something could be done to help him overcome that stuttering issue, but whatever issues he has is also adversely affecting him in his singing, and he is just not in the same league as some of the Finalists. Nonetheless, he probably is not going anywhere, as poor vulnerable Lazaro brings out the maternal instincts in so many women who will be voting to save him.

8. Kree Harrison- "Crying"

I think this song is a bit on the boring side and thought that as well back when Carrie Underwood sang it on Idol. It is hard though not to want to listen to Kree sing anything thus far this season though.

In addition to her always on-point vocals, she is looking more like a potential "star" since her first performance and seems a lot more confident as well. She certainly seems experienced and seasoned at performing. While it may not be my favorite song, this was still another very strong performance for Kree, and the restrained but difficult note she hit at the end was very impressive.

9.  Burnell Taylor- "Flying Without Wings"

I believe this was a somewhat unknown British song back when Ruben Studdard was given it as his winnner's single back in 2003. To say the least, I never thought I would hear it done on Idol again.

My skepticism aside, I actually think Burnell surpassed expectations and it was one of his better performances. His sort of affected hipster style R&B, complete with all sorts of weird hand movements, is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea and I did not love all of this performance, but at parts, it sounded very interesting and unique. While I rooted for Ruben back in his season, he seemed so laid back and going through the motions towards the end of that competition back then, and Burnell managed to bring some vitality to the song.

10. Amber Holcomb- "A Moment Like This"

To end the night, another winner's single, this one being the original one, in which Kelly Clarkson outshone Justin Guarini way back when. I guess it does feel somewhat presumptuous for these new Finalists to sing the songs that were done in Finales in seasons past, but Amber managed to bring a bit of a different vibe to it. Initially though, I was sort of thinking she would have been better off singing an uptempo Clarkson song instead and showing some more versatility.

In terms of technical competence, I do not think Amber has been or was as strong as the older and more seasoned Candice and Kree, but she was still pretty good tonight and the judges gave her a standing ovation. She certainly knows how to make an impact when he uses runs in her performances.


10. Lazaro Arbos
9. Janelle Arthur
8. Curtis Finch Jr.
7. Devin Velez
6. Paul Jolley
5. Burnell Taylor
4. Angie Miller
3. Amber Holcomb
2. Kree Harrison
1. Candice Glover

I was somewhat surprised that I had to rank Janelle as low as I did (behind any of the boys in fact), but that is how I heard it. Of course, the girls on average are miles above the guys and I would be perfectly fine if the Final Four are all of one gender for the first time ever.

Who is going to leave? Well, I think the first three performers of the two hour broadcast are at the biggest risk and I think the Bottom Three tomorrow night might very well be Curtis, Janelle, and Devin. I predicted that he would not make the Top 10 last week and was wrong, but I am going to go ahead and say that Curtis will be splitting what exists of his older African-American voting fanbase with some other contestants and be the person at the bottom when the results are announced. If the judges have a save to use (I hope they do not) we may even get it out of the way early.

Besides the results tomorrow night, we are also going to hear a sing-off between two already eliminated unnamed contestants for a place on the tour, a pre-taped Bon Jovi song, and a performance by last year's winner Phillip Phillips.

In order to fully complete this tribute to the past winners, it will only be fair if the Top 10 do a group medley featuring the hits of Taylor Hicks, David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee DeWyze.