Wednesday, March 20, 2013

American Idol Top 9

Earlier tonight, the Idols sang Beatles songs. This is at least the third season we have had this theme over the past five years, and if Idol sticks around for a while, we may be seeing it some more. At least, the show is able to get these songs cleared and do not have to work on new clearance issues.

Before the first contestant took the stage, we learned the results of the first ever Idol sing-off.

Who should have won the 11th spot on the tour: Aubrey Cleland
Who I predicted would win the spot on tour: Charlie Askew
Who won the 11th spot on tour: Aubrey Cleland

Consider me both pleased and surprised by this development. While Aubrey deserved it on the merits, I find it somewhat astonishing that a female actually beat a guy (a white guy nonetheless) in this show's voting. I have to assume these results were on the up and up.

While Aubrey cannot become the next American Idol, she is going to get a lot of exposure and experience this summer and a hefty paycheck to go with it. Somehow though, I doubt these tour spots are going to be sold out this year in almost every place. I also wonder if maybe Charlie was tipped to the results before the live reveal. Perhaps, the producers were aware of the potential for a melt-down if he found out when we all did. All things considered, Charlie not going on tour is probably best for all involved, especially him, at this stage in his life.

So, lets get to the Final Nine and see how much I can recollect about the performances, as I am unable to watch them back right now:

1. Kree Harrison- "With A Little Help From My Friends"

At first, I was a bit surprised at this song choice, as can easily be interpreted as an ode to "getting high." At least, it sure seemed that way when Casey Abrams sang it two seasons ago. (Is he really performing on tomorrow's results show?). Kree though seemed to take that particular lyric out of the song, which was probably a good move.

I am more familiar with the Joe Cocker version of this song, probably from watching "The Wonder Years" back in the day, but I thought Kree delivered an interesting, somewhat countrified interpretation and was strong, as she always seems to be. Her performances tend to seem more like an established pro, rather than a reality show contestant.

2. Burnell Taylor- "Let It Be"

It is hard to believe that Burnell did not know this song at all going into this week, but I guess those of us older people can forget how young these kinds are. I wonder if he checked out a really good version that Jennifer Hudson did on a telethon a few years back.

During this performance, I alternated by being impressed with Burnell's tone and some of the choices he made, while being annoyed at others. This song, like the one that just preceded it featured a choir of backup singers, of course, at a key point in the number. I wonder though why Burnell did not take more of a chance and get a bit more emphatic with it all, adding some more of a gospel flavor to a classic song. Instead, he basically just stood still and was somewhat restrained.

During his performance (or perhaps one of the other guys) , the video screen had an image that reminded me very much of the March Madness brackets.

3. Amber Holcomb- "She's Leaving Home"

Before she sang, we learned some more about Amber's family, and life back in rural Texas. Her family situation appears to somewhat interesting. She seems like a nice girl though. I am just not sure why she got those leopard spot tattoos on her arm, or whatever it is. It reminds me of the fake ones CeCe Frey had on X-Factor.

While I believe I know a lot of Beatles' songs, I do not think I had ever heard this one before, and am really unclear on how Amber came away doing it this week. She has a very nice voice, but this seemed to be a good deal less powerful and interesting than what she has been doing thus far. The fact that a lot of people may not know this song or like it (as opposed to Keith Urban listing it at his favorite Beatles' song, before that became his gag for the night), might hurt Amber. She is a very strong competitor this season, but something felt a bit off tonight.

4. Lazaro Arbos- "In My Life"

This seems like a pretty song, but it was panned as being boring, the one other time it was done on Idol, back in 2008. Like many others this year, Lazaro seems to gravitate heavily towards ballads. I wonder though why the Cuban immigrant (and we saw photos of him as a young boy dressed in a Fidel Castro youth costume, and as a teenager looking like Fez from "That 70's Show") does not sing in Spanish at all on the show. He has totally conceded that ground to Devin Velez. If Lazaro sang in Spanish, and many of us could not understand the lyrics, perhaps we would be more impressed by his tone, and not realize how off the rest of his vocals were.

 I do not even know if this was a new low for Lazaro, but once again, it was not good, to say the least. For the first time, the judges were really pretty hard on him, and by the time Seacrest read his numbers, the ever-present Wednesday night sweat on Lazaro's face had morphed into tears. Anybody with a heart had to feel bad for him, as he avoided looking straight into the camera. However, this is exactly what he signed up for.

Lazaro finished with the fourth most votes last week, and I fear the same may happen this week, once again due to the sympathy factor, due to his speech challenges. The crying is only going to get him more votes. At some point, Idol voters may realize they are not doing his apparently somewhat fragile psyche any favors by keeping him around, but this is probably not going to be that week.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that was said, occurred after the performance, when Lazaro said he just learned this song "last night" and that the other one he was preparing to do was changed. It is hard to believe that these contestants might only have less than a day to practice their song, and that the studio recordings, and taped mentoring sessions with Jimmy Iovine really all occurred in such a tight time frame. Either Lazaro was majorly exaggerating and being dishonest, or the Idol Powers That Be are up to some nefarious stuff. What Lazaro managed to say to Seacrest cannot make Nigel Lythgoe happy.

5. Candice Glover- "Come Together"

Her family seemed really likable in the "what is home like" video segment before she sang, and both Candice and Kree got very good edits tonight as far as that went.

Like Kree's choice, I was a bit surprised that Candice was going to do this song, but I understood why she wanted to do something other than a ballad. This song has been done on Idol a few times in recent years, but I think Candice probably gave the best performance version of it yet. She seemed quite comfortable and credible rocking out some with the band and made some really unique and interesting vocal choices, including going high and going low at points in the song. She seems to be a very versatile performer and right now, I find it hard to conceive of her having a bad week on the show.

6.  Paul Jolley- "Eleanor Rigby"

Even while he was singing, I could not help but wonder to myself if I liked this or disliked it. It's just that the bar is so low for the guys this season. Paul is never outstanding, but he usually has managed to stay on key and sound decent enough.

This week, I thought it started off a bit rough, but got better, and that he had one sustained note that was impressive. The judges did not seem to like it much at all though, and gave Paul some criticism. I suppose I liked it a bit more than they did. I found it interesting when Mariah Carey more or less told him to give up his dreams of being the male version of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood in the country pop world, but instead do a dance record. Perhaps, they want him to be Adam Lambert. I do not see Paul being at the top of any charts in the next several years, but he probably could make some nice paychecks singing on gay cruise ships.

7. Angie Miller- "Yesterday"

Less than a year ago, Angie was a High School Senior and was voted "Next American Idol" by her classmates ( I was voted "Biggest Conservative" by mine). There was also some dude in her class who was voted that as well, but he had his face blurred out. Did they try to get his permission to show his image on the broadcast. It is interesting though, that right now, it looks at least, like she really could be the next American Idol.

With her hair heavily flat-ironed (and with a tattoo on her wrist I had not noticed before), Angie came out dressed again in black leather (or pleather) and sang a well known Beatles ballad. I was somewhat surprised she did not do it on the piano, as the judges really like when she does that.

There were a couple bum notes in this performance, and I did not love all of it, but she once again showed her vocal talent and performance skills. I think she is definitely safe for a few more weeks at minimum and would also note that she probably knows how to work the camera with her eyes better than perhaps any female contestant in Idol history. The problem for that with her is that 75 percent of the viewing audience is probably also female.

8. Devin Velez- "The Long And Winding Road"

As I already knew, Devin goes to a military High School in Chicago. He made some comment though about how the city is "dirty", that I did not quite catch, but he better worry about Mayor Rahm Emanuel sending him a dead fish now.

While I was fairly impressed with Devin when he first sang "live", I really am kind of wondering just how ready for all this he is. He seems to only sing ballads and it is getting a bit boring for me. He has a nice voice and all, but I was not really feeling this performance. I thought he was off key at the beginning, but perhaps that was just my perception. It might have been on par vocally with the time Aaron Kelly did this song on the Idol stage, but was nowhere near as technically proficient as when David Archuleta did it even earlier. I think it might have been smart for Devin this week to have tried to get some votes by throwing some Espanol into it. After all, he was in the Bottom Two last week.

For some reason, the judges really liked this. I was not on the same page with them. The dirty minded and intentionally provocative Nicki Minaj was put on delay for giving a shout-out to young Devin's "pianist." Seacrest then jumped on the chance to get Mariah Carey to say something that would throw shade at Nicki, and Mariah was ready for it! I will have to go back and watch this again, but Mariah had about three or four passive aggressive digs that she slung right as Ms. Minaj. Now, that was more interesting than this vocal performance!

9. Janelle Arthur- "I Will"

This was the second Beatles song I was not familiar with on the evening, but Janelle did a good job on it and this was so much better for her in my mind than the more uptempo song she did last week.

I thought her vocals were strong on this number and she was emotionally connected once again. It sounded like it could be a contemporary country song, probably since I did not know it previously. It certainly was a smarter choice than the infamous Kristy Lee Cook take on "Eight Days a Week."


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

Once again, I have Lazaro at the bottom and Candice at top. That could last a while.  It was somewhat tough to rank them this week, as there were several tossups in my mind, such as 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8.

We will probably find out who the Top Three were (I am thinking it might be a repeat for Candice, Kree, and Angie) and then find out where everyone else placed specifically.

My guess is that the Bottom Three will be Brunell, Devin, and Amber. After being almost at the very bottom last week, Devin should probably be nervous, especially since the judges may have led to a sense of overconfidence in his fans. However, my hunch, is that just one somewhat average week, as well as singing a more unknown song early in the show, will lead to bad news for Amber Holcomb.

I would not want to see her get the least amount of votes, but I am going to say that Amber will. If so, she will sing for the save, and if the judges are not going to use it on a female this year, (especially one they have lavished such praise on), they really should not even have a save to give. So, that's definitely a possibility tomorrow. If Devin, Brunell, Paul, or Lazaro, wind up on the bottom (please no jokes), the judges will announce, with sadness, that they are saying goodbye.