Wednesday, March 12, 2014

American Idol Top 11

I watched the show live tonight, so this post will be based on what I remember, and the thoughts will probably be pretty short.

There really was not anything too memorable tonight. I did very much enjoy the clips of the kids imitating each other. That was some pretty funny stuff, as were the theme relevant movie parody clips in which the contestants "acted" alongside their season's assigned voting number.

It was very hard to rank the contestants tonight. The difference between who I have first and who I have last is really not all that dramatic. I did not think anybody was great by any stretch, and yet nobody was horrible either. Thus, the results I have are quite surprising. My personal "bottom three" tonight may very well be the Final 3 in the competition. If somebody was truly terrible tonight, at least there would be more to remember about them.

Tonight, it just (once again) felt like a combination of inexperienced, nervous live performers and weird song choices that did not best show off the talents of the contestants. A bunch of them took some risks, but they probably did not pay off.

I feel like the strongest performance of the evening would have been given by someone who sings backup on the show this season. That would be Season 8, fourth place finisher Allison Iraheta. Speaking of Season 8, I also note that three of the songs that were performed this evenings were ones that eventual winner Kris Allen did that year, and did better than what we heard tonight.

1. Sam Woolf- "Come Together"

Last week, I had a talented young singer at the bottom of my rankings after they sang first, and I felt bad about it. There just may be something about that position leading off the show.

I think Sam deserves credit for stepping way outside his comfort zone by singing something uptempo and doing it without his guitar. This was just maybe a step too far for him. For the first time I can recall, his voice sounded off pitch. Other Idol front-runners have had clunkers before and endured over the course of a long season. I still have a hard time imagining who could actually prevent him from winning this season, and I still think that he is the person who is going to have the most "real world" success in music once the season ends, but this just did not sound all that great. He also could benefit from some media training.

2. Jessica Meuse- "The Sound of Silence"

Her voice mostly sounded very nice on this, but there did seem to be some sort of weird timing issue with the band during the song and I think it rattled her a bit. Towards the end of the song, her voice sounded like it was wavering a bit, and she looked uncertain of what she was doing once again.

3. C.J. Harris- "Can't You See"

There is something about C.J.'s voice that continues to be appealing to me. At least in small doses at a time. I like what he did with the song and the feeling he puts into what he sings, even when it is not technically perfect. The judges really liked it.

4. Dexter Roberts- "Sweet Home Alabama"

Come on now. Is this really a "song from the cinema?" Sure, it was in Forrest Gump (and other movies) but just about every well-known old song has been in some sort of movie or another. This felt a bit like cheating to get votes, but I guess Dexter, who was the third Alabamian in a row to sing, cannot be faulted for playing the game.

Vocally, it sounded ok, but I am sure not all that different from what can be heard in just about every bar in Alabama and other parts of the country on the weekends. It felt very jam-band and audience participation heavy. There was nothing really very distinctive about it, as Ruben Studdard did way back in Season 2. Dexter did add the "Roll Tide Roll" lyric to the song though, as it is sung that way after University of Alabama football games. That will certainly get him some votes from 'Bama fans, while other SEC faithful will be looking elsewhere.

5. Ben Briley- "Bennie and the Jets"

What was with this song choice? This is not associated with movies. While Ben had the right name for this son, this entire selection was a head scratcher.

He sang it sort of well in parts, while playing piano at the beginning, but this is not his style of music. He has been far better before on more countryish stuff. Why was he singing his own name in falsetto? It was just weird. Maybe those deviled eggs last week were tainted.

6. Majesty Rose- "Let It Go"

It was just days ago when this song won the Oscar for Best Song from a Movie, so this was quite a timely choice for Majesty. Did Seacrest make a joke mocking John Travolta's inexplicable butchering of Indina Menzel's name from right before he introduced her at the Academy Awards?

This performance had promise for Majesty but it just seemed vocally off and very musical theaterish in production. She came across as more of an actress than a singer tonight. She seemed to be singing too sofly at the beginning and then sounded out of tune as she belted the high notes.

7. Caleb Johnson- "Skyfall"

He was another one who tried to do something quite different on the Idol stage tonight. I have had him ranked at the top every week thus far, so I was interested to see what he could do with a ballad.

Parts of it were good as Caleb gave a bit of a rock edge to some notes, but the other parts seemed sort of out of character for him and while I think he has the range to sing ballads, this particular song just did not feel right.

8. MK Nobilette- "To Make You Feel My Love"

All thing considered, I think this was an improvement for MK. She seemed to at least be trying to make a connection with the audience. Vocally, it was inconsistent though. At times in the song, her really nice vocal tone was apparent, and in other parts, she sounded amateurish because she was not finishing the notes.

9. Alex Preston- "Falling Slowly"

First of all, what he does with his pants every week ought to be at least a misdemeanor. Why is he trying to be a hipster (bleep)?

For the most part, I think this was a good version of a song that has been done on Idol and other shows like it several times in the past few years. I feel like he always starts off a little weirdly but then sounds good when the first chorus kicks in. There is no doubt that his devoted fans (and he seems to have a lot of them) will have loved it.

10. Jena Irene- "Decode"

Last week, I had Jena at the bottom of my rankings, even though it was not all that terrible. This week, I will have her in a vastly different position, even though it was not that spectacular. It's just that kind of season for American Idol.

Stylistically and musically though, this was just a far better fit for Jena. She is much better when she plays the piano. On a song like this, her unique and affected way of singing seemed to be a lot more acceptable than the way it sounds to me on other songs. After a spot in the Bottom Three last week, this was a very needed comeback effort for her.

11. Malaya Watson- "I Am Changing"

At least she did sing "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls. Also, she was pretty hilarious when imitating her fellow contestants.

After a disastrous Top 13 week, Malaya has had some strong vocals over the last two weeks. She was really good at parts tonight, but once again did go a bit off kilter when she belts at the top of her range. The fact that she can sing like that at all, while having braces is pretty impressive though. I wonder if maybe she would have been better served to have waited to go on Idol after the braces came off.

Surprising and Weird Rankings:

11. Sam Woolf
10. Majesty Rose
9. Ben Briley
8. MK Nobilette
7. Caleb Johnson
6. Jessica Meuse
5. Dexter Roberts
4. C.J. Harris
3. Alex Preston
2. Malaya Watson
1. Jena Irene

Once again, all 11 of them were fairly close tonight.  I have had my top two tonight at the very bottom in previous weeks and before tonight began, I would have picked the people I would eventually have as the Bottom Three as the likely Final Three of the season.

Based on pure vocals from tonight alone, Sam was narrowly the worst, but in terms of potential and the overall best interest of the season, I would not want to see him eliminated. Nonetheless, there is no chance at all that it might happen. I do think thought that he probably is fading a bit in many peoples' minds and will need to find a way to make Idol fans take notice.

If there is once again an all female Bottom Three, it will be a big event if Majesty is somehow in it. I do think MK will once again be on the stools for the third week in a row and could be in some danger.

However, if I had to predict who may get the least votes (and potentially be saved by the judges), it would, somewhat unfortunately, be Jessica.

There just was not anything memorable about her performance tonight, but perhaps more importantly, the singer from Alabama immediately preceded two guys, also from Alabama, on the broadcast. C.J. got all sorts of praise from the judges and Dexter pandered for votes by singing the unofficial (or perhaps even official) state anthem.

This is very much like an Alabama Primary and the third place finisher is going to miss out on a runoff if this goes as I suspect it might.