Friday, April 05, 2019

American Idol Top 20 Solos

Another season of American Idol is here and there is not much time or  need for a lengthy introduction.

On Monday night, ABC broadcast a two hour taped episode in which the Top 20 performed solos. That means I have to take on the daunting task of ranking 20 performances. It is now Thursday evening and I am going to watch the episode off my DVR, pausing immediately after the performances to offer brief comments. It is possible I may not be able to do this all in one sitting and many have to watch the rest tomorrow or some other time over the weekend. I am pretty far behind on this because I first had to catch up with the three hour episode that aired on Sunday night in which the Top 20 were selected. I suppose that is all ok though since it is not like there is a "Live Results Show" that I have to try to post before with predictions.

1. Madison VanDenberg- "Domino"

Throughout the audition episodes, I found it remarkable how much this High School student sounded vocally like Kelly Clarkson. Even when she talks, this New Yorker is reminiscent of the original American Idol from Texas. The comparisons are likely to continue. This was a good, high energy performance, although Madison was of course a little out of breath and could not soar quite the way she could have on a ballad. It was still an impressive showing.

2. Shawn Robinson- "Jealous"

He has a very good voice but is an awkward stage performer. Clearly, he was trying to be more current here, but his voice is more old-school R&B perhaps. Shawn showed off his falsetto and sounded pretty good but it was interesting how he did not even attempt to sing the "you're too sexy/beautiful" refrain, leaving it up to the backup singers. It is hard to see him as "edgy."

3. Laine Hardy- "Bring It On Home To Me"

I remember thinking last year that Idol made a mistake when he was cut at the Final Judgment in favor of another Louisiana teenager Garrett, who pretty much was horrible on the live shows. Now, after apparently not "planning" to audition, Laine is back and might be a contender this season. He has a very impressive rasp to his voice and I thought he showed it off well on this song, although it was also more of an uptempo that put emphasis on performing skills. While he has mostly been billed as a country singer, Laine also can do blues and even a sort of southern rock vibe that makes him more interesting to non-country fans.

4. Uche- "Figures"

Somehow, I do not think the kinds of songs he has done on Idol are ones he regularly sings at weddings. This is shaping up to be a strong crop of contenders. He can definitely sing and definitely perform. Uche also showed off his range. I do not know this song and at first it sounded a bit weird, but he impressed me more by his total commitment at the end. I am not so sure about the band-aid on the face thing though as a gimmick. That should have pretty much died with Nelly's career.

5. Eddie Island- "Ho Hey"

First of all, there's no way that Idol is doing drug tests of the contestants. Then again, some things are now legal in California. Eddie also fashions himself as the Honorary Mayor of Nashville. That is slightly weird. I can definitely agree that he is talented and this was not a horrible performance by any stretch, but the competition looks fierce and he may have gone off trying to hit some big notes on what is more of a "jam" song. Some people will really like him but many others will consider him too "avant garde."

6. Evelyn Cormier- "Leaving on a Jet Plane"

It has been covered that she got married last year at age 18 to some foreign dude. Idol has not disclosed that it was part of some other reality show called "90 Day Fiancee" or something. This was an interesting song choice. Very old-fashioned in some regards. She has an interesting voice that can be compared to the singer/songwriter types but parts of her delivery felt a little bit too affected.

7. Alyssa Raghu- "Ain't It Fun"

Some AI history was made here as Alyssa is the first ever contestant to make it to the live rounds in multiple seasons. This was a possibility for some the kids in the past few seasons but she was the first. I guess we can say that the "sauce" was re-heated. I looked up my blog from last year, and she sang a ballad impressively as a solo then sort of crashed and burned in the "celebrity duet" when she did not look comfortable.  Now 16, Alyssa has spent a year working on her performing skills and does a whole lot of dancing on stage when we see her. I think she may be trying a bit too hard to impress Katy Perry. As for her performance on this night, in some semifinal seasons, it would have been highly ranked, but I think all the moving around made her vocals go a bit off kilter.

8. Ryan Hammond- "You Say"

He has lost 170 pounds recently and if Idol sends him home, it looks like they will lose about 170 pounds now as well. These are getting tougher and tougher to "rank." He started off sounding a bit nervous and tentative and then as he got into the song, his voice soured and there was a Sam Smith like quality to it, even though that's not really my thing musically. Whatever happens when the 20 get cut down to 14 will involve losing some very talented singers. For Ryan, it may come down to if the other gay son of a pastor in the Top 20 is better.

9. Raquel Trinidad- "Lovefool"

Is that really her last name? Is Island really Eddie's last name? I sense a theme. It is too bad she cannot find a partner named Tobago and be a duo. This was another interesting song choice. I do not think this 90's number has ever been done on Idol. The first verse was rearranged a bit and sounded very interesting. Then, it got a bit more predictable and not as effective. In a season where so many female performers may have huge voices, Raquel is trying to go down the more quirky road vocally I suppose. I get the sense that the producers consider her to be "fodder."

10. Logan Johnson- "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"

To be remembered on a singing show these days, everyone has to have a backstory and Logan's is that he is a recovering addict. Is it really a great idea to be thrust into sudden fame? It is also a bit ironic since he is probably the most wholesome looking of the males in the Top 20. I have mixed thoughts on the performance. I thought he sounded very good for most of it, but the song was not that exciting and may not have been the best opportunity to make a first impression on the country. Then again, the country is not voting yet. Vocally, he definitely is trying to sound like Shawn Mendes which is a good strategy, but maybe he should have covered one of his songs instead. Nonetheless, any of the white guys who play guitar are a threat to go far.

11. Dimitrius Graham- "Hello"

He sang the Adele song of that title, not the Lionel Richie song. I know that many Idol viewers probably really disliked this performance but I sort of dug it. He started off with some sort of opera note and then the entire thing was very dramatic. Taking on this Adele song is a huge undertaking. If one were not looking at the screen, it is possible that they might have believed it was a female singing. He more or less hit the notes he needed to hit, at least as far as I can tell. His facial tattoos means he will probably not last long if he makes it to the public voting rounds.

12. Riley Thompson- "Jolene"

If this were the Miss Teen USA competition, she might be a frontrunner, but Riley will probably get lost in the shuffle of this year's American Idol. While she looks like a young Jessica Simpson, she was trying too hard to sound like Dolly Parton. I think it was a decent performance actually but I do not think that the youngest competitor left is quite in the same league as those who advanced, as well as frankly many who got cut in Hollywood and Hawai'i. What could potentially work in her favor is that there does not seem to be many country singers left on this show. Perhaps, AI thought that this season of "The Voice" on NBC has enough of them. They usually do.

13. Walker Burroughs- "How Deep Is Your Love"

I have noticed that in all the episodes he has appeared in this far, the show is really pimping him. However, he is not the only ginger haired male left that has been getting that treatment. I think many people will wind up loving this performance, but for me it was maybe a missed opportunity. He sounded off singing acapella and there was a moment there when I thought had huge potential. Then, when the band kicked in, it felt like Walker was swallowed up a bit by the sound and it felt a little bit too college music class or something. It is hard though to find a past Idol contestant that Walker can really be compared to though and that might be a plus for him moving forward.

14. Bumbly- "Vision of Love"

First of all, her fake stage name would be cooler if she went by "Bumbli B." I will not critique the dress. As for the vocals, this was another interesting one. It started off at first on the first verse like a poor woman's Mariah Carey, more suited for the NYC subway. Then, as Bumbly got her buzz on, it got more impressive. She was absolutely trying to imitate Mariah note for note though and I do not know how appreciated that would be, but to me, she managed to do so somewhat credibly when all was said and done.

15. Ashley Hess- "Dreaming With A Broken Heart"

I do not know this song but that might have worked to her advantage with me. This was an impressive vocal that sounded like it was performed by someone already famous. There might have been one iffy note when she tried to go big but the emotional connection felt real. Is she going to be able to perform as effectively though without the piano?

16. Alejandro Aranda- "Fall Apart"

His audition was proclaimed "the greatest ever" by American Idol commercials. I am not so sure of that. It seems like they were putting a lot of emphasis on liking the somewhat unique way he can play the acoustic guitar. My mother has also told me that she does not get him at all. I guess I am somewhat in the middle. His voice is really nice and definitely "current". I cannot really judge how he plays guitar since this is supposed to be a singing competition. There will also be people who hate his dress style. This performance I thought started off very nice on the first verse and then it got kind of sleepy. He is perhaps too laid back and too coffee house to translate on the "big stage."

17. Kate Barnette- "Sunday Morning"

For some reason, I cannot remember much about her from the previous episodes. That usually means the contestant is fodder. Again, this was good. Everybody this season is really very good, but I just did not enjoy this vocally as much as most of the other performances we have heard thus far. I found the song a bit boring and it was hard to understand the lyrics.

18.  Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon- "Make You Feel My Love"

There has been some heavy pimpage by AI for JLH ever since his audition. Nonetheless, he has always sounded extremely good. He is not a belter per se, but there is something very unique and resonant in his voice. For this performance, it sounded like he was basically pitch perfect from beginning to end and that's all I can judge him on. Very well done. Is he ever going to be able to do something mid-tempo or up-tempo though? Somebody like Elton John, who also played at the piano, became a star because he could demonstrate musical versatility.

19. Laci Kay Booth- "I Want You To Want Me"

A three named performer that ends with Booth?  She is very talented, but I have felt up to this point that the judges have liked her just a bit more than I did. When I unpause to hear their comments, I expect that to continue. First of all, this was quite a unique rearrangement of a Cheap Trick song into something countryish and much slower. Most of it though just did not "wow" me. However, when it picked up a bit of tempo, I really did like where Laci's voice went. She is another one who might be billed as a country singer, but is a lot more than just that.

20. Wade Cota- "All I Want"

Knowing that the producers are going to give you the pimp slot out of 20 performers surely must have him realize they want him around for a while. I sort of wonder how much of his lack of confidence and nervousness is a put on for the cameras up to this point. If it is true, he might really struggle with the pressure cooker of American Idol. He definitely needs to be mindful of his health. He did look nervous as hell as this performance started but he is a seasoned performer and the gruffness in his voice will win him many fans. I found it very impressive although he might run the risk of overdoing it vocally a bit. It will be interesting to see how he does if tasked with singing a more mainstream song that everybody knows.

So, now that I have ranked all 20, I have to say, this was a good one and should be a good season. As mentioned, I was even surprised by some of the cuts already made this season, such as the widow, the blind girl, "Kai the Singer", the kids with CF that Luke Bryant knew from "Make A Wish" and the dude with the ginger high-top hair. I do note the absence of an African-American female. I suppose that could be why Raquel was included with this group, although she might be more "Trinidadian."

Basically I would give a thumbs up to every one of these performances, but clearly some were better than others, and ranking them from worst to best for vocals alone I have:

20. Riley Thompson
19. Alyssa Raghu
18. Kate Barnette
17. Eddie Island
16. Walker Burroughs
15. Alejandro Aranda
14. Evelyn Cormier
13. Raquel Trinidad
12. Ryan Hammond
11. Logan Johnson
10. Shawn Robinson
 9. Bumbly
 8. Laci Kaye Booth
 7. Uche
 6. Ashley Hess
 5. Dimitrius Graham
 4. Madison VandenBurg
 3. Wade Cota
 2. Laine Hardy
 1. Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon


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