Monday, April 27, 2020

American Idol Top 20

A new season of American Idol, in a world and nation that feels very little like it did during the season finale a little less than a year ago.

The good news is that we can all use a diversion. There seems to be some great talent this season among the contestants that have been chosen. It has been airing on Sunday nights for what feels like two months now, but this is the first "live" episode. I will be watching a DVR recording and live blogging. How in the world is this really going to work though? After all, everybody in the country is quarantined. It made for quite a different NFL Draft. How is this going to work for a live singing show, where everyone is going to be performing remotely, before three judges and a host who are all also chillin at home. All I can do, is follow my usual procedure to watch the performances and rank them on vocal ability from best to worst or worst to best if you prefer. I have no idea what the audio is going to sound like if these kids are all singing into webcams or smartphones and if there will even be any equity in how it is all presented. As the saying goes, "it is what it is." We have far bigger things to worry about these days and it will be nice to have something like what we used to have, even if very different. Hopefully next year, the next crop of contestants can sing with a live band and a big audience present, just like television audiences have taken for granted for generations now.

These days, there are no live sports. I try to fill that void by watching the 2016 Cubs season unfold in chronological order on YouTube. A sports crazed nation seemed to look forward to the "Last Dance" documentary airing on Sunday nights on ESPN about the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls and all the backstories that went into that "drama." I certainly remember that season, having lived through it as a die-hard Bulls fans in Chicagoland and of course am enjoying the documentary. The ratings are likely to be higher than ABC's airing of Idol. I will have to watch Episodes Three and Four of the documentary later this week.

1. Kimmy Gabriela- "Leave Me Lonely"

Clearly, this show is not live, but Idol seems to have given all the contestants professional video and audio equipment to film these. The band and backup singers are also apparently performing remotely from their individual locations, but I doubt that is actually happening or feasible. There is a lot of editing likely at play here.

Kimmy has a lovely backyard in Lakeland, Florida, and sounded fairly nice on a song I do not know. If this were just a YouTube video of a teenage singer doing Ariana Grande like this, I doubt it would go viral. There was a bit of a sense like she was trying too hard, which is probably understandable when you are just looking into a camera without any audience around. I think going first will make it tough to advance, because they are cutting half of this group down to ten.

2. Jovin Webb- "With A Little Help From My Friends"

I note that when they finish, they sound of a small group applauding reminds me of the first two years of Idol's semifinal rounds when they were in a studio. This was not exactly an inspired song choice for Jovin. I had been impressed with his blues rock style on the audition episodes, but this felt like he was trying to play it a bit safe. Vocally, it was a bit shaky on the first verse. It got better after that, but I was not overly impressed by this one.

3. Franklin Boone- "Everybody Wants to Rule The World"

He has an appropriate sounding name for a North Carolinian. There were a lot of people in his house,  none wearing masks, but they seemed to be about six feet away from the singer (but not each other.) The camera person (whomever that was) got a lot of shots of Franklin's infant daughter being held by the mother during the performance. This was an interesting song choice and I thought Franklin did a lot of nice things with his voice, but I did not really love the arrangement. The backup singers (or track) seemed to be ahead of him. I think he might have been better off just doing it acapella or accompanying himself on guitar. Nobody has played an instrument yet.

4. Olivia Ximenes- "bad guy"

The ABC era of American Idol has not been kind to African-American singers, and I note that the first four to go tonight have all been minorities. I really do not know what to think of this performance. Olivia (or perhaps OX) has a really good voice and seems to have zero fear performance wise. I just do not really understand how this song showcased her in the best way though, especially as she wants to try to infuse her dancing skills into each performance. Parts of it felt really strong vocally while others seemed off.  She is more of a potential "pop star" than a Billie Elish. They also turned her performance into a bit of of a music video with special effects and that seemed a bit distracting. My mother watched the show "live" and said all 20 were great. So far, I am not really feeling that yet.

5. Louis Knight- "If The World Was Ending"

It is not really ending, right?  For eighteen years now, American Idol superfans have envisioned finding themselves in the bedrooms of their favorite performers on the show and now, it became a reality. This was the childhood bedroom though of the British immigrant, whose favorite soccer team seems to feature the color blue. I think Louis has a lot of potential to go far on this show, but I did not like the song or vocal performance. Maybe he was just trying to be in character, but it seems very whiny and way too emo. He is probably quite safe to make the Top 10 but it felt a bit "too British."

6. Makayla Phillips- "Greedy"

Another music video like performance. She is someone who has really impressed me thus far this season with her vocal ability. With this performance, she proved she is credible as a young pop singer but I did not really think it was stellar. Since she definitely has the chops, and since half of the contestants are going home, I think it might have been smarter of her to try to appeal to Idol's older more conservative demographic by singing a big well-known emotional ballad.

Is Katy Perry spending the entire show inside a hand sanitizer bottle because she is self conscious about her pregnancy or because she cannot get her hair done professionally?

7. Aliana Jester- "Run To You"

Ok, at least she got the concept of what might work best tonight. Her "team" tricked out her garage with some carpeting and a bunch of old lamps and left some kind of moped in there, as she wore a red dress and sang and old Whitney Houston ballad. Vocally it was the best of the evening so far. She has an extremely good voice, even if she seems to be a bit awkward and lacking in pure charisma.

Luke Bryan keeps talking about "chill bumps." I hope that is not a Covid 19 symptom for him.

8. Faith Becnel- "River"

We are introduced to our second Louisiana garage of the evening (let us remember where the reigning Idol is from), and this one had some sparse free weights and exercise equipment. I might have given extra points if she would have pumped some iron during the song. I was a bit surprised that Faith made it into the Top 20 with some others I thought were better or more interesting being sent home. All things considered, I think she did pretty well tonight. She has an interesting tone to her voice an was able to control it and seemed to not be drowned out by whatever weird backing track is going on.

9. Nick Merico- "Hey There Delilah"

Next up is the former Nickelodeon child actor whom last season after being heavily featured in the audition episodes quit the show before Hollywood round. This year he is back however and making an exerted attempt to appeal humble. I thought his rendition of this song started off pretty poorly with his voice barely being audible. As it went on though, he got more into it and showed more vocal skill. All of these performances sound and feel a bit autotuned though. Being a "white guy" (though he is apparently partially of South American background), he is likely going through to next week.

10. Lauren Spencer-Smith- "Mama Knows Best"

Can the American Idol be Canadian? I mean a legitimate Canadian national that is still living there.  Can the Supreme Court weigh in on this? Canada used to have it's own version of Idol but that show has long since left the air. This was the first AI performance to take place in a foreign country.

While the image for 16 year old Lauren seems to be a bit of a put on, there is no doubt she can really sing and she performed this like someone who has been singing in online videos for many years. She hit some big notes in front of the picturesque British Columbia landscape (is her family ultra-wealthy?) and likely picked up some new fans. Nonetheless, the people from her town cannot even vote for her. If she makes the top three or four, where would the "Homecoming" be?"  Wait a minute, that is not going to be happening anywhere next month.

11. Cyniah Elise- "Warrior"

Now, this was a strong vocal performance. It was clearly early on this season that she would be a force to be reckoned with, stage mother not withstanding. However, she also comes across as a bit confident in her abilities. I do not particular mind that in a wannabe superstar, but it might be off-putting for some to see that in a 17 year old and others may not like that she already has a tattoo. I think this young Georgian will need to get a lot of African-American votes tonight and overnight and I hope she gets them. I will note though that her performance was aired immediately after "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" finished airing for the evening on another network, so perhaps they were hoping for some new viewers.

12. Francisco Martin- "Teenage Dream"

This was a well executed use of two minutes. The vocal may not have been perfect, but it was very good and I think he is going to get a ton of votes. It was very shrewd to pick a Katy Perry song (you know her stans tune in to watch her) and he did the acoustic Darren Criss "Glee" version, so a lot of people will vote for him because of that. Plus, all the religious Filipino icons and whatnot in the back. We all know Filipino-Americans loves themselves some American Idol. This was clearly a ton better than Louis, whom he is often compared to. The votes from Francisco's hometown of  Daly City, California alone may advance him.

13. Sophia James- "Burning"

Before the commercial break, they showed her father, Mr. Wackerman, getting the fireplace lit and ready to serve as background for a song called Burning. I think Sophia is very talented but wish she would have done a different song. I get that she was trying to be young and relevant, but the voters of this franchise tend not to be young and relevant. Older Jewish voters may have gravitated to her if she did something less stylized and more familiar. Maybe she should have kept her real last name too.

14. Dewayne Crocker Jr.- "I Got You (I Feel Good)" 

Wherever he lives, they still have the Christmas tree up. He maybe should have sang a Christmas song, it might win him more votes than trying to do James Brown. Dewayne is likable and a good singer but he does not exactly exude star quality. He was trying to appeal to older African-American voters with this song (and some well placed child dancers in the room) but he did not quite have the soul to pull it off. If the cruise industry ever recovers (which is doubtful for a long time) I can see Dewayne making a living as a very good singer on one of those ships, but he is not exactly American Idol caliber.

15. Dillon James- "Let It Be Me"

None of these performances really feel "live." There is just so much obvious post-production. Dillon sounded pretty good on this. I noticed that he sang without his usual cowboy hat. It never really seemed to fit his style all that much, but he at least gave off an aura of being the old male country singer left on the show, which could have been beneficial. Now, he sort of loses that images if he keeps it up. He does seem to have a "different" voice than anybody else out there and that might make him memorable.

Dillon has tattoos on the palms of his hands? Those must have been some pretty powerful drugs he was addicted to.

16. Arthur Gunn- "Lovin' Machine"

This was an unusual performance. What I have noticed but has gone uncommented upon is that the Nepalese immigrant sounds exactly like past Idol winner Phillip Phillips when he sings and that cannot just be a coincidence. This song though was different though. It had a 50's jitterbug vibe to it (I bet my parents liked it), and maybe that was borrowing a page from the last winner Laine Hardy. "Arthur" certainly has a good soulful voice but I do not know if this performance showed any relevance. It might have proven to be a crowd-pleaser though. I was a bit distracted by his front porch shaking (a "front-porch campaign" for Idol... wow), and his eyes seeming to be all the way in the back of his head.

Now, it looks like a back porch.

17. Julia Gargano- "Human"

This felt like it had a minimalist touch, without much decoration in the room behind her and what I believe was just her playing an electric keyboard. She has a nice voice and is particular impressive in her lower register but I wonder if viewers might have found it a bit boring or low-key. Even though they have featured her at every step of the "journey" thus far, she fails to stand out for some reason.

18. Grace Leer- "Cry"

I was moderately pleased last week when she was voted in over the other late 20's female country singer, but they both probably deserved a slot. There are a lot of these contestants living in California this season. For the most part, this was a strong and smart performance. Older female country fans will like it. At times it felt like her voice was straining, but then she would hit some strong notes. It is clear she has been performing for a long time... going all the way back to her time with Seacrest on "American Juniors." I never watched one episode of that show.

19. Just Sam- "I Believe"

Her audition and her Hollywood performances had me thinking that she was the best singer of the season potentially. It was probably smart for her health sake to stay in Southern California instead of returning home to hard hit New York City. I wonder if Idol is paying for her accommodations though and I hope her grandmother back home is ok, if that is where her grandmother remained.

This is an Idol "coronation song" that contestants should be warned off of. Nobody will ever capture the emotion of Fantasia singing it. Just Sam definitely has the voice though and sounded really good, but it also felt a bit disconnected. Maybe because she was in a small room with no audience ,but it was like she had to deliberately hold herself back vocally. I hope the song choice was not a mistake. It will be a big loss for the season if she does not advance.

One thing is for sure, she is extremely skilled at coming across as earnest and humble.

20. Jonny West- "What A Wonderful World"

They gave the pimp slot to him? He is quarantining with girlfriend Margie Mays who has to be wondering why it is not her singing to an iPhone tonight. I am a bit surprised he has gotten this far, even though he has a nice voice and seems to be likable in an underdog sort of way. His best skill may be the piano though. This was a pleasant performance but he did not really bring anything new to this extremely old song beyond his own Alejandroish arrangement. He needed to like have a rap breakdown in the middle, like the kind he had on his original audition song.

Rankings worst to best--- thankfully, no disasters amid the pandemic.

Should be sent....errr kept home:

20. Louis Knight
19. Jovin Webb
18. Jonny West
17. DeWayne Crocker Jr.
16. Kimmy Gabriela
15. Olivia Ximenes
14. Nick Merico
13. Sophia James
12. Makayla Phillips
11. Franklin Boone

Should move on to the next round and have someone go grocery shopping for them:

10. Faith Becnel
9. Julia Gargano
8. Arthur Gunn
7. Dillon James
6. Grace Leer
5. Francisco Martin
4. Lauren Spencer-Smith
3. Aliana Jester
2. Just Sam
1. Cyniah Elise

What will the results be? Idol had 11 females and nine males perform tonight. On some level, they need to be prepared for the possibility that all nine guys will get the most votes and have only one female. My Top Ten list has only three dudes. That will not happen. One way or another, some deserving females will be eliminated.

My predictions- 1. Cyniah Elise 2. Just Sam 3. Aliana Jester 4. Lauren Spencer-Smith 5. Francisco Martin 6. Grace Leer 7. Dillon James 8. Arthur Gunn..... (so far so good)..... 9. Nick Merico 10. Louis Knight.

That would leave Julia and Faith out of luck. I have a hard time seeing them gaining enough votes. I also think it is too bad Makayla picked the song she did. I would have liked to have heard more from her.

I do not know what might possibly happen in terms of Wildcards, but all things considered, a 5-5 gender split (and a 5-5 white vs. non white split)  should make American Idol feel fortunate.


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