Sunday, April 22, 2018

American Idol Top 14

Tonight, I am going to watch the recording of the taped broadcast of Idol tonight and live-blog it as I go.

For the first time, the show returns to the main studio and the "big stage." It looks somewhat different but Seacrest claims it is good to be back under "this roof" indicating that it may very well be the same building where Idol has taken part, in the vast majority of episodes, since Season 1.

I am struck by the announcement that the winner will be crowned in just four weeks. I suppose the show would not have been able to last into the summer, and thus, with the start two months later than most Idol seasons before, this will be a short sprint to the finish, although there seemed to be more than enough audition episodes. If Idol returns next season, I wonder if it will start again in January and last as long as it used to. Perhaps not.

In any event, tonight, there are going to be 14 performances. We are told that America will vote and the Top 6 will automatically advance to the Top 10 and I believe the judges will pick the other four. That means this is the final opportunity for four singers.

1. Caleb Lee Hutchinson- "Midnight Train to Memphis"

Leading off this show is not a spot a contestant would want, but as the only real country singer left, Caleb will stand a good chance to advance. I believe he is the first singer ever to play the banjo on American Idol, but despite that throwback vibe, the hair and makeup people have done their thing on him and the performance felt more "modern country."  It's hard for me to judge. I could not really understand what he was singing about and while I do not know the song, felt like he was mumbling the word "Memphis" in the chorus. It was not the kind of older George Strait country one might have expected from him. The vocal was not that great to me, but country fans may have liked it.

2. Michelle Sussett- "Friends"

This will be a polarizing performance. Michelle may be the first singer in the history of American Idol trying to go the dance pop route. That is clearly a popular style of music, but as such, the type of songs and vocal performances will not be that great technically. There were parts of this performance that I thought were terrible and others where she looked and sounded, (for better or worse) like a legit pop artist. All things considered, I think she deserves some credit for trying to go this route.

3. Marcio Donaldson- "It's A Miracle"

What the heck was this? Marcio is "straight outta Compton" but sang a Barry Manilow song in a Col. Sanders tie. Fantasia once had to sing this on the Idol stage, but that was because Manilow was the mentor and the theme. I am not sure why Marcio went this route. He's been really good thus far at putting together strong performances on standards or classic R&B songs. This just was corny though. The most unfortunate part though for the contestant, who clearly has talent, was that you could barely hear him over whatever this band is that Idol is using this season and his timing with the band seemed off and thus the vocal was frantic. I bet he will still get high praise from the judges though.

4. Mara Justine- "This Is Me"

She sang an Oscar nominated (and perhaps winning?) song from a recent movie but the lyrics and vibe of the song totally could have it as a corny Idol winning single. It started off like another ballad, but then went uptempo and Mara added more  movement to the performance although she did not walk around or anything. She has a big voice and hit some big notes, but be it nerves, emotions, or whatever, he voice was a bit more quivery on some of the softer verses.

5. Garrett Jacobs- "Raging Fire"

We are not off to a very good start to these Finals on ABC. Garrett was lucky to even get to this point, as I think there are probably a lot better singers his age on YouTube or Instagram. This came across like a KidsBop version of a Phillip Phillips song. Garrett's voice is just not strong or gritty enough to pull this out, and I do not think Phillips's songs lend well to cover versions done by anyone. Garrett was smiling and was too happy on this song and it did not fit. I have to assume the best performances will be coming in the latter portion of the evening.

6. Ada Vox- "The Show Must Go On"

This is a great song for a drag"Queen" and Ada of course hit some big notes, but all in all, I was somewhat disappointed. It came across more of Adam (Sanders, not Lambert) singing this than Ada (maybe it was the sideburns.) It was lacking the drama and vocal range that it could have encapsulated. The then teenage Paris Bennett in Season Five did it better, but at least for Ada, it might have been nominally the best vocal so far tonight.

7. Catie Turner- "Take Me to Church"

In the intro piece, she lashes out at those who have said her personality is all an act? Did she read my blog two weeks ago? I have to say though, this performance was a lot better than I expected.  When she focuses on singing a "serious" song, her talent is apparent. I thought she sounded better in the verses than in the firsts chorus, but it was still fairly strong technically and only leads more credence to her being more of a "performance artist" off stage. (Along those lines, young Mara could also stand to turn it down several degrees.)

8. Cade Phoener- "Black Magic Woman"

Was he actually playing the guitar solo? He resembles a very young Brian May from Queen, It must be the hair. Vocally, this was solid again, and Cade seemed to stay right on course, even when playign electric guitar, but not exactly any sort of "wow" moments. I really want to see if he can sing something more dynamic or more vulnerable. Eventually, if he sticks with this, it will become too predictable.

9. Dennis Lorenzo- "In My Blood"

These songs are trending towards newer tonight (which continues to make Marcio's selection all the weirder.) I thought this was a much better choice for Dennis in showing off his vocals than the solo he did during the semifinal round. There might have been some off notes, but he hit most of them right and delivered the performance with conviction. There are a whole lot of these "better" outcomes from tonight that I am ranking close together. I still hope someone can really make a bigger impact though.

10. Maddie Poppe- "Homeward Bound"

This certainly is an old song. The potentially ominous title of the song aside, this started off really, really good for Maddie. I did not particularly think she sounded great when she went higher in a part of the chorus, but the other portions of the vocal were done very effectively and she validated, at least to some extent, her spot in the Finals, as from what I gather, others opinions online of her tended to be a lot better last week than the impression I got.

11.Jurnee- "Bang Bang"

This performance was similar in many ways to Michelle, in that Jurnee did a modern pop/club/whatever song with heavy on dance performance (and she threw in the rap portion as well.) In comparison between the two, Jurnee is definitely a better singer (as she showed last week on the ballads she did during the semifnals), although of course, there are going to be some technical problems vocally on high energy numbers like this. I have to judge based on the vocals alone, but I can certainly understand why Jurnee will get "star points" for this. This kind of performance on American Idol reminded me more of what might have been seen during the brief run of  "X-Factor USA."

12. Jonny Brenns- "This Is Gospel"

What a weird night. This was a bold song choice for Jonny. I have no idea what this Panic in the Disco song is, but he seemed to sort of take it to an uptempo Christian Contemporary worship style song, but to me, it sounded, really, really pitchy. I did not know that anyone would outdo Garrett in that category tonight, so unfortunately, I am going to have to rank this one really low. Jonny should have done a white guy with a guitar ballad and he maybe would have stood a great shot at getting enough votes to advance. This song choice took some chutzpah for someone as inexperienced on stage as him, but really missed the mark.

13. Michael J. Woodard- "Titanium"

It took a few bars for Michael to get really into the song. The first portion, he was smiling a bit and interestingly enough could have passed vocally for a female, but then once he revved it up, this was a pretty stellar vocal performance for him. There is no doubt that he is in his own lane in this competition and that there really is not anybody else out there in the music world quite like him. If the public buys into it, he could go extremely far in this competition, although I would not also be shocked if he is a surprise elimination earlier than many expect.

14. Gabby Barrett- "The Climb"

Clearly, American Idol is seeing Gabby as this season's "Chosen One" and they are going to try to push her to a win, but Cade's strength with the older female demographic might be hard to slow down at the moment.

I am just really wondering how Gabby, a girl from Pittsburgh, whom we saw tonight as having a background in a black church choir, has such a country accent when she talks. Tonight, she sang this well-known Miley Cyrus anthem with about 50% more twang than the original version. In some ways, this was a lay-up vocally for Gabby, but you really cannot fault her for doing what she did well. It did sound like she was trying to copy the Miley Cyrus version note for note, but as someone who is likely a naturally better singer than the original artist. If only Gabby were actually from the South, she would be even more of a front-runner.


14. Jonny Brenns
13. Garrett Jacobs
12. Marcio Donaldson
11. Caleb Lee Hutchinson

10. Michelle Sussett
 9.  Mara Justine
 8.  Jurnee
 7.  Catie Turner

 6.  Ada Vox
 5.  Maddie Poppe
 4.  Cade Phoener
 3.  Dennis Lorenzo
 2.  Michael J. Woodard
 1.  Gabby Barrett

This will be the first time this season we will get any indication as to whom the voting audience likes, and thus surprises may be in store. Again, only the top six are automatically getting through. If there are live sing offs tomorrow night for the Wildcard spots, I will judge and rank them. All that I can be certain of is that Gabby and Cade will advance to the Top 10.

With one exception, this was a pretty weak showing for the white dudes in the competition. If the judges have a say though, they will put at least one more of them through.

Who are the other four that will join Gabby and Cade? I am going to predict Michael J., Maddie, Jurnee, and then it gets really tough. A case can be made for the public putting through Ada, or Caleb, or Dennis, or Catie, but I will say that Mara will just barely make it, and then others will hope for another avenue to the Top 10.


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