Sunday, May 06, 2018

American Idol Top 5

It is another Sunday night and it was another episode of American Idol Season 16. We now know there will indeed be a Season 17, and I hope it lasts longer than this extra speedy version. Tonight, we learned that two contestants would be leaving after the in-show live vote and I certainly expected that Jurnee and Catie Turner would be most at risk.

For the second week in a row, I watched this live with my parents where I had to explain to them the pop culture references "looks like a snack" and "swole." Frankly, I am a bit surprised I even know what they mean. So, while this is not a live blog, it is a recap of the evening, which once again was pretty entertaining. I do not know if anyone on this season will go on to superstardom, but everyone is talented. However, there was one contestant out of the seven tonight that was off their game and easily deserved elimination. The other six were all ranked pretty closely together though.

Two rounds and two songs each, with the themes and the order switched up throughout. Producer manipulation galore perhaps, but the contestants would songs both songs by the Artist Most Frequently During His Lifetime Known as Prince (at least those written by him) as well as songs from the year they were born. As Idol told us in the beginning, Prince once sang about partying like it was "1999" but some of these contestants were Y2K babies. It is scary that I was first legally old enough to "party" in 1999. It was also a better year for the Republican Party.

Anyways, let's look back at Round 1.

1. Jurnee- "Kiss"

She ditched the dreadlocks was looking a slight bit more like former Prince co-star and live interest Vanity. Also present on the drums, for most of the Prince songs was Sheila E. My father tried to Google her but had her confused with Sheena Easton. That happened to me as a child as well, since Sheena had a duet with Prince.

Jurnee sounded perhaps just ok on this song. There was nothing bad about it but it just did not really suit her style as much and she seemed a bit tentative. I do not really think it is one of Prince's better songs either, although it went to Number One.

2. Gabby Barrett- "I Hope You Dance"

Ok, so much for all the Prince songs going in the same round. This is a song from the year Gabby was born, with Nick Jonas as mentor, and in some ways the song was just so predictable.

Nonetheless, this was a surefire vote getter for the ABC Sunday Night Red State Family Audience, so you really cannot blame Gabby. She also sang it extremely well. It is almost like she can do a song like this as well as the country pop ballads she has done in the past in her sleep. One would have to nitpick beyond belief to find anything wrong with the vocal, but as a viewer, I wish she would challenge herself more. She comes across though on stage as someone who is already a star, and just has a winner's aura to herself.

3. Michael J. Woodard- "I Would Die 4 U"

Let's all give thanks to Prince for inventing text speak.

With almost every Michael performance on Idol, he has me a bit confused and non impressed in the first few seconds and then he draws me in and by the end of the performance, I have to admit it was good and he is talented. This was no exception. As a contestant who grew up on only non-secular music, it was obvious how this was really not his style, but he really made the most of the uptempo performance and made it suit his voice, as usual.

4. Cade Phoener- "Who Will Save Your Soul"

Both Katy Perry and I have mothers of similar ages, and they are both really into Cade. That says all there is to know about who the frontrunner is this season, although the voting requirements might be a bit beyond anyone in my family.

I do not like this 90's folk ditty by Jewel, but I have to say I was impressed with the rock twist that Cade put on it. He actually made it sound more "90's" and he showed a lot of creativity, if he was indeed the one responsible for changing the arrangement.

5. Catie Turner- "Oops!...I Did It Again."

I thought this song was from 1999, not 2000.

Most Idol viewers, I think would concede that Catie has a really good voice, but her performances can be hit or miss. This one I thought missed. This version of the Britney Spears song had a pretty different arrangement, but felt and sounded a bit too Vegas kitschy.

6. Caleb Lee Hutchinson- "Amazed"

Wow, how predictable. This is very similar in that vein to Gabby's pick, but she succeed with going that route, and of course this was going to do nothing to harm Caleb with his fan base.

It seems like we have seen him do this song on Idol before but talking to my mother, we reached the conclusion that was done a few weeks ago on The Voice by a country singer named Kaleb Lee. Go figure. This was solid and competent for Caleb, even as it is not the style of country that he does best.

7. Maddie Poppe- "Nothing Compares 2 U"

I had not seen a list of song spoilers, but I would have bet money this would be the Prince penned song she would perform. I wonder if Sinead O'Connor is lashing out on social media.

Playing piano for what I was pretty sure was the first time for her in a live performance this season, Maddie I thought started off with a bit of an odd re-arrangement, but I soon I came to appreciate it more and the way her voice sounded on it. It seemed to be the most confident she has been yet.

First Round Rankings:

7. Catie Turner
6. Jurnee
5. Michael J. Woodard
4. Caleb Lee Hutchinson
3. Cade Phoener
2. Maddie Poppe
1. Gabby Barrett

Next, the contestants sang for a second time. All things considered, for at least six of these performances, this was perhaps the strongest round of Idol vocals in a long time, with as many as six still in the game.

1. Michael J. Woodard- "My Heart Will Go On"

It takes a "titanic" amount of chutzpah for a contestant to take on this Celine Dion 1997 iceberg ballad. especially a male singer. At the same time, before he even sang a word, you could tell this might work out very well for MJW.

Many will continue to find him corny, but in terms of vocal ability, he delivered big time. His unique tone was apparent in the opening verse and I sense people will just waiting to see what he would do with the chorus. While he may have not completely sold out all the way on belting, he managed to hit his share of glory notes and once again, I just could not help but be impressed.

2. Cade Phoener- "Jungle Love"

Again, serious props for an unlikely song choice. I knew this song was in the Purple Rain movie, but did not know that Prince actually wrote it. It is certainly a fun song and Cade had another very strong performance, even if there were several seconds focused on instrumentals and him playing his guitar (while Sheila E. banged away at the drums) instead of singing. The parts he did sing though were good. As he is linked in the media to Gabby, I had the thought that they could maybe be an act together, with her as the main singer and him as her guitarist and backup vocalist, who would occasionally sing some songs as well.  Another surprise tonight was that the Top 7 is going on tour. Are they actually expecting to sell tickets? I imagine they will be going to some pretty small venues, and there was something about past winner Kris Allen joining them.

3. Gabby Barrett- "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore"

I had heard this song on Idol. I think it was done by Stephanie Edwards way back in Season 6, but I did not know Prince wrote or performed it.

This was not one of Gabby's "safe" song choices She really was good on this and unpredictable. It fit into more of her blues "roots" (putting aside her actual roots which are well-concealed on her head) and this was probably another home run, or at least an extra base hit for her. She is probably not among the very best singers Idol has ever had, but she may be the most "stage ready." I suppose you really do have to wonder why she was not already discovered.

4. Jurnee- "Back At One"

This surprised me in a pretty big way. I thought Jurnee was just ok in the first round, but this was an excellent vocal. I never liked the Brian McKnight song from 1999, but she really sold it. This kind of ballad is absolutely what she does best and it was nearly impossible to find anything wrong with it vocally. (My mother said she was sharp on the last note.) As good as this was for Jurnee, I think most, including herself, knew her fate was probably already sealed. The comments from the judges pretty much pointed in that direction.

5. Catie Turner- "Manic Monday"

My first thought upon hearing the choice was that she was a song she could probably do really well on, but alas, that was not to be. From the very beginning, she lost the lyrics, and paused for several seconds. I thought there was an audio problem at first. She recovered eventually, but was a bit shaky the rest of the way through. It did not work for her. The lyrics say, "I wish it was Sunday, because that's my fun day." Well, it was Sunday, but this was unfortunately lacking in the fun.

6. Maddie Poppe- "If It Makes You Happy"

Having played piano in the first round, she played electric guitar on this song. Easily, this was Maddie's best week and I liked what she did with the song. Her voice was good and she sounded confident, although her vibe may be a bit too laid back for a strict comparison to the kids who are managing to hit huge notes.

7. Caleb Lee Hutchinson- "When Doves Cry"

I knew it would be this "Prince anthem." What in the world would he do with it to make it sound country? Assuming there is not some version already on YouTube of the song done in this style, Caleb did a great job in making this happen.

This really did work as a haunting, slow, country ballad. Caleb sounded as good as he has on anything this season. Is this on I-Tunes (probably not), but I think it would sell pretty well.

Round 2 rankings:

7. Catie Turner
(big gap)
6. Maddie Poppe
5. Cade Phoener
4. Caleb Lee Hutchinson
3. Gabby Barrett
2. Michael J. Woodard
1. Jurnee

With Idol headed to the final commercial break, it was time to average the scores from both rounds together. Seventh place was sure easy enough, and there was a degree of separation from the pack of the person I had in first, but the other five were all either tied or separated by one point, so I had to do a good deal of tie-breaking. In all honesty, six contestants did very well tonight.


7. Catie Turner 
6. Maddie Poppe
5. Caleb Lee Hutchinson
4. Cade Phoener
3. Jurnee
2. Michael J. Woodard
1. Gabby Barrett

My mother felt that Michael J. was in trouble, but I thought it was pretty clear, as it was from hours earlier, that the fanbase game would cause the end of the journey for Jurnee and Cate.

Who should have been eliminated: Catie Turner and Maddie Poppe
Who I predicted would be eliminated; Catie Turner and Jurnee
Who was eliminated: Catie Turner and Jurnee

The one semi-dramatic moment was when it was down to the final spot and it looked like Catie was terrified (acting?) that she was actually not going to be eliminated. Michael J. was trying to reign her in while the announcement was made, but I wondered if she saw her name on Seacrest's card as safe or something and she was going to eliminate herself from the competition by quitting.

Are two or three leaving next week? I just feel pretty solidly that whether he deserves it or not, Caleb will be the third wheel joining Cade and Gabby. There just may not be enough African-Americans and young hipsters voting.


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