Monday, May 11, 2020

American Idol Top 7

Welcome back to quasi-American Idol: Quarantine Edition.

Tonight, I will be watching a DVR recording, stopping to make comments and predictions as I go, along with a look at what I predicted from last week.

It has been a Mothers' Day tradition the past two years on the ABC version of this franchise to have a special, schmaltzy show on this holiday featuring Disney song as well as those dedicated to the contestants' mothers. The last two years I watched these shows live back at my old house with my parents as part of our Mothers' Day gathering.  Unfortunately, that cannot be done this year due to "everything going on." Everyone around the world is hoping for a more traditional holiday in 2021.  My mother and I will have to compare notes after I see this episode. Last week, we sure disagreed on a lot of my rankings!

1. Arthur Gunn- "Kiss The Girl"

I did not really like what he did last week, but nonetheless predicted he would advance to the Top 7. I am also not overly enthused about hearing these Disney songs. I bet we will get a lot of the same ones from the past two seasons. I mostly liked those who managed to rearrange the songs to sound less childish and more "relevant."

For the most part, I thought Arthur accomplished that here, although I was ready for it to be over about 30 seconds in. It did sound very similar to his usual folk/reggae vibe while sounding like Phillip Phillips sounding like Dave Matthews.

2. Just Sam- "A Dream Is a A Wish Your Heart Makes"

I am glad she deservedly went through. Her hair and dress tonight were clearly designed to appeal more towards "Middle America", but theoretically these kids are having to do all this by themselves while at home.

 Vocally, this was an extremely pleasant sounding ballad. It seems like Sam can probably sing just about anything and she sounded nearly effortless on this. While she was able to pull off some nuances in her vocal delivery, it still sounds like she is holding back. I picture her as far more of a Mary J. Blige style R&B belter. Without a live audience though to feed the energy off of, we may not get to fully see that side of her. She sounded like a pro though on this to me, at least as far as a Disney Cruise entertainer may be.

3. Jonny West- "Almost There"

This week, Jonny is with his parents in some larger room with nothing on the wall. Did Margie kick him out? Anyways, I was correct in predicting he would survive, although I did not think he deserved to. He might survive a nuclear explosion at this point because he keeps surviving far longer than I previously expected.

This was not a horrible vocal. I just could not wait for it to be over. As always, he performed while playing the electric piano. That is clearly the kind of artist he sees himself. Last week, the judges compared him to Randy Newman, and while that singer has won a bunch of Oscars for movie songs, I just do not see any chart toppers in Jonny's future. This song felt very 1970's easy listening to me.

4. Louis Knight- "Can You Feel The Love Tonight"

Well, I am four for four in my predictions, though I cannot deny that I also think Louis is another undeserving male to have been voted through at the expense of others who had better vocals. He continued his theme here of singing a tune by an English singer, although this was the first time he played without the piano. I think that was the right thing to attempt, his wild arm movements not withstanding, even though one cannot imagine Sir Elton John performing this standing up.

I give points to Louis for trying, but vocally, this sounded pretty weak at points. While it is a well known Disney song, it felt like he sang the same few lines too many times. I thought he was impressive when he sang his original song at the audition, but the past three weeks I have found him out of his depth vocally.

5. Julia Gargano- "Beauty And The Beast"

I had her ranked sixth last week, so I thought she deserved to go through, but am a bit surprised she did for the second week in a row. There are only two slots left now though and I really hope Francisco and Grace get in.

This performance seemed weird to me. I was prepared to find this ballad pleasant but boring but instead there was some sort of weird midtempo disco beat to it that really seemed to clash with Julia's attempts to sing it like a restrained Celine Dion. I am not sure she made the most of this.

Katy Perry's dog cannot stay awake, Dumbo costume and all, and Luke Bryan's dog is holding out for a bigger contract. Somewhere, Randy Jackson is bemoaning that he never got to judge next to an actual dawg!

6. Francisco Martin- "You'll Be In My Heart"

He was easily the best male singer last week, and I had him ranked first overall. So I am glad but not surprised he got voted through. He always seems on the verge of tears when he advances. Maybe he is acting, but it actually seems genuine and I think he is able to carry that connection over to the vocal. Overall, it is a bit like David Archuleta meets Kris Allen. Those two guys did pretty well on the show, back when a ton more people were watching.

He is never flawless when he sings, but there is something about his performances that makes you want to root for him. Perhaps it is the seeming lack of ego. He had to strain more emotionally and with his voice here than Just Sam had to for example but the end product was pretty good and it felt "current."

Back from commercial break we learn the last spot goes to Dillon James. I had him ranked fifth and thought he would go through, but still this Final 7 clearly has more males than it deserves. Only two ladies are now left.

So, to make all this official, we are saying goodbye to Sophia James, whom I thought had an off performance last week and did not think she would make it. Also Jovin Webb, whom I had 7th, but did not think would get enough votes.  I had Makayla Phillips fourth, but she was the one judges' save and I did not think she would make it through. The one big surprise is Grace Leer, whom I had second and was basically the only country singer this season. I thought that would be enough to advance, but her time on American Idol reaches the same fate she must remember from American Juniors.

Four out my top seven from last week did advance. All in all, that is I suppose average. Arthur, Louis, and Jonny are all lucky dudes. As for my predictions, I actually got six out of seven, only being wrong on Julia getting in instead of Grace.

7. Dillon James- "Our Town"

This week, Dillon tried to bring back more of a country vibe. That is smart strategically. Maybe it will work out better for him than it did for Grace.

Vocally, I thought this was his best performance. I do not know this song and have never seen the movie "Cars", but it sounded a bit like a sentimental look back at small town life in America with regret for the way things have changed. We all know how powerful that has proven to be in American politics. He sang it really well, although it is his clear he does not exactly have a huge range, either on the upper or lower end. He just keeps in the middle lane, but at least was able to be consistent tonight.

Ranking them, I felt the top three were far above the bottom four.

Disney Round:

7. Louis Knight
6. Julia Gargano
5. Jonny West
4. Arthur Gunn
3. Dillon James
2. Francisco Martin
1. Just Sam

1. Arthur Gunn- "Hey, Ma"

The song title is clearly appropriate for this round. "Arthur" has very nice handwriting too, as we see the letters they will all be giving their mothers. I also note that he has now worn two Hawaiian shirts this broadcast, while also wearing what used to be referred to as a "winter hat."

I do not know this song and I could barely make out much of the lyrics, but I sort of liked it. Instead of doing something else reggae sounding (or '50s rockish as he did two weeks ago), this almost sounded like a hard rock power ballad from the 80's or early 90's and it suited his gritty style fairly well.

2. Just Sam- "I Turn To You"

Last week, Sam dedicated a song to her grandmother, and of course did so again this week. We learn that her actual mother was incarcerated for most of her life growing up. I wonder if that might still be the situation.

I have mixed feelings over this ballad. Vocally, it was pretty much pitch perfect. Sam is incredibly talented, but she seemed to be rushing through this, as I have felt about her other "live" performances that are up for the voting. It seems she could have done this in her sleep. She gets all the points for staying in tune and hitting runs, but for someone who people were probably prepared to compare to Fantasia, these home performances seem to be missing much in the way of emotion.

3. Jonny West- "Amazing Grace"

I think something really did happen with Margie. He went home to his parents (seemingly without any luggage) and she was not mentioned.

This was an interesting song choice. There are a lot of religious Christians who watch this show that will either love this or hate this. Vocally, I did not like the first few bars as it sounded like he was just rearranging the classical hymn (which I guess I would prefer to hear Just Sam sing as a gospel version) but then he seemingly had his own lyrics that covered his mother's adoption when she was a baby. Vocally, he sounded a lot like Paul Simon (as the judges mentioned in the last round), so I was not really enamored with his style, but basically writing his own version of "Amazing Grace" about his mom might be one of the boldest things ever done on Idol. He is probably going to get a ton of votes.

4. Louis Knight- "You've Got a Friend"

I am trying to remember how they handled Alejandro's performance on Mother's Day last year. They may have basically changed the whole theme of the round. This season though, all the contestants seem close to their mothers (or grandmother) and they are all appearing with them on camera or as part of the package.

Louis took on a Yankee song this time and it was probably his best performance. He seemed more emotionally connected. Still though, while this performance was sweet, his voice is just perhaps not Idol champion caliber. If he would have been a member of One Direction, he just probably would have gotten the least amount of solos.

5. Julia Gargano- "Sweetest Devotion"

For some reason, it looked like she was lip synching. The words and the video seemed to be on track timewise, but it really did sound like a pre-recorded vocal. I will try to overlook all of that though.

For this round, Julia sang an Adele song, but sounded a bit more like her fellow New Yorker Lady Gaga, at least for when Gaga gets serious and tries to do these sort of songs. That is pretty much a compliment. Julia is very good in her lower register but maybe not as adept in hitting high notes. All in all, this was pretty good.

6. Francisco Martin- "River"

I caught an editing problem. They showed him sitting down to play this song for his mom and dog and picking up one guitar, but when he began performing, it was a totally different guitar. Trippy!

It should be mentioned though that he does play guitar in every performance and perhaps should do something without one. What can I say though, I have really liked all his performances. The formula of "White Guy With Guitar" has worked on Idol for years now in producing winners. Might it also work for a non-white guy? (Last year's winner was half Asian-American after all and the runner up was Latino.)

This is another song I do not know, but it felt like it could be Francisco's own. He is not like a completely captivating performer (though who can be given these circumstances) but there is something about his voice that I really like. I think in contrast to much of his competition this season, and looking back at the victorious run of Laine Hardy last year, Francisco is actually doing the kind of music he would want to do after Idol is over. Older viewers may not necessarily get it, but even as it has been used as a cliche by the judges to everyone all season, I think he might actually have the most potential to make it in the real world.

7. Dillon James- "Hang On, Hang On"

For many, Dillon's backstory and the role his mother played in it will be pretty powerful stuff. As we have been told, he had a pretty serious drug addiction problem. That is all too common in America these days. Thankfully, he was, for whatever reason, able to get his life back and track and now of course has a bright future ahead of him.

Vocally, this was pretty good, although he just does not have the best voice. He is trying to be country now but the Californian is not even attempting to fake the twang. There seems to be depth though in how he sings that a lot of people will find appealing. Since Idol went the steps of showing the teary eyed judges in little boxes on the screen, they may be pimping him a bit in this pimp spot.

Mother's Day Rankings- good job by all (though not necessarily for the same reasons). I hope it helped brighten the day of all mothers out there, especially this year.

7. Louis Knight
6. Jonny West 
5. Arthur Gunn
4. Julia Gargano
3. Dillon James
2. Just Sam
1. Francisco Martin

Combined rankings:

7. Louis Knight
6. Jonny West
5. Julia Gargano
4. Arthur Gunn
3. Dillon James
2. Just Sam
1. Francisco Martin

One thing is for sure, pound for pound, these kids are the most humble group of Finalists Idol has ever seen. Perhaps that might have something to do with them not living in the Idol Hollywood bubble.

Have they told us yet how many people will be in the Finale? I guess the winner is being crowned next Sunday, and that will be it, and ABC is moving on immediately to a Taylor Swift concert from last year.

The past two seasons, ABC has been giving us a Top 3 for Finale night that then eventually gets down to two grand finalists.

In my rankings, I definitely have a clear Top 3 and I also have a clear Top 2. It is just among the top 2 that I waiver back and forth and had to break my lone tie tonight for the two rounds.

Vocals alone, nobody can touch Just Sam. However, Francisco also has a great voice and has been a more interesting and compelling performer. I try to judge on vocals alone, which is why I gave Round 1 to Sam, but she is holding back for some reason and her performances are just lacking impact-wise.

I hope Just Sam makes it to whomever gets to perform for votes next week, along with Francisco, and Dillon, the "Spiritual Cowboy."

My hunch is that Francisco and Dillon will make it. However, (and much props to him for his songwriting ability), the Unsinkable Jonny West will also advance over more deserving singers, such as "Just Sam."


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