Monday, April 05, 2021

American Idol Top 24- Part I

For the first time in nearly two years, American Idol has returned to the "Big Stage" in Hollywood. A small audience is present, wearing masks and sitting in "pods." Things are definitely different from last season's Zoom contest, so I am optimistic that there will be some good entertainment over the next couple of months.

I will be watching a recording of tonight's episodes and live-blogging, pausing after each performance to give brief comments. Per usual, I will rank the performances at the end and make predictions. My understanding is that 12 of the contestants will sing tonight, two songs each, and the other 12 will perform tomorrow. By my count, I believe the semi-finalists this year consist of 13 females and 11 males. Based on what is said at the beginning of the show, there will be solo performances, followed by "celebrity duets" and eight from each night will advance to make a Top 16 that will take part in "live" broadcasts. I have also heard rumors that contestants from last season (which never got to sing an on an actual "live broadcast" stage might somehow find themselves entered into this competition as "wildcards." We will have to see what happens. Idol was a lot more straight-forward back in the day and I miss that easy to  understand format and "results shows."

1. Alanis Sophia- "Alive" and "Shallow"

So, it looks like the kids will have about 30 seconds of a solo performance, heavy on special effects in the background, followed by a longer duet, in which the two singers interact at a Dr. Fauci level apprpved distance.

I am impress with Alanis's voice. I wonder how much she really wants to try to keep her hair (as her mother also has) the same as Alanis Morrisette, whom she was named after. For her duet, they paired her with Jimmie Allen, whom I have never heard of, but apparently auditioned for Idol a decade ago. He did not get very far at the time. He seemed to sing more of it than Alanis and overpowered her at times. Still, she has a big voice and I want to see what else she can do.

2. Cassandra Coleman- "Find Me" and "Apologize"
This coffee shop manager is not as much of a belter as some of the other female performers, but she seems to be trying to swing at the same speed. I thought her solo started off pretty good and then went slightly off the rails.

For the duet, Ryan Tedder emerged and was about as generous in sharing the spotlight (not overly so) as he was when he sang this with David Archuleta at the 2008 Idol Finale, (when this song was really big.) For Cassandra, this was another good effort, but I think she may have sang it better when she performed it at the piano by herself at the audition. A couple of notes sounded a bit off.

3. Alyssa Wray- "Something In The Water" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight"

I could tell from her first audition that Idol producers seem to be pimping her to be the eventual winner this season. Indeed, I have found her very impressive from the start, and whether she loses to a white guy with a guitar or not, I think Alyssa could have a major career.

In a way, despite her young age, she reminds me of a more seasoned Jordin Sparks, from her run on Idol, and tonight she took on another Idol winner, Carrie Underwood, with a very credible country twist, before dueting with Idol alum Katherine McPhee (apparently after she had her baby with husband David Foster) on a very R&B like Whitney Houston number that seems very hard to sing. Unlike the others before her, Alyssa is definitely not lacking in confidence. I think she may go very far this season, although I am suspicious of the claim that she is old enough to actually remember McPhee's 2005 Idol season.


4. Wyatt Pike- "rubberband" and "Brand New"

There will be polarization over Wyatt, mostly based on the age of the viewer. I already feel like I am too old to totally get him and his quirky Indie folk rock style, so people of my parents' generation are likely to really find him weird. He definitely has talent, but I did not really enjoy his solo.

However, I think the duet went better than I expected. I do not know this song or who Ben Rector is, but he seems very much in league with the kind of artist the Wyatt wants to be and I thought they meshed well together.

5. Alana- "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" and "Back At One"

I anticipated that Alana (one name only) might get sort of lost in the shuffle tonight because of all the other female A name singers and because I can barely remember her from the audition episodes. I have to admit though that she had a fairly strong showcase. I did not love the Dua Lipa solo song, but she sang it well and added in a bit of a rap breakdown, which is not often attempted on Idol.

Then, she sang Brian McKnight's well known song from the '90s which he claims to have never done as a duet. In truth, the song was mostly about him, but she sounded more than adequate on the parts she was given too. McKnight was recently on Fox's "Masked Dancer", and I with the two networks would do a crossover where the Idol hopefuls have to duet with one of the "Masked Singers" and automatically advance if they can guess the identity.

6. Anilee List- "my future" and "Tell Me Something Good"

These are really hard to rank tonight because everyone is doing quite well and they are bunched together. I keep waiting for someone to lay an egg on stage. I do tend to be biased against singers who do not perform in shoes on the Idol stage.

Anyway, Anilee sang one of these lowercase hipster songs, in this case by Billie Elish, pretty well. She has a lot of soul for a skinny white girl from Los Angeles with a nose ring. This was proven even more on her duet with Joss Stone. Like Alyssa, Anilee is pretty much up to par in terms of confidence and stage presence and had no trouble holding her own in the pairing with the professional.

7. Deshawn Goncalves- "Forever Young" and "I Lived"

He proved he is a talented vocalist, but compared to the others thus far, something felt missing from his segment. I did not really like the arrangement of the Bob Dylan song (which I first came to know as a vastly re-arranged Rod Stewart song.) It started off acapella and felt more musical theater like than gospel, which I think he was trying to go for and did not really have a moment.

Then Ryan Tedder did the duet and once again seemed a little bit too competitive on his part. I am curious why Tedder has the "Divided We Fall" Ben Franklin snake tattoo on his arm. Once again, Deshawn seemed just a little bit off his game.

8. Graham DeFranco- "Raye" and "Love Like This"

During the audition rounds, Graham has come across as a very nice guy, but I have found his singing a bit on the boring side. He definitely has a higher voice than would be expected from his husky frame. To my semi-surprise tonight, I was really impressed by him vocally.  He certainly has his own vocal vibe which will be unique this season and time will tell if the fans will take to him.

I thought his duet with Ben Rector (whom he met at a High School performance years ago) was really good. I know nothing at all about Mr. Rector but he seems to have done a great job working on two male contestants in the duets tonight.

9. Andrea Valles- "Los Vos A Olvidar" and "Careless Whisper"

This was an odd combination of songs. Before the Texas wedding singer explained to Brian McKnight that she recently had eye surgery, it was impossible to ignore that she was wearing an eyepatch. Hey, it worked for Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

Her first song was mostly in Spanish, which might appeal to some folks out there and she sang it nicely, but without much of an impact. I liked what Brian McKnight did with Careless Whisper, but Andrea, while a good singer, seems to be lacking that star factor.

10. Cecil Ray- "Paint Me A Birmingham" and "Freedom Was A Highway"

During his solo, I was a bit relieved to finally hear someone who sounded a bit over their head. After all, that is how the first semifinal episode of American Idol is supposed to go for some. He looked nervous (and that attempt to grow a mustache was a huge mistake) and sounded too nasally.

His duet with Jimmie Allen was a good deal better than and might potentially save him from elimination. There is some potential there, but all in all, Cecil still seems a bit too rough around the edges vocally. The very young father probably needs to have his infant daughter with him on camera as much as possible to go very far this year.

11.  Willie Spence- "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "The Prayer"

A lot of Idol viewers have been and will continue to be convinced that Willie will be the "one to beat" this season. There is no doubt that he is an enormously talented singer and people will want to root for him based on his humble origins and back story, such as learning tonight that his grandfather just died of Covid (and I guess I did not know that Kat McPhee's father, whom I remember crying every time she sang on the Idol stage passed away a few years ago.)

Willie can definitely sing in the gospel sounding way he does and appeal to older audiences of all races. I just do not think he is going to be able to demonstrate much versatility this season. All of his songs are likely to sound good, but they are also probably going to really all sound the same. Way back when Ruben Studdard won Idol, but one could at least see a possibility for R&B relevance back then that Willie likely lacks. Other really good African-American male "church singers" have failed to make the Top 2 throughout Idol history.

12.  Grace Kintsler- "Queen" and "Midnight Train To Georgia"

I am going to briefly digress here and get political but are we sure the Midnight Train to Georgia has not been cancelled? I could go on and on about this issue in the news about the new voter laws in the State of Georgia. There are pros and and cons to what was passed but basically what I feel like saying is that for someone like me who voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump because of what a shameless liar Trump was (including the false narrative that he was cheated in Georgia), it is disappointing to see Biden now go on and contribute to a narrative of lies on his own. I wish he would leave up to the promises he made in his campaign and Inaugural address and not falsely escalate every political battle into it becomes as he put it a "raging fire."

Now, back to Idol and the north Chicago suburbs' own Grace Kinstler closing out the night. Her solo, which I had never heard before was all about how she loves her body. Good for her to go with that because a lot of people will be talking about her body throughout the season. We already know she lost a lot of weight a few years back, but inexplicably only from the waist up. Nonetheless, Sir Mix A Lot will definitely love her body and a whole lot of others will also love her voice.

 She knows she is good and can do crazily impressive things with her voice. That was on display tonight, especially in the duet with Joss Stone. Perhaps some people may think she is showing off too much, but if she can do what does consistently, she might as well go for it.

 Here are my rankings from worst to first, with the salute to all 12 that at least on the duets, they all were all at the minimum above average. They were pretty lucky to not be a part of last season's Idol and all that those kids were forced to make the best of.


12. Cecil Ray
11. Deshawn Goncalves 
10. Andrea Valles
9. Cassandra Coleman
8. Wyatt Pike
7. Alanis Sophia
6. Graham DeFranco
5. Alana
4. Willie Spence
3. Anilee List
2. Alyssa Wray
1. Grace Kinstler

The divide is shown as to whom I think should advance and those who might miss out in this strong group of competitors. What will happen? I think there is a chance Cecil may get through on the sympathy vote (eye patches are maybe not as big of a deal than baby daughters) and that could spell trouble for Alanis Sophia or the similarly named Alana.

So, if I have to predict, I say Cecil will unfairly be put through and Alanis will be sent home and America will to be reminded of the mess we left when she went away. We oughta know.



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