Monday, May 17, 2021

American Idol- Top 3

Tonight, the penultimate episode of this season's American Idol competition aired, and as is typically the case, I will be watching a recording from earlier and live-blogging.
Soon after the show begins, Seacrest casually remarks that Caleb Kennedy is no longer in the competition and it is down now to a Final Four. It is very much a cop-out not to say anything in regards to why, and a lot of viewers were probably quite confused, and many disappointed.
Of course, I saw this all go down in the news a few evenings ago and it seems like a very unfortunate situation all around. I ended my blog last Sunday by saying how surprised, yet pleasantly so, that as the show was ending, a genuinely surprised to survive Caleb, was seen hugging Willie Spence, a somewhat not overly masculine African-American fellow contestant. It even looked like Willie offered his hand to Caleb to shake in congratulations and Caleb hugged him instead. For weeks, I had sort of had a low-key suspicion that perhaps the "outlaw" Caleb, a country boy from South Carolina might be a bit racist. I did not say so directly on the blog though and felt a bit guilty for thinking such. After all, how would we know? I did not want to give in to anti-southern stereotypes, but let's just say that in the aftermath of the rise of Donald Trump, I am a bit more cognizant of these things .So, Caleb being willing to hug Willie made it seem like my suspicions were unfounded.
Now though, Caleb is off the show, because there was a brief video of him, purportedly from when he was just 12 years of, of him sitting next to a friend, who was wearing a KKK hood. Caleb took to Instagram to say that he was sorry, it did not represent his beliefs, and he was off the show. We may perhaps not know for sure if he was quit or thrown off, but I would bet heavily that Idol wanted him off. Perhaps they even feared he could win in two weeks. Caleb's mother has said something about how this was about imitating something they had seen in a movie and was not even about the Klan.

Nonetheless, Caleb is of the show, while a similar incident, from many years earlier, of the current Virginia Democrat Governor, when he was in medical school, never resulted in official consequences. (Perhaps also Caleb is the first ever Kennedy to be officially punished for misconduct.)
Clearly, posing with a Klan hood was a dumb idea. The contestant was not the one actually wearing it though. Was there something else in the video that has not been widely reported? Again, this supposedly happened when he was 12 years old, which was not all that long ago, but still, kids are kids. This is clearly 2021 "cancel culture" at play. As has been the case with many other examples, all sorts of young people are going to learn that there are consequences to dumb decisions made on social media, even going back to extremely young ages. I believe this story first appeared on TMZ and I wonder if American Idol itself was responsible for planting it. Years ago, it was very evident that Idol had a  back-channel to TMZ and  used it to try to discredit contestants such as David Archuleta.

Hopefully, Caleb, an aspiring country singer and songwriter will not have his life or career ruined over something that happened when he was 12. Clearly, even the appearance of racism is a bigger deal to American Idol than a fairly recent drunk driving episode in the past of the older Chayce Beckham.  If he was racist then, hopefully he is not now. Many things in life can be learning experiences but this whole episode feels dirty.

Anyways, on with the show. The Final Four will first be mentored by music producer Finneas. All I know about him is that he is Billie Elish's older brother.

1. Chayce Beckham- "Colder Weather"

For this first round, the contestants are apparently singing a song from a personal Idol. Chayce has picked something from the Zak Brown Band and going in a country direction off the bat may be smart now that Caleb is out and the other three are most certainly not even close to country artists.

Chayce tells Finneas he is thinking about now playing guitar for this performance, which would be the first time not doing so. It is agreed that he would be a good idea, but lo and behold Chayce is strumming the acoustic guitar as usual. Vocally, he sounded good like he always does, but nothing resembling a wow moment. Chayce is consistent and somewhat safe every week and this song seemed very mainstream country with a touch of folk to it.

2. Casey Bishop- "wish you were gay"

I suppose one can tell from the lower case letters, this song is one of Billie Elish, the still teenaged sister of Finneas. I had no idea this song exists. A few years back, this being sang by the 16 year old Casey would have been very controversial. I doubt a right-wing group will even send out a press release now though. I can only surmise from the lyrics that the song is about a girl liking a guy and wishing she did not like him so much and that would be easier if he were gay. I mean, at least that is how I interpreted it. I thought it would more often by the other way around. Just ask Adam Lambert's fans.

Anyway, Casey is a talented young singer but I am not into Elish music and was not really into this. I do not even know how to categorize it. It certainly is not rock. We already know Casey can sing ballads expertly. I suppose this was current and all but I could not get into it musically.

3. Grace Kinstler- "A Moment Like This"

Before Grace sings the winning song from the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, we have a brief appearance from 2019 winner Laine Hardy. The show has not this season formally recognized last year's stay at home winner "Just Sam" in any way.

Grace tells Finneas (I refuse to type it as FINNEAS as the official episode description labels him) she looks up to Kelly because like her, they do not fit the music industry mold. Back in 2002 though, Kelly looked a bit different. Tonight, Grace resembled a mermaid. Still, there is no doubt that both women can sing, even if one sort of rolls their eyes at the song choice itself.

Grace's take on this Idol moment was certainly not as emotional as when Kelly first sang it when she was the same age Grace is now, but let there be no doubt of course that Grace can belt and captivate the audience with her voice at any given moment. It is too bad the website "What Not to Sing" is no longer scoring every Idol performance and I am sure Grace's score would surpass that of Kelly from 2002 (plus the attempts of Justin Guarini and Amber Holcomb.)

I will briefly mention that my mother called me after she finished watching the episode live and said she needed a half hour to get over her emotions from watching it. She said every one of the four was good and it is hard to pick who should be the American Idol. I wonder if this means she was also disappointed with whom was cut, but she said I should mention on here that she has now managed to
"get over" the elimination of Madison.

4. Willie Spence- "Glory"

At first I thought this might be a song he already did, but that was a different civil rights tinged song from a different movie. This was the Oscar winning song from John Legend, making it the second straight time a current "The Voice" judge was chosen as an American Idol contestant's personal Idol. No such luck though for Blake Shelton or Nick Jonas.

My goodness, Willie is a vocal powerhouse, and absolutely captivating, at least for one song at a time. This was probably his best performance. He probably even outbelted Grace. I now think it is possible that he could win next week (as could Grace or Chayce.) Whatever happens after that, he definitely deserves to be signed as a Gospel artist and to perform for huge crowds in the post-pandemic era we are entering.

Round 1 rankings:

4. Casey Bishop
3. Chayce Beckham
2.  Grace Kinstler
1.  Willie Spence


1. Chayce Bechkam- "23" and "You Should Probably Leave"

It looks like this next round will be a mini-set consisting of the "single" they have recorded in the studio for this show as well as a reprise of something done earlier in the season.

The first is a song written by Chayce himself, that is not an homage to Michael Jordan or President Benjamin Harrison but instead another song about his alcohol addiction. He talks about how he was a complete drunk at age 23 which necessitated the need for him to become sober at 24. Again, I salute him for turning his life around. The song felt very similar in some ways to what he sang last week, even with a nearly idenitical "I'm sorry Mama" line in it. I think last week's original song was better.

Then, he did something he did on Hollywood Week, which once again felt very radio friendly country. As always, Chayce never hits a bad note. He is polished as a vocalist and performer, at least for those people who like the kind of music he does, but as a television performer, he seems incapable of making the same kind of impression that Grace and Willie regularly do and that Casey is capable of with the right material.
We learn that Chayce's single is currently number one on the Country ITune Charts. Yeah, he is probably going to win the show. 

OMG. Casey is going to do Motley Crue? Just when I was counting her out. I hope she tempts the fate of the elimination gods and sings "Home Sweet Home." Maybe "Without You?"  It would be pretty awesome though if she could nail "Dr. Feelgood." I think I remember now, she did Motley Crue during the audition rounds, but cannot quite remember the song....

2. Casey Bishop- "Love Me, Leave Me" and "Live Wire"

At first her original song sounded very much like she was being pushed into a Billie Elish direction, but then towards the end, the song got a bit heavier, complete with images of burning scaffolds behind her.

"Live Wire" is not one of the better known Crue songs perhaps. I would have loved to hear her doing something more familiar, but on this, she likely rocked out more on a single performance than any female on Idol history. On both of the two songs, the vocals had a couple shaky moments, but most of it was very good, and what she was able to accomplish was extremely impressive. Out of anyone left on the show, she may be able to demonstrate the most vocal versatility (though I perhaps would not rule out Grace being able to sing anything.) It is sort of weird though. Casey should either sing big old-time ballads or do Hair Metal (and she definitely has the hair.). She is better at both of those genres than 90s grunge rock.

3. Grace Kinstler & Willie Spencer- "What They'll Say About Us"

The ranking system will get a bit complicated here, because this "round" will end in a duet, as I imagine the next one will as well. I think the duets were late additions to take up for the two songs that Caleb was supposed to sing.

This was an emotional ballad written by Finneas having been inspired by last year's Covid death of Broadway actor Nick Cordero. Grace and Willie sound great individually and they sound great together. I do not know what else I can say. It was really hard to even determine which one was better in this duo. They easily deserve to be the Top 2, based solely on vocals. We can be sure that there will not be a beach themed"From Justin to Kelly" type movie though
Since everyone sang once, Round 2 rankings:
4.  Chayce Beckham
3.  Casey Bishop
2.  Willie Spence
1.  Grace Kinstler

1. Grace Kinstler- "Love Someone" and "Father"

These vocal snippets from the "singles" are fairly short but Grace is unsurprisingly in fine voice. It really did sound like Kelly Clarkson meets Adele. What was Grace doing as a teenager (not long ago at all) that did not cause her to pursue a record deal more seriously? In any event, this exposure on national television has been great for her.

Next, she reprises "Father" which Demi Lovato wrote after the death of her father. We learned during her audition that Grace's father died unexpectedly in February of 2020. She and he may not have had as complicated a relationship as the lyrics portray in this song, but the emotions were likely similar and to nobody's surprise, she sang the heck out of it. 

2. Willie Spence- "Never Be Alone" and "I Was Here"

What is even the point of a Casey and Chayce duet up next? Just crown Grace and Willie as co-Idols. Naw, there has to be one eventual winner, like always. Those two may want to make people gain weight!

I really am sort of out of superlatives. Usually, I hate all the original Idol "singles" the first time I hear them, but Will(ie) and Grace seem able to sell anything. His take on the Beyonce number next was also captivating. I hope he does "Halo" by Beyonce next week. Whatever kind of music one has as their favorites, how can somebody not appreciate the vocal skills of the last two contestants? Extremely tough to choose between them. I had to try my best not to consider Grace's Chicago homecourt advantage for me.

 3. Casey Bishop & Chayce Beckham- "Break My Heart Again"

Apparently, Finneas has this whole career and a bunch of songs I had no idea about. I am pretty impressed. I was also impressed with this duet by the two CBs. Both contestants sounded better here than they had all night. This was especially striking for Casey, whom I felt nailed her portions She may be a good rock singer but she is a terrific ballad singer. This duet would indeed be something of an "Idol Moment" if they did not happen to have to share the stage tonight and this season with Grace and Willie.

Rankings- all were great here:

4.   Chayce Beckham
3.   Casey Bishop
2.   Grace Kinstler
1.   Willie Spencer

4. Chayce Beckham
3. Casey Bishop
2. Grace Kinstler
1. Willie Spence
Virtual ties between 4 and 3 and 2 and 1, but not exact ties.
I am almost afraid to see what happens next.

Who should be eliminated: Chayce Beckham
Who I predict will be eliminated: Casey Bishop

Who was eliminated: Casey Bishop

I am relieved it was not Grace, who will now apparently get an Idol Homecoming visit not too far from where I live. I thought these would be the Final Three over two weeks ago, so there are not a lot of surprises here. I do not think Casey's "wish you were gay" song won her any new voters.

It seems likely that there will be somebody cut during the middle of next week's show and then a "Final Two" winner announcement at the end. Based on everything thus far, Chayce should be the first to go, but I will be surprised if that happens and he is not at least Top Two. That being said, I think a case can be made for any three of them winning it via the votes.

As it will be a three hour Sunday Night Grand Finale next week, I likely will watch it live, and then blog about it on Monday night or perhaps even later in the week.


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