The first results show of the main competition was actually surprisingly interesting. The format has been tweaked significantly, meaning that there’s more actual content in the result reveals. It just felt like more was going on throughout the whole show. Plus, Nikki Minaj actually bothered to show up on time.
In the recap of Wednesday night’s performances, mentor Jimmy Iovine agreed that the girls on the whole way outsang the boys. No question there. He did have some very different takes on a few of the performances, though. Jimmy really liked Janelle Wednesday, and I thought she was pretty dreadful vocally. He thought that Angie was overpraised by the judges, but still good. He thinks that Paul needs to drop the pop-country thing, because he’s not believable as country in any way. Jimmy also loved Amber, saying that she has charisma/star power to spare. I just don’t get that. I realize I’m the outlier here, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about Amber. She is a decent singer but has very little personality to me. Still, I’m willing to be sold.
Ryan explained that the results are going to be done with “a little more detail” this year, with the Top 3 all being identified -- but not the exact order -- and Ryan also gave us some minor geographic breakdowns. So, for instance, Devin was No. 1 in Puerto Rico. That’s not at all surprising. Basically all the contestants he talked to were No. 1 in their home states.
He first called up Devin, Janelle, and Candice, and revealed that Candice was in the Top 3. She was the best of Wednesday night to me, so no complaints there.
After commercials we had our first group song, which was basically a commercial for that terrible-looking new “Croods” movie. So I guess we won’t be getting Ford commercials now? I’m conflicted about that. We also learned that Curtis and Amber are dreadful lip synchers. Do not go on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” you two. You WILL be told to sashay away.
Then weirdly, the mayor of the town where Kree grew up came out to give her the key to the city of Woodville, Texas. What the what is this? Interestingly, Kree was also named to the Top 3, which thrills me. I think she’s great but I worried that she might have gotten lost last night considering that several other girls had much more attention-grabbing songs.
Following that odd segue, Bon Jovi came out. We’ve hit that point where Jon Bon Jovi has started to look old, and that makes me feel terribly sad. The band still sounds good, even though the vibe was dramatically different from what we’ve come to expect from it. Much more laid back. And what is going on with Richie Sambora’s hair?
And then…god, and then. Remember last week, Ryan threatened us with the fact that the runner-up guy and runner-up girl who just missed out on the Top 10 would be competing for a final slot on the “Idol” tour this summer? Well the first person competing was fucking Charlie Askew, who I had just started to believe that we’d never see again after he was blessedly eliminated last week. Here’s the thing, though: he sang an original song called “Sky Blue Diamond,” which he performed while playing the piano -- and I actually didn’t hate it. The pitch was a bit quavery in parts, but the melody was quite pretty. Most important, Charlie wasn’t doing his drama-queen theatric bullshit that drove me absolutely nuts the last few weeks he was on the show. All in all, I thought it was interesting, and stunningly mature given his usual penchant for juvenile attention-baiting.
The girl competing against Charlie was Aubrey Cleland, who did “On My Own.” It was beautifully sung, but that’s an awfully sleepy song to pick for a win/lose voting situation. I suspect that Charlie will win that one. I guess that’s fitting, since he made much more of an impact on the competition than Aubrey ever did.
Then last year’s winner, Phillip Phillips, came out to sing his new single, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” It’s a jangly country-tinged rock song. Not nearly as catchy as “Home” -- a huge hit that Phillip did NOT want to release -- but it’s a totally solid song, and I think “Idol” might have its first legitimately successful winner in years. He’s gone quadruple platinum with “Home.” Thanks, Olympics!
Angie and Lazaro were called up next. Both sang Kelly Clarkson last night, and it was Angie who also made the Top 3 with Kree and Candice. I find it so interesting that Amber did not make it, given that she got the Pimp Slot and a heavy, heavy push from the judges.
So after we found out the Top 3, we got the rest of the results in actual order. The show may have a real problem on its hands in a few weeks, because Lazaro -- who is easily the weakest singer in this competition -- came in fourth place. FOURTH. He should have been fighting for survival, and he was in FOURTH PLACE. Wow. In fifth was Amber, which is still lower than I think many people expected her to be. Coming in sixth was Janelle, which was bullshit. Janelle is also dramatically weaker than just about anyone who placed below her, and should have been toward the bottom of those rankings.
I was surprised, but pleased, to see Burnell come in 7th. I think he’s got a great voice, but I worry that he’s not grabbing votes. I’ll be curious to see what he does next week in terms of song selection. Paul came in 8th, and I have to assume that is largely due to the country vote, and partially because he’s really cute.
That left elimination coming down to Devin and Curtis.Both very good singers. Devin had a really sleepy performance on Wednesday, and Curtis had a potent cocktail of disaster. Death Slot + boring r’n’b song + lousy personality + mediocre performance = a swift ticket home. And it was indeed Curtis who found himself singing for The Save, which I’m sure infuriated him, because Curtis clearly thinks he should be WINNING this thing, not going home first.
You know who else thinks Curtis is great? Nikki Minaj, who literally got up and threatened to walk off stage if he was eliminated. As Curtis sang “I Believe I Can Fly” they camera panned to the judges’ table multiple times as they deliberated. Nikki was FURIOUS and clearly over the whole situation as Keith Urban tried to convince her of something. I assume it’s the fact that using The Save on the person coming in 10th would be spectacularly stupid. Curtis never had a shot to win this thing if he was that low in the rankings already.
Truly, it was nowhere near Curtis’s best performance. I do think he peaked too soon in Hollywood/Sudden Death, and he hasn’t been as good since. The judges had to be unanimous in their vote, and they were not. Nikki was clearly really angry that she didn’t get her way here, saying that she didn’t feel like the judges had the time to properly consider the situation. Again, Nikki: using the Save on the person coming in 10th is an awful idea. America obviously is not interested in Curtis in that way. Nobody is saying isn’t he talented, but he was not going to win this competition.
Nikki Minaj was absent for the start of the first live performance show. I cannot ever remember a judge not being present during a live performance round. Apparently she was stuck in traffic. Are you kidding me? If I was Nigel I would be positively shitting myself with fury if the only judge people even care about was LATE to a live performance show, much less the FIRST live performance show.
The theme was music from previous American Idols -- any song from any previous winners of the show. I’ve thought this would be a smart theme idea for few seasons now, but expanding it to previous “Idol” contestants in general, not just winners. Chris Daughtry, Kimberly Locke, Jennifer Hudson, Kellie Pickler, Clay Aiken -- some of those guys went on to be more successful than people who actually won the show, and have some pretty damned good songs of their own. But the show did approach this differently, not limiting it to just songs BY previous winners. The new kids could select any song ever sung by the winners on the show. So that broadened it considerably. (I do think it’s fun to point out that the only winners not represented tonight were Taylor Hicks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze, and Phillip Phillips -- all of the non-country white guys. I mean, even RUBEN got a song in there!)
Curtis Finch, Jr. opened the show with “I Believe,” the coronation song for Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. Curtis has to watch his nasal tone -- it’s front and center whenever he sings in his middle register. His “yeah yeahyeah” section in the middle also bordered on comical. Overall I thought it was fine, but unspectacular until that last falsetto note. My fear with Curtis is that he peaked in the Sudden Death rounds -- he’s been a bit of a letdown the past two weeks. Keith Urban made some comment about Curtis’s adrenaline causing him to sing above where he was supposed to. I couldn’t tell if that was in reference to oversinging, or a comment on Curtis’s pitch. Randy Jackson doomed Curtis by telling him he has to do something different than just these spiritual songs. Mariah Carey, meanwhile, only wants to hear more gospel-tinged music from Curtis. So Curtis was cursed not only with the Death Spot, but he’s also getting wildly conflicting advice from all the judges (minus the still-absent Nikki). So he’s off to a fine start.
Janelle Arthur is really playing up her country twang in the interviews. I don’t feel like she was quite so…rustic prior to making the Top 10. She chose “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, which was performed by S10 winner Scotty McCreery. I found it difficult to really gauge Janelle’s vocal here because she was moving so much that I felt like it was impacting the singing. To me it sounded consistently flat, and I was surprised by how little power she exhibited. It was basically the same level throughout the whole performance. After the end of the song she said that she had “cotton mouth.” That might have explained the lack of dynamism. Nikki had shown up at this point -- wearing a hoodie and ridiculous sunglasses -- and told Janelle that she wants to see her singing prettier songs that show off her voice. Randy also picked up on the go-nowhere aspect of her performance. Mariah thought that Janelle’s “aura was giving us star.” I thought she seemed like an obvious pretender. She too wants Janelle to pick mid-tempo ballads. God, please don’t make these children sing nothing but mid-tempo ballads. It’s so damned boring to sit through for two hours.
Devin Velez went with Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home,” which he pointed out was different from his usual ballads with a Spanish flare. Devin blew the words in beginning of the first verse and it threw him for a few seconds, but he got it back by the chorus. Devin seemed unsure of himself during the performance, and where he was supposed to be looking. But the vocal was quite lovely, even if the song itself was not my favorite. Keith didn’t think it was one of Devin’s better performances, saying that Devin didn’t seem comfortable with the song at all. Nikki disagreed with Keith’s critique 100 percent. She thought the song was in Devin’s comfort zone, and thought he sounded and looked great. (I would agree that Devin already seems to be benefiting from the styling help.) Randy thought it was way too safe and that Devin didn’t really do anything with it. Even Mariah told him that he kind of biffed it with his song choice tonight.
Angie Miller selected Celine Dion’s “I Surrender,” which Kelly Clarkson sang back in Season 1. This was a great song choice for Angie, and it really showcased her range and great pop voice. The performance did come awfully close to what mentor Jimmy Iovine was talking about when he said that Angie can sometimes be a bit beauty pageant-ish. Keith says that Angie can take a song from any age and make it sound current. Nikki said that Angie looked like a billion dollars, and that she personifies perfection. Randy predictably said that the competition started with Angie, and that she was in it to win it, and blah blahblah. Pull the string on his back again and he moos like a cow. Mariah simply said it was stellar. How much is she getting paid to judge this show, again?
Paul Jolley continues to exist, so he’s got that going for him. He did “Amazed” by Lonestar, sung by Scotty McCreery in S10. Is Scotty really that influential as a past winner? How weird. The song scraped the bottom of Paul’s register, so the beginning was really breathy. And bless his heart, but the cornball performance was still there, and you could see that he was actively thinking about how to hold back. What’s so upsetting is that when Paul is on, he sounds wonderful. About 3/4 of the way through there were a few bars that were radio-ready. I just fear that he is destined to be a back-up singer, because he just doesn’t have leading guy qualities. Keith, however, thinks that Paul is listening to the criticism, and that this was one of his better performances. Nikki said that, “This is the first time you’ve stimulated my sexual appetite.” What do you say to that? Randy thought it was a great song for Paul, and then he totally misinterpreted Jimmy’s notes to Paul. Mariah told Paul to forget about everything that people are telling him and just go for it. Again, great contradictory advice from our esteemed panel.
Candice Glover seems really sweet, and she looked tremendous tonight. She did “I Who Have Nothing,” performed by Jordin Sparks back in Season 6. Candice sang the shit out of that song. She did a very straight version of it, but made it sound much more modern than it actually is -- it sounded like a Mary J. Blige joint in parts. I also thought her performance was authentic. This to me was a breakout performance for Candice. She got a standing ovation. Keith said that Candice evoked Shirley Bassey’s effortless command with that performance. Nikki said it was her favorite performance Candice has ever done -- it was current and fresh. Mariah finds Candice mesmerizing, saying that a singer of her ability can really do anything she chooses no matter what genre.
LazaroArbos went with “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, which was certainly ambitious. The jacket Lazaro was wearing was doing no favors to his figure, I’ll just say that. As usual with Lazaro, the verse was too low for him, so he was just marking time until he could let loose on the chorus. But even that was pretty unimpressive. Typically Lazaro has one or two moments in his performances that are pretty special. But this was almost exclusively karaoke-grade. The last note was nice. That’s about all I can say. Keith said that he didn’t think the song was in Lazaro’s wheelhouse, and Lazaro agreed with him. Then why did you pick it, dear? Nikki said it was her least favorite performance thus far by him, saying that Lazaro usually seems comfortable and calm. Nikki, are you watching the same thing I am? Because Lazaro NEVER seems comfortable on that stage. Randy said the pitch issues were prevalent, and the song was simply too big for him. Mariah again tried to make it less about singing and more about Lazaro overcoming obstacles. This isn’t Perseverance Idol, dear. How much longer will Lazaro continue to advance because of what he’s gone through, not what he’s actually doing?
Kree Harrison picked “Crying” by Roy Orbison, which Carrie Underwood sang back in S4. Love that song, especially k.d. lang’s version. Kree looked ravishing -- whoever is doing her make-up deserves a raise. I loved the beginning of it, but it felt a little rushed once it hit the chorus. But Kree handled the very challenging high-note section of this song beautifully, and it was believable. Absolutely lovely. The best I think she’s ever sounded. Keith said that he simply loves Kree’s voice, and she’s “there,” ready to record. Nikki started talking about eating buttermilk waffles for breakfast with Aunt Jemima syrup. This was all so she could say that’s what Kree’s performance reminded her -- smooth, delicious, and she could enjoy it at home by herself. Did Nikki stop at a bar on her way to the show? Is that why she was late? Randy said that Kree’s voice makes him feel good all over, and he loves that she puts emotion into everything she does.
Burnell Taylor gave S2 winner Ruben Studdard some love -- somebody needs to -- by picking “Flying Without Wings.” Jimmy Iovine wisely warned Burnell about picking only mid-tempo r’n’b ballads, because people are going to get sick of that fast -- it’s simply not going to bring in votes. Burnell started the song by emerging out of a huge cloud of purple haze. Hilarious. This song is so goddamned boring, but Burnell sounded wonderful on it, up until he hit the really high notes. Then it got pinched and uncomfortable sounding. But when he’s in his sweet spot, nobody sounds better than Burnell. Keith talked about the unique timbre of Burnell’s voice, and the eccentricity of his performances (those flapping hands!). Nikki loved Ruben’s first album (!!!) and was glad Burnell picked one of his songs, and thinks Burnell is “well on his way.” Randy blathered on and kept talking about Louisiana. Randy Jackson: shut up about Louisiana. We get it. We know where you’re from. Mariah said nothing of consequence.
Amber Holcomb is more charming than I initially expected. She did “A Moment Like This,” the S1 coronation song for Kelly Clarkson. It’s funny; when that song first came out I kind of hated it, but it stands up remarkably well -- especially when compared to most of the other coronation songs. (It still makes me laugh that poor Lee Dewyze couldn’t even get an original song of his own, he had to cover U2.) They played with the tempo here, and Amber struggled to keep on the beat up until the chorus. I had some issues with the other minor changes she made to the melody, but overall it was a solid performance. Not deserving of the standing ovation she got, and nowhere near as good as Candice, but it was good. I suspect it sounded better in the studio. Keith loved how easy it seemed for Amber, even in the super high notes. Nikki called it best performance of the night -- no. She also said that Amber’s voice and aura remind her of early Whitney Houston. Again: no nono. Amber is good, but she’s not there yet. Randy summed up the night succinctly by saying that the girls absolutely killed the guys. Mariah again said nothing of consequence. I really think the judges praised Amber way too excessively.
Recap: Curtis was fine but not great, and the recap highlighted his worst moment -- interesting; Janelle is really pretty bad; Devin can sang but was terribly boring; Angie was great; Paul was arguably the best of the guys, which is a terrifying statement; Candice jumped to the front of the line in a big way; Lazaro is in living in a high -- school talent show, or perhaps an episode of “Glee”; Kree was gorgeous but oddly I found I forgot her; Burnell sounded good but sang another boring-ass song; Amber was really good, but still a bit overpraised.
Predictions: It has to be a guy to go home, right? Aside from Janelle all the women did really well. My personal Bottom 3 areLazaro, Janelle, and Devin, but I think both Devin and Janelle have fan bases that will save them for a few more weeks. Burnell and Curtis will probably split votes, and Curtis’s first slot can only hurt him. But if we’re talking strictly vocal, it should come down to Lazaro and Janelle for the boot.
Tomorrow: Bon Jovi, Phillip Phillips, and a sing-off for a spot on the tour.
Earlier Monday night judge Michelle Visage Tweeted that this week's episode of “Drag Race” defines the season. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what she meant by that -- and whether it’s a good thing. Like every episode of Season 5 thus far, it was entertaining with great challenges and some memorable moments. But what’s interesting about this season is that I still have absolutely no idea who is going to win this thing. That’s exciting in one regard -- when it’s too obvious (Raja) it’s unsatisfying in the end. But it’s slightly worrisome, because while most of the remaining queens are all on the same level, none of them at this point are offering what I consider to be the full package that this show purportedly looks for in a winner. This week’s episode didn’t do much to change that opinion.
The mini-challenge was the annual opening of the Library, as the reading glasses were passed around and all the queens read each other. It was a totally solid segment and each contestant seemed to get in at least one or two decent digs at their competitors. Alaska won, and rightly so. She continued to be charming even as she insulted her compatriots with some biting comments.
The main challenge was the RuPaul roast, a variation on Season 3’s stand-up comedy challenge. Not only were the queens supposed to skewer RuPaul, they were also allowed to take aim at regular judges Visage and Santino Rice (who blessedly left his hat/scarf combo at home), the other competing queens, and guest judges Leslie Jordan (forever Beverly Leslie in my heart) and Jeffrey Moran, “Image Czar” for Absolut Vodka. I actually booed at the screen when Moran came on, because I find him such a humorless, insufferable presence whenever he makes his annual appearance on the show. But to my delight he was actually fine this time around. That may or may not be related to the fact that the editors used barely any footage of him.
The roast was good, with some pretty deep burns delivered by the queens. Here’s how they stacked up:
Coco Montrese ended up winning the challenge, and I wasn’t happy about it. Here’s the thing about Coco -- the editors have turned her into this season’s piñata. I’m sure she’s not nearly the whiny, eyeroll-inducing bummer that the show would have us believe. But at least some of that is true, because the footage exists. Coco was indeed funny during the roast, but she basically lifted Shangela’s entire shtick from the S3 stand-up challenge, and I also thought it was lazy to go for cheap ethnic stereotypes. I also thought she looked terrible on the runway tonight, which has become a recurring theme for Coco. I’m just done with her, and I was thrilled that the other queens told her and Alyssa to shut up when they started going into their pageant drama YET AGAIN on “Untucked.” That shit is tired, and it has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.
Jinkx Monsoon did quite well in the challenge, which was to be expected given the comedy chops she has exhibited thus far. The pleasant surprise was that Jinkx really brought it on the runway as well, with a very polished look and make-up that finally flattered her features. Jinkx had a few interesting developments this episode. First, she talked about her difficult upbringing and her guilt over feeling like she abandoned her younger siblings. Second, she multiple times got into it with the other queens, who think that Jinkx's self-deprecating/nervous tics are an act, and that Jinkx is playing the victim for sympathy. Coco, Alyssa, Roxxxy, and Detox all made comments that Jinkx is full of shit and knows that she’s a threat, but truthfully, I think they’re off the mark. Jinkx might be a good actress, but she reads as authentically self-conscious to me. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I think Jinkx lives in her head a lot, and sabotages herself quite a bit.
Alaska could be accused of doing the same thing, but she seems to be getting better about it. This was another good episode for Alaska. Her comedy was very strong -- witty and wry -- and she finally disentangled herself from the Rolaskatoxx clique because she realized she was being overshadowed, and she desperately needs to make an impression. (Alaska is now the only remaining contestant to have not won a challenge.) Alaska continues to get dinged for her one-note runway, and there is some truth to that. But as I said last week, I think Alaska is being held to a much higher standard in general than the other queens, and I do think it is related to Sharon’s success. That isn’t fair. The good news for Alaska is that her edit right now has her poised for a real breakout moment in the next few episodes. The bad news for Alaska is that if she doesn’t capitalize on it she’s never going to make the finals.
Detox, in my mind, is the queen who should be grilled by the judges right now. Every week I become increasingly bored and frustrated with her. How does someone with that much polish, that much experience, that many connections manage to fade into the background week after week? I am hard pressed to remember anything Detox did in either challenge this week, and the runway look was pretty forgettable, too. I can only recall her bitchy talking heads. It feels like she has been coasting since her win in Week 2. If not, and this is her really trying, she’s an enormous disappointment. At this point she is the second-most boring queen left. Your last name is Icunt and you are 80 percent recycable materials! How are you boring?!
Ivy Winters is, sadly, the most boring queen left. Or at least, that’s what the editors are having us believe. It’s entirely possible that there’s hours of entertaining Ivy footage on some cutting room floor somewhere. But I have a really hard time buying into that conspiracy theory. Ivy is cute, has great runway presentations (except this week), and has done very well to acceptable in pretty much every challenge. But there’s just no personality there. I don’t think Ivy was shown in a single talking-head this week, nor was she shown saying a thing on “Untucked.” She’s just there. She is easily the most superfluous queen left at this stage.
Alyssa Edwards had another interesting week. I will confess that I have a hard time fairly assessing Alyssa, because I find her so damned endearing. Even when she’s completely bombing or being a clueless goon in the workroom, I can’t help but root for her. And it’s funny, because I loathed her in the first few episodes of the season. Alyssa can throw some serious shade, but she is obviously not a comedy queen. Her quips were basically brass-knuckle swipes and there was really nothing funny, except for her borderline desperation in trying to land a zinger. Still, I root for her. She’s like your weird aunt who gets drunk on one wine cooler and takes off her top at the family Christmas party. You just want to give her a hug and take her out for lunch and gossip down to the Cracker Barrel.
Roxxxy Andrews joined Alyssa in the Bottom 2, and it was a really rough week for Roxxxy on multiple levels. I need to preface this by saying that I genuinely like Roxxxy, and I think that -- this week aside -- she has turned in some fan-fucking-tastic runway looks and has great energy. But this week she got completely demoralized by pre-challenge check-in with a panel of comedians and she was unable to recover, turning in what -- according to the edit we saw -- was a painfully bad comedy performance. That I can forgive, but what really soured me on Roxxxy was the “it’s not fair” excuse, saying that this challenge was clearly biased toward funny queens like Jinkx. Sure, and several of the glamour/costume-based challenges have been clearly biased toward someone with a killer wardrobe like you, Roxxxy. Her weird jealousy toward Jinkx in the workroom and “Untucked” also did nothing to endear her to anyone. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together (and as the show has pointed out numerous times, Roxxxy is not exactly the brightest queen in the court) can see that she’s intimidated by Jinkx, but the defensiveness is not cute. And lastly, her tearful breakdown after the lipsynch (more on that in a second) initially read as cheap emotionalism, but “Untucked” showed us that moment didn’t come out of nowhere. I honestly believe Roxxxy was feeling some very difficult emotions at that point, and my heart goes out to her for a traumatic upbringing. But I also hope we never, ever see her play that card again.
That’s because, following a vigorous lipsynch to Willow Smith’s “I Whip My Hair,” both Roxxxy AND Alyssa were told to stay. Given how strongly both queens fought to keep in the competition, I was fine with it. At first I was ready to discount Roxxxy as she took off her skirt and then removed her wig -- a huge drag no-no -- but that hot bitch had a second wig underneath! Amazing! After that she dominated the segment for the first half, but Alyssa came roaring back for the second. It was a good battle, and I didn’t want to lose either of them. So I am thrilled they’re both still around to give us hilarious reaction shots (Alyssa) and body-ody-ody (Roxxxy) for another week at least. (You know Ivy and Coco are going home before either of them, right?) My only question: does this mean we won’t get the annual returned-queen episode?
Next week: the marketing challenge, this time featuring signature fragrances; a guest appearance by living cautionary tale Joan Van Ark; Aubrey O’Day discusses the odor of your grandmother’s vagina.
Even at a super-sized 90 minutes this episode had more padding than a 80 lb. drag queen. The format for revealing the Top 10 was easily the stupidest, most time-wasting gambit I can recall on this show. Clunky and awkward, and that’s not even considering the tenor in the holding pen. When they were down to six in each room it was really uncomfortable to see the misery on these kids’ faces.
The first person to make the Top 10 was Paul Jolley, which was something of a surprise. I thought he would get lost in the mix after Wednesday. However, in the playback they showed tonight, Paul’s was the only clip that made me actually look up and really take notice. He’s one of the few guys who has a voice I can actually imagine hearing on the radio. Plus, he’s really cute. The contestants that made it to the Top 10 all got to sing a victory song. This was a bad idea in Paul’s case, as he did Heart’s “Alone,” which was both too low and too high for him and fell squarely into his cheesy-performance trap. I really don’t think he understands the concept of, or possibly even the definition of, the word subtlety.
Next up, another surprise, was Burnell Taylor. I say a surprise because according to DialIdol, Burnell didn’t make the cut. But he was absolutely amazing Wednesday night and I’m thrilled that he made it into the Top 10. For his victory song he did the dirge-like “Ready for Love,” and the vocal was again really terrific. My fear with Burnell is that he’s going to continue to pick these slow, emotionally heavy songs that the vast majority of America probably won’t know. I guess I want to see more diversity in tone and tempo from him, because his voice is one of the best I’ve heard on this show in a while. He also needs to up the energy when he’s not singing.
Curtis Finch Jr. acted all surprised when Ryan told him he made it, but I’m sorry, I’m not buying. Curtis was a lock for the Top 10 -- he’s a very strong singer. Plus, he keeps giving us some Cowardly Lion realness, so I can’t hate him for that. For his victory song Curtis also sang a slow gospel/r’n’b song I’ve never heard. I’m sensing a theme this season, and if it’s r’n’b and gospel every week I’m going to get very bored very quickly. The majority of the song was well sung, but Curtis isn’t quite as good at the falsetto runs as he thinks he is.
Devin Velez was the other more-or-less lock to make it into the Top 10, and so he did. He’s a very good singer, as demonstrated by his victory song -- which again I did not recognize. Let me say straight up: I’ve been watching this show since Season 3 and I’ve never seen so many songs come up here that I had never heard before. And I consider myself a fairly well-versed pop-culture guy. Anyway, I liked the song, I liked Devin’s vocal -- it was upbeat and exciting! And huge thanks to him for not switching into Spanish. It’s fine every now and again, but every time feels a bit desperate. And yet Nikki Minaj told him to do exactly that, and stick to just ballads. I normally agree with Nikki, but not here. (And by the way, Nikki, that Spanish-language trick HAS been done on “Idol,” by Karen Rodriguez a few seasons back.) Also, confidential to Devin: please have a discussion with your very cute mother about her choice in eyeshadow. We can do better!
And the final guy into the Top 10 was LazaroArbos, the famous stuttering contestant. I have…thoughts. First, before he took the stage for his victory song, he ground the show to a halt as he had a conversation with the band leader (I guess). Really awkward.And almost as awkward as his actual performance. Once again Lazaro picked a song that was way, way too low for him in the beginning, this time “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He had serious pitch issues throughout the rest, and the lyrics were basically mush. He has beautiful moments in just about every performance, and a great upper register. But Nick, Cortez, and Vincent just got really and truly robbed -- they are much stronger singers than Lazaro. That was not a vote based on singing. That was a vote based on Lazaro being someone people like.
We got a brief send-off to Elijah, Nick, Vincent, Cortez, and Charlie. Cortez and Vincent screwed themselves Wednesday night, and Elijah was always chaff. I was terrified that we’d be stuck with Charlie (DialIdol put him ahead of every other guy by a wide margin), and so I am absolutely DELIGHTED that we dodged that melodramatic bullet.
I’m so sorry I missed Tuesday night, because I missed my beloved human unicorn Zoanette taking on Tina Turner. The recap suggested that the rest of the girls were all mostly competent, but also largely dull.
The first person to make the Top 10 was Janelle Arthur. I have a real problem with that, too. First, I didn’t see her full performance on Tuesday, but the clip they showed tonight did not sound good. But the truth is, Janelle never should have made it through Sudden Death -- she was flat-out awful that week, and the judges pushing her along was shameful. She’s been trying to get on this show for three seasons and has been featured fairly prominently at least twice. I think Janelle has a great voice, but she seems to have a problem with nerves or picking songs or something. For her victory lap she went with a country song I don’t know. It was fine, but unexciting. There is something about her that’s likable, though, and that might get her votes far beyond what her vocals should be bringing in. Nikki said that tonight was the best that Janelle has looked or sounded, and there may be truth to that. She just seemed to be having fun out there.
Candice Glover was next, another heavily hyped contestant this season. For her victory song she did “I’m Going Down” and it was the best I’ve ever heard Candice sing. I’m glad, because up until now I’ve found her wildly overpraised. I still don’t think she’s bringing anything new to the table that we haven’t seen on this show dozens of times before. But she can sing, so I’ll take it for now.
Angie Miller was next, which was absolutely no surprise -- if there’s anyone who is the presumptive winner this season, it is Angie. And with good reason. Angie is an enormous talent -- she can sing, she can write songs, she can play piano. She is an honest-to-god artist and, frankly, a bit too legit for this show. For her victory she sang something that seemed vaguely familiar, I’m guessing it was called “I Was Here.” She struggled with the beginning -- the rhythms were off, it was too low in parts. It was easily the worst performance I’ve seen from her, but still better than all but maybe two of the guys.
Amber Holcomb was the ninth person to make it into the Top 10, and frankly, I’m ambivalent about her. The judges raved about her Sudden Death performance, but I found it to be solid yet unexciting. The clip I saw of her Tuesday-night performance didn’t wow me either. She went with “I’m Every Woman,” which was a mistake. This song was made famous by Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston, and basically nobody’s voice is going to stack up favorably to either of them. It was super rough at first and Amber spent too much time engaging with the audience during the middle. The sustained notes at the end were good, though.
The final person in the Top 10 was Kree Harrison, which was again, absolutely no surprise. Kree has been heavily promoted by the show since Hollywood Week and there was no way she wasn’t advancing. Kree looked better tonight than I think she’s ever looked. Her victory song -- which started at 9:29 p.m. for a show that was supposed to end at 9:30 p.m. -- was another song I didn’t recognize. It had a nice bluesy country edge and Kree sounded great on it. She was more lively than I’ve seen her, and I’m glad to see that.
And that meant farewell to three girls I don’t know (including the two that Nikki gushed over about being ready to be signed last week), Tenna, and modern muse Zoanette. Show: please hire Zoanette as your special magical-creature correspondent. She’s too special to just drop.
As the credits were hastily rolling, Ryan rattled off something about some online sing-off for the runners-up for a special slot on the “Idol” tour. Thanks for making that clear, show. Maybe you should have wasted a little more time with the stupid holding pens and Ryan running back and forth.
So that’s our Top 10. Given the sea of garbage we initially had when we got to the Sudden Death rounds it came out a lot better than I expected. For the guys, I expect Devin and Curtis to go far, and depending on how rabid Lazaro’sfanbase is, he could get pushed as far as Top 6. I just don’t see Paul or Burnell lasting too long, despite the fact that they both have great voices.
For the girls, Angie is the one to beat right now, but she’s got to show more diversity and fast, lest she go the same route as PiaToscano. I see votes getting split between country girls Janelle and Kree -- though Kree will absolutely come out on top there -- and r’n’b queens Candice and Amber. I’ll be curious to see who wins that particular battle.
So what do you think of the Top 10? Who do you think has it takes to win?
Confession: I completely missed Tuesday night’s Top 10 girls episode. Had no idea it was even on. I don’t recall the show telling us last Thursday that it was going to be on Tuesday, and I didn’t see any ads hyping it either. I’m kind of pissed, because I am far more interested in the female contestants this year than I am in the guys.
That said, on the whole the men did much better this week than they did during the Sudden Death rounds. It’s not quite the talent desert I expected it to be. Still, there are only two or three guys who I think are serious contenders this season, and some who I thought would be leading the pack tonight might have knocked themselves out of contention. And one really infuriating contestant who is determined to turn this show into his personal John Hughes film, and who will probably get pushed through because America hates my guts.
Elijah Liu was up first. He was invisible up until Sudden Death round, and I thought he was pretty terrible then -- he was pushed through because of a crappy group and because he looks like a pop star (read: he was aping 1980’s Michael Jackson). He sang “Stay” by Rihanna. It was a mid-tempo ballad and he sounded better than he did last week, but he still wasn’t great. His falsetto was terrible, he went flat on multiple occasions, and the nasal kept creeping in. But again: better than the last time we heard him. Keith Urban started by complimenting his shoes, and then went on to talk about the control exhibited in the song. Nikki Minaj again hit on this child, and AGAIN went off about how marketable Elijah is. Randy Jackson agreed that it was better than last time, but also said that the song stayed in first gear -- it never went anywhere. I agree completely. Mariah Carey said it was one of Elijah’s better performances -- viewers have very little to compare it to -- and again said that Elijah is “saleable.” I love how all of these experts keep saying that this thoroughly mediocre vocalist is so marketable in the current pop-music landscape. It’s awfully fitting that Elijah picked a Rihanna song…
Cortez Shaw is one of the few boys who has impressed me with his vocals this season, so I was eager to see how he would do tonight. He went with “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars. I think that was a mistake. It was a theme-park performance. What I’ve liked about Cortez is that he plays with songs and makes unusual choices, and this just seemed a bit obvious and he played it so straight. His voice also sounded seriously strained. We know that this guy has a huge range, but he seemed to be reaching for much of the song. There were a few bum notes right before the end, too. Keith asked why he picked that song, and Cortez he wanted the big band sound and wanted to dance. Keith said that he loves Cortez’s voice and his spirit was great in the song, but vocally it did him no favors. Nikki was glad that Cortez got his mojo back, but she said that his styling is terrible. She also picked up on the vocal strain. Randy also brought that up, and said that Cortez is often slightly flat. And then Randy tried to give him fashion tips, which included a leather vest and streaks in his hair. Cortez: look at Randy Jackson. Do not take style tips from this man. Mariah blessedly thanked Cortez for picking an uptempo song, because so many of these kids seem terrified to try them. But she also thinks he needs to stop singing so high, because it’s not a great showcase for his voice.
Charlie Askew makes me want to eat glass. He is preposterous and not in a good way. I mean, all reality-TV contestants are by definition attention whores. But Charlie to me is just so DESPERATE for attention that I just can’t. He did a bizarre version of a Genesis song, I guess, but I’ve never heard it. Even Charlie couldn’t keep a straight face as he screeched his way through the number. And yet, he never lost eye contact with the camera. Were you watching him? Why weren’t you watching him? He needs you to watch him. He’ll make a fool of himself so long as you watch him. He really doesn’t mind! Keith said that Charlie has a huge range and maybe he should front a band, because there’s something about Charlie that seems disingenuous. AMEN! Nikki completely turned on him -- “Where’s my little baby at, Charlie?” He said that he “May have gotten a little angry.” Shut up, Charlie. You were trying to look cool. That’s all of it. Randy said that the beginning was really terrible (totally correct) and then it turned into screaming. That’s a succinct summation of that performance: terrible, then screaming. Mariah basically told him he’s fucked. Charlie told Ryan that he “Needed to vent a little bit,” and then went into a drama-school audition piece to get pity votes. He’s not happy! He is tortured! He only smiles because he feels he has to. Child, we are not your fucking therapists. Grow up.
Nick Boddington used to have a luxurious head of hair, and I’m so sorry he’s shaving it off now, because he was so much dreamier with some stuff up top. Nick did “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls while sitting at the piano, but he slowed it down even more and made it even…how do I say this? He took a “pussy song” and made it even more “pussy.” I’m sorry to be crass, but that’s the only way to put it. The pulse picked up a bit as it went along, and the vocal was totally solid, if unspectacular. But Nick did achieve what he set out to do, which was to connect with the song. It was a decent performance, and a good shot better than anything else we’d seen at that point. Keith loved the song choice, and while Nick’s nerves came through a few times, he thought it was beautiful and Nick’s vulnerability really came through. Nikki loves the original version and was irritated that Nick screwed with the melody so much. But she thought it was really pretty, and true to Nick. But she feared that it’s not going to get people to pick up the phone. Randy said that Nick seems to have peaked in Hollywood Week, but this was solid. Mariah thought Nick really started to kick in toward the end of the song, which was true. What she didn’t say was that the beginning wasn’t strong enough to generate votes.
Burnell Taylor is so confusing to me. He is so BORING when he speaks. There’s no charisma there whatsoever. And I really don’t care about him losing 40 lbs. What does that have to do with anything? That said, Burnell sounded astonishingly good on this song. No idea what it was -- it sounded gospel or r’n’b. I’ve been unimpressed with his vocals prior to this, but he delivered pretty much a flawless performance tonight. It was bright and beautiful, and not a note was out of place. Really, really good. Keith finds Burnell’s emotions believable, and his voice is instantly recognizable. Nikki pointed out that Burnell performed this song in his original audition, but she still thinks he’s great. Randy says that Burnell grabs your attention with the first note, and he has an urgency as a singer. It’s true, but it’s ironic, because seriously: Snoresville in his talking heads.
Paul Jolley barely made it through the Sudden Death round. I have never heard the song he was singing, but the vocal was better than what he turned in last time. The pitch was much better and he showed some pretty great range. Paul can really sing. Paul’s problem is that he really does overdo it with the theatrics on stage. I mean, I’ll take that over boring. But he looks a little preposterous with some of the mugging. Not Charlie-level preposterous, but still. Keith played the dreaded “What kind of an artist do you want to be?” card. Paul said that he wants to be pop-country, the guy version of Taylor Swift. Given how viciously Taylor’s being treated by the press right now, that’s a rough row to hoe. Keith still thinks that Paul tries to hard, but the voice is good. Nikki forced Keith to say that Paul wasn’t terribly believable during the song. But Nikki thought it was solid, and then told Paul to really listen to Keith, because dude knows what he’s talking about when it comes to country (that was nice of Nikki). Randy saidthat Paul needs to focus on his vocal sweet spot, and to avoid being cabaret. Mariah said nothing of importance.
LazaroArbos is completely adorable, but I’m sorry, I do not think that he is vocally ready for this competition. To underscore that point he did “Feeling Good,” a classic trap of a song. The beginning was way too low, he totally fell off the rhythm in the intro, and the lyrics were largely unintelligible. It was also a poor song choice, because I don’t think Lazaro felt good singing it -- he looked scared and there was very little connection to the song. He did come alive in the home stretch, and I’ll admit that was pretty solid. Weirdly, Keith said that in person Lazaro has an instant connection with an audience. That doesn’t come through the TV, I don’t think. But Keith’s absolutely right, people love Lazaro. Nikki thought it was a good vocal, and that Lazaro put his own spin on the song. No, he didn’t. That was a very basic version of that song. Randy said that Lazaro is “in it to win it.” Of all the contestants this season, Lazaro is the one who seems least confident in his abilities. Mariah thankfully commented on the fact that the song was way too low for him in the beginning, and she got roundly booed. And this what concerns me about Lazaro (and Charlie, to a lesser degree): nobody can critique him, because he’s so cute, he’s so nice, and he has overcome such obstacles. Nobody is denying any of that. But it’s a singing competition, and that song WAS too damned low for him.
Curtis Finch Jr. is a big fan of himself. He has every reason to be -- he’s very talented. But he sure doesn’t have any confidence issues. He went with R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” I thought his vocal flourishes verged on ridiculous, and his theatrical performance made Josh look restrained in comparison. But Curtis sure can sing. I will say that I don’t feel like the performance built as strongly as I was expecting it to. Given the natural drama of the song, and Curtis’s abilities, I was honestly expecting more fireworks. Keith says that Curtis just oozes light and hope. I actually disagree. I think he’s a bit too smug for that. Nikki said that Curtis is bigger than this show, and said that Curtis needs to spend his life blessing people’s lives. She also tasked Curtis with only doing gospel from here on out. That should be fun come the theme weeks like, say, disco. Randy actually started out his critique by saying, “Praise God.” I’m going to stop right there, because seriously. Mariah also thanked Curtis for his positive energy. Can we all flash back to Hollywood Week, when he was absolutely vicious to one of his group members?
Devin Velez did a lovely job singing “Impossible.” It was so lovely that I didn’t mind that it was a mid-tempo ballad, or that he switched into Spanish halfway through. Actually, I did mind that a bit. If this is going to be an every-week thing I’m going to get tired of it quickly, just as I did with the Karen Rodriguez, who did the same thing in Season 10 or 11. But truly, Devin is a WAY better singer, and there was very little to critique with that vocal. Keith thought that the beginning was a little rough, but that Devin got it together brilliantly and delivered some fantastic runs. Nikki says that Devin seems very believable and authentic. Randy loves Devin’s tone and vibrato, and the effortlessness of his voice.
Vincent Powell came out of nowhere last week and absolutely killed it. He also cemented my love by quoting Sweet Brown in his intro package. He went with “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. Unfortunately, it was not the slam dunk he delivered last week. The beginning was really off, and the verse sounded curiously pinched. But he got it all together with an absolutely jaw-dropping falsetto note right before the last segment, and then he brought it home nicely. Keith said that tonight the nerves got on top of Vincent’s talent. I think that’s an accurate assessment. Nikki loved the song choice, but said that his voice didn’t come alive in the song. Randy thought Vincent “overshot” it a bit, and I have no idea what that means. Mariah said that there were moments of brilliance in the performance, and called it “beyond.” I don’t know what that means either.
Wrap up: Elijah got the death slot and was forgettable with a boring-ass song; Cortez took what should have been an easy berth and possibly screwed himself; Charlie was ridiculous and embarrassing; Nick was solid but ultimately somewhat forgettable; I finally got Burnell thanks to his flawless vocal; Paul can sing beautifully but is a bit of a cheeseball; Lazaro stacked up even worse during the playback; Curtis once again took us to church, some of us literally; Devin has a gorgeous voice but the Spanish thing is already getting old; like Cortez, Vincent potentially shot himself in the foot with a performance that didn’t live up to his prior one.
My predictions: Curtis is a lock. Devin should be, too. Cortez and Vincent are toss-ups, and I wasn’t expecting that. I think Elijah, Nick, and Paul are probably toast (Elijah almost certainly). Burnell should advance, but I think Curtis and Vincent are likely to pull votes away from him -- they’re just more magnetic personalities and dynamic singers. Lazaro will probably get pushed through despite being arguably the weakest male singer left. Charlie is, as he should be, a wild card. I pray that America sees through his schtick, but…this is America. I know better.
This week the 80's invaded "RuPaul's Drag Race," and that can only be a good thing. Between a "We Are the World"-style group-sing challenge, day-glo couture, and fabulous Me Decade guest judges The Pointer Sisters and La Toya Jackson, I was getting all hot and bothered over Cold War chic. Rather than do a point-by-point analysis, I'm going to go through each one of the queens left in the competition and evaluate their performance this week, and how they're doing overall. The interesting thing about this season is that, unlike the several prior editions, there is no obvious front-runner at this point. I can easily see any of four or five queens taking the crown this time.
Ivy Winters: Ivy won this week's challenge, but personally I don't see her lasting much longer in the competition. Please understand - I like Ivy. She seems nice enough (although perhaps a bit dim). She is a capable performer, and she has some outstanding outfits. Loved the dress she wore this week, made out of pictures of herself. The problem is, Ivy has a real charisma issue. She's got uniqueness (she breathes fire!) and talent in spades, but there's no star power there. No personality. It's a pity, because she was a pre-show favorite. I just don't see her lasting more than a few more weeks.
Jinkx Monsoon:Jinkx was runner-up this episode, but it's good news for the long haul: she's getting the underdog edit hardcore. After being invisible for the first half of the season, Jinkx stepped into the frame with last week's "Snatch Game." She was all over this episode, too, despite being barely mentioned at judging. The editors want us to love her. That's easy - Jinkx is lovable. She's also talented (I thought she did better with the singing than Ivy). But right now she's lacking nerve. Getting grumbly that the other queens aren't fawning over your win because you're not part of the (increasingly tired) Rolaskatox clique is not cute, dear. And thank god for Michelle Visage finally telling Jinkx that she needs to back off the contouring. Jinkx herself mentioned that she was losing faith in her painting skills, and rightly so. She looked worse this week than she has ever looked. There's a huge difference between stage make-up and TV make-up. But I hope Jinkx can pull the look together, and her confidence, because she has the skills to go all the way.
Roxxxy Andrews:Roxxxy also finished toward the top, although I suspect that had more to do with her breast-in-show runway than the singing challenge. I realized this episode that Roxxxy is essentially getting by on her larger-than-life personality and eye-popping clothing choices, because her challenge performances tend to fall into one category: loud attention whore. That's fine - she's a drag queen, after all. But we've seen very little versatility from Roxxxy, and it's weird that several other members of the cast are getting grilled about that, while she's skating by. Also, as mentioned above: Rolaskatox stopped being amusing three episodes back. Lot of talk from that group, and not a lot of show.
Detox: And I actually blame most of that underwhelming feeling on Detox. What a disappointment she has turned out to be the past few weeks. She started so strong, and came in with so much promise - she runs with Willam. The talent and the wit HAS to be there. But Detox isn't really giving us anything besides the quavery jaw and the plastic-surgery wonderland body. Her ass-revealing dress was a stunning moment, but I'm amazed that nobody commented on how jacked-up the breast cups looked. Also, I didn't appreciate her denying using strategy when assigning the singing teams/order. It was obvious what she was doing with Alyssa and Coco. It's a competition - why not own it? That felt very weak to me for someone who seemed content to play the bitch early on. (Also, I'm going to say it: Detox's make-up looked better when she applied it in the dark than it does normally.)
Alaska: Poor Alaska. After an inauspicious start early in the season, she has been steadily moving to the front of the pack, based in large part on her comedic skills in the mini-challenges. (I howled at her Two-Face make-up job this week.) But she is struggling to make an impression in the main challenges, and her runway has become extremely one-note - it's all discount prom wear with a bit of schtick thrown in for interest. I thought the judges came at her awfully hard this week for not showing "vulnerability" - a bullshit critique when they used it on Chad Michaels, and a bullshit critique here - and Alaska's breakdown in "Untucked" was difficult to watch. But I hope she gets it together. She's a sweetheart, and has emerged as the most likable member of Rolaskatox. At this point I find the comparisons to Sharon Needles totally unfounded - Alaska's drag is really nothing like Sharon's. I think she is just a bit more of an introvert and takes a while to really open up. Unfortunately that doesn't play well in a reality-TV competition.
Alyssa Edwards: Alyssa got a redemption episode after a fairly brutal edit last week. Alyssa has become, to me, the most interesting contestant of the season, and the poster child for reality-TV editing follies. I disliked her intensely at first, but then came to find her charming in a kind of nutty-aunt way. My sense of Alyssa is that she means no harm, but if she's doing poorly, she tries to take down someone, anyone else. This week I felt for her on numerous fronts. She's an admittedly terrible singer, but at least she tried in the challenge (ahem, COCO). She has become the de facto group piñata, with even the supposedly sweet girls laughing at her for being "fat" on "Untucked." And lastly, she had an extremely emotional moment when her estranged father sent in a surprise video in support of Alyssa and her drag. We've seen several of those over the years, but I found that one so moving for some reason. Anyway, I like Alyssa and I hope she sticks around. But this is the second week in a row where she has demonstrated that she's not well-rounded in the talent department.
Coco Montrese: And then there's Coco. Such a frustrating spectacle to behold, and I don't mean those grotesque contact lenses. There are times when I like Coco. She throws some pretty good shade, and I like that in a drag queen. But by the time this week's challenge was over, I was totally done with her. Done.With.Her. Her attitude during the main challenge was deplorable, and this isn't the first time she has shut down because she's not happy with the way things are going (see: the kid-show episode). Coco was unhappy she was paired with Alyssa, and unhappy she had to go first. Deal with it, toots. You were fine working with her when you were team captain. Then more passive-aggressive bullshit in the workroom, a ghastly look on the runway (another one, and last week she had the nerve to come after Jinkx for her ensembles), and once again attacking Alyssa on "Untucked" - she is exhausting. Just a bitter, unpleasant person to watch on television. The only good parts of Coco this episode were the hilarious clip in which she stood there, sour faced, while saying nothing at the mic during "Can I Get an Amen," and her very sweet words to Alyssa about her father. Which again underscores how fake that stupid feud is.
Jade Jolie: And it was sashay away for Miss Fish 2013, Jade Jolie. A week ago I would have been delighted to see Jade eliminated. She never stood out in any of the challenges, and more than once I found her stealth bitchery toxic. But this week I felt sorry for her. First, she went home with multi-colored extensions dangling from all over her body. Nobody deserves that. (I did love the blue wig and make-up, though.) Second, she was kind of sweet during this episode. Third, she really tried in that lipsynch to "I'm So Excited." I didn't expect her to fight so hard, but she did the song proud -- Coco just did it better. My guess is that if they bring back an eliminated queen, it'll be Jade. She didn't really do anything wrong. She just never did anything particularly right. And god knows that panel loves a fishy queen, and Jade is catch of the season.
Next week: The RuPaul Roast! That odious Absolut dude! The inevitable crumbling of Rolaskatox!
Between the awful group of girls we had last night, and the equally terrible group of guys we had last week, I was totally dreading tonight’s show. Thankfully it turned out better than expected. There were some pretty good performances in the mix, and some well-intentioned ones that backfired. But it was markedly less painful than the previous two episodes.
MatheneeTreco, 26, from Colorado got the Death Spot. Mathenee has impressed me for the past two seasons. He did “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley and ceased to impress me. First of all, that is a terrible, terrible song to sing on this show. The verses are monotone and rapid-fire fast, and the range required for the song means that you’re in the cellar for the first part and crazy high toward the end. That was the case here and Mathenee just shouted and squeaked through the whole thing after the first chorus. It was aggressively annoying, another case of these contestants putting performance over vocals. Keith Urban likes Mathenee’s huge range and his entertainer background, but said that he was so focused on “assaulting” us (Keith’s words) that the emotional connection was totally lost. Nikki Minaj basically said that Mathenee was trying too hard, and it was cheesy and karaoke. Randy Jackson said the song was wrong, and pulled out the old “what kind of an artist are you?” card. Mariah Carey and her gigantic breasts thought that there was a huge disconnect between what they’ve seen from Mathenee in the past and what he did here.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin, 22, from Maryland, a.k.a. The Turbanator is so likable. But holy crap was this performance bad. I have no idea what the song was, but I liked it (anybody know the song/artist?). We throw around the term karaoke regarding this show a lot, but this was sincerely a karaoke-bar performance. I think Gurpreet can sing fine, but his voice is so low-key and unassuming that it fails to make any impression. He simply doesn’t shine, especially in a song like this. Keith said that he really likes Gurpreet’s voice, but wishes that he had played his guitar. Nikki said that Gurpreet has a really intimate quality to his voice normally, and he blew it with this song choice. She actually said, “Hell no.” Randy just said straight up that it was terrible. Mariah was also disappointed that Gurpreet shunned the softer side of his voice. Gurpreet was basically begging the judges to send his through, and promised to do what they wanted if he advanced. That was a bit desperate.
Vincent Powell, 29, from Austin, Texas, is also a worship leader -- at least two of those this week. Have we ever seen him before? Vincent sang ar’n’b song I’ve never heard of, but it was really good. Vincent can sing, has great control, and his voice has that fishhook quality -- it catches you. As they say in the business, he took that song to church. My favorite moment was Zoanette ecstatically jumping up and down in the audience. He slayed that, and delivered the first good performance of the night, possibly of the week. Nikki said that Vincent has a tendency to come off old-fashioned, but tonight it was a good old-fashioned, a sexy old-fashioned. Randy called Vincent the complete package, a singer AND entertainer who knows how to work an audience. Mariah simply said, “Finally.” I wonder if she is as underwhelmed on the whole as we are with this season.
Nick Boddington, 27, from Memphis has not been a favorite of mine the past few seasons, but he really turned me around with the last Hollywood Week performance they showed. Again, I have no idea what song he was singing -- apparently it was James Morrison -- but I thought overall it was a really nice vocal. Prior to this I would have described Nick’s voice as “delicate,” but there was a lot of power here and some really fantastic moments. His weakness is clearly his upper register, which weirdly he seems to favor. I think he’s really good when he stays in the middle-register sweet spot. There’s almost a Daryl Hall thing going on there. Keith loves the timbre of Nick’s voice, but he didn’t feel connected to Nick as a person. I can see that. I think Nick is a bit awkward naturally.Nikki also likes the warmth in his voice, but said that the performance was not Nick’s best. Randy again brought up the “no moments” critique. Mariah felt that she did get at least one solid moment, and has enjoyed Nick in general.
Josh Holliday, 24, from Texas/Nashville is so cute when he smiles. Josh sat at the piano and accompanied himself on what I believe was an original song. The lyrics were pretty clichéd and borderline insipid, but the melody wasn’t bad. Josh’s diction was really problematic, and after he got up from the piano and attacked the song his pitch went way off. I have no idea what happened there -- the performance just fell off a cliff. Keith said that Josh has a really great voice, and is a vocal coach himself -- really?! -- and he wishes Josh would cut loose. I thought his falsetto was pretty dreadful more often than it was not. Nikki wanted Josh to stay at the piano, because when he got up he kind of broke the spell he was weaving. Randy appreciated the risk of doing an original, but he wasn’t wowed by any of it.
David Willis, ANOTHER worship leader, came out and played guitar in his rendition of “Fever.” An “Idol” favorite, but rarely performed by guys. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but I thought he sounded pretty good on the chorus. He struggled a bit on the verses, though. David seemed uncomfortable on the stage; he almost looked scared at points. His mother was standing the entire time the judges gave their comments. I felt like she was ready to bum rush the stage if they savaged her son. I think that’s awesome. Keith said that David had a moment toward the end, but that the song didn’t showcase his full potential. Nikki seemed disappointed that David was married (his wife is GORGEOUS, by the way), but she felt the performance was a little too family gathering and not enough superstar-in-the-making. She just didn’t think anything about it was current. I think that’s fair.
Bryant Tadeo, 23, from Hawaii is another Who? Contestant. He did “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel and I thought the vocal was absolutely lovely in the beginning. I don’t know what he was doing with his hands, but it was super distracting. After the first verse the vocal quality unfortunately dropped off substantially. That’s becoming a theme this year, and I don’t get it. Are these children that inconsistent? The beginning had a great intensity that just evaporated a third of the way through. Keith said that he wasn’t sure how it would work on TV, but it sounded great live. I believe that’s true. Nikki loved the final note, the falsetto and the riff, but she didn’t like anything else. Nikki is brutal! Like me, Randy loved the beginning, but thought the rest of it never went anywhere. Mariah said that Bryant has a sense of professionalism, and that he has fantastic tone, but did get lost a bit in the song.
Burnell Taylor, 19, from Louisiana is a Katrina survivor, and apparently lost 40 lbs. because of this show. I don’t know. He did “This Time” by John Legend. The arm flapping was really distracting, and honestly, the singing was not great. It was basically competent but often verged into flat. And there was just no energy. Even as the song was building I felt like Burnell stayed in first gear the whole time. Keith loved the performance, and finds Burnell’s cadence, movements, and singing style original. I found them offputting. Nikki said that after that, she would pay to see him sing. That had to have sounded much, much different in the studio than it did over the TV. She talked at length about how amazing his weight loss is and…sorry. I don’t give a shit about that, darling. This is not “The Biggest Loser.” She also said that Burnell was the best by far of the night. Really? Better than Vincent? Give me a break, Nikki. Randy blathered about “Louisiana proud,” and said that he feels Burnell’s emotions. What emotions? Burnell comes across as almost comatose to me.
LazaroArbo, 21, from Florida is the now-legendary stuttering contestant. Lazaro is incredibly handsome and seems very sweet. He sang a song by Keith Urban that I don’t know. It started out way, way too low for Lazaro, and his diction is a serious problem. He can indeed sing, and there were some very sweet moments in that song. But there were also quite a few bum notes, and again, it felt karaoke in parts. But boy, do people love Lazaro. Keith thanked Lazaro for singing his song, but felt it wasn’t a good fit for him, because he constantly wrestled with the tempo. Nikki said that Lazaro played it safe but in a good way, and that Lazaro delivers every time. Mariah picked up on Lazaro’s emotions going into the performance, and finds him very pure and inspiring. Lazaro’s obvious nervousness is going to be a real problem for him if he continues in this competition, especially if/when the judges give him negative feedback. It will crush him. But seriously, this boy is so adorable. How is he not a model?!
Cortez Shaw, 22, from Texas did “Titanium” by Sia & David Guetta. This is the second time Cortez has sung a song made famous by a woman. That’s not really here or there, I just find it interesting. I thought it started out a little rough but quickly got on track, and Cortez has a gigantic voice with a spectacular upper register. I liked that he played with dynamics, and I didn’t find his performance -- though a bit dramatic -- at all cheesy. He also clearly picked up on when he fell off pitch and corrected himself quickly. Keith thought it was bold and brave to turn that into a ballad, because there is “nowhere to hide.” True. He thought it was inconsistent, but that Cortez redeemed himself at the end. Nikki put on three different accents to say that she liked it, good song choice, and that Cortez is sexy. Seriously, anything with a penis, she goes to the moon. Randy thinks that Cortez is very current, and an interesting artist for today. Mariah took credit for championing him from Day 1, and she didn’t have any issues with what he did tonight.
Results: David Willis was first, and he got cut. Bryant came right after, and somewhat surprisingly he also got the axe. I thought he was one of the better vocals of the evening. The crowd audibly booed over that decision. Vincent was up third, and that was an easy pass because he delivered the best vocal of the night, the only real competition coming from Cortez.
Mathanee was next and Randy gave him the bad news: he was cut. Mathanee has nobody to blame but himself for that, because he has the talent, no question. I would point out that last night the judges pushed through Janelle Arthur based on the strength of her overall performances on the show, and she bombed harder than Mathanee did. Mariah couldn’t even toy with Lazaro and she told him quickly that he was through to the next round. I really like Lazaro, but again, I do not think he is even close to being ready for this competition. And Bryant definitely turned in a better performance tonight.
Cortez was another easy thumbs up, and at this point he’s one of my frontrunners. He’s actually exciting to watch, which is more than I can say for about 3/4 of the contestants in the Top 20. Next up was poor, misguided Josh, who was cut. I think Josh has talent, but he needs some serious seasoning. He’s just not ready at this point. Burnell sounded even worse in the playback, but still was pushed through to the Top 20. I don’t get him at all. I seriously cannot for the life of explain the judges’ love affair with this kid.
That left Gurpreet and Nick as the final two, and again, this should have been an easy choice. Gurpreet was joke-audition bad and Nick turned in a pretty fantastic vocal. And thankfully the judges saw reason and put Nick through. I can’t believe I’m actually rooting for Nick Boddington this year…
Next week we get to live voting. Allegedly we’re going from Top 20 to Top 10 in one week. Will we have 20 singers on Tuesday? I am so confused as to how this is going to work. It’s going to be a goddamned bloodbath, but at this point, I think that’s the only thing that’ll help turn this ship around. There’s still a lot of chaff to be separated from the wheat…
I barely know where to begin. Three-quarters of the way through this new semi-final format, in which we culled the contestants from Top 40 to Top 20 (meaning we still have to lose half again before the finals), I feel I can safely say that this is the worst crop of singers we have seen on this show in a long, long time. The judges kept talking about how the level of talent made their decision so hard. And that may be true, but not in the way they were saying it. The overall vocal competency tonight was back to Season 4 levels ��" most of these girls were barely above karaoke level. Yes, there were one or two solid vocals. But one of the better ones didn’t even make the cut.
Someone asked me if I thought the problem was the talent pool or the judges, and I initially said both. But now I actually think it’s the latter. Part of the issue with an almost completely new panel is that these people don’t really have anything to compare these singers to. So when they, for instance, praise and praise Candice Glover ��" who did turn in the best vocal of the night ��" and wonder why she was cut in the previous year, they don’t understand that comparatively, Candice is not bringing anything new or different to the table. We have seen Candice Glover, or vocalists exactly like her, again and again on this show.
Ideally we should be elevating the talent level in the competition each year (and that has mostly been true, with the notable exceptions of seasons 7 and 9, which were DREADFUL). It’s virtually a certainty that this year will be a massive step back. All but maybe two of the girls tonight had significant pitch issues, but almost none of them were critiqued about it. Several totally forgettable, generic girls made it to the Top 20 despite completely forgettable performances. And we got one of the most egregiously unfair judging decisions in recent memory when a contestant who flat-out bombed tonight made the cut while others who performed better were sent home. Meanwhile, in the first group of girls, at least one if not two legitimately talented singers were cut because there weren’t enough spots. Mess messmess.
So yes, I blame this on the judges. Keith Urban is astonishingly incompetent. Randy has returned to his blathering idiot setting. Mariah Carey has literally nothing of use to say. The only hope we have is Nikki Minaj, but she gets so distracted by pretty, marketable girls and anything with a penis that her normally incisive critiques often go wildly askew. This is going to be a long haul of a season…
Anyway, here’s how the ladies fared:
Melinda Ademi, 19, from Yonkers, was apparently featured on Season 10, with her story of emigrating from Kosovo. I vaguely remember this. She was appallingly bad singing a song I didn’t recognize. It was totally unsupported for the first verse and pitchy throughout the chorus. This would have been booed at a karaoke bar. She was trying so hard to be a cool pop star, bopping all over the stage and throwing back her hair, that she completely threw away the vocal. She sounded fine when she went into the softer part at the end, but it was way too little too late. Keith Urban was out of his mind when he said that it was a great way to start the show. He thought Melinda’s nerves came out, but said she still has tons of raw talent. Nikki Minaj pointed out that Angela sang that song (apparently it’s by Jessie J.) last week (there’s an Angela?) and she thought it paled in comparison to Angela’s version. Randy Jackson didn’t think there were enough “moments” to send her through. Mariah Carey and her breast shelf also brought up nerves, but said that Melinda reached her potential by the end. Way, way too kind to her.
Candice Glover, 23, from South Carolina went with “Natural Woman,” a smart but ultimately safe song choice. There were no real surprises here, but Candice sounded better than we’ve ever heard her. The pitch issues of her previous few performances almost all disappeared, although she wrestled with the key change. She has a solid, big r’n’b voice, but we have seen that exact performance from countless contestants on this show before. Keith called her “a natural singer.” Shut up, Keith. Nikki said that it boggled her mind that Candice didn’t make it last year. Well, given how shitty the talent is overall this year, of course she’s going to shine like a diamond in comparison. Randy said that it was good, but not her best, and he encouraged Candice to push her voice even further. Mariah got Candice to talk about how the arrangement of the song was all her idea. Well, that’s nice. I thought Candice came off a little full of herself there.
Juliana Chahayed, 15, from California played “Skyscraper” by DemiLovato while accompanying herself on guitar. It was very breathy for the most part, although there were some nice strong moments in there. The whole thing came off watered down in an attempt to feel Serious and Authentic. Keith again talked about the nervousness ��" I feel like that is a bullshit rationalization at this stage ��" but he likes the purity of her voice. Nikki thinks she already has a recognizable signature voice, but mentioned the timidity could get her swallowed whole in a competition of big voices. Mariah used the terms “angelic” and “celestial,” but then Randy cut her off to say that Ryan Seacrest couldn’t have done that at 15. What the hell kind of a stupid comment is that?
Jett Hermano, 25, from Seattle is a total mystery to me. Have we ever seen her prior to this? Jett sat at the piano and did a slow, slinky version of Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World.” It was really cabaret, and beyond that, the high notes of the verse were hitting her in a very awkward part of her range, making it sound like she was straining (even though she clearly can go higher). It wasn’t bad, Jett can really sing, but again, it felt like a lounge act rather than an “American Idol” contestant. And it was pretty sleepy, too. Keith was pleased with her musicianship. Nikki liked the arrangement and the breathy vocals, but felt the song never climaxed. Randy said that he was hoping she would get up halfway through and rock it ��" the same thing he skewered a contestant for last week. Mariah said that she finds Jett different and intriguing. Not intriguing enough to get her any airtime prior to this, apparently.
Cristabel Clack, 29, from San Antonio is a worship leader and she really likes god and her family. She went with Alicia Keys’ “No One.” Cristabel has an interesting voice that I suspect might work really well on modern pop radio, but here it came off squeaky and like it was cracking left and right. It just did not sound pleasant for a good chunk of the song. Her performance was also really cheesy, and Cristabel never met a vocal run she didn’t like. Keith continued his string of terribleness, just ladling on the praise, even as he called her voice “croaky.” Nikki picked up on the unique voice and the rasp, although she felt it went out of control today. Yes, that’s true. Randy called her a “racehorse singer,” that she oversang the song a bit, but it still sounded “great.” Mariah encouraged Cristabel to do…something. I don’t know. Mariah did nicely give a shout out to the back-up singers.
Aubrey Cleland, 19, from Oregon seems vaguely familiar to me, but she’s so generic that it’s hard to know. Aubrey is very skinny and tall. She went with Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” and it was a solid vocal, but she was just skirting the edge of flat, and it got worse as it went on (noticeably when the band was louder, so I’m guessing it was a monitor issue). Another very sleepy number, though. And I don’t think it was terribly memorable. Keith seriously was off tonight, talking about the “diversity of artists and songs” (at that point we’d had Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jessie J, and DemiLovato ��" all artists you could hear right now on Top 40 radio), and how Aubrey made the song her own despite it sounding pretty much exactly like the original. Nikki said that she was obsessed with Aubrey. Really? Nikki said that for the first time tonight someone came out looking and sounding like a current artist. I think it’s telling of the crop of the night that the judges were fawning over her as much as they were. Randy babbled some nonsense about being obsessed with himself and everyone. Shut up, Randy. He thinks Aubrey has the complete package. Really, guys? She is SO generic to me. Mariah simply said that Aubrey is “limitless.” What an absolutely useless panel of judges, minus Nikki Minaj.
Rachel Hale barely made it into the Top 40, if you remember. She went with “Nothing But the Water” by Grace Potter, and the first half of the song was actually pretty strong. Decent lyric, some swagger, the whole thing. But holy cats did she go off the rails in the last third of it. Really off pitch and really awkward. Keith felt that the song got on top of Rachel in parts, but he liked her spirit. Nikki wondered where the burst of crazy confidence came from, and Rachel said it came through prayer. Randy was glad that Rachel had a goddamned pulse, and then Randy and Rachel talked more about the power of prayer. Sigh. When did this show become “The 700 Club”?
Breanna Steer recently survived a hurricane devastating her house. That’s terrifying and awful for her. She did “Bust the Windows Out Your Car” with some hideous Latin lounge beat that removed any teeth to the song. Breanna’s vocal had real pitch issues pretty much throughout and I never felt for a second that she was authentically feeling the emotions of that song. Honestly I found myself paying more attention to the back-up singers than Breanna. Really good final note, though, so way to leave a good last impression. Keith admitted that he had never heard the song, but he liked her delivery, which he found believable. Keith Urban is the worst. Nikki yelled at Breanna to “work, work, work!” She suggested that Breanna and Aubrey should get two other girls and form a girl group because there’s nothing like that right now. Randy babbled about “representing Louisiana.” He was happy Breanna brought the drama. These judges are so full of shit, you guys. And not ONE of them is going to mention the serious pitch issues?
Janelle Arthur, 23, from Tennessee has been trying to get on this show for three seasons now. She went with “Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum and it was karaoke. Not even good karaoke. I really like Janelle, but she wasn’t close to being on pitch for a good chunk of that song and her delivery was desperate and frankly embarrassing. I hated it. HATED it. And I sincerely like Janelle. Keith pointed out that the song really only works as a trio, because the melody is fairly restrictive for a solo artist. His first sensible critique of the night, at contestant 9 of 10. Nikki blessedly ��" blessedly! ��" pointed out her chronic flatness, the weird overforced performance, and told Janelle bluntly to never do that again. Randy said that Janelle is his favorite country girl of the competition, but the song screwed her. Mariah likes Janelle’s lack of pretension. Given how hard Janelle bombed, and that she was one of the only girls to get any serious criticism from the judges, I thought it was really inappropriate that they were all basically telling her that they would likely push her through anyway.
Zoanette Johnson, 20, from Oklahoma, gives me life. She told us that she was originally from Liberia, which her family fled when she was a baby due to civil war. Bless her heart! Zoanette came out singing the opening number to “The Lion King,” doing the African chanting and everything, and then going into “The Circle of Life.” Zoanette, ladies and gentlemen. That’s amazing. The song was way too low for her in the beginning. The lyrics were basically discarded in favor of various sounds that, thankfully, were mostly on pitch, and infused with Fantasia-like emotion. Like her original audition, the song actually got better as it went on. Zoanette is a mythical creature; she cannot be tamed. We must cherish every moment we have with her. She got a standing ovation from all the judges except, I think, Mariah. Keith loves that he has no idea what Zoanette is ever going to do, and wonders if she does half the time. Nikki dropped some “RHOA” lingo with “Who gonna check you, boo?” and said that she was so proud of Zoanette. She called her unforgettable and a superstar. Yes! She was very passionate about Zoanette, and I love her for that. Randy commended Zoanette for her spirit, which is really why she’s there. It’s not the vocals, although those weren’t terrible. Mariah talked about Zoanette being a giving person, and she thinks that Zoanette could be “gracing someone’s Broadway stage tomorrow doing something artistically that we haven’t even thought of yet.” What does it mean, people?
The results: Zoanette got the verdict first, and after Randy dicked her around for a hot second, she was PUT THROUGH! We get to vote on Zoanette! What will America make of her? Melinda was up next, and given that she was in the Death Slot, she was pretty much screwed; she got cut. Juliana, who the judges all slobbered over earlier, got the axe, which she dealt with very well given her age. The massively overpraised Aubrey, however, got the thumbs up and made Top 20.
Cristabel sounded even worse in the playback than I remembered, and somewhat surprisingly she was cut. She was pimped pretty hard by the show in early auditions and Hollywood Week. In retrospect Candice delivered the vocal of the night, which is kind of sad, but anyway, she was put through to the Top 20.
In hindsight Jett’s vocal stacked up pretty strongly over the course of the night, so it was unfair that she got the axe. But she was obvious filler. Breana’s vocal did not impress me, so of course, she did make Top 20, because it was crazy opposite night.
The final stool came down to Rachel vs. Janelle. Truthfully, neither of them delivered a fully good performance, but Rachel at least was halfway decent. Janelle full-on bombed. I would put it in the running for worst number of the night. So, yeah, Janelle got pushed right on through to the Top 20. Shenanigans. Absolute shenanigans.
Tomorrow: More boys. Hopefully they won’t suck as hard as the previous group, which was AWFUL.
On Wednesday we had 10 women competing for five spots, and in the end at least one really talented young lady went home because there wasn’t enough Top 10 berths to go around. On Thursday we had 10 guys perform and had five advance to the Top 10 when only probably three of them deserved to. I guess the show really does want a woman to win this year, because the pool of guys they offered up tonight was one of the worst groups of semi-finalists I can remember seeing since maybe Season 3.
Paul Jolley from Palmersville, Tennessee kicked things off. Paul is extremely handsome, so he’s got that going for him. He picked a song I’ve never heard -- this is becoming a trend this season -- and made the questionable decision to perform it sitting on a stool. It was a slow, sad song that wasn’t doing much for me. He sounded fine in the first half of it, but he strained for the high notes toward the end -- it all got a little shouty for me. Apparently it was a Keith Urban song, because Keith was honored by Paul selecting it. Keith said that Paul’s got a great voice, and suggested that he not overcompensate for anything with his performance. That’s a nice way of saying that Paul was trying too hard. Nikki Minaj said that this performance didn’t wow her, and that his voice sounded strained. She felt that he was in his head too much, and not being authentic to the song. Randy Jackson made some really weird generalizations about range and power in country vocals and then mentioned some of the pitch issues in Paul’s performance. Mariah Carey felt that the front half of the performance was intimate, and then I totally lost what she was trying to say. Seriously, no idea.
Johnny Keyser, 23, from Ft. Lauderdale will end up in entertainment one way or another, no matter what happens with this show. He’s like genetically bred for fame. He looks like a cast member from the current “90210.” He went with “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz, and, oh, this was bad. The song started out too low for him and the vocal was just crazy weak for the first verse. He gave it some gas on the chorus, but he still struggled with pitch and support. It got better as it went on, but that beginning was really dreadful. Keith lied, lied, lied when he called it “good” and the best he’d ever heard Johnny sing. He said that Johnny’s nerves were apparent -- I didn’t see any of that. Nikki said that Johnny looked very sexy and then asked if he had a girlfriend. Basically she just hit on him until she told him that he doesn’t have a great voice, but he’s sexy and masculine and girls will like him. That’s probably accurate. Randy said that his performance was just OK, and lacking in moments that would push him through to the Top 10. Mariah spoke to Johnny’s commitment in music, but again basically just ended up saying that he’s hot and they want to keep looking at him. I cannot disagree with that assessment, but they were WAY too nice to him based on that performance. And then Ryan made an awkward, passive-aggressive pass at Johnny.
Trans flower JDA was up next with “Rumor Has It” by Adele. Oh, JDA. You had to pick Adele, didn’t you? Nobody’s voice compares favorably to Adele’s. The vocal wasn’t terrible, but it was straight-up karaoke, and very nasal karaoke at that. JDA’s performance, however, was amazing. Disco stances! Lying on the floor and moaning plaintively! Ripping off the crop jacket to reveal a strappy top underneath! Eat your heart out, Sanjaya. The judges were literally cackling on the podium. Keith commended JDA for putting on a show. Yes! But Keith felt like JDA was “counting steps,” in that the performance seemed overly choreographed. Nikki told JDA to “work it, girl,” and that no matter what happens, JDA is a superstar performer. But she also said that the vocal was phone voicey and whiny. That is very true. Randy said that the vocal wasn’t stellar because JDA was too preoccupied with the performance aspect, and the whole thing felt predictable. Mariah appreciated JDA’s confidence level, and liked the vocal. Mariah -- come on. Ryan couldn’t resist comparing openly out JDA to Adam Lambert. Like they’re the only two homosexuals on this show, RYAN.
Kevin Harris went with Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).” Of all the songs in the world, that’s the one you pick? Hopeless. Kevin has a surprisingly high-pitched singing voice. The vocal was mostly fine, but unspectacular, and he struggled with the high notes and was just on the cusp of flat for a good chunk of the song. He tried to fancy up the end of the song, but there’s no way to not make that song boring. Keith, however, loved the song choice for Kevin and the effortlessness of Kevin’s upper range in it. Nikki thought that every musical choice Kevin made was “perfection,” and that he didn’t seem like he was in a competition because he was so relaxed. But she also worried that his personality wouldn’t jump through. What personality? Randy totally disagreed, calling it boring, karaoke, and predictable. Mariah called Kevin a professional, but felt that the song didn’t allow Kevin to do what he knows he can do. Kevin seems like total filler to me.
Chris Watson, 25, from Dover, Delaware, and his head scarf went with “Dock of the Bay,” but he did a jammy rock take on it. I actually appreciated the different approach to a standard “Idol” song. I thought the vocal started out good but he got a little mush-mouthed about halfway through. Still, Chris can sing OK, he actually had a pulse, and he can work a stage. A pleasant surprise, considering I thought he was terrible in the clips from Hollywood Week. Keith argued that this isn’t a singing competition, it’s a connection competition. He didn’t think Chris’s vocal was great but that the connection and style were totally there. Nikki called Chris the prettiest man she’s ever seen, and praised his soulful, raspy vibrato -- she said she’s obsessed with him. Randy loves Chris, the look, the vibe, but he was waiting for the vocals, because Chris didn’t go anywhere with the song in terms of range or excitement. Mariah was surprised by the song choice, but finds Chris a survivor, and she also hit on Chris. Could the male panelists ever get away with hitting on the female contestants so blatantly?
Devin Velez, 18, did “Listen” from “Dreamgirls.” I feel like Devin is a very dramatic person. That said, Devin was clearly the best male singer to perform at that point. He’s got a really interesting voice with a great tone -- for the first third of the song, at least. Then he shifted into Spanish language, which is fine and frankly pretty smart. And then after he came out of that he was off in both pitch and rhythm, and the last third of that song felt like someone desperately trying to finish a marathon. He’s got to work on his consistency, because he has fantastic potential. Nikki mentioned how the Spanish language was very smart and very marketable, and commented on Devin’s warmth -- I don’t get personal warmth from him at all. I actually find something off about him. Randy called it “amazing” and acted like he’d never heard a singer on this show tried the Spanish-language thing (they have). Mariah blessedly pointed out that there were pitch issues toward the end, and Devin admitted that he knew it, too.
Elijah Liu, 18, is a college student and apparently a player. Eyeroll. I have no idea what he song he was singing. Elijah also has a surprisingly high singing voice but I guess that’s current male pop star for you. The look was very “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson, the vocal was very Bieber, the performance was listless and awkward, the falsetto was really off. Mixed bag for me. Keith loved the song choice, but called it a shaky performance. Still, he thinks Elijah is “relevant and now.” Nikki said she didn’t care about the song, but she thinks he’s a superstar and wants to have his babies. She thinks he’s crazy marketable and would sign him today, saying that he’s ready right now. We have found Nikki’s weakness: penis. She cannot think clearly when confronted with a Y chromosome. Randy agreed that the vocal was not strong, but Mariah liked the New Edition-style voice.
Charlie Askew, a.k.a. Weird Ginger, did “Rocket Man” by Elton John. He started out with his eyes closed tight and seemed deeply, deeply uncomfortable. He was kneeling on the stage? I don’t know. The whole thing was high-school talent show sponsored by the AV Club and the area LARPer group. I thought the vocal was shit. Quavery, weak -- the whole thing was ridiculous to me. Cheap theatrics. The crowd went nuts after he finished. Somewhere SanjayaMalakar felt a cold shiver run down his spine, because Charlie just walked over his career grave. Keith said that no matter what people are saying at home, nobody left their TVs. True. He likes Charlie’s originality and fearlessness, and his WTF-ness. Nikki called it the most interesting song choice of the night, and said that his weirdness excites her. She too compared him to Freddie Mercury, and ladies and gentlemen, Freddie Mercury is in heaven right now, playing canasta with Bea Arthur, and he is throwing the sharpest side-eye at this display. Thank god Randy called out the drama-club theatrics, and basically made a plea for sanity, because all of these kids were coming out with shitty vocals and acting like it’s OK because they’re overacting on the stage like a bunch of desperate fame whores. The entire time the critique was going on Charlie kept commenting back to the judges, and I find him SO tiresome.
Jimmy Smith is from Tennessee and is in desperate need of a makeover. Jimmy went with another country song I don’t know -- how many country singers have we had this year? Clearly I need to listen to more non-girl country music. Jimmy’s voice was disappointingly weak and he had serious pitch issues on the chorus. The performance was also super cheesy. I actually think it may have been the worst of the night up until that point, and that’s really saying something. Apparently it was another Keith Urban song? Keith loved it, and with that snatched away Randy’s tiara as Most Useless Judge. Nikki thought the vocal was OK, but admitted that she was bored. Randy also said it was boring, and that the vocal wasn’t great. Mariah wondered if perhaps the pressure of the venue got to Jimmy, but she thinks America should still be able to see him. We saw him. We don’t want him.
Curtis Finch Jr. came to our attention in Hollywood Week, when he was a horrible bitch during group round. But he can also really sing. He did a totally re-envisioned r’n’b version of The Carpenters’ “Superstar,” and it was a spectacular vocal. Not a single bad note, and a great delivery. He also reminds me of an r’n’b version of the Cowardly Lion, and I LOVE it. Nikki says that Curtis takes the competition to a completely different level. Yeah, no question there.One of two decent vocals of the entire night. Randy commented on Curtis’s massive range, but also wants Curtis to act his age -- 25 -- and not to go too old fashioned. Agreed.
After commercials, the judges popped out of the floor and said that their decisions were not unanimous, which meant Jimmy Iovine would be called in to make the decision. Curtis was up first and Nikki told him to drop the act, he knew he was going through. And of course, he was. Good. Best vocal of the night. Poor doomed Jimmy was up next, and he got cut -- deservedly, after that vocal. They called Kevin next, and I honestly couldn’t remember who he was. They tellingly picked his worst moments in the replay, and then he got cut.
Elijah Liu was next, and he got a spot in the Top 10. I think that’s a testament to the shit bunch of contestants tonight and not a validation of his talent. Vocally it was not there. Sparkly unicorn JDA was next, and Nikki Minaj had to crush his delicate butterfly wings before sending him home. A tremendous loss to the competition! Pretty, pretty Paul was next, and Randy announced that Paul was the tied vote. Jimmy said that Paul is a good singer with the wrong song, and he was singing a Keith Urban song while auditioning for “Phantom of the Opera.” I guess? Anyway, Jimmy gave Paul the thumbs up, so at least we have some man candy this season.
Chris was next, and he got cut. It’s weird; I didn’t like him until tonight, but I thought he was one of the better performances of the night. Meanwhile, Charlie came up and was given one of the spots in the Top 10 for that ridiculous performance. I guess this is good news in the long run, because Charlie is going to at least make for interesting television and some really enjoyable hate blogging. I’m sorry, folks. He just sets my teeth right on edge.
That left one spot between Devin and Johnny. There’s no question that Devin should have gotten the easy win here based solely on the vocal. Johnny has hotness in his corner but he biffed this audition. Nikki Minaj said that this wasn’t unanimous, and then gave Johnny the cut while Devin went through. I am somewhat surprised, because I feel like Johnny has been heavily promoted on this show over the past two seasons, and I fully expected him to make the cut this year.
Next Wednesday: more girls. Let’s hope they’re as good as this week’s crop, because if tonight was any indication, the guys are terrible this year.
The good news is that we’re spared the endless, obnoxious semi-finals this year. The bad news is we have two weeks of its replacement, a new Sudden Death Round. Each of the next four episodes will feature 10 contestants (still separated by gender) performing in front of the judges and a studio audience in Vegas. The judges still make the decisions, however, with only five singers advancing per episode. I’m curious to know how the remaining 20 girls and 20 guys were split up over the nights. There’s serious potential for people to get screwed. If six are great one night, someone is still going home. Yet if only three are good the second, two lackluster singers are getting free passes. I’m not sure how that’s fair. In the case of a split decision on the panel, Jimmy Iovine will be the tiebreaker. Interesting.
This was also our first opportunity to see the judges in a less-edited format. My basic sense: Keith Urban is competent at the critique, but so low-energy that he’s a bit of a wasted spot. Randy actually had some salient points tonight, and I will never forgive myself for saying so. NickiMinaj continues to surprise with her insightful critiques and genuine interest in these contestants -- she is unquestionably the breakout star of the season. And Mariah Carey is obviously our “nice judge,” straining to find positives for pretty much every contestant. But she also has a bit of a mean streak that I think viewers will find offputting.
First up was Jenny Beth Willis, 17, from Kentucky. Have we ever seen this girl up until now? She picked a country song I didn’t know, and it started out WAY too low for her. This was barely passable karaoke. Terrible song choice for most of it, and Jenny didn’t get herself together until the last quarter of the song. That girl had chaff written all over her. Keith was way too nice too her, talking about her “effortless confidence.” Oh, Keith. Give me a break. Nicki said that Jenny didn’t come alive until the end of the song. Yep. Randy said it was all a little jerky and that Jenny never got in synch rhythmically with the band. Mariah asked Jenny if she had fun. That’s always the kiss of death. She wanted Jenny to be more dynamic with the verses and to have some fun on the stage.
Tenna Torres, 28, from Queens picked another song I’ve never heard before and it was very slow, but showed some serious range. Tenna over-emoted a bit, and she kept raising and lowering her arms to the point of distraction. Still, the voice was pretty good -- except one really off high note toward the end -- and in fact was better than the song itself, which was dreadful. Apparently it was from Natasha Bedingfield. That explains a lot. Keith liked the emotional diversity of her voice in the song and the control she exhibited at the end. Nicki asked why she looked so sad, and said that the performance reminded her about why she fell in love with Tenna to begin with; she says that Tenna’s tone reminds her of 1980’s r’n’b singers (that is a good thing). Randy liked how Tenna connected with the song and that’s what the next American Idol is all about. Mariah said that Tenna gave every bit of her emotion, and went all in, and that it was a natural, pure performance. I don’t know about that -- she was clearly forcing it in the beginning.
Adriana Latonio, 17, is from Anchorage, Alaska. Again: have we ever seen this girl before? Another song I’ve never heard before -- what is going on with the obscure song picks tonight? Apparently it was by Aretha Franklin. It was a mid-tempo, longing r’n’b number, but Adriana sang it really well. There was a lot of character and soul to her voice; she reminded me of a less dynamic Jessica Sanchez. It was pretty great up until the last note, which went significantly off pitch. Keith talked about how Adriana’s abilities belie her age. Nicki said that Adriana is tiny but she commands the stage, and that it seems like Adriana has already been doing this for a while. Mariah -- who was singing along with her during the number -- gave her an “A+.”
Brandy Hotard, 26, from Louisiana did another country song I don’t know. Apparently it was originally by Travis Tritt. It was slow and pretty boring, and while Brandy started out OK she wobbled about halfway through, right before the big notes in the chorus, which she totally nailed. Brandy can obviously sing, but she also has to watch the tone and the consistency in her voice. Keith liked her voice and her take on the song, but he found her emotions off -- it’s a sad song but there were times where she seemed happy. Nicki had the exact same note, and called Brandy’s number a “pageant delivery.” Boom! Randy said that the song didn’t show us what kind of artist Brandy wants to be. What a stupid comment; she obviously wants to be a country balladeer. Mariah said she didn’t notice the emotion issues, she just saw a “beautiful person smiling and singing a song.” She praised Brandy’s mid-register vibrato and said she’d like to hear her do an album of classics. That’s a pretty stupid comment.
ShubhaVedula, 17, did “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, but slowed it down and started by accompanying herself on piano. I kind of wish she’d stuck with that a little longer, because it was really pretty and she sounded lovely. But when she hit the chorus she got up, revved up the tempo, and bounced and gesticulated. It hurt the vocal, but there was still a lot of really good stuff there. I liked the interpretation of the song. I liked the range, both in terms of the vocal and performance. Keith thought she crammed a lot into that song, and he found it partially confusing -- I agree. Nikki also agreed that there was too much going on, and that Shubha almost flirts with musical parody. She called it a mash-up of Christina Aguilera and PSY, which is a pretty accurate assessment. Randy told her to take it down a few notches, but that he thinks she has great potential. I agree with that, too. Mariah too wished that Shubha had stayed at the piano because it was less forced, and that Shubha seems to feel a need to please the crowd.
KamariaOusley from Oakland, California, is apparently a back-up singer for some noted r’n’b performers. She did “Mr. Know-It-All” by Kelly Clarkson and it was DISASTROUS from the first note. The performance was so fake and overly staged. The vocal was off pitch and her tone aggressively annoying. She sounded almost as if she was in pain. Dreadful. Keith called out the song choice, because it didn’t show her voice and there was no real emotion, calling it unnecessarily theatrical. Nikki complimented Kamaria on the styling -- she really did look great. Nikki brought up the throaty goat thing Kamaria had going on, which both of us found offputting. Randy called it all over the place pitch-wise, and her worst performance ever. Mariah felt like Kamaria was struggling to hear herself, but she thinks Kamaria is vivacious and adorable. She called Kamaria “marketable.” Yes, that is what we need: more people making records who cannot perform live for shit.
Kree Harrison, 22, is a studio singer from Nashville. She did Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain,” which was a very good choice for her voice, although I feel like we’ve heard her sing this song before. I also need to say here that I think Kree is absolutely gorgeous. Anyway, a really lovely vocal from Kree, and one that prompted a standing ovation from Keith and Nikki. Keith called her a natural-born singer, and praised her blues and gospel leanings. Nikki said that if she wasKree’s competition, she would be very afraid. She said that Kree makes loves to the songs she sings, and that Kree is very sexy when she sings, even fully dressed. My land! Randy said that it was effortless, and that he felt like he was at a Kree show, and that she’s been doing this for 25 years. Mariah said that Kree was lost in the song, and was unaffected and organic.
Angela Miller, from Beverly, Massachusetts was the front-runner going into tonight. She sang a song that I found familiar but couldn’t place. But it was a strong, assured, pop-star performance. There’s something about her face that reminds me of Katy Perry -- that is a compliment. Anyway, a really good, controlled, professional-sounding performance, and Angela should cruise right into the finals. Keith basically said so in his love-fest critique. Nikki pointed out that Angie perhaps screwed herself with her original performance in Hollywood Week, because everything will be compared to that going forward. Remember the guy from a few seasons ago who had that amazing moment in Hollywood and never recaptured it? Andrew Garcia with “Straight Up”I? I hope the same doesn’t happen here. Mariah says that Angela’s potential is limitless and encouraged her to keep writing original music. The show is REALLY pimping this girl, but she seems to have the goods.
Isabelle -- just Isabelle, which I find instantly annoying -- is 22 and from New York. She went with “God Bless the Child,” which is not a great song for this show -- it’s just kind of ridiculous and over the top. Isabelle has a real diction problem. I had no idea what she was saying about halfway through the song, and I know that song. She has a good voice but every single thing about Isabelle screams “TRYING TOO HARD.” Keith told the admitted Former Fat Girl that her performance should be a middle finger to all the guys who never asked her out. Activate jerk-off motion. Randy says that Isabelle’s got a big voice and huge talent, but it was too old fashioned and very pageant-ish. God, don’t make me side with Randy. Isabelle promised to do something contemporary if she comes back.
Amber Holcomb, 18, from Houston, Texas, wrapped things up with “My Funny Valentine.” I’m kind of amazed the show allowed her to perform in a sheer top with her bra showing right through, but whatever. The vocal was decent. She sounded lovely in the sustained high notes, but she has to extend that energy to the verses, which sounded a bit dead to me. She had some good old-fashioned r’n’b runs that seemed natural and unforced. That said, the whole thing, right down to the song choice, was quite old fashioned. The judges gave her a standing ovation, which I thought was undeserved. The whole thing felt very “Star Search” to me. Keith said that her performance was timeless. Wrong. You would never, ever hear that on mainstream radio today. Come on. Nikki complimented Amber on her “legs for days.” Nikki called it an “A+++” vocal. No; there were better vocals just tonight. She did wonder if Amber’s shine will translate through the TV, and I honestly don’t think it did. Mariah said she wanted to smack Amber, but in a good way -- she loved her voice and interpretation.
The judges were unanimous in their decisions, so Jimmy Iovine was not needed. Jenny Beth Willis got axed, and she knew she was screwed. She dealt with it like a champ. Nikki Minaj really struggled to give Brandy Hotard the cut -- that was painful to watch. Tina Torres was the first one to make the Top 10, and I’m not sure if that was the right decision -- she’s talented but I had already forgotten her by the end of this episode. Kree Harrison was basically a gimme after her tongue bath of a critique, but Mariah Carey tried to punk her (I think people were booing Mariah during that, which was funny) before putting her into the Top 10. I’m curious to see how Kree progresses. Regarding Isabelle, Keith Urban said he really liked her performance, but the judges were mixed on her. She was cut. That is 100 percent song choice, because she has the voice. Angela Miller is the Chosen One for “Idol” 12, so she was obviously put through. But NickiMinaj did make a cryptic comment: “After tonight the world gets to decide what it thinks of Angela.” Remember PiaToscano from S10? How everyone loved her, and yet nobody was voting for her?
Next up Kamaria got the news, and she admitted that she couldn’t hear herself in rehearsal or performance. It didn’t matter; she was toast. But again, she handled it really well (and she did look super cute). Amber was up next, and Mariah again tried to twist the knife -- she has a really nasty edge to her, I think -- before putting her through to the Top 10. Again, very curious to see how she develops.
That left the last spot to go between Adriana and Shubha. Based solely on vocals Adriana should have gotten the nod, but if we’re talking about potential, I think Shubha could be a lot more interesting. Of course the two of them became close friends during this process, so this was yet another exercise in sadism on the part of the producers. Keith told Shubha that she was really fought for tonight amongst the judges, but ultimately Adriana was given the final Top 10 slot for the episode. That’s tough, because you can totally see where Shubha was coming from with that audition.
Tomorrow: 10 guys perform. I wonder how many we’ll actually recognize!
For an amusing Social media slant:
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