I’ve said from the beginning that this is the most competitive season in the show’s history. And this week we got that in a sense, because these queens came out swinging with their bedazzled brass knuckles and didn’t stop until the bitter end. Fight after fight after fight. Just ruthless. Not that I’m complaining – I’ll take that over boring any day. I just wish that some of them would put some of that spunk into the actual challenges, because this edition of the classic “Snatch Game” might be the weakest we’ve seen.
The mini challenge was a Who Wore it Best? Contest sponsored by Us Weekly in which the queens had 15 minutes to do something fashionable with various animal-printed snuggies. You just know that recent eliminee and caftan aficionado Honey Mahogany was sitting at home shitting herself for getting cut right before the bedspread challenge. Personally I thought the Us Weekly judge got the heats all wrong, his most egregious sin being overlooking Alaska and her lion mask, which was one of the most random and hilarious things I have seen this season. Although Jinkx Monsoon and her Olsen Twin realness was pretty inspired, too. Detox, Roxxxy Andrews, and Alyssa Edwards won, but it was kind of pointless – the prize was an Us Weekly gift bag that they never bothered even showing.
The main challenge was, of course, the annual “Snatch Game” celebrity impersonation bonanza. The guest judges were former MTV veejay Downtown Julie Brown and comedian/actress/singer Julie Brown. I was pleasantly surprised to note that the universe did not blink out of existence when both Julie Browns were seated at the same table. I also have to say that non-Downtown Julie Brown looked virtually the same as I remembered her. The Downtown version seems to have been to the, uh, “dentist.”
“Snatch Game” is a tricky beast, and after four seasons of it – and the “Laugh In” version on “All Stars” – I feel like there are certain expectations that both the viewers and the queens can make about it. First, as was pointed out by Jinkx and judge Michelle Visage, you KNOW it’s coming, and only an idiot would not have a character in mind when they were cast on this show. And yet that was the case for several of the queens, especially Alyssa Edwards and possibly Lineysha Sparx (more on here in a second). Second, time and again these queens have been told that it’s not enough to merely LOOK like the celebrity they’re skewering; they have to make it funny. And yet every season we get at least two or three queens who just think looking the part is enough. This season was even worse, because it seemed like a few of the contestants didn’t even know basic things about the person they picked to portray.
I’ll break it down by queen/character: Alaska went with Lady Bunny. This was risky for a few reasons. First, Ru and Lady Bunny are extremely close, and she’s going to have a high standard of success there. Second, Lady Bunny has a razor-sharp wit. Third, Ivy Winters just portrayed Lady Bunny to accolades in the previous episode. But Alaska did a great job here. She was dinged for not using the Lady Bunny voice, but her jokes were raunchy and well timed – another solid showing for Alaska. And then she walked down the runway holding a stuffed trout, and she took me even higher.
Alyssa Edwards went with Katy Perry, but obviously had no idea what she was going to do prior to coming to the show. Damn good thing she had immunity, because she basically threw this challenge. Absolutely terrible, missing even basic jokes. Alyssa argued that her drag is not about impersonation. Fine. But it is about being entertaining, and here she failed miserably. She didn’t even believably look the part.
Coco Montrese at least got that right for Janet Jackson, including a costume change from “Rhythm Nation” Janet to “If” Janet. But that’s about all she did. Coco apparently portrays Janet as part of her club act in the real world. She obviously saw the success Chad Michaels had with Cher last year and did a copy/paste with Ms. Jackson (because I am nasty). Thing is, Chad is funny, and Coco is not. We have seen that multiple times at the point – she cannot improvise, she cannot do comedy. She can read a bitch for filth, but she cannot be intentionally, non-critical funny. Coco’s light is fading fast in this competition.
Detox went with Ke$ha, whom she apparently knows in real life. This should have worked, because there is a ton to skewer with Ke-dollar sign-ha. And yet I found Detox’s delivery flat and one-note. Her big moment was getting up and taking a piss (faked, I’m sure) on set, but the whole thing was uncomfortable. And then she came down the runway looking like a jellyfish, the second shapeless, unflattering outfit in a row for her. I have no idea what’s going on with Detox right now. I like her but she’s floundering.
Ivy Winters for the most part looked like Marilyn Monroe, but did not have a single element of the performance down. She wasn’t believably Marilyn. She wasn’t funny. She wasn’t getting basic reference points. That pretty much sums up what I think about Ivy: great looks, very little else. And true to form, her goldfish dress on the runway was a great moment – and it likely saved her from the Bottom 2. But she’s not really bringing the personality. Ivy is circling the drain.
Jade Jolie did Taylor Swift, and we didn’t get to see much of her. She was fine, but there were some much funnier ways to play up Taylor’s generally terrible public persona. Go for boy crazy. Have each answer insult some former flame. Come on, guys. Jade is also revealing herself to be all about look and very little substance as a performer. But she was right in the mix backstage, with some nasty run-ins with Alyssa. I suspect she is deeply regretting her nasty comments about Alyssa’s “back fat” right now, because it spoke to a nasty mean girl streak that is definitely not cute.
Jinkx Monsoon completed her transformation into the new Pandora Boxx by nailing “Snatch Game” with a fairly random character: Little Edie of “Grey Gardens” fame. Jinx WAS that poor, nutty shut-in hoarder with alopecia. Every aspect of the character was right, and she was funny to boot. The tragedy of Jinkx, much like Pandora, is that the judges are coming after her for not being able to do glam on the runway. Jinkx is able of expressing her frustration about this much more succinctly than Ms. Boxx, explaining that she’s tired of having to justify a completely legitimate form of drag to all these glamazon bitches. I concur. I like Jinkx and hope she gets to the end. She won this challenge, so that’s a step in the right direction.
Roxxxy Andrews went with Tamar Braxton, sister of Toni and star of the reality show “Braxton Family Values.” I know of Tamar, but have never seen her, so I have no idea if Roxxxy’s impersonation was on point or not. If Tamar is a loud, obnoxious brat, she nailed it. Roxxxy was at least entertaining, so kudos for that. The irony is that she (and Coco) came for Jinkx in the work room for picking an obscure character – who was part of the extended Kennedy family, and had a documentary, Broadways musical, and HBO mini-series made about her – and yet Roxxxy went with the D-List sister of a C-list r’n’b singer. Sigh. Anyway, I absolutely LOVED her punk-glam runway look, although I recognize that I’m apparently in the minority on that – most people seem to hate what she wears on the runway.
Finally poor Lineysha Sparx ended up going with salsa queen Celia Cruz after RuPaul blessedly swayed her away from doing Michelle Obama, which Lineysha wanted to do merely because she could look like her. Terrible. Her Celia Cruz looked unbelievably cheap. Like she was dressed out of a Dollar Store cheap. But what ultimately did her in was the complete breakdown in communication due to Lineysha’s language barrier – she is Puerto Rican and speaks limited English. This was Kenya Michaels’ Beyonce all over again – Lineysha didn’t seem to understand the questions, and their idea of funny celebrity impersonation seemed to be making the celebrity look drunk or high.
Lineysha herself expressed the main problem here: it’s incredibly hard to do comedy in a different language. But there’s more than that. There’s also the massive differences in cultural references, and what each culture finds entertaining. Anyone who has ever watched a Latino game show on Telemundo can tell you that they are bananas, and would never fly here. Lineysha’s approach here was in the same over-the-top vein, and it was painful to watch her fail so spectacularly. It also seemed almost cruel. I sincerely do not understand why this show continues to cast Puerto Rican queens every season when increasingly they have poorer and poorer grasps on the English language. How do you expect them to compete when they have no idea what’s going on, or what to do? Dear Show: please take the tragedy of Lineysha as a message – we really do not NEED a Puerto Rican queen every season. We really don’t.
Ultimately Lineysha and Detox ended up in the Bottom 2, lipsynching to “Take Me Home” by Cher. Fabulous. Lineysha sure is pretty, and she tried, but her mouth was nowhere near in synch with the words. Detox kind of disappointed me with her lack of physical presence on the runway. Way too much just standing there. But she did a hell of a lipsynch, way over-exaggerating the held notes and throwing in some goofy Manila Luzon-style faces. She won and Lineysha was sent packing. The right choice.
Over in “Untucked” the drama continued nonstop, with Jade, Alyssa, and Coco at each others’ throats continually, and then the other queens basically telling Alyssa that she needs to have a seat with all of the attitude. To her credit Alyssa seems to at least recognize that she handles aggression very poorly. I think she’s the type of person who is fun and lovely when she’s winning/doing well, but then immediately starts flailing to take down everyone else around her if she’s drowning. Pity, because I loved her last episode. Overall though I will be happy if her stupid feud with Coco is never mentioned on the show again.
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 Rochester Broadway Theatre League today announced its ticket-lottery process for the upcoming Rochester performances of the national tour of the Tony-winning musical "The Book of Mormon." The much-anticipated show, running at Auditorium Theatre March 5-10, has been very close to sold out for months. However, 20 tickets will be available via lottery for each performance at $27.50 apiece.
The full press release appears below. Check beck at rochestercitynewspaper.com on Wednesday, March 6, for City's review of the show. Additional details on "Book of Mormon" can be found on the RBTL website.
[ROCHESTER, NY] - THE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, is pleased to announce a lottery ticket policy for the National Tour, which begins MARCH 5TH at the AUDITORIUM THEATRE in ROCHESTER and plays a limited 1-week engagement through MARCH 10TH. In ROCHESTER, the production will conduct a pre-show lottery at the box office, making a limited 20 tickets available for each performance at $27.50 apiece.
The wildly popular lottery for the Broadway production has attracted as many as 800 entries at some performances. The producers of THE BOOK OF MORMON are pleased to offer low-priced lottery seats for every city on the National Tour.
Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance; each person will print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they wish to purchase on a card that is provided. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $27.50 each. Only one entry is allowed per person. Cards are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.
THE BOOK OF MORMON features book, music and lyrics byTrey Parker,Robert Lopez andMatt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the landmark animated series, "South Park." Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy, Avenue Q. The musical is choreographed by Tony Award-winnerCasey Nicholaw(Monty Python's Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone) and is directed byNicholaw andParker.
THE BOOK OF MORMON is the winner of nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Book (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, Matt Stone), Best Direction (Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker), Best Featured Actress (Nikki M. James), Best Scenic Design (Scott Pask), Best Lighting Design (Brian MacDevitt), Best Sound Design (Brian Ronan) and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman, Stephen Oremus); the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical; five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album; four Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best Musical, and the Drama League Award for Best Musical.
THE BOOK OF MORMONfeatures set design by Scott Pask, costume design by Ann Roth,lighting design by Brian MacDevitt and sound design by Brian Ronan. Orchestrations are byLarry Hochmanand Stephen Oremus. Music direction and vocal arrangements are byStephen Oremus.
The Original Broadway Cast Recording forTHE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, is available on Ghostlight Records.
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!
It was fitting that an episode that focused on ballet would signal the end of Act 1 of “Drag Race” Season 5. This week’s episode really moved things along to the next stage. The remaining chaff got wiped out brutally. The frontrunners were solidified. And now that the Alyssa/Coco drama has seemingly settled (if it ever actually existed) we’re getting to the major tension of the season, which I expect will boil over in the next few weeks. And on top of that, the challenges were a hoot.
The mini-challenge was a disco dance-off. I guess the overarching theme was Ru’s history and dance, but did we really need a reason to see these queens slap together 10-minute drag and act the fool in broke-ass afros? No. No we did not. Just sit back and enjoy. The winners -- aside from all of us, when the Pit Crew started dancing -- were Jinkx Monsoon and Coco Montrese, both of whom busted out some legitimately sweet moves. Of course they were named team captains and tasked with picking mates for the main challenge: staging “No RuPologies,” a ballet telling the story of RuPaul through dance. Amazing.
The ballet was broken up into two acts, one act handled by each team. Team Jinkx got Act 1, and it featured Alaska as Ru’s mother, Jade Jolie as young Ru idolizing Diana Ross (Lineysha Sparx), and Jinkx as 20something genderfuck Ru going wild in the city with Ivy Winters as Lady Bunny. Act 2 featured grown-up Ru’s rise to fame and internal struggles. Team leader Coco portrayed “good Ru” opposite her supposed nemesis Alyssa Edwards as “evil Ru,” Detox was “Supermodel of the World” Ru performing with Honey Mahogany as her idol, Diana Ross. And then Roxxxy Andrews was modern-day “Drag Race” Ru crowning America’s Next Drag Superstar, Vivienne Pinay.
The goils were coached by “So You Think You Can Dance” alums and noted hot pieces of ass Travis Wall and Nick Lazarini, so they weren’t exactly left to the wolves. Most of the queens did surprisingly well with this ambitious challenge. Standouts included the dance-challenged Alaska, who played to her comedic strengths; Ivy and Jinkx as basically the sluttier, draggier versions of Laverne and Shirley; and Alyssa, who totally lived up to her dancer background and really killed the “Black Swan”-like character she had to play.
This was, in fact, the episode that made me root for Alyssa Edwards. At the beginning of the season I was on Team Coco, but she lost me last week with her frankly pathetic, illogical dramatics. Alyssa this week became endearing between her excellent performance, her fantastic talking heads (Alyssa’s reaction shots are priceless), and the hilarious faces she makes while putting on her make-up. This was Alyssa’s finest hour, and fittingly, she won the challenge.
Jinkx and Ivy also received high praise for their work and costumes, and Ru literally said that Jinkx is a contender for the long run. I agree and hope she sticks it out. I also thought it was another strong showing for Alaska, Detox and Coco looked amazing on the runway (what was with the crazy short mainstage intros this week?), and I don’t know what the hell judge Santino Rice was on, but I thought Roxxxy Andrews looked incredible in what I will call the Lifesavers dress.
Unfortunately Roxxxy landed in the Bottom 3 for her lead-footed performance, but escaped lip-synching for her life. That dubious honor went to Vivienne for continuing to be incredibly dull and Honey for being boring AND poorly dressed. They performed to Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” and were, as you might guess, boring. Low energy. They mostly stood there and paced occasionally. Honey threw in a head bop or two. Vivienne sometimes pointed. Welcome to Yawnsville, population two drag queens.
Which is why I was so delighted when Ru delivered her verdict: they were both told to sashay away, because neither one of them proved that they had the fire to win this competition. Ain’t that the truth. Both Vivienne and Honey had “filler” written on them from the beginning, but I was already growing weary at the prospect of either one of them pointlessly hanging around for another episode. Honey seems like a lovely human being with lots of positive energy. She’s just not exactly a star, and as multiple people pointed out this episode, sister needs to step away from the caftans. She has an obsession with them that rivals Dorothy Zbornak, and at least Dorothy had midnight cheesecake binges as a justification. Honey, this episode more than any other, totally looked like a dude in a wig wrapped in a bedsheet. Again, sure she’s lovely in person. But not a drag superstar.
Vivienne believes that she IS a superstar, and Vivienne is wrong. About so many things, really. She bitched and bitched that she dislikes Roxxxy because of her energy (meaning: Roxxxy has energy, and Vivienne has none) and because Roxxxy is an attention whore. Hello. Child. You are drag queens on a reality-TV competition. You are by definition all attention whores. Vivienne also thought she didn’t have time to really show Ru who Vivienne Pinay was. You lasted four episodes. That’s 1/3 of the season. If you can’t show us who you are at that point, you don't have it. Finally, after her totally dismissive, pouty reaction to her elimination, Vivienne assured herself that no matter what, she’s the fishiest queen ever on “Drag Race.” Cue Alyssa Edwards side-eye reaction shot. Fishier than Carmen Carrera? Fishier than Jujubee or Tatianna? Fishier than Kenya Michaels? Absolutely not. Pretty, sure, but I wouldn’t even call her the most believably feminine queen this season. That distinction goes to Jade Jolie.
Speaking of, I alluded to this in the intro: I believe tonight we saw Jade Jolie get the call to move up to house bitch. I’ve been amused by people’s sunshine-and-lollipops take on Jade from the get go; I’ve always detected a ruthless little viper under all those teeth and wigs. In “Untucked” most of the queens let it be known that Jade is a real pain in the ass in the work room and has an attitude problem. Alyssa even spectacularly shoved Jade under the bus when the judges asked her to nominate someone for elimination. Backstage Jade got into it with Alyssa, with Roxxxy, and maybe someone else, while other queens -- including Lineysha -- came after Alaska for her runway looks. This season has felt very competitive from the start, but tonight’s episode really crystallized the vitriol flowing behind the scenes, and I suspect things are going to explode in the next 2-3 weeks. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.
NEXT: Snatch Game! Let’s see if these queens can inject some life into that semi-stale challenge…
After Wednesday night’s semi-baffling all-girl group rounds the ladies were shaved down to 20 via final solo auditions. Some of these were quite impressive, and the show is definitely pushing the, “Is it time for a girl to win the competition again?” line. Hell yes, it’s time! Stop sabotaging all your top female talent and maybe that’ll happen one of these days.
Angela Miller is getting the heavy pimping treatment, for sure. Thankfully she seems to deserve it. She performed an original creation, “You Set Me Free,” and the vocal was terrific. Lot of personality, even while sitting behind the piano. There’s a strong Sara Bareilles thing going on there, and that is 100 percent a compliment. This girl is a major talent and I PRAY that she clicks with the viewers, because she’s the real deal. The judges were blown away. Mariah complimented the song, the voice, the passion. NickiMinaj said that Angela wasn’t necessarily in their Top 5 before today, but by doing what she does, she totally changed their minds.
Candice Glover did “Girl on Fire” and she took it a little dirtier than the original. There are a lot of good things about Candice’s voice, but she HAS to watch her pitch. She slides off into slightly flat way more often than she should. Big voice, lots of power, but she has to focus on tone.
Janelle Arthur let me down a bit with “I Told You So.” She was so amazing Wednesday night, but the intro to that song was too low and it didn’t show off her wonderful, warm voice. I just think she’s so much better than that performance. But it was still OK. Nicki likes that Janelle always keeps it subtle, and called her a country superstar.
I am living for Zoanette Johnson. She had a song in mind, got rid of it, and then made up a whole new song called “BaDaBa Bump” on stage, instructed the rest of the band on what to do, and she got in behind the drum kit. It was a stupid song with Zoanette basically just singing whatever she was seeing. She yelled at the band that they were going to fast, and she lost her drumstick, and then she played drums some more, and then she…keened. That’s the only way of describing it. A high-pitched sound that wasn’t a scream, wasn’t really singing. NickiMinajsaid “I am honored to be part of ‘Idol’ this year so that I can say I was part of the Zoanette Era.” YES!
Kez Ban performed an original piece on guitar. I don’t know if Kez Ban is actually sick -- she referenced this last night -- or if her voice is just naturally extremely raspy. I don’t know if the show gave us her entire performance or if they edited it down to just like 20 seconds, but it was very brief. There were some interesting moments in there, but ultimately it was just too avant-garde for this show, and Kez Ban knew it. The judges told her that her journey was over (they handled that with a lot of class), and Kez Ban took it very well, explaining that her mom loves the show and she just wanted to make her proud. She said she would love to have any job on the show, be it gopher or confidence booster. Cute segment and I thought everyone came off well.
Ashlee Feliciano really lost me in the first half of her audition, which had these weird whooping notes that did not sit with me. But the end she went into an impressive falsetto. Randy told the women to get some pep into their song choices. Please! Tired of the wah-wah. Ultimately she was eliminated.
Melinda Ademi thankfully did “Pricetag” by Jessie J, and she did a pretty good job selling the pop-star thing. Let’s hear it for someone with a pulse.
Kree Harrison did “Stars” by Grace Potter, and she has a really tragic story about losing both of her parents to two different accidents by age 19. Good lord, that’s awful. She kind of threw away the verse, but she came to life on the choruses. There’s a lot of good raw material with her voice, but she is going to have to really work hard to harness it all. Keith Urban said that he fought for her multiple times in the competition, and it’s because she has an amazing quality in her voice. Both Nicki and Mariah commented on her sincerity and honesty.
There were 24 left, and there were three more brutal cuts right then and there -- the girls did not seem pleased. And then there were a few last-second sing-offs, including Stephanie Schimel. She bombed during group round and for her last chance she did Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” which sounded really nice once the band dropped out but kind of drunk up until then. Also singing for her spot was Rachel Hale, who was just on the cusp of flat during her entire final audition. Stephanie got cut in favor of Rachel. Can’t say as I agree with that.
After that it switched back to the guys. The judges also asked several of the guys to sing again. Adam Sanders did “Taking Chances” by Celine Dion, and it was really screechy in the upper register and went pretty seriously off key. That’s disappointing, because I loved his initial audition. Josh Holiday did “Georgia on My Mind” and it was really cabaret. And apparently he split his pants. Stay classy, show.
Ultimately, Adam -- and a bunch of other guys, including poor David Leathers Jr. -- were cut at the last minute.
So we had a Top 40, although they didn’t identify them by name. Next week we go to a NEW Sudden Death round in front of a live audience. So this is new. I thought we were at live voting. Boo…
After the guys were whittled down to 20 semi-finalists last week (well, kind of), this week it's all about the ladies. There were a few cuts in the Sudden Death round, but most of the action focused on groups. So I'll do the same.
After Sudden Death 72 girls remained for group round. As we discovered last week, this year the producers assigned the groups; they were not self selected. As several contestants noted, when you force girls into groups, competing amongst one another, the claws were likely to come out. And if you think the show wasn't counting on that, you don't know "American Idol."
The Swagettes - Candice Glover, KamariaOusley, Melinda Ademi, and Denise Jackson - did that "Idol" favorite "Hit 'Em Up, Style." Shout out to S4's JanayCasteen. They did some good a cappella harmonizing, but Kamaria was rough and Melinda was just awful. Candice was the clear star here. All in all, the group was stronger than most of the individual members. They all went through to the next round. Really not sure why Melinda is being pushed through so relentlessly.
Raising Cain - Morgan Leigh, Lauren Mink, Brandy Hotard, somebody else -- did "Sin Wagon" and it was kind of a mess. One of them was not gelling with the others harmonically. The whole thing seemed quite manic. There were parts where they obviously weren't sure what they were supposed to be doing. I hated most of it. The only one that worked for me was Lauren. But Nicki Minaj sure seemed to love it and babbled on before sending them all through. Eyeroll.
Almost Famous - Savannah Votion, Lizz Weiss, Daysia Hall, J'Leigh Chauvin-- went with "Somebody That I Used to Know" and attempted to turn it into four-part harmony, which is...ambitious. Too much so, because very little of it came together. They were all over the place. The sloppy outfits, the unsexy "sexy" dance moves -- all of it was really grim. That said, I still think Savannah is a hell of a singer. She just desperately needs a makeover. For reasons that make no sense at all, Daysia - one of the weakest in the group - was the only one who made it through. The other girls were angry about that, pointing out that Daysia forgot her words and the others tried to push her through it. Savannah was furious and made the cardinal sin of swearing not to come on the show again. That attitude not going to help you in any way, dear.
The aptly named Dramatics - KrissMincey, JanelStinney, Cristabel Clack, someone else - did "If I Die Young." Fascinating group.Cristabel has such an interesting, textured tone. She sounded very strained, but she really connects with the song. Janel, who clearly has some personal issues, can really sing, but she totally forgot the words and she seemed like a real disaster to work with. She broke down on stage about how she felt like she didn't fit in, which Nicki found "endearing." Based on the footage they showed, I don't think she's endearing at all; I think she's a mess. All four of them were put through.
Urban Hue - Seretha Guinn, Tenna Torres, Kiara Lanier, someone else - all sounded constipated while singing "American Boy." Nicki told them that it was "painful" before asking, "What was that?" Nicki said that Seretha lacked star power, and that the song choice was poor. In the end they cut only Seretha. They all should have been sent home based on that number.
The Poosnaps - Isabelle, goddess Zoanette Johnson, Erin Christine, Lauren Bettes - did a rousing rendition of "Knock on Wood." Erin was terrific, Lauren forgettable, Isabelle was good, and Zoanette drifted between ridiculous and sublime. Lots of energy, though. And Lauren was indeed cut, the other three moved forward.
Handsome Women - Shira Gavrielov, Alisha Dixon, Liz Bills, CourtneyCalle - struggled through "Somebody That I Used to Know." I don't know why so many of the girl groups picked this song; it is not well suited for most female ranges. Shira was one of the worst voices I've ever heard at this stage in the competition. This song was 100 percent out of Alisha's range. Courtney can sing, and Liz did a solid job, which infuriated the rest of her group, because apparently she was a prima donna who thought she was too good for the rest of the group. Apparently there was a reason for that. After being cut, Shira came back on stage and demanded an explanation for her axing. Here's an explanation: you sounded like shit. You were off pitch, you screwed up the words. Kick rocks, deuces.
An unnamed group featuring Stephanie Schimel, Alex Delaney, KalliTherinae, and Holly Miller changed their song completely TWO HOURS before going on stage. Stephanie and Alex had no idea what they were singing - Alex was actually trying to read lyrics off her sweaty palm. Stephanie can sing well but she was a marble-mouthed mess. Kalli did a solid job, but weirdly got cut, while Stephanie and Holly made it through. I thought Holly sounded pretty bad, so I don't get that. Even Stephanie seemed surprised to get the nod.
The Dolly Chicks - Britnee Kellogg, Kree Harrison, Brandy Neelly, Haley Davis - also did "Sin Wagon" and made me sad. Britnee absolutely killed it, Kree was fine, Brandy and Haley had no idea what they were singing. Haley was reading the lyrics off her arm, and Nicki called her out as "ridiculous" and "disrespectful" for her behavior. Nicki was not having it. The only one cut, weirdly, was Brandy. Haley had no business making it through to the next round. Absolutely none. To her credit, Brandy handled it like a champ.
The Misfits - Kez Ban, Breanna Steer, Angela Miller, Janelle Arthur - did "Be My Baby," and it was a mixed bag. Janelle was spectacular, Angela was great, but Breanna was singing in a completely different key, and Kez Ban was doing her own Kez Ban thing. I think she's fascinating but I felt for the other members of her group. Thing is, it kind of worked itself out by the end. Nicki loved the whole thing, and specifically called out Janelle for being a superstar. They all went through. Seriously, I thought Breanna was awful.
Thursday night: solo rounds for girls, Top 40 revealed
Sorry this blog is going up a day late. I was crazy sick, y'all.
This week's episode of "Drag Race" delivered several things fans have been waiting for: Alaska finally stepped up her game, the Alyssa/Coco rivalry came to a head, and RuPaul finally confirmed that Michelle Visage is an extremely believable ventriloquist doll (with a gigantic rack, of course). It was another solid episode, but by the end I realized that there's still a sea of queens left - more than half of them truly boring - and I can see the proceedings getting tedious as they're picked off one by one.
The theme of the week was kids, or more to the point, kids' entertainment. The mini-challenge saw the queens paired up and given kid-sized mannequin dolls that had to be turned into young drag-pageant entrants. Some of them were funny (Detox and Roxxxy gave us the droning, fashion-obsessed daughter of Rachel Zoe) while others were disappointingly one-note (Alyssa's is - get this - a pageant girl who wants world peace for all; her name was Savannah Lee. Savannah Lee!).
The clear winner was Alaska/Lineysha's Li'l Poundcake, slathered in Divine make-up, middle finger sticking up, with the catchphrase, "You're not my real dad and you never will be." Alaska really came to life in this mini-challenge, including her delivery of the line, "Li'l Poundcake enjoys riding dirty, and being a straight-up motherfucking [censored] pig." Ru was howling, and so was I.
As winners, Alaska and Lineysha were made team captains for the main challenge: each team had to make a children's entertainment program that appealed to the young and young at heart. Meaning, make it colorful and weird, but loaded with double entendre and hipster innuendo. Like a gay "Yo Gabba Gabba." Actually, that's redundant.
The teams were: Alaska, Detox, Roxxxy, Vivienne, Monica, Alyssa (Alyssa was picked last, possibly because the other queens fear that she will suck all of the oxygen out of the room with that gaping fish mouth of hers); and Lineysha, Honey, Coco, Jinkx, Ivy, and Jade.
The two teams picked different themes. Alaska's crew went with a "Barnyard Buddies" motif while Lineysha's group, which ended up being led by Jinkx, presumably due to Lineysha's fairly substantial language barrier, went for a more generic glamorous fairy thing. I guess. It wasn't terribly well defined. Each "show" had similar segments, including a secret word of the day, a lesson for kids, and a how-to bit.
Alaska's team came out on set and immediately got clocked by directors RuPaul and Michelle Visage for Alaska being dressed as a boy. Given that this is a drag competition, you can understand their point. But overall the team fared well. Despite the gender non-transformation Alaska was actually really good as a cornpone version of Pee-Wee Herman, Detox killed it in a chicken role (which was, admittedly, awfully reminiscent of Raven's chicken from S2), Roxxxy Andrews was great as a salad-tossing vegetable woman (it made sense on the show, I swear), and even Alyssa was pretty funny as weird cross-dressing uncle Dick. But several of the weaker queens dragged the team down, including Monica Beverly Hillz, who could not remember her lines despite the fact that they were in a book RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER FACE (!), and poor, pretty Vivienne Pinay, who is as dull as...I can't even come up with a metaphor for how boring this child is. She's not worth the effort. I mean that.
The other team, however, fared even worse. Jinkx was one of the sole bright spots, and even her performance bordered on manic. (But given the task, it kind of worked.) Ivy Winters and Lineysha worked together on a banana-split demo that should have been comedy gold, but Ivy's personality deficiency came up again and Lineysha just translated - badly - what Ivy was saying into Spanish. At least they looked great. Jade Jolie went straight for the gutter for her segment and looked frankly terrifying. But worst by a wide mile were Honey Mahogany and Coco Montrese as a little girl and her ventriloquist dummy, respectively. Coco immediately bristled at being the sidekick, but given her performance I'm amazed they gave her that much to do. Terrible. Awkward, appalling timing, she didn't know her lines, and the whole thing read sad and depressing. Every part of it was bad, and Honey did nothing to help matters. Mind-bogglingly awful. Even Ru and Michelle couldn't be bothered to help that mess.
In the workroom before the big runway - this time devoted to pink, and producing few noteworthy looks - Coco and Alyssa finally hashed out their big secret drama. And let me say for everyone: get over it, queens. It is really the stupidest stunt casting in the show's history, because there is a whole lot of nothing there, and it's actually making me dislike Coco (who, up until tonight's episode, I rather enjoyed). The "scandal" is that the two of them competed in a national drag pageant a few years ago, with Alyssa taking first and Coco second. Eventually, due to "obligations not being fulfilled," Alyssa was stripped of her title, and Coco took her place. This has ruined their friendship. During their discussion Coco repeatedly tried to play the victim card, saying that it's unfair to her because the situation was so stressful she nearly lost her relationship, and that people were mean to her because she didn't truly "win" the title. I am no fan of Alyssa Edwards, but it was hard to disagree with her reaction to all of this: you have got to kidding, lady. Like Alyssa, I suspect Coco uses this situation, and others, to generate drama/sympathy for herself, and it's not amusing in the least. Mostly because Coco doesn't need this petty bullshit. Coco is clearly very talented, and should rely on that instead of cheap theatrics.
None of this helped Coco in judging, when she was roundly drummed for her failings by the panel, which included guest judges Coco (of Ice-T and gigantic ass fame) and Paulina Porizkova (of supermodel, Cars, and "Top Model" fame; I've always liked her and respected her as a judge). Coco went right to the drama well and blamed her poor performance on her issues with Alyssa. Eyerolls all around. I cannot believe she thought that shit would fly with this crowd of jaded biz types. Also raked across the coals were Monica Beverly Hillz for retracting right back into her shell after coming out of it in the lipsynch last week; Alaska for not even bothering to dress like a woman for the challenge; and Vivienne for being so goddamned boring. Interestingly, Ru warned Lineysha that she would have been in the bottom had she not had immunity from winning the previous week. I thought Lineysha was useless in the challenge, but I found Honey's sins much more grievous. Did you see that runway stomp? Bitch looked like a Terminator goose-stepping in an azalea-colored muumuu!
In the top were Roxxxy, Detox, and Jinkx. Detox won, which you can't fault, but personally I would have given the nod to Jinkx. Interestingly both queens referenced previous queens in parts of the episode, with Raven's S2 chicken costume and Raja's Marie Antoinette look. I'm not saying it was intentional, but I am saying that these later-season queens need to know that it's incumbent upon them to keep things fresh, because we bitchy viewers remember this stuff and will read them for copying off another queen's homework.
The lipsynch ended up between Monica and Coco after Vivienne narrowly escaped with a stern warning from Ru. She'll go in the next two weeks anyway. The two of them performed to "When I Grow Up" by the Pussycat Dolls, and while Coco turned it out in a stage-dominating performance, Monica again looked sad and low-energy on the stage. My heart goes out to her. Monica seems like a lovely person, but she needs to take a key part of Ru's advice to heart: "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?" Can I get an Amen up in here, Monica? I hope so, because I really do like her. She was of course eliminated, and I feel like if they ever do a "Second Chance" season I'd like to see her back. Once she gets her personal life sorted out and really fights to be in the competition I think she could go places. There's something charismatic about her that you don't see with other obvious filler queens (see: Honey, Vivienne, Ivy).
It was the final solo auditions for the guys in Vegas. We started with 43 with a goal of getting down to 20. That’s not quite how it went down, but it’s nice to have dreams.
Paul Jolley, who reminded me of a Canadian version of Adam Levine, was having a total freak out both backstage and in front of the judges, but he actually sounded just fine on Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” That’s a very scream-y song to begin with, and Paul was screamy, but controlled. NickiMinaj busted on him for his public freak-out and she asked him for “one minute of professionalism,” because the negativity was “such a turnoff.” Agree. Nicki was clearly over him, but it seemed like the other judges were willing to fight for him.
LazaroArbos did “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga and it was very lounge singer. Curtis Finch, Jr. is giving me Cowardly Lion Realness. He did “Jar of Hearts” and it was mid-tempo and schmaltzy, but also beautifully sung. He’s Joshua Ledet Part 2. The question is: do we need another?
Curtis, Lazaro, and Paul were all through. I have to say, I really don’t think Lazaro has the vocal ability to compete on the same level with many of these other singers.
Devin Velez oversang the ever-loving shit out of “What a Wonderful World.” Child: just hold a note. Don’t try so hard. Just sing the song. Devin has a very nice voice, and he doesn’t really need to show off -- he’s got it. But there’s more than a hint of pretension there.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin picked up a guitar and did a livelier version of “George on My Mind” than I would have expected from him. Cortez Shaw sang ar’n’b classic I’m not familiar with, but he’s one of my favorites for this season. Just a great clear voice, look, presence.
MatheusFernandes did “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, which was a bad idea -- it started out too low for him. He also really overdid it, turning it into this…I don’t know, dirge or something. It was a little embarrassing. Nicki told him to stop marinating in his personal issues and stop trying so hard -- she felt like he kept trying to milk his height issues in his performances for a de facto pity party. I think she’s actually right on the money there. She told him to be great and just let the rest go. Unfortunately for Matheus, that was his final performance, as he was cut. Again, based on that moment, I cannot disagree with the judges’ call.
Nicholas Mathis did “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, and it was basically karaoke. He seemed oddly checked out of the first half of the performance, and then for the second half he dropped to his knees and did some stunt-squeen theatrics. He kept talking about how he wants to provide a better life for his two kids. Eh. Keith had some excellent points when he told him that it seemed less like he was chasing a dream and more like he was chasing the song.
Papa Peachez went with Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” which immediately turned off NickiMinaj. It really was a terrible fit for his voice, which is so low and borderline monotone. Nicki told him that the flame has been sucked out of him by this competition -- I don’t think anything could suck the flame out of Papa Peachez -- and she told him that she was disappointed in him. Damn!
Jimmy Smith (I think, I missed the last name) did a really lovely version of “Landslide.” Mariah loved him, but said that the rest of the “opinionated” group had to make their deliberations.
From that group, Nicholas and Papa Peachez were cut. Papa Peachez realized that this competition is not really his bag, while Nicholas just fell apart outside. Eyeroll!
Nick Boddington has been on this show in previous seasons. I didn’t like him then, I didn’t like him last night, but I did like what he did with this audition, where he played the keyboard and sang a really lovely ballad. It fit his high, thin voice so much better than what they normally make him sing.
The incredibly odd Charlie Askew did Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know.” He had a long intro to the song and then got all pinchy and screamy and it seemed very drunken frat-house party at 2 a.m. catharsis to me. No thanks, weird little man. Nicki, however, loved it, and said she was “obsessed” with him. She said that today he became an artist in her eyes. Charlie’s response is that he “glorifies weirdness.” Again, trying too hard. Not half as clever as he thinks he is.
In the end, Nick and Charlie made the cut from that group, as did Mathanee and trans flower JDA.
Burnell Taylor did “Jar of Hearts.” I picked up on this last night, and felt it again tonight -- Burnell is the most boring performer I’ve ever seen on this show. Burnell himself seems to be falling asleep as he’s singing. He has a good voice, but he is WAY too low energy.
Marvin Calderon ALSO did “Jar of Hearts” and it was good, I suppose. After hearing that song FOUR TIMES in an hour I became incapable of discerning good from bad.
Micah Johnson did “I Told You So” by Randy Travis. An unconventional song choice for him, and possibly not the best pick for his voice. But he sounded great on the big notes. Lots of soul in that voice. And then suddenly, he was cut. That was surprising -- the first big surprise of the competition thus far.
Also cut: Dave Brown, Sonni, Nate Tao.
The guys who made the cut were all called back on stage. There were 28 then. The judges explained that they have to go through the girls next week, and then next Thursday we’ll all discover who makes Top 20.
Next week: the girls, and lord it looks dramatic. And Zoanette takes to the drum set! YES!
So the show is changing up the semi-finals and finals process this year, and we started to see some of that come into play as we started Vegas Week tonight. Only 20 guys and 20 girls will make it to semi-finals this year, and there will be only a Top 10 -- no wild cards, no Top 12/13. More than that, the genders will be split up until we reach the finals. This week it’s the guys, next week it’s the girls. I always find semifinals to be deadly dull on this show, so I’ll take whatever changes they have to offer. But I also reserve the right to bitch freely about them at a later date.
There wasn’t much of note in the first round of Vegas Week, the sudden-death a cappella cuts. Most of the people you expected to do well did well. There was debate amongst the judges as to whether Cortez Shaw was openly pissing on the grave of Whitney Houston with his rendition of “I Will Always Love You” -- Nicki Minaj was not having it at all. I thought it was fine, if a bit overboard. But I could see where Nicki was coming from in her critique.
Speaking of Nicki, she pulled one of the absolute meanest tricks I have ever seenon a contestant when she asked if a guy was tired. H e said yes, and then she said good news: they were sending him home, so he could get lots of rest. But she was kidding! The lesson: never tell anyone you’re tired. Absolutely vicious, but kind of hilarious.
Half the guy contestants were slashed in Day 1, and then we went right on to Group Round. And there was a TWIST! For the first time in the show’s history the producers selected the groups. Wow, that’s some pretty blatant behind-the-scenes manipulation.
I did the best I could to keep with all the groups as they came up, but it’s always such a crapshoot with these things. Here’s what I saw:
The Mathheads -- Nick Boddington, MatheneeTreco, MatheusFernandes, Gabe Brown -- did “Somebody to Love.” It opened with an absolutely beautiful a cappella intro, but it kind of went downhill from there. Boddington was easily the weak link on this group, and Matheus really stepped it up. Mathenee -- who I believe I remember from previous seasons -- was also really strong. Gabe’s voice didn’t really mesh with the other three, but they used it to their advantage. Nicki continued to twist the knife with these guys by drawing out the verdict. She is absolutely vicious. Anyway, all four straight through.
Normal Hills, featuring Johnny Keyser, Kareem Clark, and two guys they didn’t bother to name, did “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” And it was dreadful. Johnny pushed for the song and then regretted it because he couldn’t remember the lyrics. His voice was good, but he was a mess with the words. Kareem was straight-up off pitch. Kareem was cut, the others got put through. I feel like this was redemption for Johnny after his baffling elimination in Vegas one or two years back.
Curtis Finch, Jr., a ginger moppet named Charlie, and some guy I don’t remember being identified did “Today I’m Not Doing Anything.” It was great -- really awesome. Curtis can sing like a mothertrucker, but he is also a first-class diva bitch and he was throwing mad amounts of shade behind the scenes at odd little Charlie. That’s going to come back to bite him should he make it to the live voting rounds. They were all put through.
The Four Tones, featuring Micah Johnson, Vincent Powell, Marvin Calderon, David Willis, did “Hold On, I’m Coming” and nailed it. Similarly Zach Birnbaum, Nate Tao, Cortez Shaw, Elijah Liu, did a totally solid job on “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
A group called The B Sides, who were never identified by name but included The Turbantor and some dweeby guy and a dude in a head wrap, murdered “Payphone” by Maroon 5. For reasons that escape me NickiMinaj really pushed for them and, somehow, they were all put through. I’m kind of floored by that.
Another group featuring Jason Jones, Dan Wood, Jessie Lawrence, and some other guy came out dedicating One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” to Nicki and Mariah, and that was probably a bad idea, because it was DREADFUL. Full implosion. All four axed.
Devan Jones, Devin Velez, and two other guys who weren’t named did “Payphone” but decided to do it a cappella. This had an interesting effect, in that the song was much slower and sadder sounding. Three out of four of them went through to the next round.
Tony Foster, Jr. Mario Jost, Burnell Taylor, Darien Moses nailed “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Keith pointed out the fact that Burnell was getting lost a bit amongst the other members of the group -- he just doesn’t pop. I got confused as to who got cut and who went through on that group.
Super 55, the group featuring Josh Stephens, Scott Fleenor, Christian Lopez, and Lazaro Alvaro, did “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. The rest of the group complained about Lazaro quite a bit and his “limitations,” but honestly, Lazaro seemed to have held up his end of the bargain, while several of the others did not impress vocally. And the two main complainers got cut while Lazaro and Christian were allowed to continue. That’s got to be a swift kick to the butt. But at least they got some sour grapes to snack on for the plane ride home.
Country Queen, a team featuring polar opposites Lee Pritchard and JDA, Joel Wayman, Trevor Blakney, did “More Than Words” from Extreme. I felt bad for Trevor, because his voice was really lovely on this song and then he blew the lyrics spectacularly. All of them except Joel did, actually. It just fell apart on stage. Unfortunately Lee and Trevor were cut, and that’s especially unfortunate because Lee was crazy hot. Trevor handled it really badly, but thankfully didn’t lash out as his group members.
David Leathers Jr., Kevin Quinn, Kayden Stephenson, SanniM’Mamairua did “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Randy said that David was the best of the group, but I thought Kevin was also quite good. Kayden has the sweetest little voice, but he just doesn’t have a voice for this competition. Ultimately both Kayden and Kevin got cut.
Team Oz, featuring Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders, Frankie Ford, and Charles Allen closed out the night. Frankie Ford definitely wins the Drama Queen Award for this episode. I didn’t care for him in his initial audition -- there was something about him I found off. Something is not right there mentally. He completely collapsed on stage, and leading up to their performance was a gigantic pain in the ass for the rest of his team. I though Papa and Charles were both great. Nicki told Papa Peachez that he’s becoming too complacent, and he needs to step up. And Frankie was cut despite Keith advocating for him strongly. And Frankie had a meltdown outside, suggesting that his group sabotaged him. Mess. Complete mess.I hope we never see him on this show again.
Tomorrow we go from 43 guys down to 20. That is a HUGE cut.
For an amusing Social media slant:
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