Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Semifinals, Top 10 guys perform

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 10:35 PM

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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: Someone give me an “Amen”

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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!

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