Friday, May 6, 2011

Final 5 Results

Finally, the Stank is gone! There's not much more to say, other than: thank the lord it wasn't Haley.

We're getting down to clutch time, so it's harder to predict what's going to happen-- but this much is true: the handy Bottom 3 theory really works! All the way back in Top 11 week results show, I had predicted Scotty, Lauren, James and Jacob (swap out Pia for Haley) would be in the Top 5, based on Bottom 3 showings. And that's how it worked out! And Scotty/James (and maybe even Lauren, despite the late Bottom 2 showing) are still on lock to win-- something I've been predicting since the Top 11 as well.

Also, looking at the list, Pia was the only contestant eliminated so far on her very first Bottom 3 showing-- everyone else appeared at least once before actually getting cut.

So for all you non-beleivers, pay attention for season 11: appearing in the Bottom 3 is the kiss of death (in terms of #winning)

Top 4 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) James Durbin
3.) Lauren Alaina (Bottom 2: Final 5)
4.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12, 8, 7)
5.) Jacob Lusk (Bottom 3: Final 9, 7, 5)
6.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11, 6)
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11, 9, 8, 7)
8.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2, 8)
9.) Pia Toscano (Bottom 3: Final 9)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

Here's hoping that Jacob's soul-loving voters will all transfer to Haley (and not rocker James or country Lauren/Scotty). I think Haley has a really decent shot at Top 3, but probably not much more... especially if Lauren translates this near-ouster into a genuine moment next week.

We're almost there (and by there, I mean seeing Pia sing again at the finale)!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Final 5 Performances

I hold one solemn fist in the air, as a show of solidarity to Haley motherf**king Reinhart.

I may have strayed far off the Idol path since Pia's ouster, but like I said, all it takes is one gripping performance to bring me back. And just when I thought none of this year's Top 5 could accomplish such a feat, they all proved me wrong (well, all right, maybe not Stank face).

Clearly someone paid attention to my rants about Idol "Moments," because this episode was jam-packed with many earnest attempts (and a couple actual successes). The judges are still ABSOLUTELY useless (my bones vibrated with rage after their so-obviously pre-scripted bash of Haley's first, rousing performance) and I've simply taken to fast-forwarding through their nonsense, even the bitch-please standing ovation (how pre-planned did that feel)?

But still, despite the Judges' tomfoolery and Jimmy's meddling, James and Haley managed to manufacture very real Idol moments--and perhaps might have even risen as genuine contenders (at least for show--the voting trends clearly discount Haley from the crown). But hey, James may just have a shot to win this thing, with Haley nabbing 4th or 3rd... here's hoping, America.

The Hot
Haley Reinhart: "You and I" & "House of the Rising Sun." There are no words, except these: I will buy every one of your albums if they sound like the songs you sang tonight, Lady Reinhart. Screw those judges and screw American tweendom, you're my American Idol!

James Durbin: "Closer to the Edge" & "Without You." While the first performance was mere cannon fodder, I am obsessed with James' emotional rendition of Without You, if only because it represents the kind of unproduced, spontaneous, raw Moment that American Idol was built upon. Sure the vocal wasn't perfect, but that only added to the power of James' delivery. This one will rank in my Best Idol Performances playlist, right along with Haley's showing (if only Cowell were still around to validate my assertions with a well-delayed quip).

The Warm
Lauren Alaina: "Flat On The Floor" & "Unchained Melody." I'm so tired of saying "almost" with Lauren-- it's just crystal clear she needs a few years to train and harness that massively amazing voice of hers. She's neither polished (like J.Sparks) nor raw (like A.Iraheta), rather falling into a nebulously mediocre middle-ground (much like most of her mid-tempo song choices). Here's hoping she gets cut soon sans record deal, takes a few years to practice her craft and makes a stunning comeback by winning The X-Voice, 2015.

Scotty McCreery: "Gone" & "Always On My Mind." Note to everyone speaking on Idol tonight: stretching oneself artistically doesn't mean compromising who you are as a singer, but rather challenging yourself to make bold choices within the confines of your genre. No one is asking Scotty to stop singing country-- we're just asking him to do something we haven't seen/heard/expected from him for a change. For example, if he had transformed N'Sync or Kelly Clarkson's same-titled "Gone" tracks into a country song, he'd have been stretching himself. It's really not rocket science, as dozens of successful Idol contestants have shown throughout 10 seasons... (then again, Randy Jackson still hasn't figured out to be of any remote use ten seasons later, so perhaps I'm expecting too much).

The Cold

Jacob Lusk: "No Air" & "Love Hurts." At last, America can see tangibly what I've been saying for weeks: Jacob's groin-grinding, stank-faced scream-singing has no relevant place in today's musical landscape. It's really a shame-- like Lauren, Jacob has an astronomical voice, but possesses no perspective on how to weild it. If Jacob doesn't get the axe tonight (despite Randy & Jennifer saying he's "one of the best/highest ever singers on that Idol stage." No. NO!), I'm going to storm the Idol production offices and demand a recount.

Predictions: With Haley rocking out the pimp slot hard, the only thing that can save Jacob from an inevitable 5th place finish at this point is a surprise Lauren/Scotty ouster (though usually those are reserved for the Final 4). Considering both country teens seem to have rock-solid voting bases and Jacob was a hot mess tonight, I'd say Jacob will FINALLY bite the dust. Can I get an Amen?

And with my fist still in the air, I bid you adieu, kiddies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Final 6 Love Lost

I'm sorry for not posting my thoughts last night kiddies, but I'm going to be straight up with you-- I'm going through a bad breakup.

It's rough, it's brutal-- but me and American Idol Season 10, we're through.

And no, it has nothing to do with Casey's ouster (he should never have gotten the save in the first place, in my opinion)-- it's not even really about Pia's ouster (OK, maybe it is, a little). It's about the fact that last night, as I was watching, for the first time ever I had to force myself not to hit the fast forward button. All of the ticks and quirks about Idol that I usually find endearing became utterly unbearable (much like a real breakup, hmm?). And really, tonight's "let's not reveal the bottom 3 and make you think Scotty is in jeopardy" ploy was the straw that broke this camel's back.

Worst of all, as I sit down to write about the dreary show, I find that I have very little to say. Nothing moved me, good or bad, to comment. And that's a surefire sign that the love is gone, no?

It may be too early, but I do think I've found someone else. Sure, I have to wait to the live rounds until I announce we're going steady, but I have a serious crush on The Voice. And hey, if that doesn't work out, there's plenty of other X-Factors in the sea, aren't there?

Top 5 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) Lauren Alaina
3.) James Durbin
5.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12, 8, 7)
6.) Jacob Lusk (Bottom 3: Final 9, 7)
6.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11, 9, 8, 7)
8.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2, 8)
9.) Pia Toscano (Bottom 3: Final 9)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

I will report back when a performance actually moves me to something other than indifference-- and trust me when I say, I think there's a Z Voice blog coming your way sometime soon...

Waiting Patiently,

Monday, April 25, 2011

Five Reasons Idol Has Floundered

It was mere weeks ago that I (and many other Idol pundits) were heralding the triumphant return of American Idol. In fact, during Final 11 week, I even went so far as to write the following:

"After a teetering dark period filled with lost judges, predictably mundane filler and Michael-Lynche-level talent (remember him? Don't bother), American Idol is back-- and with a bang, baby. We've got 11 wildly different (and equally interesting) contestants, renewed energy behind the judges panel and some serious mentoring (someone (aka Jimmy) has been reading the fan blogs this time around, huh?). Season 10 of Idol has not for one second let us forget that they are searching for a superstar, and for the first time in a while, I think they're really going to produce one (if not more)."

Now, one month later, I'm singing a very different tune (and I'm most assuredly not alone). All the air seems to have been let out of the tires of the great American Idol tank, and all I'm left to wonder is: why?

I've given it quite a bit of thought and have compiled the following list of reasons why American Idol Season 10 is currently floundering (and perhaps may be beyond repair...)

5.) The Risk-to-Elimination Ratio: Something is wonky with the American Idol voting public, as evidenced by the string of all-female eliminations for the first 5 weeks (damn you landlocked tweenage girls). But no elimination has been more henious (and damaging) than Pia Toscano's ouster, which was the linchpin turning point this season, for two reasons: Pia's polished presence genuinely raised the collective talent bar of the contestants, and in the post-Pia era, everyone seems vaguely more amateur. Secondly, the switchup in Pia's performance style that got her booted (going uptempo) signals a dreadful Idol trend: that contestants who take risks (like Naima and Stefano did) get the boot. The result? Expected song-choices that craft a contestant's musical persona and advance them safely week-to-week, but do not infuse them with starpower.

4.) Great (Unmet) Expectations: Going into the Top 13, we all had very high hopes for this particular band of contestants, all of which have been systematically dashed. Pia was going to bring diva-pop back and all the way to at least the Top 4 (nope, booted Top 9). Stefano was going to wow us all with his emotional conviction, strong voice and potential superstar wattage (nope, he flailed along awkwardly, never recreating the magic of his Wildcard moment fully). Casey was going to be a refreshing breath of jazzy air, marching to the beat of his own humble & unique bass (nope, he resorted to indulgent growly face antics). Lauren was going to be the second coming of Kelly Sparks-Underwood (nope, she hasn't proven yet she understands how to weild her wickidly-amazing voice). Paul was going to woo us with soft, acoustic, emotionally earnest artistry (nope, he pranced around the stage like a laughing-gas-stricken chicken). Jacob was going to learn to restrain his ridiculously rare voice and channel some earnest emoiton (nope, we got straight Lusky Stank). Scotty was going to mature into a genuine country powerhouse (nope, he's done nothing but flip on the country cruise-control).

Practically no one has delivered what was promised early on (aside from James and Haley, who really didn't have many expectations placed on them early on anyway). But seriously, what has happened to all this potential?

3.) Lame Duck Judges: I do enjoy the more unabashadly positive, dream-making focus of Season 10, but not when it's forced down my throat. The viewing public can tell when performances don't go well, no matter how hard the judges try to convince us otherwise. Earlier in the season we were all-aboard the positivity-train, especially when JLo included some astute constructive criticism for a change. But since then, we've got nothing but blanket-complements--and it's getting really, really stale. The lack of reality-checking from the judges has forced us all to focus on the more gimmicky, reality-schtick sides of Idol and has not helped the audience differentiate the good from the bad.

2.) Jimmy Iovine's Artisty-Crushing Band of Producers: Sure, Jimmy does have many astute and constructive insights to offer the contestants, not to mention the fact he's introducing the hopefuls to many A-List producers. But the tradeoff has been overly-produced, single-centric song choices that don't always translate well to the Idol stage (nor do they really create relevant music-- these Idol recordings sound really chinsy anyway)! And I'm sure the contestants are petrified to speak up and do what their instincts tell them (with some welcome, notable exceptions-- Casey & James!). American Idol isn't about having industry professionals craft packaged singers, it's about letting natural talent bloom organically into radio-worthy artists. Can I get an Amen?

So what does all of this add up to? The #1 Reason why American Idol is floundering:

1.) A Complete Lack of Idol "Moments": Even the notoriously underwhelming Season 9 snoozefest was able to cook up some genuine Idol Moments (courtesy of Siobhan Magnus' "Paint It Black," Casey James' "Jealous Guy" and "Don't," and many Cystal Bowersox/Lee DeWyze showings). But the only genuine Idol Moments we've had during Season 10 have all happened in the Top 24 round (Pia Toscano's "I'll Stand By You," and most of the Wildcard performances). Since then, most performances have fallen solidly in the middle: neither spectacularly bad nor good. Is it any coincidence this is when the contestants have fallen more heavily into the clutches of Jimmy Iovine, the Idol producers and the tepid Judges?

I beleive all the reasons above have attributed to the lack of genuine Idol Moments, which in fact, aren't all that difficult to analyze. All Idol moments include an unexpected/unconventional song choice, an interesting (and mostly unplugged) arrangment, a sincere emotional message and a well-timed/rarely executed judging swell.

But this season, contestants have chosen very expected/safe songs (and why shouldn't they? If they don't, they're labeled unfocused artists and their chances of getting the boot skyrocket). They also have very little freedom to arrange a song, because what amateur wants to piss off a "seasoned" producer professional? This season's contestants (with some notable/eliminated expceptions) can't seem to embody these limited/over-produced songs emotionally. And with the judges offering blanket positivity (and only criticism when someone performs at a higher level), the audience has trouble discerning potentially Moment-worthy performances (Pia's "All In Love Is Fair," James' "Maybe I'm Amazed," Lauren's "Candle In The Wind," Haley's "Bennie & The Jets"). You can bet your bottom dollar that if Simon Cowell were around, these performances would sit squarely on our "Best Idol Performance" lists, thanks to his trademark pause-then-praise.

With so little time left in the season, I'm not sure that Idol will be able to self-correct (though I'm placing all of my hope in the predestined Scotty-Lauren boat, because they're both the closest to breaking through the current Idol mediocrity-barrier).

So what do you think? Are there any reasons I missed? Or are you seriously loving this season and thinking I deserve to eat some bitter-betty humble pie?

Let me know, because this Idol fan feels at a serious loss!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Final 7 Results

Tonight's Idol showing raised several questions, to which I will provide hashtag answers:

Why has America condoned Casey's bad behavior?
#WeNeedAnotherJackBlack (#No)

Why does James insist on going sleeveless constantly?

Why hasn't David Cook hired some of Clarkson/Underwood's songwriters?

Why did David Cook's mild showing still out-sing/out-charm most of Season 10's contestants?

Why does Katy Perry think she can contend with Lady Gaga and/or Robyn?

Who keeps voting for the Lusky Stank?

Now really, can anyone argue with the Bottom 3 Golden Rule?

Top 6 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) Lauren Alaina
3.) James Durbin
4.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
5.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12, 8, 7)
6.) Jacob Lusk (Bottom 3: Final 9, 7)
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11, 9, 8, 7)
8.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2, 8)
9.) Pia Toscano (Bottom 3: Final 9)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

But finally, Stefano the wildcard underdog catches the axe. While I'm a bit sad to see him go (I'd so much rather have heard Stefano a few more times over our more rotund male contestants), it's clear Stefano was never going to win (nor will Haley/Jacob, at this point). The only potential upset to my Bottom 3 Golden Rule this season may be Casey Abrams-- but then again, Scotty/Lauren (and even James) keep showing that no matter how much they may falter (cough cough Scotty), their voting bases are massively strong.

I'm still trying to piece together how 3 weeks ago, I was heralding the triumphant return of American Idol without a clue as to who may win in a tightly-packed season of talent, and now I'm dreading the demise of Idol with no doubt as to who will win in a mediocrely-bland season of womp.

If one thing is proven true, it's that we Idol fans remain fickle. And we know exactly what we want...

Here's hoping we get some of it soon,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Final 7 Performances

I'm thoroughly contemplating calling my doctor for some kind of catscan, because apparently I'm having trouble perceiving reality. According to the rhetoric of Ryan Seacrest and his 3 Stooges, we're watching a batch of unparalleled talent constantly elevate their performances week after week. Each contestant is worthy of sold-out arena concerts and artistry-filled albums! Everyone is in it to win it!! And any one of them can win the crown!! (As long as they can't legally drive and sing country mu$ic).

I'm sorry, but are we watching the same show? Because as far as I'm concerned, we're entering American Idol Season 10: Train Wreck Edition, where a batch of lukewarmly talented contestants continually prove they don't possess the kind of self-awareness and/or artistic instincts necessary to wow anyone on the Idol stage (so they all resort to cheap tricks and general tomfoolery). Marching bands, creepy kisses and Tyler-cursing do not an American Idol make.

More and more, it feels like I'm watching nothing but a silly reality show, regurgitating the same stale antics week after week (after week after week). The magical spark that made American Idol something special seems to be missing--which is such a shame, because up until Pia Toscano's unceremonious ouster, Idol seemed poised for redemption. What. The. Hell. Went. Wrong?

We can at least start by pointing out the heinous opening number, where the 6 booted contestants returned to "sing." (Why?) While they all looked fantastic in their best black-clad rocker regalia (minus Paul "I can't care enough to remember my lyrics and/or sing remotely in key and/or wear something besides this tacky rose suit" McDonald), ladies sounded JANK. I mean, even Pia couldn't steer this mess into decent territory with her trademark diva notes (though Naima bopping around like a toddler on crack was rather entertaining, I must admit).

"You just made America think twice about their decision!" cooed Steven Tyler. Um, no. Just-- no.

I’m really trying not to sound completely sour grapes here, but I wouldn’t be bitching quite so much if I didn’t feel so unabashedly lied to… the Idol producers should consider governing some kind of dystopian regime in the nearby future, because lordy, the propaganda is strong with them!

The Hot
James Durbin: “Uprising.” Whatever else I could say about James’ performance (indulgent indulgent indulgent!), at least he was commanding, convincing and committed. For all of James’ ridiculous grandstanding (your visions aren’t all that original, playa pimp. See: any 80s hair band ever), he delivers consistent showmanship in a season mostly devoid of contestant confidence. And James' vocal acrobatics, if not always pleasant to listen to, are nevertheless impressive. If James could just curb that narsty little ego of his, I’d be way more inclined to like him wholeheartedly.

The Warm
Haley Reinhart: “Rolling in the Deep.” I mean, Haley’s voice is STUNNING. It’s just too damn bad she can’t ever seem to possess a song emotionally the way she can vocally. Haley kept slipping in and out of character (when she has no business playing a character in the first place, but rather earnestly feeling a song). And man, do I wish she chose Adele’s “Someone Like You” instead (that song is all kinds of gorgeous). We’re at a point in the competition where I don’t think it’s possible for Haley to pull it together the way we want her to, so let’s face it, the best we girl-lovers can hope for is another happy accident like Bennie and the Jets. Sidenote: Why the odd retro red polka dot dress, lady? And where did the Ke$ha twin backup singers come from??

Stefano Langone: “Closer.” I really just want Stefano to bust out Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” because that’s what he is: the little underdog-who-could probably solidified his tenuous safety yet again by employing one pair of red side-slung suspenders, one upbeat jam and a whole slew of sex appeal (I mean, let’s be real: I’d hit it). Stefano is at his best when he’s believable and, I have to say, I totally bought the flirty-Usher-Chris Brown act (just as much as I buy his more earnest balladeering style). He still can’t seem to escape the jerky/choppy phrasing, but I don’t think anyone can argue that Stefano proved his radio-readiness with this performance.

Lauren Alaina: “Born to Fly.” I really, really hope the producers have been purposefully building us up to some kind of splendorous Lauren Alaina moment, because these mediocre mid-tempo showings are just getting painful. I think everyone knows by now that Lauren’s voice is epic—so why doesn’t she? By all rights, the show-ending pimp-slot tonight should have gone to Stefano, not Lauren’s lifeless limbo. And someone needs to tell Lauren cowboy boots that cut off her ankles aren’t flattering! All in all, I feel one general emotion whilst contemplating Lauren’s massive-yet-flailing potential: Frustration.

The Cold
Casey Abrams: “Harder to Breathe.” Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, School of Rock 2: Time To Cringe. I mean, where do I even begin? I’ll give it to Casey, the opening of this performance gave me David Cook/Kris Allen high hopes. But soon all of these rearranging dreams came crashing down into a fiery pit of growling faces and forced kisses. My only consolation for this sound-mess was a vision of JLo in her dressing room post-show—you KNOW bitch could not have been pleased with that invasion of her personal space. I’d bet the farm that no one else is getting near Jenny from the Block for the rest of this season… I smell a contractual mandate coming. But I digress... wait, no I don't. Casey has made a joke out of himself and I really don't see him climbing out of the Jack Black/Taylor Hicks sized hole he's dug for himself.

Scotty McCreery: “Swingin’.” I’m utterly baffled as to why Scotty doesn’t feel any urgency to do anything other than coast with his performances. Oh, wait, I know why! Because he’s male and teenage and he sings country? Seriously, if Scotty escapes this week’s unabashedly mediocre showing unscathed, there’s no question he’s destined for Idoldom (as if there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind, anyway). In other news, sweet messenger jacket, Aiken-face!

Jacob Lusk: “Dance With My Father.” The only thing Jacob had going for him during this treacly, indulgent performance was the pause at the opening, where it appeared his emotions momentarily got the best of him. And then he had to go and put the Lusky Stank on that too by explaining it was just a sound problem. Several unpleasant/overblown notes and two unnecessary key changes later, I can officially say that I’ll be happy to never hear another preachy ballad from Jacob ever again—I can only hope America feels the same way.

I do think one thing is abundantly clear—the patented American Idol “Moment” we all know and love (and crave) has been nowhere to be found ever since one cranky Brit disappeared from the airwaves… and I’m sure now that it’s not a coincidence. X-Factor, here I come!

Predictions: I think this week’s elimination is going to be a tough one to call, but my gut is telling me Haley might be in serious trouble (Jimmy’s right, anything short of magic seems to sentence Haley to steel stool doom). But I refuse to predict her ouster and put that energy in the air, so I’m going with the next-most-likely target: Jacob Lusk. It’s simply time to go, Stank One.

Until tomorrow, hoping for the best and expecting the worst…


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Final 8 Results

If we've learned one important lesson this week, it's that fools should not mess with Kelly Clarkson (vocally or otherwise). I don't know that anyone will ever live up to the original Idol--I could gush and gush about her crazy vocal range or genuinely fun stage vibe for days, but I shant (nor shall I even begin to ponder Rihanna's bozo-the-clown weave).

I shall, however, give a shoutout to Haley motherf***ing Reinhart, bringing down the jazzy house. Girl. Power.

In other news, I don't think anyone was particularly stunned by Paul's ouster-- I certainly predicted it (bringing my current prediction rate to 4/7, with all my predictors at least ending up in the Bottom 3). And now that the bragging is done, here's an updated ranking list:

Top 7 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) Lauren Alaina
3.) James Durbin
4.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
5.) Jacob Lusk (Bottom 3: Final 9)
6.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12, 8)
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11, 9, 8)
8.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2, 8)
9.) Pia Toscano (Bottom 3: Final 9)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

This pretty clearly demonstrate that Scotty, Lauren or James will win American Idol Season 10 (though my money's on Scotty). From here on out, Bottom 3 placement isn't really as accurate an indicator of winning potential-- though once again, I'm willing to bet that Lauren/Scotty won't ever grace the B3 (especially since Ryan stops revealing it around the Top 5). Chances are they're polling sky-high relative to their competitors, methinks.

That's all I got folks, so until next week...


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Final 8 Performances

A few notes:

1.) I am currently listening to Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey's "One Sweet Day," still very much in mourning for Pia Toscano. Though there seems to be a silver lining: perhaps Pia's early/shocking ouster will land her a record deal/fanbase that might have otherwise eluded her should she have finished at a more expected 5th/4th place... I'm hoping for more sweet diva music to come from Pia, Jennifer Hudson style.

2.) For those of you who wondered if American Idol would work without Simon Cowell's reality-checking honesty, here's my answer: X-Factor starts in September.

3.) Idol is like a bag of Skittles... I can endure endless bites of yellow and green and purple (eww) knowing that a sweet red is on the way. In fact, anticipating red makes me enjoy the non-fantastic skittles a little more. It makes me think the less-superior flavors are a valuable part of the experience. Red makes other skittles seem better than they are, even.

But what happens if you remove red from the package?

Suddenly, the other skittle flavors don’t taste as good. In fact, I find myself detesting these inferior flavors, having robbed me of the joy of my delicious Pia (er, uh, I mean red!). What was once a yummy supporting act in a delightful ensemble of flavors becomes, instead, a bitter array of yuckiness. And I'm learning in a post-red-skittle Idolworld that I better learn to like a very specific flavor: Tween Country.

4.) Mom has stopped watching Idol, and sadly, I currently have no reason to even try and entice her back...

(Forgive my solemnity-- I'm sure the second someone (HALEY) delivers a swoon-worthy performance or one of the judges (JLO) says something remotely worthwhile, I'll be back on my cheery Idol game).

Till then...

The Hot
Stefano Langone: “End of the Road.” Albeit imperfect (Stefano really needs to watch that sometimes unpleasant vocal tone and choppy cadence of his), Stefano made me FEEL something tonight. By the time the climax of the song hit, I felt a bit of tingle creep back into my almost-dead Idol carcus. Seriously, Stefano brought some vocal power and emotional energy to the end of the road (though let's hope the ominous-lyric Idol curse doesn't strike Stefano down). I'm so so happy to see him finally perform up to his considerable potential (and also sport a tight tshirt. You snag them girlvotes, bro). But I have two questions: why are this season's contestants fighting so damn hard to bring the key change back into pop music? And also, why has no one pointed out that Stefano has sung about twice as many ballads as Pia by now? Shame, Idol. Shame.

Jacob Lusk: “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Oh, Jacob, you fling me like a yo-yo, you jolly gay thing you (two sidenotes: don't try to hit on women at TMZ and don't wear tight tshirts, mmmkay?). Ok, I'm sorry, that was really really mean of me, but I'm gonna cite last week's Pia ouster/mirror comment combo and call it even. But I digress-- Jacob, that was kind of spectacular. Combine one incredible song with several reality-defying notes and a generous heaping of humble pie (Lusky pouting duly noted) and we get one delicious batch of Idol glory. Jacob's problem is clearly consistency: if he stays more on the earnest/humble/restrained end of the dramatic/egotistical/shrieking scale, he'll be sailing right behind (Scotty/Lauren/James into the finals).

Scotty McCreery: “I Cross My Heart.” Let's face it: no matter what any of us coast-dwellers say or do (or vote), Scotty is going to win American Idol Season 10--and perhaps deservedly so. After all, he has all the superstar potential we fans have been squawking that Idol needs, whether we like it or not. Though what's all this talk about Scotty "returning" to his country roots? He's been about as country-vanilla as they come, on Idol. (Sidenote: anyone else notice that if you cover Scotty's hair, he bears a striking resemblance to one Clay Aiken? Ch-ch-check it out!) Take that, tweenage heartthrobbers!!!!

The Warm
Lauren Alaina: “The Climb.” Almost, Lauren-- almost. I don't know why, but Lauren can't ever quite seem to nail a performance all-around. There's a certain conviction and commitment that Lauren lacks (hmmm, maybe it's because she's 16 and she freaking deserves to have some flaws?). But if I think back to Carrie Underwood's Idol run, there were few truly standout moments aside from "Alone" (which was still remarkably stiff)-- Carrie just consistently delivered unfathomable vocal horsepower and small-town charm. Luckily Lauren has both in spades, not to mention her status as a teen girl might actually earn her some peer votes (as opposed to Ashton/Karen/Naima/Pia/every female contestant for the past 4 years). I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence that our last female Idol winner (Jordin Sparks) was a teenage girl-- times have changed people, and we better get used to teen queens and cute boys, cuz American tweendom demands they stay (even if they're not quite ready to).

Haley Reinhart: “Call Me.” I'm going to let the song take the hit for this one-- I've yet to hear a single version of Call Me anywhere that I've even remotely liked. And while Haley gets an A for Effort and is at least beginning to define herself as a singer (or dare I say--as an artist! What, no, we can't assign that moniker to a female! Blaspheme!), Haley's gorgeous dress/killer boots outshined her vocals here. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I wants a ballad, Haley, and I wants it without the Bandzilla. I recommend Bonnie Raitt's "Dimming of the Day" or Joan Osborne's version of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted." Or dare I even say, Christina Aguilera's diva-throwdown "Mercy On Me." (Don't know theses songs? You should!) All of these possess the type of growl that defines Haley, as well the kind of honest emotion/unplugged vibe that she needs to rock to make herself a true contendor.

James Durbin: “Heavy Metal.” Every week, I find it difficult to figure out what to write about James-- and this week is no different. He's not quite good but not quite bad week-to-week. I guess he's just-- heavy metal? I don't know, all I hear when I listen to James lately is a cheap Adam Lambert knockoff. What happened to the magic behind Maybe I'm Amazed? Is James destined for a Casey James-like run to the end, studded with only one or two standout performances amidst a sea of mediocrity? Only time will tell...

The Cold

Casey Abrams: “Nature Boy.” Oh, no. Just-- no. This performance would indeed have deserved a standing ovation if: 1.) Casey had hit all of his notes (which he really didn't) and 2.) He removed all the ridiculous, cartoon gestures from his face. I'm happy that Casey stood up for himself (why won't go away until they find a cure for tone-deafness?), but I'm not happy that Casey has used the precious Judges Save only to deliver second-rate lounge music, crazy muppet band style. If you want to bring soulful, jazzy style to Idol, see Melinda Doolittle and Elliott Yamin. 'Nuff said.

Paul McDonald: “Old Time Rock & Roll.” Why hasn't anyone criticized Paul for delivering the SAME EXACT generic jaunty cheer week after week? (Seriously, dude seems to have the emotional range of a teletubbie). Oh wait, I know why! Because Paul's off-color dance moves and strange suits make him an "artist." Right. Listen, judges-- just because someone is odd (and male), it doesn't make them an artist. It just makes them odd (and male). While I saw a brief glimmer of hope in Paul's energetic performance last week, this week he has returned to "I'm too cool to take Idol that seriously" status.

Predictions: I think James/Lauren/Scotty should continue their reign of country/rocker safety and Jacob/Stefano will bounce out of the B3 after respectively solid showings. That leaves three vulnerable... I'm hoping Haley will collect some of Pia's voting block (not Lauren!) and I'm betting Casey will glide through based soley on Judges' overblown praise. Which leaves Tinky Winky, er, Sir Shiny Teeth, er, Paul McDonald to win tonight's prize for most-likely-to-sing-whilst-sobbing-come-Thursday-night (did I mention I miss Pia?).

Till tomorrow kiddies,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Final 9 Results

Tamyra Gray. Jennifer Hudson. LaToya London. Chris Daughtry. Pia Toscano. #ROBBED.

There are no words.

So I will only have a moment of silence for Pia, in protest of this heinous turn of events.

Top 8 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) Lauren Alaina
3.) James Durbin
4.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2)
5.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
6.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11, 9)
8.) Jacob Lusk (Bottom 3: Final 9)
9.) Pia Toscano (Bottom 3: Final 9)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

So let's be real, Scotty or Lauren is going to win now, hands down. It seems Idol will have their country Bieber, at all costs.

And an open letter to whoever voted for the Lusky Stank: Shame on you. Deep, deep shame.

Idol Faith Shaken,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Final 9 Performances

My Idol friends, the hour is growing late, so I will recap my general thoughts on tonight's Idol telecast in twitter speak:


The Hot

Paul McDonald: “Folsom Prison Blues.” And finally, it all comes together. For the first time, I understand the power that is Paul McDonald. Channeling a serious Mumford & Sons vibe, Paul pulled his act together: every single little detail of this performance fell perfectly into place. How exciting is this season, where every week someone new steps up to give everyone else a run for their money? Casey's Hollywood bass beauty. Pia rising out of cannon fodder Top 24. Stefano nailing the Wildcard. James unexpectedly wowing in the Top 13. Scotty stretching in the Top 12. Jacob showing restraint in the Top 11. Lauren and Haley stunning in the Top 11 Redux. And now with Paul pulling top honors in the Top 9, EVERYONE left has had some kind of special Idol moment-- which means cuts are going to get tough, my peoples.

Pia Toscano: “River Deep Mountain High.” Murderer!! Pia SLAYS me, every time. Every. Single. Time. I'm hard-pressed to think of another Idol contestant who has performed this flawlessly week-to-week, without a single vocal misstep. And while Pia could certainly benefit from a splash of personality and a dash of dance (and maybe even just a smidge of imperfection), who gives a flying f**k if she sounds that magnificent!! I mean, the way Pia ripped into the verses and soared on the high notes has me COVINCED she's destined for pop divadom. Stick that girl in a sparkly dress, throw her in a (gay) club and slap her vocals against a dance track and Pia is going to make BANK. Trust. #90sDivaPopComeback

Scotty McCreery: “That’s All Right Mama.” Get it, girl. Dare I say, I was mercilessly charmed by Scotty's somewhat silly/somewhat sexy stylings on this song. He laid some Paul McDonald-style affectations down on his country crooning, and to my complete surprise, I wasn't mad at it (even the side-microphone singing is growing on me). In fact, let me just get on with it: I downright enjoyed Scotty's performance. And that's all right now, mama.

James Durbin: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Well played, good sir-- and just because Will.i.Shutthehellup can't deliver anything but hyped-up nonsense, doesn't mean you shouldn't show your softer side. And while I'm not quite sure this song was the way to go (twas a bit too obscure/unrelatable for my taste), I am quite sure that last note made me stop caring. Contedor, anyone?

The Warm
Haley Reinhart: “Piece of My Heart.” Haley is slowly but surely becoming one of my favorite contestants this season-- her powerhouse, growly vocals and stompy, awkward gestures make her the definition of a hot mess (in all the best ways). To me, Haley still hasn't quite yet hit a home run (only triples, at best. Holy gay sports metaphor, Batman!), but I think Haley is one Idol "moment" away from some kind of meteoric rise to stardom. And while this little ditty wasn't quite perfectly calibrated, I'm already dreaming of the recorded version-- because at the end of the day, I'd rather hear Haley's magnificent voice unimpaired by her jokey demeanor. #TimeForABalladGurl.

Lauren Alaina: “A Natural Woman.” Lauren came so close to glory on this performance, but I feel like she was holding back and overthinking things. If she had just let loose and wailed to holy hell (like she did on that spectacular FEEEEEEEEEL note), it would have been magical. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I wish Lauren would add a touch of the the Lusky Stank to her style, because she's still not quite losing herself in her performances the way she needs to. I'm frustrated that Lauren hasn't teared into a song vocally yet-- I want to hear her swing for the fences, leave no man behind and every other terrible cliche about giving it all she's got (because that's what America will need to see in order to give her the win).

Stefano Langone: "When a Man Loves a Woman.” Something tells me if Stefano had performed this right on the heels of "If You Don't Know Me By Now," I'd be singing a very different tune. But in the post "Hello" debacle era, and with my confidence in Stefano shaken, I'm not sure another retro ballad was what Stefano needed. I love Stefano's voice (and look), but I'm still not convinced he's a musician/artist at heart. I think he'd make a fine mid-level, heavily-produced pop player, and as such, he should probably start displaying some more contemporary chops (because his commercial sensibility is his biggest/only advantage, currently).

The Cold
Casey Abrams: “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” I have indeed seen the rain, Casey, and watching this performance was about equally as exciting (minus some killer upright bass love). Casey best pray he's got some rollover Judges Save votes stored up, because he just committed the cardinal Idol sin: Dude. Was. Dull.

Jacob Lusk: “Man in the Mirror.” Lusky stank, indeed-- stank 'tude! "Let me say this: if I end up in the Bottom 3, it won't be because I sang the song bad(ly), it'll be because everyone in America wasn't ready to look at themselves in the mirror." Oh, please. If America puts you in the Bottom 3 of this singing competition, Jacob, it'll be because you failed to prove (once again) that you're a viable recording artist-- not because we're all too shallow to "believe we can fly" and change the world. But moving on: anyone else think at first that Naima magically reappeared to backup sing for Jacob, George Huff style? But that poor woman not only had to suffer through Jacob's wildly ridiculous air-humping, she also had to hear her song steamrolled with all the subtlety and emotional sincerity of a raging bull. Anyone else tiring of the antics?

Predictions: Methinks our ladies will be safe a bit longer, due to their dwindling numbers-- so my money is on a Casey-Jacob-Stefano Bottom 3, with (hopefully) Jacob going home in a "vicious" surprise elimination (though Stefano might sadly catch the axe this week instead...)


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Final 11 (Redux) Results

"No more second chances!" preached Ryan Seacrest. And with that, this season's three weakest performers fell out of American favor, with the two least-promising going home (imagine that)!

After a slew of generally awkward and uninteresting performances (save for one country-slay-me-moment courtesy of Lauren "stair-rider" Alaina), Thia and Naima suffered what seemed to be expected downfalls-- almost as tragic as Fantasia Barrino's bizarrely chosen red-slitted frock and twinkie hair-roll. Seriously, has Fantasia decided that her post-win Idol showings all have to end in disaster (cue Simon Cowell jaw-drop)?

At the end of it all, we have a Top 9. And out of that group of 9, only 5 remain viable contenders for the crown (that's right, I'm sticking by my Bottom 3 rule, this early in the game). I mean, out of roughly 90 eliminations across 9 seasons, Idol winners have only appeared in the bottom grouping 4 times (Fantasia twice, Kris and Ruben once each)-- and 6 out of 9 winners never ever saw the B3. So scroll on down and check out the rankings...

Top 9 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Pia Toscano
2.) Lauren Alaina
3.) Scotty McCreery
4.) James Durbin
5.) Jacob Lusk
6.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
7.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
8.) Paul McDonald (Bottom 3: Final 11.2)
9.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12, 11.2)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11, 11.2)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

Now in a season this tightly packed (and without a clear frontrunner), I do think that Casey-Haley-Paul-Stefano all have shots at climbing higher (and maybe even jumping back into the winner running), given the fact they've all demonstrated immense potential/talent at one time or another. But right now, smart money is on Pia-Scotty-Lauren to bask in confetti come May (because I don't think James-Jacob are quite marketable enough for an Idol win).

Whatever may happen, one thing is starting to become crystal clear-- this season's results, more than any other, are contingent on each contestant's weekly showing. At this point, if anyone falters, it means certian doom (Stefano and Casey serve as living proof). For the first time, maybe ever, I believe it when Ryan says that "No one is safe."

And that, my friends, shall make for a continually exciting season!

Till next week,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Final 11 (Redux) Performances

Holy balls, people.

My mother, after years of forced (aka secretly beloved) Idol watching, finally did the unthinkable: she was actually moved to vote for a contestant. This was a personal Idol moment 10 seasons in the making, because for the first time, my mom might come to understand the sweet victory/bitter defeat of an emotional attachment to an Idol contestant (and that's what really keeps us all coming back for more, isn't it?). So want to know who finally got momma to pick up the phone for the first time in 10 years? Keep reading, folks.

I really do think this almost magical mom-leap is due to two things: the songbook of one Elton John, and the phenomenally updated production value of American Idol. After a teetering dark period filled with lost judges, predictably mundane filler and Michael-Lynche-level talent (remember him? Don't bother), American Idol is back-- and with a bang, baby. We've got 11 wildly different (and equally interesting) contestants, renewed energy behind the judges panel and some serious mentoring (someone (aka Jimmy) has been reading the fan blogs this time around, huh?). Season 10 of Idol has not for one second let us forget that they are searching for a superstar, and for the first time in a while, I think they're really going to produce one (if not more).

So let's try to sort through the Elton glitter and pick out who that superstar may be...

The Hot
Pia Toscano: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” So you may have guessed it-- Mommy dearest loves her some Pia (like mother like gay son, I suppose). I think that may have a little something to do with Pia's NYC/NJ Italian girl roots, but it probably has more to do with Pia's flawless vocals and shining humility (and that sparkly dress-- Pia's giving JLo a run for her glam money, no?).

And let me tell you something-- Pia can sing ballads to me every night for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't freakin' tire of them. And I know there are tons of Idol (slash 80s-90s diva pop) fans out there who crave the pure diva passion smoothie Pia is blending just as much as I do. It's not just the fact that Pia can hit those insane notes, it's that she brilliantly stashes them in unexpected places in every song, so that they hit us when we least expect them (and most crave them). I don't think Pia needs to veer out of the ballad lane (though I would likes me some River Deep, Mountain High), but rather she needs to switch up her performance stylings-- not every song needs a grand band, gospel choir and center-stage stance. Image Pia barefoot, sitting side-stage and belting beside an acoustic guitar? No one would be crying wolf-ballad then, now would they? It's still way too early to call, but I think it would be a travesty if Pia wasn't given the chance to sing a sappy Idol finale single, at this point.

(OK, sorry! Ending irrational emotional Idol rant in 3, 2, 1...)

Lauren Alaina: “Candle in the Wind.” I never thought I'd use this word to describe Lauren, but she has earned it: Exquisite. I mean, those breaks into falsetto were just stunning. For the first time all season, I think Lauren has stood up and proven that she actually has a shot to win this bad boy. And this was probably her last chance to serve a deeply rooted, emotional performance before voters began to give up on her-- and damn, did she deliver. This is what I've been wanting from Lauren all season, and I can only hope she doesn't continue to waste the pretty (shoutout, Allison Iraheta. You still rock).

Haley Reinhart: "Benny and the Jets." Haley motherf**kin' Reinhart, ladies and gentleman! If you'll remember, one humble Idol blogger has been preaching about something special hidden deep down in Ms. Reinhart for weeks (uh, that's me). And while I don't think this was Haley's "Circle of Life" moment quite yet, it certainly was an Idol moment nonetheless (thanks mostly to a turn in the much-coveted show-ending pimp slot). There's something intriguing about Haley's slinky charm and f**k you flippancy when paired with that out-of-control vocal range. Let's be real, people-- she's not going to win American Idol (and I think she knows that, by now). But lord knows if she keeps this deliciousness up for a few more weeks, she might not even have to.

Casey Abrams: “Your Song.” Welcome back, Mr. Abrams. And while I'm not quite ready to break out the bass for his triumphant return, I am certainly happy to see Casey meander back towards his melodic roots (exhibiting only a few well-placed growls). I'm not sure the "makeover" did him any favors, nor am I sure Casey is destined for much more than a mid-pack elimination at this point, but I am indeed happy he's still here. I think, moving forward, Casey will have to serve up some of the unexpected quirky coolness he demonstrated in earlier rounds to even have a prayer of reaching his once-upon-a-time frontrunner status, but we all know one thing for sure: a judges save surge of votes will keep him safe this week.

James Durbin: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” In theory, I should have hated this performance. I mean, I could barely pick out a melody in the rather intense wall-of-sound generated by both James and Bandzilla. But it goes to show you that one man-diva scream, one flaming piano and one overblown audience-crawl can overwrite what might otherwise have been a terrible performance. James is serving up a particular flavor of showmanship that no one else has been dishing this season-- and since we currently lack a frontrunner, the question we'll have to answer eventually is: what genre will have the largest voting base? Rock? Country? Reggae? Diva? Gospel? Blues? Beard? Pearly Whites? Disney Princess? Only time will tell...

The Warm
Jacob Lusk: “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” Let's start with some real talk: I find Jacob's voice mostly unpleasant to the ear. I also think his caterwauling ways and his emotional grandstanding are solely destined for broadway (and not for a viable pop career). That being said, watching Jacob perform is somewhat akin to watching a natural disaster: meriting interest, respect, heartbreak, shock and awe. And honestly, every time I write something negative about Jacob, I can't help but imagine him running up behind me and shouting: "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" Yes, Jacob, you win. For I am.

Thia Megia: “Daniel.” Teetering on tears may be just enough to save Thia for another week-- and to my complete surprise, I'd actually like to see at least one more showing from her. Even though the second half of Thia's performance veered back into pageant land and her falsetto never seems to make it into the microphone (that's twice now, sweetie), there was something haunting and very pretty embedded in this performance. Thia is certainly growing-- perhaps not quickly enough, but at least it's happening. And what more can we ask of our "youngest contestant" (thanks, Ryan. Nice haircut, btw).

Paul McDonald: “Rocket Man.” "Once we get back to the real world I'll go back to writing songs and dressing like a musician." Uh, hipster say whaaaat? Does anyone else get the impression that Paul thinks he's better than Idol? Because I certainly do. Whether or not this is actually true, it's wildly apparent that Paul needs to start taking this competition a bit more seriously. Because if there's one thing worse than obscurity, it's Idol-induced obscurity. Paul's only saving grace (besides the Tim Urban Good-Looks Effect) was that tonight, he showed some flashes of emotionality in his performance. Other than that, I'm getting real tired of his mediocre, passionless bar-stool showings (said so meanly because a.) I think he's capable of much better and B.) I really can't stand pretentious artiste disrespect for anything mainstream).

The Cold

Stefano Langone: “Tiny Dancer.” Blue jean baby, what has become of you? Stefano's precipitous drop from frontrunner to bottom-feeder has been rather stunning to watch. It's amazing how fickle we fans can be, because while two weeks ago I was predicting Stefano potentially stealing the Idol crown, this week I'm predicting his early demise. Something in Stefano's phrasing keeps going wonky and short-cut, and he seems to lack the arranging skills necessary to lead a song to its rightful climax. It makes me wonder whether his early performances were merely a stroke of luck. Perhaps there's a reason Jimmy is coming down so hard on Stefano-- he seems to have all the right moving parts (voice, look, personality), but doesn't seem to possess the musical direction to pull it all together. Hopefully he'll get by on his sheer desire to stay and prove me wrong...

Scotty McCreery: “Country Comfort.” Love you grandma! Shout outs aside, we all know I'm inclined to dislike Idol's resident country crooner-- but please note, Scotty has been ranking high on my critique lists for weeks, so I can report this low-showing with some objective confidence. This was a very standard, forgettable performance. We're getting to that point in the competition where the contestants really need to amp up their starpower-- and I see Scotty flatlining. Granted, his flatline is at a consistently higher level than some of the others remaining, but if Scotty doesn't start taking some seriously ambitious risks (none of which have to betray his country roots, mind you), he's not going to rise as a contender in this closely-packed season.

Naima Adedapo: “I’m Still Standing.” Spontaneous Jamaican accents aside (I mean, really?), this performance was very smart (on paper): a noticeably less-talented contestant capitalizes on all her strengths, adapting a potentially disastrous song to suit all her vocal needs. And while I think Naima pulled many disparate parts together for what was probably her best showing (spontaneous wild-card moments aside), I don't think it's going to be quite enough this season. I genuinely adore Naima and am so happy she has made the tour, but I'm not yet convinced she's destined for much more (triple-rhyme, baby. Booyakasha!)

Predictions: Methinks Naima will finally get the Idol axe this week (with B3 target #1 Haley finally upping her game). And while I personally think Paul deserves the second boot, I think there's a strong chance it will go to Stefano (with Casey and Thia bouncing back via some respective tears for fears).

Hope you enjoyed this Idol night as much as I did, lovelies!

Till Tomorrow,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Idol Odds & Ends

Hello kiddies, here are two pre-Idol treats for you:

1.) If you don't watch Michael Slezak's Idoloonies-- shame on you. 'Tis glorious (not to mention I've been a recurring guest star). Check out my special appearances in the links below, and then continue to watch Idoloonies-- it's pure gold.

2.) Some have noted that there's a flaw in my Bottom Three Winner Theory-- so here's a defense. Yes, Ruben Studdard and Kris Allen were in nebulous B3 situations very late in their respective seasons, but I left them out because it doesn't really count when the Bottom 3 makes up the majority of contestants left! I don't pay much attention to the B3 as an indicator past the Final 6, because the voting blocks for each contestant become so huge and shift around in big ways when contestants are booted (The Season 8 Danny Gokey --> Kris Allen transfer of power being the most notable example). Even Fantasia's early tryst with the B3 in the Final 7 was probably the result of a 3-way diva vote-split, don'tcha think? Once JHud and Latoya were gone, Fantasia's votes probably surged...

So the (revised) B3 theory reads as such: Any contestant appearing in the Bottom 3 early in the season (ie: pre-Final 5) probably isn't going to win. Really, the underlying assumption is that Idol winners most likely have massive vote-leads from the beginning (Clarkson, Underwood, Hicks, Sparks, Cook and DeWyze serve as proof). Chances are, Nigel already has enough voting stats to start designing a treacly single album cover for our eventual winner as we speak...

Class is now adjourned (till tomorrow night)!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Final 11 Results

American Idol "Winner"-- Jennifer Hudson (yeah, you wish, Seacrest).

Well, that was a strange night, wasn't it? From Stevie Wonder pulling a Melissa McGhee lyric flub to Naima "Vanna White" Adedapo to Hulk Hogan's random appearance to Casey Abrams complete lack of self-restraint, tonight's Idol broadcast felt a bit like a three-ring circus.

At any rate, you know it's always going to be a crazy night when Ryan opens by telling us something "shocking" is going to happen. Though in all reality, Casey's "blindside" elimination came as no surprise to many of us Idol experts (including me) who predicted his downfall. But what was mildly shocking was how utterly scripted the Judges save seemed-- "Stop the music, Ryan!" Thank the lord JLo at least offered up yet another astute round of criticism (echoed far less eloquently by Randy, as per usual).

Anyway, let's move on to some rankings, shall we? The following is in order of who's currently most likely to win-- and remember, Idol history tells us that anyone appearing in the Bottom 3 is virtually incapable of winning (which narrows our current winner pack down to six-- so sorry Stefano, love you!). Placements also take into account performer consistency (hence a ruling Pia) and likelihood to continue to grow (hence a flatlining Thia).

Top 11 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Pia Toscano
2.) Scotty McCreery
3.) James Durbin
4.) Lauren Alaina
5.) Jacob Lusk
6.) Paul McDonald
7.) Stefano Langone (Bottom 3: Final 11)
8.) Casey Abrams (Bottom 3: Final 11)
9.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12)
11.) Thia Megia (Bottom 3: Final 11)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

My Idol instincts tell me that the Top 5 of this list are polling head-and-shoulders above their competitors, but only time will tell. There are lots of Idol voting trends to factor in as we continue our slow march to the finale (especially when the numbers get small and voting blocks more predictably shift from contestant to contestant), so keep checking back for some expert predictions!

Till Next Week,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Final 11 Performances

For the first time this season we have witnessed the Idol train pull out of the station, my friends. We viewers are probably far too quick to pick out every flaw we see, having no idea of the enormous amount of effort it no-doubt takes to pull of America's #1 show. In past seasons, contestants (and the judges/producers) had three long Top 24-to-12 semifinal rounds to find their grooves, where mediocrity was as expected a part of our Idol journey as Simon's verbal abuses.

But this season they dove right into go-mode, so we can't complain too much that it took until the fourth live week for everyone (contestants, producers & judges) to hit their strides. Tonight was a perfectly blended Idol brew-- contestants who are learning how to play the game, present some artistry and handle fame (kudos Lauren Alaina), producers who are creating much more live-performance friendly tracks and judge(s) (JLO) who are offering astute, constructive critiques. Hey, even the much-lauded transparency is kicking in-- hearing contestants' honest takes on their own foibles is quite refreshing.

So all in all, well played, American Idol. There's the show I've come to know and love! (Though my snark has to find a way to creep through-- was anyone else not feeling JLo's clown-themed, Manilla Luzon makeup tonight?) Girl glows (I totally get the perfume name now), she doesn't need all that caked mess. Also, do we really need to cut to JLo being "moved" by every performance, Paula Abdul style? How about the occasional Steven Tyler reaction shot, huh?

Now let's move onto the talent-- especially because this already tight race just got even tighter.

The Hot
Pia Toscano: “All in Love Is Fair.” It's times like these where I find myself missing Simon, because lord knows he would have given Pia her diva propers for this performance (I really wish she had been around last season to eviscerate the competition and give Simon his yearly Celine-Whitney-Mariah eargasm). This performance was purely STUNNING. Sure, Pia needs to switch up her performance style (it's not the ballads that are hurting her, it's the similar delivery each week--even Scotty has found ways to serve the same old country french fries straight up, curly and steak style). But come on, powerhouse showings like these are the stuff that Idol is made of, and I wish the judges would have given Pia a bigger moment post-performance. All irrational attachment systems are a go-- I'm officially obsessed (bolstered by the knowledge that a close friend from college went to LaGuardia performing arts high school with Pia, and says, "Pia was born to sing Celine, and yes, she is every bit as sweet as she seems.") For some reason Pia's intensity, maturity and poise keeps bringing me back to Adam Lambert (despite their wildly different styles)-- Pia needs to take a page out of his book and have a "Mad World" moment to truly cement her frontrunner status.

Jacob Lusk: “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Despite the fact that Jacob's pre-performance package started with a sweaty demonstration of what the "Lusky Stank" might actually be, Jacob really pulled his ish together tonight. Ridiculously literal affectations aside (did he really have to "push up that hill"?), Jacob finally reigned in all that hot mess and channeled it into something truly rousing. I still have no idea where he'd fit in today's musical landscape (because he wouldn't), but we're early enough in the Idol game that a judge-sanctioned "moment" guarauntees safety (but really, they should've saved that standing-O/hug combo for Pia). Sidenote: anyone else find it refreshing that Jacob's obvious gayness (I mean, srsly gurl) has been completely overlooked due to his monstrous natural talent? Can I get an amen?

James Durbin: “Living for the City.” As much as I want to criticize James for his crowd-pimping antics, who can really blame the guy? Knowing how fleeting Idol fame can be, why the hell not soak every inch of it in while you sill can? That being said, I do think James gave an exciting (if not his best) showing tonight, making all the right rocker moves on his march to the Kodak. What seems especially important is James's ability to excite Jimmy/the producers/former rock legends, though. If he gets their musical mojo going, he's clearly doing something right.

The Warm
Stefano Langone: “Hello.” Jennifer freakin' Lopez, delivering what I believe may be the BEST and most specifically pointed Idol advice ever uttered in 10 seasons: "I don't want the intensity to come from you wanting to do well, I want the intensity to come because your heart is breaking." Stefano has rightly been in do-or-die mode, but in the process of singing for his life, he has emerged as a frontrunner. So now he needs to learn to take the kind of artistic and emotional risks that Idol winners are born of-- and I think we all know he has the goods to do so. He's one tender, vulnerable, stripped down Kris Allen "Heartless" or David Cook "Hello" (ironically) away from locking onto the Kodak.

Lauren Alaina: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” I found Lauren's candid admission of poorly handling both fame and the competition wildly endearing-- I mean, we all ask the world of these (literal) kids, so I applaud her declaration of self consciousness (even if it continues to come across as ungrateful stankness, sadly). The slow opening of Lauren's performance was glorious-- she's simply got a ridiculous voice. But the ensuing midtempo, unforgettable laziness makes me wish Lauren had waited just a few more years to hit the Idol stage, when she might have had a bit more fire in her belly (like Pia/Stefano/Naima/James). Methinks a 16-year-old can miss the enormity of this opportunity when they haven't even had the chance to fail at anything yet. Here's hoping Lauren pulls out a ballad or two before she burns out, because lord, do I wants to hear her sing something pretty.

Paul McDonald:
“The Tracks of My Tears.” So while this was a vast improvement on Paul's previous showings, I've still got a bone to pick: as one Tyra Banks might say, Paul is relying on his pretty. Like a freshly plucked Top Model contestant, Paul has yet to dig down deep and deliver any kind of emotion besides "jolly" in his performances. I mean, "Tracks of my Tears" is a profoundly sad song (just ask Adam Lambert), but Paul delivered it with a totally mismatched, jaunty cheer. Sparkly charm and natural good-looks do not a Top Model-- err, American Idol, make. The good news: with that voice of his, all Paul has to do is crack the Top 7 or 8 to have a solid recording career, at this point (and indeed, it feels like that's what he's aiming for. Just ask Jason Castro).

Haley Reinhart:“You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me.” I listened back to Haley's performance with my eyes closed, and the experience was VASTLY improved. Minus all the awkward slinking and gratuitous stomping, Haley sounded freakin' fantastic. I'm having serious Jennifer Hudson flashbacks (hear me out!)-- despite her vocal chops, JHud's early Idol run was streaked with unfocused and erratic showings that landed her in the Bottom often (don't believe me? Go listen to her versions of "Heat Wave" and "Baby I Love You." Mad screechy, dawg). And then, out of nowhere/up above, came "Circle of Life" (which remains my favorite Idol moment of all time-- there, I said it!). All it took was one "a-ha" moment and everything changed for Jennifer. I really think Haley could do the same-- if she surprises everyone with a commanding and gut-wrenching delivery to match those considerable vocals, she's going to have it made. But she better do it quickly...

Naima Adedapo: “Dancing in the Street.” For better or worse, Naima fits right in talent-wise with the Rihanna/Katy Perry/Ke$ha crowd, with a delightful splash of originality. To Naima's credit, she shored up her pitch problems and brought back the much-needed dance interlude, but will that be enough for her to survive much longer? Methinks not. As Simon might say, I don't think Naima is destined for a pop career-- a stint on the Idol tour and a healthy gigging career after? Sure. But certianly not superstardom. Sad face.

The Cold
Scotty McCreery: “For Once In My Life.” As charming as Scotty can be, I simply will not abide this rendition. I ADORE the Stevie Womer version, and this poorly phrased, overly forced showing was downright blasphemous. I even think Scotty fans would agree-- he's much, much better than this performance. But Scotty survived Motown week without compromising himself, which is ultimately more important at this stage in the game than just about anything.

Casey Abrams: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Things I remember from this performance: 1) The sexy violinist girl group. Weild them bows, baby. 2) A backup singer who looks much like a young LeAnn Rimes. 3) Casey's creeptastic vibe and complete lack of melody and/or pitch. Seriously, what happened to the bass-slinging prodigy we heard back in Hollywood? Casey seems to be the only one not examining himself and showing growth on the Idol stage, and that makes him rife for early-elimination (dare I say, perhaps even this week)?

Thia Megia: "Heat Wave.” If last year's season-that-shall-not-be-named taught us anything, it's that if a contestant fails to deliver a relevant and/or emotionally stirring performance four times in a row, they're simply never going to (no matter how much you want them to). Thia performs competently every week, but there's simply nothing to get excited about. Which is why I'm completely confused as to who's voting for Thia. Bitter Jasmine Trias clingers? Blue-corn enthusiasts? Pocahontas fashionistas? (Girl really is killing it with the nude-colored dresses, though).

Precictions: This is going to be a really, really tough one to call-- but sadly, my gut is telling me Casey Abrams will the first guy to bite the dust (and the next to go). We're due for a surprise elimination, and Casey's monotone showings might get left behind as everyone turned up their volume this week. I also think Thia will come close to elimination (though I've incorrectly predicted her downfall twice before) and that Haley will once again brush with the Bottom 3. But as always, we shall see.

Brace yourselves, Idol nation. I have a feeling Thursday's broadcast will lead us into some choppy waters...

Till Tomorrow,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Final 12 Results

Considering no one was surprised by Karen's ouster tonight (despite some surprisingly sharp group-number dance moves), I'm starting a new Results Night tradition: ranking the remaining contestants from Most Likely To Win to Least Likely To Win.

Based on 9 seasons of Idol watching, picking out those destined to perform at the Kodak is tricky business, but there are some common trends to look out for: winners perform strongly every week, hit us with something unexpected, have a distinctive direction/sound, and most importantly: they never, ever grace the Bottom 3. (Seriously, in nine seasons of Idol, the only winner to hit the Bottom 3 was Fantasia Barrino in Season 3's Final 7 diva massacre (and oh what a horror that was!)). So let it be known: falling into the bottom 3 forecasts eventual elimination--always. Which means there are still 9 (out of 11) viable contenders.

In fact, I'm sure somewhere deep in the Idol machine, there's a department devoted to forecasting voting statistics-- they definitely don't tell us the contestants' voting numbers for a reason. Chances are, the Clarksons and Underwoods of the competition simply dominate voting from a very early stage, and who would want to ruin all that perfectly crafted Idol suspense (he says without any irony at all...)?

Anyway, here goes!

Top 11 Most-Likely-To-Win Rankings:
1.) Scotty McCreery
2.) Stefano Langone
3.) Lauren Alaina
4.) Pia Toscano
5.) James Durbin
6.) Casey Abrams
7.) Paul McDonald
8.) Jacob Lusk
9.) Thia Megia
10.) Naima Adedapo (Bottom 3: Final 12)
11.) Haley Reinhart (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
12.) Karen Rodriguez (Bottom 3: Final 13, 12)
13.) Ashton Jones (Bottom 3: Final 13)

So there you have it, America. We have one cut left before the Idol 2011 tour roster is announced-- and let me say, I have a feeling a guy is getting the ax next, because heaven forbid there's an uneven guy/girl ratio for the tour... but as always, we shall see!

Till next week,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Final 12 Performances

All right gang-- as much as I'm loving the artist-producing mentor vibe Idol's got going this season (and the seriously fun/informative pre-performance packages), I do have one serious contention: most of the contestants, via this producer guidance, seem to be choosing/crafting songs based on what will make viable singles, as opposed to fantastic live performances. The over-emphasis on production value seems to have seriously harmed the live performance quality of many of these songs, which is a bit troubling... I wants some organic Idol moments, and I wants them fresh (not pre-packaged).

That being said, the judges are indeed correct-- we have ourselves a real competition. A solid half of the contestants have a really even shot at basking in confetti rain come May, with the other half seemingly capable of upping their game (even if they haven't quite shined yet).

And despite the terribly weak/outdated song list on tonight's broadcast (who really preaches of the musical genius produced between 1984-1995?), I was thoroughly entertained-- so I will keep my snarky mouth shut and get to the good stuff:

The Hot
Pia Toscano: “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” Z's list of ideal Idoldom: Show-stopping vocals? Check. Heart of gold? Check. Focused dream drive? Check. Affinity for 90s diva balladeering? Check. I could go on for days, but you get the point-- Pia is bringing traditional Idol female fire the likes of which haven't been seen for seasons, and I'm loving every moment of it. Work. It. Out. Girl! (Though slapping a dance beat on a Whitney ballad doesn't quite count as switching it up--let's see you sing something totally unexpected, next time? I'm counting on you!)

Stefano Langone: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Talk about making lemonade out of lemons-- all of the contestants likely faced equally dismal track lists, but Stefano proved that even mediocre songs can be used to create fierce, fiery Idol performances. While I thought Stefano's delivery was a bit truncated and choppy, his passion and talent is simply undeniable. He's one of the select few this season that not only presents himsalf as a relevant/distinct artist, but also knows exactly what it takes to craft movingly memorable Idol performances-- he leaves it all on the stage every week (and America has come to accept nothing less).

Scotty McCreery:
“Can I Trust You With My Heart.” Scotty really is proving to be the perfect Idol package: young, cute, genuine, talented and oh-so-country. And while I can't say I'll ever enjoy his brand of twang, I must respect his considerable talent (which was indeed stretched a bit further for all to see this week). At this point, the only way he's not going to win is if he's the butt of a surprise elimination, Tamyra Gray/Jennifer Hudson/Chris Daughtry style.

Lauren Alaina: “I’m the Only One.” Well played, Lauren--this was the only song choice of the night that felt pitch-perfect and relevant, to me. I loved Lauren's tone on this song, and it reminded my why I liked her in the first place. Now if she cuts back on the babygirl pouting and ramps up the crystal-clear country-diva singing, she'll knock herself back up into frontrunner status (sans producer pushing).

The Warm
Jacob Lusk: “Alone.” Even though this song's been done-t0-death on Idol, it has never been sung by a male singer. And while I can't say it was my favorite Alone rendition (whatup Carrie & Allison!), I can say I will certainly remember Jacob's take in years to come. It was insanely over-the-top and mostly unpleasant to the ear, but no one can deny that Jacob births little song-babies every time he hits that stage. This paired with an unexpected rock song-choice and a few fleeting moments of vocal restraint keeps Jacob out of the red... this week, at least.

Casey Abrams: “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” While I respect any contestant's attempts at "risk-taking," this performance falls squarely into the fail category dawg, for me, for you. Casey's trademark charm, passion and grit turned straight creepy under the harsh Idol lights. I'm excited that I can't necessarily predict what Casey will do next after this, but am worried that he doesn't quite understand what works/doesn't work on the Idol stage...

James Durbin: “I’ll Be There for You.” I'm not sure whether to blame this melody-less bit of Jovi on James, the overblown band or the return of the man-scarf tail. Whoever may be at fault, James is certainly not deserving of a sparks-spraying finale, nor the announcement of what he'll be singing at the finale. If you keep up the pretender posturing, these five words I swear to you: America will cut you, son.

The Cold
Paul McDonald:“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.” Can you differentiate between any of the three floppy live performances Paul has served up so far? While I'm craving a buffet of raw acoustic goodness from Paul, I keep getting the same reheated dish of overcooked antics. If he doesn't find a way to craft some kind of memorable moment (use. your. guitar! lose. the. band!) and make a strong impression, he'll never break from his current mid-pack status.

Karen Rodriguez: “Love Will Lead You Back.” She's never going to out-diva Pia with these competent showings, so she really needs to find a way to work her Latina charm vocally if she's going to make the Idol tour. In a season where there's lots of distinct flavors (pop/r&b/rock/gospel/country/reggae/disneyprincess), Karen needs to embrace her strengths and stop pushing into too-deep diva waters.

Thia Megia:
“Colors of the Wind.” The good news: Thia understands the power of freeing herself of the mighty bandzilla wall-of-sound and sometimes-wonky production "updates," all while rocking a well-cut, nude-colored dress (that's two, and counting). The bad news: this performance was unexciting and musically irrelevant, and it's sleepy delivery only reinforced my view of Thia as a somber sally. She keeps claiming she's going to bring the fire/passion, but you can only cry wolf on the Idol stage so many times before getting the boot.

Haley Reinhart: “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Wait, was Haley sober for this one? Between the red-lipstick explosion, near-tripping stage runs, ignored/missed notes and random microphone abuse, I don't know that anything will salvage Haley's sinking ship (which is so sad, because I want to be a fan). But perhaps she's looking to work the as-of-yet underutilized "vote for the worst" voting block... sigh. And anyone else wonder where Jimmy's dig against Haley's "work ethic" came from?

Naima Adedapo:
“What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Every week I feel the same way about Naima: love her, but not her voice. Without some umbrella-swishing, tear-breakdowning tricks up her sleeve, Naima's voice simply leaves me wanting more. She needs to finds songs that will support (and not stretch) her limited instrument-- not to mention define her as an artist (does she belong in a cabaret? church? club? cruise? Jury's still out).

Predictions: I think Haley will bite the dust this week, since her loopy showing won't merit a bottom 3 rebound (whereas Karen's more discernible fanbase will probably resurge after her brush with elimination). I'm also thinking Naima will come dangerously close to elimination (if not pulling the boot, herself), with Thia joining the Bottom 3 pack... but we shall see!

Till elimination night,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Final 13 Performances

In an Idol season that promised overhauled changes, there are many additions that I'm loving: The positive vibes. The focus on molding a relevant artist. The behind-the-scenes recording glances. The introduction of worthy producer mentors. And, oh, let's not forget a wickedly talented and diverse Final 13 (ahem, sit down Season 9).

But there are a few trademark Idol components that I'm missing:

A.) Well done re-arranging. So far all of the Top 13's attempts at originality have proven... interesting, if not totally dated. What Daughtry, Cook, Lambert, Allen and Iraheta all did so well, no Idol 10er has mastered yet: covering well-known songs in a way that makes them feel radio-worthy. All of tonight's "updating" just sounded really strange and out-of-place... but I'm hoping this was just a case of beginner's jitters.

B.) Instruments?! Where they at, Dawg??

C.) A Reality Check. Simon's frank honesty wasn't just crucial to Idol for its entertainment value (OK, that was a big part of it)-- more importantly, Simon's harsh words also meant that when he actually praised someone, it really meant something. Simon's stamp of approval was a crucial component in nearly every crowning Idol moment, so JLo and Steven (you too, Jimmy Iovine) need to learn that blanket complements not only get really boring really quickly, but they also steal thunder away from true Idol triumphs.

That being said, we're only on the second week of live rounds, so it's going to take another week or two for the contestants and judges to figure out how the Idol machine cranks and (hopefully) hit their strides. And now, onto more important topics: The Top 13, according to Z.

The Hot
Pia Toscano: "All By Myself." So in my last two Pia write-ups, I mentioned both All By Myself and Celine Dion-- clearly we're on the same balladeering page. But let's get real: while Pia has now earned herself a spot in my Idol-Diva Hall of Fame, I'd like to see the following from her next week: a song that demonstrates her musical relevance in 2011 and that also features less that 33% of time devoted to vocal powerhousing. I mean, how many times can a gay hear the same All By Myself refrain in 1:40 minutes (admittedly, a lot). But what Pia currently lacks in artistry, she more than makes up for in humility, style and conviction, which is why she earns top honors for me tonight. Pia is clearly not here to play games, people, and I likes it. I likes it a lot.

Stefano Langone: "Lately." This is one of my favorite songs ever, and I've been waiting for Idol to do it some justice (screw you, Melissa McGhee). And while I don't think Stefano truly gave the song its propers with this bizarre arrangement, I understand how this choice reflects his place in music (as someone who can go toe-to-toe with the Bruno Mars and Ushers out there). Not only is this boy wickedly radio-ready, but lord, can he SING (and there really are dashes of Fantasia-ugly in there, aren't there?). If ever Idol had a pre-packaged artist, it's Stefano. Can anyone say Dark Horse? I'm calling it now-- Stefano probably has the best shot at winning out of everyone, thus far...

James Durbin: "Maybe I'm Amazed." Maybe I'm amazed that James has been one of this season's most consistent live performers! And dare I say, James even won me over with this earnest, interesting and impressive showing. We finally got to hear James's normal singing voice (with only a few well-placed screams), and really, it's quite nice. Extra points awarded for having the best arrangement of the night bumps James into front-runner status (inserting previously-hating-foot in

The Warm
Casey Abrams
: "With A Little Help From My Friends." In Casey's defense, there were several fantastic notes in this performance drowned out by the ever-crushing bandzilla wall of sound. But it really is a little early to be rolling out the gospel choirs, especially when Casey needs to focus less on showboating and more on nailing the notes/timing/emotions of his songs. This all felt way too Lee Dewyze "Hallelujah" for my liking... someone needs to dig out that bass and kick it old school, stat!

Haley Reinhart: "Blue." Even though Haley didn't necessarily wow with this performance, I think it at least displayed that she deserves her Top 13 slot. If she finds a way to inject this same level of vocal restraint into a more commanding song, she might just have a shot at underdog status. And I'm still holding that Haley has a unique quality in her voice worth preserving... so needless to say, I'm rooting for you, gurl!

Lauren Alaina
: "Any Man Of Mine." My hopes (and my tolerance) for Lauren are quickly waning. As the judges so mildly put it, Lauren lacks that fire in her gut (and performances) that demonstrates her desire to win. Right now, it feels like Lauren thinks she doesn't need to try that hard-- which isn't this case. If she keeps up these lazy, mid-tempo, forgettable showings, she's doomed. Lauren needs to acknowledge the wildcard passion gauntlet that was thrown onto the stage last week... because I'm afraid America is going to demand nothing less this season.

Scotty McCreery: "The River." Objectively speaking, Scotty is on course to win this whole damn thing (perhaps deservedly so). Selfishly speaking, this thought horrifies me to the core (perhaps unfairly so).

Jacob Lusk: "I Believe I Can Fly." Here we go again. It seems Jacob's Idol journey will resemble Janet Jackson's extreme yo-yo dieting, constantly adding and shedding vocal pounds. Unfortunately for Jacob, he has proven again that he has no idea what to do with this big ol' voice of his. He's like a kid who has had too much ice cream, screaming "Look what I can do! Look what I can do!" His ridiculous screeching was mostly unpleasant to listen to (minus one final glory note) and not only that, but Jacob's song choices lead me to believe he has no place in popular music (anyone whose Idol is R.Kelly doesn't deserve a recording contract. I'm sorry).

Naima Adedapo: "Umbrella." What happened to the crazy gowns and cabaret stylings? Did anyone else think this reggae-infused dance ditty came completely out of left field? I can't say I loved it, but I can't say I hated it either (a common trend with Naima, which is never a good sign). Certainly memorable enough to carry her through this week, but with such unfocused showings, I fear for Naima's Idol future... I think the best she can hope for is a spot on the Idol tour, at this point.

The Cold
Paul McDonald: "Come Pick Me Up." Remember what Tim Halperin sang last week? Me either. And I suspect Paul's performance will suffer the same fate next week, save for some really over-the-top affectations. Seriously, Paul needs to tone down the animal impressions (kangaroo! rabbit! chicken! t-rex!) and focus on delivering a striking vocal performance-- Paul, like Lauren, could benefit from a brush with elimination to jolt him into competing form.

Ashton Jones: "When You Tell Me That You Love Me." There was so much wrong with this performance: the schmaltzy and inferior arrangement. The vocal stretching. The unflattering silver dress. The matching glittery eye shadow. Ashton really needed to kill this performance to remain viable and sadly, she didn't. At least she got to display some of that trademark stage swag and a killer Ross fro!

Karen Rodriguez: "I Could Fall In Love." When you walk out on stage in a sparkly two-piece midrift-bearing faux-pantsuit, you should know something isn't going to go right. But in all seriousness, in theory this should have been a perfect showing for pageant-queen Karen, but she somehow failed to connect to this song emotionally or vocally. However, she's just down enough to not be out (as the rules of Idol physics dictate).

Thia Megia: "Smile." Oh, sweetie-- I really want to like you! But since Thia seems to know how weird/bad this performance was, I'll refrain from picking it apart. Singing aside, Thia needs to learn how to appear less vacant and ramp up the charm/warmth, or America's voting fingers are going to start growing cold.

Predictions: My gut tells me that Ashton is going to bite the dust, with a one-two punch of wildcard-worthy vote lagging and forgettable mediocrity. I also suspect Haley and Thia may round out the bottom three... but we shall see!

To conclude, I must admit that JLo is totally right-- this is one tight race. I mean, in my own personal Idol journey, early favorites have fallen into mid-pack runners and all my early cannon fodder picks have become front-runners. With the bar spread evenly in terms of talent and uniqueness, something tells me we're setting up for a spectacular season...