Color me surprised! I don't think any other Idol telecast has ever forced me to eat my words quite so thoroughly as this one-- almost uniformly, everyone I was looking forward to hearing live underwhelmed, and everyone I had already written off proved me dead wrong. That being said, we have ourselves a tight race among the ladies this year-- with underdogs rising and front-runners flat-lining, predicting who will crack Thursday's Top 5 is proving wildly difficult. But that won't stop me from trying, will it?
Also, while Steven and JLo continued to commit to the Paula Abdul school of judging, Randy managed to once again be fairly lucid and on-point in his criticism (however uneloquently delivered it might be). Additionally, can I just take a moment to slow-clap for the Top 12 girls-- even though this week's performances were far from perfect, I could at least understand and respect each lady's song choice (whether or not it actually worked in their favor). Each one of them seemed to have done their Idol homework and at least attempted to craft a distinctive Idol moment.
But moving on, If it were up to me, here's how Thursday would play out:
Lauren Turner: "Seven Day Fool." Sing that Etta, girl. SING IT. Lauren certainly didn't have the best performance of the night (I'll get to you, Pia), but she tops my list because she's got the kind of voice that renders an Idol fool like me completely inert. I've always seen flashes of Kelly Clarkson in Lauren (check out her Top 40 performance on Idol's website--it's crazy good), and when you match that kind of raw vocal power with the songbook of someone like Etta James, I simply fall to pieces.
Pia Toscano: "I'll Stand By You." When I first saw that Pia was filling the much-coveted finale pimp spot, I was rather confused. Then. She. Sang. The last time I was this bowled over by an Idol semifinal performance was way back in Season 3, when one Latoya London rose from obscurity to eviscerate All By Myself, hitting high notes I didn't even know existed. Considering I had completely categorized Pia as robotic, small-voiced cannon fodder, this performance blew me away. Not necessarily because of the vocals (hey, I love a diva screech as much as the next gay, but Pia really had to stretch to hit those notes), but because Pia knew EXACTLY what she was doing on that stage. Much like one Adam Lambert, Pia understands what makes the stuff of Idol legend-- and I can't help but respect her mastery of the elusive Idol moment.
Lauren Alaina: "Turn On The Radio." She really does make it look easy, doesn't she? And she really is the perfect little Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood/Jordin Sparks hybrid, isn't she? And as if she wasn't already a mortal lock for the Idol finals, she smartly chose a country song-- making her a surefire bet for the middle-America votes. But let me just say this: as much as I'm prone to adoring Lauren, I think her representing the goddesses of Idol past is a double-edged sword: this is no longer an American Idol that churns out raw diva wattage-- it instead churns out polished glamberts. As such, I'm fascinated to see how Lauren will fare against the one-two punch of Jacob Lusk/Casey Abrams this season...
Kendra Chantelle: "Impossible." This is far and away my favorite Christina jam (written by one Alicia Keys), so I applaud Kendra for digging this out of XTina's dirrty hamper. Kendra's vocal chops were nearly as tight as her leather pants, and while I'm not convinced I like the squeaky quality of her upper register, I am convinced I want to hear more from this blonde beauty. Packaged performer, indeed.
Ashton Jones: "Love All Over Me." On a night where all the ladies showed vocal prowess, I can't say I was particularly impressed by Ashton's singing (or her bland song choice). But let me tell you, anyone with that much stage presence, style and personality deserves to be seen on Idol again. Most importantly (to me, anyway), Ashton DID NOT flash any cheesy finger-numbers to the camera while Ryan read her digits. I've been waiting 10 seasons for someone to shut down that heinous practice, and Ashton has boldly gone where no other Idol hopeful has gone before, with a smoldering stare and a side-smirk. Werk!
Thia Megia: "Out Here On My Own." And yet another Season 10 songstress has gotten me to stop sipping that haterade. Everything about Thia's performance (from her voice to the song to that awesome nude feathered dress) screamed "I know exactly what I'm doing on this stage, fool, so suck it." I always think ditching the voice-drowning bandzilla and seisure-inducing backdrops is a smart move, and Thia choosing a stripped down arrangement and simple spotlight was a stroke of brilliance. I'm not ready to say that I'm a Thia fan, but I'm now willing to be won over.
Haley Reinhart: "Fallin." I know, I know--this performance was kind of all over the place. But there's a quality in Haley's voice that I just can't seem to ignore. During those rare moments where she nails the slinky, soulful seductress routine, I see flashes of a real star. But Haley is going to have to find a way to channel all that mess into something more focused-- and I think she deserves one more wildcard shot to prove she can do that (or hit the road).
Karen Rodriguez: "Hero." OK, here comes my own private Idol double standard: what I completely chewed Jovany out for doing last night, I'm going to praise Karen for. Karen may have sang a completely dated song and included a mid-bridge key change (just like Jovany), but for some reason, it worked for her (because let's be honest, some diva ballads live forever, people). I had completely written off Karen as limp-voiced cannon fodder, but she proved that she has not only got a beautiful range and a likable charm, but that she freakin' wants on that Idol tour. Karen put on her game face, and I can't help but respect that.
Cannon Fodder Fails
Naima Adedapo: "Summertime." Placing Naima here really hurts my soul, I must say. But I'm having a hard time finding something to say about this performance... it was really neither here nor there (meaning I enjoyed it, but I don't think it was at all musically relevant and/or impressive enough to merit another Idol showing). Boo hiss, I know. But I still like Naima's personality more than her vocal stylings, and in a race this tight, there's no room for excuses... but here's to hoping I'm totally wrong about this, like I was about pre-hating Karen, Thia & Pia.
Julie Zorrilla: "Breakaway." Oh, Julie. She looked like a Disney Princess tonight, packing all the emotional sincerity of Regina George. Much like a barbie doll, Julie has got all the right moving parts-- but she lacks that discernible "it" factor that would make her a real live girl (or superstar). I wish Julie were old enough to have had someone break her heart a time or two, because then I think she'd have one hell of a shot at being our next American Idol.
Rachel Zevita: "Criminal." And I'm like, uh, why? Uh, WHY? Why, baby? F**k you. Oh, I know that sounds harsh, but Criminal is one of my favorite songs and Rachel was one of my early favorites, and she totally ruined both for me. While I respect the attempt at "make it your own" artistry, this unrecognizably bad take on what could have been a perfect Idol song (ahem, here's looking at you, Lauren Turner) ruined any shot Rachel had at making her long-term Idol dreams come true.
Tatynisa Wilson: "Only Girl In The World." Performing a trendy dance song unaltered has NEVER once ended well on the Idol stage (and I firmly challenge you to disprove this proclamation), especially one that doesn't sound so vocally pleasant to begin with. So while I bet Tatynisa wanted to appear "current" by singing Rihanna, she instead appeared stale and unoriginal. Were I Tatynisa, I would have layed down some updated TLC or Jazmine Sullivan-- but it really doesn't matter, since I highly doubt we'll be hearing her sing again on Idol.
Can I just say, this little judgment session was mad hard, dawg! My love for these ladies is spread pretty evenly, and I'll be happy to see any of them advance (excluding Tatynisa, sorry girl!). That being said, I don't know that I'll shed any tears about losing one of them over another, though... I think this is going to be a very polarizing, dynamic and exciting group!
But if I had to call it, I'd say our Top 5 ladies will be Lauren Alaina, Pia Toscano, Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia and Lauren Turner (leaving Kendra, Ashton and Karen as likely Wildcard draws). But I think Thursday night's results are going to be very interesting indeed...