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...


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Final 13 Revealed

I've had a few days to ponder Season 10's Top 13--and I must say, daddy is pleased. The talent this year is really stellar (despite some bitter cuts-- Kendra, Robbie & Lauren T, our time together was too short!!), and I'm not really mad at any of the finalists for making it through. Dare I say this season is shaping up to potentially live up to my personal Idol favorites (season 3's diva-fest, season 7's tender artist affair and season 8's crazy original palooza).

Anyway, since I am creepily attached to American Idol contestants like most parents are to their children, I'd like to devote this session to both dispensing advice and cruelly ranking this year's Idol finalists (like any good parent should). So here goes... rankings based on my own personal tastes and advice via song suggestions!

13.) Scotty McCreery: Scotty should admittedly rank higher in terms of his talent level (he's the most clearly defined "artist" in the Top 13-- we know exactly what his album would sound like), but I'm just not that into hardcore-country music. Usually I hate the male-teen-hearthrob throwaway contestants (see John Stevens, Tim Urban, etc), but I have to admit, Scotty is so in the pocket of his particlar genre, I can't help but respect him.
Song Suggestion: Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." I know David Archuleta tackled this song a few years back, but I think Scotty could have a real moment with this heart-wrenchingly simple ballad. It could add a maturity and dimension to his delivery and butter him up for more pop-friendly waters (not to mention the generally lower, simple melody would suit his voice).

12.) Karen Rodriguez: I think Karen was very smart to play up her Latino roots-- it not only felt genuine, but also appealed to a highly underutilized (and underestimated) audience--I'd venture the Latino voting block is as sizable as the contry-loving or tween block. I think she needs to seriously update her songbook if she has any chance at the Idol crown, but to her credit, she's got a solid set of pipes and a very humble, upbeat charm.
Song Suggestion: Wyclef Jean & City High's "Baby's Gonna Stay." This obscure jam would be perfect for Karen: the vaguely Spanish guitar, laid-back cool sound and ample room for vocal acrobatics would display all of Karen's strengths as a singer.

11.) James Durbin: Though I'm not convinced James is the real deal quite yet, I was rather impressed by his first live showing. And as wrong as this may be, seeing James's nerves get the better of him on results night (via some eyebrow twitches) made the previously-not-endearing combo of Asperger's/Tourette's seem not only real, but very human. It was very nice to see a non-posturing side of James, and I hope he channels that more than his "look at me! look at me!" vocal antics in the future.
Song Suggestion:
The Darkness's "I Believe In A Thing Called Love." This song would not only support James's wild upper register, but would also give him a platform to do something more playful (a combo Adam Lambert mastered on his season).

10.) Naima Adedapo: While Naima remains the most endearing and deserving contestant in the competition, I'm not sure she has the artistic focus to demonstrate how she'd fit into today's musical landscape. It takes a whole lot more than some crazy gowns and cabaret lounge moves (throwback! whatup Simon!) to master the tenuous balance of originality and relevance.
Song Suggestion: India Arie's "The Heart of the Matter." I can see Naima sliding right into this genre, and this song has a wisdom about it that would translate very well via Naima's earnest emotionality.

9.) Ashton Jones: I think we all agree, the best thing about Ashton is her genuinely awesome take on diva-dom: she's the perfect combo of fun and sass (without a trace of the usual bitchiness attached to this stereotype). What Ashton lacks in vocal strength, she makes up for in confidence-- but this can only take her so far. To avoid a Lil Rounds fate, Ashton needs to tackle less vocally ambitious songs so that her voice can shine, rather than pale in comparison to other more powerful divas.
Song Suggestions: Angie Stone's "I Wish I Didn't Miss You." / Corrine Bailey Rae's "I'd Like To." Both songs are chock full o' attitude, but are a bit more vocally laid back, which would suit Ashon's range more smoothly.

8.) Thia Megia: I totally respected her stripped-down performance style this week, which channeled her voice into a more broadway balladeer style (which seems better suited to Thia than the jazzy style). That being said, if she can find the right songs that balance her vocal maturity against her actual age, I think she's a shoe in for the Idol Tour (but not much more).
Song Suggestions: Paolo Nutini's "White Lies" / Adele's "Hometown Glory." Both are simple-yet-gorgeous ballads that feature a unique pop voice and could replicate the success Thia had with "Out Here On My Own."

7.) Haley Reinhart: I'm probably more of a Haley fan that I should be at this point, but I'm holding to the affirmation that there's something special hidden deep in Haley's voice, underneath that mountain of gratuitous runs. If she finds a way to harness her vocal power (re: Jimmy Iovine's astute Bono comment) and focus that slinky sex appeal, she could become a legitimate dark horse.
Song Suggestions: Duffy's "Save It For Your Prayers"/ Joss Stone's "Dirty Man." Both are jazzy songs that would allow Haley to tease up the playfulness, but both only call for a few well-placed diva moments. If delivered simply, these songs could elevate Haley into something more than a Christina Aguilera ripoff.

6.) Jacob Lusk: Jacob proved to me that he can pull back enough on a song to deliver a dynamic and well-balanced performance, but I'm still concerned about the Taylor Hicks effect: perfect for the Idol stage, terrible for the pop music scene. If Jacob sharpens his artistry a bit, he's a real contender for the crown.
Song Suggestion: Christina Aguilera's "Mercy On Me." If anyone can handle the ridiculous bigness of this gospel-inspired diva ballad, it's Jacob-- the idea of him tackling this song actually makes me giddy. Plus, female-to-male song conversions always go over well on the Idol stage.

5.) Pia Toscano: Never before has an Idol contestant switched up my take so fast: in two minutes of perfectly pitched Ido perfection, Pia literally went from zero to hero in my (and probably the producer's) book. I'm very curious to see what kind of songs Pia will continue to choose, because "Ill Stand By You" is a timeless ballad not necessarily indicative of her artistic style.
Song Suggestion: Celine Dion's "Then You Look At Me." OK, file this one in the "guilty pleasure" drawer. I don't think this song would do Pia any favors in terms of seeming relevant, but I've always known this song possessed all the trappings of a perfect Idol moment, and Pia seems like just the right girl to bring it to life.

4.) Stefano Langone: I was so, so, so happy Stefano made it through, because he seemed doomed to become an Idol semifinalist-done-wrong. Dare I say he may be the current Idol dark horse--if those other fools don't watch out, Stefano is going to snag that title, Kris Allen style.
Song Suggestion: Joan Osborne's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted." This is another song perfectly suited for a shining Idol moment, and Stefano displayed enough emotional depth on his Wildcard performance to be able to do this song justice (not to mention Joan's smoky take would help Stefano's voice take on some more dimension).

3.) Paul McDonald: Paul is certainly the most real-world ready of all this year's contestants, and I have a feeling we're due for a lot more of his "quirky" stylings, provided he's able to tackle Idol's theme weeks as well as the Daughtry's, Cook's and Castro's of Idol past.
Song Suggestion: Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter." Sung with nothing but a spotlight and a guitar, this haunting ballad would pack all the emotional punch necessary for a spectacular Idol moment.

2.) Lauren Alaina: I know I'm buying into the hype on this one, but the kind of ease Lauren displays on stage has all the trappings of a superstar. Polish this girl up a bit and slap the right songs on her, and she'll really earn all those Clarkson/Underwood comparisons (though I hope she doesn't burn out under the weight of early expectations, Andrew Garcia style).
Song Suggestions: Bonnie Raitt's "Dimming Of The Day" / Pink & Steven Tyler's "Misery." Both of these little-known songs would be absolutely stunning paired with Lauren's vocal chops: the Bonnie song is equal parts haunting and powerful, while the hidden-gem Pink song features more opportunities for country-centric diva grandstanding than just about any other song (plus it can continue Lauren's trend of awkwardly including Mr. Tyler in her performances).

1.) Casey Abrams: As talented as he is original as he is likable, Casey has all the makings of a true Idol, provided he can clean up some of those wonky passion-blind notes (no one wants a Lee Dewyze repeat). I can see Casey developing into an Adele-like powerhouse, with the right touches...
Song Suggestions: N'Sync's "Gone." Crazy, I know, but refer to David Cook's awesome take on "Hello." Casey needs to prove he can tackle a pure-pop song, and this underestimated Timberlake-driven ballad would give Casey the perfect opportunity to display all of his skills, especially if he broke out the stand-up bass (imagine that)!

Whew! All right, I'm spent... but terribly terribly excited to see how this season plays out. Something tells me it's going to be a close race...


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Top 24 Girls

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:

Top 5
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!

Wildcard Worthy
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...

Until then,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top 24 Guys

Meet Randy Jackson... the voice of reason? Wait, wtf?

I know Steven and JLo are new to the whole judging game, but blanket complements do not an American Idol make. Dare I say I agreed with the majority of Randy's ramblings (and splashes of much-needed constructive criticism). Just because someone sings competently doesn't mean they deserve to have a record deal-- being an artist is about so much more than that (as both Steven and JLo should know first-hand). But here's to hoping they shake off the first-day Paula-isms and that Randy continues to earn that fat paycheck of his.

But on to more important things... the talent. Nothing infuriates me more than when a hopeful singer takes the Idol stage and proceeds to do something derivative, dated or safe. You get one chance, people. ONE CHANCE. Yet every season, half of "our" Top 24 usually devolves into karaoke land, making song choices that would seem strange even in your local dive bar. Crafting an Idol moment is a delicate art, requiring equal parts power and restraint, drama and subtlety-- but anyone who has seen one damn season should know what works and what doesn't on that big stage. It honestly baffles me...

But on the flip side, nothing delights me more than when a hopeful singer takes the Idol stage and proceeds to do something original, unexpected and simply unforgettable. And hallellu, a handful of singers did just that. Season 10's inaugural live episode was littered with those who were clueless, those who tried valiantly and those who succeeded... so let's get onto it.

The Top 5
Casey Abrams: "I Put A Spell On You." Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Casey has personality for f***ing days. Add in a steaming pile of artistry and a massive helping of talent, and you have an American Idol sensation. Naima's wild balcony fist-pumping and JLo's astute commentary said it all-- someone's about to change the whole game, Chris Daughtry style. I salute you, sir.

Jacob Lusk: "House Is Not A Home." Never in a million years did I think someone would steal Tamyra Gray's Idol thunder with this song, and never in a billion years did I think the diva-thief would be Jacob. I retract my earlier him-hawing; Jacob can SANG. He tackled that song with all the conviction of a lion stalking its prey, and not since Adam Lambert has an Idol contestant been this exciting to watch. I'm still not sure there's necessarily a relevant artist under all that voice (Taylor Hicks style), but in a night of vanilla, Jacob was a heaping hunk of chocolate lava cake. Can I get an Amen!!

Stefano Langone: "Just The Way You Are." Damn, boy. You gave me Felicia Barton flashbacks (robbed on Season 8, anyone?). Stefano displayed a raw talent and charisma that is wildly rare, but perhaps too raw to advance in this year's Idol game. That being said, I devoted my dialing power solely to this cutie, because I fear his mid-pack running is going to need it. Let's hope, though, that his journey goes more underdog Kris Allen than Kristen McNamara or Ju'not Joyner (I'm sorry, but those Season 8 wounds still run deep).

Paul McDonald
: "Maggie May." The sum of his distinct voice, Bradley Cooper looks, dinosaur-esque affectations and "quirky/different" (we get it, Idol) wardrobe adds up to something much greater than this somewhat forgettable performance, luckily for Paul. I wants to see more, and I wants to see it shirtless (jokes, jokes).

Robbie Rosen: "Angel." I had such high expectations for Robbie, so I'm trying not to over-judge this shaky first showing. He certainly displayed the signature vocal re-arranging that makes him special, but not as flawlessly as he did in Hollywood/Vegas. And few teenagers possess the emotional experience necessary to deliver that song-- it's haunting and depressing, but Robbie had a half-smirk on his face the whole time. Any other season he'd have earned another showing in the Final 20, but perhaps not this season where we're cutting to the top 10... nonetheless, he graces my list of ideal finalists.

Wildcard Worthy
James Durbin: "You Got Another Thing Coming." Much to my surprise, I liked James this week. I did not think he was quite as "crazy good" as he thought he was (tone down the celebratory leaping, man), nor do I believe yet that his rocker antics are authentic-- but he sang an interesting song well and demonstrated who he is as a singer. This all merits another shot in my book, one way or another.

Scotty McCreery: "Letters From Home." Let me start by saying I will never vote for Scotty, nor will I ever buy one of his albums. He's simply not this bicoastal, pop-diva-loving gay's cup of vocal tea. But I can't deny that as far as country goes, he's the real deal. And I'd imagine he's going to have the votes of every land-locked teenage girl in America after this performance-- he nailed it, plain and simple.

Brett Loewenstern: "Light My Fire." I get what Brett was trying to accomplish and I respect the (albeit failed) attempt at originality, but I was hoping for much more from Brett. Despite this high school auditorium worthy performance, I do think Brett's positive message and Willow Smith hair-whipping ways will make enough of an impression to move on... but we'll see.

Cannon Fodder Fails
Clint Jun Gamboa: "Superstition." There's no denying that Clint has one hell of a voice, but that didn't stop his performance from lacking a shred of musical relevance. The self-proclaimed "artist" shouted his way through a straight-karaoke rendition of a 40-year-old song, leaving me (and America) with no clue as to what sound he would produce were he to record an album.

Tim Haplerin: "Streetcorner Symphony." Why would anyone ever think that this song would deliver a one-shot pass to the Idol finals? I'm honestly baffled by this choice (which is a shame, because I really want to like this Tim).

Jovany Barretto: "I'll Be." Yes, Jovany sounded (and looked) good. And as a 23-year-old who unabashadly LOVES him some Dawson's Creek era ballads (whatup Paula Cole), I still managed to HATE this performance. Complete with a 90s-diva mid-bridge key-change, Jovany failed to update this song to sound even remotely current (someone should have sat him down and made him watch David Cook's "Hello." 'Nuff Said).

Jordan Dorsey: "OMG." And I'm like, Oh My God, there's so many ways to hate you (and this performance), so I won't even bother recounting them. But can I just say-- you ultimately CHOSE this song, so why on earth did you act like someone else forced this heinous decision upon you? You're stank, jank and bank(rupt).

Predictions: So while this is how I want things to go down, my Idol instincts tell me that Casey, Jacob, Robbie, Brett and Scotty will be filling out the male Top Five on Thursday (which would leave Paul, Stefano and James to hopefully snag wildcard spots). And by the way, anyone else digging the format change? I really think it combines the best of all previous Idol semifinal worlds...

Until tomorrow,