The Final AMERICAN IDOL Recap

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This is the end. At least for now.

Last night, ‘American Idol’ gave us what it wanted us to think was its series finale. It certainly looked, sounded and behaved like a series finale. With performances from just about every memorable ‘Idol’ contestant, visits from the judges and even a surprise show open from Brian Dunkelman(!) it must have been the last episode ever, right?

I, for one, am not buying it. I don’t even think the show itself is buying it. It’s very telling when the announcer began the show by calling it the “‘American Idol’ Season 15 Finale”. Not series finale, season finale. There’s plenty of other evidence out there too – Simon Fuller has told the entire Internet over the last few days that he sees ‘Idol’ coming back in a new form within two years.

There’s also the ratings – ‘Idol’ is not nearly what it used to be, but it still routinely wins its timeslot and the only reason it’s going away now is because they’re still spending money on it like it’s being watched by 30 million people. Some simple cost cutting keeps this show on the air forever. ‘Dancing With The Stars’ does about two-thirds of ‘Idol’s’ demo number and it’s in no danger of being canceled.

I’m not saying ‘Idol’ is coming back next season. I’m not even saying it’s coming back on Fox. However, somebody will resurrect this show within two years in a more budget-effective format and it will probably run for another fifteen years after that.

So I’m not going to say farewell with this recap, I’m just going to say goodbye for now.
The finale started with one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve ever seen from something so silly and inconsequential. Brian Dunkelman, who famously opted not to return for Season 2, made his first appearance on the ‘Idol’ stage since its first season summer finale. The moment had the perfect blend of snark and warmth to make it more affecting than something like that is supposed to be. It also reminded me of the huge cheer Dunkelman got when Ryan Seacrest jokingly announced him as a co-host of ‘Idol Gives Back’ a few years ago. It was just good to have him back.

From a music standpoint, the show was its typical medley-heavy self, but went even crazier with the musical mashups than normal. Nearly every segment featured a genre-specific matchup that brought out a couple dozen former contestants that ranged from winners to the obscure, “I remember them!” singers.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the medleys on this show as they always have had the worst possible choreography and the cheesiest arrangements. They also normally consist of songs that would make a jukebox at a fifties-themed diner think they were out of date. The former contestant medleys last night, however, all worked exceptionally well. Not just from a nostalgia standpoint, but the music and mashups were arranged spotlessly and the parade of former Idols handled their parts with aplomb.

There were so many standouts from former contestants that listing them all would take up this entire recap. I’ll choose to pick out a few that many probably didn’t expect. First, Carly Smithson sounded like a Carole King swallowed a huge-voiced soul singer – I’ll never understand how she didn’t make it all in the industry given how much support record companies put behind her. Justin Guarini, who’s currently making a name as Li’l Sweet, showed why he seemed like a future superstar on the first season – almost unrecognizable in a good way and sounding better than ever.

And, of course, the biggest standout of the evening was the 15 or so seconds Joshua Ledet was afforded to reprise the best performance in the history of the program. For my money, Ledet is the best contestant ever on the show and if Smithson’s lack of success is hard to understand, then Ledet’s is absolutely mind-boggling.

Altogether, it was a pretty impeccable night for the former contestants on the show. The one performance I could have done without was seeing the quintet of white guys with guitars do pretty mediocre versions of David Bowie songs. Maybe it’s just a bad idea to attempt to pay tribute to Bowie?

Really, the best decision the producers made for the finale was to do away with the normal cavalcade of celebrity guests and focus purely on the show, its history and the people who were so deeply a part of it throughout its run. Even if that meant we had to suffer through Kara Dioguardi attempting to sing and a montage of Ford commercials, this was a show about the show and the core of what made it popular.

That reached its apex when Simon Cowell made a “surprise” appearance onstage to join Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul for a reunion of the original judges’ panel. The show lost a bit of what made it great once they forced Kara onto the panel and its original magic trio was interrupted. It was so nice to see them back together if only for a moment. After the Kelly guest-judged the first live show, I thought they had a real opportunity to bring back one former contestant or judge as a fourth panelist each week – I would have loved to have seen Cowell get one last shot at the show’s contestants – but that was never in the cards this season so the mini-reunion was as close as we could get.

It wasn’t just the good either. Sanjaya was in the audience. Pants-on-the-ground Guy (for my money, the last really big moment ‘Idol’ had) showed up in a montage. If it weren’t for Carrie Underwood, William Hung would have been the last performance from the guest stars. It really was just about as perfect a finale as an ‘Idol’ fan could ask for.
There were a few former contestants a bit conspicuous by their absence. There was no Blake Lewis, David Archuleta, Adam Lambert, Crystal Bowersox, Haley Reinhart, Angie Miller, and Jax were all absent just to name a few. They couldn’t get them all in, but there were a few that I didn’t even remember until I went, “oh yeah!” who got in ahead of them. Presumably because of conflicts, but other than Lambert, I’m not sure what anybody else would have going on.

There was also a winner crowned in the midst of all the nostalgia list night. Trent Harmon won in what I consider to be a pretty big upset. Maybe I shouldn’t considering he’s essentially yet another white guy with a guitar – an archetype that won the last 8 of 9 years, only losing when the producers engineered against it and gave us Candice Glover – but I thought we would come full circle and have La’Porsha – the type of pop singer the show originally wanted to find – win the final season.

Of course, I say final with as many grains of salt as possible. After all, Seacrest’s final words of the last night’s finale…”For now”.

See you in two years.

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: All Good Things…

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I’ve been recapping ‘American Idol’ for the past nine seasons and this is my last true recap.

Yes, the finale will happen tomorrow and we’ll give it the appropriate treatment here, but, for me, the real recapping of ‘Idol’ always came from breaking down the performances. I’ve enjoyed disagreeing with the judges, getting into arguments in the comments sections and, most of all, finding the few dozen truly remarkable performances that scored an “A” or better.

That’s why I’m kind of sad that I have to make my final recap the final performance show. While that may seem like a silly a notion it’s totally valid in that the final performance show is typically the worst of the season because the contestants are forced to sing garbage singles that were plucked off the scrap heap of some music publisher’s basement after they were rejected by every artist in the industry.

Lately they’ve been pairing that with the contestant’s favorite song from the season – so we typically get a watered-down version of a great performance, a performance of a terrible song and the hope of something decent.

I wish I could say the final performance show was any different, but ‘Idol’ went out much the same way every season has gone out before it for the last fifteen year.

Trent Harmon sang “Falling” – Potential Single
The Verdict:
This isn’t the Alicia Keys song but it sounds suspiciously like it. Well, if it was given to some whiskeyed-out yacht rocker from the 70s attempting a comeback. You can almost smell the vinyl seats in the worn-out club they’re trying make it happen in. Not current at all.
Trent does an okay job with it – but it doesn’t really stretch his range at all. Of all the songs sitting around you’d think they’d find something that suited his skills a little bit better and didn’t leave us with such a mediocre performance from a majorly dynamic performer.
Grade: C+

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Strike A Match” – Potential Single
The Verdict:
Oh my God. It’s impossible for me to think there isn’t some emo pop song hanging around for Dalton to release – why they gave him some god-awful pseudo-electropop song is truly baffling.
Dalton showed us one more time on this performance that he simply isn’t that strong of a singer. There’s moments where he hits the necessary emo notes to appeal to his audience in a pretty solid Ben Gibbardian way and then others where he has wild pitch problems and can’t stay on rhythm.
He got farther than he should have given his skill set and this was one final example of why he shouldn’t have been in the final two.
Grade: C-

La’Porsha Sang “Battles” – Potential Single
Keith Said: That was a bulls-eye.
J-Lo Said: It felt so easy-breezy.
Harry Said: I thought it was a fantastic performance.
The Verdict:
least made it to a point where it could be rejected by the person who rejects Beyonce songs that aren’t good enough to get to Beyonce. It’s a pretty steady modern R&B song that suits La’Porsha’s strengths.
The performance isn’t anything too special. La’Porsha has some of her worst pitch problems of the season and never really got going until a beautifully quiet final few measures. La’Porsha is usually a force on stage and this time she was flat in more ways than one.
Grade: C

Trent Harmon Sang “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Keith Said: You are giving La’Porsha a run for her money.
J-Lo Said: That performance was amazing.
Harry Said: I thought it was a great choice. Nice job.
The Verdict:
Absolute perfect song choice by creator Simon Fuller for Trent to lead off the real competition. This song has had many iterations over the years, but the main thing they’ve all had in common is that big time singers get as much room as they want to stretch their range and just sing the crap out of the song without having to worry about things like melody and lyrics.
With such a perfect pairing of song and performer, I was surprised to see Trent never quite get all the way there. I expected a massive season-capping performance from him on this number where, instead, it was like Trent running at 80% capacity on a song where he could have found a new gear.
It’s puzzling to see him kind of fizzle out on a song like this. Not in such a way that he gave a bad performance – he just didn’t give a great performance.
Grade: B-

La’Porsha Sang “A House Is Not A Home” by Dionne Warwick
Keith Said: I don’t even smoke and I need a cigarette right now.
J-Lo Said: So beautiful. Now we have the La’Porsha version.
Harry Said: That’s about all you can ask for.
The Verdict:
Simon really nailed it with both of his song choices tonight. This could not be more perfect for La’Porsha given her vocal ability and her personal story – it was almost written for her.
Unlike Trent, La’Porsha took full advantage of the song choice with a incredibly compelling slow build of a performance where she danced across her vibrato and challenged the edge of her range – and just when you thought she was going to build to the trademark ‘Idol’ big note, she brought it back down for a nice quiet finish.
La’Porsha knows how to make the most out of her ninety seconds and she made that clear one more time with this song.
Grade: B+

Trent Harmon Sang “Chandelier” by Sia
Keith Said: You may have just made it an easy decision for some people.
J-Lo Said: You could not have sang that more beautifully.
Harry Said: You just made this the hardest decision in the history of ‘American Idol’.
The Verdict:
I think the most important thing Trent did on this performance is become the first person in the history of mankind to combine a mock turtleneck with leather pants. Also, that’s the first time I’ve commented on a contestant’s outfit this season – we’ve come a long way from the glory days of Adam Lambert.
Because we’re forced to see the same performance that we saw a few weeks ago, there’s not a whole lot new to say about this one – it’s almost exactly what he did on Sia night without much variance. I will say this one verged further into theatrical than did his first performance of the song to the point where it bordered on garish.
This was not Trent’s best night. In fact, it might have been his worst.
Grade: B-

La’Porsha Sang “Diamonds” by Rihanna
Keith Said: This was a multiple black diamond run and you just sailed down the hill.
J-Lo Said: You handled everything so effortlessly and so beautifully.
Harry Said: I have nothing to say. It was amazing.
The Verdict:
I’m very surprised that La’Porsha didn’t reprise “No More Drama” as her final song – that may have been the moment of the season of it weren’t for Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece”. One last dose of that seems like it would have locked down a wind for her.
She went with a pretty pedestrian Rihanna tune and never quite got into full La’Porsha show stopping mode with it. She certainly hinted at it as her voice rose and her effortless runs came out to play, but it was never really more than a glimmer like the ones from the diamonds on her sleeved dress.
Hey! Two outfit comments in-a-row. I guess I never lost it.
Grade: B

Prediction:
I’m making one final prediction and I’m going to do it in one word:
La’Porsha.

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Better Late Then Never!

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It’s the final show before the finale week. I’ve run out of things to say.

McKenzie Bourg Sang “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Keith Said: That was just superb.
J-Lo Said: That was a really strong performance from you.
Harry Said:: It felt like you’ve come completely full circle.
The Verdict:
It’s strange to me how this song has become such a mainstay on this show. It’s a very tragic love song by one of the most tragic love song writers of all time and is further associated with tragedy as it was recorded by Jeff Buckley shortly before his death. Yet here it is on everybody’s favorite fan-friendly show!
MacKenzie tried to a do a very spare and haunting version of this with only his acoustic as accompaniment, but he failed a full execution of that goal due to a distracting amount of over-singing and over-emoting that took away from what should have been a very stark and beautiful performance.
He tried to show that less is more, but couldn’t take his own advice.
Grade: B-

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Calling You” by Blue October
Keith Said: You did the best Daltonization of that song.
J-Lo Said: I felt a difference in the way you performed.
Harry Said:: I like the way you think about the words and the whole performance.
The Verdict:
Of course Dalton would do a Blue October song – it’s almost too satirically perfect for him not to do it.
I never thought it would be possible for me not to hate Dalton doing a Blue October song, but I didn’t hate this. There was a pleasant bit of honest energy in his performance that I haven’t seen in a few weeks and his voice actually sounded quite good.
Maybe I’m delusional. Maybe I’m just happy that he didn’t desecrate another classic.
Grade: C-

Trent Harmon Sang “Tennessee Whiskey” by George Jones
Keith Said: That was a bulls-eye.
J-Lo Said: It felt so easy-breezy.
Harry Said:: I thought it was a fantastic performance.
The Verdict:
Trent’s really proved that he’s the most accomplished performer throughout the course of this season, and it was so completely on display in this performance. I don’t know if there’s ever been anybody on the show who has been able to kill a vocal in so many different ways and with as much ease as Trent does.
Here, he combines country, soul and yacht rock into a blend smoother than the song’s eponymous beverage and stretches through about three octaves without ever breaking a vocal sweat. This guy’s a total pro in a competition for amateurs.
Grade: A-

La’Porsha Sang “Glory” by John Legend and Common
Keith Said: I feel like I just had a baptism.
J-Lo Said: Music heals the spirit.
Harry Said:: There is an incredible elegance and grace to you.
The Verdict:
This is such a perfect song choice for La’Porsha – the perfect song for a big soul singer to her to take to church and inject a helluva lot of emotion into.
Predictiably, La’Porsha did just that and built the song up perfectly into a crescendo that saw her blowing the seats out of the floor by the final note.
Grade: B+

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen
Keith Said: It’s about what you do that makes you individual.
J-Lo Said: There was something about it that felt fresh and new to me.
Harry Said:: It was a smart arrangement.
The Verdict:
No. Just no.
Grade: D

La’Porsha Sang “Stay With Me” Lorraine Ellison
Keith Said: Your vocal killed it.
J-Lo Said: You can sing the mess out of it.
Harry Said:: It was an amazing performance, but I didn’t feel like you meant it. (La’Porsha: “I don’t”)
The Verdict:
La’Porsha is still relatively young. She’s only in her early twenties. She’s certainly been through a lot in her life, but she’s still quite young.
That’s why it’s so remarkable to hear her come out and sing a song that’s fifty years old and sound like she was the original artist – like ‘Idol’ plugged in a tape from an old episode of “Midnight Special” in lieu of a La’Porsha performance.
Nope, it’s just all La’Porsha – as classic as the song she sang.
Grade: A

Trent Harmon Sang “Drink You Away” by Justin Timberlake
Keith Said: It was great.
J-Lo Said: That’s singing to win.
Harry Said:: When the background singers start clapping, that’s a really good sign.
The Verdict:
The brilliance of Trent is on full display tonight. First he tears up a country classic and feels totally natural. Then, he comes out, guitar in hand, and sings a Justin Timberlake song – and both fit so perfectly.
Yes, this is Timberlake’s nod to country music, but it’s worth pointing out just how much of a pure showman Harmon is and how fearless he is when it comes to taking on artists and their songs. He seems capable of anything.
Grade: A-

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears
Keith Said: I would have taken the key up a little more.
J-Lo Said: I felt like the key could have been higher.
Harry Said:: This was not your strongest performance.
The Verdict:
This is a smart choice from the judges and Dalton did exactly what I expected him to do with it – turn it into a bastardized emo song that feels different but is really just a slight reworking of the melody sped up with some distorted guitar riffs, sung by a kid who can’t really sing.
Still, I think it was a good song choice – kind of sums up my feelings on Dalton right there.
Grade: C-

La’Porsha Sang “Hello” by Adele
Keith Said: It was beautiful.
J-Lo Said: It stretched your range a little bit. It’s nice to hear you reach.
Harry Said:: That’s beautiful.
The Verdict:
The judges posed a challenge to La’Porsha when they announced this song choice – they said they wanted to paint her into a corner with a song so popular she’d have no choice but to do something different with it.
La’Porsha didn’t take the bait – instead she sang the song almost note-for-note with the record. She injected a little more rock tone into than the stately Adele version, but it was basically a total karaoke rendition.
And nobody, not even La’Porsha, is going to look good trying to compete directly with Adele.
Grade: C+

Trent Harmon Sang “Waiting Game” by Parson James
Keith Said: It was beautiful to hear you sing that song tonight.
J-Lo Said: I GOT GOOSIES!
Harry Said:: It’s an honor to critique a guy like you.
The Verdict:
I have never heard this song before. I have never heard of Parson James before. As far as I’m concerned this was a Trent Harmon song. And it felt miraculously timeless. I wish I could own it.
Grade: A+

Prediction:
It just has to be Dalton, right? He was in the bottom two last night and that’s not his first trip to the danger zone in this year’s competition. I’m hoping America is as sick of him as I am.

(Yes, I know this is exactly what I wrote last week – but I’m writing it again)

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Double Your Pleasure!

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IDOL delivered its first double-shot of performances last night as the top five went twice and Tristan went home after one shot.

With so much to recap, there’s no more time to waste! Let’s get to it.

Trent Harmon Sang “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic
Keith Said: I found myself watching but not being pulled in.
J-Lo Said: Not a Trent song, but you did what you could with it.
Harry Said: I give you a pass – you’re a lot better than that.
The Verdict:
America couldn’t have picked much worse of a song for Trent lead off the show with. Trent’s biggest strength is his crazy range and the audience game him a song that might have about four notes in the melody total – not really a place for Trent to show much of what he can do.
It was a solid performance given the constraints, but there was not much Trent present in the performance. This is why America shouldn’t be trusted with something as important as song choice.
Grade: C+

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Numb” by Linkin Park
Keith Said: I would have stripped it down even more.
J-Lo Said: I feel like you took a little bit of the oomph out of the song.
Harry Said: I felt like you poured your guts into that lyric.
The Verdict:
I’ve really not enjoyed Dalton’s stupid goth-emo-ing of actual nice songs this season, so when America gave him something that’s more in the genre that he turns songs into, he flipped everything around and turned it into an acoustic pop tune with just the right touch of Dashboard Confessional emo sprinkled in.
His vocal performance wasn’t up to the snuff of the arrangement though as he was off-beat and off-pitch at several different points – seeming to struggle with the melody. He didn’t struggle with his emotional connection to the song though and I think the arrangement helped him there – this was kind of both his best and worst performance.
Grade: B

La’Porsha Sang “Ready For Love” by India.Arie
Keith Said: I was just someone in the audience captivated by the moment.
J-Lo Said: It was just a complete performance in every way.
Harry Said: It was everything those lyrics called for.
The Verdict:
La’Porsha walked a very fine line here. All the smoke and lighting and expressiveness of her vocal had this in danger of verging into cabaret or something of Eartha Kitt-esque antiquation.
It was close to that, but never quite toppled over that treacherous cliff. Once La’Porsha sunk into it, she made the dramatic arrangement feel like more of a genuine soul song and brought it home brilliantly. She remains the most accomplished vocalist on the show.
Grade: B+

Mackenzie Bourg Sang “Wild World” by Cat Stevens
Keith Said: You’re like cake batter, even when you’re not fully cooked, you’re really good, man. (What?)
J-Lo Said: I always feel like you’re singing to me.
Harry Said: I think it’s a great song for you.
The Verdict:
There’s nothing like singing a snarky bitter break-up song to a bright and sunny backing track like you’re trying to appeal to a fifteen-year-old girl to show that you really don’t understand how lyrics inform composition and performance of a song.
MacKenzie exhibited that with dubious aplomb on this performance. I preferred the Mr. Big version.
Grade: C-

Tristan McIntosh Sang “Independence Day” by Martina McBride
Keith Said: You need to get out of the middle
J-Lo Said: My advice is to try different things.
Harry Said: It was okay, but you need more experience.
The Verdict:
I’ve become quite a Tristan fan the last few weeks. I think there’s some nostalgia there. There’s also a bit of a backlash against the country girl’s who’ve come before her that informs my fandom. Tristan isn’t the stupid twangy stylized country singer that every little girl who trots onto ‘Idol’ wants to be. She’s a classic country singer who finds the emotion not through a vocal tic, but through connecting deeply with the song and the lyrics to deliver a pure and honest vocal.
This was another perfect example of that and the reason why she’s one of my favorite country singers ever on this show. It’s also one more example of kind of the same exact thing she’s been doing for the last few weeks. It’s working really well for her, so that’s not too much of a knock on her, but maybe it’s best that she went home before getting too repetitive.
Grade: B

Sonika Vaid Sang “Let It Go” from Frozen
Keith Said: Your performances are starting to come alive.
J-Lo Said: You’re shy but you’re fierce.
Harry Said: You need more practice with the band.
The Verdict:
Sonika said she chose this song (the inferior Demi Lovato version) because she needed to make like the song’s protagonist and let it go on stage.
She kind of did that. Kind of. This wasn’t the typical singing robot performance from Sonika but while she did seem more lifelike than usual, I didn’t find her vocal performance to be quite up to her usual levels. Maybe the more human she gets, the less she’s able to hit the vocals that are…programmed?
Grade: B-

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
Keith Said: You really do the lyrics justice.
J-Lo Said: It felt really powerful.
Harry Said: Every song you do is like a blank wall and you’re a graffiti artist.
The Verdict:
Oh my God – can we take out a court order to prevent this guy from turning classic songs into something out of a Broadway show written by My Chemical Romance? I think something like this could unite the parties on the next SCOTUS appointment. I really do.
Grade: C-

MacKenzie Bourg Sang “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
Keith Said: I’m a big fan of yours.
J-Lo Said: You just showed everybody why you’re here. I was riveted the whole time.
Harry Said: It was really great.
The Verdict:
Why did MacKenzie have to be so good out of nowhere? I’m so ready to be done with this guy and then suddenly he plays an acoustic version of Billie Jean that somehow doesn’t lose any of its soul or funk despite the fact that it’s being sung by the fake dork “sensitive” dude that you hated in high school.
And sang it he did. He had some real nasty vocal licks peppered in a performance that sounded like the best of MacKenzie multiplied by about eight. This kid’s going to win, isn’t he?
Grade: A

Trent Harmon “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Keith Said: It was so perfect for you.
J-Lo Said: It’s moments like this is why I love ‘Idol’.
Harry Said: You’re a great singer, and there’s an extra thing you have that shows your experience.
The Verdict:
After the catastrophe of his first performance, Trent got a song to really dig his considerable vocal chops into and he didn’t let go from the first measure through to the final bar.
This performance was everything we’ve come to expect and adore from Trent: Emotional, grand, effortless and performed with outrageous range. When Trent’s given a song that allows him to challenge himself, it’s almost impossible for him to give a bad performance.
Oftentimes, like here, we get a great performance.
Grade: A-

Sonika Vaid Sang “Clarity” by Zedd featuring Foxes
Keith Said: Keep letting go.
J-Lo Said: I didn’t love this song for you.
Harry Said: I liked getting to know you better than the song.
The Verdict:
This was the song and performance that Sonika needed. While she wasn’t able to fully escape the robot and sacrificed her vocals a little bit on her first performance, this song let her unleash a new gear – uptempo singer who still has the same big voice.
This wasn’t her best vocal, but it was her most fully realized performance so far and let her talk a step from being just a singer and into the realm of artist. She’s not there yet, but this was a step in that direction.
Grade: B+

La’Porsha Sang “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige
Keith Said: So inspiring.
J-Lo Said: You’re an inspiration.
The Verdict:
Sure. We’ll close the show with La’Porsha singing a perfect song in the pimp song and absolutely killing it. Why not?
Vocally excellent, emotionally powerful and La’Porsha at her most charismatic – owning the stage and the song like nobody else is able to this season. Almost too easy.
Grade: A-

Prediction:
Sonika is going home. It’s destiny. This season has been setting up to a final four of MacKenzie, Dalton, Trent and La’Porsha. Easiest call I’ve made in some time.

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Down with Duets!

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I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t even watch the first half-hour of last night’s show.

With good reason too. I’m a longtime advocate of no duets. I hate the duets. I don’t consider them to be a part of the show. ‘Idol’ has been and always will be a solo competition. These duets that they’ve plugged in the last few years haven’t been working for me and I refuse to recap them.

So let’s join last night’s ‘Idol’ in progress…

La’Porsha Sang “Come Together” by The Beatles
Keith Said: Any song is a terrific song for you.
J-Lo Said: You’re giving us full diva every time you get up there.
Harry Said: You are absolutely incredible.
The Verdict:
For the life of me, I will never understand why anybody sings The Beatles on this show. For all their brilliance, the Beatles never really produced any songs that would be considered great vocal performances – especially not in the manner that translates well to this show.
So it’s probably not much of a shock that La’Porsha delivered her most lackluster performance in choosing this Beatles classic. That’s not to say it was bad, La’Porsha still had attitude as big as her hair as she turned this into some Joplin-esque gritty soul.
She just wasn’t as impressive as we’ve seen her in previous weeks.
Grade: B

Mackenzie Bourg Sang “Your Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker
Keith Said: You know who you are so well. You made it sound brand new.
J-Lo Said: You’re a beautiful mix of old and new.
Harry Said: You couldn’t have picked a better song.
The Verdict:
OK. If MacKenzie doesn’t win, then I’ve clearly learned nothing from my decade of watching and recapping this show. He has the perfect non-threatening look and the perfect sweet-guy voice to go along with it.
I actually didn’t know how perfect his voice was for what he’s doing until he put away his tiny parlor guitar and gave a solid performance on a perfect song choice. He was certainly off-pitch at times, but that’s really not the point with him – he’s got all the texting and tweeting and online voters eating out of his hand at this point.
Grade: B-

Trent Harmon Sang “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
Keith Said: You’re growing before our eyes.
J-Lo Said: I always knew you were a badass.
Harry Said: It really was great.
The Verdict:
The confidence with which Trent gave this performance is just astounding. He started a capella like an absolute stone cold killer and then eased right into a stunningly arranged groove like he’d been owning arenas with this song for decades.
Everything about this performance was just about flawless. From the effortlessness with which he ad-libbed to how he jumped into every single bit of his dynamic register without anything appearing forced or unnecessary.
This was a next-level performance from Trent, and one of the best of the season from anybody.
Grade: A

Tristan McIntosh Sang “A Broken Wing” by Martina McBride
Keith Said: That’s the perfect kind of song for you.
J-Lo Said: You have such a perfectly suited country voice.
Harry Said: What did you think was happening in the second verse?
The Verdict:
I’m continuing to love the transition of Tristan from little country girl who can’t sing to classic country singer from a time before twang was mistaken with actual singing. I, however, didn’t really love this performance. She never really seemed connected to the song in the way that we’ve seen her the last few weeks and, of all things, her mic work was off – her volume went in and out at the beginning – such a weird mistake.
She brought it home well at the end, but this was a pretty shaky performance from Tristan.
Grade: C+

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles
Keith Said: Like a good waffle iron you made an impression.
J-Lo Said: I loved the ending and the theatricality.
Harry Said: Great song choice and a great key for you.
The Verdict:
The Panic! At The Disco-emo version of “Eleanor Rigby”. Gross.
Grade: C-

BOTTOM THREE
Avalon Young Sang “P.Y.T.” by Michael Jackson
Keith Said: I’m so confused how you keep ending up in the bottom three.
J-Lo Said: You’re a natural performer.
Harry Said: Your voice is in the “incredible” category, but you could have more urgency in your performances.

The Verdict:
Two signs that democracy doesn’t work:
1 – Donald Trump keeps winning Republican Primaries
2 – Avalon Young keeps ending up in the bottom three
This wasn’t nearly as strong a vocal as last week’s brilliant save-me performance, but it was easily the most fun performance of the night. She’s one part Janelle Monae and one part Ilana from “Broad City” – just a burst of youthful and soulful fun every time she hits the stage. Nobody’s ever done anything like her on this show and I really hate that it’s not connecting with the at-home voters.
Grade: B

Lee Jean Sang “Let It Be” by The Beatles
Keith Said: I sensed a lot of your nerves.
J-Lo Said: I liked this performance, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough.
Harry Said: On an emotional level it was fine, but the pitch was a real issue.
The Verdict:
Major tactical error by Lee here. Lee’s strengths lie within his performing ability and incredible sense of rhythm – not at all with his actual singing voice.
On this song, he took away all of his strong parts and just laid his voice threadbare for everybody to hear on its own and, predictably, there were some horrible pitch problems and clear nerves that totally undermined his performance. This was probably his worst so far on the show.
Grade: C-

Sonika Vaid Sang “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston
Keith Said: I ask that you just continue to release.
J-Lo Said: I think you did a good job with it.
Harry Said: I loved it.
The Verdict:
Sonika has no fear with the Holy Trinity. Whitney? No problem. Celine? No problem. Mariah? I’m sure she’s on the list.
Here it’s Whitney as Sonika does her typical move to out-voice everybody else on the show. She has the pipes to do it, but for me it’s starting to become a single trick. Yes, she can sing all these big songs from the biggest voices in the history of pop music – but isn’t it time to do something a little bit different?
It’s also an issue that this was kind of the worst version of Sonika we’ve heard so far. I missed the typcial blowaway big note that defines her performances and takes her over the top. I think this was one of her weakest performances and I think it’s the emotion and fun that’s missing as she focuses too much on the technical side of things.
Grade: B-

Result and Predictions:
The judges took the safe route and saved Sonika last night. I understand that this is a singing competition and she has the best voice, but I don’t understand people who are looking more forward to a Sonika performance next week than they would have been an Avalon performance – Avalon at least brings something interesting to the show.
I think last week is the final double elimination? Maybe? If that’s the case, I think Sonika is definitely going home after that boring performance and she’s got to be joined by Tristan I guess?

The truncated season of ‘Idol’ hasn’t really allowed a rhythm to develop with these eliminations. I’m calling a final four of Trent, Dalton, La’Porsha and MacKenzie – and I feel cheated out of some good weeks of Avalon, Jenn and Olivia right now.

Your AMERICAN IDOL Top 10 Recap

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I’m back after a night off that week with a very good excuse – seeing the Carly Rae Jepsen concert in Los Angeles, of course!

As fun as that was, it did cause me to miss the chance to say goodbye to Jenn Blosil. I’ve never been more impressed with somebody’s audition than Jenn, and I thought she was the most exciting performer this season with the most talent and the biggest potential to be interesting each week.

She reminds of somebody that nobody will remember from this show – Lilly Scott. Lilly was a Season 9 contestant who played crazy instruments and had a very unique vibe. I looked forward every week to seeing her perform and couldn’t wait to see her on the live shows.

Here’s a little taste of how awesome Lilly was, playing a mandolin!

Then, somehow, she was gone. We got a little bit more Jenn than we got Lilly, but not by much. It’s a shame because Jenn was the most intriguing contestant this year and I really wanted to see what she’d do week-after-week, but it’s also kind of a good thing, because this year’s top ten really might be the deepest the show has ever had.

Almost every season, there’s a few in the top ten that I never want to see each week and this year, they’re either all good or I understand why they’re still around. And last night, they were all up to their billing. Well, almost all of them.

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
Keith Said: I don’t think that was a great song for you.
J-Lo Said: You understand the art of the show.
Harry Said: This was the first time where you weren’t as present as you have been.
The Verdict:
Dalton’s been making his name so far on two things: Smoke machines and re-working songs. Here he went so heavy on the smoke machines, that he completely forgot to rework the song as he pretty much matched the record.
He matched everywhere except for the quality of the vocals. Nobody is going to confuse LL with Steve Perry, but he at least has a solid rock voice. Dalton had a voice that would play poorly even at a high school musical audition as he was embarrassingly pitchy and just utterly weak the entire time.
I’ve never liked Dalton but never heard him deliver a truly bad vocal. Until now.
Grade: D+

Lee Jean Sang “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
Keith Said: I loved the fact that you tried something different, but I don’t think it was a great song for you.
J-Lo Said: I think you can go for things a little bit more.
Harry Said: I thought it was really smart.
The Verdict:
Lee is so hard for me to put my finger on. One minute he’s a country kid, the next he’s a rhythmic singer without a strong voice, the next he’s an unspeakable Ed Sheeran disciple and then, last night, he goes electric and suddenly his voice sounds sweeter than it ever has and all the nerves that dogged him earlier seemed to disappear.
This could have been a turning point performance for Lee. I’d still like to hear a little more power from his vocals, but the power that he brought onto the stage, looking comfortable for the first time, more than made up for it. If he can tap a little deeper into his voice, he’s going to be very dangerous.
Grade: B+

Sonika Vaid Sang “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
Keith Said: I wanted more attitude.
J-Lo Said: You gotta get lost in the character of what you’re doing.
Harry Said: I think it needed an extra lift.
The Verdict:
Sonika has been absolutely spot on with the song choices and how she’s changing lanes but continuing to pick big-time singer’s songs. After some slowed-down ballads from incredible female vocalists, she takes on one of the greatest uptempo pop records of all-time but doesn’t sacrifice the ability to show off her unbelievable pipes.
There wasn’t really much to criticize with her performance – her vocal is flawless as always – but I do feel like there’s a little bit missing in terms of her really letting go and losing herself into this pop/rock anthem – she’s still a little stately. Sonika needs to go Sonika boom on something like this.
Grade: B

Mackenzie Bourg Sang “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston
Keith Said: It was a really good song for you.
J-Lo Said: That switch-up really worked.
Harry Said: I thought it was fine, but I would have done more.
The Verdict:
Yes, this is a little derivative of David Cook’s “Always Be My Baby” in that he turned a song by a member of the Holy Trinity into a pop/rock song – but that doesn’t make it much less clever. Mackenzie’s arrangement was fun and fresh and complimented his voice wonderfully – turning this exactly into the song that a wussy singer like him would record right now.
I still hate this kid and his glasses and most things about him, but I have to give respect where it’s due – and this was a very respectable effort.
Grade: B+

La’Porsha Sang “Halo” by Beyonce
Keith Said: (unintelligible babbling)
J-Lo Said: You’re really the one to beat.
Harry Said: Every time you sing, I’m urged to consider the song from a new perspective.
The Verdict:
I swear, every week La’Porsha is making everybody have to come and take the crown away from her, and I don’t know if anybody can.
Despite her vocal being a touch on the bright side, this was another stunning performance from La’Porsha in what came across like an absolute coronation of the greatest diva we’ve ever seen. She’s certainly not attained that status yet – but would anybody put it past her to eventually do that? I mean the a capella ending? Stupid good.
Grade: A-

Trent Harmon Sang “When A Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge
Keith Said: Don’t let facial expression awareness get in the way of what you’re feeling.
J-Lo Said: All of it’s you. You’re amazing. I had a vision of you and La’Porsha at the end.
Harry Said: It’s a great improvement. I love you on high sustained notes.
The Verdict:
It’s strange to feel like Trent got lost in the midst of the evening with such an accomplished vocal performance – but despite its stunning quality, I don’t know – it just didn’t seem like a standout.
I mean this guy hit some unreal notes. He sang like a gospel preacher mixed with a Vegas lounge act – and I swear that’s a compliment. The performance itself was just about damn near flawless.
Still – I forgot it almost five seconds later. I don’t understand it.
Grade: A-

Tristan McIntosh Sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill
Keith Said: That’s a terrific song.
J-Lo Said: That’s the Tristan that America fell in love with.
Harry Said: You really are a country singer.
The Verdict:
Tristan is getting stronger and stronger every week. As she gets away from over-twanging everything to force a country tone out of herself, and embracing a bit of blues in her voice instead, suddenly she’s become a great old-school country singer from a time back before every song had to be about beer and trucks.
This was a stunning and simple example of that, as she stripped down the song, sat at the piano and just sang her guts out in a way that formed an instant connection with the song. You could feel the evening on the prairie in her voice and wanted to see her singing to the stars – that’s real country music.
Grade: A

THE BOTTOM THREE
Avalon Young Sang “Earned It” by The Weeknd
Keith Said: You make it your own and that’s really clever.
J-Lo Said: That was what you needed to do.
Harry Said: You couldn’t have sung a better song at a better time.
The Verdict:
Hey! It’s Avalon singing another song that deserved to win the Oscar over “The Writing’s On The Wall”, but I digress.
I just can’t say enough about how much I love Avalon. I love everything about effortless her flow is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody in the history of this show inject so much hip-hop flavor with such authenticity into their performances – she’s a total original on this show.
Plus, she has a remarkable voice. It’s not as big as La’Porsha’s or Sonika’s, but for what she wants to do, it’s exactly what it needs to be and I don’t think it could be any better. .
Grade: B+

Olivia Rox “Trouble” by Pink
Keith Said: Your vocal range is insane.
J-Lo Said: Everything about it was the right thing.
Harry Said: I thought it was a great job and your performance was very energetic.
The Verdict:
Olivia’s entire video package was dedicated to how sick she was this week, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody more clearly affected by their illness on their performance than Olivia was on this one. A lot of people have whined about being sick going into a performance, but usually they end up sounding absolutely the same.
Olivia sounded much rougher than normal, and I think it actually worked into her favor – for a grittier rock song like this, that sandpaper tone only served to enhance the song’s genre and made her sound more authentic.
She also managed to throw the sickness aside at times for an amazing Mariah-esque falsetto and a huge final note. She absolutely tore the teeth out of that song from about every direction.
Grade: A-

Gianna Isabella Sang “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
Keith Said: I wanted more feeling.
J-Lo Said: You have a truly blessed voice.
Harry Said: You really have an incredible vocal gift.
The Verdict:
Gianna was far too pitchy on this and sang way too many unnecessary runs. The performance itself came off as forced and theatrical. It reminds me of the episode of “The Simpsons” with the dioramas – this doensn’t deserve to get through to the second round.
Grade: B-

Result and Predictions:
Avalon is safe! I don’t expect that the judges and producers expected to have to make a call where Avalon would be considered this week, but Avalon absolutely crushed it on her save-me performance and that was really the only choice.
Gianna is gone, and whatever, she’s fifteen and her mom is a singer – she’ll be fine. The interesting exit is Olivia. I think Olivia is already a superstar. She’s got incredible vocal range, a great look and an amazing name. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a record producer in LA snatches her up after this and turns her into a superstar – I think she has the best chance of a big career of the contestants this year.

As for next week, I have this weird feeling that Trent is going to end up in the bottom three because I just didn’t remember his performance. He’ll be joined there by Avalon (it’s going to be an uphill battle) and Dalton.

I can’t judge their performances, but something tells me the judges will not save Avalon again. What a shame.

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Life Outside the Fast Pass

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It’s a final season of firsts and we got another last night.
With only an hour of airtime and an odd 14 contestants left – the judges introduced another new feature this year – The Fast Pass. That means that four of the top 14 automatically got to go through to the top ten and didn’t even have to sing last night.

The lucky four? Olivia, La’Porsha, Dalton and Trent. Supposedly these four were unanimous among the judges. I find Olivia an odd choice over Jenn, Gianna or Sonika, but the rest make perfect sense considering their first few performances.

As for the rest? They sang! Let’s break it down.

Manny Torres Sang “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder
Keith Said: I don’t know if that was the right song for you.
The Verdict:
Manny oddly goes all reggae on this version of Wonder’s hit and he barely even sung. It was like he was just talking through it as he displayed absolutely no range and no real vocal ability.
I don’t understand why you’d pick this song or give this performance when it’s the only shot you have to make it through to the final, especially considering how lifeless his performance was. That couldn’t have resonated with the voters, particularly not in the first slot.
Grade: D+

Gianna Isabella Sang “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
J-Lo Said: There are the beginning of an amazing artist and performance.
The Verdict:
An immensely confident and commanding performance from Gianna here. She came out with a tigress look in her eye and vocally pounced all over this song as she killed it in the best possible way.
Gianna is one of the most polished performers in this competition and her poise and stage presence showed that on this rendition. Plus her vocals are just so damn impressive and overpowering. Great stuff.
Grade: A-

Thomas Stringfellow Sang “Story of My Life” by One Direction
Harry Said: You have to stop cracking every note at the end. It gets annoying.
The Verdict:
I cannot stand this kid. I cannot stand his clipped phrasing. I cannot stand his whole preening little pretty boy Derek Zoolander persona. Particularly I cannot stand the stupid hat he was wearing last night.
That being said, I have to give it up to a pretty solid vocal and competent stage performance from Stringfellow on his first live show. His phrasing wasn’t as annoying as usual and he proved he does have a solid voice when he can get out of his own way. I hope he stays there.
Grade: B-

Tristan McIntosh Sang “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts
Keith Said: A side of you we haven’t seen yet. Great job.
The Verdict:
Whoa! For a few weeks Tristan seemed like another little country girl who couldn’t sing. Then she digs into some Rascal Flatts, ditches the twang and lets her vocals absolutely rip apart this song in soaring beauty.
If this is the type of songs Tristan is going to choose and the performances she’s going to give, she’ll be very dangerous.
Grade: B+

Avalon Young “Yo Excuse Me Miss” by Chris Brown
J-Lo Said: Smooth like butter.
The Verdict:
Is there anything about Avalon that isn’t awesome? The effortless cool that just oozes out of her as she makes every performance feel like a lazy summer day on the front porch stoop that’s never going to end.
She can also sing really well when she needs to pull out the typical ‘Idol’ showstopper note, but that really doesn’t matter – Avalon is all about the flow and the vibe and hers are absolutely delightful every time she takes the stage.
Grade: B-

Jenn Blosil Sang “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper
Harry Said: I knew that you had it in you. That was a flawless lyric delivery.
The Verdict:
Chills. Absolute real chills as J-Blo finally chooses the perfect song and lives up the promise of her initial audition on a performance that’s both beautifully pure and totally broken in its vulnerability.
This is the J-Blo that I thought could win. Maybe she still can.
Grade: A-

Lee Jean Sang “Make It Rain” by Ed Sheeran
Keith Said: You had a lot of nerves, but I like what you’re doing.
The Verdict:
Can we put a moratorium on Ed Sheeran please? I feel like I automatically dock everybody a letter grade for choosing his boring nonsense.
That’s super-apparent with Lee on this performance. This kid has so much life and energy and it all just got strangled by his song choice here. What exactly is he supposed to do with this song choice? Come on, Lee!
He tries to make it a Stevie Ray Vaughun-esque Blues number but he’s playing acoustic and just doesn’t have the voice to pull that off. Lee’s brilliance lies in his mastery of rhythm and awesome energy – not in his raw vocal ability. He needs to shy away from songs that
Grade: C+

Sonika Vaid Sang “I Surrender” by Celine Dion
J-Lo Said: I got goosies on my face.
The Verdict:
If anybody’s going to tackle one of the Holy Trinity on this show this season, it’s going to be Sonika. She’s got the best voice in a classical “good singer” sense of anybody on the show this season and she showcased that flawlessly with a brilliant song choice and towering vocal.
She’s the type of person who sticks around for awhile on the strength of her vocals, but I’m not sure she has the extra it-factor to make it to the end.
Grade: B+

Jeneve Rose Mitchell “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
Harry Said: Your talent is interesting and compelling, but it’s also polarizing.
The Verdict:
I don’t really have time for Jeneve. Especially when she isn’t playing one of her millions of instruments. This was sung like she was explaining the song and trying to work her way through the notes – totally rigid and frigid.
She isn’t ready for this show and I still cannot understand why the judges kept her around this long. Hopefully America doesn’t further their mistake.
Grade: C+

MacKenzie Bourg Sang “Roses” (original song)
Keith Said: You had the crowd going crazy.
The Verdict:
I think this is another first. I don’t think anybody’s ever sung an original song so deep into the show. I have to commend MacKenzie for that even if the song sounds like somebody who wants to be Jason Mraz – and it really is depressing that such a person might actually exist.
That aside, this is a pro level performance from MacKeznie. He didn’t so much sing as he just totally lived in the song in such a way that somebody can really only do with their own music. It’s almost unfair, but I guess everybody else could write their own song too.
Grade: A-

Prediction:
In a very solid first night from this year’s contestants, it’s super tough to pick the four people that America is going to send home.

I feel like the only absolute lock is MacKenzie – who closed the show in the exact genre that keeps winning this show in a really excellent way.
So that leaves nine that could potentially go home. The easiest choice is Manny who bombed out of the first slot – meaning it took people remembering him after a host of really good performances. That isn’t going to happen.
I think Lee and Jeneve are the next most logical choices behind him – Jeneve is not a good fit on this show and needs to go home and Lee’s awkwardness and shaky vocals probably won’t play with voters.

As for the final person to go home? I think it’s between a couple of ladies that I really like, so I won’t even mention them, lest I put ideas in somebody’s head.

American Idol Results Show: And Then There Were 11

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It’s the end of a tradition that started one week ago – duets with former winners and current contestants, and also the end of my new tradition – ranking the contestants based on who I think has been the best so far before we start the wild card round next week.

Here’s the breakdown:

1 – Jenn Blosil
She hasn’t been all that great in her two live performances, only showing moments of brilliance that get lost in odd timidity and an inability to stay consistent. That may be true of the performances on the big stage, but her auditions were so stunning, that I still think her body of work is better than anybody else’s.
Result: SAFE

2 – Trent Harmon
Everybody’s favorite mono sufferer is becoming one of my favorite vocalists this season. Trent knows how to really connect with a song and sell it on a lyrical level. And he sings the song instead of singing whatever he wants just to show off his vocal range – and he has a great one too. If he could just stop hunching and being so twitchy when sings then he’d have a shot at my top slot at least.
Result: SAFE

3 – Lee Jean
Lee was a little shaky from a vocal standpoint in his first performance, but a lot of those issues disappeared when he took the stage with Daughtry on his duet. Lee always showed great rhythm on this show, but finally showed a voice to match in his second showcase performance. He still has the nerves of a sixteen-year-old and they’re very apparent, but if he can shake them he could go all the way this season.
Result: SAFE

4 – Adam Lasher
I really like this guy. I dig everything about his yacht rock sensibilities. I think he absolutely sang the hell out of his performance on night one and then he followed it up with a very sweet duet on night two. He’s the oldest guy on the show and has the most mature and accomplished voice because of it. I have no idea why the judges seemed to dislike him so much and kicked him out.
Result: OUT

5 – Tristan McIntosh
I should really dislike Tristan because she’s everything I hate on this show. She’s a pretty straight-ahead country singer. She’s super young and not mature enough to be great yet. She refuses to do anything original with any of the songs she chooses. There’s nothing there for me to really like. The thing with Tristan though is that she seems to be the best possible version of all of those bad things so I guess that’s at least tolerable.
Result: SAFE

6 – CJ Johnson
CJ is very good at being vanilla. He’s carved out a perfect little white guy with guitar dream land for himself this season and seems poised to go down the Nick Fradiani path of choosing nothing but middle-of-the-road alt-rock from yesteryear to appeal to the large voting bloc who seem to like nothing more than to hear that. I’m glad the judges got rid of him so we didn’t have to see that ride toward the end of the show.
Result: OUT

7 – Dalton Rapattoni
I commend this kid for his energy and his desire to rework songs so it’s not just a karaoke contest, but at the end of the day he’s just a poor man’s James Durbin which makes him a starving man’s Adam Lambert. He just doesn’t have the vocal ability to match his ambition.
Result: SAFE

8 – Olivia Rox
Olivia has a great voice. It’s impossible to get around that fact. She probably has the best pure vocal ability of anybody on the show. I just wish she would use it to sing instead of trying to blow the roof off with every single note. Her total disregard for melody gets pretty irritating at times when you wish she’d just stop reaching to the ends of her range and sing the notes on the page. If she can reign herself in, she’s got a voice to beat anybody, but she’s young so who knows if that type of maturity will ever come into play.
Result: SAFE

9 – Manny Torres
This guy just isn’t connecting for me. He was totally undone by his song choice on the solo performance night and even if he had a great voice we wouldn’t have known. Then he got completely blown off the stage by Jordin Sparks who was doing everything she could short of walking off the stage to make it as much about Manny as possible. I don’t think this guy has the package to make a real impact and I’m not sure why they kept him around.
Result: SAFE

10 – Kory Wheeler
I hate this guy’s face so much that I almost haven’t heard a lyric he’s sung. What I did hear, I liked better on the first night: He kind of got lost with Haley in his duet. But really, I was just hating his face so much the entire time. I’m glad I won’t have to see it anymore.
Result: OUT

11 – Amelia Eisenhauer
This side of the draw’s little country girl who can’t really sing. Amelia is kind of cool because she plays the fiddle as she exhibited in her duet with Kellie Pickler, so that makes her not so reprehensible. It also helps that in her duet she transcended the teen-girl talent show performer she appeared to be on night one with a pretty solid vocal. You know, for a little country girl who can’t sing that is.
Result: OUT

12 – Shelbie Z
I really can’t stand Shelbie. I can’t stand singers who think sassing people with a country twang is some sort of legitimate musical style. Even on her duet with Constantin on “Bohemian Rhapsody” she’s still basically coming at us from a bar in a lame music video and snapping her neck like she’s yelling at us a la Meredith Brooks. Seriously, check the attitude at the mic stand and focus on actual singing.
Result: OUT

AMERICAN IDOL Recap: Choice Cuts?!

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Last night was one of the toughest shows I’ve ever had to recap.

Not because it’s the last solo performance show ever before the audience votes. Not because it’s the last time we’ll ever see the judges make decisions based on solo performances without having to worry about America’s vote. It’s not even because of Ryan Seacrest’s V-Neck.

It’s because I had only heard of like three of these songs. Seriously? What was with these choices? Going deep catalog of obscure singers so people would think they were originals maybe?

It’s about the only logical explanation for these song choices:
Shelbie Z Sang “Work Harder Play Harder” by Gretchen Wilson
Keith Said: You sacrificed the whole song for the last note.
J-Lo Said: I know you have amazing vocals, but it didn’t feel like it was in register.
Harry Said: I think you look great and sound great.
The Verdict:
I thought Emily Brooke was the only country girl who couldn’t sing this year, and this Shelbie Z comes along. I’ll say that she’s better than Emily in that she has a decent rock edge to her voice, but she’s also incredibly irritating because she likes to shoot her guns and ride her ATVs. Spare me.
And, in all honesty, this grade is actually more reflective of her video package than it is of her singing.
Grade: D+

Manny Torres Sang “Adventure of a Lifetime” by Coldplay
Keith Said: I don’t think that was a good song for your vocal strengths.
J-Lo Said: I wanted you to connect more.
Harry Said: It’s all about the lyrics.
The Verdict:
So Manny decided to dress like a bellboy at an upscale hotel in the 1920s for some reason. I mean what is that shirt? Who is making this shirt? Why would somebody wear a shirt like that outside of a concierge’s desk.
Even more questionable than Manny’s shirt is his choice of song. Is there even actual singing on this record? Isn’t it just that annoying synth riff repeated on an endless loop? Not exactly a singer’s song.
But Manny isn’t exactly a singer though so maybe it did make sense.
Grade: D-

Kory Wheeler Sang “Let it Go” by James Bay
Keith Said: You have a good mix of confidence and vulnerability.
J-Lo Said: I feel like we’re just seeing the beginnings of what you’re going to turn into.
Harry Said: I thought it was pretty good, I didn’t think it was great.
The Verdict:
If you can get around Kory’s face, then he’s not actually that bad. Nice smooth vocal on a song that fits it perfectly. He’s kind of like a Millenial Mark Cohn and I swear to God that’s a compliment.
But there is the problem of his face. It’s really hard to get around. Also, he said “You like that?” in the middle of the song for some reason. I didn’t like that.
Grade: C-

Amelia Eisenhauser Sang “Wake Me Up” by Avicii
Keith Said: I like that you’re trying things.
J-Lo Said: I’m not sure it was the best song.
Harry Said: I think you need to find songs that are a little bit quirkier.
The Verdict:
Amelia is really trying to sing. Like SINGING. She put about forty-five notes into every single syllable in an attempt to make it clear that she really can sing. Good singers don’t have to do that.
After the super-note intro, the tempo picked up and her energy along with it. Her vocals, though, took a step back as she morphed from over-dramatic cabaret performer from a teenager in her high school talent show, bopping around and shouting instead of singing.
Another perfect example of somebody who’s just too young to be good.
Grade: D+

Jenn Blosil “Sorry” by Justin Bieber
Keith Said: I really commend the originality.
J-Lo Said: It was just a little shaky at the beginning.
Harry Said: It was extremely out of tune.
The Verdict:
Oh no! What happened to J-Blo!? Her voice sounded like it was running at about 65% capacity as she didn’t sing with near the power, confidence and clarity that she normally does.
Fortunately for J-Blo, 65% of her is better than 200% of most of these contestants. Especially when she does a really stripped down performance of a Justin Bieber song.
This performance had its moments, but it wasn’t a moment.
Grade: B-

CJ Johnson Sang “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain
Keith Said: Everything was so perfect for your voice.
J-Lo Said: I felt like you were singing that to me.
Harry Said: Make sure you sing it in tune.
The Verdict:
So CJ almost did a total sound-a-like performance of this song. It seriously may as well have been Edwin McCain with a touch of distorted guitar in the background – there was so little difference.
I guess on some level that’s commendable – I mean he did sound almost exactly like a professional singer singing his signature song, but shouldn’t CJ have been able to put his own signature on this tune? At least a little bit?
Grade: B

Lee Jean Sang “Runaway” by Ed Sheeran
Keith Said: I don’t know what’s up with the song choices tonight.
J-Lo Said: It’s all working, but you have to pick a better song.
Harry Said: You should practice singing while you’re playing.
The Verdict:
I’m very disappointed to find out Lee Jean pronounces his last name in the French way, totally undermining his perfect punny Lee Jeans name. It’s really something that I’m going to have a hard time getting over going forward.
I’m not sure how much of a forward they’ll be though as Lee really can’t sing a note. Like super flat and out-of-tune the entire performance. It’s a shame too because he has a really good since of rhythm and groove as he turns an Ed Sheeran song into something that actually seemed cool.
Lee does everything that makes singing great except the actual singing part.
Grade: C+

Trent Harmon Sang “What Are You Listening To?” by Chris Stapleton
Keith Said: I thought it was a great song choice.
J-Lo Said: You have something that I feel like is going to be in this competition for a long time.
Harry Said: It wasn’t the Trent that I’ve come to expect.
The Verdict:
So I mentioned about that I hadn’t heard of any of these songs. Well I REALLY haven’t heard of this song. I know Chris Stapleton just won every like every single Grammy on Monday, but I’m not familiar at all with his catalog.
That didn’t stop me from enjoying this. Trent delivered the song with an earnestness and vulnerability that made it seem like it was his own. Plus he can sing! He actually has a solid voice unlike seemingly everybody else on the show. And, hey, maybe the song was his.
Grade: B+

Tristan McIntosh “Good Girl” by Carrie Underwood
Keith Said: You have a lot of talent and you look like a million bucks.
J-Lo Said: The beginning was overthought, the end you were feeling more.
Harry Said: I heard you sing loud, but it was just okay.
The Verdict:
So now Tristan is a country girl who can’t sing too? What is this epidemic that’s taking over my ‘Idol’ stage? It simply must be stopped!
I guess if they have to keep one of the country girls around, it should be Kristen. She actually has some vocal moves beyond country karaoke as she exhibited with some really tremendous notes and some performance gears Shellie and Emily could never even approach.
I guess I can live with her nonsense country for a little while.
Grade: C+

Adam Lasher Sang “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro
Keith Said: You have to find the song that you can kill with your voice.
J-Lo Said: I couldn’t get into the melody of that song.
Harry Said: You need to drive the groove.
The Verdict:
So check this out. Sam is the oldest person on this show. And he looks like he’s the oldest person on this show by about 20 years. What does the oldest person do? Has the best voice. He’s the most confident and complete performer. He has his own unique persona, voice, stage presence. He’s just more accomplished than everybody else.
He also has a knockdown killer voice. He sang the hell out of this song and I have no idea why the judges didn’t like it – one of the most curious judgments I’ve ever seen on this show.
Grade: A-

Dalton Rapattoni Sang “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol
Keith Said: You never disappoint.
J-Lo Said: That made me feel something.
Harry Said: It was a phenomenal performance.
The Verdict:
Dalton chose one of the few songs that I’ve heard of and turned it into some weirdo Jim Steinem gothic rock opera showstopper complete with him lurching around the stage like Meat Loaf’s vampire nephew.
A total piece of musical theater that never rose above wannabe Adam Lambert except with about 10% of the voice.
Grade: D

Olivia Rox Sang “Confident” by Demi Lovato
Keith Said: The show starts now.
J-Lo Said: It’s a joy to listen to you sing. I dream about voices like yours.
Harry Said: It was strong, but find the rhythm.
The Verdict:
So Olivia can kinda sing a little bit. And she really wants everybody to know that. She doesn’t care about melody or phrasing or articulation or rhythm, she just cares about blowing out her instrument as awesomely as possible so people look up and say, “what a great voice!”.
Didn’t fool me.
Grade: C-

Check back tomorrow as we break down the duets and let you know who’s making it through to the live shows.

AMERICAN IDOL: Semifinal Results Recap

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It’s the beginning of the end. The start of conclusion. The third oxymoron. Whatever you want to call it, the performances got under way last night, and here’s the breakdown:

Stephany Negrete Sang “Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J
Keith Said: It was a really good song choice, but you could have loosened up even more.
J-Lo Said: You’re like the full package, but you need to connect the song to what you’re doing.
Harry Said: I felt that something was missing.
The Verdict:
Solid song choice by Stephany – if you have a blow away voice, why not choose the song of another singer who has a blow away voice right in your range? Stephany, though, suffers from an incredible lack of charisma. She walked around the stage with the timidity of newborn puppy as her discomfort overwhelmed any sort of manufactured fun she was attempting to muster.
This girl can sing, but I don’t think she can perform.
Grade: C+

Mackenzie Bourg Sang “Say Somthing” by A Great Big World
Keith Said: I believed every bit of it.
J-Lo Said: You did what Mackenzie does.
Harry Said: You changed the melody, but you kept the integrity of the song.
The Verdict:
Of course the sensitive “dork” sang the ultimate sensitive nice guy song complete with crappy acoustic guitar. The guy has a pleasant enough voice, but his delivery of the song was downright strange. This is a song about feeling like a relationship is slipping away and he sang it like some sort of modern Christmas Carol – strangely out of place.
Mackenzie might want to start understanding the lyrics before he chooses how to sing the song.
Grade: C-

Jeneve Mitchell Sang “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
Keith Said: You’re extraordinary.
J-Lo Said: I had goosies everywhere.
Harry Said: I would have rather just heard you sing the song.
The Verdict:
So chick played an honest-to-God harp on American Idol. Like full on stand-up harp with the double-strings and everything. I guess that’s pretty uniquely impressive.
Though in what’s supposed to be a singing contest, she didn’t exactly sing the song very well. She chose about nineteen different keys to get through a song that can’t help you think about ASPCA animals and want to put the performance out of its misery.
Grade: C

Jenna Renae Sang “My Church” by Maren Morris
Keith Said: I’m still curious to see other sides of you.
J-Lo Said: I felt like you were really in your element.
Harry Said: I liked the energy and enthusiasm, but your pitch was sacrificed because you shouted it.
The Verdict:
I have no idea what this song is, but I imagine it’s a country song. Jenna straight can’t sing. She sings like somebody imitating somebody singing. She’s woefully flat and tries to cover it up with a phony baloney soul tone that doesn’t work at all.
However, she does know how to sell the song. Watching her, you’d think she was a real-life performer with a great voice, but one look away and the pitchy vocals overtake whatever fun Jenna was having.
Grade: D+

James VIII “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West
Keith Said: Gotta be careful between being chill and indulgent.
J-Lo Said: Interesting choice of song because it stayed so even.
Harry Said: It was super easy and great, but it needs to get more complex.
The Verdict:
Oh shit. James is legit. Our first legit singer and performer of the night! I was beginning to lose faith…
James rocked this song effortlessly, with a cool blues tone and easy-going stage presence that made him seem like a pro from the ’70s just rocking another gig before he leaves the stage to get laid.
The song choice was a little lacking though, as it kind of kept James in one specific lane the entire time and didn’t really leave him anywhere to go once he started singing. He’s gotta have more moves than that and I hope he gets a chance to show them off.
Grade: B

Sonika Vaid Sang “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
Keith Said: Your voice is so good
J-Lo Said: Do songs that really make you feel something.
Harry Said: It was a really good job.
The Verdict:
This was kind of a Ricky Bobby performance – Sonika had no idea to do with her hands. She was half Celine Dion and half sign language interpreter as she stood perfectly still and tried to overpower her performance with her voice.
For somebody with such an outstanding voice, that’s not a bad strategy except Sonika didn’t quite hit the heights we’ve seen from her before and didn’t give a compelling enough vocal performance to overcome the fact that she was essentially a singing statue with weirdly moving arms.
Grade: B-

Gianna Isabella Sang “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Keith Said: It was a little inconsistent.
J-Lo Said: I think you have the best voice in the competition.
Harry Said: Challenge yourself to find as much meat in there as you can.
The Verdict:
This is a very accomplished performance from Gianna. She found about nine different gears with her voice through the 60 seconds she got to sing and used them in perfect synchronicity with the song’s lyrical and musical changes.
It’s kind of remarkable how much she got out of the incredibly short time they gave the singers tonight – a total beginning, middle and staggering end where she brought it home with a classic ‘Idol’ belt.
Gianna took the classic ‘Idol’ playbook and executed it expertly with a dead-on song choice that she completely maxed out.
Grade: B+

Emily Brooke Sang “I Am Invincible” by Cassadee Pope
Keith Said: That song didn’t play to your strengths.
J-Lo Said: I don’t think that was the best song for you.
Harry Said: I never heard you struggle with pitch as much as you just did.
The Verdict:
OK. ‘Idol’ may want to keep shoving blonde little country girls who can’t sing down our throats, but in this last season, I’m done with it. I don’t have any time for Emily and she can’t leave soon enough.
Grade: D-

Avalon Young “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber
Keith Said: Don’t be afraid to take charge.
J-Lo Said: You had the whole audience in the palm of your hands.
Harry Said: You seem to be the most in-tune with who you are.
The Verdict:
Avalon is totally refreshing on this show. She’s not interested in playing to some sort of type and is just her own sweet-singing self without any frills or tropes.
Plus the girl can sing. She’s like Becky G meets Rosie Perez and I swear to God that’s a compliment. And she can move – totally at ease on the stage and with commanding the audience to find the groove with her simply by finding it herself so easily.
She looks like the real surprise breakout of the first night.
Grade: B+

Jordan Sasser Sang “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen
Keith Said: Please don’t lose the emotion.
J-Lo Said: I kept wondering if you were finding the right part of your voice.
Harry Said: That was show-offy.
The Verdict:
Total oddball creepo performance from Jordan here. First of all, he looked David Hasselhoff with his rolled up leather jacket and strangely swooped hair. Second, he kept licking his lips as he hit his rests. Third, he turned this into a freakshow cabaret performance that was almost sociopathic in how much he was acting the lyrics instead of putting them through with real feeling. The lighting didn’t help either.
Jordan hit some solid notes, but that’s about all the good that came from this performance, and I don’t even know that the good notes outweighed the bad ones.
Grade: D+

Thomas Stringfellow Sang “Creep” by Radiohead
Keith Said: It’s really compelling.
J-Lo Said: You were pushing the envelope and I like that.
Harry Said: I thought that was tremendous.
The Verdict:
So I think we can all agree we hate this kid. He sings Radiohead in a strange clipped phrasing that I guess he learned from Selena Gomez or Jason Mraz or some other stupid modern take on singing that doesn’t make any sense. He’s holding his guitar almost like he’s playing it classically except that wouldn’t make sense. And he’s wearing a stupid hat. What’s not to hate?
What’s worse is that he actually has an excellent voice. Some nice clean tonal power there that gets lost in his ridiculous phrasing and need to over-emote everything. I think if this kid just sang a song like a normal person would, he’d be pretty good. Right now, he’s just irritating in his attempt to be so connected.
Grade: C

La’Porsha Renae Sang “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner
Keith Said: You’ve never been conscious of how good you are.
J-Lo Said: It’s a joy to listen to you sing. I dream about voices like yours.
Harry Said: You’re either going to make the other performers want to get better or make them want to quit.
The Verdict:
OK, everybody else. You were just the appetizer. The amuse-bouche. The first course leading up to the sumptuous entree that is La’Porsha.
La’Porsha took over the stage for her brief performance window like a total pro with easily the best performance of the night and one of the best vocals. She owned everything about this song without having to force a single moment – she just seems right in the spotlight.
I guess the only complaints is that her voice isn’t as strong as she is a performer, and she did absolutely nothing with the song – but it was so much fun that those issues weren’t as glaring as they might have been with anybody else tonight.
Grade: B+

No Predicitions yet. But check back tomorrow as we break down the duets and let you know who’s making it through to the live shows.