At last, it’s the live stages of American Idol as we reach our top 24. Except it’s not quite live, as the show was actually pre-recorded last Friday. In a departure from previous seasons, this year there is no gradual cull to bring us down to our final 12 of six boys and six girls. Instead we have a single semi-final round, from which the top five boys and the top five girls will be joined by three wild card qualifiers picked by the judges themselves to leave us with a final 13.
It’s pretty brutal. Hopefully we won’t have to put up with a traumatised J-Lo having to be persuaded to stay. Let’s leave the flouncing diva strops to the contestants, shall we?
On with the show. R-Jack is all black t-shirt and black leather. (Did he arrive on a Harley?) J-Lo is wearing what I think are earrings but might actually just be seven-storey buildings. And S-Ty has his very own American Idol speech bubble-on-a-stick so he can censor himself when he swears. Like that’s going to work …
In running order, here are my thoughts on the choices and performances of our 12 male semi-finalists.
Clint Jun Gamboa: Superstition – Stevie Wonder
As his introductory video reminds us, Clint Jun Gamboa is the karaoke host who dreams of greater things, like winning a lookalike competition to find the best Penfold from Danger Mouse. Or reducing 15-year old
Justin Blubber™ Jacee Badeaux to tears on Group Night. That sort of thing.
Clint’s choice is that old Stevie Wonder and Idol staple, Superstition. It’s a nice up-tempo number to kick off the show and he performs it pretty well. However, choosing a song we have seen performed on Idol countless times before is a double-edged sword. For all that Clint hits all the right notes and shows off some decent stage-craft, there’s no real originality in the arrangement and he gets a bit shrieky towards the end. Dare I say it: it’s a bit karaoke, really.
There’s no karaoke singer in the world that’s got that kind of vocal talent.
True. But the greatest karaoke singer in the world is still just a karaoke singer.
Jovany Barreto: I’ll Be – Edwin McCain
One for the ladies, Jovany Barreto‘s introductory video has him showing off his rippling abs at his initial audition, and then walking away from the Green Mile declaring, Rocky-like, “No more shipyard for me, baby! No more shipyard for me! Adrian! Adrian!!!” (Okay, I may have added that last bit.)
Sadly, that’s about as exciting as it gets. Any energy created by Clint’s performance is dissipated faster than the air from a punctured balloon as Jovany produces a dull rendition of a ballad which wasn’t overly fascinating to begin with. He croons and sways awkwardly like Rocky after taking one jab to the chin too many. The audience responds by swaying in sympathy, or possibly because they’re in danger of falling asleep.
It felt very karaoke. You can do whatever song you want but you’ve got to bring something different and new and unique to it or else it just kinda sounds like the original but not nearly as good.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. No more Idol for you, baby! No more Idol!
We are reminded that Jordan Dorsey‘s original audition gave J-Lo “goose pimples all over my body”. And he wants to be a legend, apparently. We remember him better as the guy who rejected lots of people who wanted to join his group in Hollywood, and then promptly abandoned to join another ensemble due to ‘creative differences’. Or possibly because he’s just a bit of a numpty.
His performance of Usher‘s OMG certainly has me mouthing those exact words, for all the wrong reasons. We get a combination of ill-advised, wooden sub-Usher dance moves and a falsetto section which is so far out of tune that the right notes are practically in the next building. Jordan looks and sounds really uncomfortable, and it’s obvious that this was in no way his first song choice. Whoever picked it, it was a suicidal option. Nothing about this performance worked in any way, shape or form. A car crash from start to finish.
This was kind of pitchy, all over the place. When you went to the falsetto you didn’t quite hit the notes right.
Which is putting it mildly.
Tim Halperin: Streetcorner Symphony – Rob Thomas
In his introductory spiel, Tim Halperin‘s voiceover declares “I write music, I play music and I put my heart and soul into it.”
What follows is the very antithesis of this as we get another very odd selection. A mid-tempo song. A middle of the road performance as he meanders unconvincingly from one side of the stage to the other. It’s competent enough, but utterly anonymous and eminently forgettable. Even the audience reaction is somewhat muted.
I’m not sure if that song did you any justice. It really let you down.
A terrible choice, showing up the fact that Tim probably isn’t real solo artist material. A boy-band, maybe.
Brett Loewenstern: Light My Fire – The Doors
Brett Loewenstern says “I would describe myself as a red apple in a pile of green apples” over a montage of him dancing really badly. (UK Apprentice fans will recall this sounds awfully like Alex Epstein‘s “If I was an apple pie, the apples inside would be orange.”)
Brett is something of a polarising character. Either you love him for his slightly hippy, awkward one-in-the-eye-for-the-bullies position, or you just want to punch him in the face. I’ve been in two minds throughout, and I still am after his performance of Light My Fire. I was hoping (to paraphrase The Italian Job) that he was going to blow the bloody doors off, but instead he politely taps on them. His vocals are a bit too controlled and constrained, when I really wanted him to let rip. And there is lots of hair-tossing and strutting, but it all feels a bit too choreographed. He’s no Freddie Mercury, that’s for sure.
That was like more hair-tossing than me and Beyonce put together. I liked your performance. I liked that you are who you are.
But how much of America will like him for who he is, and how many will turn away in their droves?
James Durbin: You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ – Judas Priest
There’s no doubt that Tourette’s/Asperger’s/AdamLambertitis sufferer James Durbin is genuinely psyched to have made it this far, and his song choice here – the first time a Judas Priest song has ever been done on Idol – is inspired. He is able to channel his inner Lambert to produce a full-on rock performance which allows him to incorporate his lung-bursting screams without them becoming, Siobhan Magnus-style, the focal point of the performance. It is a nerveless performance full of energy, and one of the few on the night which is truly memorable. It also positions him neatly into the rock niche, which gives him a distinct identity which will set him aside from everyone else in the competition.
That was crazy good! I love it that you’re over the top.
That never did Adam Lambert any harm, certainly. James isn’t as good, but with some judicious choices he can go a long way in this competition.
Robbie Rosen: Angel – Sarah McLachlan
Other than reminding me of The Sopranos‘ Christopher Moltisanti, I just don’t get Robbie Rosen. He’s a nice kid with a good voice, but Sarah McLachlan‘s Angel? Seriously? Is that really the kind of artist you want to be? His performance is a little pitchy, but I had already tuned out annoyed by an excess of really quite distracting warbling that buried the original melody and flattened any emotional impact.
When you sing songs you have to tell a story, and you do. When you sing you feel every single word.
R-Jack, however, is much less keen. I’m with him.
Scotty McCreery: Letters From Home – John Michael Montgomery
Unlike Robbie, there is no mistaking what kind of artist Scotty McCreery wants to be. He is a good old-fashioned country singer, a real throwback to the era of Johnny Cash. I wasn’t familiar with the song he chose, but it was absolutely spot-on for his voice. You can just picture him performing as he did here, drawling throwback country songs on a stool, maybe with his guitar in hand. Regardless of how he does in the competition, he is surely nailed-on to pick up a recording contract.
As far as actually winning Idol is concerned, hough? I don’t think so. He is very good at what he does but he’s a one-trick pony – which is fine in the real world – who we have already seen struggle badly when asked to perform anything in a different genre.
I don’t think you could have picked a better song to represent who you are and what you are. That was beautiful.
Stefano Langone: Just The Way You Are – Bruno Mars
Stefano Langone‘s choice of song is not the greatest. How many people are sick to death of hearing this over the past year, even if it is the next great first-dance-at-a-wedding song? As for the performance, I found the change of key off-putting, and even then on the high notes he was going so sharp that he could only be sold to over-18s licensed to carry deadly weapons.
The judges all raved about him, but I thought this was one of the weakest performances of the night. The acoustics in the theatre may be tricky, but America has a habit of punishing anyone who misses notes as obviously as this.
Every time you get up there I can be sure that I’m going to have my hands in the air and I’m going to be grooving with you. You’re a beast up there.
Paul McDonald: Maggie May – Rod Stewart
If you have ever wondered what the love child of Kenny Loggins and James Blunt would look like – come on, don’t tell me you haven’t – then look no further than Paul McDonald. I really should like this guy – he’s a bit left-field, has some really interesting tone to his voice, and is a breath of fresh air in terms of being an individual performer rather than a carefully groomed clone. But whenever I hear him sing, it’s like listening to nails being scraped across a blackboard to me.
Maggie May, however, is a perfect choice of song. There are echoes of Rod Stewart in the tone of his voice, but without sounding like a pale carbon copy of it. The song shows off his unique tone, and he is also a natural but quirky stage performer.
You are just so unique and different, different I think from anything we’ve had on the show.
And that just may be Paul’s biggest problem. Will he appeal enough to Idol‘s core demographic – young and female – to win enough votes to see him through? And by the way, will someone please tell J-Lo that you can’t call someone “very unique”? Either they are unique or they’re not – there are no shades of one-of-a-kind-ness, are there?
Jacob Lusk: A House Is Not a Home – Luther Vandross
It’s hard not to like Jacob Lusk, even before he has started singing. The man has a smile which could light up a dark room and a voice to die for, so it’s easy to forgive his loud and excitable jumping around.
His performance of this Luther Vandross classic is heart-meltingly brilliant. His range is just crazy, and the arrangement here allows him to show off at both ends of it, including the most incredible low run combined with some soaring highs to finish with, and all of it delivered with genuine emotion and a deftness of touch. It had me rising to my feet, earning him my first standing O of this season.
Divine intervention has brought you here. I am honoured to be in your presence. You make me cry when you sing.
Amen to that. I don’t say this lightly: Jacob may just be the best pure male singer Idol has ever seen.
Casey Abrams: I Put A Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Casey Abrams had been hospitalised with stomach problems earlier in the week, and at one stage his participation was seriously in doubt. Thankfully he did recover, although he clearly did not look 100%.
I Put A Spell On You would have been a risky choice for anyone, not least a white, 19-year old film camp counsellor. But, 100% or not, Casey’s vocal and stage performance hits all the right notes. His delivery is intense and dripping with the spirit of the blues, a real throwback sound which belongs in a smoky cellar somewhere in the deep South.
A decent singer can hit the right notes. A great one can own a song. But it takes a rare and special talent to inhabit a song and truly make it their own. Which is what Casey does here with a performance which is somehow both a throwback and contemporary, and it earns him my second standing O of the evening.
You’re going to redefine what this whole thing is. You came out with the hunger the fire and you took it and ate it. I loved it.
I have to say, the talent on show here was outstanding overall, and certainly far stronger in depth than I can remember in previous seasons. Jordan (and to a lesser extent Stefano) aside, everyone was at least competent – and several were far more than that. Right now, I would have Jacob and Casey head and shoulders above any of the other guys – and streets ahead of last year’s winner Lee DeWyze – but it will be a tough call for the judges when it comes to determining their wild card picks.
Tomorrow night it’s the turn of the girls, followed by the results show which will determine our final 13 for 2011. For what it’s worth, here are my predictions for how the boys will shake out:
Top five: James, Robbie, Scotty, Jacob, Casey
Possible wild cards: Clint, Brett, Paul
Going home: Jovany, Jordan, Tim, Stefano
American Idol posts
Auditions: New Jersey, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco
Hollywood Week: Solo auditions, Group round, Final round
Las Vegas & Green Mile: Las Vegas & Green Mile part 1, Green Mile part 2
Link: American Idol website