Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The competition begins, with the women

We’ve finally made it! The American Idol semifinals are here, and Fox gave us two full hours as a reward–although even for an Idol lover like me, two hours is a really long time, especially since Fox certainly didn’t skimp on the commercials. On the other hand, they didn’t have to rush through the show like they did last year in this round, and we got short clips of each singer talking a little about themselves and why they picked their song–particularly important for the three or four singers we’d never seen before last Wednesday. And the judges had plenty of time to critique, which is a good thing–Simon has plenty of time to figure out what bad meal or European trip a particular contestant makes him remember. Unfortunately, the show tonight wasn’t live (as I said a few times last year, I think the live element adds that special element of danger and surprise), but I guess that’s what separates the semi-finals from the finals. And the results show will be live Thursday.
Before we get to the singers, a couple words about Paula Abdul. Everyone’s been talking about how Paula has seemed tougher this year than in the past–so much so that Ryan even asked her about it. I was amused by her answer that everyone now is a critic at home and knows when someone is pitchy–to be honest, I’m still not totally sure when exactly someone is pitchy, but Paula, we’ve all been critics at home since season one. That’s why we enjoy the show–we can judge at home, and then hear what the judges on the show say. Anyway, I don’t think her judging tonight was that much tougher than in the past–sure, she did criticize a couple people, but she’s always occasionally done that–but at least she wasn’t wildly effusive over pedestrian performances, which is an accomplishment. On the other hand, Paula had also been looking very attractive this year, but tonight I thought she did not look good at all. I don’t know whether it was the hairstyle, the makeup, or just that I’ve been up since 6 a.m. and I’m really tired, but something was wrong. Maybe she’s shaken up from asking Dr. Phil to find her a man. (Did anyone see that show? I’d love to have a report.)
And one last judging note: Randy has apparently started to used the word “wow” in the same manner he uses the term “dog,” i.e. all the time. But Randy, using the term “wow” to express surprise at how bad you thought something was, as you did a couple times tonight, is pretty harsh and should be reserved for truly, stunningly bad performances. On to the singers:

Mandisa(“Never”)--Every year we have at least one female singer who drops their last name because they have a unique first name, and Mandisa has stepped up to the plate to claim that title this year. And she was very good–she has a powerful voice, and pleasantly surprised me by picking a rock song instead of what I expected, a gospel-tinged ballad. I’m unsure what Paula was talking about when she referred to how difficult it is to “take on Heart” (Is “Barracuda” a really complicated melody?), and I’m not ready to proclaim that she’ll still be in the competition in mid-May like Simon is (really, Simon, she was the very first singer of the final 24 and you’re making a pronunciation like that?), but I’m curious about what she’ll do in the coming weeks.

Kellie “Pick” Pickler (“How Far”)–I’ve been a fan of Kelllie since we heard her story in the Greensboro audition (mother left her when she was very young, her dad’s in prison), and if she keeps dedicating songs to her dad and stuff, she’ll get a lot of votes. I’m not sure, though, that she has the vocal chops to keep up with some of the powerhouses we saw tonight. She was solid tonight, and has that “likeability factor,” as the judges mentioned, but I didn’t think she was great. And I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a huge fan of country music–it’s fine on occasion, but I hope her choice tonight of a Martina McBride song tonight doesn’t indicate a Carrie Underwood-like affinity for that style.

Becky O’Donohue (“Because the Night”)–Unfortunately, Becky seems to be our first representative tonight in the “she’s only an OK singer, but she’s hot, so we put her through to the semifinals” category. It seems like Randy and Simon even conceded that tonight–didn’t both of them say she was better than they thought or a pleasant surprise? Anyway, I thought she was pretty bad. I ran my tape back and listened to it again, and it sounded worse the second time. I found myself much more interested in figuring out what CD she received at Christmas as a little kid that had “Because the Night” on it. It wasn’t the album with the Patti Smith original on it, because who would give a young child a Patti Smith record? It could have been the 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged album with a cover of that song, but I believe that album came out in 1993 or 1994–which would make the 25-year-old Becky12 or 13 and likely too old. So I guess it was the Bruce Springsteen live boxed set with his version of the song (which he wrote) which came out in the mid-1980s and would make her about 5 or 6 years old. I’m kind of puzzled that of the three dozen or so songs in that set, she and her sister would choose “Because the Night” as the one to go crazy over, but I guess a 5 year old wouldn’t appreciate the acoustic version of “Thunder Road,” for instance.

Ayla Brown (“Reflection”)–So Ayla Brown’s big hardship in high school was overcoming the disrespect from her teammates on the boys’ football team. I’m not even sure what to say about that, but I guess everyone has their own problems. But can you imagine how they would have reacted if she had left the football team to go try out for American Idol? Only her girls’ basketball teammates have to deal with that, though, and I would think they’re probably pretty annoyed. Especially because after watching tonight, she’s unlikely to get close to winning the competition. But she was certainly good enough to get through to next week. She has a pleasant, surprisingly strong voice (I guess Randy and Simon are rubbing off on me), and I thought she handled a difficult song well. I also thought that she looked better with no makeup on the basketball court than she did heavily made up when singing, but I’m not sure how relevant that is.

Paris Bennett (“Midnight Train to Georgia”)–That really deserves a “Wow,” Randy. She was great–fabulous singing, a fun performance (like when she pretended to blow the train whistle a couple times) and she just commanded the stage. This performance really got me excited for the season to come. Oh, and I liked that Paris did her hair like Gladys Knight--she really got into this one.

Stevie Scott (“To Where You Are”)–I didn’t really care for her performance, bascially because she sang most of it in a high, falsetto voice and I really don’t like that (or at least I don’t like to hear that from women; the guy from Coldplay sings in a falsetto and I don’t mind it from him.) It was kind of boring, and Paula, it was not “ethereal.” What most interested me about Stevie was her statement that “I know I can bring it” after she was panned by the judges. First of all, is this how people talk now? Can you please define your pronoun? What exactly are you going to bring? Second, why didn’t you “bring it” in week one? Did you leave it at the hotel? And third, Stevie said she could sing in five languages? How would you say “I know I can bring it” in Italian? Oh, and Simon said the performance sounded like a “Sunday lunch” where someone comes out and sings out of tune. Who are Simon’s friends who are apparently always bringing out people to sing when he eats at their houses? I’d like to spend a week with Simon just going to meals and visiting places like Brazilian piano bars and cabarets in Belgium, so I could then have all these bases for comparison that he has.

Brenna Gethers (“You Are the Sunshine Of My Life”)–Midway through this performance, I wrote in my notebook “wrong song.” And then Randy and Simon said the same thing. Brenna is annoying and full of herself, but that’s her “thing.” Singing a quiet, kind of boring song takes everything that’s interesting about her away. And while I understand she wants to show “humility,” it came across as calculating and forced–as just an attempt to curry favor with the voters because she thinks that’s what people want to see. She’s probably right–she’s unlikely to win the competition without showing some humility–but it’s probably too late to change that now. Her die has been cast. Oh, and if you are trying to be curry favor with the American public, encouraging the crowd to boo Simon is not a smart move.

Heather Cox (“When You Tell Me That You Love Me”)–She’s in the same category in which Becky O’Donohue has been classified..And I’m a really big fan of American Idol, but actually singing the group single from last year is a bit much. As Simon said, it was “forgettable.” And he was right about sounding like an elocution lesson–when they played the review of the singers at the end, she was really enunciating every word in the clip they showed.

Melissa McGhee (“When The Lights Go Down”)–Had we ever seen here before? I don’t think so, and I was glad she pointed that out to the viewers–it’s not really fair that she hasn’t been seen at all until this round. I liked her raspy tone of voice, and thought she sung the song OK, but I really don’t like the song. Does that song have more than one verse? It just seemed like one long chorus, with the line “when the lights go down” just repeated over and over. Maybe it was just the portion of the song she sung, but it just seemed kind of frantic.

Lisa Tucker (“I Am Changing”)–She gave a very impressive performance–the singing was great and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next. But Randy, very briefly in passing, touched on my problem with her when he said the song may have been “too old.” I agree–it was a grown up song that was too old for a 16 year old, and the mannerisms and other things in her performance just came across as a little too polished and professional for such a young girl. But maybe I’ll warm up to her. And I’ll repeat Paula’s comments just for everyone’s enjoyment: “You have this precious little gift that lights this fire inside my heart.”

Kinnik Sky (“Get Here”)–Another person we hadn’t seen perform before–we only saw her as the last person picked for the final 24 on Wednesday. And she selected the song Justin Guarini sang at his audition and on the final night in season one–probably not good karma. And I agreed with Simon, she also came across as too old–although in a different way than Lisa Tucker did. She may be 28, but everything from the way she dressed to the sound of her voice to the way she just stood at the microphone gave me the impression she was much older, and I just wasn’t all that interested.

Katherine McPhee (“Since I Fell For You”)–Simon said she was the best of the night and I’m not sure about that–especially because less than two hours earlier he had labeled Mandisa a sure finalist. But she was really good–although I wasn’t crazy about the not particularly contemporary song. And she’s extraordinarily attractive, which always helps in American Idol. I would watch for one thing, though. She apparently struggled some in the Hollywood auditions, after wowing the judges in her original audition with a song she had probably been singing for years. This song also was obviously one she learned with her mother the voice coach long ago. It might be interesting if she struggles with other new songs later in the competition. Of course, maybe she knows enough songs that won’t be a problem. I hope so, because when you put her, Paris, Mandisa and Lisa in the final 12, you have a pretty good competition.

Who’s going home? It’s tough, but I would send home Becky and Kinnik. I think the voters, though, will pick Kinnik and Stevie. Fingerhut out.


Blogger Amy said...

Okay, I am in total agreement with Paris. Commanded the stage is the phrase and she owned it..good way to represent Atlanta!
Who cares if Becky is hot, her singing is not.
The one at the end (voice coach daughter) I thought was very good and would like to see what she can do with her voice.
Good way to start off the final 12 girls and I am not sure we have guys this good! Oh, and perfect timing by NBC so that I could see all of the important skaters after Idol ended...GO SASHA COHEN!!

2/22/06, 12:13 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Great one. I agree, though I didn't buy into Paris as much as you--she was a little much for me with the dancing and hamminess.

I'm a Katharine McPhee man, myself, though I liked Lisa Tucker and Pickler, too.

You left out one of my favorite Simonisms: that Brenna's performance was like something you'd see in a "ghastly hotel" and she actually responded with something like, "that wasn't a ghastly hotel performance." I found her a little extreme, though Ryan was certainly egging her on. But her dancing at the end of the show while the credits rolled was like something you'd see in a stripclub.

2/22/06, 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

This was real good. Kellie is the best.

I do think that no one else was that good. Paris was okay.

I'm looking forward to the guys tonight. I like Ace.

2/22/06, 5:45 PM  

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