I was pleasantly surprised by this week's performances. This group probably had the fewest people I was really looking forward to, and I think it ended up being the strongest week so far performance-wise. I think this group had an advantage, because they got to see the mistakes the first two groups made...this was by FAR the best group from a song choice perspective.
Oh, and Simon Cowell Week during the Top 12? Best. Idea. EVAH.
On with the show...
1) Von Smith - "You're All I Need to Get By": During all of the prelims, I really didn't know what to make of this guy...he just seemed like kind of a weird dude, and then he had this over-the-top shouty singing voice and performing style. He kind of reminded me of a 1930's vaudeville type, I guess? Don't know if I'm explaining that right...I guess I'll go back to "seemed like kind of a weird dude."
So I was very happy to see that he did take the judge's advice and dialed back the vocal theatrics. In fact, it was almost like he was whispering when the song first started, and I was afraid he may have gone too far in the OTHER direction. But once he got going, this turned into a very enjoyable performance. Nice control, especially in the higher register, and I think he did what so many in the earlier weeks struggled with...picked a good song and sung it well. He's not going to be helped by going first, though.
Oh, and then Simon compares him to Clay Aiken, and I can totally see that, but you can imagine how it would throw you if you were in Von's shoes. 'Cause I was a fan of Clay when he was on the show, but looking at what he has become now...I'm not sure if I could still be friends with somebody if they started comparing me to Clay Aiken, right?
2) Taylor Vaifanua - "If I Ain't Got You": First of all, Ryan and I are kindred spirits in at least one way...the whole "family" thing reduces him to a big ole crybaby, just like it does me, as we see him fighting back tears as Taylor's sister tries to say how proud she is of Taylor at her audition. Ryan is awesome, I don't care what anybody says.
Second of all, what is she wearing on her legs? They are very....metallic-looking. Is she a super-hero? Because that would be pretty awesome, if we could somehow mix Heroes with American Idol. I know there have been PLENTY of times on this show when it would have been nice to have Sylar around to saw off a few heads, ya know? Not mentioning any names but....you feel me, DAWG?!??
ANYWAY. This, unfortunately, is going to be one of those nice little performances that nobody remembers (of course, I thought that about Kris last week, and look how that turned out). She has some breath control issues a couple of times that I think can be attributed to nerves, but other than that this is a pretty good performance.
And then, in the judges commentary, Paula starts what will be an unnerving trend in this show...she actually remembers what Taylor sang during Hollywood week. Since when does Paula remember stuff?
3) Alex Wagner Trugman - "Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues": Now, THIS guy is funny...much funnier than Normund, who is a self-proclaimed "comedian." I've really liked this guy ever since his initial audition. Apparently, Paula has as well, since it looks like she tried to eat him during Hollywood week. That was...unsettling.
The song starts out really well, as he shows off the very pure tone to his voice, which is totally unexpected from the looks of him, and then....WOAH. Why is he growling at us? I'm having enough problems with this little dorky looking math tutor singing about "rolling like thunder under the covers" without him throwing THAT into the mix. Is that supposed to be funny? Sexy? That's not sexy, that's ANIMAL.
He seems genuinely confused by the judges critique of his vocal "stylings," so I still don't know whether that was supposed to be serious or not. Of course, Genuine Confusion seems to be his default expression, so I'm at a loss....
4) Arianna Afsar - "The Winner Takes it All": OK, Arianna...get over it. You ARE cute. And when you get a little older, you're going to realize that pointing that out is not an insult. Believe me, there is no greater compliment that you can receive from Simon or Kara than "You are Marketable," which is basically what they were saying. You have an advantage to making it in the music business because of the way you look, and you are stupid if you don't take advantage of it. Not that she's gorgeous or anything, but she does have the "look" of a teen pop star.
She picked a GREAT song (yeah, I like ABBA...what of it?), but then totally screwed it up with some weird arrangement. She was flat at the beginning, with some of that Britney-inspired word pronunciation, it sounded like she was ahead of the band during the verse, and she kept doing the same little Mariah-runs over and over again. She lost her breath at the end, causing cracks on the glory notes. Simon was right, as usual...that song was too big for her.
Great song choice, bad execution.
5) Ju'Not Joyner - "Hey There, Delilah": Cool arrangement on the song, very pure, soulful voice. There is literally nothing for me to be snarky about here, other than that his hat is crooked. Kara was right, "smooth" is the best way to describe this performance. I loved it.
6) Kristen McNamara - "Give Me One Reason": Wow, she's only 24? She must be living HARD.
She does have a great voice, and this is yet another great song chosen tonight. Shows off her pipes, at least until a little trouble at the end.
Boy, she really does have an identity crisis, doesn't she? Isn't 24 a little old to be letting other people tell you who you're supposed to be? If you're the crazy girl who colors her hair and wears weird clothes, then OWN THAT. If you start trying to change who you are every time somebody, no matter who they are, tells you that you should, then you are going to end up very confused...much like Kristen seems to be.
Speaking of confused....
7) Nathaniel Marshall - "I Would Do Anything for Love": See, now here is the danger to following the advice I just gave Kristen. There is a HUGE difference between "being who you are" and shoving "who you are" into everybody's face over and over again and then not understanding when they pull away from you. And I'm not even just talking about the gay thing, it goes for jocks, geeks, frat boys, sorority girls, whomever...some people just don't get the difference between a "personality" and a "persona," so they never stop performing whatever "label" they've decided to put on themselves long enough to just BE.
Anyway...what was I saying? Right: Nathaniel. So he comes out in this god-awful outfit, with the headband, and the hair teased, and the flouncing around and the flirty faces and the pointing in the camera, and it's just...too much. Honestly. I felt like I was watching an SNL skit.
This guy is obviously ACHING for attention, and this is certainly an appropriate song choice for him, though I'm honestly not sure what the "That" is that he says he WON'T do because, come on...just TRY to come up with something that you think Nathaniel Marshall will NOT do for love. I know, right? I can't think of anything either.
Sad part of it is he actually has a nice voice...too bad it's overshadowed by the production.
8) Felicia Barton - "No One": She really seems to have updated her look since the audition times, and she looks much more marketable (don't worry, Arianna...I didn't say "cute). I confess, this song is one of those that I have to listen to every time I pass it on the radio...very catchy. And it is a SINGER'S song, so it is a good song choice for her. She certainly has pipes...she loses it a little in the middle...I think she lost her breath (probably nerves) and overshot on a note or two, then panicked for a minute, which caused even more shaky notes. But, she pulled it together in the end, and I thought it was a very good performance overall. She can definitely sing...she just kind of oversang it in the middle.
9) Scott MacIntyre - "Mandolin Rain": OK, here is where I'm going to be labeled the big ole meanie...if this guy could see, do you think he would still be in the competition? His voice is better than average, but nothing great. He sings all John Tesh soft rock songs, with a delivery that is very "rehearsed"....in other words, every word is very ar-tic-u-lat-ed, very managed. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just seems out of place in a pop star karaoke competition.
Also....jeez, I'm a terrible human being, I know...but his eyes freak me out a little. Would it kill him to wear some sunglasses? Hey, if it's good enough for Ronnie Milsap, it's good enough for me, that's what I always say. Always, I say that.
OK, enough, enough...he seems like an awfully nice fella, and when he asked Ryan for a high five, I just about fell out. I won't be terribly upset if he makes it to the top 12, but I also think that if he wasn't blind he would be out already...and that's not prejudiced, that's the exact OPPOSITE of prejudiced.
10) Kendall Beard - "This One's For the Girls": Well, she's cute as a button, I'll give her that (sorry, Arianna). But she's really going out on a limb by taking on Martina McBride...if you're going to do that, you better have the pipes to back it up. Unfortunately, she does NOT. This song was entirely too big for her, and she never had a shot.
Quick aside...looks like just about everybody this week noticed the judges ragging on song choice, because almost all of them are picking big Singer's Songs, where you can really blast it out and show off your skillzz. Gotta be careful with that, though, because if you outreach your ability then a song like that can really demonstrate your shortcomings. Case in point...Kendall. She could have sang any number of country songs to show her "country girl" personality without trying to take on one of the biggest voices country music has ever seen.
One more quick aside...this was a really weird song. Maybe it's a chick thing and I didn't get it? "We're all the same on the inside?" What does that mean? I mean, it's basically true, from an anatomical perspective, but I don't think that is what it is talking about....is it? Does it mean all girls are the same? If so, that's a pretty sexist song, isn't it?
11) Jorge Nunez - "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me": Is he really only 21? He looks much older than that. Super, fantastic, gorgeous voice...and the producers gave him a nice little split-screen effect for dramatic purposes. Hey, try and at least hide the bias a LITTLE bit, OK guys? Of course, the backup singers certainly were not biased, at least not favorably...they sounded like butt. But seriously, this was really pretty...definitely a "big voice ballad" singer in the mold of Jon Secada.
And then they go to the judges, and things get crazy. Simon started off OK by saying that they should not have told him to lose his accent, which I agree with. But then he went on to call him Spanish about 3-4 times, which...he's not Spanish. It's like calling everybody from Central or South America "Mexican", or all Oriental people "Chinese."
And then Paula, of course, makes it worse by asking him to dance and talk in his accent like he did in Hollywood, and it's like...dude. He's not your wind-up toy. And THEN, she follows that up with, "What? It's FUNNY!" when Simon calls her out (rightfully so, but...you kind of gave up the moral high ground, like, 5 seconds ago) about being patronizing. Good grief, what a mess. Those who know me know that I'm not a big "politically correct" type guy, but come on. "Dance for me, Jorge! And talk in that cute funny little accent! Man, all you Spanish folks are just alike!"
Meanwhile, Jorge is just soaking it all in...he's just happy to be there, and I'm happy for him, but it actually makes me a little sad that he is intentionally trying to lose his accent, just because Paula Abdul told him to. He needs to just be himself...there is a HUGE audience out there for Latin singers (or, SPANISH singers, as Simon would say).
12) Lil Rounds - "Bein' Without You": Wow. That was awesome. You can always tell the ones who are going to be the ones who stick around for a while...they are the ones who make you momentarily forget you are watching a karaoke show and instead make you think you are watching a concert. Bo Bice singing Whipping Post, Carrie Underwood singing Alone, David Cook singing Hello...and this definitely had that kind of a feel for me. Maybe not to that level yet, but this girl is good.
Good batch of performances this week. Outside of that cute girl who murdered ABBA, there were no actively BAD performances, I didn't think.
Who I voted for: Von, Ju'Not, Jorge, Lil, Kristen, Felicia (this was by FAR the strongest week).
Who will make it: Scott, Lil, Jorge.
- Finally got some clarification on the Wild Card rules...apparently, the judges will bring back 8-9 people Thursday night (either 8 or 9, probably depending on who goes through tonight), they will all "sing for their life," and then the judges will pick 3 and the other 5 or 6 will be eaten by Randy Jackson. Or something, I don't know...THEY are the ones who brought up the "Sing for Your LIFE!!!!!" thing, not me.
That is a LOT to be happening in a one hour show...poor little Ryan's head is going to explode.
I'll try to be back tomorrow with predictions on who they will bring back and who will make it, but having heard all of the performers at this point, here is who would be in my personal top 12 (including the ones already voted in):
Megan Corkey (Shut up...I still love her)
The last female slot was the hardest decision for me...I would be OK with Felicia Barton here, as well, and maybe Ann Marie Boskovich or Kristen McNamara. Feel free to leave your predictions, as well...
My above list assumes that the judges will try and even out guys and girls...if they just take 12, regardless, then add Jorge Nunez and Matt Giraud and remove Mishavonna and Jessie. I know Matt was awful last time we saw him, but I want to see him with his piano in the top 12.