Thursday, February 28, 2013

AI Recap: The Perks of Being Marketable...

It's Week 2 of the "sudden death" rounds, when the judges already have their list of people who are going to make it and just go through the motions of humoring the contestants listen to 10 singers in a group and then have to make "brutal" cuts to send only five to the top 20. Honestly, next year, why don't we divide the singers into two groups: The Chosen Ones, and Talented Cannon Fodder?

Watching the introductions of the contestants, I swear that Zoanette looks like a reject from RuPaul's Drag Race. Man, oh man.

First up was 19-year-old Melinda Ademi, an emigree from Kosovo who auditioned in Season 10. She sang Nobody's Perfect by Jessie J (the same song Angela Miller sang last week), and it was far from perfect. I could tell what she was trying to accomplish, and her voice has a nice smoky tone, but I thought she sounded shouty and hoarse. Keith said it sounded as if her nerves got on top of her, but praised her raw potential and talent. Nicki trotted out her whole "ladybug" thing again, and said the whole time Melinda was singing, she was remembering Angela's performance last week. (Ironically, following Angela's performance last week, all Nicki could talk about was the original song she performed the week before, but I'll bet these judges aren't counting on someone actually writing down their words.) She said she liked it, but didn't love it, and chided her for singing two Jessie J songs over the course of the competition. Randy was unimpressed, while Mariah noted she heard a "waver" in Melinda's voice, and wished her all the best of luck in the competition, an affectation she repeated several times.

Candice Glover who was inexplicably cut during Vegas Week last season (watch her group number from Vegas last season and see what I mean by "inexplicably"), looks facially a little like Queen Latifah, and certainly could be considered an early favorite. She sang Aretha's (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman, a song that, in my opinion, will never be sung better than the way Kelly Clarkson did during the show's first season. Candice did a great job in parts of the song, a good job in others, but she definitely is one of the strongest vocalists in the competition. Keith gave her a standing ovation, and then serenaded her, telling her that the way she sings proves she is a "natural singer." Nicki said Candice was definitely born to sing, called her voice one of the strongest in the competition, and said that her confidence sets her apart. She also wondered how Candice could have been cut last season, and Randy explained, "It was a different time." (Which is Dawg for "We had a different agenda.") He said that Candice is one of his favorite contestants but said her performance, while good, wasn't the best she's done on the show. He encouraged her to go for it vocally, to "do things only you can do." Mariah called Candice a "bona fide singer," but interrogated her as to whether she was responsible for the arrangement and some of the notes she hit. Whatever, Mariah.

Fifteen-year-old Juliana Chahayed is an absolutely adorable girl, who comes from a musical family where every one of her siblings plays instruments and/or sings, and her father sings in both Arabic and English. She went acoustic, playing the guitar and singing a mellow, ethereal version of Demi Lovato's Skyscraper. Her voice has a little bit of Jewel in it, a little Imogene Heap, a little of a lot of those wispy-voiced troubadours popular now. Her voice wavered a little but I found it rich and tremendously unique, and loved her intonation. But the judges were not listening because they already had their minds made up hearing something else, apparently. Keith said she was struggling with pitch throughout the song, but he loved the purity of her voice and called her "totally real." Nicki praised that Juliana already had a signature tone to her voice at only 15, yet said she seemed very timid, and wondered if that would work against some of the "bigger voices" in the competition. (Why do we need 80 big voices? If you want a female winner, and know how popular Taylor Swift and others are, why not pick a 15-year-old and get people to vote for her?) Randy praised the honesty in her delivery and applauded Juliana for "giving us exactly who you are." Mariah said her voice had an angelic quality, almost celestial, and called her vulnerability a beautiful thing to witness. And then Randy had to go and spoil things by saying, "At 15 look at what Juliana has done, Ryan Seacrest couldn't have done it at 15," to which Ryan replied, "I can't do it at 22." Ha.

Petite Jett Hermano (cool name, BTW) took a page from Shubha Vedula's book last week, singing a slow, almost sexy version of Rihanna's Only Girl (In the World) while accompanying herself on the piano. (Season 10 contestant Ta-Tynisa Wilson sang this badly, and luckily, there's no video proof of it.) I really liked her voice and what she brought to the song, although it was a little boring at times. Keith loved her unique arrangement, called her musicianship fantastic, and praised her for "bringing out the sex in the song" in a different way than Rihanna does. Nicki liked the arrangement but felt the song never came to a climax. Randy—completely contradicting his criticism of Shubha last week (go figure)—told Jett he was disappointed she didn't get up halfway through the song and rock it. He and Nicki argued as to whether the restraint in her performance was good. Mariah called Jett "a unique addition to the contest" (tepid praise), said she enjoyed the first half of the performance, and told Jett that she "wasn't sure where you'll go in the competition," but "good luck with the rest of this thing." (Meaning, Jett, pack your knives and go. Sorry, wrong reality show.)

Cristabel Clack used to tour with a gospel group, and is a happily married mother of three. And she's 29, which is, like, 50 in American Idol years. She talked for far too long with Ryan about how she got nervous just before going to Vegas, but God assured her everything would be all right, and she had a place in the competition. She sang Alicia Keys' No One (which Season 8 contestant Felicia Barton sang), and I thought the rasp in her voice was really interesting, although sometimes it sounded like a hiccup. Randy gave her a standing ovation. Keith called it a fantastic performance and praised Cristabel's crazy potential, Nicki said she loved the song for Cristabel and loves the rasp in her voice, but thought it got a little out of control. (Agreed.) Randy said that while the song was overperformed in places (like the last few overlong runs), she was "on point," and called her a "racehorse singer," who allows herself the freedom to just go vocally. (Now, I'm no expert on women, but I don't think you should ever liken a woman to any kind of horse.) Mariah said that she would "like to hear what you do best," so "please come back and sing some more for us." Huh?

The first word I wrote down when I saw Aubrey Cleland was "beautiful." She sang Beyonce's Sweet Dreams (which last season's runner-up, Jessica Sanchez sang, although you can only find the studio version of the song online), and I liked her voice and presence a lot, although she didn't wow me. But she's hella nice to look at. Keith called Aubrey a "balance of poise and fire," and said she had great fire in her voice. Nicki admitted to being obsessed with Aubrey, and said that for the first time, someone sounded and looked the part. She said she'd sign Aubrey to a contract right now, because she looks the part and sounds the part. Randy said, "I'm obsessed with me, and you, and the other judges, and a little bit of Ryan Seacrest." He told Aubrey that during the auditions he said she was one of two contestants he'd sign right away because she is so marketable. He told her she looked amazing, she commands the stage, and has the "whole package," although he thought the song didn't have enough "moments." Mariah told Aubrey, "you're limitless," and said "I hope you continue with us, because, you're, limitless." (Great critique, Mariah.)

Rachel Hale who came thisclose to not making it into the top 20 (she was chosen in a sing-off), sang a spirited, awesome version of Nothing but the Water by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. (Love them, by the way.) She has a great, rich-sounding voice, and a lot of personality, and I thought she knocked it out of the park. Once again, the judges didn't agree. Keith said he felt the song "got on top of you in parts," but loved her spirit. Nicki wanted to know where all of Rachel's confidence came from, since she's always been "my cute little ladybug." Rachel explained that she had been praying a lot for confidence (which caused Nicki to quote from MC Hammer's Pray), and Nicki said she was excited she came alive. Randy exclaimed, "Prayer works!", and then said he was happy that she brought her energy. Mariah praised Rachel's smile, but said "we may have heard you more on other songs." Unbelievable.

I've been watching this show far too long, so I hate when contestants trot out their sob stories. We've all had a challenging life in one way or another. Breanna Steer's family had their house in Louisiana destroyed by Hurricane Isaac. She sang Jazmine Sullivan's Bust Your Windows, and for me, there was a lot of attitude, not a lot of vocal range. Keith admitted he had dated a girl who busted the windows out of his car a long time ago (as he caressed the "Nicole" tattoo on his arm), and said that he liked the vibe of Breanna's performance. "Work it, Miss Little Ladybug," Nicki exclaimed, and told Breanna that she was another contestant she'd sign right away. She suggested that Breanna and Aubrey form a vocal group with "two sexy-looking girls" and they'd be famous. (What show is this again?) She called Breanna believable, said she had her swag, and was "sexy on a stick." Randy praised Breanna for "representing Louisiana from day one" (he's a proud Louisianan, you know), and said she was the other contestant he'd sign right away. He called her the whole package, and said she brought so much drama to her performance, Keith thought she'd actually bust the windows out of his car. Mariah also trotted out the m-word (marketable) and said she was so glad contestants could choose their own songs.

Before self-proclaimed "country girl" Janelle Arthur hit the stage, I said, "The show wants another Carrie Underwood, and this is who they want to win." Janelle sang Lady Antebellum's Just a Kiss, and it was, well, unimpressive. Singing a song solo that is usually performed by a band rarely works, and it didn't here. I just thought the whole performance—vocals, star quality, personality—fell utterly flat. Keith said the song had a limited melody, so it gave her no chance to really soar. Nicki said that she was excited to see Janelle and Zoanette—"my two little babies"—but said the performance felt a little bit flat. She said Janelle seemed disconnected, but said, "If it was up to me, you'll go through." (So what's the point of performing then?) Randy said that Janelle was his favorite country singer in the competition, and chalked her performance up to "just one of those nights." Mariah said she was "definitely a fan," and that she's rooting for Janelle. (So at least two better singers have no chance because you like Janelle? Twice now I've seen her perform and twice I was unimpressed.)

As I mentioned last week, I only started watching this season just before the top 40 was named, so I didn't get the chance to see much of Zoanette Johnson outside of her train-wrecky final solo performance. Apparently she and her family left Liberia when she was two (as opposed to Melinda's family, who fled Kosovo just a few years ago). She sang Circle of Life from The Lion King, starting out with the African chanting part of the song. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, although it certainly wasn't as good as the way Jennifer Hudson performed it during Season 3. I found it utterly theatrical, though, which apparently is bad for guys but not for the women. Keith, Randy, and Nicki gave her a standing ovation. (Does Mariah not believe in standing ovations, or are her dresses too tight to stand without assistance?) Keith said, "Kudos to the Queen of the Jungle," and said that part of what makes Zoanette special is he has no clue what she's going to do next, and wonders if she does either. Nicki said, "Who gonna check you, boo? You just served it." She called out how amazing it is that Zoanette's family made it out of Liberia and that her siblings could hear her sing, and talked about how lucky she and Zoanette were that they were people who had nothing, but they were able to "get out of the country alive." Randy said, "It's not whether the notes are right," and honestly, I don't remember a thing Mariah said but it clearly was as unexceptional as everything else she says.

Time for the judges' decisions. Quick question, though: It's Season 12. Is there anyone that's fooled by the fake-outs anymore, or the judges' babbling? Can't they afford some new scripts by now? Anyway, Zoanette made it through, Melinda and Juliana didn't. "Marketable" Aubrey made it through, Cristabel didn't. Candice made it through, Jett didn't, and if you were paying attention, you'd know that "marketable" Breanna would make it before she walked out there, so they could put the two country singers, Rachel and Janelle up against each other. Despite being outsung and outperformed by Rachel in every way, the judges stuck with their script and put Janelle through. Unbelievable. So far I'm not nearly as wowed by these female contestants as the producers think we should be.

So, the top 10 female contestants are:

Tenna "Teena" Torres
Adriana "Don't Call Me Jessica Sanchez" Latonio
Kree "Melanie Lynskey" Harrison
Angela "Original Song" Miller
Amber "Meh" Holcomb
Candice "Triumphant Return" Glover
Aubrey "Marketable" Cleland
Breanna "Marketable 2: The Remix" Steers
Janelle "More Kristy Lee Cook than Carrie Underwood" Arthur
Zoanette "I Can Outcrazy Fantasia" Johnson

Tonight, we'll see if any of the guys with talent make it through. That means you, Nick Boddington.

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