Thursday, March 7, 2013

AI Recap: I Believe I Can Fly, Do You??

I'll admit I'm not a huge Ryan Seacrest fan—the seasons-long banter between him and Simon Cowell that bordered on homophobia, the hammy dramatics of result nights, even his immense dominance of the entertainment world. But the way he handled Charlie Askew last night—with kid gloves rather than a spotlight—showed that he truly is a consummate professional, and a genuine heart beats inside the man made of cheese. (His words, not mine.) But more on that in a bit.

The difference between Tuesday night's show and last night's was pretty epic. On Tuesday night's show, seven, maybe eight women turned in good performances I'd be willing to watch again. But last night, I honestly liked two, maybe three performances completely, was bored and disappointed by several, and found the remaining performances to be utterly demonstrative of the show's desperate, ham-handed need to have a female winner this season.

In case you didn't know, Elijah likes the ladies. And if you didn't know, he mentioned it like three or four times, because he hoped to "connect with all my ladies out there" with his performance. Way to go, guy. You're heterosexual. He sang Rihanna's Stay, and it was definitely better than his performance from last week, but a great singer he's not. But dude, why do you keep going for falsetto notes when you have no falsetto? Keith said the song suited his voice and he showed good control. Nicki admitted, "I think I would be willing to stay," and then beat the marketable horse again, saying she could see his face on blankets and other merchandise in a "New Kids on the Block from wayback kinda thing." Randy and I were on the same wavelength (it's happening more often than I'd care to admit this season), as he said he liked the performance more than last week, but it "never left first gear, and never went anywhere." Oh, but he looks marketable. Mariah suffered from incurable logorrhea this episode (definition: incessant or compulsive talkiness), and she patently refused to say anything negative about almost every contestant. She called this one of Elijah's better performances, said his relevancy was his strongest point, mentioned that he was very "saleable," and also pointed out a trend that she's noticed lately about songs with "intimate" lyrics on the radio, etc. Her verbal diarrhea got so bad by the end of the show that the band just started playing her off. (Points to Ray Chew Live on that.)

Cortez recognized that his performance of Titanium last week was a bit of a mess, so he vowed to do better this week. He sang Bruno Mars' Locked Out of Heaven, and while I give him props for the song choice, at the end of the day, he isn't a very good singer, and tends to go for songs that require a higher range than he has. And the pelvic thrusts while rocking a stonewashed denim vest didn't help the, well, package any, either. (I also thought the male background singer was seriously loud on this song.) Keith asked why Cortez chose this song, because he explained that while he loves his voice and his spirit, it wasn't the best to show off his ability. Nicki said that Cortez got his "mojo back," but said "whoever styles Elijah should style you," as she mocked his "jean vest." (Hee.) She mentioned that she felt like he was straining vocally, however. Randy agreed, saying that it seems like he needs to take nearly every song he sings "down a half-step or a whole step." Mariah told Cortez she enjoyed the ballads he performed during Hollywood week and the auditions more, and admitted that he might take the song down a half-step. She said, "I'm not sure the song is you, although you chose it," but he has "a lot more to give vocally."

Oh, Charlie. Even your pre-performance video smacked of desperation, down to the self-mockery of his inability to grow a mustache. He hit the stage in a tie-dyed tank top (gross on so many levels), hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a feather earring, and sang/screamed Mama by Genesis. Honestly, I'm not sure if Charlie is truly earnest in his attempts to play the fool or if this is some side-eyed mockery a la Sanjaya or Norman Gentle. The judges were truly flummoxed. Keith told Charlie he has a huge range and could front a band—and perhaps that's the path he should choose—but the way he performed felt disingenuous and disconnected. (Not to mention, STOP SCREAMING AT ME, CHARLIE!) Nicki asked, "Where's my little baby at? I don't want to see your arms, I don't want to see that earring, and get rid of the mustache immediately. I feel like I lost my kid." She said she didn't know where the "darker thing" was coming from and it upset her. Randy said the front part of the song was terrible, and then it went to scream at the end. "I just didn't get it at all," he admitted. Mariah babbled that she appreciated Charlie's love of classic rock songs, "and maybe you're trying to bring the whole genre back to a new audience," and she enjoys him a lot as a person. Charlie seemed on the verge of tears throughout the judges' feedback, and when Ryan asked him what his motivation was for the performance, he said, "I needed to vent a little bit." He continued, "A lot of people think I'm a buoyant kid, but I smile all the time because I have to." You honestly could have heard a pin drop, and Ryan held it together impressively, praising Charlie's "honesty and courage." First of all, I've been where Charlie is (emotionally, not onstage or in terms of wardrobe), so I know how hard it is to hold it all together. And while I hope he's not as low as he said he was, I think I'd rather he feel that way than believe for a second that this meltdown was even the tiniest bit calculated to get people's sympathy. This boy needs some psychological help and some time out of the camera lens, he doesn't need a few more weeks of tottering on the cracking ice of his psyche.

Nick, why do you continuously underwhelm when you have such a beautiful voice? Props for admitting that "his 20s caught up with him" and caused him to lose his hair, which explains the sartorial choice of hats each week. He returned to the piano and sang a very pretty, creatively styled version of the Goo Goo Dolls' Iris, but at times his voice was swallowed up a bit by the band, and I just kept waiting for it to knock me off the couch. I like him so much, so it's disappointing to think he might not make it in favor of back story and marketability. Keith loved the vulnerability of his tone. Apparently, this is one of Nicki's most favorite songs, so she didn't like that he played with the melody right away, but she said it was "pretty," in his comfort zone, and true to him. Randy liked the whole "Ryan Tedder thing" he had going on but didn't think it was his best performance. He said it left him wondering "who are you, not who you desire to be?" (I feel the same way about you, dawg.) Mariah felt like he "kicked in" at the end.

Burnell trotted out the now-familiar memes—he dropped 40 pounds and his family survived Katrina. He revisited his audition song, I'm Here from the musical version of The Color Purple. He has a very good, very interesting voice, but if someone doesn't stop the downright corny hand gestures I may slap my television. And I'm guessing that there might have been a nostalgia sale at either Merry-Go-Round or Chess King, because Burnell, too, was rocking the stonewashed denim, along with a backward baseball cap. Keith gave him a standing ovation, and said that he believed Burnell when he sang the song's lyrics. He also praised his "instantly recognizable voice." Nicki said "It's pretty obvious you're one of a kind," and once again noted the "struggle and pain" in his voice. Randy said that Burnell captured his attention immediately when he started singing because of the urgency in his voice. Mariah said that his revisiting his audition song (which made her cry then) gave her another tearful moment. Burnell explained he chose to sing the same song because when people saw it during the audition rounds, it was all chopped up, so he wanted people to hear the whole thing.

Apparently Paul has been an extra in music videos for Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton. He listened to all of the judges' critiques of his last performance and really was going to avoid oversinging this week. He sang Just a Fool by Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton, and parts of it were fantastic and parts were really over the top. Keith asked Paul what kind of artist he wanted to be, and he explained he wanted to be a pop/country artist, the male counterpart of of Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift. "So you want to be the guy Taylor?", Keith questioned. "Yes," Paul exclaimed, "If people want me to be!" (You can't show people you're that desperate, Paul.) Keith cautioned him not to underestimate his voice (which I honestly don't understand) and said something about being believable. (What's more believable, naked desperation or fake crying when you're moved by your own performance?) Nicki called it a solid performance, but suggested that Paul listen to Keith, because he knows what he's talking about when it comes to country music. Randy said the beginning of the song was amazing, but explained that Paul changes his tone when he gets vocally intense, and it isn't always pleasant to listen to. Mariah didn't know Paul wanted to be a country/pop artist (so?), but said that he had a "strong instrument." (She said a lot of other things that meant nothing.) Keith ended by saying that Paul is "better than he realizes he is." I'm no singer, but I think when you tell people they're not believable and they underestimate their voice, they probably don't think they're that good, so why tell them they are yet criticize them?

While my love of Lazaro obviously stems from the actual courage he shows every time he has to speak to the judges or Ryan, or how he makes it through every day of his life, I love his amazingly sunny personality and the richness of his voice. He sang the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good, which has been performed on the show by Season 6's Leslie Hunt, Adam Lambert in Season 8 (although he sang Muse's version), Katie Stevens in Season 9, and Hallie Day last season. He may not have the best voice consistently through every performance, but you can't help but be won over by him. I'd honestly rather listen to him all season than some of the other contestants. Nicki said she loved it, and praised that he "put some attitude and your own spin" on the song. Randy said, "He believes! He thinks he's in it to win it and he is!" He also mentioned that you can see Lazaro's "heart light up" when he hits the sweet spot in his voice. Despite the hideous performances that preceded him, Mariah chose to criticize Lazaro, saying that parts of the song were too low for him, but she is impressed at what he's been able to accomplish with his music. (Condescend much?)

I said it last week, I'll say it again. I do not like Curtis one bit. His talent is inarguable, but his lack of humility (he referred to his performance in the top 20 as "epic") makes him totally unappealing. He sang R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly, which Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee sang, Aaron Kelly (no relation) sang in Season 9, and Jacob Lusk sang in Season 10 (bad video on this clip). Curtis hit some terrific notes, but if we want to criticize Paul's oversinging, this man should have his picture next to the definition of that word. And I know I'm cynical, but the tears seemed just a little too fake to me. All four judges gave him a standing ovation (Randy and Nicki actually stood up before the performance was over), and each went into paroxysms of praise, talking about how Curtis oozes everything positive, there's so much hope in him, that he's "bigger than American Idol" because he makes people feel like they can fly, and has been called by a higher power, etc. The words "Praise God" were even uttered by Randy. The whole thing made me shudder.

Devin sang Somos Novios (It's Impossible), which has been sung by everyone from Perry Como, Andy Williams, and Elvis, to Andrea Bocelli, Christina Aguilera, Luis Miguel, even Katharine McPhee. He really has a terrific voice and is even stronger when he sings in Spanish, as he did again this week. I also felt his emotional connection, which I thought was lacking in his performance of Listen the last time, was very strong. Keith said the beginning of the song was shaky because Devin seemed nervous, but he's such a "good, good singer, so gifted" that he was able to overcome his nerves. Nicki called it "muy bien y perfecto," and said Devin was stepping into his own, even saying that he "looks like a Spanish Ken doll." Randy said that Devin is one of the few guys whose tone he really likes, along with his vibrato, and he called him, "mad cool and mad young." He also proclaimed, "I like this guy!" Mariah called the performance incredible, and praised his ability to "jump between genres and languages." She also said he had tremendous potential to reach an international audience.

Vincent had the pimp spot this week, and sang Boyz II Men's End of the Road and, frankly, it was pretty disappointing. After the performance he gave last week, this week he tried too hard and hit too many bum notes, although he did hit a few pretty spectacular ones as well. Keith said he felt "nerves got on top of your talent," while Nicki explained, "You wasn't sitting on it right tonight." Randy said he overshot a bit, while Mariah babbled, and what I was able to decipher was that Vincent had "moments of brilliance" but she wasn't sure "whether it's time to nitpick." (It's a more appropriate time to nitpick here than, say, in Lazaro's performance.)

I know the producers are all about gender parity, but the truth is, I'd rather see more girls advance to the top 10 than guys, although that won't happen.

My Top 5:
Curtis (don't like him but can't argue)
Burnell (ditto)

What Might Happen:

Tonight, we're back in Hollywood for a protracted 90-minute reveal of the top 10. Plus, I'm assuming there will be wildcards. And, if we're lucky, a poorly choreographed, lip-synced group number. I hope the day just flies...

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