Wednesday, March 6, 2013

AI Recap: (Women) Run the World

So I'll admit I've scoffed inwardly—and outwardly—every time one of the judges or Ryan says something about how this is the "girls' season" and how strong the women are versus the guys. But while the show wouldn't know subtlety if it joined the judges panel, after last night's performances, they may actually be right, without manipulation. And while there were arguably seven or eight (depending on your preferences) contestants who did well last night, it will be interesting to see who makes it into the top 10, and who has to rely on the (you know they're coming) wild cards.

Was it part of Mariah's contract that all signs shown from the audience were about her? I counted at least four, including "Mariah is the #1 Idol." Take that, Nicki.

First out of the gate, sporting a brown-auburn wig this week (girlfriend changes her hair more than Nicki Minaj), was last week's "Queen of the Jungle," Zoanette. While she looked almost normal during her pre-taped intro, on stage she was sporting a pair of short shorts that were just wrong. And her rendition of Tina Turner's What's Love Got to Do With It (which Lil Rounds sang in Season 8, as did Season 9 semi-finalist Todrick Hall, and Season 10's Naima Adedapo) was nothing short of the train wreck I expected from her last week. She completely made up the lyrics for the first two verses, bounced all over the place, and hit more wonky notes than good ones. To quote Nicki from last week, "Honey child, hell no." Keith called her "theatrical" (gee, you think), and the best he could do was praise her confidence, joy, and exhibitionism. Nicki said she'd always tell Zoanette the truth, and "that wasn't it." She talked about how "regular people" might want her to be on key for the song and might not have liked her performance, although she's still rooting for her. Despite the fact that she's a "spirit leader," Randy called the performance "a mess, babe," and Mariah praised the energy and love that Zoanette gives others, and the fact that she's overcome such struggle (her family left Liberia when she was two—she didn't crawl out on her belly amidst gunfire), and also called her "a bundle of festivities." Oh, yeah, the performance wasn't Mariah's favorite, either.

I love when Ryan has girl talk with the contestants. When he asked Zoanette about her wig and admitted, "I'm no stranger to wefting," it was priceless.

Beautiful and "marketable" Breanna sang Beyonce's Flaws and All, which I'd never heard before. She really has a great ability for choosing songs that show off what her voice can do, but I don't know if this was showy enough to make a lasting impression, given that she sang second and was followed by a lot of bigger performances. But I actually get what the judges said last week about her being a total pop star. Keith praised her song choice, as it shows who she is as a singer, but he wished she could "find a song that takes you into your own place." Nicki totally disagreed, calling it the wrong song and saying that she thought Breanna was straining. She also said she had a "sneaky suspicion" it wouldn't be enough to move her into the top five. Randy said he agreed with himself, calling her song choice "safe" because (surprise) it "didn't have enough moments," but said it felt like it was the eighth or tenth song she'd sing at her concert, just before the finale. Which is something Mariah totally does, yo, as she admitted she does more well-known songs up front and then gives her audiences more "intimate moments" before the finale. Oh, wait, this was about Breanna. She called the song choice "unique," as well as "lyrically raw, simplistic, and real," and said that Breanna's whole package says star quality. Ryan asked Breanna if she was singing the song to anyone, and she admitted it was for "someone special," which caused her mother in the audience to shake her head and say, "No." Hee.

One marketable contestant was followed by another, as it was beautiful Aubrey's turn next. She promised to "show her personality" in her pre-performance banter with Ryan, so she sang Fergie's Big Girls Don't Cry, previously trotted out by Season 9's Katie Stevens. It was good and I really like her, but again, she doesn't wow me like some of the other contestants did, although she's another one I could totally see hitting it big. Keith said that Aubrey's vibrato was so beautiful, but he wished she "could soar more" vocally. Nicki, too, loved the vibrato, as well as her humility, because Aubrey is so beautiful yet doesn't act like she knows that's the case. Randy called her "current and infectious," said that Aubrey gives him a Rihanna vibe in her softer moments. Mariah praised her "multi-platinum potential" and told her she could be a big star in the industry.

Janelle talked about how tough last week was, when she should have been was nearly eliminated, and she learned that "one performance makes a difference." (Not when you're one of the chosen ones, sugar.) She sang Elvis' If I Can Dream, which Elliott Yamin took on in Season 5. She sounded almost Jewel-esque, and while I still don't quite think she's at the level of some of the other contestants (especially Kree), I didn't hate it, although some of the bigger notes were wobbly. Keith praised her "classic country voice blended with modern country runs," whatever that meant. Nicki called Janelle "a little marshmallow I want to eat" (what is this woman smoking during commercial breaks?), said it was the best vocal of the night to that point, and said she wanted some "good old country producers and writers to get a hold of you," because "the sky's the limit." Randy liked her "modern throwback sound," calling her a "modern Patsy Cline," while Mariah had nothing to say about the vocal but praised her "America's Sweetheart type of thing." Never one to shy away from camp, Ryan said, "If you want s'more of little marshmallow Janelle..."

Camp Mariah's own Tenna listened (sort of) to Nicki's advice about her hair but of course, didn't shave it off. She sang Faith Hill's Lost, and like last week, I really liked some of her phrasing and intonation choices, but it wasn't ultimately memorable for me. In a season they weren't cutting it to five girls, I think she could have a chance, but I don't see it here unless the judges help her along a bit. Keith said she did a really good job, but cautioned her not to let the camera pull her emotion, because her performance became "a little cabaret" when the camera was on her. Nicki liked Tenna's hair this week, and her boobs, which caused Randy to sputter and pretend he was shocked, so Nicki retorted, "Shut up, Randy, you goody two shoes." Despite all of that, Nicki worried that Tenna's personality doesn't jump out at the audience. Mariah praised her little protegé's power register, as well as the fullness and richness of her voice. She said, "I love you and I hope America loves you, too." (Mariah was unamused when Ryan quipped, "Both Nicki and Mariah like your fullness, Tenna.")

Our favorite original songstress, Angie, decided to take to the piano this week and sing Never Gone, by last season's Colton Dixon. It was a pretty shrewd song choice, as she was sending a message that she's down with the Christian rock thing, too. I thought she was pretty fantastic—I love her voice and the way she shifts between bombastic and softer moments. If the judges don't overpraise her every week, she's going pretty far. Keith serenaded her with a brief snippet of Angie, and then told her that when she plays the piano she sounds her truest. Nicki said that "trumpets should sound when you walk in the room," and said, "Nigel, Mike Darnell, can I just have her album already? I want an acoustic album." She also said "one vote of the top five has already been taken." (Careful when you assume, Nicki. I'm willing to bet the judges thought Joshua Ledet would win last season.) Randy proclaimed, "America, a star is born," and then said, "This Angie girl is going places." He called her "the right thing in the right way." Never one to let a dead horse go unbeaten, Mariah once again praised Angie's original song from weeks ago, but said she was blown away.

Amber didn't wow me last week, but she certainly did this week. Singing Whitney Houston's I Believe in You and Me, which Jennifer Hudson sang in Season 3's wildcard round, Melinda Doolittle sang in Season 6, and Erika Van Pelt sang last season, she made the song look almost effortless. Her range was terrific, as was her control and power, but if I could change anything, I wish that she had actually held some of the notes, as it almost seemed rushed. All four judges gave her a standing ovation, and Keith called it a perfect song, although he said he wished (wait for it) "I could have heard you hold a few notes, because there were a lot of runs." (I swear I wrote my comments down before Keith said them.) Nicki called it a "10 billion quatrillion madillion" and said her vocals have surpassed anyone else's in the competition. Randy said, "I do believe, y'all, Amber is in it to win it! That girl believes!" Mariah said she had been waiting for Amber to sing all night, and said that she didn't "take on" Whitney Houston (a word choice used by Ryan and Nicki), but "paid homage" to her, and "sang your behind off." Ryan called her performance "one of those great moments we like to see." (Wait, who asked him?)

Have I mentioned how much I love Kree? She sang Faith Hill's Stronger, and was absolutely amazing. She reminds me of a less unorthodox Crystal Bowersox, in her effortless, natural talent, although Kree has a huge vocal range. Keith gave her a standing ovation and said he loves to hear her sing. He proved his musical mettle by praising Kree's ability that she hit an F-sharp above high C when singing a song that's in the key of B (hey, just be impressed I was able to record that), and told Kree that she fits in with country vocalists Patsy Cline, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, and Trisha Yearwood. Nicki said, "You already know you're my wife," and told her "your sexiness went up another level." Kree showed her playful side by saying, "I'm just trying to do my wife proud." Randy was befuddled by the talk of betrothal, but called Kree "another one that's in it to win it!" He said he is learning, listening to her sing, and that while he agrees with Keith that her voice belongs with other country greats, she can sing anything. "How can you top that," Mariah asked. She said she loves the "undeniable thing you have." I just hope people love her personality enough not to pass her over for some of the showier contestants, because in the battle of the country singers she slays Janelle hands down.

Our pint-sized Alaskan cutie, Adriana, sang Destiny's Child's Stand Up for Love. I liked it but know she could have done more with the song, although she did power through some big notes. I think she was expecting the judges to react better to her performance. (I was, too, honestly.) Keith said it took her too long to show off her vocal power. Nicki said that after Angie, Amber, and Kree, she should "work a little bit and come back next year." (Can she at this point? I don't think so.) She said that Adriana didn't connect at the beginning of the song, and called the performance "pageanty." (I guess "pageanty" is the female "theatrical.") Randy also called it safe and pageanty, and said, "You needed to slay it and you didn't." Mariah was literally unintelligible in her quest not to parrot Nicki's comments. She called the song, "a traditional song you would hear at a big event — and this is a big event — but I wish you had chosen something less overproduced." (Meaning, "It was pageanty.")

Candice closed the show, and in addition to her amazing vocals, I just love the confidence she brings to her performances. She absolutely slayed John Legend's Ordinary People, and Keith, Randy, and Mariah gave her a standing ovation. The judges were in a hurry, so Keith could only call her performance, "superb, so now, so current," while Nicki simply saluted her. "That's my comment," she proclaimed. Randy called the performance "ridiculous," because "you sang notes no one understands," and told her she has one of the best voices in the entire competition. Mariah thanked Candice for sharing her gift with us. I just hope that her confidence doesn't translate to, or turn into, cockiness.

All in all, it was an impressive show. Four of the five slots seem like locks to me, while the fifth can go to several contestants. I just hope that the whole Zoanette farce ends Thursday night, although I have a feeling that unless someone stronger gets left out, the judges will give her a wild card.

My Top Five:

What Could Happen:
Aubrey or Janelle or Breanna

Let's hope the guys surprise tonight, too. Let's just say my expectations range somewhere between "unlikely" and "why do I have to watch this?"

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