Thursday, February 27, 2014
AI Top 13 Recap: Who's Got the Yang?
Yeah, I decided to give this season a try. We'll see how long it lasts.
I didn't watch any of the audition or Hollywood episodes, just watched last week, when the top 31 was culled to a top 13. One thing I've noticed is there's far too much touching going on, so I'd imagine Howie Mandel won't be able to watch. The contestants ran into the audience touching their hands, even the judges did the same thing. Sorry, it just creeps me out. I long for the days when the judges sat at their inaccessible table, and the contestants performed up on stage without any of the frolicking in the middle of the audience. Maybe I'm just a germaphobe...
One other thing before I start the actual recap of "This is Me" week. So now you can vote starting at the beginning of the show? What's the point of the show, then? Are the new producers finally acknowledging that the bulk of voters don't actually care about the contestants' performances (kind of like the judges sometimes), but just vote for who they like because they're cute, or from the South, or whatever?
Anyway. The contestants had the opportunity to choose a song that defined themselves as people and as artists. The good news is that this theme led to some songs I never thought I'd hear on the show being performed, and only three songs that have been performed in previous years. Not to say there weren't some dubious choices. And prior to each performance, Randy mumbled some nonsense to try and explain why he's still on the show. (Example: "If Jessica can connect with the song, she'll be a winner." As my friend Kevin would say, "Deep.") The rest of the show Randy sat, grinning and nodding uselessly, like a cross between Buddha and a benevolent don. (Can I start the #bringbackjimmyiovine campaign?)
Dexter kicked off the show, singing Chris Young's Aw Naw (had to Google it). Like Dexter, it was a perfectly nice performance, one you'd expect to hear at a bar or karaoke club. He seems like a terrific guy, but he's lacking a bit in charisma and any kind of vocal star quality. Keith called it "a great cover version," but said Dexter needed to make the song "more Dexter." Harry tried blaming the contestants' ear monitors for the fact that Dexter sung out of tune (a refrain he hit a number of times during the evening). Jennifer urged Dexter to use his personality more, and lamented that the song was too low for him and didn't hit the "sweet spot" of his voice. (Haven't heard that sweet spot in either of the two performances of his I've seen; does it exist or is it as elusive as useful suggestions from the Dawg?)
As soon as I saw Malaya bounding onto the stage, full of puppy-like energy, I wrote down, Tone the shtick down. Seriously. I get it, you're young, you're excited, but enough. She chose to sing Bruno Mars' Runaway Baby, previously performed to perfection by Season 11 third-place finisher Joshua Ledet (go to 2:48 in the video), and promised to bring her patented "Slyonce" (a cross between Sly of Sly and the Family Stone and Beyonce). Well, that didn't happen. But what did was a manic, horribly off-key and out-of-breath performance, where she changed up some of the pronouns but not all, and mostly bounced around. Ugh. Jennifer called it "not your best vocal performance" (ya think?) but said she commands the stage "like a superstar." (Really?) Harry called her "a contender" but said she seemed nervous. Keith said that the show wasn't as much about the performances (umm, okay) but about "watching you grow, and what you can do from here forward." I think she's in trouble, despite her promises to bring her tuba on the show.
So when you choose to a sing a song that defines you, would you choose one called Beautiful Disaster? Well, inexplicably, Kristen chose the aforementioned Kelly Clarkson song, and although the song is about loving a guy despite his flaws, Kristen explained that she was interpreting it to be about her, because she got into the top 13 on a wild card and needed to go for it, and whatever. Well, she didn't go for it. She's beautiful, and has a good voice, but her performances I've seen on the show have absolutely no oomph to them. She certainly has more talent than previous "pretty" contestants, but if she gets lucky and stays on the show past this week, she has to have (and I can't believe I'm saying this) a "moment." Keith said Kristen is a "really strong pop singer" but wasn't wowed, and Jennifer told her to "stop thinking and sing."
Dear Ben: stop trying so hard. Maybe you really are the small-town country guy who's not comfortable on social media, but asking, "Whatever happened to the Polaroid camera?" when talking about Instagram smacks of pretension. (And small-town country guys don't wear a leather baseball cap, a vest, and a tie.) He sang Johnny Cash's classic Folsom Prison Blues, which Paul McDonald sang during Season 10. Apparently Ben (or "Briley," as Ryan likes to call him, as if they're fratboys or whatever) opens every gig he plays with this song. It was really, really fast (even faster than Paul's version), and although he hit some good notes, at times his voice sounded both nasal and too high. Keith said the tempo was so quick that "Johnny might have done that a time or two with the help of a stimulant." He also told Ben to be careful when he entertained "not to sacrifice artistry for kitsch." Jennifer said it was the best performance so far (damned with faint praise, considering what had come before), and Harry said he gained respect for Ben because he "picked a song from our country's history." (Wonder what would have happened if he chose a Scott Joplin number, or perhaps a Revolutionary War ditty. I kid.)
C.J. sang Darius Rucker's Radio, and, Darius Rucker this guy is not. I guess he must have shown the judges something in Hollywood that has made them such a huge fan, but I've not been impressed with anything he's performed to date, and I wouldn't have given him a wild card last week. I get he's going for some gravel in his tone, but a lot of times he just sounds off-key to me (and it's not just the ear monitors). Jennifer said it was a lot of fun, that he may have had pitch problems (no "may" about it, J.Lo) but she could feel his energy. (He wasn't nearly as energetic as his cousin dancing in the audience!) Harry said that C.J. has a "cry" in his voice, and it has spoiled him, so he was disappointed that C.J. didn't show that off in this song. Keith said that C.J. emulated Darius Rucker's combination of "country, soul, and R&B swagger." Disagree.
MK decided to change things up and not sing a ballad, instead choosing Allen Stone's Satisfaction, a more uptempo song which I, like J.Lo, had never heard before. I really like MK and I'm excited she's getting the type of response she is on the show, but a tiny piece of me can't help but wonder if people are pandering to her in an effort to overcompensate. I actually thought this wasn't a very good performance vocallyI like the richness of her tone but her high notes tend to wobble, and this song had a lot more background vocals to distract. But the crowd and the judges seemed to really like it, although Keith said at times it looked like she was "waiting for the next line" of the song. Jennifer said that MK showed "confidence in patches" but sometimes looked like a deer in headlights, while Harry said that MK's voice never fails her. Guess it's another case of something sounding better in the studio than on television.
I really enjoyed Majesty's performance last week, and I felt she topped that with this week's rendition of Janelle Monae's Tightrope. She looked great, sounded terrific, and is a very strong performer. I loved the song choice, and so did the judges. (I never thought I'd hear Janelle Monae on this show, and I'm really excited about it.) Jennifer praised Majesty's style, telling her there's no one else like her, and Keith called her "a mystery," saying "it will be fun to watch the mystery of who you are unravel over the weeks."
Jena (who apparently told Ryan her hair was actually "s--t brown" under the black dye before her performance) sang Coldplay's The Scientist, which was previously performed by Season 9 semi-finalist Katelyn Epperly. I love Jena's voice and think she's definitely a strong contender on this show. I really liked this performance, although it seemed a bit too slow at times. The judges praised her "unique" and "powerhouse" voice, while Harry praised her "interesting choices on a preexisting melody."
If Elliot Yamin and Lee DeWyze had a love child, it would look like Alex. He's probably my favorite contestant, and this week he sang Jason Mraz's A Beautiful Mess. (Boy, I would have loved it if he sang Mraz's If It Kills Me.) I really liked this performance, his singing in a single red spotlight, despite the swaying of the audience (which I hate), although I think he may need to pick things up a little bit in a week or two. Harry inexplicably asked if he could "try to sing in tune" because he knows Alex can. (What? No ear monitor excuses there, Harry?) He also didn't like the "inward, introspective" nature of the performance. Keith disagreed, saying he felt pulled into Alex's performance. J.Lo agreed with Keith, calling the performance a really nice change, and she said she was "caught up in the mood." I'm going to reserve my judgment on Harry's comments, but I hope this isn't a contestant he tries to sabotage in favor of someone less talented.
Those of you who know me know I don't often admit I'm wrong, but Jessica's performance will cause me to do so. I was utterly underwhelmed by her performance last week, and since I didn't watch any of her earlier performances, wrote her off as a country performer who liked to pretend she was edgy. But her rendition of Shinedown's The Crow and the Butterfly was excellenthard, gritty, and soulfuland I totally get her now. J.Lo said Jessica gave her "goosies" and that her performance was her favorite so far. Harry praised the "dark, haunting quality" of her voice. Really liked this.
Emily chose to sing P!nk's Glitter in the Air (otherwise known as the song P!nk sang at the Grammys while dangling in the air). She did really well with it, and I thought her voice was really powerful but she didn't overdo it. J.Lo said she was "gushing" over Emily's performance, while Harry praised her for singing the melody and conveying the emotions of the song well. Keith called it "a beautiful vocal from top to bottom," but said that what P!nk brings to her performances is a mixture of ying and yang, of sensitivity and a little edge, and cautioned Emily not to forget "the yang" when she sings. Which, of course, led to the inevitable sophomoric joking of "who's got the yang." Because you can never truly get the judges away from Beavis and Butthead-like humor. (Heh-heh-heh.)
The show's resident heartthrob, Sam, sang Matchbox 20's Unwell. It was perfectly pleasant and on-key, but nothing super exciting. The ladies in the crowd went wild, as expected. Harry called the performance "nice," but said he wished that Sam's vocal mirrored the song's "messed up" vibe. J.Lo called Sam a "quiet storm" (the same words she used to describe MK earlier) and said he can sing perfectly, but he needs to start believing it. I guess for a good-looking, talented 17-year-old on this show, a little humility is refreshing.
The first true pimp slot of the season went to the "resident rocker," Caleb. He sang Rival Sons' Pressure and Time, another song I'd never heard of. I think Caleb has tremendous pipes and a great range, but I hope he'll throw some, to quote Paula Abdul (unbelievably), light and shade into his future performances. I'll need a little variety or I'll start to get a little bored, but there's no denying his talent and showmanship. Keith said Caleb needs to figure out who he is and convey that a little stronger in his performances, J.Lo said he seemed "ready for the rock star life" but he "has the goods to back it up," and Harry told Caleb that much like Journey, when they needed a new lead singer, found Arnell Pineda, if Rival Sons ever needs a new singer, Caleb should get the job.
All in all, it was a pretty good show, although I thought about turning it off after the first three performances. But it was tremendously refreshing to hear some different songs, even (amazing!) some current ones. I'm going to try and remain optimistic that the stronger contestants will remain on the show and the, well, less strong ones will be voted off first, but we'll see how long my optimism lasts.
Who should be in the bottom three: Malaya, Kristen, and either Dexter or C.J.
Who will be in the bottom three: Malaya, Kristen, and either Dexter or (although I hope not) Alex
Until tonight's mess of a results show...