Thursday, February 23, 2012

"American Idol" Recap: Flotsam, Jetsam, and Whatnot

Good news for those of you already weary from weeks of auditions and what has seemed like months of semifinal rounds ("The most brutal cuts ever!"): The live shows begin next week! Of course, the bad news there is that we'll have three days of the show, at least next week. (Or maybe that's just bad for the one who has committed to recap the program. Hmm.)

Last night, 14 of the top 24 contestants were revealed. And as last night's show ended with a contestant in the throes of a drama-laden emotional breakdown as he waited for the judges' decision, I realized that I was pretty happy with the contestants they've chosen so far, which means either they've decided to take this year's show in a different direction, or the remaining 10 contestants will be the bane of my existence. Knowing Nigel Lythgoe and friends, I'll bet the latter, but there's still room for optimism.

Anyway, in the wise words of The Dawg, "I don't want to drag this out any longer."

You know the drill. The contestants walk down a long, dramatic pathway (this time shrouded in smoke left over from the Harry Potter series) and sit in front of the judges to learn their fate, punctuated by lots of stalling and stammering (from the judges, of course).

The spotlights kept bouncing off J.Lo's sparkly green dress and shining in her face, so I'd imagine a lighting tech is going to lose their job. And Steven was totally wearing yoga pants, or he borrowed a costume from Cirque du Soleil.

Who Made It

One of my favorites, Jen Hirsh, was the first to hear the good news. Despite the fact that she has knocked every song out of the park since her audition, the judges told her that her final performance of Aretha Franklin's Baby I Love You was uneven and, you know, they're looking for "the best of the best of the best." (Any guess which judge uttered that inanity?) But Jen prevailed, and the judges told her she is one of the best singers of the season. (Truth.)

Creighton Fraker shared his interesting back story, that he was adopted as a child and grew up in a preacher's family, and dancing was banned in their town, but he then found out that his birth father was in the heavy metal band Flotsam and Jetsam. (So that explains all that crazy rock and roll music.) The judges told Creighton they were looking for someone they feel "has that special something" (or at least someone they can convince the speed-dialing tweens to vote for), someone who can "touch America." (Stop.) His birth father totally looks like a cross between Bo Bice and a less-attractive Josh Holloway. Seriously.

Preacher's kid #2, Joshua Ledet blew the judges away with his final performance of Up to the Mountain. After admitting that "the better singers don't always make it on the show" (no way?!?), Joshua got the good news, and proceeded to kill nearly all of his appeal by showboating, chanting "I'm blessed, I'm blessed, I'm blessed" and "Can I get an amen?" (Joshua, it's a narrow path to the Lusky Stank, so watch yourself.)

I'm guessing pretty blonde Haley Johnsen is either being set up as cannon fodder or one of the surprise Pia Toscano/Latoya London auditions of the season, since you never got to see her final performance, although Ryan mentioned it was great. We did see clips from her audition (Brandi Carlisle's The Story) and her group performance. She has a really good voice, so she could surprise.

Elise Testone, one of the bluesy singers we often heard made it through another round but didn't see, finally got her moment. She tore through James Brown's This is a Man's World, and Jennifer called her "one of the best singers we've seen." I'm starting to worry a tiny bit that all of the gravelly-voiced singers will cancel each other out.

Next up was this year's Casey Abrams, Reed Grimm. (He plays the drums! He scats! He sings quirky songs!) We were reminded of his manufactured drama during Hollywood Week, when he needed two pep talks from Mom before singing Georgia On My Mind while playing the drums. For his final performance, he sang a scatty version of It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) while accompanying himself on the drums, which he played with brushes. (Show-off.) The judges warned him that they are looking for "an American Idol singer," so while they like his personality and unique style, they want him to actually sing sometimes, too. (Go figure.) If he growls once, I'm crawling through my television and beating him over the head with his crooked grin.

Ahem. Sorry.

Blonde, gravelly-voiced singer #2, "mobile DJ" Erika Van Pelt impressed the judges early on, especially with her rendition of Pink's Glitter in the Air during Hollywood Week. But her decision to sing Adele's Don't You Remember for her final performance didn't wow the judges; in fact, J.Lo's subtitles said, "I don't like this song for her." As J.Lo explained to Erika, "Some people just blew us away the whole time, some didn't do as well as we hoped. Like you." But Erika made it through anyway, prompting a tremendously self-deprecating, "This doesn't happen to girls like me."

Country cutie Chelsea Sorrell apparently forgot the words to I Told You So during Hollywood Week, although Steven told her "Sweetie, you sing so pretty, you start that over again." But since we didn't see any of her other performances, and Steven told her "I can tell by your demeanor that you know what our decision is," I was surprised that she made it through. But this segment gave me my favorite quote of the night from The Dawg, "We try and raise the bar every year, but this year we definitely raised the bar." Yeah.

Would an older, wiser Baylie Brown, returning from Season 6, make it through right after her fellow country crooner? Her final performance (Rascal Flatts' Here Comes Goodbye) was partly breathless and partly beautiful, and the judges talked about her inconsistency. But then Steven said, "It doesn't give me great pleasure to say this, it makes me ecstatic" to tell her she made it through. She could be this season's Kellie Pickler, minus the dumb jokes about salmon.

Best line of the night came during Ryan's interview with America's favorite English mangler, Heejun Han. "Heejun, what are you sweating?" "Mostly water." Brilliance. Heejun sang New York State of Mind, and his voice does have a really lovely tone, although he appears to be straining at times. He warned that if the judges told him no, he would "kiss and hug J.Lo so much, because it's every Asian man's dream." But the bravado faded when the judges gave him the good news, and he became very emotional. And then J.Lo (and The Beatles) broke into Hey Jun, which now diminishes my admiration for Steven's singing it last week.

Jessica Sanchez is only 16, but she's been performing most of her life, and her family has spent a lot of money on her. Her group performance of Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore may go down as one of the best group performances we've seen on the show, and her final performance of The Prayer showed that she is capable of some vocal restraint and not all vibrato. Although her voice is mature, I worry if she's going to get caught in the whole dilemma that plagues most young singers on this show, when singing "adult" songs doesn't work for their voice. Hopefully not.

Was there room for quirky Dave Matthews/Paul McDonald-wanna-be Phil "It's Not Phillip This Week" Phillips? Phil sang an acoustic version of Usher's Nice and Slow, which I loved. I love his voice and his quirkiness; I hope he can control it, though, and not become the milquetoast performing seal that Paul McDonald became last year. (Although Paul married Ashley Greene from Twilight, so who got the last laugh here?)

"American Idol veteran" Colton Dixon was next. Colton was one of the last contestants unfairly and ridiculously cut from last year's top 24, and this year he (allegedly) wasn't even planning to audition, but merely accompanied his sister, Schyler, who was cut just before the top 42. He chose to sing Coldplay's Fix You (which he dedicated to his sister), beautifully, and this year he made the cut. (For something truly tear-jerking, watch this rendition of Fix You by the senior citizens' chorus, Young @ Heart. Have Kleenex in hand.)

And speaking of returning contestants, would this be the year for Brielle Von Hubris (née Hugel)? Her ever-present mother told Ryan, "I look really fat next to you." He said, "You look tan." "It's airbrushed," she explained. Brielle was determined to make it this year, tearing into her final performance of Killing Me Softly. I'm not quite a fan, although I'd love to be surprised by her. Definitely didn't love her departing "I love all of yous" to the judges.

Those Who Didn't Make It
Lauren "There's No Crying in Music" Gray
Neco "Not Quite A" Starr
Richie "I Came to Make Music, Not Recycle It" Law
Blaire "Never Saw You Before" Sieber
Naomi "Who?" Gillies
Clayton "You Look Vaguely Familiar" Farhat
River "Cool Name, Cool Shades, Welcome Back to Anonymity" St. James
Caleb "Even Meatloaf Doesn't Do Meatloaf" Johnson

The show ended with handkerchief-sporting, over-singing, emotional dad Adam Brock. Apparently the judges weren't wowed by his final performance of You Don't Know Me (you don't have to shout every. single. note.) because it "didn't show them who he is." And then he started crying, about how this is his dream, and he was looking at his daughter, and how much he wants to succeed for her, blah blah blah. (Seriously, man. Nut up. You have a beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter, so stop crying. There's no crying in music, after all.) Randy told him that the judges' decision "was not unanimous" and then the show ended. I'd be shocked but not disappointed if he doesn't make the cut. I hate it when people mistake shouting for blues and soul.

Tonight: more cuts. The never-entertaining pitting the last two contestants against each other. (This year it looks like 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz and 17-year-old David Leathers Jr.) And there will be One. Shocking. Elimination.

Sure there will.

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