Friday, February 22, 2013

AI Recap: For Awkward Turtles Everywhere...

As you might have heard once or twice, this season, American Idol really wants a female winner. While I'm fairly certain Nigel Lythgoe's powers don't run to the ability to block the phone lines of every tween and teen girl in America, what the show can do is not advance any male contestant that could legitimately be considered a contender. But before I shout sabotage, let's see what happens next week.

Nicki was sporting pink hair last night (question from the couch: "Does she dye her hair every day?") and Mariah decided to class things up a little by wearing a blue gown. Ryan asked Mariah what impressed her about the ladies' performances (sigh) and she blathered on about raw talent and it was impossible to eliminate anyone (yeah, I don't think so). When they introduced the 10 guys performing tonight, I swore Johnny Weir was in the lineup, but then I learned it was someone called JDA. (I'm not slow on the uptake, I purposely skipped the audition episodes this season.)

Paul Jolley, a good-looking country singer, was first out of the gate with his rendition of Keith Urban's Tonight I Wanna Cry. (For the love of Simon, was there no other country artist you could pick? It's like when someone sang When You Believe in Hollywood for Mariah.) I think Paul has a great big voice, and definitely hit some bigger notes than Keith does in the song, but maybe that's part of the song's charm, you know? Keith said he was honored that someone sang one of his songs, and told Paul he has a really great voice but he shouldn't underestimate its quality by overperforming. Nicki (I don't know if I'll ever get used to her monotonal delivery) said that Paul's earlier performances won her over more and called his eyes "theatrical." (Read: gay, especially based on the female judges' comments about other singers.) "Yo, yo," Randy began, "So, I mean, very risky proposition singing one of Keith's songs with him sitting there." He said the performance wasn't all perfect, but told Paul he has potential. Mariah said, "I guess I feel different from other people on the panel, in that I thought it was an intimate performance at the start." She liked it but agreed he might have oversang a little bit.

Last year's himbo, Johnny Keyser, finally made it to the stage, after being cut in Vegas last year and then being teased as one of the possible contestants the judges would resurrect. (They picked Jermaine, who was, of course, kicked off the show for criminal issues.) Johnny placidly sang Jason Mraz's I Won't Give Up, and most of it was on key but bland. (I actually paid more attention to the return of the cute, hat-wearing guitarist, if I'm being honest.) Johnny is precisely the type of contestant that would have thrived in earlier seasons, the good looking guy with an okay voice. (See: Tim Urban, Chris Richardson, etc.) Keith called Johnny's performance the best he's sung, and said there were moments of nervousness but moments he was in the groove. (I'm going to start a Keith Urban "effortless" count, since he says that of everyone. It was even in one of the commercials. And yes, he said it of Johnny as well.) Nicki told Johnny he looked "real sexy tonight," and gave him kudos for being "nicely groomed." She told him he doesn't have the greatest vocals, but there's something "masculine" about him. (So Paul was theatrical, and Johnny is masculine. Following along?) Randy, too, told Johnny he doesn't have the greatest voice (nice thing to think about during a singing competition, no?), and "for me (for you), it was just ok, not a lot of moments that made me say, 'Wow.'" Mariah said "I don't want to get in trouble with my husband," but also praised Johnny's masculinity. (Did I miss it when he did pushups or whipped out his d--k during the commercials?) Ryan quipped, "I'm glad there's finally some masculinity on the stage."

Don't worry, Ryan. The testosterone is about to dissipate.

Can I just ask, WTF was JDA? Seriously. I'm the last person to criticize people for being exactly who they are, but really? This was one of the 20 best male contestants this season? He looks like a mash-up of Johnny Weir, Marilyn Manson, and Kynt, one of the pair of "dating goths" on Season 12 of The Amazing Race, and he was wearing some sort of sleeveless top and a pair of palazzo pants I swear I've seen at a few weddings or bat mitzvahs. He "sang" Adele's Rumor Has It (and by "sang," I mean crawled all over the stage and made pouty faces). Keith told him he was "certainly right at home in Vegas," and applauded JDA's originality and humility, although he wished the performance seemed a little less rote. Despite everything I just said about JDA, I was a little offended that Nicki addressed him as "Miss Lady," and told him to "work it, girl." ("Gotta represent the gays," he replied, as Ryan faded into the woodwork.) She told JDA he was a superstar performer and praised him for singing to everyone in the audience, although she called his vocals "a little whiny." Randy explained that the vocals weren't good because he was so keyed in on the performance, but told him to "think more about the vocal—it's a singing competition." (Unless you're masculine like Johnny.) He also said the performance didn't feel original. Mariah said he didn't waver vocally, and said, "Your brand of masculinity and whatever it is you want to call it, whatever you're giving us was sexy." Umm, not in the slightest. Ryan quipped, "We haven't seen this much glitter since Adam Lambert's season." (That's right, Ryan, poke fun at the gays and chest bump Johnny backstage just to make yourself feel better.)

Kevin Harris seems like a nice guy, a loving father (who wore two bowties to represent his two sons) with cool dreads. He's just not that good of a singer, mostly, evidenced by his boring performance of Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It for You, which Kimberly Caldwell sang in Season 2, and Anoop Desai sang in Season 8. Sure, he hit some good falsetto notes, but whatever. Keith said Kevin range is "crazy," although he said he had mixed feelings when performers "flip out vocally" by packing too many notes into songs. Nicki told Kevin, "Every single choice you made was perfection," and she loved every single thing about the performance, even calling it the first voice that was "100 percent tonight." Randy said they'd have to agree to disagree, as he called the performance "karaoke, not exciting." He told Kevin, "If you want to show what you can do as a singer, pick a better song than that." Mariah babbled for far too long and said nothing.

Next up: Lenny Kravitz (in his Let Love Rule days) meets Milli Vanilli, or Chris Watson. Really good looking guy, who apparently has made long headbandy things his signature, and strutted around the stage singing Otis Redding's (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, using one or maybe two notes. Again, seriously, people? This was one of the 20 best? Keith said that the show is partly a "connection competition" (umm, no), but his voice wasn't the best, despite his confidence. Nicki called him, "the prettiest man I've ever seen," and said she wanted to marry his vibrato. She told Chris she was obsessed with him and loves him, and that she doesn't know what he's been through, but when he sings, she hears pain and struggle. (I hear no vocal range, but I'm no famous rapper.) Randy said, "I love you the person, but the song goes nowhere." Mariah made some irrelevant comments, the most egregious of which was, "You don't have the best voice but other things override it."

Eighteen-year-old Devin Velez worried me when he started singing Beyonce's Listen. (As an aside, for an amazing version of this song, check out Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron's version.) Devin has a really great voice but absolutely no stage presence, and didn't appear to have much of an emotional connection to the song. But he did switch to Spanish in the middle of the song, which was kind of cool. Keith brought his "effortless" count to four, saying, "That's the way to do it!" Nicki said Devin did an amazing job and called his switching to Spanish "a smart choice." She said he was "a nice looking guy with a nice spirit." Randy gave him "big props" and said it was amazing, and Mariah said she could see Devin critiquing himself during the performance and making changes, and she can't wait to see what a producer can do with him in the studio.

Elijah Liu definitely looks like a boy band escapee, with his popped jacket collar and blond streak in his artfully mussed hair. I applauded his unique song choice, Bruno Mars' Talking to the Moon, and while it sounded good in his middle register, his falsetto was practically non-existent, which is a problem in a song that actually has falsetto in it. Keith admitted it was a shaky performance vocally, although he said "you look like a freaking pop star," and called him current and relevant. Nicki said, "I don't care about the song, I want to have your babies." (Gross, but he's 18, so I guess it's okay?) She told Elijah she would sign him today, he's so marketable. (I guess. I mean, this is the age of AutoTune, no?) Randy said the vocal wasn't great and didn't have any "moments." Mariah praised Elijah's "New Edition-y feel," and also said he was extremely marketable, and she liked the fact he was Mexican and Chinese. (I'll take Random Feedback in a Singing Competition for $1000, Alex.)

Free spirit Charlie Askew showed off his belt that he got from JDA, and admitted to practicing with a golf club so he could get used to the feel of the baseless microphone he'll be using. He sang Elton John's Rocket Man, which Jon Peter Lewis sang in Season 3. There were moments where his voice sounded cool, and moments where his performance seemed like an outtake from This is Spinal Tap, all weird notes and movements and spinning around. Nicki gave the performance a standing ovation. Keith said Charlie seemed like "Freddie Mercury had a love child out of Woodstock," and praised Charlie's "fearless unpredictability" and originality. Nicki told Charlie, "I want to cradle you in my arms," and that he was a rock star. Randy said, "I don't know where I am, or what's going on," because he thought the performance was a bit "stage school," but, he said (somewhat facetiously), "Who cares about the singing?" Mariah said she "lived for the song choice" but although she loves Charlie she has liked some of his other performances better. He has this annoying habit of replying to everything the judges say, and spouting non-sequiturs during their feedback. At one point, he pulled out his turtle necklace, holding it aloft and proclaiming, "This is for awkward turtles everywhere."

Jimmy Smith looks ready to make a country album right now, with his curly locks and blandly good looking face. He sang Raining on Sunday by Keith Urban(!), and it was fine, not outstandingly good or bad. Keith again said he was honored that Jimmy sang one of his songs (although he admitted it is a Radney Foster song originally, which was pretty awesome of Keith to do), and thought he did a good job. Nicki said it was a good vocal but she was a little bored, "perhaps because I was thinking of something else earlier." Seriously? Randy said Jimmy looks like Robert Plant but sings country, making "a mixed bag that didn't work." Mariah said it wasn't Jimmy's best vocal "but there's something about you America should see."

The minute Curtis Finch, Jr. stepped on stage I took an immediate dislike to him. Something about his smug pompousness turned me off, and while he has a very good voice (and knows it), his smug, overperformed, hammish delivery of Superstar (more Luther Vandross' version than The Carpenters') annoyed me. (This song, of course, was Season 2 champ Ruben Studdard's signature, and Scott Savol sang it in Season 4. Keith said Curtis' performance was really lovely, that it was overperformed in parts but his voice is beautiful. Nicki said something annoying I didn't even write down, Randy called him one of the best singers in the competition, but cautioned him to try and "keep it young," since he's only 25. He said Curtis was "kinda dope but old fashioned." Mariah said, "I wouldn't even begin to critique you," despite the fact she's being paid millions of dollars to do that, and called his voice and his musicality "top notch."

Time for the judges' decisions. I honestly had no idea what they would do for most of the contestants, and the judges said they had one split decision, which would require Jimmy Iovine to break the tie. (He practically leaped out of his chair, he was so excited to be utilized.) Curtis made it through (Nicki even chided him, saying, "Stop with the act, you know you're through."), Jimmy and Kevin were cut. To the surprise of no one, Elijah made it through (and Nicki was handed a booklet on sexual harassment from the show's legal department), and JDA did not.

The judges' split decision, it was announced, was regarding Paul. Jimmy called him a good singer who chose the wrong song, saying, "You sang a Keith Urban song as if you were auditioning for Phantom of the Opera." (Again with the "theatrical" barb.) He cautioned him about oversinging but said he should make it into the top 20. Chris, although pretty, didn't make it, while Charlie did. And then it was down to masculine Johnny and bilingual Devin. Now, in the show's earlier days, this decision would have been a slam dunk for Johnny. But in this season, especially when they don't want any guys the female audience might find dreamy, the decision went to Devin.

All in all, I couldn't quibble with their top five. I just hope next week's guys' performances are much better (come on, Nick Boddington and Lazaro Arbos), and we don't have to hear how amazing the ladies are. But we will. Ad infinitum. Till next time, America...

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