Thursday, February 21, 2013

AI Recap: Get Outta My Head...

I'll tell you, I really struggled with whether or not to commit myself to watching and recapping another season of American Idol. I mean, they kept Randy Jackson on the judges panel after weeks of rumors that he'd be put out to pasture transitioned into an "advisor" role, and I was such a huge Phillip Phillips phan (ha ha) last season, why not end it all on a high note?

But no, my friends, the need to snark won out over all else. So I'm back for Season 12, y'all! Oh, and if you haven't heard, they want a female winner this season.

In an effort to stack the top 10 with the contestants they want prolong the excitement as long as possible, this season has two weeks of "sudden death" rounds, or, as a fluffy-haired, tieless Ryan referred to it, "One song, one chance, no mercy." (Maybe I've been reading too many dystopian novels, but I wouldn't mind a "Hunger Games"-type singing competition.) Last night, 10 of the top 20 girls sang for the judges, and the judges will pick five of them. Tonight, the same thing will happen with 10 of the top 20 guys. And next week, the same thing will happen for the remaining groups.

When the judges were introduced, Nicki was once again sporting blonde hair that made her look a little like Janice the Muppet, Keith looked like he might have paid a visit or two to Nicole Kidman's plastic surgeon, and Mariah looked less than enthusiastic, a fact she reinforced when Ryan asked her if she was happy about the fact they'd have to cut contestants. She basically said, "Umm, no."

Oh, by the way, there's been a huge buzz about the ladies this season. In case you hadn't heard.

First up, Jenny Beth Willis, a 17-year-old from Owensboro, KY. She chose to sing Trisha Yearwood's Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love. It was an odd song choice for me (plus I'd never heard of it so I didn't know how good of a job she did), and vocally it was good in some parts (like the last big note) and rough in others. Touchy-feely Keith said he had mixed feelings about Jenny Beth's performance because it showed her "effortless confidence" yet it wasn't the best song for her. Nicki said she didn't come alive to the end, and even said that the "audience was more excitement (sic) than you were." Randy decided not to pull any punches, said it felt a little "jerky," like she was out of sync with the band, and while the last note was great, the rest of it wasn't. Mariah—whose frustration at being last to speak grew as the night went on—started her critique with, "Oh, dear." However, she called it a "very nice performance," but said she wished Jenny Beth would have been "more dynamic" with the verses. However, "the last note was a stone winner." All in all, not great.

Next up was Tenna Torres (darn you, Torres family, for spelling this child's name "Tenna" but pronouncing it "Teena"), from Queens, NY, who apparently disclosed during her auditions that she went to Camp Mariah as a child. Seriously? What activities did they do at this camp, hit vocal runs and practice wardrobe malfunctions? (It's actually a summer learning program for underprivileged children sponsored by the Fresh Air Fund. Take that, Larry.) Anyway, Tenna (ugh) sang Natasha Bedingfield's Soulmate (another song I'd never heard before), and looked like a circa-1980s singer from Star Search. I thought her tone and vocal choices were interesting but wasn't ultimately blown away by it. Keith said the song "required a lot of control, which you mostly had." Nicki (who started with this affectation where she'd address each contestant in her fake British accent) asked Tenna, "Why are you sad?" She explained it was a sad song, so she was trying to get into it. "You're scaring me," Nicki said. (You're scaring me, Nicki.) Nicki then said that her fans were apparently mad at her for saying Tenna had a good voice during the auditions (because, you know, Nicki is the vocal yardstick against which everyone should be measured), which was weird feedback to give a contestant. But she said she loved the performance, although she said that her hairstyle aged her, and advised her to "cut it all off, go bald." Randy said, "To me, this is the start of the night!", then called the performance, "95 percent perfect." Mariah said she "didn't want to be redundant," but praised Tenna's vocals and said that she hit great notes without even trying.

Apparently, 17-year-old Adriana Latonio is the show's first contestant from Alaska. Really? The pint-size cutie belted her way through a soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin's Ain't No Way, and while her vocals were fantastic, the best part was seeing Randy and Mariah sing along with the background vocalists. Keith and Randy gave her a standing ovation, and Keith said, "Now the night has started!", calling the performance "so damn good." Nicki referred to Adriana as a "little ladybug," asked if she was Filipino—begin Jessica Sanchez comparisons now—and called her "poised and ready." Randy "loved it, loved it, loved it," saying she was "born to do it," and Mariah rated the performance an "A+." I agree with Mrs. Cannon on that one.

Louisiana psych nurse Brandy Hotard was up next, and she chose to sing Travis Tritt's Anymore, a song Kimberly Caldwell sang in Season 2 (are you really surprised I know that?). I love the song and love to sing it, actually, but it's not a knock-your-socks-off type of song, despite a few big notes, which I thought she did well with. The judges weren't wowed. Keith said Brandy's voice was really good but said she suffered from "emotional connection inconsistency," because she wasn't reacting properly to the song. Nicki told Keith to "get out of her head" (I wonder if Nicole Kidman started getting into her To Die For persona when the icky flirting began), and questioned why Brandy was smiling while singing "My tears no longer waiting." She knocked Brandy's "pageant delivery" of the song (truth be told, she is a former top 10 contestant at Miss Louisiana), and then doomed her with a Paula-esque, "You look beautiful." Randy got his chance to start spouting ridiculousness because he said Brandy's song "didn't tell me enough about who you are...who am I looking at?" Mariah said she didn't notice Brandy smiling, she just saw "a beautiful girl singing," and told her "when you open up your voice in mid-register with the vibrato, it's a million-dollar note." She also encouraged her to record an album of classics, because she reminded her of a beautiful classic country singer from the past. (Of course, no one pointed that she might not get the chance to record such an album if she didn't make it into the top 10, but who am I to quibble?)

Seventeen-year-old Shubha Vedula (rewind to Randy's foul-up from the auditions, "What? Shula Vedula?") decided to shake things up with a rendition of Lady GaGa's Born This Way. She started out on the piano, singing a soulful, slow version, then got up and started singing uptempo. Did she throw a few too many runs in there? Maybe. Was it overly ambitious? Perhaps. But isn't the show looking for unique artists they can market? Oh, wait. No, they're not. The crowd really went wild, and Keith awkwardly said, "Well, it's all about the audience voting." (Which, of course, it isn't this round.) He called her performance "confusing," but said he loved Shubha's voice despite that. Nicki said there was so much going on, calling Shubha a "mashup of Christina Aguilera and that Gangnam Style guy." (Ouch.) Randy said he'd come to Shubha's defense, praising her unbelievable potential at age 17, but said she didn't need to hit runs on every note, and he would have loved it if she had stayed at the piano for the whole song. Mariah agreed with Randy, saying it seemed less forced at the piano. But, she said, "There's something about your voice—I can't pinpoint it—but I commend you." You could tell that Shubha thought the judges' reactions would be different than they were.

Background singer Kamaria Ousley was up next, singing a fairly horrible rendition of Kelly Clarkson's Mr. Know-it-All. She tried to change the song up a little too much and it just didn't work at all. Keith said he didn't think she ever found her emotional connection. Nicki said she was "nicely styled," but said that she "never noticed the throaty, twangy thing" in her voice, and didn't know if it was something Kamaria threw into the performance for "a little swag." Randy said it was Kamaria's worst performance of the season, saying it didn't work from the start, and there was "nothing redeemable about it." Ouch. Mariah said she was marketable, that a producer could put her in a studio and make a record, but somehow that didn't come off as a compliment.

Melanie Lynskey's doppelganger, Kree Harrison, sang Patty Griffin's Up to the Mountain, which Crystal Bowersox sang in the Season 9 finale. (It would have been her single, in fact, had she won.) Kree was really fantastic, and I find her voice so magnetic, so unlike many of the relatively generic country singers this show tends to pimp. (Heck, one might be coming up next week, in fact.) I'd like to believe she's really as humble as she seems. Keith and Nicki gave her a standing ovation, and Keith praised her "effortless believability" and said she is authentic. Nicki said she'd be very afraid if she were any of the other female contestants after Kree's performance. She told her that "every time you sing you make love to the song," that "even though you're fully dressed, something about you is so sexy." Randy called her a "natural born singer," and Mariah called the performance "beautiful to watch," and said she "sang the hell out of the song." I look forward to the wardrobe help Kree will get, because she looks like she just rolled out of bed.

After a quick shout-out to former (female) winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, who won Grammys earlier in the month, and another plug that perhaps one of this season's women could follow in their footsteps (can we dial this "a girl must win" frenzy down just a little, please?), Angela Miller, of the original song that blew the judges away last week, took the stage. With about 200 pounds of hair, she sang Jessie J's Nobody's Perfect. She's got a great voice, but I thought the song was a little too "look at me hit these notes" and seemed disjointed. Keith praised her "big, big gift" of a beautiful voice. Nicki told "Angie" she loved her, and went on for far too long about her song from last week. (Oh, but they're only judging on tonight's performance, remember.) She then said "America is witnessing the building of a superstar." (Hyperbole much?) Randy called her "the real deal" and said "she's going places." Mariah, too, talked only about the original song she sang last week.

Single-monikered Isabelle was next, and she talked about how she lost a lot of weight when she was a teenager. She sang God Bless the Child. I thought it was really good but it seemed very old-fashioned, almost (dare I say) pageanty. The judges talked about how she "overcame such struggles" and now is a role model for so many people. (Wait, isn't this a singing competition?) Randy praised her big voice and huge talent, but called the song "old-fashioned, like something you'd hear at a beauty pageant." (So Randy and I are on the same page. I have no words.) Mariah told Isabelle, "Your vocal is selling you, and your heart is selling you."

Rounding out the night was young Amber Holcomb, who was cut during Vegas Week last season. She sang My Funny Valentine, which the sensational Melinda Doolittle took on in Season 6, as did Constantine Maroulis in Season 4, and Matt Giraud in Season 8. When I first listened to it, I didn't love it, but after watching it back, I like what she did with the song. She definitely has a great voice. Keith, Randy, and Mariah gave her a standing ovation. Keith praised Amber's technique, saying she made it look easy, and said that she took an "old-fashioned song and made it seem interesting." Nicki called the vocal "A+++" (take that, Mariah), but wondered if Amber's "inner shine would shine through the television." Randy said it would. Mariah said she wanted to smack Amber because it was so good, that she loved her interpretation and can't wait to get her in the studio to make a record.

Left with nearly 30 minutes, you knew they'd drag the decisions out. The judges' chairs (with them seated) rose from underneath the stage, and one by one they revealed their decisions. The judges were unanimous (apparently sort of), so they didn't need cranky Uncle Jimmy to break any ties. Jenny Beth Willis and Brandy Hotard were sent packing (although the judges all praised the latter's work as a psych nurse), then Randy went into his whole "it's such an emotional night for us as judges, blah blah blah" before telling Tenna Torres she made it into the top 10. (Didn't agree with that choice.) Mariah tried telling Kree Harrison she never liked her as a singer, as if that could fake her into believing she didn't make it. (Mariah, the acting thing didn't work in Glitter and it doesn't here.) Isabelle was given the bad news, then Angela Miller got the good news, as did Amber Holcomb. For some reason, they let Kamaria Ousley give a speech before the judges sent her home, saying that she couldn't hear herself during rehearsal and couldn't hear herself during the performance, but she understood. (Kamaria, I heard you, and it wasn't pretty.)

Which left us with one stool and two contestants, the 17-year-olds, Shubha Vedula and Adriana Latonio. They're apparently best friends, and Shubha talked about how they'd keep in touch no matter what. Then, to the surprise of no one, Adriana was told she made it into the top 10, and Shubha was cut. I would have put both of them into the top 10 and cut Tenna, but what can you do?

Tonight? Ten of the top 20 guys sing. I wonder if they only put the bad singers into the top 20 to guarantee a female winner. Hmmm...

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