After the quickest semi-finals in American Idol history, here we are at the finals where 13 contenders -- 7 girls and 6 boys -- are trying to put the feather in the cap of a revitalized Season 10 by actually being worthy of a win.
This week's theme was to sing a song by your musical idol...which worried me, because idols tend to be those huge-name artists that it's always a risk to try to emulate! The format of the show also showed each contestant's work with (and shared commentary from) the producers from Innerscope records. Not just Jimmy Iovine, show mentor, but his entire stable of famous producers. It's a little inside baseball to a lot of viewers, I'm sure, but it certainly should give this show an extra shot of credibility with musicians.
In general, there were mostly good performance, but few great ones. Opening night jitters were clearly in play...affecting breath control and pitch. So, let's dig in and check everybody out, shall we?
1. Lauren: Her idol is Shania Twain, the song was "Any Man of Mine", and she was coached by producer Don Was
Wow, it was cool to see Don Was...he's truly a musical genius. Anyone else remember Was (Not Was) and their hit song "Walk the Dinosaur?" No, just me? #iamold. Oh, and #datingmyself. So, back to Lauren: Vocally this was just fine. She definitely has a powerhouse voice, and she really is good at belting it out without sounding like she's just yelling or, worse, screaming. But it was a little odd: Her nerves were in evidence because she suddenly seemed shy and constrained physically. She was just very low key, and this song called for more brashness. The judges were right on to tell her so. And Lauren provides our first Teachable Moment by saying: "I had a good time." To which I am forced to reply, every single time a contestant says it: "It's not about you having a good time. We're the audience. It's about whether we have the good time!" :)
Bottom line: I do think she has a lot of good will piled up, so she's likely safe.
2. Casey: His idol is Joe Cocker, the song was "With a Little Help From my Friends," and he was coached by producer Jimmy Iovine himself
Image courtesy FOX
Second Teachable Moment: This is actually a Beatles song. I do wish writers and original artists got a little more attribution than they do. Several of these happened last night. Anyway: Most of this was great, and Casey definitely has a boatload of talent. I will say that occasionally his screeching wasn't really in any particular key, and the amazing thing about Joe Cocker is that his screeching always is. But mostly it was a lot of fun.
Bottom line: Oh, he's safe. It seems obvious.
3. Ashthon: Her idol is Diana Ross, the song was "When You Tell Me That You Love Me", and she was coached by producer Rodney Jerkins
My recommendation, if you're going to pick a Diana Ross song, is to pick one we all know. I guess I've now completely pegged my age for you all: old enough to know obscure Was (Not Was), not old enough to know obscure Diana Ross. As for the performance, a lot of the singers last night sang songs that started out quite low in their registers. And if you're nervous and having trouble controlling your breath because of it such low singing can end up sounding breathy and week. She went from low and breathy to high and screechy on the very top, and I don't think it was a combo that's going to work for her.
Bottom line:She's a wild card, so it's not like she had huge support backing her up. I think she's at risk.
4. Paul: His idol is Ryan Adams, the song was "Come Pick Me Up," and he was coached by producer Don Was
Unfortunately for Paul, I doubt JLo is the only one who hasn't heard of Ryan Adams. So, this was a risk. Now, that means he owns the segment of the audience that will totally give him props for the risk, props for being quirky, but is that enough? The performance itself again kicked off with a quite low section...one where he sounded breathy and weak, just like Ashthon on hers. I just thought this was kinda boring. So, the question is: Will quirk carry him through?
Bottom line: I was frankly surprised he had the voting support to make it into the Top 13, so clearly he had a fan base. He might be at risk, but I think he'll be staying.
5. Pia: Her idol is Celine Dion, the song was "All By Myself," and she was coached by producer Ron Fair
So we had an opportunity for Teachable Moment #2: This song was originally sung by Eric Carmen, not Celine Dion. But really this was a prime example of Teachable Moment #3. Here's my question: If you are singing a heart-rending, tragedy-infused, morose song: Why are you smiling? Just don't do it...it takes us out of the song. It reads fake. Pia did it for about 20 seconds at the beginning, but she did quickly discard the smile, so I could live with it! I didn't quite feel the ecstasy that the judges did over this. I found a couple of the topmost notes a little rough and maybe even a little flat. And the song itself is kind of repetitive, but she has a very, very sweet tone to her voice. She's very pleasant to listen to...low, high, even slightly off. And bonus: She looked gorgeous. She really knows how to package herself. Elegant, but flashy, all at the same time.
Bottom line: Oh, I think she's quite safe.
6. James: His idol is Paul McCartney, the song was "Maybe I'm Amazed," and he was coached by producer Jim Johnson
Love the song, love his voice in general. He just needs to know that he doesn't always have to "find a place" for the wailing. Sometimes it's OK to leave it aside for a song. He actually doesn't have the same consistency and quality when he's doing it that Adam Lambert had, and sometimes it just doesn't fit. I would really like to see James's "Mad World" moment, how about you?
Bottom line: Oh come on: Safe as safe can be.
7. Haley: Her idol is LeeAnn Rimes, the song was "Blue," and she was coached by producers Rock Mafia
This was definitely the most I've ever liked Haley. She sounded clear and perfect. I don't agree that it was sleepy: It was simple and straight to the heart. So, to me: Nice nice job.
Bottom line: If she was getting through when being a slightly creepily oversexual teen, how will this more refined approach work for her? I hope it works well.
8. Jacob: His Idol is R. Kelly (side note: ewwww), the song was "I Believe I Can Fly," and he was coached by producer Rodney Jerkins
Yeah, I'm still not on the Jacob train. And it didn't help for him to pick the creepy R. Kelly as his idol, but that's not the main point. The main point is that he was not consistently on key. He has one of those voices with a wide vibrato that rides that edge, and he went off the edge. (Think Chrissie Hynde for someone with a wide vibrato that mostly stays on the edge and doesn't fall off.) I do not get it. I do not get the over-the-top positive feedback from the judges. Not. My. Cuppa.
Bottom line: But there's always someone who is totally not my cuppa, and that everyone else loves, so they stick around for weeks and weeks. Jacob might be mine this season: Who have been yours?
9. Thia: Her idol is Michael Jackson, the song was "Smile," and she was coached by producer Ron Fair
The producer did point out the Teachable Moment on this song: "Smile" is actually by Charlie Chaplin. Weird, right? Anyway, after such a stellar week last week, since "Out Here On My Own," Thia took two steps back with this one. The first verse was OK, although her nerves seemed to be getting to her, but when the juiced it up a bit for the second half, making it kind of a jazzy lounge tune, it just didn't work for me. I much preferred the first half, slight pitchiness and all.
Bottom line: I think she has stored up good will, and will be safe.
10. Stefano: His idol is Stevie Wonder, the song was "Lately," and he was coached by producer Polow Da Don
Stefano is this season's boy toy for me. Perhaps the very cutest one since Ace Young :)`He also happens to have a really great voice with a very sweet tone. Now, I wouldn't say this was his best performance ever, and considering he got in on a wild car, I'm a bit nervous for him. Some of it seemed strained, some of it seemed constrained. But it was all adorable.
Bottom line: Like I said, worried for him, but I think he deserves to stay.
11. Karen: Her idol is Selena, the song was "I could Fall in Love," and somehow I missed writing down who she was coached by!
As with lots of other folks during the evening, the low stuff is the toughest when nervous. But overall she did pretty well. I didn't think she knocked it out of the park, though, and I find myself finding her the least memorable of the night. Which is never good.
Bottom line: She might be at risk, because she obviously made me zone out during her performance!
12. Scotty: His idol is Garth Brooks, the song was "The River," and he was coached by producer Don Was
OK, I get that he's cute, and his voice is incongruous and therefore striking. But this made me go: Meh. I thought it was pitchy. I thought it was a boring song (and I admit, country isn't the genre I follow). The most interesting thing about this performance was when STy quoted Elton John's "Roy Rogers," from the amazing and timeless Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, without knowing that's who he was quoting. Really? Sigh, poor Sir Elton.
Bottom line: Scotty is the kind of guy who probably has staying power. I mean look at how long Bucky lasted!!!
13. Naima: Her idol is Rhianna, the song was "Umbrella," and she was coached by producer Tricky Stewart (not to be confused with Bjork's ex-boyfriend ambient artist Tricky).
Image courtesy FOX
OK, you gotta admit: This was the most interesting performance. Naima reminds me of Nadia from Season 4, in that she's intriguing and sets herself apart with her entire approach, look, song choice, sound. But. (You knew there had to be a "but," right?) It would have been better if she had executed better. She didn't just have occasional flat pitch, her actual tone sounded flat and lifeless. It really was erratic, sometimes she came to life (like the middle reggae-infused portion), and sometimes she sounded totally drab.
Bottom line: I tend to think she made such an impression that she'll garner votes.
Bottom line for the Bottom Three:
To me the bottom three are: Ashthon, Paul and Jacob, but I definitely don't think it will go down like that.
I think the bottom three will be: Ashthon, Paul and Karen.
And Ashthon should and will go home.
But what do you think?