Last night, the American Idol top 13 competed in regular competition for the first time. And what a night it was! In a change from previous years, the boys and the girls participated in one night. There were a couple of stellar performances, a couple of major disappointments, and a whole lot of Karaoke.
For last nights performances, the boys sang songs from the Stevie Wonder portfolio, and the girls tried to do justice to Whitney Houston classics. One succeeded, but more on that in a moment. – After the break
The nights coaches were Mary J. Blige, and regular mentor Jimmy Iovine, who at times sounds like he is trying to take over Simon Cowel’s role. Never the less, Jimmy’s evaluations are normally spot on, and it is his job to be critical. I seriously think he would be a good addition to the judge’s table. Mary J Blige made some solid styling recommendations, and between them, they saved more than one performer from making a big mistake.
The evening’s performances started on a high note with Joshua Ledet (“Mantasia” in idol-land) singing Wonder’s “I Wish”. With an infectious amount of energy, excellent vocals, and backed up by a brass band that fed a strong rhythm into his performance, Joshua gave a rousing and enjoyable performance. Blige had told him to “punch it up”, and he did. Randy Jackson raved. “Flawless.”, and Randy was right. Joshua set the bar high. And it was not until near the end of the show that someone else jumped over that bar.
After Joshua’s performance, we all needed a break to go to the refrigerator, and the next contestant, Elise Testone provided us with that opportunity. Elise has been a strong performer, but with her rendition of Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight”, Elise descended into the realm of unsure and robotic. While, technically, she sang the words just fine, it was quite obvious she did not feel the music. Both mentors had given her a lot of advice, including telling her she should change her song choice, but that advice apparently fell on deaf ears. To make matters worse, in my opinion, talking with Ryan after her performance and judge’s critique, she appeared to be a bit contrite, like she was looking for someone, besides herself, to blame.
Jennifer Lopez best summed it up when said. “It’s undeniable you have an amazing voice, that’s for sure. I just don’t think this was your best. There were timing issues and there were other things. You just felt a little unsure.”
The “Gentle Giant” Jermaine Jones was up next singing Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet”. Making a slightly questionable start, Jermaine soon found some more of his soul to put into the song. Jermaine has a silky smooth, wonderful voice, and he seems so at ease when he sings. The song turned into an almost perfect cover of Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet”. , with Stephen Tyler summing it up by saying “That song fits you like an Armani suit.”. Despite what appeared to be a very calm and sure performance, Randy Jackson still told Jermaine to relax a bit “because you’ve got it, man.”. I love Jermaine’s voice, but I am not sure it is going to work with the American Idol Genre. Song choice is going to be very critical if Jermaine wants to continue on. And, if you ever wondered how short Ryan Seacrest is, well, he appears to be about 3 feet tall standing next to Jermaine.
Then it was Erika Van Pelt’s turn. In what was obviously a stretch for her rock foundations, her performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Believe in You and Me” was good, but not great, and definitely one of her worst performances to date. Whitney is just not her genre, and it showed, as she took the safe and boring path toe mediocrity in her performance. Still, Jennifer Lopez came up with “I had goosies before you even (started singing).” before opining that Erika should ” let loose a bit and take a risk”. Erika is obviously one of Jimmy Iovine’s favorites. And he certainly knows what sells.
Colton Dixon appeared next putting his all into a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately”. Now, whether Colton is “inde rock” or “emo rock”, his persona has not come through very clearly yet. Colton would appear to be an aspiring “Adam Lambert” protégé. Whatever he is, he is definitely not of the Stevie Wonder genre. However, he did a very good job with this song, trading his previous piano-hopping antics, to just stand there and sing. While some of his performance appeared to be a little “forced” emotionally, and I actually thought boring, the judges were totally into it with Randy telling him “You slayed it in the end. … Well done,”. A credible performance, we are still waiting to see the “real” Colton Dixon emerge.
Then there was Shannon Magrane with a performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” that would have been appropriate for a high school talent show. During the session with Jimmy and Mary J, she actually sounded like she might be able to shed the “pageant singer” moniker. She definitely has technical talent, and a good voice, however when she took the stage, her nerves seem to relegate the performance to dull and lifeless. “I have nothing” is a passionate, gritty, -sweaty- love ballad. Unfortunately Shannon does not have any of those qualities as she wastes a perfectly good voice on emotionless performances every time. Steven Tyler said of her performance “Shannon, I think your nerves got the best of you, baby, You kind of crashed and burned on the turnaround.” He later picked Magrane as one of Wednesday’s worst-performances, and I would have to agree. Whether it is just nerves, or a lack of conviction, Shannon took what should have been a perfect song for her voice, and made a mockery of it.
DeAndre Brackensick swaggered onto the stage next with a down and dirty, rhythmic, soul filled and reggae inspired performance of Wonder’s “Master Blaster.”. Dancing around the stage, interacting with the band, Deandre put on a wonderful performance. However, he needs to work on enunciation. Especially in Stevie Wonder songs, the words are important, and I could not understand a single word Deandre sang. The judges also loved it with Randy Jackson opining “We didn’t want it to stop. That’s how good it was,”.
Country singer Skylar Lane was next. Her voice and style works perfect for country, but not so much for Whitney Houston as she delivered a twangy and slightly nasal version of Whitney’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”. Skylar comes off as a natural for the stage, with poise and confidence infused with energy. She could well be a standout this season, but her roots are country, her voice is country, and her attitude is country. While it was a masterful performance (that gave Mary J Bilge “goosebumps”) of a song outside her realm, as a Whitney Houston fan, I could not help but think :too country”. Jennifer, however, thought very highly of the performance, saying: “You kept it together and you gave us the biggest moment of the night!”
Heejun Han. Not only a great personality, and fun to watch, Heejun reminded me of the late, great Mel Torme as he wound his way through a totally seamless version of Wonder’s “All in Love is Fair”. Perhaps more than any other contestant, Heejun has masterful control of his voice, and a huge dynamic range. From a breathy, but brilliant beginning to a power lick, whether he is whispering, or wailing, Heejun is in control. A very special voice, and a special personality to match, Heejun, the timid, is emerging as a significant competitor. As Randy Jackson said “It wasn’t perfect, but it was really good,”
Next, Hollie Cavanagh wowed both judges and audience alike as she simply nailed Whitney’s “All the Man That I Need,”. Another wonderful voice, with outstanding control and range, this is one of the best voices in the competition. Along with her magnificent voice, Hollie put passion, power and feeling into the song, and actually gave this reviewer “goosies”. This girl can sing, and I don’t think we have even begun to see what she has to offer. As Jennifer said “We might have a sing-off between two girls in the final.”. Hailed as the best girls performance of the night, that title would soon go to someone else.
But, first, Jeremy Rosado. Throughout his entire performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky,”, all I could think was “nice”. Nice performance, nice voice, nice guy. Pedestrian, porridge, safe and secure, Jeremy the performer and Jeremy the performances are always – Nice. Not great, but not bad, sort of like the porridge Goldilocks found. An apt comparison as Jeremy has become the “Teddy Bear” of this competition. Of the judges, Steven also went the “nice” route, but blamed the material with “You didn’t get a chance to fly like you usually do, but it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t in that song,”. Jennifer, who has been smitten by Jeremy since the beginning (he was her wild card pick), looked like she was about to cry.
Finally, the warm up acts were done, the whispers had quieted, and the headline performer Jessica Sanchez took the stage. – OMG! Jessica took on Whitney’s biggest song, “I Will Always Love You” and made it her own. Perhaps in a prediction of the experience that awaited us, during the session with Jimmy and Mary J, Jessica let loose with a note, and Mary J Blige let loose with a gasp. Obviously over whatever ailed her last week – (when it also had no effect on her then magnificent performance) – Jessica provide what was easily the best performance of the night, if not the entire season. Chills and goosebumps all around as the Judges all stood for the night’s only standing ovation.
Randy summed it up with his comments: “This is what it’s really all about! Finding the best talents in all of America, And America, this is one of the best talents in the country.”.
After Jessica was done blowing the competition out of the water, the camera cut to a shot of last night’s final performer, Phillip Phillips, backstage. He didn’t look too confident as he was obviously pondering “how the hell can I follow that?”.
But, Phillip Phillips did follow that, and he did a great job with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Playing Guitar, and rocking out with the band, as Jennifer said afterwards “You just took it…and you made it your own and you killed it,”. Phillip is a natural on stage, with a professional level of ease and confidence. He is also a natural musician and singer. Tonight he took the song, wrung it out, and ran with it while rocking out in a mini “jam” with a pair of guitarists accompanying him on stage.
During the rehearsal, Mary J Blige told us “I love Phillip because he gets lost in the music. There’s no ending for him,”. After his performance, Jennifer said “You just took it…and you made it your own and you killed it,” and Randy Jackson came up with the metaphor. “You drive your own car in your own lane and I love it,”. However, Phillip’s arrangement sound quite a bit like all his other arrangements. And while I enjoy them, I think he is going to have to be careful to “change it up” lest he pigeon hole himself.
All in all, it was an enjoyable and talent filled evening. A couple of standouts in Joshua and especially Jessica, and a couple of failures, most notably Shannon. Thursday night, according to Host Ryan Seacrest, another “plot twist” as America will vote on the lowest girl and guy and then the judges will choose who is eliminated from those bottom two.
Let me know what you think. Who should go Thursday night. Who is GONNA go? Did my experience follow yours, and why, or why not.