The Final 61: Some research

I found a full list of contestants this morning, so I did some digging. We know a lot of them already; I spent most of my time looking for a way to at least sketch the ones we don’t know. I didn’t rank ’em this time; the list is in alphabetical order.

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The singers:

Aaron Sanders, 26– I couldn’t find any video. He’s the Don Cheadle lookalike who occasionally shows up on camera, usually celebrating with someone we know. I haven’t heard him sing yet.

Adrian Michael, 18– He forgot the words during round three, so the judges must really like him to have kept him in. I’ve seen some video of Adrian, playing guitar and singing original material. He sounds a little like George Benson, but without the singalong guitar riffs.

Alex Ryan, 17– I haven’t seen him, so I took a look at his Golden Ticket interview (all of the contestants have one; you can find them on Idol’s main website). He is a huge fan of Adam Lambert and Freddie Mercury, so he might be another of those Adam Lambert imitators we keep seeing everywhere. He looks the part, and he’s a musical theater member. He claims he can do a Rubik’s Cube in a minute and a half.

Ashley Sullivan, 25 – You know her by now. The 64 dollar question is either “why is she still here?” or “will she stay composed long enough to sing a whole song?” I have no answer for either question. I just want to hear her sing one song all the way through, so the show can point her to the nearest 12 step program and get on with it.

“Hi. My name is Ashley and I am a fruitcake.”

“Hi, Ashley.”

Ashton Jones, 24 – I wrote about her in my round three recap. I couldn’t find any outside video of her, but I did find a bunch of Ashton Jones songs from some guy with the same name. I don’t think she has an interesting enough voice to win, but she is in the mix for the live shows. She grades out solidly everywhere, but not amazing anywhere.

Bekah Boom, 16 – YouTube is full of her videos. Most of them are just her, singing alone into her computer. Her voice is sweet, but I don’t think she is polished enough to be a contender. She’s here, though, with only 61 left. That’s a good start.

Brett Loewenstern, 16 – We know Brett. I expect him to make the live shows, now that he’s this close. He could be this year’s Alex Lambert – the cute kid all the mothers want to love – and Brett is a good bit more polished than Alex was. He would be an asset to the tour, I think, with his interesting voice and his geeky charm.

Brittany Mazur, 21– Miss Tucson (not Tuscan, as I said in an earlier post) has a little girl quality to her voice, but she has some power behind it. I’m a little bit surprised that she is still in, but maybe she’s been improving. She would have had to. In her videos she goes wildly out of tune whenever she steps off the beaten melodic path.

Caleb Hawley, 25– He has plenty of video out there. His voice has a warm, natural tone, but he can sound pretty awful when he isn’t careful. I think it’s a breathing issue. He doesn’t save enough breath, so he has to push high notes out with only a mouthful of air left. He’s a dynamic guitar player, but he gets distracted by his riffs, and forgets to concentrate on what he is singing. Idol is a singing contest.

Carson Higgins, 22 – I talked about him at length in my last recap. Carson is a stage actor who sings, not a singer. Idol has had thousands of better singers, but only a few more entertaining contestants. He won’t win, or even contend, but every week he’s still around is a good week for the viewers.

Casey Abrams, 19 – How is he only 19? He has a bag of tricks that had to have taken him years to develop. He isn’t the best singer in the competition, but he can sing some and he is by far the best musician. He’s the only guy on the show who can trade licks with Steven Tyler, and not look like a scrub.

Casey Schuber, 17 – Casey is all over YouTube. She fingerpicks acoustic, she can play the piano, and an electric guitar on her wall might mean she can pick out a little lead. Her singing style reminds me of Joni Mitchell more than anyone else, but she probably thinks of herself as a Jewel disciple. She is a polished singer and a polished guitar player, but she loses her polish when she does both at once.

I’m skeptical of her chances. Her style is pretty low key – not exactly what Idol looks for. I couldn’t be higher on her for the long haul, though. She is going to have a career in music in some capacity. It’s not impossible that she will end up on a stage someday, accepting a Grammy for best singer, best writer, best producer, best something. She does it all, and she does it all well – and she’s only 17. I’d love to own ten percent of her future.

Chelsea Sorrell, 22 – She has several YouTube videos, mostly Carrie Underwood covers. Her voice is sweet, she has a rich tone and she sings in tune. Her stage presence isn’t much at this point, and I think she will need to be more animated to avoid being branded as a karaoke singer.

Chris Medina, 26– I think we know plenty about Chris already.

Chrissy Feliciano, 23 – She toured with Metal/Rap artist Marz a couple of years ago, filling the role that Fergie fills with the Black Eyed Peas.

Clint Jun Gamboa, 26 – He’s going to wish he hadn’t booted Jacee out on Group Night. He has one of the best voices on the show, but it’s hard to survive a bad group night edit.

Colton Dixon, 18 – His sister Schyler also made it to Hollywood this year. Colton has an original song on YouTube that’s fantastic; the video is all messed up, or I would give you a link. He sounds like Elvis Costello, so he’s up against it as a singer, but he’s interesting. He might not need to win Idol to have a career.

Deandre Brackensick, 15 – He was part of the Minors – that group of teeny-boppers that sang so well on Group Night. He’s the one with the curly hair and the ponytail. I think he’s Hawaiian; I know he plays the ukelele, there’s video evidence on YouTube. He has an outrageous falsetto, but he overuses it. It might get old if he goes deep in the competition.

Denise Jackson, 20 – She was third in a montage of unnamed auditioners from Milwaukee that I thought I mentioned, but I can’t find in my notes. I wasn’t impressed then, and she hasn’t gotten enough airtime to prove me wrong. She was in the group with Jacee and Brett, and her two aired lines weren’t anything to go on.

Erin Kelly, 20 – As far as I know this is not Aaron Kelly after the operation. This Erin Kelly is a tiny round ball of enthusiasm and energy, with a wild mane of dark curly hair and a lot of cute/sexy charisma. She plays the piano, and she looks like a rocker chick. I’ve never heard her sing, though, so who in the hell knows? In her interview she said her favorite singer is Mary J. Blige.

I wish Idol would give everyone who survived this far at least that one shot at singing on TV. They deserve to be heard, and we deserve to hear them.

Haley Reinhart, 18 – She was perfect in round three. She will probably need to be perfect in Vegas too, if she is going to survive. I like her manner, and her energy. I don’t love her voice, and I don’t see enough polish to overcome the lack of power and command. Every week is going to be a “deep breath, now go be perfect” round for her until she is bounced.

Hollie Cavanagh, 17 – The little crying, cotton-headed belter went a lot deeper in the competition than I thought that she would. Apparently the judges see something in her that isn’t apparent to the rest of us. I’d like to hear her again.

Jacee Badeaux, 15 – Nearly 25 million people watched him break into tears when he was passed to round three on Group Night. I bet at least 15 million of them were crying, too; I know I was.

Jackie Wilson, 28 – We haven’t seen her since she repeated her audition song on the first Hollywood show, but she’s hanging in there. I want to hear her again, so I can get a better handle on her. She might be amazing. On the other hand, she might be a mirage, kept alive by the judges because they slurped her too much after her audition. She’s probably somewhere in the middle … but can we get on with it? We need to hear her again.

Jacob Lusk, 23 – Does anyone out there remember those old 7 UP commercials, with the Jamaican guy who kept saying “coo-la-nut”? 7 Up hasn’t had a major advertizing campaign for awhile now, at least that I noticed, but their marketing department is underrated. They had the old Jamaican guy plus Tug McGraw (“no caffeine, no problem”), Professor Irwin Corey, and recently (well, several years ago now) the “Make Seven-Up Yours” campaign.

The best commercial in that campaign was the T-shirt that said “make 7 UP yours,” – with “Make 7” on the front and “UP Yours” on the back. Anyway, if Jacob doesn’t make the live shows he can always bring back the cool-a nut guy.

Jacqueline Elliot, 24 – I had to watch her interview to get anything. She is a soft spoken Texas girl who lives in San Jose. She loves her mother and Tina Turner. She values humility, and she feels like she can turn it on when she is in front of a crowd. Can she sing? She made it this far – of course she can sing. Will we ever get to hear her sing? You tell me.

Jalen Harris, 15 – He’s one of the Minors, the teeny-boppers from Group Night – he’s the kid who sounded like Michael Jackson. He isn’t perfect, and he takes a lot of chances with the melody. I would be surprised if he wasn’t one of the next few out.

James Durbin, 21 – J.D. has plenty of voice, obviously, but I am a little skeptical. He isn’t going to be as unique as I originally thought, with so many Adam types around, even if he has the closest thing to the Genuine Adam Voice. He’ll make the live shows, but he’s going to have to motivate the voting public once he gets there. So far he hasn’t been very motivational. He’s been mostly arrogant and insecure. He needs to stop imitating Adam Lambert, and show us who James Durbin is.

Jerome Bell, 27 – He’s the guy that sings on cruise ships, if you remember me talking about that. My take on him originally was that he took too many chances and overdid his vocal tricks. I haven’t seen him for several shows, so that’s all that I have to go on. The fact that he made it this far is a good sign; he hasn’t gone off the deep end yet. No pun intended. As far as you know.

Jessica Cunningham, 24 – Jessica was around last year, too. She was in the first “Bad Romance” group, the one that sucked. She’s a pure belter, with no finesse and a habit of flattening out and spreading her tone (like Fran Drescher from “The Nanny”) when she is working her way down a melody.

Jimmie Allen, 24 – His voice isn’t very strong, but it isn’t Lacey Brown weak. He has other things going for him, and a lot of experience. I was impressed by his intonation the first time he stepped in front of a band. Staying in tune on the big stage isn’t as easy as it looks – not with Idol nerves kicking you like a mule in a thunderstorm.

John Wayne Schulz, 22 – He styles himself after Brad Paisley, hiding his limited range under a silky, understated delivery. He’s already won the hearts of cowboy lovers, so if he makes the semifinals he might be hard to get out.

Jonathan Ojeda, 21 – He has his own website, and he’s already self published an album with good production values. He is, to me, a hybrid of Michael Jackson and El Debarge. He ain’t as good as they are, but who is?

His voice isn’t strong, so he’ll need to make up for it elsewhere. With his experience, he might.

Jordan Dorsey, 21 – Junebug and Jordan were both smushed under the public opinion bus on Group Night, sacrificed on the altar of reality-show drama. Junebug is good enough that it probably won’t matter, but Jordan is going to be a close call. He might end up being this year’s … who was that rocker chick with the bad hair who got bus-smushed on Group Night last year?

Mary Powers, that’s right. She was dumped right before the live shows. Jordan, even if he survives to the live shows, ain’t going to get the benefit of the doubt from the voters. At best, he’s a live-show one-and-done unless he blows us away. And he ain’t good enough to blow us away.

Jovany Barreto, 22 – The only reason he’s still on the show is that Jennifer Lopez has a crush on him. He might not be as arrogant as he looks, but television is all about looks. Appearances. And he appears to be a crappy singer with the personality of a constipated toad.

Julie Zorrilla, 19 – I’m starting to warm to her, but the burner’s on two. At this pace, I’m going to sort of like the back of her head when she gets on the bus.

Karen Rodriguez, 21 – She killed on Group Night. She’s going live.

Kendra Campbell, 21 – Kendra is almost cartoonishly good looking, so it’s a little strange that Idol hasn’t aired any of her performances. Her videos are all over the place, too, not just on YouTube. She goes by Kendra Chantelle (Chantelle is her middle name) on stage and on her videos. Let me know when you are back from googling her. I’ll wait.

Is everyone back? Ok, good. Our next contestant …

LaKeisha Lewis, 23 – I couldn’t find any video and Idol hasn’t featured her, so I’m clueless. She is about as wide as she is tall. I watched her Golden Ticket Interview, and she seems personable and nice. Whitney Houston is her favorite artist, and she grew up singing gospel. Common, Idol, let’s hear the kid sing, ok?

Lauren Alaina, 15 – We know Lauren. America knows Lauren. Coma patients know Lauren. Fossilized remains of long-dead autistic amoebas know Lauren.

Lauren Turner, 24 – Unfortunately, we don’t know this Lauren. “Other Lauren” also shares her name – her full name – with a student at Belmont University. “Other Lauren Turner” makes a new video every time she changes her underwear, so it was pretty much impossible to research this Lauren Turner. Yaknow what’s funny? I bet her pregnant mother, looking for a name, chose “Lauren” because she thought, “well, at least there won’t be a bunch of other Laurens around.”

This Lauren has a wonderful voice, and I would love to hear more of her.

Luke James Schaffer, 25 – He is a pale imitatation of Bryan Adams, put on this earth to impress teenaged girls and bore the rest of us.

Matthew Suyat, 24 – His lower range and his rap voice remind me of Shaggy, but his upper range reminds me of an overmatched Luther Vandross imitator. If you are going to sing like Luther, you need to have more power. If Idol doesn’t work out, he can make a nice living on cruise ships as a rapping ukelele player.

Melinda Ademi, 16 – She looks like a Kardashian, but she sounds more like Tiffany. That’s fitting; she is still basically a mall rat.

Molly DeWolf 22 – Molly is Harvard Girl, or Long Nose Girl, or White House Page Girl. Just so you know, if you forgot. I have no idea if she’s any good; her audition song was a novelty performance.

Naima Adedapo 25 – Naima’s colorful costumes are based on her African cultural and religious roots. Her husband dresses even more dramatically, and they both talk about their faith as if their God is in the next room. They have a pair of adorkable toddlers; if she makes it to the live shows, I’m sure we’ll see them a lot.

Natalie Hanson, 20 – Boy, is she tall.

Paul McDonald, 25 – He isn’t getting any coverage yet; my best guess is that they have nothing to say to him, other than “see you next week.” Paul isn’t going to win, but he’s going to make the tour. My best guess is that he’ll finish around eighth. He’s too good to get dumped sooner, but he’s too limited to last longer.

He’s like Matt Giraud, who finished fifth in season eight. Matt was clearly too good for most of the competition, but once the criteria shifted from competence to brilliance – once there were only competents remaining – he didn’t have that extra gear. Paul’s like that. He’s as good at what he does as anyone on the show, but he’s a one-trick pony. The weak will fall, and the strong will pass, but Paul remain right where he is.

Phil Brooks 16 – He plays the guitar and the piano. I like his voice, and he has good command of the blue notes. It’s a testament to the depth of talent this season that he doesn’t stand out more. He is surprisingly smooth for such a young kid, obviously driven to succeed, and undeniably talented.

Pia Toscano 21 – She reminds me of Ashley Rodriguez, who coasted to the semifinals last year before being unceremoniously dumped after Simon handed her a crab sandwich.

Rachel Zevita, 21 – The curly-headed little gothmonster was Idol’s first audition this year. She has Janelle Wheeler’s tone; she doesn’t have Janelle’s polish, but she has more power. She needs to control her vibrato, which can get away from her.

Robbie Rosen, 16 – Depending on how he dresses, Robbie can look like a kid or an old man. He’s like Henry Winkler; he can be the Fonze, or he can be Principle Himbry (“Scream”). Robbie’s chances are tied tightly to his ability to attract female voters, so he needs to think Fonzie.

Scotty McCreery, 16 – He looks like Evan Longoria’s stunt double, and he is a baseball star at his local high school. How wild would it be to see him in the major leagues in a few years, on the same team with his doppelganger?

Sophia Shorai, 28 –  I spend more time studying baseball history than I spend studying American Idol. I liken singers with weak voices to pitchers without a good fastball; without a good fastball, everything else has to be perfect.

Sophia has no fastball at all.

Stefano Langone, 20 – My sister Alison knows his family, so I’m obligated to root for him. I would anyway, though. He has power, emotion and rhythm in spades. All he needs is decent intonation. He’s the opposite of Sophia, who has wonderful intonation but little else.

Symphony Music Howlett, 20 – That’s her given name; it’s on her birth certificate. Her mother is a belly dancer, and both parents are hippies (surprise). Symphony belly dances and does some circus performing, including the trapeze. She plays several instruments, she is a prolific songwriter, and she is cuter than a care bear. Anything else?

I’m shocked that Idol hasn’t featured her. I mean, common, guys – a belly dancing trapeze artist whose real name is Symphony Music? If you can’t come up with a way to make that interesting, you just aren’t trying. Are they saving her for later, like they did with Sha-Von last year?

I don’t want to give you the impression that she’s going to win, though. She’s a Jewel type, and she has a strong voice, but – as you would expect from a kid who does so many other things – she ain’t polished enough to compete with the best singers on Idol.

Tatynisa Wilson, 20 – She must be really good to have survived her round three performance, when she forgot the words. I found one video of her, singing as the “featuring – ” on a rap song. She sounded ok, I think, but it’s hard to say. She sang three notes, then some guy cussed for three minutes, then she sang three more notes, then the guy cussed some more. Behind them, the stage was full of half-naked people pretending they were dry-humping kangaroos.

Thia Megia, 15 – Don’t sing anything up-tempo until you see the whites of their eyes.

Tim Halperin, 23 – His videos aren’t cheap basement tapes. He’s on stages, in front of crowds. He might be a contender; he won’t be nervous on the big stage. He sounds just like Jackson Browne.

Tiwan Strong, 28 – We haven’t seen him since he did a little Sam Cooke at his audition.

Wade Brown, 17 – I couldn’t find any footage anywhere, other than in the background of a home video taken during a Group Night rehearsal. He is the only one from that group still in the competition, and he didn’t sing any lead.

I checked out his Golden Ticket Interview; he worships Fantasia and his late Great Grandmother. I think he’s a gospel belter when he sings, but I am just guessing based on his interests. I didn’t get any sense that he is a professional, but I really want to hear him sing. Can we hear him, Idol? Can we hear ’em all?