Road to the live stage

This is all culled from the previous season 10 recaps, with a few grammer and spelling errors corrected.

Jan 19;

If you stuck through to the end last year, I salute you. If you gave up early, I don’t blame you but I hope that you’ll give the show another shot. 2011 will be the year of the kinder, gentler judges and a renewal of the original mission of the show: Find great singers, and let them sing great.

There have been a lot of changes, both in front of and behind the camera. The age limit was lowered to fifteen years old, and the old semi-final system was scrapped. They are still working out the details for the new format. I’ll keep you posted. The new people:

Jennifer Lopez- Judge. J-Lo finds it hard to say no, and it’s been reported on several sites that the judges gave 320 Golden Tickets away, almost twice the number from last year. It’s obvious already that Jen is going to be the new Paula, though probably a much more sober Paula. It’s too early to talk about her in any deeper way as a judge yet. I am optimistic, though. She seems to be working towards being positive even when she says no, and giving creative criticism. It wouldn’t work if all of them do this, but it’s not a bad thing for one of them to be the nice one.

Steven Tyler– Judge. He is way too easy so far, but I can see him getting comfortable and being blunt, if not overtly mean.

Nigel Lythgoe- Executive Producer. More, much more on him later. He is the driving force this year, and they will live or die on his decisions.

Ray Chew– Bandleader. There has been a lot of talk about being more creative and versatile with the arrangements. We’ll see.

Jimmy Iovine– Mentor? You will hear more about him down the road.

Randy Jackson is back, and he moved to the other side of the judging table. He seems to be trying to be more of a decision maker, but it’s too soon to tell what that will mean in the long run.

Simon is gone, of course. Ellen quit, saying that she is too busy to do the show. I’m hoping that she is still going to support the show on her own talk show like she did last year, but that won’t be known for awhile yet. Kara’s contract wasn’t renewed, but I’ve heard talk that she will have some kind of minor role down the road. I care less about the judges than most people do, but I understand that they are an important dynamic. I’ll give my two cents on them as we go along. I’ll likely have a lot to say about Lythgoe, who is pretty much the Czar of the show now, but not until much later in the process,

The contestants:

Tiffany Rios, 21– She can sing, but she is more likely to make it to the cast of “JerseyShore” than the final twelve. I’ll find a spot for her in the power rankings, but let’s not get carried away.

Robbie Rosen, 16– He has an emotional, thrilling voice and the killer nice guy vibe. He’s interesting, very likeable, and memorable. I’m guessing that he’ll be around for awhile. I’m not sure that he’s a slam dunk for the finals, at least not yet, though he seems to be getting the package treatment. His intonation worries me. I want to hear him more before I start calling him a contender. He could be great, or he could lose the ability to sing in tune. There were some shaky notes in between the big ones. Not majorly shaky, but juuust a little bit disconcerting.

Ashley Sullivan, 25– I had to rewind and get her name and age when I saw her waving a golden ticket. I had already moved on, assuming that she was toast when she started channeling her inner Liza Minnelli. She can sing some, but she is total fodder for the next round.

I don’t want to make it sound like I hate her. I don’t. She reminds me of a drag queen more than anything else, but she actually IS a girl; a skinny, dirty-blonde haired girl with a rubbery face, expressive eyes and so much nervous energy that I got nervous watching her perform. I don’t think that she has a chance in hell on a show like this, but there is something there that I like. It was like Kelly Ripa started doing a Robin Williams impersonation, and not one from last week. I’m talking late 1970’s, back when he was so full of cocaine that he almost drowned in his own sweat. It was amazingly weird, and strangely cool.

Victoria Huggins, 16– This kid isn’t going to the finals, but she could be cast as Larry the Cable Guy’s daughter in his next movie. Did you see that dress? Rip off the sleeves, and she’s already in costume. The accent is perfect. Let’s roll tape, fellers….

Last comment on day 1:

I was approved as a writer for a real website this season, americanidolfanwiki.com. I’m still working on how to use it, and I’ll let you know when I get something published. I am also working on getting my reviews posted on Facebook. I’ll know more by the end of the weekend, and I’ll keep you posted.

(added later): This turned out to be a fairly big nothing. I have more readers than that site does. I’m not kidding; they had 3 readers the first week and 2 of them were me and the site coordinator. They don’t have it formatted for user friendly word processing, so posting was a huge pain. I did post a couple of power rankings on there, just copies of the ones that I sent you. The Facebook thing, I might do that next year. I never really looked at it this year mostly because I struggle to post anything at all to Facebook.

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Jan 23;

The singers:

Brett Loewenstern, 16– He’s a little weird, but he can sing and he isn’t THAT weird, just effeminate. I’d like to hear him do some Maroon Five. Contender? I dunno, but he’s not fodder. I didn’t hear any evidence of a big high range, which surprised me. He has a high, soft speaking voice. The whole thing made me think of Carrot Top imitating Michael Jackson, but without the steroid enhanced biceps.

Jacee Badeaux, 15– It will be interesting to hear what he sounds the next time we see him, if we see him again. His voice might have changed by then. He hasn’t even hit puberty yet. Who’s next? The E-Trade baby? He sings well, but I will be pretty shocked if he makes it past the first couple of days in Hollywood. He’ll probably be a bull frog bass by then.

Paris Tassin, 23– Her audition wrung tears from J-Lo, and they didn’t have a thing to do with her kid’s health problems. Seriously, what a weird presentation of a back-story. It almost seemed like a parody of the “Idol Audition Back-story.” I wasn’t moved by it so much as I was confused. So the kid lived, right? She’s ok? Hearing aids? Ok, that sucks, but she’s ok? She’s healthy? Happy? Um, why is everyone crying?

Anyway, forget the backstory. This girl can sing her butt off, and she is Standout number one for season ten. Her voice reminds me of Carrie Underwood’s (she was singing a Carrie song, so she might have been subconsciously imitating her a bit), but honestly she is way ahead of where Carrie was at this point in the Idol process. She sings with emotion, and she hit every note right on the sweet spot. She might be this season’s Didi Benami, with the heart string tugging back-story (that wasn’t necessary in either case) and some questions about her emotional stability.

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Jan 27;

The singers:

Scotty McCreery, 16– He sang a Josh Turner song first, and he sounded just like Turner with his distinctive, low baritone voice. His Travis Tritt song sounded like – well, Josh Turner singing Travis Tritt. I don’t know how long a voice like his can last on Idol, but he’s very good. He should have a future in Country music. He looks a lot like Evan Longoria, the ballplayer. If this was the Nashville Star competition I would call him a standout.

Naima Adedapo, 25– She has a strong voice but I’m not sold on her intonation, and the crying isn’t a good sign either. She has an exotic look, with African features and the blue eyes, but she could use a makeover to really bring that out. I don’t expect her to contend, but she has a puncher’s chance if she can stay in tune and stay composed.

Thia Megia, 15– They are really trotting out the 15 year olds…. I would love her as a contender if she was 23 instead of 15, and I could assume that she has some breadth to her skills to go with the height of her audition. I just can’t be sure that, at 15, this is a true representation. She has a terrific voice, and very good intonation. I’ll call her a wild card for now. A lot of these kids will get swallowed up, but a few of them are going to go deep. She has a mature bearing, remarkably mature compared to Emma Henry from earlier in the show. She has a shot.

Aside– Obviously the Civil War re-enactor that sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” wasn’t Idol material, but I really liked that Steven took the time to say that he really liked the song. Someone told me earlier today that she felt thatTyler wouldn’t be good at judging musical styles that he wasn’t familiar with, and I strongly disagreed with her. This isn’t the first time that Steven has come out of the Idol Box to express some appreciation for something that isn’t fit for a competition like this. I don’t know about you guys, but I love this kind of thing. It’s the opposite of a guy like Simon, who gave the back of his hand to anyone that didn’t fit into his tight little box. It might mean giving a ticket to someone that has no shot, but why not? Only one is going to win anyway, right? Let’s have the largest pool possible, so we don’t miss out on some diamond in the rough.

Haley Reinhart, 18– Nice job, kiddo. It’s very cool to see a kid who was rejected go home, work hard, come back, pull it off and get her ticket. I wouldn’t completely dismiss her chances, though I don’t see her as a contender. It’s the kids like this, who spend the time in the woodshed to get better, that humanize the Idol process.

Aside– I see a parallel to the NCAA Basketball tournament. While the business of the NCAA tourney is to determine the winner, the public at large cares every bit as much about the Cinderella stories, the small schools that make the Sweet Sixteen or even win a single game. Idol does the same thing. They spend the bulk of the season working down from a small number to the finale, and identify a winner to (hopefully) go on to stardom as a recording artist. This is their mission. However, the first several weeks of the show will feature dozens of singers that have no chance to win. These kids are celebrated in their home towns, and sometimes even nationally, for being the best little Cinderellas that they can be. This is as important to the show as the eventual winner, if you ask me. Haley is just one more example of this. My favorite one ever was that kick girl last year, Vanessa Wolfe. She got more satisfaction out of just making it past the audition than maybe even some of the semifinalists did. She’ll be telling her kids (and her grandkids in twenty years) about her trip toHollywood for the rest of her life.

I can close my eyes and imagine fifty year old Vanessa, anytime that I get depressed about stuff like the economy, or expensive health care: “Fetch Gammy a beer, babydoll, and sit down right on that log, and let Gammy tell you about her trip toHOLLYWOOD!!! Dammit Earl, don’t let those ribs burn, I just turned them….”

Idol needs to develop stars to keep its cache in the business, but anyone that watches the show year in and year out knows that Idol itself tries mightily to be a fraternal organization. They can’t care about everyone, but they are loyal to their finalists, bringing them back to showcase their latest projects. With Simon gone, this element of the show might come out even stronger. These people are lovers, not fighters, and they all root for each contestant to be great, even while they have to weed them out. Nobody is happier when a contestant sings well than the judges, and the producers. Their business is finding money making artists, but their passion is to find great singers, and let them sing great.

Scott Dangerfield, 22– John Sebastion lives. I love this kid. I have been going back and forth on him for a half hour, hemming and hawing, because he hit a couple of sour notes. Yaknow, I say screw it. He has everything that an Idol needs to go deep. He is standout number two. He isn’t perfect in his intonation, which worries me, but that’s ALL that worries me. This kid has a huge voice, and the kind of understated yet oversized personality that will grow and grow. He’s part Elvis, and part Springsteen. He could be nothing, but if he isn’t nothing he could very well be everything. I have a reeeeeallllly good feeling about him..

Chris Medina, 26– He started out slowly, and I was wondering why they would show us such a horribly tragic story if he was just some guy that was going to get tossed in the first week ofHollywood. He got better, though, and I can see some potential with him. His voice isn’t unique, but he has an easy manner and a comfortable way of spinning a song. His back-story is going to get him a TON of sympathy, so Idol wouldn’t show it if he wasn’t going to make it at least fairly deep.

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Jan 28;

Adrienne Beasley, 22– She has a strong voice, and for some reason her mouth and mannerisms reminded me of Alanis Morrisette. My guess is that she won’t go deep. She isn’t experienced enough, and her voice isn’t so great that she can overcome that.

Paul McDonald, 25– He has a very cool voice, and a very cool style. I’m not going to call him a contender yet. His melody choices were really off, other than the key notes. I’ll call him a deeeeeep sleeper for now.

Lauren Alaina, 15– The producers really pimped her, so I assume that we are going to see a lot of her. Her voice is terrific, and she has a lot of vocal tricks for a kid so young. She has no clue where to breathe, but Danny Gokey was just as clueless and he finished third. Contender? I’ll go along with the judges, but I am not nearly as sold as they are.

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Feb 2;

Hollie Cavanagh, 17– She got the pass with her second song, but she is almost certainly done the next time that she opens her mouth. She has lots of voice, but no composure. Give her a few years, and we’ll see.

John Wayne Schultz, 23- He has a strong voice with some range and a rich, pleasing tone. He sings free and easy, and he is extremely likeable and genuine. He has a real shot. His largest downside is that he’s a niche singer on a show that hasn’t historically been kind to extreme country styled singers. He’ll have to show some versatility, in all likelihood, to make it past the semifinals. He’ll be in the mix for awhile at least.

Casey Abrams, 19– Go to Youtube and type in his name. NOW!!!

I’m just kidding…. Seriously though, you should take the time and look this kid up. I enjoyed his manic audition, but to get the full story on him you have to see his other videos. He plays every instrument, and he sings every harmony part. He can put it all together in his head and then play every instrumental part, sing every harmony separately, and then put it all together in a video or on a CD. He’ll go far, as they say, either in front of the microphone or behind it.

Can he win Idol? I dunno. He is about as far from a diva as you can get. He seems more like the perfect second fiddle. His voice is cool, but he isn’t purely a singer. He is a studio rat. As a singer, he is another tenor type, but with some ability to growl, scream and scratch. He can make the live shows if things break right for him, and it’s not impossible that a kid that is this creative could make a serious push. My expectation is that he will die just short of the finals, or shortly into the finals. He is maybe 50-50 to make the top ten, and get on tour. If he makes it, he will be a huge asset.

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Feb 9;

Stefano Langone, 21– He kept trending sharp, which bothers me more with him than it would for most singers, because it’s the only thing that’s keeping me from calling him a standout and putting up near the top of the power rankings this weekend. I’ll just say that, if he stays in tune when he has some accompaniment, he is short odds for the live shows. He has everything else. He has a fantastic, charismatic, powerful voice and the quiet confidence that I love. Even with the sharp notes, he’ll be way up there in the power rankings. I’m anxious, nervous, hopeful and excited to hear him again.

Clint Jun Gamboa, 26– Interesting kid. I hear his voice as one that would fit well in a group more than by itself. It’s pure and sweet, and his intonation was impressive for all the runs that he was doing. He doesn’t have the power that too many others will have, so he’ll have to bring some creativity to stand out. He has a chance, but lets be real. He is a finesse singer, not a power singer, so he’ll have to be almost perfect.

Julie Zorrilla, 20– Wow. So much frosting, but where was the cake?

The terrific back-story, the trills, the eyes, the drama, the emotion, the poise, the love from the judges. Julie pulled off every single hook that makes an Idol audition stand out. Well, other than having range, good intonation, natural rhythm, vocal power, maybe an interesting voice… what did I miss? She isn’t really a singer, is she? I got more of an actress vibe, or a girl that was singing for the talent portion of a beauty contest vibe from her. She isn’t terrible, but I didn’t hear anything that would make me want to hear her sing again. I’d rather talk to her parents. What a story they could tell….

Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with this kid. Her story is interesting, and she seems like a good kid with a bright future. It just doesn’t include singing for a living, at least not yet. She might have a chance, just because she got the star treatment from the producers. I don’t see it, but I don’t really have a problem with it. What the hell, I like frosting.

James Durbin, 21– He has a crazy strong, wild horse of a voice; the closest thing to Adam Lambert’s voice that I’ve heard since Adam himself. That is a huge, huge talent in and of itself. I would even go so far as to say that his voice is as good as Adam’s, and possibly even better since he showed some bluesy bends that Adam never had. He can, and will blowHollywood away unless something outside of his talent gets in the way.

The bad news: Adam Lambert spent 16 years in musical theater, honing his craft and making himself into the monster that he was on Idol in Season 8. JD (he’s going to be around for awhile, so I’m dubbing him JD from now on) isn’t stable, and he has some serious issues. I’m not talking about the ones that he talked about. I’m talking about the fact that he is 20, with a family, and he isn’t working. I know that we are in a bad economy, but that worries me.

Overall, a voice like JD’s doesn’t come along very often. He is a contender, and there is no obvious reason why he can’t win it all. He is standout number three. A lot of things will have to go right for him, and he is going to have to show that he has some stuffing to go with his talent.

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Feb 18 (Hollywood Round 3)

Haley Reinhart, 18– Haley was the kid fromMilwaukee that was rejected a couple of years ago, did her time in the woodshed, and came back to get her Golden Ticket this year. This is the first time that I’ve seen her since her audition. They showed short snippets of her wailing on FHS and struggling mightily on Group Night just before she sang tonight. She is sang “God Bless the Child”, the old Blood, Sweat and Tears song.

She blew the doors off, pulling out every trick, and this was probably about the best audition that she could possibly pull off. I seriously doubt that she’s one of the fifty best singers left, but this audition might have put her through. I’d give her an A for effort and creativity, but a lower grade for the technical parts of her performance. I give her big ups for coming up big under the pressure, especially in light of her struggles earlier in the week. I don’t think that she’s a contender for the live shows, but she might have earned herself a punchers’ chance tonight.

Ashton Jones, 24– She was part of that terrific group performance last night, the one with Ashley Sullivan. She sang “And I’m Telling You I’m not Going”, an Idol staple that came from the musical “Dreamgirls”, later performed in the movie by Jennifer Hudson and famously lampooned by Normund Gentle in season 8.

She reminds me of Syesha Mercado for her looks as well as her voice and style. Syesha was the third place finisher from season 7. She might not have as strong a voice as Syesha, who had a howitzer, and her intonation was a little bit shaky (so was Syesha’s). I think that it’s too early to call her a major contender, but we are down to less than a hundred contestants left. She’s done damned well already. I expect that she’ll make it through today.

Thia Megia, 15– Thia has a terrific tone, and she really sings the crap out of ballads. She just has it, that feel for where to bend the melody, and where to let her voice spread or pull back. She sang an up-tempo song on FHS, and I wasn’t as impressed. Her youth betrayed her when she had to deal with complicated rhythms, and her accent got really heavy. The accent doesn’t need to be a detriment, but it’s an indication that she isn’t able to fully command herself at tempo. She should be fine for today, but she isn’t going to be able to get away with singing ballads all the way to the finals.

Carson Huggins, 22– This kid was in the LA audition show, but they didn’t air his audition. He sang “My Prerogative”. He can’t sing all that well, but (I mean BUT) this kid has total star quality. He is the light bulb.America is the moth. I don’t know if the judges will give him a chance, but I really hope that they do. This kid will be ratings gold, and he will make this season fun and memorable. Idol needs him, with so much on the line in a year without Simon’s insult comedy to draw the less imaginative viewers. Whether they realize it will tell us a lot about Nigel Lithgoe, who can walk across the stage and tell the judges to keep him and just put in earplugs if it hurts. He would be a HUGE asset to the Idol Tour this summer. I mean, common. He doesn’t have to win; he just has to make the top ten, right? Right? I love this kid. Please keep him, ok?

Julie Zorilla, 20– Frosting Girl brought out a piano and sang “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. There is still something that bugs me about her, not that she isn’t good but that she isn’t great, or something to that effect. She is too heavy on the downbeats, and her phrasing doesn’t flow like a professional singer. That said, her intonation was spot on and she has command of her limited arsenal. With the pimping of the producers she might make the live shows, but I don’t envision her going too far past that. If it wasn’t for the pimping, I would wonder why she is even still here. She isn’t an idiot, and she is very poised, so that must be what they are seeing. She is a relatively mediocre singer who seems, as I see it, to be forcing her notes out and play-acting more than emoting.

Colton Dixon, 19– I heard him last night during the Group Night show, and I didn’t think that he was any good at all. I was surprised that they let him through. He sang Chris Daughtry’s “What about Now?” tonight. He played the piano decently, though he seemed to be shaking some, and his voice sounded really good. He isn’t unique, really, but he is a lot better than I thought that he was last night. He wouldn’t be the worst singer that they let through to the live shows by a long ways.

Brett Loewenstern, 16– We all know Brett by now. He sang “The Story” by Brandi Carlile. He was free and easy, and just smoooooth. Again, I would have loved to have heard the entire performance. I had to look up what in the hell he was singing (I recognized the melody, sort of, but I had no clue who sang it), and I found it. I just got myself another favorite song, and maybe another favorite singer. Brandi Carlile fever. Catch it. Oh, and tell her to fix her name. That spelling looks like a typographical error. The song isn’t a secret to everyone else, so I am prepared for several emails asking me about what rock I’ve been under the last three years. I’ll take the fifth, and just say that now I know.

Robbie Rosen, 16– I’ve seen Robbie playing the piano on several youtube videos, and he’s very comfortable playing and singing. He sang another Sara Bareilles song, “Gravity” (no, I’d never heard of it, thanks again interweb. What would I do without you?). He got to show off some when they gave him an extra ten seconds or so past the other singers in this particular montage. He’s number one in my power rankings, so you know that I am high on the kid. I’m loving him more and more as he goes on. His intonation, which was a worry early on, has gotten massively better. He pulled out an extra gear tonight that will be important down the road, when they are all struggling to stand out. My only worry about him is his tendency to overdo it. That might bite him in the butt on a song at tempo, when he can’t make everyone wait while he fixes a mistake on one of his massive departures from the melody.

Casey Abrams, 19– Amazing. Casey brought in a standup bass, which is just one of probably dozens of instruments that he can play. He sang “Georgia on my Mind”. This kid is amazing, just amazing. I have no words. It was just….. amazing.

Lauren Alaina, 15– We all know Lauren. She is going the full route on a song that she sang with Steven at her audition, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith (duh).

Will somebody, anybody, PLEASE pull this kid aside and teach her where to breathe during a song? Lauren has such presence on stage, and so much command of her melodic departures, that it stands out like a sore thumb when she breathes in the wrong places. All the stage presence in the world won’t help if she sounds like this on the live shows, going up against the other alligators that are in the competition. She has a legitimate shot to go very deep, but she can’t keep taking breaths during her crescendos. It’s like she stops to go to the bathroom right before the big blowoff:

“Do you feel lucky, (excuse me, got to tip the cabbie……. ok I’m back. Whew, deep breath, get back in character…..) punk? Go ahead, make my….. (oops, forgot to text my mom that I’ll be a few minutes late to dinner, gimme a sec….. Dam, these keys are small….. Ok, got it. Deeep breath, and, go!!!) …………….day.

It isn’t rocket science, and she is going to be surrounded by qualified coaches. Let’s hope that she gets that worked out. In every other way she is terrific, and she is almost a lock to make the live shows.

Jacob Lusk, 23– Anyone remember Harry Belafonte? Jacob is Harry Belafonte, with Adam Lambert’s range. I am just floored. This kid is going to be on the tour for sure, and he might catch fire and go very, very deep. Oh, he sang “God Bless the Child”. You might have noticed that several songs have been repeated. It’s a myth that the kids get to choose whatever they want to sing. They get a fairly short list of choices, and only a few of those choices are good vehicles to show off their talents.

Aside: I expected to see several “Adam” types last year, and was disappointed that there weren’t any at all. I can’t blame it on Simon, but I sure as hell can note that, with Simon gone, suddenly we have Adam types coming out of our ears. Last year sucked, mostly because of the choices of the judges. Only Siobhan gave us any hope of something amazing, and Simon did everything he could to shut her up, too. They kept dumping and dumping, until we were forced to choose between Tim Urban and Michael Lynch, or several people that hid behind their guitars.

I listen now, and I am forced to wonder if any of the final nine (after Didi got tossed) other thanCrystaland Siobhan would have even made it to the semis this year. Would even Lee Dewyze stand out in this crowd? Casey James? Aaron Kelly? The talent pool is much, much deeper this season because they are focused on getting the best singers, instead of bowing to the Simonmonster and letting him cast the show. Last year it was all about Simon. This year, it’s all about the singers. These kinds of talents were sure as hell in the mix last year, and Idol (mostly Simon, who was running the show like the stubborn autocrat that he is) dumped them. This year, they are being allowed to compete. As far as I am concerned, we all win. I dunno, maybe I just hate Simon. All I can say is that I am sooooo happy. Ding Dong, the witch is dead.

John Wayne Shultz, 23– He’s hard to forget; with his signature name, his romantic occupation (cowboy) and his free, easy George Strait/Brad Paisley style, but this is the first time that we’ve really heard him since his audition. He sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. He was sweet, and he is charismatic, but he wasn’t perfect like he probably needs to be to make it to the semis. Frankly, there are aLOT of singers that can sing as well as he sang tonight. I’ve heard him sing better, and the judges have too. He might be ok.

Ashley Sullivan, 25– We all know this girl by now, don’t we? She almost quit on Group Night. She cries so much that the local weather station reports her as precipitation. She has a weirdly rubbery face that makes her look older than her true age, and she weighs about 80 pounds. She looks more like an actor in your local theater’s production of “The Crying Game” than she looks like a singer. Her best comparison could be a transvestite version of Carol Burnett, if Carol was an anorexic heroin addict that was on the list for a sex change until someone pointed out to her that she was already a woman. In other words, she is interesting. She sang “Everything”, by Michael Buble.

Oh my God, she messed up the words. I had this strange hope that, after she had dodged so MANY bullets so far, she would be terrific tonight and stay in. I have to say that I enjoyed her all the way, even when I was continually shocked that they didn’t bounce her and tell her to go straight to the nearest therapist. Underneath all of the drama, and all of the insanity, the kid has a terrific voice.

She is every bit as real as Hick Chick Vanessa, who seems to be my go-to girl for the kids that are just not prepared for the reality that being a professional singer means, well… being professional. It always warms me to see anyone show their innards, I guess. Ashley will move on, and who knows? Somebody might see her as someone to take under their wing, and use her in musicals or something. She would probably make for a terrific reality show. I hate those shows, but she would get paid. Why not? She might be seriously flawed (hell, she might be seriously insane), but she is a human being that got to express herself on a pretty big stage. We win; Idol wins, and hopefully Ashley will find a way to win, too.

Stephano Langone, 21– Accident boy, with the scars on his arms and legs. He covered his scars up, and blew up “Sir Duke”. I had him way up in the power rankings already, and he ain’t dropping after tonight. Realistically, though, he isn’t comparable to Casey and Robbie.

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Feb 24 (Beatles night/final 24 in and out for a few);

Hollie Cavanagh, 17– She didn’t make it. Final 40, though. She did damned good to make it this far. She is so young that she has plenty of time to find some finesse to go with what is a very powerful voice. She came so far from her audition, when she was a 17 year old child that lost her composure and cried like a baby, to tonight. She handled the gut wrenching rejection, after getting soooo close to the live shows, with class and dignity. The kid grew up a ton in a very short time.

I didn’t add it, but I commented on her in the Hollywood rounds as well. Hollie is, at this point in her life, a pure belter with a ton of power but very little polish. We might see her again. As I said, she grew up a ton on the show. Haley, anyone?

Alex Ryan, 17– Didn’t make it. How absurd is it, for a kid to make it all the way to the edge of the live shows and not have a single note that he sang make the air?

As far as I could figure, Alex was the only final 40 contender that didn’t have a single note on air. That’s actually a decent job by the producers, I think. It’s not easy to edit this show.

Haley Reinhart, 18– She made it in!!!! Dread Pirate Roberts kept saying: “Goodnight Wesley, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning”. Well, Haley survived each “morning” by being perfect through several performances, and now she’s in the final 24. I’m done assuming that she will be killed in the morning. She doesn’t have the biggest voice, but she has some very cool tricks that she worked out in the woodshed. It’s funny. She looks like a beauty queen, but she acts more like a Sha-Von, who would get tossed in the first round of a beauty pageant but lives and dies for performing. Did she skip cheerleader tryouts to learn how to do that Louis Armstrong growl that she does? Beauty ages. Skills don’t. Haley gets it.

I kept saying that she had a weak voice, didn’t I? The Sha-Von comparison was more apt than even I would have believed at the time.

Deandre Brackensick, 15– Didn’t make it. He was probably the last one out, thirteenth best male against a very tough male crowd. He just turned 16, so he should take a shot at making it back. He’s as good as Jason Castro, maybe even better.

Paul McDonald, 25– Made it, duh. The voters should have no problem voting him into the top 10, and then the competition starts. He looks like Kenny Loggins, phrases like Dave Matthews, and sounds like Rod Stewart on a good day. He’s missing the singular talents what made all of them special, but the combination might take him deep. He’s going to get some sort of recording contract out of this now. If he makes it to the top 3 or so, it will maybe get him better backing, but he’s not going to win. My guess is about eighth, but he won’t beat himself. He could make it to the top three.

Ashton Jones, 24– She’s in. She is a tweener, I think. She is in between several styles and several vocal strengths. She can’t belt, but she has a stronger voice than the finesse types like Dianna Ross, who she looks like. Her overall skill set isn’t enough to make her a lock for the top ten, but she has a shot. She will leave it all on the stage either way. I’m skeptical, because she can’t sing as well as Paige Miles from last year if Paige is on her game.

Chris Medina, 26– Didn’t make it. He sang really well at his final audition, but while he was good, he just wasn’t good enough for this year’s insanely high level of competition. He is coming out of the competition with so much dignity that I would not be the least bit surprised if someone that was watching gave him a shot to record, and have a career. I’ll root for him.

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The rest of the final 24 will get their due in my next article, “Road to the Nokia”, probably be the end of next weekend. Thanks for reading.