The Singers, the Songs:
Colton, “Everything” (Lifehouse)
No creepy eyes this week; he was charismatic and he owned the stage. Vocally he was vintage Colton, and his voice easily carried the song to where it needed to go. I can see him going the route of Christian Rock and doing very well, if the secular thing doesn’t work out. B+
Skylar,“Gunpowder and Lead” (Miranda Lambert)
In a vacuum I would have loved Skylar’s version, but Haley and Lauren blew this one out the back room last year. Compared to their version Skylar was fairly tame vocally, and it was sort of weird to see her jumping around so much while her vocal never really got bouncing. She was impressive with her intonation, though. That many low notes over and over without going flat wasn’t easy to do. Only a B because she didn’t really live up to last year’s performance, but a rock solid B.
Fleetwood Mac Medley; Elise, Phil, Colton
Phil blew me away with how much power he brought to his solo turn, and Elise could sing Stevie Nicks all night and I would be transfixed. Colton was typically Colton-ishly sweet on his turn. It was a well rounded performance, and they were a well rounded team.
Heejun, “A Song for You” (Donny Hathaway)
First, a little Nigel sponsored image rehabilitation. Am I paranoid? No, just realistic. Heejun brings a monstrous demographic to the show. Nigel would be remiss in his duties if he didn’t take steps to protect that demographic.
Aside: Heejun got hammered last week because he “didn’t take the competition seriously”. I didn’t comment on it last week, because I didn’t really have my head around the problem. I got to thinking, and eventually I realized that Heejun’s issue last week wasn’t that he wasn’t taking the competition seriously; it was that Heejun isn’t a good enough singer to pull off the move that he tried to execute.
He wasn’t trying to be a joke with his terrible performance last week. He was trying to sing the song as well as he can. He sounded like a joke because he isn’t good enough to pull something like that off. Whose fault is that? It ain’t Heejun; he’s just doing his best, being himself. It’s the fault of the (say it softly) producer who knew that having an Asian in the finals would be a boon for ratings. Nigel wanted him in, so Nigel has to live with the train wrecks. I thought that Heejun’s idea, starting out deathly slow and then “jerking the needle” and going way uptempo, was brilliant. He just wasn’t good enough to pull it off.
Tonight Heejun was brilliant again with his choice; but he’s still Heejun, with his problems with pronunciation and intonation and rhythm and inexperience. In my opinion he overcame most of his issues, though, and delivered an emotionally charged, vocally ambitious performance. It wouldn’t be a moment for a real contender, but this was Heejun at his absolute peak, and in its own way it was a moment. It’s an A+ for vision, passion and delivery, but I have to dun him a bit for his early intonation lapses and the inevitable pronunciation issues that make the song less pleasing to listen to. B+ might be the correct choice, but dunning him for not speaking perfect English seems a little bit racist. He didn’t miss very many notes, and he was soooo emotional and he hit some serious notes in there too; under a ton of pressure. A-
Hollie, “Jesus Take the Wheel” (Carrie Underwood)
Two things. First, Hollie, for chrissakes use the in-ear monitors. Her largest weakness, by far, is her tendency to go sharp because she is pushing sooo much air, even on her low notes. In-ears will go a long ways towards eliminating that issue. Second, Hollie (since I’m talking to you directly for some reason); finish your phrases, especially at the end. By cutting them off and going Warner Brothers Frog on us, you look like a kid in a talent contest (oops, she IS a kid in a talent contest) instead of an accomplished performer.
Overall Hollie was, well, Hollie. She hit some big notes, then she hit some bigger notes, then she missed a few here and there, then she didn’t stick the landing. Her voice is so powerful, and her tone is so sweet; she is never going to get less than a B from me unless she train wrecks a song, but that’s all she gets this week. If she survives (not a lock, by any stretch) she desperately needs to go up-tempo next week.
Aside: I’ve watched a lot of Hollie’s pre-Idol videos. Almost all of them are just simple “Hollie in front of a mic” performances, and most of them are Adele covers. In other words she is your typical teenaged girl singer, and in ten years she is going to be your typical 20 something karaoke star unless her special voice drags her to a higher level. She has no stage experience or high level training; she’s just a kid who loves to sing.
She has no business competing with experienced, salted singers yet here she is, and doing pretty well so far. The only thing she has going for her is her voice (well, looking like a tiny woodland creature doesn’t hurt either), but if you are going to have only one trick that’s one hell of a trick to have. Her voice goes right through me every time, so I root for her. I’m realistic, though. She has nothing else right now, at least no other high level talents. She would be a perfect candidate for the Idol “D” program, just like Thia, or Shannon, or Katie Stevens. Hollie’s voice is better than theirs, so she is going deeper in the competition, but she isn’t any more polished than they are.
Deandre,“Sometimes I Cry” (Eric Benet)
This is such a weird year. I don’t really get moved by this group yet like I did in seasons 7, 8 and 9, and sometimes in season 10. That said, this has to be the deepest pool of technically strong, vocally talented singers I’ve ever seen on the show. Deandre is a bubble candidate, in danger this week, yet he was vocally better than the majority of the top 5-7 performances in past years. His falsetto was strong, his stage presence was very strong, his vocal was passionate, and only a few pitchy moments took away from what was probably his best performance of the season. I enjoyed it, even though songs like this generally bore me to sleep. He ain’t Leo Sayer (I’m old, sue me. I don’t listen to Maxwell), but I can see him making a very nice record with stuff like this countering his reggae/Hawaiian themed up-tempo songs. B+
Jessica, “Sweet Dreams” (Beyonce)
I didn’t love her vocal tonight as much as I usually do; her voice let her down a little early and that wide swath of a vibrato is getting to be a love or hate thing… but I was really impressed with the arrangement. She reworked the song in a way that would have made Adam Lambert proud. The doors thing worked, her attitude came out, and she looked so fierce up there that I was pulled in and invested in even the quiet notes. It’s so weird to see her looking like such a child in rehearsal, then seeing her look so adult on the stage. That dichotomy is probably why she isn’t already a star; why she was still available for Idol. She was too young to be that old. A-; and I wouldn’t be shocked if this performance ends up being one of those hindsight moments, especially if Jessie wins the whole thing. It’ll be in the top 40.
Michael Jackson Medley; Heejun, Deandre, Joshua
Joshua was terrific, in his element all the way; Deandre started it out beautifully, and Heejun held his own just fine. They kind of lost the TV mojo when they moved out behind the judges’ table, but they probably gained it live in the theater.
Phil, “Still Rainin’” (Johnny Lang)
I enjoyed Phil’s performance. He didn’t do anything original or remarkable, but he was entertaining and – well, I enjoyed it. The several hundred thousand starving artists who can do what Phil does better than Phil can aren’t here tonight, so I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. The several thousand signed artists who are trying to hold onto their contracts in a world that doesn’t spend enough money on this style of music weren’t here tonight either; so I enjoyed Phil’s performance. B; like Skylar Phil copied a brilliant artist, copied him well, but didn’t really do anything with the song.
Aside: I hate to keep harping on Phil, I like the guy. The problem is that, in the context of the show he’s original, but….. In the real world he is about as original as a generic brand of peanut butter. There are literally thousands of signed, professional singers who render his so called “original” style redundant, and most of them are so much better than he is that they would get angry at him for pretending to be in their league. He might get a push from Idol at first, but that’s it. He sounded great copying Johnny Lang, but if you have ever heard the real Johnny Lang you will understand why I am not amazed. Phil is a nice kid and he’s just doing his thing, but he’s just not all that unique in the real world – and being unique is his only chop.
He ain’t a genius, guys. He’s an Emperor who forgot his clothes. Three professional musicians sit there at the judging table, week after week, and pretend not to notice.
Joshua, “Without You” (Mariah Carey)
He was so commanding, so emotional, and so intense, but he overcooked it just a little. He didn’t overdo it so much that it went off the track (he hit all the notes, and he hit some amazing notes with power and command), but he kept going on runs down from big notes instead of holding them. There is a reason why this song has been covered by so many powerful, successful artists. It’s an amazing melody. I would love to have a half hour with Josh, to show him how to really nail this performance. He was close to special, but he kept running down when he should have just held the high note. It’s got to be at least a B+; simply for his command of the notes that he gave us. The song gave him a shot at another moment, though. He overdid it, and missed a golden opportunity. He could have been amazing. He was merely terrific.
Madonna Medley; Jessica, Hollie, Skylar
Hollie could have gone up to blow out some high notes at the end of her “Borderline” solo, but she just left it empty. A real Idol would have taken the shot. Skylar had all the attitude, but she doesn’t sound as good at the bottom as she does in her higher range. Jessica was fine, but forgettable. I was really looking forward to this one because I enjoy these three contestants, but it wasn’t as good as I hoped that it would be.
Elise, “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin)
I appreciated the effort with the theatrical ending, but it kind of fell flat. The rest of the song was fine, a seeya next week kind of performance with a few screams, scratches and growls in there to remind us how good Elise is. She missed a shot at a cool big note, because she doesn’t have that in her arsenal, and she left all of her best chops on the floor so early in the song that they might be forgotten. If I were judging her performance as a game show she would be in trouble, because all of her best stuff was early. B is fair overall, but that grade might be kind when you figure in that people will remember the ending more than the beginning.
Judging by the reaction, Elise got the Phil treatment this time. The song was so cool that her fairly pedestrian performance seemed amazing to them. Well, good for her. It’s not like she’s been getting overrated every week like Phil has been. Still, it was only amazing in comparison to the flood of boring ballads everyone is singing this year.
Safe to in Danger:
Seeya next week:
Might get a scare, but probably safe:
So good, but someone has to go:
As much as I love Hollie’s voice, she is on borrowed time. She isn’t a pro, and the competition among the at risk contestants is insanely stiff by demographic groups (Heejun, Skylar), strong performances this week (Joshua) and judge favorites (Elise, Deandre). If I am going to predict a rough out, someone who I really want to see next week who is probably not going to make it, it’s Hollie. I hope I’m wrong, but who else is going to go? It’s probably the end for one of my favorites.