Semifinals second 12 duets and results show

The duets tonight were terrific, almost every one. A couple were kind of throwaway, and a couple were a little uneven, but the returning Idols all sounded terrific and the contestants redeemed themselves after the uncharacteristic struggles and boring song choices for many of them last night.

Amelia with Kelly Pickler “Suds in the Bucket” – Sara Evans

Like last week, the show started off with a high energy country duet. The girls didn’t disappoint, working comfortably together and putting up a strong performance. I’m pretty sure Kelly Pickler is easy to work with.

Amelia has a little Tanya Tucker in her, particularly the harsh little edge she has to her voice. She’s just a kid, but then again Tanya Tucker was what, 13 when she did “Delta Dawn?” Yes, the title is a link to Tanya’s version.

I can’t say how good Amelia is on the fiddle – I don’t play one of those – but she seems to have a really nice tone and intonation. I can’t really say whether or not it will help her get through, but it can’t hurt. Her problem is that she is up against a tough group of female singers.

Kory with Haley Reinhart “Benny and the Jets” – Elton John

Haley’s signature Idol song … Kory hung with Haley ok, but it might have been a mistake to bring out the guitar. Playing took his concentration away from his vocal, and it gave me a sense that Haley was singing a song while he accompanied her rather than the two of them singing together. James VIII had the same problem with Caleb last week – too busy with the guitar to sing – and it got his happy butt dumped.

I have been lukewarm about Kory, but he sounded pretty good tonight. His voice had some character, and he wasn’t shouting at the top like he does sometimes.

Lee with Chris Daughtry “Home” Chris Daughtry

Well, Lee stuck the landing at the end but it was a rough trip to get there. He seemed so nervous until the song was almost over, his adrenalin kicking him in the teeth over and over, saying “run! Jump! JUMP! RUN!” Lee did a good job of tamping it all down and not blowing up like so many Idol contestants in the past have. He hit that last harmony note and let out a breath that could have knocked the judges off their chairs. It was very human.

CJ with David Cook “The World I Know” Collective Soul

David Cook, as much as anyone, got me hooked on Idol. He was a normal guy, a rocker with a cool voice but no formal training, no Berkeley or Julliard “Fame” style background. CJ has Cookie’s hardscrabble bar band background, but unfortunately he doesn’t have his cool voice.

Manny With Jordin Sparks “No Air” Jordin Sparks

The producers gave Manny a brutal pre-performance edit. The performance was good, tight – it might look easy, but it ain’t easy to cut a song meant to be sung solo into a duet like that, and probably in a single day – but the pre-performance edit pointed out Manny’s tendency to be, um… not particularly emotional.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but like Sonika last week with her ‘inexperience’ pointed out before she sang with Ruben, I ended up noticing that Manny wasn’t exactly acting like his heart was breaking. He acted more like Jordin was a stranger he was trying to score with. They sounded really good, though.

Jenn with Constantine Maroulis “My Funny Valentine”

I had a conversation over email with a fellow Idoloonie about Jenn. She sings so many blue notes, and she plays off them with passing notes that are even bluer, that it sometimes takes a second listen to appreciate the melodies she creates. This performance was no different; Jenn’s opening salvo was strange, a little haunting, but in the end kind of sweet and cool, just like Jenn herself.

For Jenn’s sake she might as well have left after that, though, because she was paired with a voice that could be best characterized as her evil vocal twin. Constantine has a big, in your face voice that is at its best holding big notes. Jenn can hold a note, but her voice isn’t that sort of strong, plus she likes her rhythm to be a little out of focus, like a camera with cellophane over it. She hung, and she hit every note she was given, but the blend was a little course. Jenn should have been paired with Haley.

Jenn had the blue everything again, all the blue lights and the blue microphone. The look suits her, with her blue note melodic style.

Tristan with Kelly Pickler “Best Days of your Life” – Kelly Pickler and Taylor Swift

Tristan spins the vibrations from her vocal cords like a tightly spiraled football, generating a tone that is almost without pores. She makes too many mistakes to predict greatness yet, and she sometimes seems a little self-conscious on the stage, but you can’t teach that tone any more than you can teach a kid to throw a 98 mile per hour fastball.

The judges gave it to her pretty hard, which I think was a little weird. Her performance was uneven in places, maybe, but Lee was basically holding on for dear life for most of his song while Tristan did a ton of heavy lifting. Are they greasing the skids to get rid of her? One of the good female singers is going to have to go.

Olivia with David Cook “Light On” David Cook

Cookie hit it on the head with Olivia. She has all the tools, she just needs to learn when to use them. Her trick bag bursts at the seams, which can be a blessing and a curse. If you are MacKenzie, or Jenn, or Stringfellow, you know what to do every time because you basically have one move, one pitch. Olivia is like Luis Tiant or Satchel Paige, with seven pitches she can throw from three different angles and at five different speeds. That’s a lot to deal with, a lot to sort out and game plan for even a savvy veteran, and she is still just a kid.

She is only 16 years old, in some ways an old war horse as a performer but also a gawky kid who probably isn’t used to being so dammed tall all of a sudden, or going through all the other jarring changes teenagers deal with. She is fearless on stage, but off stage she’s kind of a dork, just happy to be there and a fan of pretty much everyone she meets.

Because of her father she is used to being around celebrities, and as a result she is comfortable around pretty much everyone, but she doesn’t see herself as a celebrity. She’s the celebrity’s kid, trying to prove herself so she gets to eat at the grownups table.

It’s going to be fun watching Olivia grow through the show – hopefully not taller, for chrissakes I think she grew another couple of inches since last night’s show – and learn how to really block out a full performance and make it sound organic. At this point she is still mostly knees and elbows, overpowering her songs by sheer vocal athleticism.

Adam with Haley Reinhart “I can’t help falling in love with You” Elvis Presley

The performance was beautifully done, but I don’t know if it will help Adam. His part was secondary to Haley’s part, and it was apparent that Haley was the star on the stage. Adam has an interesting skill set but, like Olivia, he needs to figure out how to get all his moving parts to work together. Unlike Olivia, though, Adam is well into his twenties. I’m thinking cruise ships, casinos, hotel circuits could be in his future. He’ll do fine, and have adventures. I wouldn’t mind catching him in concert.

Dalton with Chris Daughtry “Higher Ground” – Stevie Wonder

The song was kind of a throwaway as a vehicle for Dalton – it’s not a showoff song for a singer – so Harry appropriately talked up the band, then Ryan started rapping and it got weird.

Dalton is so lock solid safe that he could basically take the night off. The show used his slot to set their feet for the end game, take a breath and get a little silly.

Trent with Jordin Sparks “To Love Somebody” – Bee Gees

Trent needs to move freely to be natural. He was restrained by his guitar last night, and by a duet tonight. They need to unchain him next week, unleash him on the big stage, and let us all stand back and catch the spectacle.

Shelbie with Constantine Maroulis “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Watching Constantine talk and sing is so weird, like Keanu Reeves singing like Freddy Mercury. Shelbie is over whatever made her nervous last night; she sounded like her old self. I would have put a little bit more harmony in the arrangement but they decided to keep it simple. It worked, the performance was good.

I have no idea what the judges were talking about. Are they looking to dump Shelbie too? I thought she was pretty safe.

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Now that the show is over, I wonder how much of the issues from last night were the band, not the singers? The first week several singers tore out their in-ear monitors. I didn’t see anyone do it this week, which means either they worked, they were shut off, or they were told to leave them in. Either way it must have felt like driving on a snowy road with bald tires, hoping through every song that there wasn’t any ice underneath.

Ok, the results. I hemmed and hawed a lot last night, torn between what I want to happen and what I expect to happen. I think this was my final guess:

  • Dalton
  • Olivia
  • Shelbie
  • Tristan
  • Trent
  • Jenn
  • Lee

I thought going in that Shelbie and Tristan were on the safer side of in danger, but the judges hammered both of them without a whole lot of cause. My guess is that they have to dump one of them (at least, they might dump both of them) to keep more guys. Manny is probably the one who gets in if they dump one of them, with CJ as well if they dump both. Ok, judges, let’s have it.

  • Lee
  • Olivia
  • Jenn
  • Dalton
  • Manny
  • Tristan
  • Trent

Well, they did take Manny but at least they kept Tristan. I’m bummed for Amelia more than anyone else, honestly. Shelbie was on the Voice so screw her, she had her shot. Ok I’m kidding, but we’ve heard her sing what she sings several times. I’m ok with the uncertainty that comes with Tristan and Jenn over the safety of Shelbie.

So… what did you think? I want serious, quotable feedback from as many people as I can shame into talking. I’ll be sending out messages by this weekend, so if you have anything to say you can answer those, but if you don’t get one message me (or email me) back anyway.

Idol goes live – for real this time – next week. This is a good group; it’s going to be an epic send-off to an epic show.