Thursday, February 21, 2008

Even With Flu, Girls Whomp Boys

The girls of the Top 24 took the stage for the first time Wednesday night and it was a strange experience. Ryan Seacrest prefaced the evening by telling us that, just like everywhere else in the country, the flu had hit the "Idol" contestants and that a number of the girls had been dealing with it for the past week (and what about the boys?) Nevertheless, sick or healthy, they were ready to take the stage. Even with illness, the girls' performances easily trumped those of the guys. We actually had three "wow" moments Wednesday night, zero on Tuesday night. What was even more amazing, of the three performances we liked the most, Simon Cowell hated, or to use his terminology, "didn't get" two of them. We rarely disagree with Simon, but he was coming off really weird in his appraisals of the girls. Plus, he showed an incredible lack of knowledge of the music of the '60s (which even Ryan noted). It was bad enough that he admitted that he didn't know the group Spiral Staircase or their song "More Today Than Yesterday," but did he even realize that he had heard Chikezie Eze sing it just the day before (although Alaina Whitaker's version was infinitely better)? We contritely admit that the other song he didn't know, "Baby, Please Don't Go," sung by Amanda Overmyer, we didn't know either. But then, we don't earn our living in the music business. And we found it odd that there were two repeat songs over the two evenings, the aforementioned Spiral Staircase number, and The Turtles' "Happy Together," sung by both David Cook and Brooke White. We don't remember that ever happening before on the same week. Does anyone out there know for sure?

Taking the stage first was Kristy Lee Cook singing a really mediocre version of Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me." It was warmed-over karaoke, even if Cook was suffering from the flu and bronchitis, as Ryan told us after her performance. We give her kudos for performing while not yet well, but still, we thought her whole presenation had the impact of a limp noodle. No personality or style. Plus, she kept popping her eyes open in a really scary way. Unfortunately, "Amazing Grace" might be the only song she can deliver on. She is definitely in our Bottom Three this week. Randy Jackson said it wasn't her best performance, that it had pitch problems and was rough around the edges. Paula gave her empathy for both being sick and having to perform first, but added "You don't want to ever let anyone see that you're having a ... tough time." She then rewarded her with "You did a good job." Simon, having no empathy for anyone Wednesday, sick or not, told her the song didn't suit her (he was right) and that it was designed for someone who is going to belt it out (yup). He also called the performance robotic and said she didn't make an impression (well, maybe a bad one?). Kristy Lee looked a little sicker after her critiques.

Watch video of Kristy Lee Cook singing "Rescue Me":

Sadly, watching her perform, we thought Joanne Borgella was sick as well, but not a mention of that was made. Prior to Wednesday, we had found her modestly talented, but it really fell apart for her on Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer." She was pitchy, low energy and her focus seemed way off, which is why we assumed she was ill. Sadly, if it was illness, it might cost her her place in the competition. She, too, is in our Bottom Three this week. Randy, surprisingly, started with "That was pretty good," adding that the first part was a little weird but that she had got it together toward the end (na-uh). Paula gave her a mini-lecture on not letting her nerves get to her, of pulling it together and shining. When Simon badgered her with "But did you like it?" -- which, as always, Paula was trying to avoid saying ... because she didn't -- she gratuitously answered, "I liked it, I didn't love it." Simon jumped in with "I didn't like it at all," calling it a very average cabaret song, then telling Randy that he thought the second half of the song was worse than the first half. Simon said Joanne showed no confidence, adding "I don't accept this thing about nerves at this point."

Watch video of Joanne Borgella singing "I Say a Little Prayer":

If not a "wow" moment, the first good performance of the evening came from "I am 16 going on 17 (today!)" Alaina Whitaker. Even though the first two contestants have previous experience in recording and/or TV, inexperienced Alaina showed them how to do it with "More Today Than Yesterday." She also proved just how bad Chikezie Eze's performance of the same song the night before really was. In strong voice, with energy and personality, she ran through the number as if she does this sort of thing every day. We must admit, she was much better than we expected her to be. Randy told her the beginning was a little rough but that she sang it with conviction and confidence, Paula told her she nailed it and "had the best ending that I've heard on that song." (OK, so we had no idea what she meant by that since the song endings are always truncated.) Simon said "I think you're very good. I do," then admitted he hated (and didn't know the song), but "If you can make a song as awful as that sound OK, when you've got a decent song you're gonna be great," adding that she would sail through to the next round.

Watch video of Alaina Whitaker singing "More Today Than Yesterday":

We might be at odds with the judges and our reading audience on Amanda Overmyer, but we just didn't get "Baby, Please Don't Go." Admittedly, we weren't familiar with the song, but we could barely make out any of the words other than those in the title and it just didn't work for us. But we still love Amanda's raw voice and her energy. She definitely brings something different to the competition, and even if we don't always love her song choices, we'll always be curious to see what she chooses to sing next. And we were glad that she said in her intro that she's going to shelve Janis Joplin songs. Even though Amanda's voice is authentic, she can't help but sound as if she's doing an impression when she sings Joplin. Randy loved her performance (and her patchwork pants), and Paula said "I just love everything that you do," adding "a one trick pony, you're not." Simon, like Paula, called her authentic. He said it wasn't the best performance, but that he liked her.

Watch video of Amanda Overmyer singing "Baby, Please Don't Go":

To paraphrase Judge Judy, "Beauty fades, but bad singing is forever." Poor exotic-looking Amy Davis learned Wednesday night that being beautiful and having a killer body won't make up for not having the goods in a singing competition. In a word: horrible. Surprising, because she is a vocal member of three groups, but still ... We thought the pitchiness at the beginning of "Where the Boys Are" was just nerves, but honestly, did she a right note in the entire number? She gave us a brand new appreciation for Connie Francis. How bad was she? She made Garrett Haley, Tuesday night's weakest male singer, sound good. She is, without doubt, the worst singer in the Top 24. If she doesn't go home tonight, we'll demand a recount. Randy said something about country singers who "scoop up to the note" have got to hit the note dead on, but we have no idea what scoop up to the note means. Whatev. Ultimately, he said there were a lot of pitch problems and that it wasn't great for him. That we didn't need a translation on. Paula began with the camera loves you, which meant, as we all know by now, that she didn't. She added that it wasn't the most engaging song for Amy to sing. Ya think? Simon said, yes she did look great, but she didn't sound great. He called it a very boring song with a boring arrangement and said it sounded as if it went on for 10 minutes. He also (rightfully) told her, "I think you're gonna struggle after that."

Watch video of Amy Davis singing "Where the Boys Are":

Brooke White confuses us. She pretty and sweet and seems sooooo nice (she is a nanny, after all). She has a pleasant voice and a happy demeanor, but she leaves us just blank vocally. Something about her reminds us of a '60s throwback to hippies, peace, love and flower power. She did a very respectable version of "Happy Together," but honestly, David Cook did it better the night before. And she also needs to stop grabbing the sides of her head while singing. It's just weird. Brooke has a lot of strong competition from the other girls. She's certainly safe this week, but making it to the Top 12 will be a real challenge for her. If we had to call it this minute, we predict that the 6 girls that make it to the Top 12 will be: Ramiele Malubay, Asia'h Epperson, Carly Smithson, Syesha Mercado, Alexandréa Lushington and Amanda Overmyer. Where does that leave Brooke? Overall, we think we'd rather have as a friend than as an Idol. Randy said it started a little rough for him but that she had worked it out at the end. He also went into something about "getting your slaying on," which made about as much sense to us as his "scoop up to the note." Paula said Brooke picked the right song and did a great job. Simon agreed it was the right song, then said that "there are times tonight I feel like I'm in some commercial for washing-up liquid [dishwashing liquid] from the 1960s ... the blonde hair, the yellow, the happiness" (we're beginning to need a translator for the judges. Up to this season we only needed one for Paula, but Randy and Simon are becoming increasingly incoherent as well). He said the performance was all very Brooke but that he was struggling with the relevance. Well, OK, Simon. But to lift one of your lines, did you like her?

Watch video of Brooke White singing "Happy Together":

Our first "wow" moment of the night came with 17-year-old Alexandréa Lushington. Previously, we only remember hearing her sing on the very short audition clip that aired, and weren't overly impressed with what seemed like 6 seconds of "My Funny Valentine." But, lord, she killed it, or to use Randy's terminology, got her slaying on, with her jazzy rendition of Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel." She had total control of the stage, the performance and her voice from word one, singing and posturing like she has been doing this forever. It was amazing. Oh, and in case you didn't get it by now: we loved it. Randy gave her the kudos she deserved with "You blew the doors off that" and "You got it. It was hot, baby. It worked." Paula, equally appreciative said that what she loved about the performance was that Alexandréa thought about her performance from top to bottom. She said she loved the interpretation and that it could be on the radio today. Shockingly, Simon said "I didn't get it." He didn't think the vocals were great and said that it reminded him of some terrible '60s musical. WHAT!!!! Simply Simon you couldn't be more wrong.

Watch video of Alexandréa Lushington singing "Spinning Wheel":

In our house we're having a dispute over Kady Malloy's version of "Groovy Kind of Love." I was the one who disagreed with the judges (and, apparently, the rest of the world). In her audition, they told Kady to knock-off what they admitted was her great Britney Spears impression and be herself, but Wednesday night criticized her for not having more fun like she does when she does her (all together now) Britney Spears impression. We loved her slow-tempo version of the song, reminiscent of the way Phil Collins sang it, and thought her voice was beautiful and that she had great control of it. What we didn't like was her reaction to the judges criticism. She looked really angry, totally pissed off and pouty. Hey, get over yourself, Kady. If you can't deal with criticism, move on (which she will before the finals). Randy said it was okay for him, if restrained and controlled. Paula, starting with those words you never want to hear, "You look really pretty," said, "I want to see the life in you more; the fun." Simon agreed with that, then really got his slaying on with "That was like 'Night of the Living Dead.' When you do the Britney you're brilliant and then when you do you, the lights go off. Literally. It's like watching two different people." Worse yet was, "Kady, you've got to lighten up. I don't know who could impersonate you. A pencil?" Yikes!

Watch video of Kady Malloy singing "Groovy Kind of Love":

Fortunately, next up was Asia'h Epperson, the young woman whose dad died two days before her "Idol" audition. Because of her emotions, she choked up a bit then, but has brought it on ever since. Although we didn't deem her "Piece of My Heart" a "wow" performance, we loved it nonetheless and feel she'll fly through to the finals. She's got an interesting voice and a magnetic smile. Randy said he loved it and that she did her thing, with Paula chiming in with "You had some really good moments in that song." Simon called it, at that point anyway, my favorite of the night. He told Asia'h that she's fun, likable, has a good voice and is not taking herself too seriously.

Watch video of Asia'h Epperson singing "Piece of My Heart":

What followed were, as far as we were concerned, three powerhouse performances. Ramiele Malubay is always a wonderful surprise. A huge gift in a small package. Because of the subdued opening, you don't expect the big voice at the end of Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," but there it was. She has amazing vocal control, a wonderful tone to her voice and great stage presence. She will, indeed, be a force to be reckoned with in the finals. She was our second "wow" moment of the night. Randy loved that she saved her big voice for the end. He called it very classy and said it was hot. Paula said, "there's such a beautiful range in your voice, the tenderness, how you started" and that Ramiele had a really great performance. Simon, surprisingly admitted that he didn't Ramiele when she auditioned, then told her that during Hollywood you were the most consistently good singer, ending with "Tonight, you outsang every single person."

Watch video of Ramiele Malubay singing "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me":

We knew after she regained her voice at the end of Hollywood Week that Syesha Mercado could blow, and she proved it again with a particularly upbeat adaptation of "Tobacco Road." As with Asia'h, we don't proclaim it a "wow" moment, but we did think it was a very strong vocal performance with an amazing final note that should carry her all the way to the finals. Randy thought there were "a couple of pitchy things in there" (there were?), but all in all he liked it. Paula agreed, telling Syesha she was consistent and joyful. Simon didn't think it was her best performance, but mollified that with "I don't think it really matters because you are probably one of the most talented girls in the competition," adding "I thought it was terrific."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Tobacco Road":

OK, we were really set to hate, and we mean HATE, Carly Smithson at the beginning of the season after all we had read about her and her past recording contract et al. But how can you hate after hearing that voice. We were left nearly speechless by her rendition of "The Shadow of Your Smile." While not as good as (no one will ever be), it was the closest thing we've heard to Streisand, since, well, Streisand. When we found out after she finished that she had the flu and bronchitis, we were blown away even more. She actually coughed onstage after singing. Needless to say, a "wow" for us. But this was another instance when we thought Simon was absolutely whack. She garnered the best praise possible from Randy, who said, "The best vocal of the Top 24," adding "Hot, hot, blazing hot." Paula added her own lauding of Carly, calling her reliable. Simon, who Carly called Captain Fantastic, left us dumbfounded with "I didn't get it," adding the song was way too old-fashioned for her (call us old-fashioned), and adding that everything about it for him was a letdown and that "I was genuinely expecting something fantastic. I didn't think it was fantastic." OK, Simon, you're entitled to your wrong opinion.

Watch video of Carly Smithson singing "The Shadow of Your Smile":

Top 3: Carly Smithson, Ramiele Malubay, Alexandréa Lushington

Bottom 3: Amy Davis, Joanne Bogella, Kristy Lee Cook

Watch official video of Paula Abdul singing "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow" featuring Randy Jackson:

If you loved her in the '80s, you have to admit, she's still got it!

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© 2008

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