Thursday, February 28, 2008

American Idol Top 20:
The Less Impressive Ladies

Last week we lauded the ladies, ranted on about how they were SO much better than the men, discussed our three "wow" moments and why we finally had a reason to watch Season 7 of Idol.

Unfortunately, this week made us feel that what a lot of our friends are saying -- it's the year of the man on Idol -- is true. Not that we like the nearly already crowned winner of Season 7, David Archuleta. But overall, the men had a lot more impressive and improved performances in Week 2, while the ladies produced no wows this week. In fact, few, if any, improved, and some actually got worse.

When we peeked at the DialIdol numbers this morning, we nearly keeled over. The person who had the absolutely worst performance Wednesday night was in first place. Is everyone on drugs in America? Aside from the fact that rocker-nurse Amanda Overmyer looked like a cross between Elvira Mistress of Darkness and The Bride of Frankestein -- with a bad stylist -- she didn't hit one right note as she struggled through Kansas' "Carry on My Wayward Son." We winced our way through the performance. And yet, America apparently thinks this was the best female number, while Alaina Whitaker's bland but well-sung "Hopelessly Devoted to You" is dead last. You gotta be kidding us, guys. Poor Alaina, she placed near the bottom last week and at the bottom this week, after giving two very decent performances. There is something about that 17-year-old this country doesn't like.

Here is how the DialIdol numbers looked:
1. Amanda Overmyer
2. Brooke White
3. Kristy Lee Cook
4. Carly Smithson
5. Asia'h Epperson
6. Alexandrea Lushington
7. Ramiele Malubay
8. Syesha Mercado
9. Kady Malloy
10. Alaina Whitaker

First up was Carly Smithson. We all know about her tattoos, her husband's tattoos and their tattoo shop, but Carly told us she also works in an Irish bar and she can make a shamrock in the foam of an ale. OMG, how exciting is that? Can we sing now? Smithson sang Heart's "Crazy on You." Someone is our household pointed out that Carly was in need of a good support system ... for her breasts, and that their bobbling constantly while she sang was very distracting (and not in a good way). Though not a "wow" moment like we thought she had last week, it was a good song choice for her voice and yet another solid performance from Carly. Randy Jackson thought there were some sharp pitch problems especially with the lower notes, but that by the middle of the song Carly had gotten it together. Paula Abdul did some blah, blah, blah on it's great to see you healthy again, then added that Carly is an amazing singer and did an amazing job. Simon Cowell thought it "a much better performance than last week," but added that he still didn't think she had connected with the right song yet. However, he told her, "I think you are, and I'll put it on record, an incredible singer. I don't think any of these girls can touch you vocally. ... I think you're the girl they've all gotta beat." He could be right.

Watch video of Carly Smithson singing "Crazy on You" by Heart

Syesha Mercado tells us about the commercials she has made, then demonstrates an eerily accurate baby cry she can do. We must admit we were disappointed by Syesha's take on Billy Paul's "Mr. and Mrs. Jones," a song we really love. Syesha's powerhouse voice is not a good fit for the song, and, we agree with Simon here, changing the words to "Me and Mr. Jones" is distracting and offputting. Syesha tried to play it subdued and come in with a big note at the end, but overall, much as we wanted it to, it didn't work for us. As Syesha is one of our favorites and has, we think, one of the top three female voices this year, we hope she is not tripped up by one bad song choice, as she is in DialIdol's Bottom 3 for the week. The public seems to be judging contestants this year on only the week's performance, instead of taking their body of work (from the auditions on) as a whole. (That is, except for Alaina Whitaker, who, for reasons unknown, they just seem to plainly dislike.) Randy said, "I don't think this was a great song choice for you," telling her she has a big belting voice and that she should pick songs she can use it on. Paula said Syesha tended to go off on the softer notes, but she liked what she did and the interpretation. Simon called it a bit indulgent, adding "the song obviously wasn't written for a girl so it was probably a bit of a silly choice to have done that. I was put off as soon as you started it. It's not a song that's really designed for your voice anyway so you can't really do that huge note at the end. I don't think that was a particularly clever choice for you."

Watch video of Syesha Mercado singing "Me and Mr. Jones" by Billy Paul

Brooke White is a beauty-school dropout. Yes, a real one, we're not trying to cue the Frankie Avalon version from "Grease." She has been "doing hair" since she was 11 and was attending beauty school when she decided to pursue singing instead. We are beginning to think that America has taken Earth Mother-nanny Brooke White totally into their collective heart. There is something so sweet, engaging, mature and genuine about Brooke's personality, and all without being cloying. Singing Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" while looking straight at Simon, who did, indeed, think the song was about him and seemed to enjoy that, was just a perfect fit. Not a perfect performance perhaps -- there were some pitchy parts -- but her singing that particular song while she played acoustic guitar was the right choice for Brooke. Randy thought it was a great song choice, acknowledging the Carly Simon vibe that Brooke emanates. Paula also called it the perfect song saying that it totally suited Brooke and that she liked what Brooke did to it. Simon said, "I absolutely loved it. The absolute perfect song for you. It was one of the rare occasions where I felt the artist had genuinely chosen the song. It absolutely connected; I thought you sang it very well. The song didn't sound old-fashioned. This is why we put you through into the latter stages." Ah, Simon, you might be vain, but you still have the ability to appreciate others as well.

Watch video of Brooke White singing "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon

Ramiele Malubay discussed her background in Polynesian dance and briefly demonstrated a couple of hula steps. We thought the judges were a bit tough on her version of Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way." True, there wasn't enough time to really build the song the way it should build, but we got the impression they just didn't like the song choice. Maybe Simon hears the song at every wedding he goes to, but we still love the era and the song. As the judges used to say, Ramiele could sing the phone book and make it sound good. So we're not sure why they gave her such a tough time. Randy found it a little rough and said it was just OK vocally. He called the song choice weird and said it wasn't his favorite choice for Ramiele. Paula said (well this is the English translation of what she said) that although Ramiele's vocals are truly amazing, the song has the same notes and Ramiele didn't get to perform her magic with it. Simon's problem with the song was "that I've heard it so many times." He said last week she showed more personality and stood out more and that this was one of those performances he wasn't going to remember. He tempered that with "I think you're terrific" and called her one of the top three best singers in the competition.

Watch video of Ramiele Malubay singing "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston

Just as America doesn't get Alaina Whitaker, we're not sure why they've taken so to Kristy Lee Cook, who told us in her intro video what a tomboy and outdoors girl she is. There are certainly prettier women in the competition, and most definitely more vocally talented ones. Is it because she sold her horse to get to the audition? That only proves to us that she cares more about her career than her critters. But what do we know? She did a respectable version of Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good," a lot better than last week's performance when she was suffering from the flu and bronchitis. She also wore a very fitted silver lame top that accentuated her not insubstantial "girls." But vocally, we were not blown away. Randy called it a 100% improvement over last week and a better song choice for Kristy. And although he was waiting (as we were) for a breakout moment that never came, he said "I thought that you did it really good." Paula said it was a good song choice for Kristy. Simon agreed that it was a huge improvement over the week before, but said his only worry was "I don't exactly know what type of singer you really are. I have a feeling that if you were to go down more the country route, you're going to find it much easier to make a statement, which I'm not sure you quite did with that song," but also said she had "a lot of potential."

Watch video of Kristy Lee Cook singing "You're No Good" by Linda Ronstadt

We learned from Amanda Overmyer that David Cook is not the only intellectual in this year's Idol pack. Amanda loves to read, believing that knowledge is power. Unfortunately, her performance was the train wreck of the evening. First of all, the outfit was atrocious and she looked as if she was wearing a fright wig. We like her gravelly voice a lot and would like her to make the finals, but she would have been laughed out of the audition room had she performed then as she did last night. It was that painfully bad. The judges, however, walked on eggshells trying not to be too hard on her. Randy said it was the wrong song choice with way too much melody and that the verses were very pitchy. He advised her to stick to bluesy music. Paula, who couldn't tell Amanda she looked beautiful (because she looked awful) before diving into a negative critique, instead told her she had some great moves and could dance (huh?). She watered down her criticism to "You're special. You are needed in this competition. You are a brilliant, brilliant artist, This was not the right song." (Later, after Simon's critique, Paula jumped back to tell Amanda she was beautiful in her video, without all that excess makeup). Simon said, "In your film [her video intro] you came over as very natural, very cool. Then everything felt contrived from what you wear, from this terrible hair, from the indulgent song, everything. None of it felt natural or real. It was like you're in your own little world, with actually quite an ugly song. I couldn't wait for it to finish. I really, really didn't get that. And if you want the popular vote, you're not gonna get it by doing that." Paula then began to speak, but the cutoff outro music came on, prompting Simon to throw up his hands and say, "It's the Oscars!"

Watch video of Amanda Overmyer singing "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas

Alaina Whitaker joyfully shared her obsessive-compulsive disorder with us. She not only cannot have different types of food touching on a plate, she uses different forks for each food. But, she said, it's getting better. We're glad. As we've already mentioned, she did a very serviceable rendition of Olivia Newton-John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You," though at times it sounded closer to an impression than just Whitaker singing. And perhaps her dress was a bit too "I'm leaving for the prom now." It wasn't great, but overall it was certainly pleasant and assuredly better than some of the other girls. But there her name sits in the 10th position of the DialIdol list. Randy said it wasn't the right song for Alaina and that the verses were really pitchy and that it wasn't his favorite from her. Paula, on the other hand, said, "I think you did a real good job with it. ... I don't think this was as bad as [Randy] thinks." (we agree). Simon told Alaina he likes her but that "it's almost as if your grandmother prepared you for this audition" and that everything about her was very, very old-fashioned and a bit pageant-y. On the upside, he added, "I actually think you're one of the dark horses in this competition."

Watch video of Alaina Whitaker singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" by Olivia Newton-John

Alexandréa Lushington said that she was the poster child for the Atlanta fire department because her father worked for them. We liked her odd song choice, Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now," as well as its arrangement. For us, she is the most interesting contestant in the competition because of her song selections and arrangements. Each week, we wonder what she is going to come up with. Even her clothing choices are interesting and atypical, but without being outrageous. You definitely get the feeling she is making the decisions, not some Idol staffer. As she is just 17, it displays her vast experience as an entertainer and acknowledges that she has learned alot about the business since she began performing at a very young age. However, the judges didn't agree with us. Randy thought the song selection was too safe (we thought it was rather daring) and told her that she should never make safe choices. Paula, fortunately, saw it more our way (wait, should we be feeling good about that?), saying, "I feel that you did let go. You did your own arrangements. You stretched it; you made it your own. I've never heard a female take on that song." Simon began with "I was a big, big fan of yours in the early stages of the competition," but continued with "I think you're struggling right now. That song has never been covered [well, according to Wikipedia, it's been covered more than 100 times, but not by anyone hugely famous] and I don't think it's been a hit outside of when it was originally released for a reason." He said there's nothing you can do with the song, that she was inconsistent and both in- and out-of-tune, and finally proclaimed the performance boring.

Watch video of Alexandrea Lushington singing "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago

Kady Malloy clued us in that she has operatic talents. There's a big voice inside that blonde Britney wannabe. Too bad we didn't see much of it Wednesday night. When she wasn't belting on Heart's "Magic Man" (and BTW, how in hell could Simon NOT know that song?) she was drowning in the low notes. In those sections, she mumbled the words as well, making them occasionally unintelligible. But Kady's biggest problem is, well, she just comes off as annoying and petulant. And vocally she didn't shine at all this week. Randy said he loves that song but on the verse Kady never quite found the notes and it didn't work. Paula said that when Kady powered it she sounded great, but on the low notes she lost a little bit. Simon again this week told her that everything she does on film is fantastic, "then you come out here almost like someone trying to impersonate Christina [Aguilera] now, singing at the back of your throat with a song I've never heard before, which has no melody. I just don't think it went anywhere."

Watch video of Kady Malloy singing "Magic Man" by Heart

The pimp spot was awarded to Asia'h Epperson, who revealed she was a cheerleader in middle and high school (whoa!) and that she thinks it helped prepare her for Idol (don't even ask). Frankly, she didn't deserve the pimp spot for "All by Myself" (which, by the way, Randy, was sung by Eric Carmen -- not Celine Dion -- in the '70s). She had some great end notes in the chorus, but the verses just fell flat. To be honest, none of the girls deserved the pimp spot this week. Brooke White probably gave the best performance, but even it fell short of being a "wow." Randy told Asia'h, "A very difficult song to sing, Celine [Dion] sang everything out of it ... Highest degree of difficulty, you did a really good job with it." Paula agreed that it was great, but said Asia'h had problems in the low notes. Then added, "But you know what, the ending, that's what it counts on this song ... You brought it home." (so why do the contestants even bother singing the rest of the song, Paula?) Simon said, "It is one of the diva songs of all time and you have got to be one heck of a singer to pull that off and unfortunately you're not (but was Eric Carmen, Simon?). And then he added the knife in the heart, "The truth is you're not that good of a singer, so you shouldn't have attempted that song. You've got to be incredible. You almost got away with it, but the song was too big for you ... so in my opinion, it showed up and I think it was a silly decision." Again, we ask you Simon, then why is Asia'h in the Top 24? You picked her, not us. And BTW, if anyone cares, we hated her stick-straight extensions. She looks much better with her natural hair.

Watch video of Asia’h Epperson singing "All by Myself" by Eric Carmen

Guys, who should go: Danny Noriega, Jason Castro
Guys, who will go: Danny Noriega, Luke Menard

Girls, who should go: Kristy Lee Cook (we'll give Amanda one more chance), Kady Malloy
Girls, who will go: Alaina Whitaker, Kady Malloy

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