Wednesday, February 18, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Top 36 Group 1

Oy! If these are the the best and the brighest that Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul could find after a search of more than 100,000 contestants, all we can say is that Cowell should add a question mark to the title of his series "America's Got Talent," and the answer would be: "no."

Prior to Tuesday, it was bad enough that no one Season 8 auditioner shown out like a beacon in the crowd (though, to be sure, they were a few favorites whose names were already circulating: Danny Gokey, Anoop Desai). But we could excuse that if only because we hadn't yet seen anyone sing a full song (or at least 1 min. 20 sec. of a song). But Tuesday night was the Big Reveal of what we were already beginning to fear: This season most probably will suck.

To begin with, we hate that the producers have reverted to the old way of picking the finalists. We begin with far too many semifinalists (36) who are initially divided into three groups of 12. Each week, the top three vote-getters go immediately to the finals. But it's really not the top three. It's the top guy vote-getter, the top girl vote-getter and the third highest vote-getter, male or female. Nine finalists are chosen this way. On Thursday of Week 3, the judges each present a list of three "wild card" contestants who have thus far failed to make the finals. They perform again, and at the end of the episode, the judges will choose the last three to complete the Top 12.

This gives each contestant just one shot (or perhaps two if the judges choose them for the wild-card round) to perform, eliminating some who might have potential to develop. Think about how different David Cook was from the beginning of the semis to his championship. Remember, it was still during the semifinals that he sang "Hello," one of his most outstanding numbers. What if he had been booted after his first semifinal performance, "Happy Together"? "Hello" came a mere two weeks later.

We also don't think the judges should be picking anything more at this point. After all, their (or, more likely, the show's producers) careful deliberations already forced Tatiana Nicole Del Toro, Nate Marshall, Nick Mitchell and Von Smith down our throats. What if Tatiana is (hopefully) booted tonight and they pick her for the wild-card round? Who wants that? Or they pick the 12 contestants that the public liked least, instead of the 12 highest-scoring also-rans?

DialIdol results for Tuesday night predict that Danny Gokey is the only safe singer. The highest scoring female by their statistics is Alexis Grace, and the third highest overall scorer is Michael Sarver. Other than Alexis, America hated the remaining women pretty equally. Any of the five could have placed second. As for the guys, the only one definitely dead and gone by DialIdol results is Stephen Fowler. They have Anoop Desai, Ricky Braddy and Brent Keith in a dead heat. That kind of stinks, as Ricky Braddy was a real standout, but his lack of face time in previous episodes obviously hurt him Tuesday night. We're also surprised that Michael placed in front of Anoop, a judges' favorite and previous audience favorite. Although Anoop was not at the top of his game Tuesday night, he was certainly better than Sarver.

Here's how it came down, contestant by contestant:

Jackie Tohn kicked off the show with Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." Although we admit to a soft spot for our homie, to paraphrase Simon, if we're being honest, this was a crappy song choice that did nothing to showcase her raspy voice. And to paraphrase Randy on her outfit: "Whaaaat?" Those shiny stretchy nylon leggings were to die for, as in didn't they bury them back in the '80s? Though Tohn did look kinda cute overall, jumping around in her polka dot strapless top, wide red belt and matching kicks. If nothing else, she certainly stood out. But if this is her final performance, will we never find out the meaning behind the black-and-white cameo pin she wears for every performance? The singing, well, it was bleh. Though Tohn was so confident and full of energy, posturing all over the stage, that the judges (except Simon) all but forgave her mediocre singing. We're certain one of them will choose her as a wild-card contestant. But Simon wasn't having with any of it, saying, "I think that you actually played the clown tonight. I thought the performance was ungainly, I thought the song was a bit gimmicky ... so I don't think that you did yourself any favors tonight. I don't think the public is going to like that very much and I think that you may have blown this great opportunity by doing something silly, rather than good." BTW, he didn't like her outfit, either.

Watch video of Jackie Tohn singing "A Little Less Conversation"

Regardless of the endless praise that the final performer received, the best performance of the evening, as far as we were concerned, went to Ricky Braddy, who sang Leon Russell's "A Song for You." His parents were wearing T-shirts that read: "I'm in the Braddy Bunch." Cute. Unfortunately, Ricky is shy and doesn't have much of a personality. In addition, he's received so little face time, the audience knows nothing about him and this is going to hurt him badly. We can only hope that one of the judges picks him for a wild-card position. On the up side, he lost his glasses -- and with them part of his geeky appearance -- for the performance. Randy told him he was unbelievable, beautiful tone, nice voice, "the way to jump it off." Kara said, "You killed that. That was amazing. Your riffs, your interpretation. It was effortless. You have an incredible gift." Paula gave Ricky a standing O and said, "With so many contestants that are involved, you weren't featured in the past three weeks and I'm so proud that America gets to see how talented you are, because, make no mistake, you deserve to go very far in this competition." Yea! Agreed! Simon added, "Very, very good. I'm not jumping out of my chair like you three are." He then accurately added, "My only issue with you is, that I don't think at the moment that you have any star quality. Because you have a great voice, but I don't think you have the self-belief or the charisma right now to be what we would be looking for this year. At the moment, I think you're a nice shy guy with a very good voice. And you've got to start believing in yourself, a bit." Paula jumped in with, "Take lessons from him," pointing to Simon, to which Cowell retorted, "Why not?"

Watch video of Ricky Braddy singing "A Song For You"

We suppose we have to give the best female vocal to Alexis Grace (or at least put her in a tie with Anne Marie Boskovich), but none of the women really knocked us out. Although the judges thought Grace's performance of Aretha Franklin's "Never Loved a Man" was soulful, we were left unmoved. It was a good, strong, yet strangely unstirring vocal. And we hate to be critical of her appearance, but if you're going to wear a short, short lacy slip dress, you shouldn't be knocked kneed. As Simon would say, "Sorry." We actually like the pink highlights in her blonde hair. But the jury is still out on her RED lipstick. Can't decide whether we loved it or hated it, but it certainly made you look at her mouth. Randy said, "You worked it out, I'm loving you right now. Whaaaat?" (are we going to have to hear whaaaat all season, dawg?) Kara said Alexis is a new girl since her audition and that Kara loves it, adding "great job." Paula couldn't get her thoughts together in a cohesive sentence and decided to keep rambling just to annoy Simon. But she did tell Alexis that she has "that quiet confidence that she loves" and that she was wonderful, beautiful and fantastic. Simon said of the three singers so far, she was the best (we disagree), and told her she actually does have soul (wrong). He also told her she might be "a little dark horse in this competition" and that she reminds him of Kelly Clarkson (no way!) eight years before in the same position, and that she's "the one to watch." With all the winking he did at her, it's clear that Cowell really likes her. Whatever.

Watch video of Alexis Grace singing "Never Loved a Man"

It was a bad night for former "Nashville Star" contestant Brent Keith, who tried to stay true to his roots with Jason Aldean's "Hicktown." First, instead of playing his video, they put up Stevie Wright's by mistake. Next, Ryan Seacrest, trying to cover the blunder, says, well, let's go downstairs and have you perform. But by the time they get to the stage, of course, they've qued up the right video. When Keith finally did sing, we thought it was a pleasant performance, though nothing that we were going to remember the next day. Yet, we were put off when he had to defend his song choice to all the judges except Randy. All night the judges told contestants, "We don't know who you are as an artist with that song choice," yet when someone is definitive about the kind of music he wants to record, he gets dumped on as well. Whaaat? (sorry). We previously thought Keith's good looks and country genre would keep him in the running, but between his DialIdol score and the judges' apathy, we now believe this was his final appearance. And that he seemed pissed at the judges' comments probably didn't garner him any extra votes. Randy said he was a "new edge to country, with the old country swagger. I liked you man, I liked you. I think you'll make a very good country artist." However, Kara told him he was too safe, that she previously thought he had a lot of soul and that his song choice wasn't rangy enough for her, ending with "I think you have more in you than what we saw tonight. You're a cute guy, you've got a lot going for you and I wish you'd taken more risks." Paula agreed it was a safe song, but said she could definitely see him as a country artist, "I mean, look what's happened to Josh Gracin, look what's happened to Bucky Covington ..." to which Simon said, "What has happened to Bucky Covington?" Ha, ha funny Simon, but fact is, Bucky had a number of country hits on his first CD (possibly more than Gracin has had) and is about to release the second. Cowell continued, "You're a nice guy, you've got quite a nice voice and you did something that was not safe, it was forgettable ... so I think you may have just blown a massive opportunity by being forgettable. Sorry."

Watch video of Brent Keith singing "Hicktown"

There were two train wrecks Tuesday night and Stevie Wright, singing Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me," was the first one. Because the judges had told her that her audition song, "At Last," was too old for her, Stevie tried to keep things young. She looked cute, but that's as far as it got. At first, her voice was so low you could barely hear it (she obviously has no lower range), then when the song picked up, she was off key, pitchy and couldn't hit the big notes. It was pitifully bad karaoke and brought back bad memories of Antonella Barba. You really had to feel sorry for the kid. But she does have a great smile and is very telegenic. Randy said, "It was not hot for me. I wasn't feeling that at all." Kara said, "We wanted you to be young, but you really picked a song that had nothing to do with you. I think you have an identity crisis going on." Yeah, OK, whatever. Paula agreed, "It was just not the right song for you. The low range was too low for you, and it wasn't the Stevie Wright we fell in love with." Simon, however, spared nothing and just put it out there: "They're being quite polite. I mean, Stevie it was terrible. The song is OK, you were out of tune, you looked really nervous, out of your depth. I mean the good news is, you've got some experience from this, I guess. But there is zero chance of you making it through to the next round, after that." Kara got upset, saying, "We don't have to kill her now, do we?" And Paula and Kara jumped in with "America votes," to which Cowell answered, "Yes, but they listen to me" (not on the David Cook finale, Simon, ha!).

Watch video of Stevie Wright singing "You Belong to Me"

We expected big things from Anoop Desai, and he didn't entirely disappoint with Monica's "Angel of Mine." It was a sensitive and soulful rendition, though we'd rank him No. 3 of the six guys singing Tuesday. The one thing Anoop does have is truckloads of charisma and likability, and even at this early stage he's dressing right for the show. We thought he looked so much better than that gangly youth in shorts we saw in his audition video. Randy said, "I got mad love for you, but the whole song for me was a little sharp ... it never quite settled. But I'm still a huge fan, baby." And, yes, he did say, "Yeaaaaah, whaaaat," again. Kara said, "I'm not sure you had the riffs or capability to kinda nail it [the song], the way it needs to be nailed. But I think there's a lot of great potential with you. And I like you. I believe you when you're up there. I feel like you're connected to what you're singing about." Paula told him, "America has connected with you in a large way already." (We thought so, too, until we saw the DialIdol numbers.) She also told him that he has a Brian McKnight feel to his voice and that she believes in him. Simon, inexplicably, told him of the song choice, "I thought it was a little too grown-up for you, in a way. ... it was just a bit too serious for you." But if he doesn't make it through on Wednesday, we'd put money on his being a wild-card choice.

Watch video of Anoop Desai singing "Angel of Mine"

Casey Carlson singing "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by the Police made Chris Sligh look like a genius. Bad isn't bad enough to describe just how awful she was. We never liked her audition and wondered why the judges put her through (c'mon, being cute is never enough), and we were proven right. How to describe? Well, aside from horribly flat and off-key vocals, she was pulling faces, winking and making weird and awkward "dance" moves that were so reminiscent of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" that we started laughing and saying "buh-bye" about 10 seconds into her performance. Yikes! But when the judges began telling her the same things, her little pretty elfin face became all pouty and she looked like she was about to cry, which made Simon not nearly as cruel as he could have been. He started by asking her how she thought she did. She told him she had had fun. He then said, "I've got to find something positive here. You look good." (Actually her boots with the dress were wrong, wrong, wrong.) "Because the singing was just atrocious, to be honest with you. And you could not have chosen a worse song." He also said it was karaoke and that she got one massive opportunity and threw it away. And, yes, that was being nice, because Carlson's performance was like one of those awful auditions when Cowell says, "That was a joke, right?"

Watch video of Casey Carlson singing "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"

The fact that everyone seems to love Michael Sarver is serving him much better than his voice did on Gavin DeGraw's "I Don’t Wanna Be." All we kept thinking was, "When Bo Bice sang that song he just killed it. Michael Sarver is justing killing the song." In fact, we like Bo's version even better than DeGraw's. Paula mentioned in her critique that Elliott Yamin and Chris Richardson also sang "I Don't Wanna Be." We don't even remember those renditions. Sarver's, too, will be quickly forgotten. That he placed third overall on DialIdol must attest to his likability and Everyman status (he works as a rouhgneck on an oil rig) and that people relate to what he says about how doing well on the show will help change his family's lives. He's OK looking, but not gorgeous. (For some reason, he brings to mind a Siberian husky dog.) But the judges love him even with his imperfections. Randy told him, "It started out a little rough pitch-wise, the first verse was a little weird ... I might like you a little better on a soul thing. I'm not sure if it was the wrong song choice for you; I just don't think that you performed it that well." Kara added, "I don't think that was your best performance, you've got more in you. What I like is that you're singing something that's true to you ... You're likable because you are who you are and you connect with the audience." On the other hand, Paula told him he did "a real good job." (Not). Simon said, "We put you here primarily because we like you, you know. You're a good, honest guy, hard-working, who needs a break. I'm not going to lie to you and say this was the best vocal I've ever heard, because it wasn't. We've heard a lot worse tonight. So I think if you get through, it's because people like you ... But with you in particular, I hope America does pick up the phone and give you another shot." Apparently people do listen to what Simon sez.

Watch video of Michael Sarver singing "I Don’t Wanna Be"

We really loved Anne Marie Boskovich during her audition and we found her interpretation of Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" interesting. It wasn't great, but it was no worse than Alexis Grace's turn with another Aretha Franklin song. The judges weren't as enamored with her as we were. Randy thought the song wasn't the right choice for her, saying that others had sung the song on the show and really slayed it, but that Anne Marie fell subpar below that. Kara said, "It's feels a bit old-fashioned. It doesn't feel young," and that she would rather hear something that was a little more fun and girly. Anne Marie answered, "I think that's not as good as a classic," which elicited some whoas from Randy, but then Simon and he said, "I like that." Paula told her that she thought she did better than what they had heard from her before, adding, "I think you played it safer during your earlier auditions and this time you came out and gave it your all." Simon compared her to a hotel singer, saying, "The simple truth is, your voice is not good enough for that song. So it just destroyed you, in my opinion."

Watch video of Anne Marie Boskovich singing "Natural Woman"

Stephen Fowler was even more destroyed by his choice of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." Mostly known for receiving a second chance after forgetting his lyrics during Hollywood Week, Fowler needed a strong comeback and this wasn't it. We've previously really liked his voice, but "Rock With You" did nothing to showcase it. In fact, we kind of agreed with Paula who said he should have resung David Cook's "Time of My Life," just to prove he remembered the lyrics. Plus that song suited his voice much better. Randy thought Fowler's song choice was all wrong: "Dawg, it's not even in the right place for you man. It's not the right song for you to be singing." He also noted that other than the high notes it was pitchy. Kara said he was more connected to the David Cook song at the piano and that this song didn't give him any room to interpret. Paula told him, "Singing "Rock With You" is like the kiss of death. It belongs to one artist, and that's Michael Jackson. I'm a little disappointed" Simon said, "I actually wish you had forgotten the lyrics, because it was such a pointless performance. ... The whole thing was just atrocious. The last 10 seconds were OK, Stephen, but you're going to watch this back and realize that you've made a huge mistake here, because actually, you know what it was? It was corny. And you're not a corny person. You're not."

Watch video of Stephen Fowler singing "Rock With You"

The performance everyone was waiting for dreading was that of Tatiana Del Toro. Her appearance singing Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You" was a lot more subdued than expected -- though there was this very dramatic pose at the end -- and the judges (read: producers) seemed really disappointed by the lack of drama, even encouraging her to do her incredibly annoying laugh. If putting her in the semis isn't a setup, then what is? Her vocal performance was adequate with some really nice parts. If she was normal and more consistent vocally, she would have the possibility of being a sensation. But she's not and she isn't. She'll always be one of the jokes of Season 8. Randy told her she had some moments when he said to himself, "You know what? She actually can sing" (well if you thought she couldn't, why did she make it to the semis???) He added, "You didn't pull it all together -- that second verse the melody was very weird -- but there were moments. Tatiana, there were moments." Kara was questioning, "Who are you in the industry? Where do you fit? Is she a character or is she an artist? I don't know." Paula noted that Tatiana was the most talked about contestant on the show, adding, "You know what they say, good, bad or indifferent, at least they're talking about you. This demure Tatiana, I'm not used to. But I will say, especially your closing note, was beautiful. You had beautiful moments and then you had pitchy moments, but I don't know who you are today. Are you crazy? You know we miss the crazy." Simon said, "Tatiana, you are a complete and utter drama queen. Right? You are. I've never met anyone in my life, probably with the exception of Paula, who's wanted fame more than anyone else. ... You are desperate to be famous. ... To get back to your singing for a moment, actually, surprisingly, it was bad at all. It was better than I expected." He then encouraged her to "lose this weird thing," the demure thing, because "it's actually making me a little bit nervous. Do the weird laughing."

Tatiana Del Toro - "Saving All My Love for You" by Whitney Houston
Watch video of Tatiana Del Toro singing "Saving All My Love for You"

Last up, in the "pimp" spot was Danny Gokey. He also chose a song by a diva, in his case, "Hero," by Mariah Carey. As we expected, it was a very nice performance. Danny's got a great idea going for him: perform songs by female singers, because it's then hard to compare you with the original artist, plus it sounds like you've changed the song up. He did it with "Hero," and previously during Hollywood Week with Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." And it works well for him. Without the exception of Simon, the judges went WILD. Too wild. It was very good, but not that good. OMG, at the end of the song they were standing, screaming, woo-hooing, raising their arms. Get a life. It didn't even approach LaKisha's Jones' performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" during her first semifinal week, nor Melinda Doolittle's "Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone)" the same week. Randy said, "The redeemer of the night, right here, Danny Gokey, that was blazing hot." Kara shouted, "Danny, you are the hero, man. That was incredible. You give us all hope. You were great!" Paula chimed in with, "Danny, you are stellar, and I have two words with a hyphen: sold-out arenas." Simon, trying to keep it real, said, "It wasn't fantastic, it was good. You know, the end part was great, the beginning was OK , the arrangement was a bit heavy-handed. You are a very, very good singer. I like you. I'm just not buying the hype [pointing to the other three judges] right now. It's too much," as he rolled his eyes. Thank you, Simon. You are correct.

Watch video of Danny Gokey singing "Hero"

Tonight, the first three finalists are announced.

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Anonymous said...

Simon was the most irritating part of the show. He's not the same. He's broken, balding and old. Poor Paula tried to get him to snap out of it but obviously, he's a lost cause.

I hated every minute of it and the contestants were any good either. Danny needs to clear his throat, for real.

Simon Cowell ruined American Idol forever. :'(

coffee said...

the producers of American Idol are obviously singling out Danny Gokey as their favorite, but i would like to see him win so i don't mind