It’s the finals, so it’s time to start grading the performances. I always look like an easy mark when I grade, but keep in mind that these are the thirteen best from a pool of over a hundred thousand applicants. What is average for them certainly isn’t average by any normal standards. Here are my thumbnail guidelines for each grade:
F–Painful to listen to; a horrible, horrible train wreck. If it happened in Karaoke, the crowd would clap politely afterwords and hope like hell that this singer didn’t come back and sing again. Even Haley last week wouldn’t have been an F. Her performance was a perfect D.
D-Something embarrassing happened like Gokey’s scream in season 8, or like last week’s Haley performance where the singer is just horribly out of tune. Eben and Baylie were both Ds last week.
C-Decent performance for a mid round in Hollywood, but clearly not at the level of the finals.
B-Good, solid performance. Entertaining but maybe sloppy, or technically strong but maybe a little boring.
A-Technically perfect, entertaining, exciting, a commanding performance. If I want to go back and listen again for my own pleasure, that’s an A. Skylar’s performance last week was an A.
Moment-Regular readers are used to me using this. What it means is that the performance will live on as a special “moment” in Idol history. Depending on my mood I might overdo these, or more likely I’ll let the “moment” pass by without a mention. Siobhan’s “Paint It Black” sure as hell was a moment, but at the time I didn’t give up the designation even though she’s my favorite Idol ever. There have been a few “moments” called that I wished I could take back, too. It’s subjective, and I have to decide right away.
Idol announced this afternoon that both the male and female bottom vote-getter will sing off tomorrow night, with one of them leaving the show. The judges get the final say, like the wild card round. The guys are singing Stevie Wonder, while the girls will be singing Whitney Houston.
The singers, the songs:
Joshua Ledet, “I Wish”
He didn’t quite stick the landing at the end, but his tone, rhythm and intonation were very strong the rest of the way. He moved around naturally without overdoing it. The only thing that bothered me a little was that his mic level was a little low. That’s certainly not his fault. I enjoyed the performance, and Josh showed that he can sing a melody. He reminds me of Johnny Mathis, visually as well as with his tone. B+
Aside– I made it about 6 words in before I realized that I didn’t want to listen to the judges talk tonight. I’m going to skip through their comments the rest of the way. If they say something outrageous, someone is going to have to tell me later. If they say something concise and constructive, I’m the Tooth Fairy.
Elise Testone, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
Thanks a lot, Jimmy. Kamakaze Karaoke on American Idol. Elise is a really good singer who didn’t really know the song – and she sounded like a really good singer who didn’t really know the song. Her voice and her musicianship came through, though, and it wasn’t the trainwreck that it would have been had someone like Shannon or Jeremy been stuck singing it. B-; Elise will have better days, when she gets to sing a song she’s heard before.
Jermaine Jones, “Knocks Me off my Feet”
His intonation wasn’t great all the way, but everything else was where it needed to be and he delivered a strong performance. The arrangement felt a little rushed at the end; if it were up to me, I would have had him slow it down a little sooner; give that low note a chance to stand out instead of just being there; like the difference between a period and an exclamation point. B
Erika Van Pelt, “I Believe in Me and You”
She kinda frogged it a little, didn’t she? Whitney isn’t going to be Erika’s strong suit anyway, because Erika has a fairly small zone where her voice stands out. She hit the notes, but more like she was painting by the numbers than painting a picture. It didn’t get anywhere near painful, but at the same time it never got comfortable. She fell into the trap that Jimmy told her about, trying to sing it like Whitney instead of singing it in her own deep, raspy, bluesy style. That would have been way cooler. C+
Colton Dixon, “Lately”
I noticed this before, but I didn’t mention it for fear of being blasphemous: Colton has a lot of mannerisms that remind me of Adam Lambert, down to his phrasing and how he picks some of his notes. He ain’t Adam, obviously, so the similarities are more interesting than informational. I really enjoyed him tonight; even rewound and listened again. He has such an emotional voice that his technical prowess never seems to get any attention, but he has a lot more going for him besides the pretty tone. B+; I could be talked into an A- but it’s week one of the finals. Let’s do it again first.
Shannon Magrane, “I Have Nothing”
She missed a couple of glory notes, not a big deal because she hit several others, but she was soooooo wooden and tight. That’s a problem. She was singing like she was trying to shove a huge boulder up a hill. I found it hard to watch her, honestly. I compare her to Katie Stevens a lot, and this was a Katie sort of performance; obvious talent, great voice, but lacking in confidence as well as experience. Singing a Whitney Houston song, right after her death, in front of twenty million people had to be intimidating for a girl who just turned 16 years old. C+
Deandre Brackensick, “Master Blaster”
Yaknow what’s funny? Deandre and Joshua have similar voices, yet they use them so differently that you would never even notice it unless they sang right after each other. The differences: Joshua uses his upper range like a battering ram, while Deandre uses his like a feather duster. Joshua takes it to church, while Deandre takes it to the islands. Had they been trained together, though, I doubt that you could tell them apart without looking at them. Deandre was fine tonight, solid and entertaining, but I won’t remember it tomorrow. Oh wait, I’ll remember the rhythmic runs in the chorus; that was really cool. B
Skylar Laine, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”
I honestly would have preferred it if she had just kept it simple; sang the song the way someone like Dolly Parton would have. She started out that way, and I was thinking moment about halfway through. The rest of the song was about as awful as a song can be without the singer missing a bunch of notes. She hit the notes, most of them anyway, but why? It was like someone shoved a cattle prod up her butt right when she got to the chorus. She’ll have much better weeks; I think she got intimidated by WHITNEY, much like Shannon did. Having these kids sing Whitney songs so soon after her death, in the first round of the finals for chrissakes, wasn’t the best idea Idol’s ever had. C+; A- for the first half, D for the second half.
Heejun Han, “All in Love is Fair”
There isn’t anything special about his voice, and if he wasn’t funny AND Asian he wouldn’t be here. That said, I thought he was pretty good tonight, in the lower B to high C range. He couldn’t reach either of his glory notes, though, so I’ll dun him a bit. C
Hollie Cavanagh, “All the Man that I Need”
I kinda thought that Hollie would be the one singer among this group that could blow up a Whitney song. Her voice sounds a lot like Whitney’s when she spreads it out. She didn’t disappoint; she sounded fantastic, and yet I almost feel like she left something for later. She didn’t get anywhere near the top of her range. There were a few bum notes in there, nothing terrible but juuust a little sloppy. She has the same issues that a lot of young singers have, in that she hits the glory notes easier than the middle notes. She struggles a bit with her intonation when she has to sing quick changing passages. Overall, though, she was very impressive. B+
Jeremy Rosado, “Ribbon in the Sky”
Jeremy is a finesse singer, so he has to be perfect with his intonation or he’ll sound weak. He hit every note well other than just a couple, but his voice isn’t strong enough to move the tuning fork and make the notes spread out and soar. I do like his rhythmic sense, and the way he bites off the words. The song itself isn’t all that exciting without a really interesting voice singing it. I listened to it twice, and I was bored both times. C+
Jessica Sanchez, “I Will Always Love You”
It’s hard to really judge something like this. When Whitney did it, nobody else had ever done it like that before, so it was a revelation. Jessica nailed it, especially the big glory run where her voice almost blew out my windows. It was huge, beautiful, but also (has to be said) unoriginal. Jessie can be original next week. She was merely fantastic this week. A-
Phil Phillips, “Superstition”
He only hits about every third note and he has the melodic sense of an anvil, but he looks cool up there so who cares? He is such a nice kid; cool, funny, self effacing, kind to his mother, plays some decent guitar (love the guitar….), and he probably spends his free weekends sewing fake testicles on dogs after they get neutered. He is everything this tired old world needs; the savior, the second coming of Elvis and the Beatles combined. With all that going for him, who cares if he can sing? A
Safe to in danger:
I guess I gotta split ‘em up tonight. First the fellas…
I expect Erika to face off against Jermaine or Jeremy. She had better pray that it’s Jermaine if she wants to have any chance at all. J-Lo ain’t ever letting Jeremy go home. I expect Erika to be the first one gone.