Before I get to the show, I guess it’s time I discuss the judges:
Randy Jackson, 56: He was added back to the table late, probably to provide some continuity since the rest of the judging panel changed over completely. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves the table to be a mentor when they go live, though I haven’t heard anything. I’m pretty much sick of him as a judge, but I have a world of respect for the man, and the musician. I’m not sure there is another bass player in the world with a resume that can come close to his. I try to pretend he’s not there.
Keith Urban, 45: A man of few words so far, but he seems to make them count (or the show is editing in his few good lines, who knows?). It’s too early to tell if he is a perceptive judge or not, but he’s a nice guy and he pays attention. He did a year on Aussie’s version of “The Voice”, so he’s not a complete greenhorn at this.
Mariah Carey, 42: I’m not sure if she’s thorazined, tired from raising twins, or maybe both? Either way she sometimes seems like she’s about to fall asleep. I’ve never seen her much outside of singing, so maybe she’s just really mellow… As a presence on the panel she’s a huge get for the show. As a judge? It’s way too early to say for sure, but right now I’d call her a sleepy Paula. Paula was a good judge, despite her substance issues and her run-on mouth, because she could tell a performer from a poser. If Mariah can do that, she’ll be terrific. If she can’t, she won’t be missed when she leaves at the end of the year because…..
Nicki Minaj, 30: THIS is our new Simon and Paula rolled into one. I grant you she can be annoying and irritating, and she is in danger of blowing up at any minute because she is both an emotional infant and a control freak. She is also as engaged and intent on the “craft” of being a good judge as anyone has ever been. She cares about being a good judge, and her control freak nature gives her a need for the panel as a whole to judge well. It could be a huge train wreck if she can’t bring the other judges around and egos clash, but if it works out it could be the best judging panel the show has ever had. I sort of expect, eventually (meaning next year) both to happen. Train wreck this year sometime during the live shows, then a solid panel led by Nicki next year, probably without Mariah and definitely without Randy. Just speculating, I’d like to see them bring in a rocker, maybe someone like Pat Benetar who has a strong musical education as well as street cred as a performer. That would be a well balanced panel, wouldn’t it?
The singers, the songs:
Brian Rittenberry, 27: Wife is a cancer survivor. Nice story and I’m happy for his family, but he’s not a serious contender.
Jimmy Smith, 25: Rascal Flatts singer, curly blonde hair. They didn’t play it up, but he was one of their online audition qualifiers. I like him, and he’s only a guitar away from being the perfect WGWG Idol winner. He could stand to take the intensity knob on his voice down a notch, but that’s nitpicking.
Three short-snippet auditions came next:
Sarina-Joi Crowe, 17: She was in the teeny bopper group (season 10) that famously blew up “Somebody to Love” in front of their parents on Group Night. I’ve listened to that performance many, many times; I loved her sweet, buttery tone then, and I love it now. At this point she is more of a sleeper than a contender, but I’m optimistic.
Haley Davis, 26: She’s been auditioning for a few years too; I found a video from her cattle call audition in 2007. She’s basically a karaoke singer, but she must have something they like, or they wouldn’t keep giving her auditions.
Na’Chelle Fullins-Lovell, 19: She’s the kid who hit the dog whistle notes, like Mariah does sometimes. I think she was a fluke, only aired because she hit the high notes. She’s a church trained kid, seems too shy to be a serious contender, but she does have those vocal tricks and a sweet tone.
Isabel Gonzalez, 16: Randy came and got her in a school bus. She isn’t ready yet, way too green. She’s like a high school pitcher who throws an easy 98 miles an hour, but has no idea where the ball is going. I hope they send her home after she gets some reps, so she can come back in a few years. Her voice might be special; too special to waste on a one and done.
Taisha Bethea, 21: Black girl who wants to be a rocker. She has a strong voice, but I didn’t sense any originality beyond the obvious. Large corporations and politicians can (and generally do) sell obvious originality; the rest of us have to be more subtle. Being a veteran band singer, she might excel on Group Night.
Summer Cunningham, 20: Hot blonde who “did the country thing”. I’ve heard tons of her type over the last few years, and only a tiny percentage survive past Hollywood. She has a pleasant voice; good tone and some power – but she is about as original as a Campbell’s Soup label.
Aside: I don’t have much to say about the fight. Nicki’s point was valid; Randy and Mariah should have listened to her instead of pulling rank. The edit on the show made it look like Randy was the one who got Nicki wound up, and he was the one who said “30 years of experience”, not Mariah. If the fight was real, the emotions genuine…. we are going to see another one on live TV. Look me in the face and tell me you don’t want to see it..
Brandy Hamilton, 25: Told the judges not to fight, it makes us sad. She probably won’t be around long, not experienced enough.
Ashley Smith, 22: Camera hungry black girl in a blonde wig. Her voice is legit, though her musical chops are weak. Is she bat-shit crazy, or the next Queen Latifah? Film at 11…
Janelle Arthur, 22: Played a young Dolly Parton in a stage show when she was 8. I’m not sure why they are pretending that she’s a new contestant, but whatever…. this is “parking brake girl” from season 10; she got cut on group night that year, then made the top 100 last year. Maybe this is her year to be showcased? She sounds a LOT better than she did the last time I heard her, and she has tons of live experience. I expect her to be a front-runner up to the live shows, and a solid candidate to make the Tour.
Rodney Barber, 27: Homeless singer. He has charisma and a decent voice, but he’s very much an amateur. I think they will want him to succeed, but with his lack of savvy he’s going to be up against it.
Candice Glover, 22: Popular black singer who got cut in Vegas last year. I don’t see her winning, but I can’t imagine they will cut her early after what happened last year. Standout number three, and a lock for the live shows.
Ja’Bria Barber, 16: Frog legs; I assume no relation to Rodney. Barber the younger is going to be a powerhouse when she gets older, and she’s pretty damned good right now. I’ve noticed that teenaged girls lose their top range, much like boys do, when they hit puberty. Like the boys, they generally get it back when they are around 18. JB has a huge voice, but her top range isn’t there like it will be in a year or two. Usually I could care less, but when they are as talented as this kid is, I’d prefer that they wait until they are ready to compete for the title.
Seretha Guinn, 26: Didn’t they do this same exact back-story in the pimp slot last year, with a different black girl, a different boyfriend who got in an accident, and a different kid? Sometimes I wonder if Nigel is losing his short term memory. Repeaters who are edited as if they are newbies, repeat back stories, what else? Maybe Adam Lambert should audition again, just to see if he’s paying attention. Seretha has a really sweet tone, but I don’t know if she can sing in tune unless she is completely focused on the song and knows it perfectly. She showed a tendency to slide out of tune and tone; her voice grated and cracked a little. It’ll help when she doesn’t have the kid yanking on her skirt, I guess.