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Semifinal Round Two

The second group of 12 semifinalists competed last night on American Idol. Three will advance to the finalist round.

The contestants chose songs from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, going back to since the charts began. Unlike the previous week, more contestants from this group chose contemporary songs, probably in response to comments from the judges last week, who often accused contestants of choosing "old-fashioned" songs.

Adam Lambert and Alison Iraheta

This batch included the controversial Nick "Norman Gentle" Mitchell, with host Ryan Seacrest referring to him in the opening as a "comedian," which is probably the best way to sum him up.

This week saw some changes. The judges were back in their normal order at the table, with Randy Jackson at the left and tough judge Simon Cowell at the right. Instead of Randy always giving his comments first, the judges alternated who went first. There were also no Red Room interviews with supporters of the contestants. Instead, Ryan interviewed them for a couple minutes on stage, as always, trying to stir up trouble and get them to talk back to the judges.

First up was Jasmine Murray, who chose a contemporary song, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. Did she choose that song because Kara had suggested it to Anne Marie Boskovich last week? Hmm. She started out promising, but then she hit some rough phrases. The song just didn't seem like a good fit for her: it's bouncy and breathy, whereas she has the sort of voice that does better with power ballads. She looked great in a black top, paired with black pants, a silver leather jacket, and huge sparkly hoop earrings. She hit her stride in the middle of the song but then got really flat at the end. Ouch. Damn, I expected better.

Randy said there were some good moments and some bad moments, that it was pitchy throughout. He said that he had expected her to pick a Rihanna song and that he wasn't sure if it was the right song. Kara DioGuardi said that, while there's "something commercial with you" (which is Kara's highest form of praise), the song was not in the right key for her. "It wasn't your best performance." Nice judge Paula Abdul initially said she wanted to disagree, but then had to admit that Jasmine's interpretation was off. Simon said, "I'm disappointed because I like you." He added that she has a great look, great confidence, but "you just don't have a great voice." Then to cushion the blow, he said that she's a couple of years too early but is "someone I'd have confidence for in the future."

Ryan put Randy on the spot, asking him if she deserved a spot. Randy's answer: "I don't know."

Next was the dueling piano player, Matt Giraud, without his piano for this first round, which might have spelled his doom. He sang “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, wearing torn jeans, a button-down Oxford, and a black leather jacket. I'm not sure, but he was either wearing socks or white loafers. This disheveled look was actually a little better than his usual sweaty white T-shirts. He had some soulful moments but had some trouble with the melody and made an unsuccessful reach for a falsetto. He was also very jerky in his movements, pulling pained faces. Add to that the fact that he popped some of his "P's" and at the end, threw in some runs that completely fell apart, and I was not impressed..

Kara said, "You blew me away in Hollywood. Tonight, I'm just not blown away." She added that it's not the type of song he should be singing: "You're a bluesy, soulful guy. That song doesn't lend itself to that type of interpretation." Paula said that "you were ranked right up there as my top notch" but admitted it was a risky song to pick. She added, though, that it was better here than it had been in his rehearsal. "I hope you're here next week," she said without much confidence. Simon said it was "verging on a horrible performance." He said, though, that it wasn't just the song selection but also the performance. "You turned from someone who was cool to a wannabe pop star in a jerky, uncomfortable way." Randy said, "You've got mad talent. I'm still pulling for you." But he cautioned him that he ought to sing songs that allow him to do more vocally.

Jeanine Vailes, a 28-year-old Washington, D.C. bartender, was up next. She had received very little screen time so far during the auditions process, but I doubt that would have helped her after her uneven performance of "This Love" by Maroon 5. Teetering around on stilettos, paired with short-shorts, a velvet tank top, and a black jacket, she was clearly going for the hootchie mama vote. She sang below the melody throughout, along with inappropriate, jabbing hand movements. I doubt she sang one note in tune. Maybe she was just trying to make Jasmine look better.

Paula chickened out of giving a bad review, saying only, "Great legs. It's season 8. Simon?" Not afraid to speak his mind, Simon said he thought it was terrible and criticized the contestants for choosing the wrong songs. He called the performance "painful" and "an effort." He added, "But you do have very good legs." Randy agreed with Simon: "The legs are definitely hot." He also agreed that it was completely the wrong song, saying, "The best part was the end, that it was over." Kara, after adding that she also has nice lips, called the performance overdone.

Ryan tried to get Paula to say whether Jeanine deserved a spot in the top 12, and Paula repeated that it wasn't a good song but refused to say more. "Should we ask her to beg?" Ryan said, in a clear effort to produce a reaction from Jeanine, who refused to play along. Finally, he gave the number to call.

Then came the highly anticipated Nick "Norman Gentle" Mitchell, who claimed that he was having an identity crisis about whether to perform as himself or as his goofy alter ego, Norman Gentle. No surprise, he went with Norman, saying, "I want to entertain America." He did a campy version of "And I Am Telling You," clad in his trademark shiny shirt, red sweat bands, glasses, and khaki shorts, along with a white tuxedo jacket. After walking down the stairs, he tossed aside his glasses and removed the jacket. The performance was hammy, but damn, can he sing! He strutted all over the stage and even caressed the American Idol graphic at the judges' table. At the end, for comic effect, he cut off the last note abruptly. He had the judges laughing and the audience cheering. No doubt one of the most entertaining Idol performances I've seen, though I doubt it will get him into the final 12.

Simon said, "I hope I'm speaking on behalf of America. I pray you do not go through to the next round." He called it "arguably one of the most atrocious performances we've ever had," saying that it was "sort of horrific comedy." Nick added, "Takes one to know one, Sassy Pants," then did a karate kick! Randy said, "It was definitely one of the most entertaining performances ever on Idol." He called it very funny. Kara said, "At least we remember him." She complimented him for doing his own thing. "And for what it's worth, you're not a terrible singer." She said that she doesn't see him in the music market, "but I enjoyed you." Paula said that singers come in different sizes, shapes, looks, fashion. She commended him for being "a true performer." She hastened to add, "I don't know if this is the stage for you, but there are plenty of stages around Los Angeles. You're fun. You're memorable."

When Randy asked Nick how he'd done, Nick turned it back on him and asked him if he thought he deserved a slot in the final 12. Uncharacteristically, Randy took a side, saying, "Probably not." Then, as the audience grew hushed, and Nick looked dismayed, he said, "This is live. Can you tell?"

Allison Iraheta had the difficult task of following that performance, but she was up to the challenge, knocking out a powerful rendition of "Alone" by Heart. With her heavy makeup, harsh red hair dye, juvenile bangly jewelry and belted black lacy dress, she looked about 16 going on 40. She started solid, but when she hit the chorus, she shouted much of it. She saved the performance with a very nice sustained last note.

Randy exclaimed, "You just blew it out the box." He called her performance "one of the hottest tonight." Kara observed, "You don't even know how good you are. From now on, you can be sure you're great." She advised her to keep getting comfortable with being on-stage, adding, "You have serious chops. You could have a big hit on the radio." Paula said, "I think you could sing the telephone book." She said it was the best of the night. Simon agreed: "You're the best tonight by a clear mile." He advised her to "get a bit of confidence and a bit more personality." He summarized, "You may be one to watch."

Another contestant who had not received exposure during the auditions, Kris Allen sang "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson. When I heard that's what he was singing, I wrote, "Really? That's what you chose to sing? A Michael Jackson song? Really?" Wearing jeans, a patterned T-shirt and a black military jacket, he started out sort of weak but grew more confident as he sang. He nailed the key change, which gives him some points. Ultimately, though, I'm not sure it's enough.

Kara said the back half of that performance was way better than the front. She lamented that it didn't come close to what he had done in Hollywood, when she said he exhibited a soulful voice. Paula disagreed, saying that this performance showed his personality. She said, "You nailed it. You were charming." Simon actually agreed with Paula. He said that while he's not the best singer in this competition (and here, he pointed out Danny Gokey), he showed some confidence and some personality. He said, "I'm quite proud of you, that you actually gave it a go." Randy said that he always thinks of him playing the guitar: "You did it without the guitar tonight. Nice jump off, baby."

Megan Joy Corkrey did a jazzy version of “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Baily Rae. While her voice reminded me of Duffy, her stage performance distracted from her solid vocals. She wore a very girly-looking short white dress with weird cloth flowers on the front, paired with white fishnets and champagne-colored flats. As she sang, she did little hip shakes that made her look like a 5-year-old dancing.

Paula complimented her for picking the right song, adding that "the camera is in love with you." She layered more praise on her: "You're interesting. You're relevant. You're hip, you're cool. You did everything right." Simon called her "a funny little thing," saying that she looked gorgeous. He said that she started out really well but then oversang the second half, becoming "a bit shouty." Megan jumped in, "I sort of think I rocked that part." Simon said, "I hope America votes for you," calling her relevant and current but saying he wished the vocals were a bit better. Randy called her very interesting, comparing her to Duffy and Amy Winehouse. He said he'd be interested to see her in the other rounds with "the smoky, jazzy thing." Kara called her "a package artist," explaining that she's very pretty and unique. "With the right song, you could be a breakout hit artist."

Welder Matt Breitzke, wearing jeans and a button-down shirt with embroidery, performed Tonic's "If You Could Only See." He looked like he was walking in slow motion, swinging his arms slowly as he sang a slowed-down version of the song that felt like boring karaoke.

Simon said that he likes him but absolutely hated that song. Further, he said that he would have talked him out of it if he'd known he was going to sing it. He called it boring and the performance "uncomfortable." Simon expressed his frustration: "You're one of the few guys I remembered. I want you to do well." Matt jumped in, saying, "I appreciate that. I just disagree." Randy called it a great song but said the performance was boring. He said he needs more edge, more energy. Like Simon, he said he liked Matt: "You're a very, very cool guy." Kara said the song "didn't show us any side of you," that it fell really flat. "You can actually sing, so it really was about poor song choice." Paula agreed that he has a really good voice, "But the song did not celebrate who we all fell in love with."

Single mom Jesse Langseth sang "Betty Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes. Her first phrase was OK, but then she fell off the melody. Again, a very karaoke performance, leaving my mind to wonder. Where did she find that strange one-shoulder sweater? And why doesn't she have any eyebrows?

Randy said he thought it was OK but said it was "not really exciting." Jesse asked him, "May I ask what you would have liked to have seen?" Randy answered: "I want to see you stretch yourself, see where the range will go. Show me who you are." Kara said this was definitely her best look. She called the performance "kind of slinky and sexy," acknowledging that she had some issues with a few notes but took some risks she hadn't taken throughout the audition. Paula said that she'd remembered her all through the auditions, as "that little redheaded girl with the bright smile." She called her cool, saying, "Your phrasing is very unique." She added, though, "It may not have been the perfect song to sing, but I'll always remember you." Simon disagreed, calling her forgettable. He said she has a nice voice but it was "too cool for school."

Wearing a button-down black shirt with sparkly stripes and black jeans, Kai Kalama looked very '80s as he sang “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin. Is it just me or did all the contestants look about 10 years older than they really were last night? Was it just a bad makeup artist? He tried to sell his song with lots of gestures and dancing, but it was just OK for me.

Kara called him "a really good guy." She noted some pitch issues but said that he gave it his all. She called the song "a little old-fashioned" and said she'd like to see him do something more contemporary. Paula observed that Kai likes "the throwback songs," offering up the backhanded compliment, "You sounded really good except when you fell off pitch."She added that he's "quite the performer." Simon called the performance corny and old-fashioned, saying it's something you would see in a wedding or a hotel. Furthermore, he said it wasn't original or memorable and that Kai would be a very good backup singer. Randy agreed: "That was so safe I don't know what to think of it." He said it's "not what I'm looking for."

Mishovonna Henson looked gorgeous as she sang "Drops of Jupiter" by Train. She wore black leggings, a midnight blue top and a black belt. I thought she had a very good opening and definitely was on melody. Then she got ahead of the accompaniment at the chorus. Also, her addition of an additional "Hey hey hey" didn't work. In the end of the song, I detected a faint echo, which was probably an audio problem. She had some really rough notes at the end, striving for but failing to reach a higher register.

Paula cushioned the blow about to come by saying, "You know I'm a fan of your voice," then saying that "Drops of Jupiter" wouldn't have been her choice. "You sang it well, but it didn't excite me." Simon called it a great song and said she's "technically quite a good singer, but something left me really cold." He said that she acts like a 50-year-old and urged her to be "a bit younger, a bit more fun." Randy agreed that she feels "so much older." He also urged her to "sing something young." In addition, he noted that he doesn't like a solo singer singing band songs. Kara didn't mind the song, "because I love that song." She called her "very put together" but says she wants her to loosen up a bit. She called her a good singer but had questions about where she'd fit in the music industry.

In the pimp spot, no surprise, was musical theater's Adam Lambert, who did "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. He looked great, wearing a chocolate brown suit with a T-shirt and lots of chains. He changed up the song, starting really slow, then getting faster. As he sneering at the camera and licked his lips, I found myself wondering if he was just playing the part of the rocker. To me, his vocals sounded a little bit like Axl Rose. And were they playing a test pattern behind him? He got a little funky in the bridge, and while his performance showed more style than substance, it was definitely the strongest of the night. Cut to Paula on her feet clapping.

Paula had to be reminded to speak, finally choking out, "I don't even have words to express how much I think that I'm not even watching an American Idol competition. I'm watching an Adam Lambert concert." She added, "You're in a league of your own, leaving some people in the rearview mirrors." Simon said he was finding it really difficult to sum it up. "Parts I thought were excruciatingly bad; parts were brilliant." He said the end note was terrific. He summed up, "This will be a love-it or hate-it performance." Randy said he loved it, adding, "From day one I loved you." He called him "one of the most current artists we've ever had on the show." He admitted that the performance was a little manic, but said, "It's Mick Jagger. It should be manic." Giving it his highest praise, he said, "It was the bomb." Kara called his vocal technique and ability outrageous, praising his range. "It's craziness, in a good way," she said.

Kudos to Adam Lambert, Allison Iraheta and Megan Joy Corkrey, who will probably be the top three, unless voters decide to give Kris Allen a chance, or even Nick Mitchell.

All video clips come from mjsbigblog.

If the first thing the judges do is praise your outfit, you tanked.

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Tags: american idol, music, television

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