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Semifinal Round Three

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


Next week, the judges will select 12 contestants who had previously competed to sing again in the Wild Card round. At the end of the evening, they will select three to round out the top 12 finalists.


Last night, the contestants chose songs from the Billboard Hot 100 chart, going back to since the charts began.




Scott MacIntyre and Lil Rounds


A few interesting notes from the top of the show: as host Ryan Seacrest introduced the contestants, Lil Rounds was prominently placed in the front, but she was not smiling, while everyone else was. Odd, but I doubt it will hurt her.


After introducing the judges, Ryan spoke to tough judge Simon Cowell about his criticism of the previous contestants' song choices. "Why don't you pick the songs?" he asked. Simon answered that maybe he will, and they'll have a Simon Cowell week. Of course, that would probably lead to complaints from fans who thought their fave contestant had been given a rough song, so I don't know if we'll see that. Of course, when it's down to the final three, the judges usually pick one of the songs for the contestants to sing. We'll see what happens now that there are four judges.


A lot of people have had questions about how Scott MacIntyre, who is blind, would deal with the American Idol process, but as the contestants were introduced, he marched through seamlessly with his handler, and when he performed later, he was seated on a stool in the middle of the stage, having been led there while the video package was playing. As long as he's in, I'm sure they'll find ways of accommodating his needs.


Kicking off the night was Von Smith, who expressed a desire to make up for having oversung some songs in Hollywood. He chose to sing “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye, sounding throughout as if he wasn't in his range. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit with an orange striped shirt and matching tennies. But despite his promises, he still shouted. Listening to it over again, I have to admit it sounds better than it did to me initially, but I still don't think it's a finalist performance.


Judge Randy Jackson kicked off the assessments, saying it was a very hot performance, better than what he remembered from Hollywood. "You're finding yourself," he said. New judge Kara DioGuardi agreed: "You're coming into your own, like you really feel like you know what you're doing." Nice judge Paula Abdul called it "a memorable first," saying "America will remember you." Simon compared him to Clay Aiken, with Paula interjecting that he's "spicier." Simon clarified that they have the same dress sense ("appalling"). He agreed that Von sang very well, much better than in Hollywood.


Seventeen-year-old Taylor Vaifanua was next, singing "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys, wearing a really cute baby-doll dress in brown, white and black, paired with black leggings and boots. She started strong, but the first part of the song was a little low for her. In the verse, she finally hit her zone. She seemed comfortable on-stage, and it's not an easy song to sing. If she comes back, though, she really needs to work on her mike technique: the popped "P's" were distracting.


Kara said it's obvious she has a voice, adding that while she hit the notes, she had some issues. Then, in perhaps the most inane judge comment of the night, she said, "I want more of your personality to come through. What's it like to go shopping with Taylor?" Paula gushed over Taylor's "beautiful gift" but admitted to being disappointed that she chose a song she'd already sung in Hollywood, apparently oblivious to the fact that only the judges saw that entire performance. Simon turned to Kara and said he didn't get the shopping thing. He added that he genuinely couldn't remember Taylor from the earlier rounds and that tonight's performance demonstrated why: "It was very generic. Not terrible, not great. Bland. I think you'll struggle tonight." Randy agreed that she's got a great voice, "but you didn't tell us anything special about you." He called the performance kind of boring.


Everyone's favorite geek, Alex Wagner-Trugman, admitted to Ryan that he's been trying to bulk up by going to the gym. Instead, he should have spent more time with the vocal coaches, as demonstrated by his quirky performance of "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues" by Elton John. Wearing a black button-down shirt over a T-shirt, he started out with a weak opening phrase. Then he make Taylor's mike technique look good by blowing air into the mike. To make things worse, he growled repeatedly at the beginning of phrases. If he would settle down and just sing, he might be good, but all the growling was just wrong! It's not Blues Idol! He also kicked aside the mike stand, which he told the judges was an accident. In fairness, it looked like it was; he probably meant to just push it aside.


Paula said he is certainly the showman. She added, "You gave us our money's worth, but I don't know how much will be spent." Simon quipped, "Can we ask for a refund?" After glaring him down, Paula proclaimed Alex entertaining and said he'd channeled his inner rock star. Simon said he "had fun watching you, just not listening to you." He continued, "The ridiculous growling halfway through was just stupid." Furthermore, "You're like a hamster trying to be a tiger." Randy called the performance "kind of crazy in a buck-wild sort of way." He liked the dance movies and concluded, "You can sing, but you screamed that song." Kara called him a fun guy who's got moves. She told him if he comes back, to ditch the growling.


As Arianna Afsar prepared to sing, Ryan announced that it would be "the first Abba song live on Idol." Oh, boy, I thought. This is going to be ugly. Arianna looked pretty in a blue dress with silver shoes, but she chose to sing "The Winner Takes It All," one of the lesser-known Abba songs. The opening was really slow, and it sounded throughout as if she was ahead of the band (though admittedly, I don't know this song). Frequently, she fell off the notes when she tried to sustain them. She tried to salvage it by throwing in some extra runs, but she was flat during the chorus and shouted her last note.


Simon pointed to a "certain irony to that lyric: the winner takes it all," saying "It was absolutely terrible in most parts." He called the song "way too big for you" and criticized the "dreary arrangement." Randy said this was not the song he would have chosen and that it wasn't good. Kara, who had called Arianna "cute as a button" at her initial audition, said that the performance was dark, kind of depressing, "not who you are." She urged her to be young, to "touch people." Paula countered that Arianna did have some bright moments but critiqued the song as "a little old-fashioned." She also pointed to Arianna's many vocal riffs and said that while she applauded her for trying to change up the song, "Sometimes it's better to just stick to the melody."


Next up was Ju'Not Joyner, who sang the Plain White Ts song "Hey There, Delilah," demonstrating nice tone. He was dressed in a black jacket and jeans, a forgettable outfit that matched his lack of stage presence. Halfway through, he sounded hesitant, but he recovered briefly before falling off pitch at the very end of the final phrase. To my irritation, there was a prevalence of popped "P's." Say it with me, contestants: hold the mic at an angle. Ideally, hold it several inches away from your mouth! It's not an ice-cream cone.


Randy complimented him for taking a Plain White Ts song and switching it up. He called it a smart choice and said he loved it. Kara said she liked his spin on that song. She called it very smooth. "I think you could bust it out even more on the next song," she said, as if she really thought he'd be performing again. Paula just wanted to know where his little boy was, the cute toddler who helped convince judges to put Ju'Not through at his first audition. Ju'Not said he was with his grandma. Paula noted that he'd sung the same song as Taylor in Hollywood, which made Simon say, "Taylor who?" I guess he was telling the truth when he called Taylor Vaifanua forgettable. Simon said the performance was better than he thought it was going to be, but that he wished Ju'Not had stripped the whole song down. He called it a little safe.


For some reason, Ju'Not then felt compelled to reveal he'd had a cortisone shot in his buttocks, winning the TMI Award for the evening. Ryan interviewed him about it, pressing for clarification, and Ju'Not revealed he's had issues with asthma because of the air quality in L.A.


Ryan then introduced both Kristen McNamara and Nathaniel Marshall, who had been featured during Hollywood Week due to the drama involving their group. After a video piece where she blamed a hair dresser for the purple hair she had at her audition, she did a jazzy version of "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. She wore a red party dress with a pink sash and fake flowers on the shoulder, paired with metallic shoes, looking every bit like a little girl at a pageant. I have to say, speeding the song up was a good decision, though I could do without the interjections like "hey" and "let's go."


Kara said she liked her hair much better now that she's gotten rid of the purple but advised her to dial in the outfit. She called her a great singer but said she wants her to do something with "a little more rock edge." Paula said she's got a hell of a range. Simon shared Kara's reservations about Kristen's outfits but agreed she has a good voice. He added that he doesn't think she's quite comfortable, that she's not quite sure who she is. Randy called it an easy song and said she tried to do too much with it. He labeled it "kind of karaoke."


The self-proclaimed drama queen, Nathaniel Marshall, did an over-the-top version of Meatloaf's "Anything for Love." True to form, he wore a strange blue jacket with black collar and black pants, along with a matching glittery hair band. He started the song slow then picked up the tempo, dancing like a maniac and jabbing his finger at the audience. Beneath all the weirdness, though, he can actually sing. Will it get him through? I don't think so.


Picking up on the lyrics, Simon said, "I think you probably would" (do anything for love). He said that "Some people will probably quite like that. The majority, like me, probably thought it was verging on excruciating." He criticized the "awful Olivia Newton-John headband" but added, "On a positive note, at least people will remember you. You actually are fun, and I like you." Randy said he likes him, too, saying that he definitely can sing. He admitted that it's hard for him "to imagine what kind of a record we would make with you." Referring to the headband, Simon suggested "a keep fit video." Kara said, "You've got a voice." She advised him to perform a song that "shows the more serious side of you." Paula began with, "You know I love you," which is usually the cushion before a blow. Sure enough, she said that while his version of "Disturbia" in Hollywood was bold and made him relevant, this was "more of the Boy George version of this song."


At the close of the judges' comments, Ryan dragged poor Nathaniel over to the table and tried to get Simon to wear his headband. Simon's response: do not want.


Felicia Barton had been a surprise add to the Top 36 when Joanna Pacitti was ruled ineligible. She sang the Alicia Keys song, "No One." She started really strong (even if she began with an audible breath) and then lost it briefly on the chorus. She saved herself with some impressive runs at the end, along with a very solid last note. She also looked terrific, in a black leather jacket, sparkly black shirt, and black leggings. And she also has stage presence, which is unusual at this stage of the competition.


Paula called her gorgeous and gushed, "Your talent, your gift is unbelievable." She said she was "glad we brought you back, and I hope we bring you back next week." Simon said the first part was better than the second half but called it "a bit copycat." Randy said he was also happy she's back and agreed with Simon that she needs to do something a little different from Alicia Keys. Kara called her outfit "by far your best look." She praised her attitude, saying that she had presence. She also noted a few problems with some of the notes. "But I noticed you tonight for the first time."


Scott MacIntyre was next, the blind piano player who has generated a lot of interest among Idol fans. Interestingly, he chose to sing "Mandolin Rain" by Bruce Hornsby, a song by a singer/pianist on a week when he wasn't allowed to play the piano. He wore a black shirt with a gray vest, black pants, and tennis shoes. In addition to having great tone, he can definitely project. Some of the phrasing was a little odd, but he made up for it with a nice sustained note near the end. He broke a little bit on the last phrase but ended on pitch.


Randy said it wasn't the most perfect vocal, but he really hit the big notes. He added, "I can feel the passion just pouring out of you, how much you love this and want this." Kara said, "You move mountains when you step on that stage. You do what you love, you're passionate about it and you don't make excuses." She said she wants America to hear him play and sing. Paula referred to the challenges he faced to get here and said she's proud he made it. "You're a genius at the piano," she said, adding that she can't wait for people to hear him play. "You're one of our finest," she summed up. Simon said he wasn't crazy about the song but said that "you're growing on me, because I think you're starting to believe in yourself." While he said there are better singers, Simon said that "in a sea of forgettable people," he was the only one he was going to remember "who actually has some relevance." He said he'd be amazed if Scott didn't sail through to the next round.


When Ryan was interviewing him, Scott showed he has a sense of humor with a callback to the auditions, when Ryan tried to give him a high five, not thinking about the fact that he couldn't see. Scott said, "We need you to do a high five, on a stationery target." He held up his hand, and Ryan gave him a high five, the two of them clasping hands together like victors at a wrestling match..


Country girl Kendall Beard performed "This One's for the Girls" by Martina McBride, wearing a daffodil yellow dress with what looked like a dead corsage at her waist. Her performance was boring and frequently pitchy, especially at the end. Please, can we not have a country artist this year? Please?


Kara complimented her big personality but said she had issues with the notes. Paula told her, "You take the prize on the best outfit." (This prize from Paula generally means a contestant has the worst outfit of the week.) Paula evaded giving her a real critique, saying instead that her parents must be so proud and finally asserting she'd done a good job. Simon said the song choice was appropriate, because she obviously loves country music, though "halfway through I couldn't wait for it to end." He called it shrill. Randy said the song choice was good and the outfit great, but he acknowledged the real issue was "it wasn't your best vocal performance."


Puerto Rican college student Jorge Nunez was next, and we learned he has been working on toning down his accent ever since the judges first noted it at his initial audition. He sang Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," wearing an old-fashioned black jacket with white button-down shirt. In addition to very solid vocals, there's a sincerity that comes through that will likely endear him to many viewers. Once he's in the finalist round, though, I wouldn't be surprised if the stylists tame those eyebrows and jazz up his look.


Paula said she's proud of him and his efforts with the dialect coach. "You worked so hard and sound so good. I just want to squeeze you," she said. Simon second-guessed the decision to ask him not so sing with an accent: "I think you should be who you are." He added that he's a very, very good singer. Paula interjected and, oddly, asked Jorge to speak so "we can hear the accent." Simon quashed that, telling Paula that was patronizing, which it was. Randy said, "Accent or not, it's the vocals that matter." While it wasn't the perfect vocal, it was really, really good. Kara said, "You were born to sing. We feel it." She said he has "the gift of touching people when you sing," at which point Jorge started crying, inadvertently sealing his spot in the Top 12.


In the pimp spot, Lil Rounds took the stage in a black sheath dress with a yellow top. She pulled out the stops on "Be Without You" by Mary J. Blige." At first, I wasn't really feeling it, but on the chorus, she won me over. Not only does she have pipes, but she worked the stage like a professional, even getting the audience to wave their arms in time with the music. Her song ended with the prescient lyrics, "Call this show if you just can't be without me, babe." Clever.


Simon said, "I'm going to keep this brief: brilliant." He said it was his "favorite performance by a mile," even though he wouldn't have chosen the song, because she sounds too much like the original. He added, "But you have great, great prospects in this competition. I think you are one of the best we've found so far this year." Randy agreed that she's "one of the best we found this season." He praised her, saying, "You kept your swagger on." He called her vocals "unbelievable." Kara said, "You were a powerhouse the first day we met you, and you're still a powerhouse." She said she can't wait to see what she'll do next week and the week after that. Paula said, "You are first class, my dear." She couldn't resist the opportunity for a pun, saying, "I have a sneaking suspicion we'll see you for many more 'Lil Rounds'."


Lil Rounds will undoubtedly be the top female pick, and Scott MacIntyre will probably be the top male pick. The third spot will probably go to Jorge Nunez, unless voters go for one of the other strong female vocalists, such as Felicia Barton or Kristen McNamara.


All video clips come from mjsbigblog.

Moral:
Personality + performance skills = praise from the judges.



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Tags: american idol, music, television
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