Last night was the Wild Card round on American Idol. Eight contestants, selected by the judges, performed one last time, and three of them would be chosen at the end of the show to complete the Final 12.
After the eight contestants were introduced, the camera pulled back to reveal the three empty tulip chairs sitting on the stage in front of them, waiting for occupants.
Jasmine Murray and Megan Joy Corkrey
First up was Jesse Langseth, who everybody now knows has a famous brother, blues artist extraordinaire Jonny Lang. She made an unusual choice: Tell Me Something Good by Rufus and Chaka Khan. Dressed in a bias-cut velvet mini-dress with an oatmeal glittery shrug and awful tan cowboy boots, her performance, like her outfit, was a funky mess (complete with syncopated grunts from the background singers, poor girls). For most of the song, I wasn't quite sure where the melody was supposed to be, as she semi-talked it until she finally reached the familiar chorus. Frankly, I'd much rather hear her brother sing.
Judge Randy Jackson called it an interesting song choice, adding he didn't know if she sang it that well: "It wasn't great; it was just all right." Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi observed some notes were not on key but said she liked Jesse's "swagger." Kara claimed that she likes that Jesse's not like those "little girls in their packages," although previously her highest praise had been calling someone a "package artist." Nice judge Paula Abdul said she was impressed with Jesse's tenacity and determination. She said, "You picked a song that's hard to sing unless you've got a lot of soul in you, and you do." Tough judge Simon Cowell said it was a lot better than last time. Still, he called the song and the performance "slightly indulgent."
Dueling piano player Matt Giraud also chose a challenge, doing a bluesy version of "Who's Loving You" by the Jackson 5. Perhaps responding to previous comments about his lack of style, he tried too hard: pairing a black fedora with a black-and-white scarf, a pinstriped jacket, and... Pleather pants? But he made us forget about the questionable outfit with some tasty vocals, although in the future I'd advise him to stay away from the falsetto. The end of the song was basically just scatting, but he'd already demonstrated his vocal chops.
Kara thanked him for "bringing back the bluesy, soulful Matt." She added, "You can riff" and praised his great vocals. Paula called it the "right zone for you" and said it was the perfect song. She called it an "amazing job." Simon agreed that it was a billion times better than last week, though he hated what he was wearing, saying he'd tried too hard (I wrote that before he said it!). When he said he saw "bits of Taylor Hicks coming through," the other judges booed him down, with Kara interjecting, "Justin Timberlake." I don't see the comparison, either, but since when is it so terrible to be compared to a former Idol winner? (Well, OK, Taylor admittedly hasn't sold the most albums, but I'm a proud member of the Soul Patrol.) Randy said he didn't care what Matt wore. He asserted, "You made everyone sitting in this place scared that you'd enter this competition and give them a run for their money."
Megan Joy Corkrey promised one of the "jamsiest songs around," and performed K.T. Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," pairing black leggings with a loose patterned caftan and yellow beaded necklace. Megan has a nice tone to her voice and was bouncy throughout, but she just couldn't touch the excitement of the Katharine McPhee version in season five. Plus, she renewed the little girl dancing, and her last note was really shrill. There is something somewhat compelling about her, though.
Paula called her beautiful, saying she'd "picked a song that fit your personality." She said she had fun watching her. Simon said he's always liked her, "and I still like you." He called her current and said it was "not the best vocal, but it was terrific." Randy agreed that it wasn't the best vocal but said this was a better song for her than the first time out. Kara said, "I think that we need you. You give some variety to what's already up there."
Von Smith said he was ecstatic to be back, and promised to go for emotion and be himself while singing "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" by Elton John. Once again, the song was really not in his range, starting him out much too high. He does know that the band can change the key for him, right? He wore a black and white striped shirt with a black pinstripe jacket that looked like it had been on the floor of his closet. As he sang, he frequently had a pained expression on his face, as if he was listening with dismay to his own voice.
Simon said he loved the song but it didn't start very well. He accused Von of becoming "a bit boring," saying it was all "a bit too serious." Randy agreed with Simon's points, adding that he was not even sure about the song. Kara called it serious "but very dark," although she acknowledged he has great vocal ability. She concluded, "This is sad for me, because you have what it takes but haven't hit your stride." Paula observed that "when you are too concerned about the technical part, you're not letting the pure essence of Von Smith out. When you do that, you soar." She attributed it to "thinking too hard."
Next to take the stage was Jasmine Murray, who wore a satin rose silk dress with a purple hem as she sang the torch song, "Reflection" by Christine Aguilera. She has a very distracting habit of clasping and unclasping her fingers on the microphone, which might have been her way of drawing attention away from her frequently harsh, pitchy delivery. She shouted most of the song, which is a rookie mistake, but she did hit some sweeter notes at the end that showed her potential.
Randy said the song was too big for her, noting some "flat and sharp moments," although there were some great bright spots. Still, he said it was way better than last time. Kara said she was confused, because "I didn't know you had that big of a voice." Paula told her she looked lovely (maybe because she matched Paula's hot pink scarf) and said Jasmine had picked a beautiful song: "You were determined up there." Paula added that while some notes fell off, it was overall wonderful.
Simon began by addressing Paula, "I don't think you're giving this girl enough credit." Paula took offense to this, repeating, "I said she did a wonderful job, she looked lovely, that she picked a beautiful song. So what's your problem?" (Thus demonstrating again her remarkable recall; she also seems to recall what each of the finalists sang at each stage of the competition). While Simon gave the rest of his critique, Paula was on him, hitting his shoulder and trying to give him an "Indian burn" on his arm. Simon, who paused only briefly during this assault, called it a very brave song choice, although he noted that she "sounded like a young girl trying to act more grown up."
Canon fodder Ricky Braddy was next, the nice guy with the nice voice, who did a nice version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious." He seemed to have shrunk his clothes by mistake: clad in pants so tight they looked like leggings, a white shirt with 3/4-length sleeves, a too-small vest, and big white sneakers. The performance was very karaoke. He has a good voice, but to me, it was just meh.
Kara said, "You can sing your butt off," adding that "tonight was about showing us your personality." She added, however, that she would not have picked that song, "but you held your own." Paula loved the way he loosened up. She admitted she was surprised when he picked this song, "but you nailed it." Simon said he sounded good. He criticized the song choice, calling it a karaoke performance and "clumsy." He said Ricky hadn't made the impression he could have made. Randy said that he's definitely got a voice: "You can really blow." Still, he said that the song was "not quite the one for you," that it "felt a little self-indulgent."
The producers got their money's worth out of Tatiana Del Toro, who brought the weirdness Idol viewers expected. She kicked off her video segment by babbling, "I am in love with everyone and everything that has happened. I have found love, and I love what I do, and I love to sing so much, and I just want to show the world how much I love to sing and how much this means to me, and to get a second chance, which nobody gets second chances, once in a lifetime. I'm ready to sing for you, America. Thank you so much." Awkward.
Is it just me, or does someone in the audience laugh audibly every time Tatiana takes the stage? She pulled out her favorite chestnut, Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You." Clad in a tiny little sparkly dress, she looked like somebody's mother trying to be cool. The opening was very weak, and her enunciation was muddy. Some of the song seemed too low for he, and the middle was a little uneven, but she hit the money notes at the end. It was better than her previous effort.
Before Paula could give her critique, Tatiana screamed, "I love you very much." Paula claimed that "you grew an accent I never heard before." Tatiana rattled off how she was like Jorge, that her accent comes out when she's excited, even though she's been trying to work on her accent, and blah, blah, blah. As the judges tried to get things back on track, Tatiana disolved into nervous dolphin laughter.
Paula, who usually makes an effort to say at least one positive thing, said she was "all confused about what I want to say." She said she's "not a huge fan of people who repeat songs," adding that Tatiana started shaky "but then went into your power voice." Simon observed that the judges have heard her sing that song three times and asked her why she chose the same song again . Tatiana claimed she couldn't clear a better song, and Simon declared, "Rubbish." He pointed out that the song hadn't been good enough to get her through last time. Randy said she started off really rough, calling it a mixed bag, with some good moments and some "not so good." Kara said, "It's like the adventures of Tatiana. This is a new personality." As the judges got into a discussion about whether Tatiana was really behaving all that differently, Kara said, "At least she's not crying and holding her heart, so we're moving in the right direction." Simon interjected, "She will."
Tatiana sunk down to her knees after the critique. When Randy joined her on center stage, he teased her, saying she didn't have to get up just for him, at which point she sunk to her knees again. The judges groaned, Simon exclaiming, "Thank you!" in a tone that said he'd had enough of "crazy Tatiana."
Anoop Desai, a.k.a. Noop Dawg, was in the pimp spot with a deliberately naughty version of "My Prerogative" by Bobby Brown. There was something funny about a guy in a blue embroidered polo shirt bopping around while singing about being a ladies' man. The opening was kind of rough, but the audience seemed to like it, shrieking throughout. Half the time, he was king of sing-talking, but some of the runs were nice. My main critique: he has to work on breath control, especially when he's moving around the stage so much. I think that's why some of his phrases felt cut off. The audience gave him a standing "O," screaming wildly.
Simon compared Anoop to "an enthusiastic dog," in a slight nod to his self-declared nickname. He said that he's "not the best singer we're going to hear, but people like you and that's important." Then he tipped his hand about the upcoming results, saying that the judges have to "cast the next stage" and not just "put the boring singers through," but the personalities, as well. Randy said Anoop did better this time than the last time he sang that song, in Hollywood. "I had a good time," Randy said. Kara gushed, "This is the best you ever did" and said that it made her want to dance. Paula said, "You certainly are the showman," praising his moves and saying he was "a little nasty there." She observed that "Everyone loved that performance. That's where you stay relevant."
As they dipped to commercial, Anoop confused millions of viewers by saying, "It's been a tough day. We're all thinking of Eve, and I love you, Chapel Hill." Even Simon had to turn to Paula for clarification. News reports clarified he was referring to Eve Carson, the student body president of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was tragically kidnapped and murdered one year ago.
After a commercial break, the judges announced their results, first calling up Jasmine. Randy delivered the fake-out: "Sad to say, you'll be seeing a lot of us." She received a welcoming hug from fellow finalist Allison Iraheta.
Kara told Ricky Braddy that, while he'd showed more personality, it was not enough.
Megan and Tatiana got their results together, with Paula drawing it out, perhaps anticipating the reaction. She reminded them that Idol "is a platform unlike any other," and that "it's not over when it's over." After reasserting that "what you've done is astonishing, out of hundreds of thousands to make it where you are," she said they would be going with Megan. The camera cut to fellow eliminated semifinalist, Kai Kalama, clapping enthusiastically, with a huge smile. He either loves Megan or can't stand Tatiana!
Tatiana was verklempt, stumbling off-stage to the judges' table, where the ever-compassionate Paula reasserted, "We love you and we've had a lot of fun with you. You'll be going places." She even promised Tatiana that she'll have not just a singing career but will make it as an actress, too. Directors and producers everywhere said a collective, "Not it!"
By now the show was on a fast track to running overtime, so Simon made it short and sweet with Jesse, telling her she didn't make it, but "You nearly did. You nearly did."
Paula again softened the blow when she delivered the news to Von Smith, reminding him that "You know where you need to make some corrections. I've really enjoyed you and believe you'll be a recording artist." Yes, but not on Idol.
The show was already running four minutes over when Matt and Anoop were called to sweat it out on center stage. Simon told Matt, "You've made it through to the final 12." So they went with the voice, I wrote. And then, the surprise. To Anoop, Simon said, "We decided recently we're going to make this a top 13." They brought out an extra stool for him. Anoop started tearing up and was surrounded on-stage with hugs from the other finalists. Blind piano player Scott MacIntyre was momentarily stranded by his stool until his handler guided him to the stage, where he also hugged the new finalists.
Next week, the finals begin. Who's going to be the first sent home?
Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.
The judges want both voices and personalities. And a little weirdness, too.