Last night was the first round of finalist competition on American Idol. Two contestants will be eliminated tonight. The contestants sang songs from the Michael Jackson catalogue (yes, really!).
Rather than being announced at their table, the judges made a grand entrance, with Paula looking like she was molting, thanks to a spray of feathers across her shoulder. The stage was slightly different this year, with steps down the middle instead of at the side.
First to take the stage was Lil Rounds, who sang "The Way You Make Me Feel," dressed in white pants and a pastel pink top with a ruffle on one shoulder. She did have to change the words slightly, changing, "Hey pretty baby with the high heels on" to "pretty baby, got my high heels on." This got me to thinking: most of Michael Jackson's songs are gender neutral, making them easier for women to sing. Lil commanded the stage like a pro, though she ended a little ahead of the music right before the chorus. She was good in the opening, but then she shouted in the chorus. She did change it up a little at the end, throwing in some higher notes.
Judge Randy Jackson praised her for putting a whole new spin on the song and making it new again. Fourth wheel Kara DioGuardi said, "I hope we get to hear you on the radio, because you are great." She liked the end note. "That was sick, right?" she said, turning to Randy for confirmation of her attempt to be cool. Nice judge Paula Abdul complimented the "softness of the palette what you're wearing" (which means, since it came from fashion-challenged Paula, that she looked dreadful). She called Lil a force to be reckoned with, saying it was "beautiful, like angels singing." Simon said he was a little disappointed, that it was a "bit of a lazy song choice." He said the second half was better than the first, adding, "I hate what you're wearing."
Scott MacIntyre was next, singing the little-known "Keep the Faith" while accompanying himself on the piano, wearing a button-down military olive drab jacket. He proved himself to be very skilled on the keys. This was a good song for him, especially because of the lyrics, as he sang that "the power's in believing / so give yourself a chance / 'cause you can / climb the highest mountain / swim the deepest sea, / all you need is the will to want it and a little self-esteem." He definitely was feeling the lyrics, and while he's not the strongest singer, he has good tone and is consistently on pitch. He did find himself out of range during the bridge, though.
Kara pointed out that he'd just learned that on piano this week. She said, "I am so glad we're finally getting to see you with the piano." Then, she had mixed praise, noting that it wasn't the most obvious Michael Jackson song, but she liked the hopeful message. Paula said it was "really magical seeing your instrument at your fingertips." She called it a "lovely performance" and pointed out that the composer of the song was in the audience, "and she loved it." Simon apologized to the songwriter, saying he hated the song, adding that nobody knows it. Scott interjected that he wanted to be a little artistic. Simon pointed out, "It's fine being artistic just not on this show." Then, he finished: "I like you. I think you're a good singer; I just didn't like the song." Paula then claimed the song was the biggest selling record in history in Norway. Randy said the performance was good but it felt very safe. He said he wanted "to see more sparks from you."
Danny Gokey, in his video segment, revealed that he and his family spontaneously wrote songs about everything. I was just happy to see him talking about something other than his dead wife. He sang "PYT" in a tweed jacket and burgundy shirt. He started out slow, then picked up the tempo, adding some dancing. I actually love this song, and his version of it rocked. It was even a little bluesy. I found his dancing to be fun, too. At one point, though, he turned the microphone into the audience, which some might consider showboating.
Paula complimented him for knowing "exactly who you are." Then, getting choked up, she said, "I think you're on your way to the finals." Simon called the vocals brilliant: "You're one heck of a singer." He compared Danny to Michael McDonald, a "white guy with soul," adding that "the dancing was hideous." Danny interjected, "I love to dance and I love to sing, but when I put them together, it's very difficult." Randy said, "When you've got it, you've just got it." He loved it all, saying he saw the dancing as just passionate: "that's the way you felt." Kara observed he has joy when he steps on that stage. "You should thank your parents for making you sing your homework," she said.
Oil rigger Michael Sarver turned in a workman-like rendition of "You're Not Alone." His performance was as lackluster as his outfit: a black jacket, black shirt, and faded jeans. He did pick up the energy a little on the chorus, but I found it to be very karaoke.
Simon noted, "You're not the best singer in this competition. You made up for it with passion, heart, and you gave it 110 percent." He snarkily commented, "Just wish we knew what you did for a living." Randy said he's "kind of returned to the R&B swagger." He called him "one of the best in this so far," which made me type "Really?" Kara said, "Tonight showed me that you really can sing. This one really showed you can hit those notes." She added, "You're serious; you bring your game." Paula noted he has so many things going for him: "likable, a regular guy who has extraordinary talent." She praised his song choice and said he "sounded really lovely."
Can I just say that for judges at this point to be admitting that someone is not the best singer in the competition, or that they're just discovering he can sing, irritates me to no end. We know that they cast the show based on factors beyond just singing ability, but to harp about it so blatantly just rubs it in the viewers' faces.
Jasmine Murray sang the Jackson 5 song "I'll Be There," wearing a hot pink satin caftan. She looked like a Disney princess, but she desperately needed to be dubbed. While the original song, recorded while Michael was very song, included sweetly soaring vocals, hers was painfully strained. Not to mention the flat notes and the poor mike technique. Next!
Randy said that she's mixed two previous versions (done by M.J. and by Mariah Carey), which of course, just made me wish Mariah had sung it. He called it "a tough song to sing," and his highest praise was it "wasn't that bad." Kara said it surprised her that Jasmine had a big voice (really? after you said that last week, too?). She praised her "great stage presence." Paula called her a "lovely young lady" and lauded her "tremendous composure and poise." She said that she had some bright moments but there were some rough spots. Simon said she made a good attempt and demonstrated nice control at the end, but "Big notes will always trouble you." He also called her a little robotic at times, adding she's "got to lighten up a little bit."
Kris Allen, who seemed to have acquired a slight Australian accent, played guitar as he sang "Do You Remember the Time?" in a checked shirt and jeans. His video package revealed, whoa, that he's married! I bet his teenybopper fans will be disappointed. He definitely made the song his own, imbuing it with energy and making it sound very contemporary. His voice broke a couple times: notably just before the bridge, and he was very off in the bridge in general. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I can see certain fans loving it.
Kara said, "The girls love you." She was glad to see him with his guitar but noted a few notes were "a little off." Paula called the performance engaging and, furthermore, said he was "adorable/sexy." She also pointed out that he'd helped the other contestants out this week, because he knows M.J.'s catalogue the best. Simon said it was good, but he wasn't sure he would have brought the wife out so early. Randy called it "very Jason Mraz-y" and said it was a job well done.
Allison Iraheta, whose parents are from El Salvador, sang "Give In to Me" in a leather hoody, with lots of chains, her hair old-fashioned and feathered. She sounded like Pat Benatar as she turned the song into a rock anthem. I had a problem with some of her enunciation, like adding "H's" to the beginning of words: "I'll be ho-kay." Still, it was a standout performance, a lot better than the last few rocker chicks to perform on Idol.
Paula said, "You're a rock star up there." She loved the outdated hair and advised her to "stay authentic." (Well, that is until she's done the same thing for a few weeks, when they'll advise her to "show a different side.") Simon said it was a good performance, adding, "At least we know who you are." She told her, though, that she's got to lighten up a bit. Randy repeated himself: "If you've got it, you've got it." He told her, "You can sing." Kara told her to "keep being the rocker girl." She added, "When you go up high, it's like walls are about to come in," which I think was a compliment.
The much-loved Anoop "Noop Dawg" Desai performed "Beat It" in what looked like a windbreaker over a white button-down shirt. It started off much better than either of his other performances, partially because this song was actually in his range and also because he was standing still. Once he started moving around the stage, working the crowd, he had breath control problems. He tried really hard, but it didn't blow me away.
Simon was supposed to go first but made Paula go instead. Paula said, "It's your gift to show people what you've got" but called this song "untouchable," saying "anything else sounds like karaoke." Simon said he thought it was horrible, saying there was no aggression and it was all very lightweight. He said it looked stupid:. "It was like somebody trying to be Michael Jackson but failing." Randy said, "For me, it was just the wrong choice." He called the performance "very karaoke." Anoop interjected, "I hope I'm here next week, and I'll show you all what I've got." Kara said she didn't see him do any variation on anything and said she "felt disconnected to you as a performer."
Jorge Nunez sang a sappy version of "Never Going to Say Good-Bye," which seemed the perfect song for him. He apparently had never been warned that it's bad luck to sing songs about saying good-bye on American Idol. A string of contestants have sung songs with similar lyrics and ended up singing them as their swan song under the ending credits. Jorge wore a gray jacket with a purple and blue patterned V-neck. He wasn't perfect, but I thought he showed pure joy in parts of his performance.
Randy criticized the song choice as a little old-fashioned. He said he has a nice upper range, but there were a couple pitchy spots. Kara said he's one of the most emotionally connected people but she "just didn't feel that." She suggested he should have sung "She's Out of My Life." Paula, after saying she has mad love for him, asked him why he picked the song. Jorge fumbled to answer in his non-native English, admitting he'd had trouble, because it wasn't his usual style, but he picked the song because it fit his voice better. "I wasn't going to sing 'Bad' by Michael Jackson." To which Simon quipped, "You sort of did." Simon labeled the performance corny and said, "You were out of your depth." He said he couldn't wait for it to end.
Megan Joy Corkrey proved she really is just an overgrown child when she chose the Jackson 5 song, "Rocking Robin." Strangely, she won a tight red minidress, which combined with the childlike dancing, was very off-putting. It's a very cutesey song, and I should have hated it, but her voice is so interesting that she continues to stand out for me. Just when I thought I kind of liked it, she ended the song by saying "Caw, caw!" Um... that's a crow, dear.
Kara said, mysteriously, "That's so Megan." She said it wasn't the most overwhelming vocal performance, adding she wants to see her show more range. Paula said she loves the quirkiness, telling her that while she picked the right song, they "didn't hear the sound that we love." Still, she was confident we'd see more of her. Simon said, "We like you, but what a stupid song choice." He said the vocals weren't very good and the dancing was verging on ridiculous. He called the whole performance clumsy and awkward. Randy said the song choice "didn't allow you to really be Megan." Randy turned to the audience and asked celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey to share what he thinks, but he wasn't miked! Anyone read lips?
The man who's slowly emerging as the fan favorite to win, Adam Lambert, performed "Black and White" in a blue leather jacket with striped shirt and dark jeans, still looking very much the rocker but more toned down than last week. This time he was actually singing, rather than sing-talking. Though it was still very theatrical and he popped some "P's," it was easily the best performance of the night. When I listened to it without watching, however, I thought the vocals weren't the best of the night. I don't doubt, though, that he got the most votes, as it was very exciting to watch.
Paula said that never in the history of American Idol "have we ever seen someone so comfortable, seasoned on that stage." He told him he's got the whole package and said she believed with all her heart that "we'll see you run all the way to the end." Simon said that was "in a totally different league to everything else we've seen and heard." He called the vocals terrific. "You're somebody people will talk about." Randy said that "since day one, you are the most current." He added, "You could make a record right now" and "sail straight to the top of the charts." Kara said, "You hit notes I didn't know existed," which I think she meant as a compliment. She added, "I hope Michael Jackson is watching this tonight." As if M.J. wasn't (and this is only my conjecture) having a viewing family with his family, recording both the show and his family's response for a future comeback documentary!
In the unenviable position of following Adam, dueling piano player Matt Giraud finally got to accompany himself on "Human Nature." His look was probably his best to date: a simple brown leather jacket. You could hardly hear the piano, though, which didn't surprise me, because based on his own confession that he only started playing relatively recently, he's probably not as strong on the ivories as Scott. At first, I thought the song sounded very much like the original, which is actually a compliment. And then he reached for notes way out of his range, making me type, "Dude, I told you to stay away from the falsetto!" Those screechy notes ruined it for me.
Randy called it a really good performance, noting a "couple pitch spots." He said he's got that Justin Timberlake thing. Really? Kara said, "You're a talented guy and I hope I see you for many weeks." By this time, the judges were running short (probably because of all the contestants interjecting their thoughts earlier). Paula called him "talented, sexy, amazing, authentic," saying, "I'm blown away." Simon said it was "sort of like a meat-and-potatoes good, solid, nice performance."
Finally, after a video featuring her young daughter, Alexis Grace took the stage to sing "Dirty Diana," wearing a black minidress that went up almost up to her hoo-ha (actually, they might have been short-shorts). This was uncomfortably weird after seeing her gush about her daughter. She's definitely got presence, and I liked when she pulled back for the second chorus, demonstrating a control that not every singer in this competition has shown. But the whole performance seemed a little awkward, and I'm not buying this persona. When someone in the audience held up her baby afterwards, I had another "ick" moment, remembering her mom's awkward attempts at sexing it up.
Kara said, "You're a naughty girl, and I liked it." Paula called it "naughty and sexy" but advised her to "watch your oversinging." Simon called it "Over the top, probably not as great as you thought it was." Randy liked it.
Ryan reminded the viewers to be careful when dialing, because the unlucky 13th contestant had to be given a non-sequential number.
He also announced that tomorrow there would be a surprise change to the rules involving the judges that could alter the competition. I'm guessing that they're going to make them "sing for their life," much like is done in the first weeks of competition on So You Think You Can Dance, which is done by the same producers as Idol.
The best performances of the evening were (in no particular order) Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert and Alexis Grace.
The bottom three is most likely to be Jasmine Murray, Jorge Nunez and Anoop Desai, although Megan Joy Corkrey or Michael Sarver could find themselves in there, as well. Jasmine Murray will almost definitely get her ticket home, with Jorge Nunez the most likely one to join her.
All video clips come from mjsbigblog.
The judges reserve the right to change the rules.