Last night the women semifinalists got their first chance to compete on American Idol, and like the men before them, they also sang songs from the Sixties. Two of them will be packing their bags and leaving tonight.
While many of the ladies turned in solid performances, there were a couple of groaners, as well as a few standout performances.
First up was Kristy Lee Cook with the Aretha Franklin song, "Rescue Me." Dressed in a gold, sparkly tank top with distressed jeans, she sounded good in the beginning of the song but fell flat in the middle. The song began to feel monotonous, and her performance seemed forced, with a lot of dancing and shaking that was more distracting than entertaining.
Judge Randy Jackson said it wasn't her best and that she'd had pitch problems. He said it was rough around the edges. Nice judge Paula Abdul said that, considering she'd been sick and was going first, she'd been hit with a double whammy. She advised her not to let that get in the way and added she's a good performer. Tough judge Simon Cowell said that the song didn't suit her, that it was a song designed for someone who can really belt it out. He called her performance robotic and said it didn't make an impression. I believe he's right, because looking back over my notes, I couldn't even picture her until I looked at my notes about what she'd been wearing.
Next was Joanne Borgella with another hit by Aretha Franklin, "I Say a Little Prayer," which was flat in parts and generally weak. Joanne says she's a plus-sized model, but I wonder if this can be the case, because she doesn't seem to know how to dress for her body type. She wore black leggings, which made her body look like an inverted ice-cream cone, and she paired this with a dark purple tunic with a gold belt. While this might be a trendy look, it would have been better worn with a pair of straight leg or boot cut jeans. Overall, she seemed uncomfortable on-stage.
Randy said it was "pretty good" but said the first part of the song was weird and that she seemed shaky and unsure. Paula observed that in previous auditions, she'd showed a lot of confidence (the implication being that this performance, not so much). She said that she liked it but didn't love it. Simon said he didn't like it at all. He called it an average cabaret version. He said the second half of the song was worse than the first, that she'd shown no confidence and it was substandard.
Alaina Whitaker followed her with the Goldfinger song "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday." While she hadn't struck me that way during the auditions, the way they'd done her makeup and styled her hair, she looked exactly like previous winner Carrie Underwood. This could actually be bad for her if people feel she doesn't measure up. She wore a one-sleeved blousy yellow patterned top with brown pants and some kick-ass yellow and white stiletto pumps. She started weak but then kicked in, and she had a little bit of a country feel to her voice, reminding me again of a pale imitation of Carrie Underwood.
Randy noted it's the "year of the young ones" (she's 16). He said the beginning was rough but that she sang with conviction and confidence. Paula called it a feel-good song and said she nailed it. She said that was the best ending she'd had, which was kind of interesting, because she had just reminded viewers that Diana Ross sang the song on the show last year. Simon said she's very good, that she didn't seem nervous. But he said he hates the song because it's corny. Yet, he added that if she can make even that song sound good, imagine what she could do with a good song.
I didn't know what to expect from the next performer, Amanda Overmyer, who did the Muddy Waters song "Baby Please Don't Go," which has been covered by everyone from Van Morrison to Aerosmith. No surprise that she came out dressed like a rocker in a black tank top and patchwork pants. But I was disappointed, because she fell into the bad habit many do while singing a fast rock song, that being poor enunciation. She looked down during the whole performance, seemingly uncomfortable in the spotlight. While I don't think she'll go this week, because at least she's memorable, I don't think she made many new fans. If she hadn't been showcased during the auditions, she would be in danger.
Randy said he loved it and called her a "bluesy rocker chick." Paula gushed that she loves everything she does and that she's "the real deal." Even Simon seemed to be in her thrall, saying that he likes her and calling her authentic. He said this was not her bad performance, and he asked her if she'd forgotten the words partway through, because at one point she was scatting. Amanda's response? "Have you heard the song?" She claimed that's just how the song goes. He said he hopes she sticks around but acknowledged that it was all over the place at times.
But then came Amy Davis, who could make anybody look good. She butchered the Connie Francis song, "Where the Boys Are." She certainly was all over the place, and she was pretty forgettable in a blousy black velvet top and stretch jeans. The performance was painful, one of the worst of all time. She slid up and down the scale, with nothing in tune. Truly horrible.
Randy, in an understatement, said it was "not great." He picked up on the fact that she'd been imitating the Patsy Cline version, which uses a particular country technique where you scoop up to the note. But he cautioned that, if you're going to use that technique, you have to hit the note. Paula avoided the subject, saying that "the camera loves you." She said it wasn't the most engaging song and that her performance was lackluster. Simon said she looked great but didn't sound great. He called the performance very cabaret and said she didn't have the country twang needed for the song.
Next up, Brooke White had chosen a song that worked for her, The Turtles song "Happy Together." This was a much stronger performance than that of David Cook the previous night. She wore a dove gray blousy top with jeans, and her singing was beautifully textured. She was the first performer who seemed to actually be paying attention to the lyrics, understanding that it wasn't just a giddy song but a wistful, hopeful one. It did annoy me, though, that she ended the song by sort of scatting, repeating the word "Ba" to the melody.
Randy said that it started rough but she'd worked it out at the end. He added that it doesn't matter what the song is, but you need to "slay it." I don't know if that means that he felt she did slay it, but possibly that she didn't. Paula complimented her originality and said she'd picked the right song. And Simon agreed but said he felt like he was in a 1960s commercial for "washing up liquid," where everything was overly cheery and sunny. He did say, though, that she sang it quite well.
Kicking off the second half was Alexandrea Lushington with the Blood, Sweet and Tears song "Spinning Wheel." She came out looking very much like Star Search 1986, wearing a white T-shirt with a colorful print of a heavily made-up woman, high-waisted jeans with skinny suspenders, a hair band, orange Converse sneakers and one large peace sign earring. Despite her look, she got funky in her performance, which was good, although the song got too high for her at the end, giving her trouble.
Randy said "you've got it" and said "it was hot." Paula said that she'd taken control and thought about her performance. She loved the interpretation and called it relevant for today. This was interesting because Paula herself was popular during the '80s. Simon said he didn't get it, that the vocals were not great and it reminded him of a horrible '60s revival musical.
Kady Malloy tackled the Mindbenders classic, "A Groovy Kind of Love," wearing a velvety copper dress with spaghetti straps that seemed a little too formal compared to everyone else. She did a very syrupy, popish version of the song, which might have been OK except that she hit a lot of bad notes.
Randy referred to the videotape they'd shown before the performance, showing her joking around backstage and doing a Britney Spears imitation. He said that she was funny with backstage and needed to not be so constrained on-stage. Paula said that she looked really pretty, that she loves her personality and wants to see her have fun. Basically, that's Paula-speak for "the song wasn't great." Simon agreed with Paula and took it further, saying that she was like "Night of the Living Dead" on-stage. He said that when she does Britney she's brilliant, and when she's herself, "the lights go off." He advised her to lighten up.
Next to take the stage was Asia'h Epperson with the Janis Joplin song, "Piece of My Heart." She was someone who didn't get a lot of face time during the auditions, so I didn't know what to expect, and she made a good first impression, wearing a burgundy sequined V-neck tunic. She made the song her own, which is great, because too many people try to sound like Janis when they do her songs. But she added sort of a soul vibe to it, which worked with her voice. The only problem: she makes a lot of pained faces when she sings, reminding me a little bit of Nadia Turner from season four.
Randy said, "You did your thing," which I guess means that he liked it. Paula said that she'd had fun up there and had some good moments. Simon pronounced her his favorite of the night so far and said that she's fun and likable.
Then came Ramiele Malubay with the Dusty Springfield tune, "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me." Maybe it's just me, but she had a pronounced accent in the first line which was sort of distracting. While she demonstrated potential, I thought it was a very karaoke performance. She also looked like she was dressed more for rehearsal than a performance, in gray leggings that resembled yoga pants, a red scoop-necked top and light black cardigan. While this might not seem important, you do need to present a total package to the voting public. If you offer about 80 percent of that package and someone else offers 100 percent, you're going to lose.
Randy observed she took her time and built up the song. She said she sounded like a pro. Paula called her a force to be reckoned with and said she was great. Simon admitted that while he didn't like her when he first saw her, she'd been more consistent in Hollywood and tonight had outsung everyone. Maybe it sounded different from their seats than it did on TV. I don't understand all the high praise, but I do expect it to help her stick around for one more week. Perhaps then she'll prove herself.
Syesha Mercado chose the Animals song, "Tobacco Road." She's a true powerhouse, and she makes it effortless. Even her clothes looked like the consummate professional: a black scoop-neck top with jeans and a coral scarf (although I hated the square-toed boots). She's also an actress, and she looked the part.
Randy said she can sing and has a powerful voice. Paula proclaimed her consistent, joyful and fun. Simon said that it wasn't her best but it doesn't matter because she's one of the most talented in this competition. He called her terrific.
Ending the show was Carly Smithson with a Frank Sinatra song (!), "The Shadow of Your Smile." She's the one with the tattoo on her arm, which she covered up with a long-sleeved maroon tunic, paired with black leggings. I don't think that was the best choice, because while it's a contemporary look, it caused her to blend in with everyone else. At this point, she needs to stand out. Her voice was smoky, but it felt like she was just phoning it in. I got the impression that she chose a song she didn't love. She also needs to watch her mannerisms, because she has a habit of abruptly snapping her head back when she sings a power note, which added to the straight black hair and her crooked upper teeth, makes her look like a 1970s Cher impersonator. Don't get me wrong: she has potential, but she didn't show it.
Randy said that's what this show is all about. He commented that she has bronchitis but proclaimed it the best vocal of the top 24. Paula said that she's reliable. She praised the tenderness of her voice and said she has beautiful inflection. Simon said he didn't get it. He said there's been a lot of hype about her, but the song was way too old-fashioned and her performance was too cabaret. He called it a letdown.
So to summarize, kudos to Syesha and Brooke for solid performances, with a nod to Alexandrea, Asia'h and Ramiele for demonstrating potential. I think Carly, Amanda and Joanne should also be safe, because they're all unique and showed potential.
Kady Malloy and Amy Davis, however, might be packing their bags after tonight.
Give it your all, even if you're sick.