I’m going to go right out on a limb and say that American Idol Season 12 has the best judging panel its ever had. I know the live shows REALLY haven’t begun yet. And that in the following weeks, the judges could get lazy, scared, bored, etc. But I don’t think so. Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj, in particular, are the real deal. Their critiques are honest, thoughtful and have SUBSTANCE. They are both also really funny and entertaining. Nicki, in particular, understands completely that she’s part of a TV show, and as such it’s her job to entertain. They both bring REALNESS to the proceedings. I sat in on a conference call with Keith earlier today, and he could not have been more down to earth or kind.
But even Mariah impressed me tonight. Yeah, she’s totally a diva and as such has an imperious air that’s somewhat off putting. But tonight, she did the thing that makes the most sense for her, she gave a few of the contestants real specific advice on their vocal technique. In a capacity as a vocal coach, so to speak, she could really find her place on the panel. And Randy? He’s still Randy–blathering on as usual. But I dare say, the other three are forcing him to raise his game. I am VERY happy with this panel.
Also, I feel like we got our 3 week semifinals back! It was GREAT to begin the live shows this week! I only wish the voting rounds began as well. Having said that, I MOSTLY agreed with the judges’ choices. EXCEPT I would have advanced Isabelle and sent Tenna Torres home. Both girls are old-fashioned singers. But I thought Isabelle performed better tonight, and had a little extra something. Teena performance was really contrived. The judges were really feeling it, but I wasn’t.
My favorite singer of the night was Kree Harrison. She’s a country singer, but it’s obvious that she’s well versed in many genres. She feels the music deep in her bones. I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t make the Top 10. But stranger things have happened.
One more thing: There were moments tonight were it felt like it was the early years of Idol all over again. There were so many big voiced girls in that group. I think this year could shape up into the country kids vs. the pop divas.
I’ll be live blogging the Top 40 girls in Las Vegas as 10 sing for their lives. By the end of the night, 5 contestants will be sent home.
Ryan says we’ve never done a sudden death round. Was I hallucinating last year’s Semi Final, also called sudden death, when 20 were cut to 10? Oh. I guess Ryan means PRIOR to the voting rounds. The 20 that survive this round will move to the voting rounds.
Jimmy Iovine is in the audience. He’ll be the tie breaker if the judges’ panel cannot agree. The guys are in the audience watching.
The ladies are introduced from center stage. This feels really old school! The contestant could choose any song in any genre.
Jenny Beth Willis – 17 – “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love” by Trisha Yearwood – She’s a high school student. Just a baby. And her inexperience shows. She’s stiff. I feel like I’m watching a high school assembly. She’s obviously nervous and holding back. She’s got a decent twang, but she needs a few years. Keith has mixed feelings. It wasnt’ the best song for her, but he likes her confidence. Hm. Nicki didn’t feel she came alive until the end. I agree. It felt “a little jerky” to Randy. He didn’t think she was in sync with the band. He thinks she’ll be in trouble. Uh oh. Mariah suggests she be more dynamic during the verses. Oh. She’s giving her very specific vocal advice. Excellent.
Teena Torres – 28 – “Soulmate” by Natasha Bedingfield – Remember her? She attended Camp Mariah when she was a kid. Teena is an old fashioned belter. I feel like I’ve slipped back into the 80s. Hello Taylor Dayne! Really, too old fashioned for me, from her hair, to her outfit, to the whole Celine Dion thing she’s got going on. And she hit some pretty bum notes the judges didn’t notice. “That was a beautiful song for you to do.” says Keith. He felt that she MOSTLY had control over a big song. Nicki wants to know why she looks so sad. “You’re scaring me.” Nicki felt she had great control and LOVES that she sounds like an 80′s diva. She tells her to change her hair. “This is the start of the night! This is how you do it!” says Randy, very enthusiastically. He feels she connected with the emotion of the song. He’s really into it. Mariah doesn’t want to be redundant, but adds that it was “all you.” Mariah found her performance effortless. Teena begins crying. She avoided her boyfriend, who is in the audience, so she could feel the longing for him. Hm.
Adriana Latonio -”Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin - This Alaskan teenager has a big ole voice. But she’s more than just a bold set of pipes. She brings warmth and emotion to her big notes. Her vocals are comfortable and buttery—a natural. She gets a standing ovation from the audience and judges! “Now the night has started,” says Keith. He says he’s careful not to react to contestants as they sing, fearing he’ll “unhinge” their performance. But it was hard for him to do in this instance, she was so good. Nicki asks her if she’s Filipino. She is. She wrote in her notes, “Little tiny thing but commands the stage from the moment she walks out.” Nicki thinks she’s poised and ready. “This girl is born to do it,” says Randy. “THIS GIRLS A PRO.” Mariah gives the performance an A+. She gives her kudos for conquering an Aretha song.
Brandy Hotard – 26 - “I Don’t Love You Anymore” by Travis Tritt – A psych nurse, she’s sure she can bring sass and personality to American Idol! I really love the tone of her voice. But this is not her best. Keith felt her emotional connection was inconsistent, but he liked the song choice. Nicki agrees with Randy. She calls it a “pageant delivery” of the song. She smiled at the wrong times. Randy also felt she didn’t have the right connection to the song. He feels like she doesn’t know who she is. Thinks she’ll be in trouble tonight. Mariah didn’t notice her facial expressions, but feels her past performances were more emotionally connected. She loves her middle register. She’d love if she did an album of classics.
Shubba Vedula - 17 – “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga - She starts the song at the piano, as a ballad, then gets up and…ruins it. She’s jumping around, the arrangement is some weird hybrid of….I have no idea. She adds an eastern vibe to it. The entire effect is very very strange. And it’s too bad, because she’s got killer chops. She should have stayed at the piano and sang it as a straight ballad. Keith says, “You crammed a lot into that song…on one hand it was confusing, on the other hand I love your voice. It came powering through.” GET OUT OF MY HEAD KEITH. Nicki says, “There’s so much going on. It almost feels like a mashup of Christina and the Gangam Style guy. It was very confusing.” I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what Shubba was going for. Randy says, “There were way too many runs. I would have loved it if you had stayed at the piano. I like the potential.” Mariah would have also preferred if she had stayed at the piano, she feels it would have been less forced.
Kamaria Ousley – “Mr. Know it All” by Kelly Clarkson – She’s sung backgrounds for years, including for some Idols. Oh dear. This is not a good song choice for her. First of all. She’s got this weird cross between soul and country going. But worse, she’s really not hitting the notes. She’s warbling around the notes as if she can’t hear the band. Bye Kamaria. Yikes. Keith didn’t like her song choice either. He didn’t think she found the connection to the song. As the song says, “I don’t know a thing about you baby, and I’d like to, ” says Keith. Ouch. But he’s right. Nicki notices her throaty twangy thing. Didn’t think it worked and that it felt put on. Randy says her performance never caught on. “Definitley your worst performance. There was nothing redeemable about it.” Mariah thinks she’s adorable, and loves her smile, but noted that it seemed like she couldn’t hear herself. But, says she’s very marketable and should keep at it. They might as well eliminate her right now.
Kree Harrison – Up to the Mountain by Patti Griffin – She grew up with a ton of musical influences. The thing about Kree, she doesn’t sing perfectly, but she’s so comfortable and is able to just climb right inside a song. There is emotion and ease in her style. Unlike the girls who came before her, she’s dressed down, in a big ole shirt and loose pants. She doesn’t need any fancy outfits. I get the comparison Keith made earlier today in an interview, to Adele. She embodies whatever she’s singing with a heartrending simplicity. She gets a total standing ovation from EVERYBODY. “You are such a natural born singer,” says Keith. He feels she embodies soul and gospel and loves that she’s effortless. Nicki says “I would be very afraid if I were any of these other girls.” Nicki sees a mystery in her that can’t be explained, “You make love to a song. Something about you is just so sexy when you sing. I’m in love.” Randy calls her a natural born singer. Effortless. Like she’s been singing for 25 years. Mariah calls her style unaffected and organic. “You sang the hell out of that song,” she says.
Angela Miller – Nobody’s Perfect by JesseJ – Angela kind of shot her wad, so to speak, with her original song in Hollywood.
I think this is also original? If it is, it’s a let down by comparison. This tune has more of that generic Christian rock sound found on Contemporary Christian radio stations. The cover was not as good as her original, although it was Jesse J. Angela still managed to make it sound like a Christian Contemporary tune. There’s no denying her vocal gift, for sure. But I agree with the judges. She could dial it back. The word for tonight is…..DYNAMICS. However, she is talented. No doubt she’ll be going deep. Keith says, “You have a big big gift.” Keith hints that she was oversinging, though. Nicki says, “Nothing is going to compare to that last performance of your original song. She advises her not to over do it. You’re an artist, period. Congrats. Randy says, “America is watching the building of a superstar. This girl is the real deal.” Mariah thinks her potential is limitless.
Name check! Ryan mentions Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, who both won Grammy’s last week. YAY.
Isabelle – 22 – “God Bless The Child” – Isabelle lost a ton of weight in high school. Remember? She wants to be an encouragement to girls. Isabelle has an uncomfortable vibrato, like she’s forcing her voice at times. But she’s got great phrasing and sings with confidence. She finishes it off with a big note. Keith says, “To the guy who didn’t ask you out to prom, let that performance be the key to the side of his car. Nicki says, “Eat your heart out boys…because she up here looking like a diva! I’m proud of you. You did a great job.” Randy says, “I love you being an inspirartion. It was a bit old fashioned for me. I felt like I was at a pageant for a second.” Nicki disagrees. “It was a modern twist,” she insists. Mariah says, “If you had done this really simple with a small arrangement, it would have been a different thing. Your vocal is what is selling you, and your heart.” Isabelle was really inspired by Kree to reveal her heart.
Amber Holcomb - 18 – “My Funny Valentine” – WOW. Where did this girl come from???? She got cut in Las Vegas last year. She’s amazing. She performs like an adult–a pro. She has a very mature style Beautiful phrasing. Her soul just radiates from the stage. Keith says, “Why do you make it so hard on everyone else! Technically..making it look so easy. you made it timeless.” Nicki says, “Legs for days…pretty little dimples. That vocal was A+++. But I’m wondering if that inner shine is going to shine through the TV? I just wish that it jumped out more.” Uh yeah, Nicki. It is. Randy says, “You have to believe it before anybody else believes it. Sometimes you doubt yourself a little bit. You made the most important run the greatest, because you weren’t oversinging before.” Mariah says, “I wanted to smack you…in a good way. It was that good. I love your interpretation of this song.”
Jimmy was NOT needed as a tie breaker! Thanks Jimmy. This is being handled like “The Green Mile.” The judges are seated in chairs and each of the 10 girls approach them to learn their fate. The either get a seat on a shiny, shiny stool, or they are sent home.
Keith breaks the bad news to Jenny Beth Willis. She cries as she walks off the stage. As Nicki breaks bad news to Brandy Hotard, she also tells her to keep being a psychiatric nurse. Burn . Good news for Teena Torres from Randy. His fake-out was kinda cruel, though. She’ll be advancing. Mariah has great news for Kree Harrison. She’s going through. Mariah admits she wasn’t impressed with her audition. Odd. Keith has sad news for Isabelle, who looks so scared. She’s going home.. The voting was very mixed, he admits. Personally, I would have give Isabelle Teena’s spot. There’s a TON of booing from the audience! Definitely the controversial elimination of the night. Angela Miller is next. Nicki tries to fake her out by asking her if she thinks she’s going through. Angela answers diplomatically. And of course, she advances.
Results part 1
Before we can hear the fate of the remaining contestants, it’s break time! When we come back, Ryan chats a bit with the judges. Mariah felt some of the cuts were difficult. Kamaria Ousley is up next. I think we know how this turns out. Especially when Randy starts out by asking her how she thinks she did. She knows she blew it tonight. She did have a hard time hearing on stage, but NO EXCUSES. Bye Kamaria! Amber Holcomb is next. And of course she’s going through! Mariah tries to fake her out. It’s pretty week. Two contestants remain, Shubba and Adriana. They are back in the red room with Ryan. What’s playing out in their minds. OMG. They are both crying. They are BFFs. Aw. They show both performances back to back. It’s almost cruel. It’s really obvious who is going to prevail. Keith reminds them both of their talent, and says Shubba was fought for (REALLY?) But of course, she is going home, and Adriana advances.
The Results Part 2
- Jenny Beth Willis
- Brandy Hotard
- Kamaria Ousley
- Shubba Vedula
ADVANCING TO THE TOP 20
- Teena Torres
- Kree Harrison
- Angela Miller
- Amber Holcomb
- Adriana Latonio