MJ: If American Idol is ever rebooted, a version of the Showcase Round should be brought back, but in a meaningful way. Simon Cowell was a head of the curve when he switched the X Factor audition format to live performances in front of an audience. Enter The Voice, and singers performing full songs in the studio, and those room auditions seem like a relic of the past.
It’s doubly frustrating that we only got snippets of the showcase performances, triply frustrating after listening to the unedited versions on Vevo (which you NEED to check out if you have not already). American Idol does NOT end up with less talented contestants than the other singing shows. Production has just done a really poor job of presenting them at their best.
Case in point was the last day of Hollywood. An hour of watching wrung out singers eek their way through a final performance was pretty depressing. No, a dude sick with mono is not gripping TV. Having said all that, Mac and I present some unwieldy musings on the Top 24 and the competition going forward.
Mackenzie Bourg – This talented arranger is already a frontrunner. His Kris Allen-like ability to creatively flip a song is working for him. His geektastic charm is also not hurting him one little bit.
Dalton Rapattoni – This singer’s hyper-emotive boyband style doesn’t strike me as extraordinary. But what the hell do I know? He appears to be a favorite of both the judges and fans. And gosh, he really is so sweet and likeable. I’m going to go ahead and peg him as another early frontrunner, along with Mackenzie.
Avalon Young – OK. I finally get it. It took a lot of guts to cover Chris Brown. He’s not exactly the most politically correct artist out there. However, as she performed the song, gender pronouns intact, with a ton of swagger and confidence on the Showcase stage at the Dolby, there were no apologies from Avalon. Her fearlessness won me completely over.
LaPorsha Renae – LaPorsha is not your run of the mill R&B belter. I’m put off by singers who sing loud just because they can (I’m looking at you, Lindita). LaPorsha reminds me a little of Adam Lambert. She understands the power of her instrument and knows exactly how to use it. She’s willing to sacrifice an adlib or a powernote in order to reveal her vulnerability. That takes courage, particularly when tossing off an adlib–without emotional cost–is all it would take to earn her a standing ovation.
CJ Johnson – CJ has been flying under the radar all season. His showcase performance of “Parachute” revealed a seasoned, charismatic performer. All those years as a road warrior translates to an artist who knows how to perform. I won’t be surprised if the singer has a Bo Bice “Whipping Post” like breakthrough during the semis.
ETA: Jenn Blosil – Almost forgot Jenn! How could I? She’s one of my favorites. I love her tone, taste in music, the way she phrases a song. But I’m afraid her spacey personality won’t translate well to viewers at home. Is she destined to be another Joey Cook/Megan Joy?
Some honorable mentions: Olivia Rox was obviously not feeling well when she hit the Showcase stage to sing “Love Somebody” by Maroon 5, but she sure seemed alive, despite her illness. Coming out from behind the piano showed versatility. Shelbie Z has stiff competition for the country slot, between Tristan McIntosh and Emily Brooke. She went ahead and did the smart thing–recasting herself as a rocker with Heart covers. I approve. ETA: I also like what I’ve seen so far of Amelia Eisenhauer. She’s got an interesting voice and strong musical instincts.
The shine is off just a bit: Sonika Vaid did herself no favors choosing a dated Celine Dion song to sing at showcase. The contemporary lane suits her. She needs to work on performance skills and pick better songs. I still believe in her. Thomas Stringfellow’s hyper showcase performance of “Story of My Life” had me agreeing with his detractors who complain that his vocals are affected. The “yip” at the end of every line in the chorus of “Story of My Life” was hella distracting. I hope work with the vocal coaches does him some good. Tristan McIntosh got a terrible edit on final solo day. The pouting and crying until a contestant gave up a song to her has me wondering if the 15 year old will be able to handle the pressure of competition. I’m also still on the fence regarding the talented and intelligent Lee Jean. I think he could use a few more minutes under the broiler…
Disappointed to the point of pissed: WHAT THE HELL. In what kind of world does Jessica Cabral and her soulful rasp NOT make the Top 24? I knew the spoilers weeks ago, and I was waiting for some sort of Hollywood week meltdown to occur. It never did. And suspiciously, we didn’t get even a second of the singer’s Showcase performance, which leads me to believe it was probably terrific. There is at least one elimination like this every season. Without having access to the inner workings of the producer’s brains, it’s hard to tell what they were thinking. I agree with Mac below, as long as there was a gender imbalance, why not ditch one of the cannon fodder dudes for her? I’m at a loss.
Momager Meltdown – After Gianna Isabella was told she made it to the Top 24, mom Brenda K. Starr tearfully confessed, “I couldn’t be a huge superstar, I want her to live that dream. She deserves it.” CRINGE. Gianna is sweet, and a capable singer, but I would have swapped her out for the mature and assured Jessica in a heartbeat. But I suspect it’s at least partly the semi-fame and drama llama mom brings that has the producers hanging on to the young singer. Will Brenda keep annoying Rickey Minor to the point where he has to tell her to back off again? Stay tuned.
MAC: I was a little annoyed by the time the Top 24 were actually chosen. Tristan McIntosh has had such a weird edit, that by the time she finally sat in the chair, I wanted the judges to send her home. I’m trying to remember that it’s not directly her fault, and rather the producers, but I’m not going to vote for a contestant because you’re telling me to feel sorry for them left and right. It didn’t work with Lazaro, and while she’s a better vocalist, she’s not the BEST vocalist. Also, I think it would have been better to just not see Lindita’s final performance, because she clearly out sang a few girls and earned a Top 24 spot, yet somehow inexplicably went home. There were a few people who we didn’t see perform their showcase song, and it was a bit of a shame. Kory Wheeler performed a song I’d never heard before, and it was pretty good. Adam Lasher’s Stay cover wasn’t quite what I had wanted it to be. An odd choice for him. Amelia Eisenhauer’s New York State Of Mind was better than I expected. Not surprisingly, I hated James VIII’s Change The World,
Top 10 Potential: I don’t see the possibility of a Top 10 without LaPorscha Renae at this point, especially a judges chosen top 10. If that’s where we’re headed, they love her, and the producers love her. Plus, she’s really the only girl in her lane right now, so she doesn’t even have to fight off any other divas. Also, I don’t think our Top 10 will be without Jenn Blossil who seems to be aiming for the “girl artist” lane that Jax and Jena drove down, but just a little less rock now, and a little more Brooke White. I’m betting Emily Brooke will be our country girl, as she has a bit more stage presence than Jeneve. However, if she chooses songs like The Climb, she might not make it there. For the guys, I think Dalton Rappatoni is a clear early favorite, with Mackenzie Bourg also a strong contender.
Top 10 Dark Horses: Most of the boys seem to be in this batch. If the Top 10 includes Dalton and Mackenzie, could it also include Thomas Stringfellow? I’m not sure. And maybe there is room for Jeneve Mitchell, especially if the judges are picking. Lee Jean managed to get better in Hollywood week, then dropped off again in the showcase. However, Lee is the only black male singer in the Top 24, and that has to be worth something. Sonika Vaid is heavily pimped, but has no connection to her lyrics. The judges seem to love Gianna Isabella, so she could crack the top 24 as well. Olivia Rox is inconsistent. She needs to be great to make the top 10. I’m not sold on Shelbie Z as a contender, but with the right song she could get into the Top 10. And, Tristan McIntosh, who is heavily pimped, but still very young, and not on the same level as her peers. Kory Wheeler is a dark horse, and so is Manny Torres (even if I’m not a fan). CJ Johnson hasn’t had a ton of screentime, but his showcase was electric. If he performs like that again, he will definitely earn a top 10 spot. The last wildcard is Trent Harmon, who the judges loved enough to put him through when he wasn’t at his best.
Cannon Fodder: Right now, James VIII seems almost forgotten about. I can’t imagine him having a breakthrough performance. I’m surprised he made Hollywood, let alone Top 24. I just don’t think he’s a strong vocalist. Jenna Renae hasn’t had nearly the screentime of the other girls. Probably more than any other top 24 contestant, I have a hard time remembering who she even is. I’m hoping Jordan Sasser gets cut. His showcase was a mess. If that’s the best the boys had to offer, we should have just had less boys. I’m starting to feel like Avalon Young will be one of the “hardly knew ye” cannon fodder contestants that’s remembered as a “oh, she should have stayed around longer, I liked her” contestant. I could say the same for Amelia Eisenhauer, who seemed to not have nearly as much edit time in Hollywood week as some of her competition. I’m hoping Stephanie Negrete is cannon fodder. She does nothing for me. Decent vocalist, but doesn’t connect to a song. Adam Lasher disappeared for most of Hollywood week, and that’s not a good sign of things to come for him.
Shoulda Been A Contender– IF we’re so OK with having 13 girls and 11 boys, then why not just throw the whole thing in the bag and mix it completely up? I would have definitely cut Jordan and James VIII for Lindita and Jessica Cabral. I also would have likely subbed out Amelia or Jeneve for either of those girls, or even with the two boys and added Malie Delgado into the mix. She really performed and worked the stage, and got cut.
My Favorites: For full disclosure, my personal favorites right now are Jenn Blosil, LaPorscha Renae, Emily Brooke, Dalton Rapattoni, Mackenzie Bourg, Thomas Stringfellow, CJ Johnson, Shelbie Z, and Avalon Young. So, I’m not too picky right now. There are a few that are just outside that, and could join that list with a solid performance or two, but right now I should be pretty happy with the Top 10.
MJ: There were 34 girls vs 17 boys in the Top 51 which was cut down to a Top 24 that was only slightly gender imbalanced (13 girls, 11 boys). Maybe the judges wanted a larger pool of girls to choose from. As it stands, the girls are stronger. It seems pretty obvious the show would love to end where they began–with a girl winner. But will they get it? Having the the judges choose every single contestant that advances, save two wildcard spots reserved for viewer vote in the Top 10 is one way to manipulate outcomes. However, the show should never forget what made it a sensation in the first place–putting the power in the hands of viewers at home. It’s a good thing the show has returning alums to draw eyeballs to the middle rounds (which I am certainly looking forward to).