Here’s your Top 12. Are these kids the best evah? Show mouthpieces keep saying it over and over again, as if saying it will make it true. I think we’re off to a good start, with break-out performances already from David Archuleta, David Cook and Jason Castro. However, it still remains to be seen if this crew will deliver once they hit the big stage this week.
Some interesting factoids:
Seven of the 8 teenagers who comprised the Top 24 were eliminated during the semi-finals. Two 25 year-olds, a 26, 28 and 29 year old round out the ages of the rest of the eliminates. Ten of the Top 12 contestants ages run between 20-25. The cast is bookended by a 17 and 29 year old. Roughly, the youngest and oldest contestants of the original Top 24 were eliminated during the semi-finals.
Past season have traditionally had a heavy representation of contestants from the Southeast. This year, the South is represented by 2 Floridians, and a contestant who claims part-time residency in Georgia. There are 6 West-coasters, including contestants from Arizona and Utah. Two contestants hail from the central South–Texas and Oklahoma. And, there is one Midwesterner, from Indiana.
Read my analysis of the Top 12 after the jump…
David Archuleta 17, Salt Lake City, UT – Auditioned in San Diego – Has there ever been such a clear front-runner so early in the competition? I don’t think so. But, as every student of Idol history knows, front-runners come and front-runners go. Will young David continue to wow the judges and TV audiences with his performances? Or will his nerves and/or vocal chords give out? If David’s performances become predictable, could there be a backlash? TPTB appear to be hot on David succeeding, at least for now.
David has a mature vocal style that can seem too studied and rehearsed for my money. He’s been singing since he was a little one, and the danger with child performers is that it’s difficult for them to quit pretending adult emotions. Kids like David, who seem to have been raised in a sheltered environment have a particularly hard time. David still hasn’t learned to emote from the gut. Purchase David’s semi-final performances at iTunes (and help support mj’s!): “Shop Around”, “Imagine” and “Another Day in Paradise”.
Jason Castro 20, Rowlett, TX – Auditioned in Dallas – Jason is one of the break-out stars of Season 7. Amazing, considering we didn’t even get so much as a glimpse of him until the Top 24 was revealed. Jason knocked out the judges with his charming and effortless performance of “Daydream” during 60’s week. They were a little less enthused when bandzilla drowned out his quirky version of “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”, but they were right back on the love train when he performed his absolutely stunning version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, 80’s week. The judges weren’t alone. Jason’s performance rocketed the Jeff Buckley version of the tune to #5 on iTunes overnight.
Right now, Jason is one of my favorites. It’s awesome to finally have somebody with a folk sensibility as a real Idol contender. As long as he’s able to keep bandzilla at bay, Jason can continue to shine and could go deep into the competition. Jason claims that before Idol, he only sang before live audiences a handful of times. Wow. He truly is a natural. Purchase Jason’s semi-final performances at iTunes: “Daydream”, “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”, and Hallelujah”.
David Cook 25, Tulsa, OK – Auditioned in Omaha – David Cook is the other breakout star of this season. There wasn’t anything remarkable about his audition, which he claims to have attended only to keep his little brother, who also tried out (but didn’t advance) company. Bragging that he “studied” Chris Daughtry’s audition the night before, and then subsequent comparisons from the judges left me with the impression that David was a wanna-be clone.
Boy, was I wrong. His first performance on the semi-final stage, “Happy Together” went by unnoticed. Although, I think it’s one of the underrated performances of the semis. He displayed great rock phrasing and showmanship this first time out. His Top 20 performance “All Right Now”, where he slung a guitar for the first time and owned the stage like a rock stah, went considerably better with the judges. But, it was Top 16 week, where he rocked up Lionel Richie’s 80’s sap-fest “Hello” with his gritty rock vocals, that folks really took notice.
I am digging me some David Cook, for sure. If he continues to turning out surprising and entertaining performances, he could also go very deep into this competition. I hope so. Purchase David’s semi-final performances at iTunes: “Happy Together”, “All Right Now” and “Hello”.
Kristy Lee Cook 24, Selma, OR – Auditioned in Philadelphia – Kristy is one of the so-called “plants” of Season 7. She was signed by Arista when she was 17, but was dropped before she had the chance to release a record. For a “plant” she sure doesn’t appear to have a lot of experience. Her semi-final performances have run the gamut from horrifying (“Rescue Me”) to lackluster (“You’re No Good” and “Faithfully”), but the judges criticisms have been soft–except for Simon, who thinks she suffers from a lack of personality.
She’s blond, long and lean. That alone could carry her far enough to make the tour. To really make an impact, however, Kristy is going to have to step it up quite a bit. There have been hints that she’s been ill throughout the semis. If so, perhaps we haven’t seen Kristy at full-steam and more will be revealed. But, judging on her Hollywood performance, where she had to rely on singing her audition song, “Amazing Grace” a few times in order to power herself through to the Top 50, I’m not holding out much hope. Purchase Kristy Lee’s semi-final performances at iTunes: “Rescue Me”, “You’re No Good”, “Faithfully”.
Chickezie Eze 22, Inglewood, CA – Auditioned in San Diego – Chikezie is lucky to have made it into the Top 12. The laws of demographics may have been his saving grace–Chikezie was the only African-American male in the Top 24. His vocals are hit and miss. His best week in the semis was Top 20, when he answered Simon’s mispronouncing his name (Jacuzzi, hilariously, the week before) with a balls-to-the-wall performance of Donny Hathaway’s “Know My Name”. Simon was duly impressed.
His other two semi performances were both corny and bland. That, and a tendency to seem arrogant and cocky, particularly with Simon, has cost him some points with viewers. Chikezie needs to put away the tired R&B ballads he favors, and come out swinging with some gritty soul. He could carve out a nice little niche for himself in this competition is he manages to play his cards right. Purchase Chikezie’s semi-final performances at iTunes: “More Today Than Yesterday”, “I Believe to My Soul” and “All The Woman I Need”.
David Hernandez 24, Phoenix, AZ – Auditioned in San Diego – He’s another contestant whom we didn’t get a good look at until Hollywood. There, he impressed with Stephen Stills’ “Love the One Your With”. During the semis he performed a nervous “Midnight Hour” that didn’t impress the judges, and could have gotten him kicked off. Lucky for David, the group was padded with some major fodder who were doomed to go first.
The following week, David came back swinging with “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”. Simon finally gave him his props. The following week, despite being outed as a gay stripper in the media, David’s strong vocals on Meatloaf/Celine Dion’s, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” carried him through to the Top 12.
If David keeps up the strong performances, he could give the rest of the guys a run for their money. Purchase David’s iTunes performances: “In the Midnight Hour”, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.
Michael Johns 29, Los Angeles/Atlanta – Auditioned in San Diego – Back when Michael Johns was just a rumor on a spoiler list, I checked out his MySpace page and was impressed by his bluesy rock vocals. His audition and Hollywood performances suggested that he’d be a real contender.
Unfortunately, Michael seems to have peaked already. His semi-final performances have been less than awe-inspiring. He seems to be going through the motions at this point. So far, he’s been out-sung and out-performed by both Jason Castro, and David Cook. David, is currently the rocker to beat in this competition.
Maddeningly, the judges have been critiquing him on his past-performances and potential, which, can’t be much of a motivator. TPTB still name-check Michael as a front-runner in interviews, but something tells me the viewers aren’t buying it. Unless he’s content with being a middle-packer, Michael has got to throw himself into this competition now that the show has moved to the big stage. Purchase Michael’s iTunes performances: “Light My Fire”, “Go Your Own Way”, “Don’t You Forget About Me”.
Amanda Overmyer 23, Mulberry, IN – Auditioned in Atlanta – So far, Amanda has only been able to impress when she’s singing blues rock. Her performances are hit-and-miss, because her vocal ability is limited. She’s great singing Janis (although she comes off a bit clone-like in these performances) or Jim Morrison. She was impressive Top 24 week, performing the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You” was right in her element. But she faltered when forced to carry a melody, crashing so spectacularly singing “Carry on my Wayward Son”, that Vote for the Worst made her their female pick afterward.
If Amanda is to stay in this game, she’s going to have to choose her songs very, very carefully. Another bad performance could finish her off completely. She’s unique to this competition and an entertaining performer. It would be a shame if she didn’t make it far enough to secure a spot on the tour. Purchase Amanda’s iTunes performances: “Baby Please Don’t Go”, ““Carry on My Wayward Son”, “I Hate Myself for Loving You”.
Ramiele Malubay 20, Miramar, FL – Auditioned in Miami – Cute as a bug in a rug is tiny Ramiele. So far, she has distinguished herself on big ballads, her big voice belying her size and squeak of a speaking voice. She also appears to be one of the more emotional contestants–she pretty much has a meltdown every elimination show.
The danger for Ramiele is that once she hits the big Idol stage, she could be completely swallowed up by it. She already seemed a little jittery in the smaller confines of the semi-finals studio. Hopefully she finds her mojo. Ramiele’s unique phrasing and tone could set her apart from this pack.
She’s a Filipino-American, and she’s the pride of that community. Good performances, plus their support could help take her far into this competition. Purchase Ramiele’s iTunes performances: “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “Against All Odds”.
Syesha Mercado 21, Miami, FL – Auditioned in Miami – There’s gotta be one every year–a big belter that is–and Syesha is it. She’s the type of Idol contestant who confuses “loud” with “good”, and unfortunately the judges–particularly Randy who loves him some diva screamers–enable the attitude. In Hollywood, she lost her voice, but managed to belt out a big number that wasn’t too hard on the eardrums to advance to the semis.
Her Top 16 performance of Whitney’s “Saving All My Love for You” was practically a note-by-note rip off, except not as good as Whitney. Ouch. I thought she fared better with a subtler rendition of “Me and Mrs. Jones” but the judges were all “We like you when you scream! Back in your box!” I’m not expecting anything out of the ordinary from Syesha in the Top 12. That could hurt her with the viewers who vote. Purchase Syesha’s iTunes performances: “Tobacco Road”, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, “Saving All My Love For You”.
Carly Smithson 24, Dublin Ireland/San Diego – Auditioned in San Diego – Set aside the judges hype and the attendant controversy around her Big! Record! Deal! that went wrong when she was a teenager–cut through all that crap–and there is no denying that Carly can sang. Too bad for Carly it’s obviously a boy’s year this season. However, I’m pretty confident she’ll be the highest placing female in this season’s race.
Carly needs to focus on song choice. And she needs to STFU about her failed deal. I know reporters are asking about it, but a simple “that was a tough time in my past” will do. Changing her excuse for failing every time she’s asked just looks bad. The record company imploded? Not really. Her record was released the day after 9/11? Uh, no it wasn’t. The internet, Carly. It will screw you every time. That’s where all the trouble started, no?
Brooke White 24, Van Nuys, CA/Mesa, AZ – Auditioned in Philadelphia – Brooke is the other folkie in this competition. She’s in the same boat as Jason. As long as she can keep bandzilla at bay, highlighting her delicate, subtle phrasing, she could do very well in the competition.
So far, she’s one of Simon’s favorite contestants. His praise the last two weeks helped her to sail right into the Top 12. I’m glad. It’s about time that the Jasons and Brookes of this world are given a spot on the Idol stage.
Her fate depends on whether she’s able to pick the right songs and arrange them the way she likes. So far the band and the vocal coaches have been very accommodating to Brooke’s style. It remains to be seen how long that lasts–I’ve heard stories about the band and vocal coaches suddenly making suggestions that run contrary to the artist’s instincts. Purchase Brooke’s iTunes performances: “Happy Together”, “You’re So Vain” and “Love is a Battlefield”.