Tuesday, January 27, 2009

American Idol, episode 8-5 (Jan. 27): Jacksonville cattle-call

Welcome to Jacksonville, the wet T-shirt contest capital of the world. I loved the Randy-on-bass-with-Journey sequence; high-top fade city!

[Fox TV's recap here.]

Curly-haired Joshua Ulloa, 22, comes in with a ton of energy. On "Let's Get It On", I love this guy's voice, even though it's bleaty like a sheep's up on top. He does rely on gimmicks, although not out-there kind of gimmicks we're used to seeing from the usual freak-show. I'm happy to see him advance, but I wonder if he'll be able to hold his own in Hollywood.

Sharon Wilbur, 25, sings "Superstar" in an in-tune but hoarse voice, travelling into Britney Spears vowel territory, particularly on the "maybe" and "baby, baby, baby" part. Kara totally calls her on that, too! She's a one-trick-pony, vocally speaking, and don't she's worthy of advancing. I'm really surprised that Simon and Randy immediately say yes, particularly expressing how much they like her voice, and after some joking around, Kara and Paula say yes as well. Something that happened off-air must've convinced them to advance her, because better performers have been cut in this round. Weird.

College student Dana Mareno, 24, sings Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire" by way of a bad Patti LaBelle imitation. The only person who should be doing Patti LaBelle's voice is Patti LaBelle; it's that simple. She may very well have a good voice, but we'll never know because she blew her moment on the national stage with her dog-torturing high notes. What's rule no. 3 of auditioning again?

3) Chose a song that is good for you.

Maybe she's a killer alto? Again, we'll never know.

High-schooler Kaneswa Finnie, 16, gamely attempts "Caught Up in the Rapture". Alas, not only does she a limited range, but she's singing from the "front," almost through her nose. Sounds like she's crying. The fact that she's in three keys simultaneously doesn't help matters. (I love the shot of Paula's reaction when Kaneswa attempts the climb into the chorus; this song was contemporary with "Straight Up" in 1987, if I recall correctly.) Interesting that the judges asked for her protective mom to come in; it's like an intervention, but for the enabler.

Beauty queen Julissa "Candidata" Veloz, 19, sings a passionate but overwrought "I Am Nothing". She's got serious pitch issues, and she's trying so hard to be Whitney Houston she's stylizing like mad. "colorrrrrrs for youuuuuuuu" was an unfortunate touch. It was kind of Emo Phillips-like with the abrupt changes in tone, or perhaps Gary Cole in Office Space; I was half-expecting her to tell me she was going to have to go ahead and ask me to come in on Saturday, okay?, thanks. (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on the belted notes, because Fox tends to turn up the gain on their mics whenever they suspect something embarrassing is going to happen.) Again, for reasons I can't figure out, she gets through. I'm sure she'll get destroyed in Hollywood.

The producers do a great job of setting up Darren Darnell, 28, for failure. Truly brilliant. As it is, anyone whose emotions turn on a dime like this isn't fit for most forms of employment. "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye" is obviously a producers' choice, as it dovetails with the subplot at Darren's expense. I love the look on Simon's face as Darren struggles to get the first note out, and then on Randy's as Darren pushes out the high notes with abandon . Let's introduce rule no. 4 of auditioning then, shall we?

4) A crisis on your part does not constitute sympathy on an auditioners' part. Obviously this is a more circus-like atmosphere than most auditions, but in most audition situations (collegiate a-cappella, community theater, Broadway), the auditioners see anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people, and dammit, they just want to hear your song, not your life story.

Naomi Sykes, 25, compares herself to Mariah Carey, and that "everyone tells me I'm great." Is this a bad sign? If said comparer narrowly defines "Mariah Carey" as "high notes," and said everyone is her family, then yes, it's a bad sign. Even worse if the high notes aren't there anyway. "Lovin' You" is of course famed for its squealing high notes, which Naomi kind of has, but then there's the matter of, oh, the rest of the song that is not the part with the squealing high notes. Being self-delusional doesn't help, but let the sane amongst us remember rule no 1 of auditioning:

1) Focus on what you're there to do, and don't distract yourself with stupid crap.

Like Tuan Nguyen, she no doubt thought she "had" the judges. Post-audition, she said "I don't know what I did wrong; I mean, I hit my high note and everything." Wow, one note. In an entire song.

High-schooler Jasmine Murray, 16, starts out with a strong R&B alto belt on Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry", but by the end of the verse she's gotten extremely nasal, and her flips turned into squeaks. I agree with her advancement, but only because she obviously has raw talent. She needs to learn to dial down the pushing if she want to last both through Hollywood and a song in general.

College physics major George Ramirez, 18, is set up for failure with one of the most awkward interview sequences ever. (He says "I'm not so bad," which doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement for himself. On "Walking On Sunshine", he has same eye-bugging-out issue as Alex Wagner-Trugman in the Phoenix auditions (Ep. 8-3). He truly reduces the song into its basic parts. Very V-to-I, or maybe like he was singing a Schenkerian analysis of the song. Everything stays on the same pitch level, which of course is generally a problem in every song except "One Note Samba".

Waitress and nanny Anne Marie Boskovich, 22, indulges in some Kara-worship, and sings better off-the-cuff then most sing prepared. On-air we only hear this off-the-cuff material, but I assume there was more, as the judges begin talking as though they've heard quite a bit of her, because they start referring to a lack of confidence. The judges challenge her to go back out into wherever it is they are, and, um, change into a different, more confident person. Huh? Now, this presents an interesting incongruity to those wishing to use Idol to teach the ins-and-out of auditioning. If Anne Marie lacked self-confidence, she wouldn't have showed up to sing in front of four celebrities and wow them without even trying. Yet they ask her to go out and come back with enough confidence to wow them. Quite the paradox. But off she runs, because some producer needed to create a story line, I guess.

Administrator T.K. Hash, 23, sings "Imagine" a bit too ad-libby, and a bit too much derivative of David Archuleta (particularly on the chorus). Not that I don't admire Archuleta's now legendary performance of this song (from season 7), but T.K. seems capable of more than imitation. Randy immediately pounces on that: "...it's okay to sing a great melody!" He advances, and he's got a shot. (Anyone know what most of his performance is based on?)

Michael Perrelli is previewed with a seaside snippet of "Hey There Delilah" that sounds suspiciously like a certain musical sequence from Family Guy. His voice was pushing in the clip, and that was in his supposed element. I see disaster on the horizon. Yep, there it is. Even after putting his guitar down, is he seriously wearing a backpack to an audition? Really? No one could hold it for him? He couldn't check it anywhere?

He gets through Third Eye Blind's "Jumper" with some confidence, although it sounds a bit, um, collegiate a-cappella. He also adds a mysterious British accent on the way; this might be his gimmick that, collegiate a-cappella-style, he thinks makes him sound better, when in fact it makes him sound like he's a collegiate a-cappella guy who takes shortcuts. Kara suggests that he might "shine" more on his guitar, but that would just bring him back to the Family Guy clip. Outside the room, Ryan asks his mom "What does Michael do?" She replies "This is it. This is it, all day long, all day long." Apparently he does it alone, because someone should've pointed out the fake accent by now. Amidst the critiquing from the judges to the effect that he needs to work at it a little long, he says "I just figured that if I just started and you guys got me while I'm young, then I could..." He thinks he's at the end of a journey that leads to this show. Unless you're colossally talented from the get-go, you need to WORK AT IT. (And yes, I freely admit that I was not colossally talented from the get-go, and am still not; I had to work up to my level of mediocrity.) He plaintively says outside, eyes filled with tears: "They say I'm not good enough; I don't want to be arrogant, but I know I am... I'm going to make it, I promise." If performing is all you have, then yes, by default, you're going to make it, or I guess die trying.

Anne-Marie returns, and powers through "Bubbly". It's quite uncanny how effortlessly she sings. If she develops some more charisma in Hollywood, she's through to the live rounds. I call that here. [Insert future backpedalling here.]

Montage of "Walkin' on Sunshine". Scary stuff.

Next: Salt Lake City gone wild.

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