Tuesday, March 3, 2009

episode 8-16 (March 3): Top 36 - group 3 performance

No need for formalities; this show is long enough. Every time the bumper comes up to lead into the show itself, and the voiceover says "Get ready for two all-new hours of American Idol!", I really do feel the need to brace myself.

Von Smith does his best with Marvin Gaye's "You're All I Need To Get By" The opening reminds me of George Michael singing the opening of "Father Figure", in the sense of getting really breathy in the bottom of his range. The comparison falls apart beyond that, though, as his struggling on the opening verse was uncomfortable. He hits some killer high notes in the choruses, including some solid falsetto parts, with less "shouting" that we saw in Hollywood. Kara thinks he's "coming into his own," but I'm not convinced there's a ton to come into beyond this. That said, he really put his all into this, and I can't begrudge him his performance, which was electrifying at key moments. He probably won't go far compared to others, but he can be proud. Paula says off-the-cuff that he was pitch-perfect, which is not quite right either, but it was surprisingly solid. (Simon draws a comparison to Clay Aiken, although Rick Astley came to mind for me.)

Taylor Vaifanua does the breathiest version of Alicia Keys' "If I Can't Have You" I've ever heard, and by "breathy", I mean that she was breathing after every word. Also, why is she being put in the position of being so low in her range at the beginning? Rickey? (I do like the reharms that band is doing.) Ultimately a very forgettable performance.

I'm going to call Alex Wagner-Trugman "Chris Griffin". Why? Because he's "soooooooo awkwarrrrd." Or maybe Quagmire; "allllrighhhht." "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" starts way to low for hi, and the opening verse is very unsteady at the outset, exacerbated by the ridiculous growling that doesn't sound good to anyone but himself. Then it starts to grow! And then it collapses. What a rollercoaster this verse is! He's trying so heard, he sounds like he's actually sick. All of this stylizing is contrary to what endeared him to the judges in the first place. Rule no. 3!

3) Chose a song that is good for you.

He's so awkward it hurts. It's not a dig on him personally, but he's... so awkward. (Paula didn't really even critique him; she's come down from the lucidity she'd shown in the cattle-call episodes.)

Rickey Minor: Was that modulation necessary? Could you smooth out the groove of the song any more? Seriously? (Well, at least Alex ended up in the right key.)

Arianna Afsar has the cojones to take on ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All". It sound like she's in a decent place in her range, and then... the chorus is suprisingly weak. Now, the second chorus is absolutely killer, but she's didn't so enough of the strong material to justify moving on. Not terrible across the board as Simon insisted, but why isn't the whole song this good. Arianna's own note that she was trying to contemporize this song, after an Anne-Murray-esque performance straight out of the late '70s, indicates a lack of reflection on her part that's going to bite her back if she doesn't get guidance from the producers.

Ju'not Joyner reprises his ballad rendition of "Hey There Delilah", which I loved during Hollywood Week. He's got great control in the lower part of his range. "World" high note was a cop-out. (Rickey: thank you for _not_ modulating. That was a close one.) Interestingly, I was more interested in the arrangement than the performance. Unfortunately, his leather jacket and jeans comes across as cheap. Is it a size to large? When they did the sweeping camera shot, it was like watching the Michelin Man.

Kristen McNamara brings us a cheese-drenched uptempo "Give Me One Reason". (Ricky Minor piles on more cheese, with pointless modulations and... oh God, that awful brass patch.) She's just holding onto the mic for dear life at the beginning, but really comes out of her shell by the end. Hello, screaming head voice! Most of the judges complimented her on her range but questioned the song choice, and I agree.

Emo Boy is back! Nathaniel Marshall looks like Billy Idol meets Boy George meets a rare species of bird. What we've learned from previous auditions is that he's a jerk-ass who also happens to have a killer high baritone. This whole thing is so mid-'80s, from the arrangements to his vocal style to his outfit, and his tone reminds me of a high-school boy auditioning for a school musical in a voice that he thinks is appropriate, which is a shame consider that we've heard him sing the hell out of things. There's definitely raw talent there; if he gets through to the Top 12, millions of teenaged theater geeks will have reason to hope. (How annoying is the extra exposure he's getting afterward?)

Idol's resident bullet-dodger Felicia Barton presents the second(!) Alicia Keys song of the night, "No One". I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago, and I still can't figure out why it was a hit. And then Felicia hits this out of the park. I think I like Felicia's performance better than Keys', her glitch in the first chorus notwithstanding. Holy crap is she lucky she got back on the show; she's better than most of the folks we've seen.

Scott MacIntrye chooses "Mandolin Rain", and it's an awful awful awful choice for him. His voice in this bottom part of this range isn't under as much control as we'd seen previously, like when he nailed "And So It Goes" in the cattle-call round with that amazing breathy tone. Higher up it's strong, but it all seems... so... earnest. He doesn't have an inherently powerful belt voice. Alas, he's moving in ways suggesting that no one's advising him on how he looks; his movements remind me of a high-schooler trying to do what he thinks an entertainer would, and failing at it. He needs to stick to ballads that play to his strengths. Rule No. 3 truly rules the live rounds.

It must be said, the judges (and producer, I presume) are appearing to give McIntrye a lot of leeway where physical presence is concerned. It would be a shame if continued on in the competition and continued on with a sympathy vote, as opposed for a strong performance.

Kendall Beard squeals her way through "This One's For The Girls". She's got serious power, but she completely loses control on moving passages. Looking like Kristen Chenowith but singing with poor intonation won't get you far in this competition. I'm with Simon, in that halfway through it I really was wondering when it would end; it felt like one level all the way through.

Jorge Nuñez has the cojones to sing "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". And lo and behold, he's got serious power. This could have been a cheesefest, but he nailed it, Puerto-Rican accent and all. Wow. This guy was portrayed in earlier rounds as the clown, but he's suddenly one to watch. (I could have lived without the the gratuitous split screen. Is the Fox or Fox News?)

Lil Rounds absolutely brings the house down with Mary J. Blige's “Be Without You”. She's got a strong presence and just takes over this song from the get-go. (It doesn't hurt that it's a R&B song with juicy chord changes.) Wow, does she own the camera. That was the most powerful performance we've seen in the Top 36 so far, perhaps even surpassing Danny Gokey. Randy puts it best: swagger, like she owns the place. Which she does.

I'm rooting for for Lil, Felicia and Jorge to make it through tomorrow night. (Alas, I'm never home in time to vote, so I'll never be able to put my 10¢-per-message where my mouth is.)

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