Idol Gives Back – The Prelude

It’s gray and dreary outside today, but the clouds of my heart have lifted a bit in light of the performances last night. I’m going to do my best to be more positive about this season of American Idol. No one likes a sour puss, right? Let’s be honest, I can probably curb the rants a bit. I think by now we all know where I stand. Don’t worry, though. This new-found Pollyanna attitude won’t keep me from pitting American Idol contestants in “death matches” this week. After all, it’s all fun and games until someone gets whacked with a padded stick!

Alicia Keys as mentor. The Idoloonies all gathered together around a big piano to meet her and Big Mike demonstrated again that he can lift a person. (Psst! Big Mike? Sometimes people need their personal space. Picking people up is not a standard greeting. Why don’t you stick to a handshake, mkay?) The producers took this moment to feed Crystal a staged question to ask Ms. Keys (“How happy are you to be a part of Idol Gives Back?”) And off we went.

Casey James – “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac

 

Alicia’s Advice- “Give it a lot of personality so people don’t dismiss it as a song they like without liking YOU.” Solid advice in my way of thinking. Note that she did NOT say “Plaster a smile on your face as if your life depends on it and if all else fails, play the guitar really well.”

Seriously! Casey is like the energizer bunny of smiling. I find it so hard to believe him as a true rock performer with that perma-smile glued on his noggin. I do have to say (again) that his major skills on the guitar are awesome to watch, but since we’re supposed to focused on a SINGING competition, I think Casey may have been misdirected. Someone put this guy on Guitar Idol!  All in all, I found that the performance was well-sung, but needed a little bit of a build to something more dramatic than he delivered. Ellen’s right – “It wasn’t great. And you need to be great.”

The judges/the mentors…both groups have urged these contestants to connect with the song, connect with the audience, be themselves, make the song their own. I think “give it more” might be a a foreign concept to most of these contestants. Especially looking at Casey’s reaction.

Lee Dewyse – “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel

Alicia’s Advice: “People have to feel like you’re that boxer.”

Ryan took his interview time to inquire after Andrew Garcia. I’m sure that the producers wanted that question asked to keep Andrew Garcia fans (if there are any left) enraged and eager for the summer tour. But I’m pretty sure Ryan used the question to feel out the BFF situation. Good ‘ole Ry-Ry, though. As Lee waxed eloquent on why this song, in particular, inspired him, Ryan kept it real by ending the interview with “Let’s hope it inspires some votes.”

Have you ever visited a relative or friend that lived out in the country and walked up the gravel driveway admiring the wide open spaces and beauty of the greater outdoors, only to return home and find some unwanted gravel from your amazing experience stuck in your shoe? (Sorry for the run on sentence. I couldn’t seem to help myself.) Anyway, that’s kind of how I feel about Lee’s voice. Sometimes there’s a little bit of gravel where it’s not needed. And I was a little distracted by the spit/saliva situation. Anyone else?

That said, I loved Lee’s performance and thought it was the second best of the night. I cannot li-li-li-li-li. Kara was right – he connected to the song  and was even tearing up a bit at the end which I found very cute. He plays the vulnerable tough guy role well and America loves that crap. Heck, I love that crap!

I cannot for the life of me figure out what Randy meant by this year being “different because it’s about artists”. Maybe he’s like Kara and he thinks that playing the guitar=artist.

Tim Urban – “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls

 

Alicia’s Advice: “It could very well be [Tim’s] own song.” I’m not exactly sure if that’s a diss toward the Goo Goo Dolls or not.

I will say that the AI vocal coach is really earning his money with Tim Urban. While he is definitely still the weakest performer on the stage each week, he’s a little more believable each and every week and his pitch is not nearly the rollercoaster ride that it was at the beginning. In this performance, his tone is not…how shall we say… perfect. But I have to give him a little credit, ’cause that song is a pretty hard song to sing. I thought his phrasing was better, and that the judges were right – he’s improving each week.

Aaron Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly

Alicia: “To some, this song could be overkill…he has a challenge on his hands.” So true – when a song is that well known, if you’re not going to do something really unique with it you might as well resign yourself to the karaoke comments and comparisons.

Ryan set the poor kid up for failure by revealing that A. Kelly’s been singing this song since the tender young age of 5. By my count, Aaron’s had about 11 years to perfect this song and it should be a phenomenal performance. It wasn’t. His voice was great and I liked his performance. And while he got out from beyond the microphone, he didn’t do much of anything on stage, even when he was at the height of the song. I disagree with Simon — I would have probably liked it better on the radio ’cause his stage presence freaks me out.

[Simon/Ryan switch and make us realize why they’re perfect in their specific roles. But still, Simon’s dry personality and less than enthusiastic interjections from Ryan’s teleprompted intro…that was kind of funny.]

Siobhan Magnus- “When You Believe” by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston

 

Alicia’s Musings- “This song is no easy feat. I’m very impressed with her voice.”

Tonight, Siobhan was wearing one of her better ensembles. I kind of liked the whimsical approach…like Snow White meets Anthropologie.

Oh, Siobhan. Why must you persist in nasally performances? The first part of the song felt a little overproduced or overdone…like when you rework the pie crust again and again and end up having to make a cobbler instead.  The second part of the song was much better and showcased her talent (which she has a lot of…it’s just undirected). The judges gave their feedback and Siobhan took it upon herself to tell them that she didn’t want to avoid the song just because of who sang it. My response? Yeah, but you can’t be ignorant of the fact that every time you sing a song you’re being compared to the original. And also? I don’t like that it’s becoming a regular thing that she talks back to the judges. It takes forever and I end up feeling more and more awkward. I think the judges and audience nod and applaud only to stop the madness, because usually what she says doesn’t make a lick of sense.  

Michael Lynche – “Hero” by Nickelback from the Spiderman Soundtrack

Alicia’s Advice: “He needs to take people on a ride.” I hear Magic Mountain is close by!

So. Ryan’s interview revealed that Big Mike has a strategy that he’s been honing for years in hope of making American Idol. He has a playbook of about 200 songs that he thinks would be good choices for him to sing on the show. Gag. And get over yourself!

I didn’t hate Big Mike’s performance, but I was a little confused about how they mixed it. His voice (and it’s a big ‘un) almost got drowned out by the accompanying music. I like the song a lot and Big Mike’s version is good, but something fell a little short. I think he didn’t know how to be more “hard core” so he just kind of bounced up and down behind the mike stand. He also did some big sweeping gestures with his arms at times and probably shouldn’t have because doing so revealed some perspiration that I could have gone without seeing.

Crystal Bowersox – “People Get Ready” by Mayfield and the Impressions

Alicia’s Musings: Crystal is her favorite. “People are going to love it.”

I’m stoked that Crystal did the performance without an instrument. The result was that it made me focus on the vocal a lot more, which was stellar. She really commands every performance and puts it under her spell.  I do think that the dress seemed like a little too much especially in contrast with the dreads. But the performance? Amazing. It was the right choice to sing the intro a cappella and she captured my heart (and my tear ducts) when she got choked up at the end. She definitely had the best performance of the night. Simon was right on about us needing to see her emotional. And the funny moment when Ryan revealed that his handkerchief square was actually taped into place as he handed it to the weepy Crystal? Priceless. 

Now for the Death Match Ups. I’m not good at math, but I can tell you that 7 is not an even number. We’ll give Crystal a place in the safety of the imaginary bleachers since she did such a great job this week.

DING! Round One:

Case-mister vs. Lee-dawg

Both gentlemen have been playing the rocker persona. Sure, Casey can go more blusey, but really he hasn’t done much of anything to prove that he’s improving to his full potential. Instead, he’s convinced me that he’d be a perfect front man for a band instead of a stand alone artist. I think he really could go further, but for some reason it feels as if he’s just kinda stagnant.

I think the fact that Lee has been improving throughout these weeks, showing his personality (which happens to include a touch of humility) and vocally climbing up staircase of stardom makes him the clear winner of this match up. But if it were a battle of guitarists? Casey’d win hands down.

DING! Round Two:

Siobhan-bies vs. Big Mike

Both of these Idoloonies have big voices but haven’t been able to break through with spot-on performances week in and week out. “House of the Rising Sun” was, in my opinion, Siobhan’s best performance and that was clear back before she even made the top 12. “Paint It Black” might have topped it, but, again, that was week 1. She really needs to choose the perfect song, do something quirky and unique to put her stamp on it and really focus her voice without being scream-y or nasally. If she can do that, I do think she has a shot at a top 3 finish.

Big Mike seems to lack a clear identity in the musical world. He seems a little old-fashioned, a little R&B and a little arrogant. I think he needs to take each week to define who he is (besides being a father) and stop picking people up. I mean it. I do think his strongest performance was “I Am Ready For Love”, but Big Mike hasn’t ever really struggled with not pulling off a performance vocally. It’s just all the other stuff that cloud his path to the Idol crown.

Siobhan pulls out this win for the week.

DING! Round Three:

A. Kelly vs. Urban Outfitter

Both of these young dears are staking their claim to the tween vote, but their “aw-shucks” leanings also have granted them a portal into the adult vote as well. If it were a battle of hair, I think Tim might have the edge. But since it’s a singing competition, I think Aaron has the win in this match up. He’s got the stronger voice and seems like more of the “cross-over” candidate. Tim may remain a while longer and knock out some more deserving folks, but in the end he’s not going to win the thing. At least that’s the hope I’m clinging to.

I think that’s all I’ve got! Haddock Out.

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