Let me tell you, folks. Nothing says “We can fill your sports-loving void. Singing is cool!” like an audience “wave”. The gauntlet has been thrown. And we’re finally to the first episode of the “real” season! Since this is when some of you start watching, welcome. You may be briefly disoriented by SteTy’s girl-ish type blouses, J. Lo’s super red lipstick, and Randy’s newfound role as the “I’m the only one who actually tells it like it is” person. Take a few seconds. Breathe deeply in aaaand out. The feeling will pass once the first notes have been sung. Trust me.
And while you’re getting acclimated, can we just re-address the show’s opener? I’m cool with the music, okay? But haven’t we come pretty far in the world of graphics/animation? Can’t we do better than a Flight of the Navigator level of special effects? I. just. don’t. get. it.
So, there’s one smart cookie at the helm of this season. Is it Nigel Lythgoe? Will “So You Think You Can Dance” suffer as a result of his increased role, much like Alias suffered when J.J. Abrams jumped ship to work on Lost? Well, that’s a question for another time. And if I know Lost, questions for several parallel times. But to bring us back to the question at hand, why has it taken them 10 seasons to have these kids work with professional producers? The quality difference was palpable (which, quite honestly, is one of my least favorite words to say) and it gave us Joe/Jane Schmoe viewers a behind the scenes look at what the music biz looks like. To put it in Nigel’s native tongue…it is…in a word…brilliant!
“Any Man Of Mine” by Shania Twain
Oh, Lauren. I love you so. But this performance isn’t the best indicator as to why. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the outfit. The song was sung with an infusion of your personality, but not so much anything new to what Shania has already served up.
I would have been less distracted, also, if you had worn some heels or wedges. And a less girly outfit. The clothes and accessories needed to sell you as the firecracker that you are. Sass, above all, was important for that song in looks and delivery. And what you gave me was Tinkerbell. The dainty “thank you” at the end of song was super sweet and cute and all of that, but kind of a contrast to the spirit of what you were trying to do up there. So…there you have it. Cohesiveness, girl!
“With a Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cochran
Prior to last night’s performance, I had a phone conversation with my Dad that went something like this:
Dad: So, who’s your favorite?
Me: Definitely Casey.
Dad: Oh, yes, he’s the most well-rounded musician.
Me: And he’s so FUNNY.
Dad: And he looks a little like a leprechaun.
This is what I love about my Dad. He totally gets it.
Several things made me smile about Casey last night, not the least of which is the fact that he rocks his super white legs and that his childhood picture totally embodies his personality to this day.
Casey was the first of this season to descend on the staircase to stardom. Is that a sign? I’ll let you be the judge. And wait just a second…don’t they usually wait to pull out the choir back-up until the finale performances? I’m a little off-kilter here. And what I like about his performance is the utter skill with which he delivered it and the fact that some repetitive lyrics didn’t stop him from doing something different musically each time. There was dynamic and stylistic contrast, he was comfortable with himself on stage (little leprechaun that he is) and he has the audience, including me, in the palm of his hand.
It was during Casey’s critique (can it really be called a critique when all they do is rave about him?) that I noticed that Randy’s wardrobe gave the impression that he was headed to an organized sports event of some kind. And also, Randy? Stop trying to make “Season 10: the remix” happen. And SteTy? Stop trying to force the sound byte. It’ll come with time.
“When You Tell Me That You Love Me” by Diana Ross
First of all, my sincere apologies to Ms. Jones because I’ve been spelling her name wrong for as long as I’ve known her. That’s embarrassing. Like when you wave at someone who you think you know but upon closer inspection find that they are a total stranger? Yeah. Kind of like that. But in my defence, why the extra letters? It makes no sense.
I think she nailed her performance and I can appreciate the fact that her hair fills my whole TV screen. But with her song choice, she’s edging closer and closer to that made-for-TV movie. And I agree with J. Lo that she should sing a song we know.
Still, my wariness with Ashthon comes from getting to know her better via Entertainment Weekly‘s Q&A with her.
EW: “What sets you apart from the other contestants?”
AJ: “…Confidence, and I get that from up above. I’m just being real with you. It isn’t me. It’s Him.”
And then, ” …I don’t mind trying to use looks to get farther. It is a public vote. I’m not afraid to wear tight dress and high heels up to here.”
Hmm. Something doesn’t quite jive.
“Come Pick Me Up” – Ryan Adams
Also revealed in my conversation with mi padre is that my Dad really likes Paul. See what I mean? He gets it!
Paul’s pitch was pretty terrible in the opening notes. I don’t know if it’s because the key was too low for him? And I appreciated his singing much better when I didn’t look directly at my TV screen. You know, like the sun. And I appreciated his seizure-inspired moves more when evaluated separately from his singing. He’s a little weird. But has anyone ever met Steven Tyler? Yeah, weird seems to work in The Biz.
During Paul’s critique, SteTy appeared to be snacking. Gotta catch a meal when you can, I suppose.
And I kind of love that Paul’s very favorite performer/songwriter was someone who J. Lo had never heard of. And in a nutshell, that’s what I like about Paul. You never really know what to expect…except a gleaming white smile. You can bank on THAT.
Funniest moment of the night? Ryan’s impersonation of Paul’s dance moves. HILARIOUS. I wish I could excerpt that from the show, put it on my computer, and play it whenever I feel sad. That’s the kind of hilarity that we’re talking about, here.
“All By Myself” by Celine Dion
Dear, dear Pia. She knows how to pull off a ballad. And in the absence of James sporting his customary “tail”, Pia has taken up the cause. And I can be glad she’s sending messages like “practice hard!” to all those young and squishy impressionable minds watching the show.
I think she took a few original turns, though she stuck pretty close to Celine’s playbook. And just for the record, not just anyone can sing a Celine Dion song. Trust me. My shower walls are still in shock from my attempt at “My Heart Will Go On” in the 8th grade.
Randy showed his true colors in his feedback to Pia, telling her it was “Hot. Dope. Cool.” I think that was the first draft of Truly. Madly. Deeply.
Also, why am I not surprised that Steven Tyler knows that it’s International Womens’ Day?
Just one note for Pia. It’s not necessary to lean you head back to hit a high note. My choir director says so.
“Baby, I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney
Man. He’s tall.
James is playing for keeps. He picked a great song, showed huge vocal range, and capped it off with some genuine emotion. Plus, his falsetto is a wicked cool weapon in his arsenal! This pulled-back performance was a stroke of brilliance. And I loved that it went somewhere…it built to the end. Which was amazing.
I’m going to say something now that may shock you: James’ performance was my favorite of the night. “But Amy,” you might say, “I thought Casey was your favorite!” And he is. But James is now my SECOND favorite in the competition and my FIRST favorite of the night. See what happens when you stop thinking that a “tail” is cool, James?
“Blue” LeeAnn Rhimes
Okay. I’m sorry to say that the mumble is back. Sure, the overall sound of the song was cool. But she completely swallowed her lyrics to make that happen and that’s not cool. I mean, for real. I will say that I still like her tone and I think her performance sounded effortless.
But she almost lost me when she tried to talk back at Randy during his critique of her performance. Don’t talk back. Yakkity. Yak.
“I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly
Three words for you: Whoa. Flat top.
I do love Mr. Lusk’s personality. But drawing inspiration from Space Jam? Really?
The best line of the night: “Breathing is very important.” There’s a reason why these producers are professionals.
I understand that Jacob has a powerful voice. But in this performance, his pitch went in and out like my electricity during a thunderstorm. And his interpretation for me was a little lackluster. But I’ll give this to him…he didn’t get swallowed up in the performance! You knew he was the lead and he had no problem projecting that.
Second choir of the night! Well, blow me down.
Can I just take a moment to speak directly to SteTy and J. Lo? Feel free to take a coffee break or something.
Guys. Take a second and pull out your business card. Does your title on there say “American Idol Judge”? Okay, then. It’s YOUR JOB to judge these kids. How you judge them is your decision. But you have to give them constructive feedback of some kind or you aren’t HELPING THEM. And don’t you want to help them? I thought so.
“Smile” Michael Jackson/Charlie Chaplain
The beginning of this song was very pleasant. The ending part of the song was very upbeat and fun. The transition, though? Yeah, that was weird. She needed some time to kind of settle into the beat and heaven knows that 1 minute and 40 second doesn’t leave a person a lot of time for “settling”. But Randy’s right. She’s kind of like Adele…and that’s what I like about her.
And I know she’s young, but she has taken English class, right? “A lot more better”? Not really appropriate.
Her exit “interview” left her in tears because of the judges mixed reviews. Oh, Thia. Never admit defeat! Take a page out of the playbook from contestants past and present. The line is “Well, I had fun!” Thia’s EW interview shed some light on her, as well.
EW: “What do you need to improve to make it all the way through the competition?”
TM: ” I am pretty hard on myself. Before every performance, I get really nervous and I need to work on confidence. I think part of the key to staying in the competition is getting people to like you and believe in you and if you show that you don’t believe in yourself 100 percent that can slip into the performance.”
Yep. I concur. (“I should have just concurred!”)
“Lately” by Stevie Wonder
Stefano really won me over with his performance from last week. To put it more plainly, he blew me away. This performance was a lot different, musically, than last week. Parts were choppy and weird. The higher stop time notes were the best part of the performance. But still, I think he did something different with it and made it suit who he is.
Notes I’d give to Stefano?
- He doesn’t connect with the camera very well when he keeps his eyes closed for the majority of the performance. And the camera is, in essence, his portal to “America’. Like in Clue.
- The intro needed a lighter touch. He powered through it with a lot of vibrato and I think it would have been more powerful softer and with less.
“I Could Fall in Love” by Selena
I kind of don’t know where to start here. Compared to the other contestants in the top 13, she’s a weak performer. She had pitch problems and didn’t do much to the song to make it mesh with her own style. I’m starting to think she doesn’t really have one…except to sometimes sing in Spanish. That’s all well and good, but we need a little more “oomph”.
Her performance was bor. ring. Her versions of the songs she chooses are just so old-fashioned sounding. I wonder if we’ll be treated to her eyelashes=hummingbird move each week. Time will tell.
“The River” by Garth Brooks
There’s no real reason why I should like Scotty. The two things he loves baseball and country music with not a hint of pop in sight? Those are two things I’d avoid like the plague. But, after watching his performance, I can say that he does what he does very well. Sure, the song was right up his alley and didn’t push him at all. And I wish the A Capella section was stronger. But, still really good.
Though I never really like his song choices, I am entertained by his ever-moving eyebrows and his tilt-y head movements. It makes me want to own a Scotty bobble-head figurine. Anyone else?
“Umbrella” by Rihanna
Call me crazy and give me dreadlocks, but I’ve never heard anyone say that they respected and admired Rihanna. It just seemed a little off to hear that sentence come out of Naima’s mouth. And though I am not Naima’s biggest fans (if I have to hear that she designs clothes ONE MORE TIME, so help me…) I found myself admiring her committment to her song choice combined with dancing to give us a real performance. She went for it. And I commend her.
I actually didn’t hate it! She did have pitch problems, but that version of the song was SO FAST. Even faster than the original! There was no room for breath and when you combine that with the dancing? After all, there’s a reason that Usher can’t sing and dance at the same time.
So, let’s come back to the outro “interviews” that most of the contestants gave after their performances. After all, these interviews revealed SO MUCH about our Top 13. (not.):
Lauren: “[America] liked it or they didn’t. I don’t know.”
Casey: “I’m happy. I’m so excited.”
Paul: “If you like me, you’ll like the song.”
Pia: Well, we basically eavesdropped on Pia’s message to her dad, didn’t we?
James: “I’ve made it this far, so to me, I’ve already won.”
Jacob: “I just gave it everything I got.”
Stefano: “I hope America enjoyed the performance.”
Thia: “I’m just hoping America can give me another chance.”
Scotty: “Trying to bring a little different Scotty. And I hope I did.”
Anndd, we’re done! That show went FAST. And Ryan was in fine form, the perfect emcee to our evening.
Oh, and if you want to friend one of our Top 13 on Facebook or Twitter, you totally can now. Isn’t that awesome? Click here to connect with your favorite.
And if you want to read the rest of EW’s interviews with the Top 13, click here.
My work here is done.