Historically, the first performance night of any new Idol season has been a little rough. All the hype was about the talent-heavy Group 1 that would supposedly produce Idol‘s best opening night. I mean, Danny Gokey and Anoop Desai in the same group? How could it go wrong?
Well, somehow, it did. Perhaps it was just the excessive amount of hype, but the brave song choices had something to do with it. No, scratch brave. More like… foolish. Supposedly it was songs from the Billboard charts since they began, but I’m just a bit skeptical. There must have been clearance issues again, because the only alternative was everyone drinking out of Paula’s cup.
A Little Less Conversation from Jackie Tohn? Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, a song which has never even been average in the past? Both Danny and Anoop picking songs originally by female singers? Heck, did any of the choices make sense? I’m not quite sure.
Still, in this giant puddle of.. oddity, there were a few good performances. There weren’t any I’d call great, but it takes a lot for me to call something that.
Co-winner of the night: Danny Gokey. Given all the hype, promotion, and publicity he had received, anything else other than “winning” the night would have been a loss for him. He played the widower card with the song choice, wittingly or not, and he has to be careful that doesn’t wear out its welcome with viewers. We don’t need a reminder of that each and every week.
The real trouble, though, is that I don’t think Gokey put his own individual mark on Hero. To use the tired language of the judges, he didn’t “make it his own”. It may not be completely fair to ask that right out of the gate, but that’s how things go. On the upside, his vocals were excellent and he can communicate the song’s emotion well. He should be safe to the top 12.
Best of the girls. and co-winner with Danny, was Alexis Grace. Her pick of I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) will please half of the audience… and piss off the other half. It is a big song, and doing Aretha Franklin tends to be a feast-or-famine situation. The ones who do well do very well, the ones who do poorly do very poorly. Grace was generally in the former; sometimes the song was too big for her, but generally it was just right. More importantly, she was able to put her own trademark on the song – something that was rare tonight.
Ricky Braddy is in interesting territory. On vocals alone, he was the best of the night. However, there is a world of difference between a good vocalist and a good singer. A good singer not only has to hit the notes, they also have to be able to tell the “story” of the song. I’m very unsure if Braddy was able to do that. If he had been able to do that, we’d put him higher up, but as it is… he’s the Best of the Rest, but just that.
After all the diva antics she’s pulled during the auditions and Hollywood week, it figures Tatiana Del Toro would pick a song by as big a diva as they get, Whitney Houston. It was actually a lot better than we thought it would be, but that’s not saying much. Was it over the top? Yes, but with Whitney it sort of fits. Overall, it was actually above average – so the drama queen can actually sing, which will be a surprise to quite a few people.
I happen to like the original of Angel of Mine, so I was expecting a great performance from Anoop Desai. Did he deliver? No, not really. It’s not that it was a bad vocal – it was above average to good – but overall, the whole thing left me bored. Anoop is likable, yes, but he really has a charisma deficit. Like Braddy, he has to elevate himself beyond being a vocalist to being an artist.
Anne Marie Boskovich was in an almost identical situation as well – made worse by picking Aretha Franklin, the same artist Grace had excelled at earlier in the night. Aretha wasn’t too big for Grace, but it was for Boskovich.
The rest of the field rapidly went downhill. Brent Kieth’s Hicktown, Jackie Tohn’s A Little Less Conversation, and Michael Sarver’s I Don’t Want To Be were all songs that could elicit a good reaction from people in the studio, but not much for people at home. These are not songs you should choose in the group format, where only the very best will end up advancing.
Keith’s vocals were just okay, at best, but that was better than Tohn’s – who was all over the place. As for Sarver, he put himself in a classic no-win position: not only did he not impress with his vocals, he invited comparisons to Bo Bice and Elliott Yamin in the process. Oops.
It wouldn’t be a semifinal episode without a train wreck – and tonight, we got three. Oh boy. To be fair, Stephen Fowler’s version of Rock With You wasn’t actually bad, it was just boring. It wouldn’t be out of place playing in an elevator. What we did hear of Fowler vocally wasn’t actually bad, but he did himself no favors with his song choice.
There were two completely legitimate train wrecks, however. Casey Carlson picked a song, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, which has never been magic for anyone who’s sung it. Rarely has a song been done so poorly so frequently on Idol. Maybe Carlson should get together with Bikini Girl and the disqualified Joanna Pacitti and arrange a “Girls of AI Season 8” photo shoot with Maxim. It’s not like it would be a completely new thing for any of them.
Worst of all, however, was Stevie Wright. I appreciate the attempt to use current material, but contestants have to consider whether it would suit them in the first place. You Belong With Me didn’t suit Wright. What singing we did see from Wright tended to be flat, at best – but how much of that was because it was a poor fit for her is unclear. What is sure is that the song choice was just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This was probably a case of Wright liking the song personally, and thinking it’s a good song choice.
A lot of other Idol pundits are taking aim at this episode, but not us. This isn’t an unusual semifinal result – around two good performances, another two that are above average, two more that are serviceable, and half of the field ranging from “inappropriate” to “call FEMA”. A lot of this flak is just overreaction to everyone thinking this was a loaded group – which, it turned out, it isn’t.
The Idol Guy picks
So who is advancing from this group? The top guy and top girl are easy to pick: both Danny Gokey and Alexis Grace will pick up their slots without much argument. It’s the third slot where things get interesting.
The three that have a real shot of getting the third spot are Anoop Desai, Tatiana Del Toro, and Ricky Braddy. Desai and Del Toro benefit from a lot of early screen time – and in the latter’s case, low expectations that were significantly exceeded. Braddy, meanwhile, made a case for himself strictly on his vocals.
Our pick is… wait for it… Del Toro to advance. Contrary to what Vote for the Worst would have you believe, it’s not a “tough battle” to get her to the finals. She made a decent case for herself based strictly on vocals, and any added help the early screen time gave her is an advantage.
What about Desai – didn’t he sing well, too? Yes, but unlike Del Toro he was expected to do so. I’m not convinced he “won over” new converts with his song. If there are high expectations on someone and they don’t deliver, problems might result.
As for Braddy, he was good, but he needed to top the night to clearly establish himself in people’s minds. His lack of airtime will hurt him, since you can’t build a rabid powervoting fanbase in just one show.
What about the wildcard? Let’s assume the producers will keep things roughly equal, and have people from each group in the wildcard, for a total of 12. Whoever doesn’t make it right away out of the Del Toro/Desai/Braddy group is all but assured of a slot themselves. That leaves two more openings.
The wise money would be on Ann Marie Boskovich and Michael Sarver. Boskovich is good enough to get there on her own merits, and they’ve spent an awful of time on her in the past weeks to make me think the Idol PTB won’t bail on her so quickly. Simon was unusually nice towards Sarver, and that leads me to believe they want him to be in the wildcard round, at least. He would be ideal material to “round out” the top 12 – both in terms of backstory and overall image.
More from us tomorrow after the results, including: why Alexis Grace may be good, but don’t put the “frontrunner” or “dark horse” tags on her.