Welcome back, American Idol fans. Once again, we’re ready to commit ourselves to some of the most frustrating hours in the history of reality television, in the hope that we find some good music out of it at the end. Shockingly, it’s generally not as fruitless as one would think.
In the face of increased competition from The Voice, so far, Idol has done… well, nothing fundamental, really. That wasn’t such a bad decision, so long as Idol brought in good talent. So, did they?
Well, to be perfectly frank, early signs are not encouraging. Based on what was known about the top
24 25 going into this week’s shows, I thought the girls were stronger. This week did nothing to change my mind about that – although the final verdict really depends on how the girls do later tonight. It was not a “hot” night, Randy: the only thing getting “hot” was the tempers of Idol pundits hearing the boundless streams of praise from the judges.
Best of the night: Joshua Ledet. Easily. Standing ovation worthy? Uhm… no. HELL no. House of the Rising Sun or What Is and What Should Never Be this wasn’t. Idol loves to have these type of singers who have incredibly powerful voices but are right on the edge of losing control and shouting instead of singing. Joshua’s a very good example of that, but of late that type of singer has a limited life expectancy. See: Lusk, Jacob. He’s a better version of Lusk, but long-term potential is unclear for now. Still, he should be a sure bet for the finals.
If there’s one contestant with a lot of potential upside, though, it’s Heejun Han. Nervous? Yes. Not as much experience the rest of the field? You bet. Some enunciation problems? Sure. But there doesn’t seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with his voice. He did a reasonably good job on Angels. Great? Again, no, for all the reasons I said off the bat. But this – and his backstory – should get him to the top 12.
Phillip Phillips was one of the most pimped contestants of the season. To be fair, he delivered… mostly. This was pretty good to listen to, with an arrangement and voice that complemented each other. Honestly, though, he’s no more than “good enough to make the tour”… and that’s something of a reach. He has a better chance of becoming the breakout star of Peach State Pawn Stars than the next Idol. Somebody call the History Channel and pitch this, please.
The worst of the night was Eben Franckowitz. Terrible song choice – Eben didn’t have the vocals or gravitas to pull off an Adele song. Adele songs can be classified as Serious Heartbreaking Business, and Eben looked (and sounded) like a lightweight singing it. It just didn’t work, period. Parents of America, this is why you shouldn’t let your teen son/daughter audition for Idol. The vast majority just can’t sing with any real emotion.
What exactly was the point of bringing back Jermaine Jones? Oh yeah, they needed some sure-fire cannon fodder. It’s the only reason that makes any sense. By bringing back Jermaine – and giving him a lot of exposure – it’s clear they’re doing their best to ensure that Jermaine will be back for the finals. The performance itself was amazingly pedestrian and dull – and proved exactly why he didn’t “cleanly” get to the top 12 guys in the first place.
So that’s three good performances, and two bad ones. The rest? A forgettable mess of mediocrity and tedium. In performance order, let’s go over them a little quickly:
- Reed Grimm – one word: creepy. Second: boring. How the heck do you take a fairly current song and turn it into a dull piece of dreck?
- Adam Brock – it’s hard enough to do Think if you’ve got soul. Adam… doesn’t. He didn’t think this all the way through, did he?
- Deandre Brackensick – all we got was reasons not to vote for him. Ridiculous (and not in a good way). This is what passes for a commercial voice nowadays? No wonder the music industry is in such deep doo-doo.
- Colton Dixon – his hair is more interesting than his singing. He was a Season Ten reject… and it looks like we have a pretty good idea why. He’s a vaguely competent rocker, but nothing that would make him special.
- Jeremy Rosado – seems to be a really nice, honest guy. He might even do well at the local karaoke bar. It’s not unpleasant to listen to, but there’s nothing special about it.
- Aaron Marcellus – Never Can Say Goodbye? Uhm, reality check. Yes we can – and probably will. So-so singer, and not all that great at working the crowd.
- Chase Likens – oh look, it’s the Designated Country Singer. Flat, no range… if this was a “grown” Chase, how bad was he at the start? Hard to believe he was among the top 12 male singers that Idol managed to find this year, no?
- Creighton Fraker – “So beautiful”? Really now? Better than most of this crowd of awfulness, but that’s not saying much. And he managed to oversing a song like True Colors. Not encouraging.
Always off to a bad start
Having spent a few hundred words damning the episode, I should point out that Idol semifinal weeks have always been a mixed bag. If you get a few (1-3) really great performances (like we did this time last year, you’re batting well above average. Something like what we got with the guys – one “good” performance, a couple of decent-to-okay ones, about the same number of outright trainwrecks, with the rest being forgettable – is more “typical” of what we get.
The curious can’t help but wonder if the contestants were feeling the loss of Debra Byrd for the live shows. Aside from Byrd’s own (well-praised) skills and familiarity with the Idol format, she was, by now, a “known quantity” to the contestants (and vice versa). Jimmy Iovine’s people – competent as they may be – aren’t. The singing wasn’t all that bad, but what it really was was boring – which is even worse. Hopefully, things wil get better from here – but the little part of every Idol pundit that says “this will be another Season Nine” is getting a bit worried.
Occupy Judge’s Table
The execrable judging of late Season 10 has continued into Season 11. It’s as if somebody at Idol HQ decided that the entire Idolsphere was nuts, that what we really wanted was three months of the judges lavishing mostly undeserved praise. This is insane. I understand it’s “not about the judges”, but that is not an excuse. There are ways to not be X-Factor or The Voice which are mostly about the judges/coaches, yet still dish out the truth. I reckon any three well-known Idol pundits – say, Michael Slezak, MJ, and Rickey – could do better than the motley crew we have right now. If there was an Idol drinking game where you took a drink every time somebody said “beautiful”, you’d be in the hospital for a new liver by the finale.
Is it too late for a wave of angry pundits and fans to charge the tapings and force out the judges? Please? Pretty please?
Picking winners out of this group is going to be hard. Let’s start with the ones who should be there. Joshua, Heejun, and Phillip should all make it. The latter two even have some good pre-show levels of publicity to help them get through. So that’s three out of the five sure slots.
Chase Likens has one important advantage over the rest of this field: he’s the only country singer among the guys. All other things being equal, country singers are able to get more votes than non-country singers. With this rather unexceptional group, that may well be enough to put him through.
Calling the fifth slot is going to be really hard. I get the feeling, though, that a sympathy vote is in play for one of the two trainwrecks I listed above. Eben will have a lot of teenage voters texting like mad for him. On the other hand, Jermaine got one heck of a sympathy setup. It’s basically a coinflip between the two. In the end… the faux Bieber probably has the edge.
Advancing to the finals: Joshua, Heejun, Phillip, Chase, Eben
Wildcard: Reed, Colton, Creighton