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American Idol, Week 4: The Bar Has Been Raised
We're back for more, y'all. Yes, it's that time again…time for more American Idol semifinalists to impress the judges and (more importantly) us enough to make it into the Top 10 and join Charles and Julia from last week's show in the finals.
Ryan opens the show as he usually does. I didn't think it was possible, but he looks even more disheveled than he did last week. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan (oops, sorry--I just channeled Randy Jackson for a minute)…do you think you could have dressed up just a little bit more for the show? I mean, I know this is a young, hip show, but c'mon. We go over to say hi to the judges for a moment, and Ryan takes the opportunity to show America some pictures of a young Simon from that bastion of journalistic ethics, The Star. I have to admit they were pretty funny, but I don't ever have to see Simon Cowell in a Speedo again for as long as I live. When he saw the pictures, Randy couldn't help but let out a "Yeah, Yeah, Yeahhhhhhhhh". Now there's the Randy we know and love from last year. Ryan finishes up his witty repartee and then heads over to the Red Room, where we see this week's group of 8 and their various family and friends. It's time to get down to business, everyone, so let's get to it…
First up tonight is Clay Aiken. Most of Clay's pre-song video montage is devoted to the whole "image" issue. Clay's obviously worked with a stylist or something, because he no longer has the whole Alfred E. Newman vibe about him. Clay says, "I may not have the look of an American Idol, but I'm comfortable with my image and with myself." Good for you, Clay. Clay goes out onto the stage and launches into "Open Arms". Taking a lesson out of the Justin Guarini songbook, Clay sings and motions right into the camera the whole time. When he's done, we hear basically the same thing from the judges that they told him in his Atlanta audition. Randy: "Very nice, man. Very nice. Where does that voice come from?" The ever-chipper Paula chimes in with, "You have such a brilliant voice. That was magnificent." Simon repeats his "You don't have the look, but you do have the voice" speech from the Atlanta tryouts, and Clay returns to the Red Room. Personally, I think Clay did a great job, and he should feel good about his performance.
Next up is Candace Coleman. I guess she's going for the Ryan Starr Haute Couture Award, as she has on a midriff-bearing top and a raggedy piece of denim around her waist that I suppose somebody somewhere might call a skirt. She must have been running late and gotten dressed in a hurry, as it looks like she left half of her outfit back in her hotel room. Candace starts singing "Piece of My Heart", and I'm thinking to myself, "Oh Lord…she wants to look like Ryan and sound like Nikki McKibbin. This is not a good thing." While she doesn't blow the roof off the place, she does a decent enough job, I suppose. Randy tells her, "It was alright." Simon adds, "That sounded good, but you need to learn how to perform better." Paula must have been listening to someone else on some earphones or something, because she tells Candace, "You have an astonishing voice. That was unbelievable." While Candace wasn't the worst performer ever to grace the American Idol stage (*cough*A.J. Gil*cough*), I also wouldn't say she was "astonishing".
Our third performer of the night is Rebecca Bond. We are reminded in her montage that she was compared to Shirley Bassey, and Rebecca says, "I don't even know who Shirley Bassey is." I can't decide if Rebecca is showing her age or her musical ignorance, so I'll let it slide (For those of you who don't know, Shirley Bassey is a singer from Great Britain who is probably best known in the U.S. for singing the theme songs to "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever".). Rebecca performs Anita Baker's "Caught up in the Rapture", and she mugs for the camera much worse than Clay did. She mumbles parts of the song, and I don't know if she has forgotten the words or if she is trying to sound seductive or something. It's time for the judges' critiques. Randy starts off with, "Whassup, man?" Um, Randy, maybe you need to retake a biology class or two. Anyway, Randy tells Rebecca, "You chose the wrong song. This was not your best performance." Paula doesn't mention the song choice at all; she just tells Rebecca, "You know how to perform." Simon puts in his 2 cents and once again tells her, "You have a cabaret-type voice. That's not right for this competition." Well, Miss Rebecca "respectfully disagrees" with Simon, and I'm thinking that she has just sealed her fate (if her performance hadn't taken care of that already).
Next up is Jacob John. No, "John" isn't his last name. His last name is Smalley, but for some unknown reason, he has dropped it between the Hollywood tryouts and tonight's performance. I guess "Jacob John, Jacob John, Jacob John" is easier for Randy to say than "Jacob John Smalley" three times. JJ sings Brian McKnight's "Anytime," and (in my opinion) turns in the worst performance up to that point. He sounds off-key and "breathy" most of the time and this is not lost on the judges. Randy starts off the comments with, "Dude, I don't know. I didn't enjoy that performance." JJ takes the opportunity to tell Randy just how much he appreciates Randy's comments and how he'll use them to improve his singing blah blah blah. Before JJ could go any further, Simon tells him, "Jacob, quit sucking up." Simon, you took the words right out of my mouth. Paula tells JJ, "You're adorable, and you have a smooth voice." Simon says, "You have a good voice, and girls will love you, but you need to raise your game if you want to move on in the competition."
Hadas is next to perform, and she's apparently dropped her last name (Shalev) as well somewhere between two weeks ago and tonight. She mentions in her pre-song montage that many people say she looks like Sandra Bullock, and I have to say I can see a resemblance. She hopes that someday people will say that Sandra looks like her. Hadas, hon', I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. What does Hadas sing for us tonight? Oh, God…she's chosen "You Light up My Life", and I don't know whether to hurl or laugh and feel embarrassed for her. I wonder if Hadas is sabotaging her chances on purpose with this song choice, but I have to say I didn't think it was all that bad of a performance. I still think the song is the epitome of cheesiness, but Hadas didn't make a fool of herself like I thought she would when she first started singing. In fact, Hadas turns out to be a bit of a pleasant surprise for me, and she gets generally good comments from all three judges. Randy says, "It was good, but not great." Paula tells her it was "beautiful". Simon gives her a bit of a backhanded compliment when he tells her, "You're a million times better than some of the people in last year's Top 10, but I don't know if it's good enough in this year's competition."
Ruben Studdard is next up, and he goes to town on The Carpenters' "Superstar". This is the same song he sang with his small group at the Hollywood auditions, and he sounds just as good tonight as he did then. Anyway, when Ruben's done, Randy stands up and claps, saying, "Finally…someone singing with passion." Paula tells him he is "amazing" and asks for a hug. Whatever, Paula. Simon compliments Ruben telling him, "You are what this competition is all about." When Simon's done, Ruben heads back to the Red Room and is hugged by his brother Kevin, who's waiting on the couch for him. What Kevin and Ruben both apparently forgot is that Ryan was sitting on the couch, too, and Ryan gets squished between the two of them. Ryan jokingly tells Ruben that he's hurting him (well, maybe he wasn't joking), and then we go to a commercial.
We're back from commercial, and it's time to hear from Kimberley Locke. Kimberley decides to sing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" again, and she does so to unanimous acclaim. Well, almost. Randy tells her, "You sang amazing. It was like a master class in singing." All Paula can say is, "Brilliant…gorgeous." Simon tells Kimberley, "That was fantastic. Technically, you were the best we've seen. However, I only give you a 4 for personality." Miss Kimberley takes issue with Simon's comment on her personality (and so do Paula and Randy, for that matter), and this causes Simon to raise his personality score to a 5 because he says Kimberley has "spunk". Kimberley continues to go head-to-head with Simon, and she more than holds her own, telling Simon, "Well, I give you a 0 for personality." Before she leaves the stage, she tells him, "You know, I used to think you were sexy. But, you suck." This, of course, results in high-fives from both Randy and Paula, and Kimberley leaves the stage with a huge Cheshire cat grin on her face, causing Simon to raise her score to a 6 and say, "You're moving up!"
Our final performer of the night is Jennifer Fuentes. In her montage, she lets us know that she had trouble deciding between a ballad and an up-tempo number but that she decided on the up-tempo number "because it shows more of my personality." She sings Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody", and I realize that this is the first Whitney Houston song we've heard so far in the semifinals. I also realize that Jennifer probably should have chosen a ballad instead because, though she's trying really hard to "sell" the song, she sounds to me like she's at her neighborhood karaoke bar. Before he gives his critique, Randy asks Jennifer, "What's goin' down?" Randy, the only thing that's going down is my patience for your ridiculous catch phrases. Anyway, Randy tells Jennifer, "That was just alright. You were better in Miami." Paula actually says something somewhat negative when she says, "You chose the wrong song, but you did the best you could." Simon leaves no doubt about how he feels about Jennifer's performance when he says, "After Ruben and Kimberley, you should have just stayed in the room." Ouch!
Well, that's it for the second group of semifinalists. I look for Ruben and Kimberley to advance without any trouble. If I had to say who might spoil the party for the two of them, I'd say probably Clay and maybe Hadas. I don't expect that to happen, though, so I think the best those two (and the rest of the group tonight) can hope for is to get invited back for the wildcard show. Of course, I could be way off-base, but we won't know until the results of our voting are revealed tomorrow night.
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