We've seen our a fair amount of changes this season. One we haven't talked about was the early introduction of themes - and this week, we got a special one. For what is arguably the most commercial, the most contemporary, the most "in" top 24 in Idol history, we got... the 60s. We sense just a bit of a disconnect here. What we ended up with was an... interesting week, although the eliminations were fairly predictable.
What were they thinking: One thing has to be said about the theme. We like Nigel Lythgoe - he's certainly far more forthright and open when it comes to interviews than any of the judges - but he, and the rest of the AI crew, made a mistake when it came to the theme. His offered excuse - that they wanted to give the top 24 a genre with more "musical" songs (whatever the heck that means) and minimize song clearance issues - is lame, at best.
What the definition of more "musical" is, we have no idea, and clearing a grand total of 50 songs for 24 people? Is the Idol production staff on something? That is nowhere near enough, particularly since there is always a lot of diversity in the top 24. You can't come up with 50 songs that all 24 contestants can pick from and be happy with. As we said last year: given the resources that the Idol machine commands, "the song wasn't cleared" is something that should be a rare, rare thing.
The upshot of this is that a lot of the top 24 were forced to sing songs that were not really in their styles, in our opinion. This was particularly true for the guys - for example, with the exception, maybe, of Michael Johns, this bunch had no business touching Elvis. The top 24 did not do all that well, but the artificially narrow song selection had a great deal to do with it.
Boredom, thy name is top 24: The hype machine has been in full steam this season, but hype and reality collided on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The results were not all that pretty.
What made guys' night so bad wasn't so much bad singing or song choices. It was because we didn't hear anything that was particularly distinctive. It wasn't good or bad, it was just mind-numbingly dull. There was very little that could make one say out loud “He sang that one well,” or “he was terrible beyond reason.” The reaction could be more accurately described as “who are these people?”
If the last paragraph sounds just a little familiar, it's because it's what we said this exact same time last year! Apparently, our AI contestants - or most of them - haven't learned anything in the past year. They really should take a page from Bo Bice, who wrote the manual on how to succeed right out of the top 24. Little, if any, pre-show publicity, but he came out of the gate with superb performances that put him safely into the top 12.
Let's get down to the details. Of the guys, we found three outstanding performances. Michael Johns did extremely well, but that was expected. The question for Michael is: where does he go from here? We know he can do the songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Light My Fire, but is that all he can do, or does he something else up his sleeve? The talent and experience is there, though, and he's a sure thing for the top 12.
Someone else who met the expectations was David Archuleta. It's hard to believe someone could be so young and sing that well, but he does. You can't say anything bad about his performance at all. He's the closest to a sure thing in this season. It's hard for us not to imagine him in the final four. (And yes, that is a long way off. We know that.)
The biggest surprise was Jason Castro. Pre-top 24, he was probably best known for his hair. After it, he's definitely on the radar for his singing. Now, he had help with the guitar. It's going to be very interesting what to see he does without any instruments, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye for.
In the next category down would be David Hernandez, David Cook, and Robbie Carrico. (Why oh why did there have to be so many Davids?) They were all good performances, but there were all tiny little things that made them not quite as good. For David Hernandez, Simon was right that he needed to "loosen up". One of the hallmarks of a truly good performance is that it seems effortless, but he failed on that mark.
Everyone else was downright terrible. Chikezie (who lost his surname somewhere along the way) not only sang poorly, but tried to duel with Simon Cowell. Neither is a recipe for Idol success. Elvis is somewhere in heaven with the Idol gods, cringing that two of his songs were butchered beyond recognition. Jason Yeager thought he was Anwar Robinson, and failed miserably. It's not a good sign for the guys when fully half of their performances were woeful. It's no surprise at all that the bootees came from this group.
In contrast, the girls turned in a much better night. Alaina Whitaker and Ramiele Malubay were the definite topnotchers of the night. Alaina picked the perfect song for her, and turned in a performance that was just right for it. Ramiele, meanwhile, was simply amazing: you rarely get such a potent mix of power and control in one person. Add in the fact that she looks effortless when singing, and you've got a newly established favorite in this show. Both of them are sure to make the top 12.
Just behind those two were four good performances. Carly Smithson was up against something that she had no control over - and no, we don't mean the flu. The hype behind her was so big it was impossible to meet it. Considered objectively, it was pretty good: her control was spot on, the delivery was convincing, and the power was there (although Carly likes to go for it a little too much, we think). We'd like to see what she does next week,when she has, hopefully, recovered from the flu.
The judges may not have liked it, but we were quite impressed with Kady Malloy. A slow ballad may not have been the best way to introduce yourself to America, but Kady sung it as well as you could expect. Randy may have complained that she didn't cut loose with her power, but to us that was actually a good thing. It's very easy to go for the power and turn into a shouter instead of a singer. The criticism from Simon and Paula was just utter nonsense, and coming from Simon in particular it was quite disappointing.
Asia'h Epperson and Alexandrea both turned in numbers that depended not just on their vocals, but their performing abilities as well. Alexandrea's, though, leaned on those more than Asia'h did. Alexandrea may well be the best pure performer in this whole group, and while that was enough to get her a good performance right now, if the vocals don't match up she'll be in trouble. Asia'h's was more balanced, and her vocals are as good as anyone else right now. For both of them, we'd like to see how they do with songs that rely more on pure vocals.
As for the six other girls, there were two utter disasters - Joanne Borgella and Amy Davis. America called it right - both of them were all over during their songs and were easily the worst of the girls. Not much more needs to be said.
The other four performances were, to borrow one of Randy's favorite words, were a'right. We were just a bit disappointed in Brooke White - she is probably the most unique artistically of the entire top 24, but we saw none of that this week. It was a very average performance, and there was no trace of charisma or uniqueness that we think she has. With this many strong performances, you have to be really good to advance to the top 12 this season if you're a girl. Right now, she is not. Kristy Lee Cook is in the same boat. They both need to step it up.
Amanda Overmeyer and Syesha Mercado also have something in common: they both need to prove their vocal abilities. As performers, they are pretty good, and Syesha is as good as they get. But, and it's a huge but, where are their vocals? Amanda can't keep growling forever, and Syesha needs to lay off the power and show us some control. As a complete package, both of them lack some key components. They need to show something different next week, otherwise they are in serious trouble.
Making even less sense than usual: What was up with all the strange comments from the judges this week? Paula spouted even more rubbish than usual about colors, and Simon spent time picking apart Carly's microphone technique. Was everyone on Paula's medication this week?
Year after year, it amazes us that these people are paid millions for what many other people would do for less. Paula's is worth around $5-8 million per year. Simon's said to be around $10 million (plus his share of the post-Idol profits). Would it be too much to ask for sensible comments from the judges, not standard, off-the-shelf components that an android version of our judges could repeat?
Pre-top 24 pimpage matters... or does it?: Something that's being talked about right now, and will be talked about in the next two weeks, is how limited pre-show airtime for certain contestants can hurt people's chances and get them booted off. They'll offer, for this week, Garrett Haley, who (as far as we can remember) wasn't show before this week.
Here's our take on this topic, which inevitably comes up year in and year out. It doesn't matter much, if at all.
One mantra we keep repeating, as far as AI and the online community around it, is simple: what we think doesn't always matter. Yes, there are plenty of people who like to pick favorites based on the tiny snippets of footage we see from the auditions and Hollywood. They're the kind who like to post on Internet message boards all over, FORT included. The fact is, though, that most people don't do that. They may watch the show religiously, they may spend tons of money texting in votes, but they're not picking favorites yet. People are usually more sensible than pundits will give them credit.
The upshot is, we think most people don't really decide whether someone is good until they hear them sing. They may have seen them before, in auditions or Hollywood, but that won't matter, as far as voting is concerned.
The only time it might matter is if you're right on the edge between being voted off and not being voted off... but that can only buy you so much time. If you're already in danger of elimination this early, there's a reason: you're just not cut out to be the next American Idol. You're either a lousy singer, or you're boring, or, worst of all, both. There's no conspiracy, and it's not the editor's fault. A lot of this reasoning comes from fanboys (or fangirls) of an eliminated contestant, and that's all it is: the howls of disappointment from an energetic (if small) fanbase.
We promise not to recycle anything from previous columns next week. For comments, PM us.