After the disappointment of last week's episode, things could only get better. Right? Well, yes. And no. There were some legitimately good performances, but for every one of those there were more that left us scratching our heads in confusion.
On the upside, there were refreshingly few out-and-out singing disasters. On the downside, it seemed like a lot of the song choices were, to say the least, confused. Did someone drop Paula's pills into the Los Angeles water supply?
To be fair, things did get off to an okay start with the guys. It's something of a stretch to call it a "good" show, but it would be unfair to call it bad, either. David Archuleta's version of Imagine created all the buzz from the episode, but there were 9 other people singing that night - which ranged from the good to the downright ugly.
Aside from our precocious David, there were three other standouts for the night. (We'll get to him later.) Chikezie was, easily, the most improved: from last week's disaster to a well-balanced performance with good vocals, stage presence, and no eye-gouging clothing. David Hernandez did exactly what we told him last week: he was able to relax and turn in a good show as well. He should be safe to the top 12, barring a major disaster next week.
We also thought David Cook was better than Simon thought. We didn't think he had any charisma issues, and if anything it was the "authentic" rock performance of the night. As a whole, it "made sense", as it were - which on the Idol stage, is not always a given. He should be safe to the top 12, too.
Then we had a wide range of performances that went from mediocre to just okay. Michael Johns was one of the much ballyhooed semi-pros coming into the top 24, but this particular performance was very average. At the rate he's going, he might not make the tour. Another of last week's standouts went back to being average - Jason Castro. Can he really sing without that guitar? We don't know, but based on this week... the signs are not encouraging.
Another big improver from last week was Danny Noriega. We thought - surprise! - that in parts he was actually good. However... we do have to consider that last week was an utter disaster and just about anything would have been an improvement. It was a middling performance, but with the other "talent" on display it was good enough to make it to the top 16, and maybe even beyond.
Robbie Carrico was on the bubble between mediocrity and awfulness. The vocal, by itself, wasn't terrible. However, the whole performance gave off the impression of someone trying too hard. More than the "authenticity" issue that the judges love to point out, that's the real issue with Robbie - and the ultimate reason he got kicked off. More on that later when we go over this week's boots.
Then we have the truly dreadful, a club occupied by only two people this week. Luke Menard sang Killer Queen, and it was unfortunately appropriate, given the musical carnage he inflicted on the song. As for Jason Yeager, the only thing missing was an announcement to tip the waiters. America put Jason out of his misery, but his looks kept Luke in. Have mercy on our ear drums, Idol voters - get him out soon, please!
Overall, the night went about as well as one could expect at this stage of the season. The girls, however, were a different story altogether.
The great Idol song lottery: The one thing that made the difference this week for the girls was simple: song selection. Only Carly and Brooke picked songs that suited them perfectly, and it showed. Carly mixed that song choice with her own superb vocals and stage presence. Simon was wrong on her: she's already done what he wanted, at right know she has to be the favorite among the girls.
The only other good performance this week was from Brooke. She doesn't have the vocal power that Carly commands, but given the right song she can really shine - and the control she showed this week was excellent. We'd love to see her go far - her sound is undeniably unique for Idol in general. Song choice is extremely critical for her, because she can't hope to compete with the big voices and tweener appeal that the rest of the field can fall back on. One more thing she should consider: use the guitar more! You're So Vain would not have been the same without the guitar. She has to be careful that it doesn't become a gimmick, the way it might for Jason Castro - but if the song fits, use it!
Below the top two were two so-so performances, but weren't really bad. Ramiele proved last week that she had excellent vocals, and that was all that kept her version of Don't Leave Me This Way from turning into farce. Even then, it didn't look or sound natural. The same could be said ofSyesha , with the added issue that if she's not reaching for the power notes she sounds very ordinary, and even then she can sometimes sound screechy. Still, in a week of multiple singing horrors, that was good enough to be considered "okay".
And then we have the realm of Strange Performances. If we didn't know any better, the theme was not 70s, but "Songs That Don't Suit Your Voice". Take a bow, Kristy,Alaina, Alexandrea, Kady, Asia'h : welcome to the Sanjaya Zone! Normally, you have to show "consistent and long-lasting incompetence" to get inducted, but we can't ignore such multiple acts of Idol insanity.
What did the five of them do to earn their collective induction? Simple: could any five contestants have chosen any worse songs to sing?Alaina and Alexandrea are both on the young side, but they chose songs that made them sound ridiculously old and aged. Kady, Kristy, andAsia'h all seemed to forget what kind of singers they were and picked songs that were woefully unsuited for them. Whether the vocals were there or not was beside the point. The songs suited them so poorly that no matter how well sung they were, it would still be terrible. It was like taking the world's bestfigher pilot... then asking him to cook a gourmet meal at a five-star hotel.
Last, and definitely the least, we have Amanda Overmyer. By itself, it was almost worthy of induction, but not yet. However, that doesn't make it any better: Amanda looked like it was Halloween, and the singing was non-existent. Of course, there's a reason she was not voted off - more on that when we discuss this week's cuts.
No ifs and buts about it: girls night this week was ghastly.
Who is she again: While none of the cuts this week would really be missed, they did catch some people by surprise. Alaina had done very well the week before, along with Alexandrea; but both were gone this week. Why? For the guys, Robbie Carrico would not exactly be missed, but how in the world did someone butcher Queen and get away with it? (On second thought, that may not be all that unusual: only one person, BuckyCovington, has ever been eliminated after doing a song by Queen - and that was during a Queen theme week.)
The explanation comes down to two things which go hand-in-hand: vote-splitting and genre voting.
For Alaina and Alexandrea, the trouble was you had other girls who weren't all that different from them style-wise. For Alaina, you had Kristy and Kady; for Alexandrea there was Syesha and (to some degree) Asia'h. With none of those really standing out, the fanbases probably split more or less evenly and it was basically down to luck who would go. The fact that both of them chose songs that were so much older (stylistically, not chronologically) than them didn't help them, either. A slightly older singer - mid-20s, say - would have gotten away with their songs, but they're 16 and 17. It did them no favors. (This is the same rap we put on Jordin Sparks last year, and while it didn't hurt her on the show, post-Idol that is sort of what happened.)
Robbie suffered from the same thing. He split votes primarily with David Cook, who to make matters worse was very, very good. There are only so many rock-only voters on Idol, and with a much better option for those Robbie had no chance. By contrast, while Luke wasn't any good either he wasn't splitting votes with anyone else either. With a relatively large field you don't need that many votes to stay in things, and Luke was just good enough to survive.
So what does this mean for the upcoming weeks? Because the guys aren't as clearly divisible into genres the way the girls are, not much. However, the more unique contestants - Jason Castro, David Cook, for example - should be relatively safe. For the girls, however, the implications are clearer. With Kristy and Kady both splitting votes, it's very unlikely that both could go on to the top 12. Whoever is the weaker of the two will be in trouble. The same can be said forSyesha and Asia'h . Amanda could also be in trouble, but it depends on what Carly does. If Carly again goes for the rock route, then Amanda is a likely bootee. However, the more unique sounds - Brooke, Ramiele, Carly - are, barring major vocal disasters, safe into the top 12.
Useless trivia of the week: There have only been two contestants in Idol history to make it to the public voting stages with the first name ofAlaina - Alaina Whitaker and Alaina Alexander. They were both cut in the exact same week: top 20.
The more things change: When you've been a card-carrying member of the pundit caste as long as we have, you notice a few things. Politicians running against an incumbent will always promise change, even if the only likely change is in the office furniture. The hype never lives up to the actual product. If something is "coming soon" that is "interesting", it will become vaporware. On American Idol, perfectly good performances will be called "safe".
This brings us to the most talked about performance of the week... David Archuleta. Say what you will about his performance, safe it was not. It has attained iconic status, and despite all the covers over the years the definitive version is still the John Lennon original. David would inevitably be compared to John Lennon, and that's a comparison that's hard to come out of on top. It could have turned out so badly, but remarkably it didn't. By far, the reaction to David has been absolutely positive.
In contrast, for the girls we had plenty of cases where the song was clearly too big for them. Asia'h was the foremost example, but she wasn't exactly alone. What can we learn from such an obvious contrast?
The lesson is that contestants must have a clear idea of where they are musically. They need to recognize just how good their talents are, what kind of music they're best at, and what exactly they can do well that others can't.
Unfortunately, this is something that only experience can really teach someone. Real amateurs are likely to have heard mostly friends and relatives comment on their singing - neither of which are exactly objective observers. On the other hand, professionals tend to get this kind of feedback quite frequently - when money is involved, harsh commentary is the rule, not the exception.
The upshot is this is one area where the semi-pros in our field have a big advantage. David Archuleta may be 16, but he's not exactly inexperienced. Carly Smithson not only loved Heart, she knew she could pull off their songs. In contrast, most of the girls didn't realize their own limits or specialty and faltered. Very badly.
That's the lesson for all future contestants. You need to know what kind of singer you are, what are your vocal limits, etcetera, etcetera. In short you need go figure out yourself as a singer when you pick the songs. If you can do that, you know exactly where to stop (and not get comments like "the song was too big for you), and you know not to sell yourself short and get comments that your song was "safe".
In short: don't do Celine Dion if you don't have a voice with that kind of power, but if you happen to have that kind of voice, use it!
What is in Paula's cup? If you can tell us exactly what, PM us.