Click through with my recap of the performances, judged tonight, plus little trivia tidbits culled from my attendance at the taping...
Singer: Clint Jun Gamboa
My Take: Clint's a rather hyperactive young man and he definitely knows how to bounce around the stage. This is not, however, "American Jump Around The Stage." Clint's actual vocals are pretty weak in the early going, especially on the verses. He pulls out the final notes at the end and that makes the performance seem a bit better than it actually was. The early verses? Rough.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven calls it "beautiful" and "brilliant," saying Clint started strong and ended strong. J-Lo was relieved that Clint's jitters didn't impact his performance, but she expects better from him now. Randy loved it. You know why? Randy says that it wasn't karaoke, that no karaoke singer in the world could do that. I disagree. Strongly.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Seriously, Clint is crazy hyperactive, bouncing around and goofing off through the entire pre-show prep. Oddly, you could sense his nervousness live, but the wavering didn't come through on TV. On the other hand, he sounded more in tune live. Go figure. Oh and you know Steven's swear sign and Ryan saying that it was for if Steven [bleeped] something up? All Ryan actually said was "f-ed up." He didn't lower himself to swearing, but it still got bleeped. Later in the show when Steven was bleeped? He said the bad words.
Singer: Jovany Barreto
Song: "I'll Be"
My Take: Of all the songs that get over-performed on "American Idol," I honestly can't think of one that I'm more sick of than this Edwin McCain chestnut. Jovany's a well-dressed man and his smooth vocals match his impeccable appearance. Nothing is out of place. But is anything even vaguely impressive? Well, no. He sells the sincerity totally and does the little that the song requires of him.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "Holy shipyard," Tyler gushes. "I'm happy right now," J-Lo coos, adding, "You did it." Randy, though, isn't pleased. He calls it "very karaoke." J-Lo is incredulous. "It was just OK. The modulation was kind of interesting," Randy says, before J-Lo interrupts that it was a great first performance. Jovanny is offended that Louisiana kid Randy wasn't in his corner.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Jovany had to re-do his entire performance. I found myself liking him much more for how well he handled the technical error that led to the reboot. He was gracious and composed and the audience responded well to his attitude. The arm-swaying wasn't there the first time around, but the crowd wanted to boost Jovany. We also trimmed Ryan and Jovany explaining to Steven that "Jovany" is not the same as "Giovanni."
Singer: Jordan Dorsey
My Take: I fear that this is my fault. In previewing the contestants, I talked about how "Idol" has never had a viable potential Usher-type-contestant and I suggested that Jordan might be the first. I doubt Jordan read *my* previous, but he may have sensed the sentiment in the ether, so he decided to show that Usher is exactly the sort of singer he *isn't*. The song starts too low and even when it gets to the chorus, there's no real singing required. And what singing Jordan decides to add or embellish -- that silly falsetto -- is kinda terrible. Unfortunately, Jordan doesn't have the stage presence to pull off a performance that's all craft and movement. He can't really dance-and-sing and he certainly can't do it while doing the syncopation of the lyrics. The director doesn't know what to do because it seems like Jordan ought to be doing something, but he isn't, so much of the performance is shot in close-ups. That wouldn't happen to Usher.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You had the moves, but it wasn't my favorite performance of yours," Tyler says. J-Lo doesn't think the song is who he wants to be as an artist and Jordan immediately replies, "No, no, no." Randy thought it was kinda pitchy throughout and even the part in falsetto wasn't very good. "It's not me," Jordan agrees and vows that we'll see a whole lot better from him if he stays in the competition.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Ryan and Jordan got into the issue of why he chose this particular uncharacteristic song. Jordan's response? "It was offered to me, so I went along with it."
Singer: Tim Halperin
Song: "Come on Over"
My Take: A second straight awful song choice. The only time I've liked Tim's voice previously was on the piano in the Vegas round. For some reason that blunted Tim's weird schmaltziness. Here, it's cheese in full effect. By the end, you can sense Tim floundering as he desperately tries to get the audience involved with minimal success. At least by the end, he's singing in tune, but there are some brutal notes in the middle.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I'm not sure if that song did you any justice, man," a disappointed Tyler says. The crowd boos. A little. "I don't think that's your strength," adds J-Lo, who fears he didn't show America who he is as an artist. Randy wanted something exciting and new. "It wasn't the best try today, dude," Randy closes.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: During the commercial break, Nigel Lythgoe mocked Randy for his consecutive negative comments, cracking, "He's been a really nasty person tonight." Nigel reminded us that if we didn't like what the judges said, we should feel free to boo. And wouldn't you know it? Tyler said something negative and we got to boo! You'll note that nobody booed J-Lo and Randy's negatives because... well... they were right.
Singer: Brett Loewenstern
Song: "Light My Fire"
My Take: Ack. Third straight horrible song choice. Well, the song isn't the problem, but what's with this tropical lounge arrangement? I mean, I know he wants to make it clear that he's a polka dot apple in a pile of red apples, but this is ridiculous. He's taken everything that was compelling and charismatic about the song originally and left it with a bunch of preening, head-tossing, hip-shaking and shrill mewling. And we know from the auditions that Brett has a great voice. There's a cut to a stone-faced J-Lo, who clearly isn't having nearly as much fun as Brett might like.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Steven says that Brett was on Friday. "There was more hair-tossing than me and Beyonce put together in the past 10 years," J-Lo says, before giving a coded response that she loves that Brett is who he is. Randy notes the pitch problems, but says that Brett is definitely fun and bold. Randy appreciated that. I highly doubt the viewers will.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Brett claimed to be unaware of the hair-tossing. He was doing it through the show, before, after and during his performance. And that hugging thing? It's just what he does. It wasn't just Ryan on-air there. Towards the end of the show, he walked around and hugged each of his fellow contestants. I was not close enough to see their reactions.
Singer: James Durbin
Song: "You've Got Another Thing Coming"
My Take: Wow. Judas Priest. I have no idea if this is a brilliant song choice or an astounding bad song choice. I'm going with the former. This is the night's first stand-out performance, perfectly calibrated vocally and confident and composed in terms of his use of the stage. And I love that while he did the scream, we know that this isn't the full SCREAM. This is James under complete control, though the rock-n-roll jump at the end is mighty silly.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That was ****ing crazy good," Tyler raves. Steven loves that James is over-the-top. J-Lo calls it organic and real and that he does it naturally. "This is right here how you do it," Randy helpfully reminds us. Randy also praises James for his strange scarf-tail. "You need a tail, Ryan," Randy observes. [Side note: This is the first time since we met him that James' Tourettes has been visible. Note the blinking. It's very impressive how he's able to pull himself together when he needs to be. Very.]
FROM THE AUDIENCE: There was a lengthy discussion of this being the first time a Judas Priest song has ever been featured on "Idol," with Ryan cracking "Clay Aiken never did that one?"
Singer: Robbie Rosen
My Take: A little song-choice gender-bending. I like the early grace notes and the tone of Robbie's voice is excellent, but this is more earnestness than I can really tolerate. It's all just too placid and earnest and Sarah McLachlan-y. If the voters keep Robbie around, I really hope he does something with a bit more energy and a bit less head-voice next week. As a man gifted with a large schnozz myself, I believe I'm entitled to say that a good portion of this song came off as nasally.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That was a beautiful thing, Robbie," raves Steven. J-Lo says the notes weren't all "perfectly perfect," but she loves the way he tells stories. But Randy is being tonight's designated truth-teller. He calls the notes really pitchy, though he says that the notes were coming from Robbie's chest, not his nose. Randy asks Robbie if he was comfortable. Robbie insists he was.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: After the performance -- which had to be restarted after Robbie finished the first two lines -- Randy was again chided for being critical. He replied, "It must be this chair! This seat!"
Singer: Scotty McCreery
Song: "Letters From Home"
My Take: If you're as limited as Scotty may be, you'd better be good within that limited range. And Scotty is fantastic at what he does. He also already seems vastly more confident than when we first met him or than he was in Hollywood when poor mistreated Jacee made him cry. This is a version of the John Michael Montgomery song that's so pure and perfect in its live form that you could just put it up online and folks would download it tomorrow. Scotty looked unformed when we first saw him, unformed like so many "Idol" teen males. Tonight, he seems like a young man and lemme assure you... Ladies love Scotty McCreery. He could screw up badly very easily, but at this moment, Scotty's my dark horse to win the whole thing.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler loved the song choice and calls it "so beautiful." J-Lo says Scotty's born to sing country. Randy loves that Scotty's a throw-back country guy and he loves the lowness in his voice.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: I'll say this again: Ladies LOVE Scotty McCreery. He and Casey were basically the only members of the Top 12 getting propositioned from the crowd and it was start to finish with Scotty. Every bit of the "Aw shucks" charm played and it also played with older audience members. I don't think he's one of the five best singers in this field, but if he's properly coached, I think he can win.
Singer: Stefano Langone
Song: "Just the Way You Are"
My Take: Stefano's phrasing is dreadful, so he doesn't really start singing until he gets to the chorus. And when he gets there, there's a nice, high, lilting quality to what he does. Then he returns back to the verses, where he doesn't know how to breathe and he practically stops singing. And then back to the chorus, where again his voice soars, albeit with some sharpness that he's able to course-correct. Stefano doesn't benefit from following Scotty's assuredness. But he's got a pretty smile and a cheesy sincerity. Many an "Idol" Finalist has had success with a similar formula (think Kris Allen, though it remains to be seen if Stefano has any musicality to go with his smile).
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler loved it and points out a vein in Stefano's forehead that apparently pops when he hits high notes. J-Lo's a bit of a smitten kitten when it comes to Stefano, calling him a beast. Randy knows there were bad notes, but he says it doesn't matter and you know why? "Because we believe you." Was Stefano singing to anybody in particular? "That song was definitely for all the ladies out there," says Stefano, who definitely knows how to play the game.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: I'll just say that this was a performance that sounded better in the audience than it did at home. My notes are very complimentary. From my couch? Not so complimentary.
Singer: Paul McDonald
Song: "Maggie May"
My Take: It starts out sounding like an impression, but the further into the song it gets, the more it becomes clear this is just what Paul sounds like and who he is. The strutting, twitching and shambling are all part of a performance and they're so quirky and weird and *genuine* that he's easy to warm to. The more you hear, the more his voice becomes comfortable and engaging. Also, with his uber-white smile, he's like the missing Gibb brother, crossed with Aaron Paul by way of Charlie Day and young Joe Cocker. I hope Paul sticks around so that we can see him do this with an instrument. Like I'd wanna hang out with Paul and listen to him.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler loves him. J-Lo loves his personality and his smile. "I like the possibility that 'Idol' can embrace this kind of a singer that's really quirky and different," Randy raves.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: I had no place to mention this, but did we see Marc Anthony on the episode tonight? He was there and during the breaks, he and J-Lo did a lot of no-verbal communication. After several "We love you Steven" cheers, Anthony led a "J-Lo's Hot" cheer. It was cute.
Singer: Jacob Lusk
Song: "A House Is Not a Home"
My Take: It's smart that Jacob is taking a more buttoned down approach, because he's gonna be plenty polarizing. It takes a while to get into what he's doing. You think the theatrics and flamboyance are a put-on, but as he progresses you realize how much he's doing with his voice. This is much less showy than what we saw from Hollywood and yet, by that token, so much better. By the time he gets to the end... he's tremendous.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler calls Jacob's presence "divine intervention" and says he's honored to be in Jacob's presence. Jacob gives credit to The Man in the Sky. "He's gone, but now we have you," J-Lo says of Luther Vandross. J-Lo's right on the verge of tears and Jacob is touched. "I think Luther would be so proud of you," Randy says, saying the show is lucky to have him.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: The other members of the Top 12 are in awe of Jacob Lusk. That doesn't mean he's going to win or anything. But as the second Jacob finished, at least three members of the Top 12 mouthed "WOW" to each other. Being the most technically gifted singer in the competition means next to nothing when it comes to winning, but one of my favorite moments of the taping was watching Jordan Dorsey's astounded, enthusiastic reaction to one of Jacob's runs.
Singer: Casey Abrams
Song: "I Put a Spell On You"
My Take: I think it helps if you realize how weak and unsteady Casey looked as he started. Because Casey looked pale, sweaty and on the verge of keeling over and then THIS SONG CAME OUT OF HIM. James Brown-esque, I'd say. There's not a word of this performance that isn't raw, deeply felt and emanating from some place deep inside. And then, after building to a bellow that would making Screaming Jay Hawkins proud, he ends on the sweetest of sweet notes. I'd say Jacob gave the vocal of the night, but Casey's performance-of-the-night margin was very wide.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler loves it. "As good as it gets... Crazy good," Tyler says. "You're sexy, Casey," J-Lo raves, saying that Casey's going to redefine what this thing is. "I love how you transformed yourself into the spirit of that song," Randy gushes. There's a brief discussion of Casey's medical issues. But only brief. Thankfully.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: The Top 11 Men were on stage prepping for a while before the show started and Casey, who was hospitalized last week, only made it out at the very last moment. He immediately left and was backstage until the second-to-last block. Just as you could tell how impressed the other singers were for and by Jacob, you could tell how relieved and pleased they were that Casey was able to pull this off. It was a cathartic performance really for the whole audience.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Casey's was the best performance. Jacob's was the best vocal. But I think Scotty was the best as solidifying and tapping into a fanbase. I also liked James and Paul to varying degrees. I'm gonna be honest with ya: I came away from the taping with, overall, a far better feeling about the Top 12 guys. Watching now? Less enthusiastic. Much less enthusiastic. Weird things happen live.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Jordan was awful. Brett was awful. They were both awful live as well. Tim was very bad. Clint was pretty bad. And on TV, Stefano was pretty bad.
IN DANGER: The five in my "Worst" category will all be in jeopardy with Thursday night's bloodshed coming. The middle-ground singers -- Robbie and Jovany, mostly -- will also be in trouble. Really, I feel pretty good about Casey, Jacob, James and Scotty advancing. The other eight may be sweating it out. At least one additional singer will advance from the vote and then the judges will surely take at least one guy, possibly two. I think if Robbie or Paul somehow didn't get voted in, the judges would pick one or both.
What do you think?
Everything: American Idol
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