Recap: 'American Idol' - The Top 12 Women Perform
The Laurens shine, the Killer Z's struggle and Pia wins the night
Watching the Top 12 Men perform on-air on Tuesday, I realized that I'd fallen victim to In Person Inflation Syndrome, convincing myself after watching the taping that the contestants were better than they turned out to be.
What will that mean for the Top 12 Women on Wednesday (March 2) night?
I walked out of the Monday taping convinced that the gals were completely inferior to the guys. Did I suffer from In Person Deflation Syndrome and will they all prove to be far better than I thought? Or will it turn out that the women were even worse than my middling initial read?
Click through for my recap. Once again, I'll be including some additional tidbits from my time in the audience. The caveat is that Monday's taping was far more fluid than Friday's, so there may not be anything juicy this time around...
Singer: Tatynisa Wilson
Song: "Only Girl (In the World)"
My Take: Tatynisa's fallen victim to Jordan Dorey-itis, attempting to shoehorn herself into a contemporarily mold that she doesn't really fit by singing a song that doesn't require any actual singing. Does Tatynisa have a better voice than Rihanna? Well, probably she does. Technically. But she doesn't have any of the other intangibles that make Rihanna whatever it is that she is today. So Tatynisa talks a little on the verses, shouts a little on the chorus and struts around like a somewhat proud (but maybe not proud enough) peacock. I mean, she looks terrific, but she's not selling anything that "American Idol" viewers have ever traditionally bought. [Note: In person, her energy delivered this performance a tiny bit better. You could watch Tatynisa bouncing around and that was a proxy for listening to her. On TV, without that energy, she actually sounded horrid.]
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "The song sang you, you sang the song beautifully," Tyler says confusingly. Lopez gives her already patented "Aren't you glad this first performance is over?" Randy again tells the truth calling it, "Just OK" and that she didn't really bring anything. J-Lo likes fighting with Randy. It's becoming her thing. "Being a performer is about moving the crowd and she moved the crowd," J-Lo says. "I was a part of the crowd that wasn't moved," Randy complains.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: You couldn't see the weird hydraulics thing that happened with the platform the guys were sitting on. Before Ryan greeted the guys and made the joke about how that was a short joke, what you didn't see was their seating area drop by nearly a foot. It wasn't a scary drop, but it was odd and funny. And perhaps odder that they left it in the episode without context.
Singer: Naima Adedapo
My Take: This makes me a sad. Naima has a great voice. She has an unreal sense of style. So why would you come out to do a decent (but unremarkable) version of a song that's been done on this show about as well as anybody could possibly hope to manage. And if you're not going to touch Fantasia... Yeah. Not a great idea. At least she isn't doing the Fantasia arrangement. This is more Carmen Miranda than Fantasia. Yes, her banana yellow dress is what took me there. Listening, you keep getting occasional indications of unique phrasing and grace notes, but the performance itself is so stage-y and club-y. This is an act. Fantasia's version was felt deep inside, from the first not to the last. Naima closes strong, which helps. Not bad. I wanted better.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You're like an exotic flower," J-Lo says, before Naima explains that's what her name actually means. For Randy, though, it was a little lounge-y. But he enjoyed the second half, especially the end. Tyler calls it "Early Ella Fitzgerald." He adds, "I love you a lot and I liked it a lot tonight."
FROM THE AUDIENCE: If you're noticing more booing early in the show, that's because the warm-up dude reminded us of our right to be vocal *before* the show, as opposed to having Nigel Lythgoe come out and instruct us in the middle as happened with last night's telecast. We were told to be the fourth judge and to try to sway the other three. I'm not sure it takes much to sway Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez to be complimentary.
Singer: Kendra Chantelle
My Take: As a Nashville girl, Kendra's been presented to us as a little country, so tonight she wanted to show that she's a little bit rock-n-roll. Or at least that's what her leather pants seem to be saying. The song itself is Christina Aguilera, which again cheats our country expectations. There are a few shrill notes where Kendra has to settle into the melody, rather than hitting it right-off. The last note, for example, goes from out of tune to in tune to out of tune to back in tune. But overall? Solid. She shows a lot of range and a fair amount of presence.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy loves the vibrato to Kendra's voice, comparing her to Lauryn Hill, which is a bit insane. He mentions the sharp notes, but moves on. "Voice hot, clothes hot, style hot," Tyler says. And J-Lo loves Kendra's heart. J-Lo feels like there's more to her, that "we're just scratching the surface."
FROM THE AUDIENCE: As I mentioned last night, Ryan doesn't quite have the banter down with this group of judges. Steven doesn't understand his jokes, Randy is Randy and I think Ryan may be intimidated by J-Lo. But during the breaks and pauses, he's hilarious, shuffling through his various professional personas, occasionally asking people who they're wearing or "taking calls" from the audience and doing his radio schtick. And it's all done without ever creasing his perfectly tailored suits. Ryan's a pro. One of his best moments was improvising a whispered dialogue between producer Nigel Lythgoe and Stage Manager Debbie, complete with two different voices (neither of which sounds all that much like Nigel or Debbie, but still...).
Singer: Rachel Zevita
My Take: Be honest: How long did it take for you to stop being distracted by Rachel's discarded black poncho, cast-aside microphone and out-of-left-field dive-bar affectations to realize that she was doing a heavily rearranged Fiona Apple song? It took me a long time. The arrangement is a little cabaret, but that's not necessarily out of character with Apple's persona either. And it's not like Rachel doesn't have the voice to sing Fiona Apple. She's comfortable and strong-voiced when she's standing and singing. But when she starts walking around the stage and around the judges, she doesn't have the lungs. She also isn't sure how far she wants to go. That's why she becomes less and less in-character as she progresses, less and less confident and, with that, less and less melodic. The performance starts off weird and ends up bad and there isn't much nice to say about the middle. Then as soon as Rachel ends, the character vanishes instantly and she's vulnerable and, rightfully, insecure.
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Singer: Karen Rodriguez
My Take: Some people are going to love Karen. I'm not. To me, she's not a singer. She's a Miss Miami pageant contestant, ticking demographic boxes and pandering to everybody all at once, making sure that she knows what the judges love and then staring them down until the love what she does. She sounds OK, but she knows where the camera is and always has a soft smile for it. The switching back and forth between English and Spanish adds nothing to the performance other than attempting to bridge a gap to a neglected "Idol" audience. She mumbles in English, but enunciates very well in Spanish, so it may behoove her to just ditch the English entirely. Also, the big note that the audience loves is waaaaay off until the *very* end. As she concludes, all I want to do is see how she'll perform in the swimsuit and interview portions of the competition. I don't need to see her "talent" again.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo says "Wow" at least five times and then raves about the English/Spanish swapping. Randy thinks Karen made it her own. I'm confused by that. There was no passion to her performance at all, just lyrics in Spanish. Tyler calls her "one of a kind" and suggests that Karen should sing a duet with Jacob. "How's your Spanish, Jacob?" Ryan yells to Mr. Lusk, who responds "Muy bien!"
FROM THE AUDIENCE: The post-judging stuff with Jacob was spontaneous. The first time around. Then they had to do at least four different pick-ups to get his reaction on camera perfectly, which became less spontaneous each time. By the last one, Stage Manger Debbie jokes, "This is 'The Jacob Lusk Muy Bien Show.'" After the last take was deemed acceptable, Seacrest mixed things up by yelling, "Jacob, how's your *French*?" Not so muy bien.
Singer: Lauren Turner
Song: "Seven Day Fool"
My Take: Lauren Turner has a problem. Vocally, she's one of the two or three best girls in the competition. She may, in fact, be the best we've got on the distaff side. But in terms of presence and performance, she doesn't have a clue what she wants to be or how she'd want to present herself to an audience or to judges. She has a little half-hearted shimmy and a pervasive sneer and little else. But when I close my eyes, Lauren sounds great. "Idol" voters are superficial and I fear she might need help from the judges to stick around as long as she probably ought to. I'd much rather listen to Lauren Turner's blues-y rawness than Karen's over-polished generic quality. Now somebody just needs to polish Lauren's persona, without touching the voice.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy says "Amy Winehouse meets Florence and the Machine" and calls it "very nice." Tyler calls it spectacular and says "Lauren Turner meets Lauren Turner." He adds that it was "a perfect, full, complete sentence." J-Lo accuses Lauren of holding back physically, but adds that her voice is undeniable.
Singer: Ashthon Jones
Song: "Love All Over Me"
My Take: This is what I feared from the repeated cut-aways on Ashthon's "And I Am Telling You" Hollywood Week solo. She's got the swagger. She's got the sass. She's got some soul. But her actual voice is thin and unmemorable. It's like she's got everything except for the important thing. She's not a C-grade Diva, but she's a B-grade Diva (in contrast to Jennifer Hudson/Tamyra level) and Diva's are usually forced to sing A-level songs. This isn't all that great song anyway. Monica's not the rangiest of singers, but already on the big notes you can hear the cracking in Ashthon's voice. The judges are now going to push Ashthon to be a diva, because that's the only thing they know how to recommend for African-American female singers.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You've got the confidence of a queen and you sing so sweet," Tyler leers. J-Lo praises her for having "all the makings of a Diva," raving about Ashthon's confidence. Randy likes Ashthon, but he didn't love the song. "It's cool, but I think you're broader and bigger than that," Randy says. J-Lo tells Ashthon that she should be less Monica and more Diana Ross. This is so wrong it hurts. Ashthon does not have the voice to sing Diana Ross and I hope we don't have to hear it.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: As I mentioned yesterday, the "Idol" crowds have been strongly pro-Steven Tyler this season and the young lady sitting across from me had a distinct groupie air about her. She kept trying to get stage managers to go up and get Steven to look up at her and her slightly creepy sign. Then, when the stage manager pointed to a woman in the audience and identified her as Steven Tyler's girlfriend? Well, let's just say the look she gave was a bunny-boiling look.
Singer: Julie Zorrilla
Song: "Break Away"
My Take: This is the second singer tonight to make a mistake by tackling a song associated with a former "Idol" winner. And she has, unfortunately, picked a song that accentuates her biggest flaw: That robotic quality that the judges mentioned in the Green Mile episode. Julia looks gorgeous. Stunning, really. And she sounds fine, everything's on-key and proficient. But you know what Kelly Clarkson never failed to do? She never failed to to leave it all on the stage. You never felt like Kelly was being bloodless and robotic. With Julie, I don't have a clue what she's singing about, what she wants to break away from, why she chose this song. It's there. She's beautiful. Not much else to say. She looks like a girl called up to do a random solo at her prom without ever having performed with the prom band before. The band is louder than she is, but they've got to compensate. This is a real dud from one of my pre-Top 24 favorites.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo liked it, but didn't feel like it was the best they've seen her do. "It's connecting to those words that make people believe your performance," says a regretful J-Lo. Randy wanted something different and new, something that would make her special. The audience barely boos. "Wrong song for you," says Tyler, forced into the position of being negative.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Speaking of stalker-types, you won't notice them, but there are too ginormous bodyguards who sit to the immediate left and immediate right of the judges table, oddly mixed in with family members and the sorority girls and FOX TV personalities who are hand-picked to sit behind and around the judges. I think they belong to J-Lo, though they may be there for J-Lo and Steven both. I fairly confident they aren't there to keep people away from Randy.
Singer: Haley Reinhart
My Take: I don't remember the last time we saw an "Idol" performance that was this aggressively "come hither." Clad in a mighty fetching, mighty short, mighty tight black dress, Haley's every gesture and intonation is intended to show viewers that she might be a good time. I mean, check out the back curl and growl on the lyric "How do you give me so much pleasure." And how much fun is the director having shooting Haley only from the naked shoulders up, as she tosses her hair and coos? It's a little porn-y and uncomfortable at times and a little sexy and effective at other times. I'd watch Haley perform again.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "Alicia does a great job, but it doesn't do anything for you," Randy says, actually calling it karaoke. "I heard just the right amount of style and just the right amount of sexy," Steven disagrees. As she has all season so far, J-Lo agrees with Steve, but she tells Haley she wants to see more movement. "The judges are disagreeing, Ryan! There's disagreement up here," Randy boasts.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Through some directing trickery, we appeared to either miss or trim away an awkward moment where Haley got to the end of the stage, seemed to contemplate going down the steps, realized that with her heels it wasn't a good idea and then stepped back. It all happened in an instant and I didn't see it on TV, though I may have been distracted by the growling.
Singer: Thia Megia
Song: "Out Here On My Own"
My Take: Smart song choice, dipping into the "Fame" catalogue and bringing out a song totally intended for a young artist. Brilliant decision to start a cappella. Really just a savvy opening from one of the season's youngest contestants. Thia wanted to say one thing and one thing only here: I can SING. The personality and the style and the more advanced technical aspects may come later. There are definitely notes that come off a bit sharp and nasally listening now (I thought it was pretty flawless in person), but I still think this performance makes its point strongly.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Tyler raves at Thia's youth and her pitch. "It was just so beautiful," J-Lo gushes. Randy loves "the quality of the tone of the voice." Interestingly, he compares Thia's tone to Michael Jackson. She's confused a bit, but when he bellows, "This is what hot singing is about," she realizes it's a good thing.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Not much movement from Thia tonight. There's a reason. She couldn't move in those shoes. She was getting assistance on and off and around the stage. Hard to know why that was her fashion choice, but hey... she SANG!
Singer: Lauren Alaina
Song: "Turn on the Radio"
My Take: Lauren's my pick as the girl most likely to sneak around the male frontrunners and win this thing. I'm not sure she'll be able to do it and I also don't know if this is the kind of performance that's going to do much for her. Like Julie, Lauren's struggling to be heard over the band, though she does a better job of holding it together than Julie did. I also really don't need 16-year-old "Idol" girls slapping their own butts. It's not a good fit with Lauren's relatable persona. If Scotty McCreery's the guy the young voters are gonna with they could date, Lauren's the gal young female voters are gonna wanna be like. She's fun, but not naughty-Haley-fun and precocious, but not uncanny-Thia-precocious. When she finds the right songs, people will really like her.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo knows there's more in there, calling Lauren "a natural." Randy echoes that Lauren has natural talent, but says there's so much more in there. Randy compares Lauren to Carrie meets Kelly. Nice. Tyler says something confusing about how we haven't seen the best of her, but she kills him and she's in the stratosphere. And then... Here's why we'll like Lauren. She introduces us to Ryan as "Peaches Seacrest," because they're both from Georgia.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: "Idol" still hasn't figured out what to do with the upper deck behind the stage, which was featured a bit on last night's show, but barely spotted, even in the background, tonight. There was lots of indecision on whether they could stand, whether they should be clapping along, etc.
Singer: Pia Toscano
Song: "I'll Stand By You"
My Take: In my initial handicapping, I referred to Pia Toscano as The Poor Man's Julie Zorrilla. Obviously the "Idol" producers were just screwing with me. Julie Zorrilla turned out to be The Poor Man's Pia Toscano. Fair enough. This is all-too-familiar an "Idol" favorite and nobody's going to accuse Pia of putting her own stamp on the song. All she does is sing the heck out of it, getting better as she goes along and nailing the final notes. The reaction at the end is ecstatic, from the crowd, but also from Pia's fellow contestants.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You just put yourself in the top with those amazing performances who have gone on to do amazingly good things," Randy raves. "After a Monday and Tuesday, even a week says WTF," Tyler notes. "Honestly, I feel like you were a little tricky because you were saving that," J-Lo says, calling it "out of this world." Frankly, I thought the judges were a wee bit over-the-top. This was a very good performance, but it wasn't a performance with anything distinctive about it. I still say there were at least three better performances from the men, but there may not have been any better performances tonight.
FROM THE AUDIENCE: Pia is beautiful. She doesn't just come like that out of the box, though. While the Top 12 men just set around their stools waiting to perform and cracking jokes last Friday, the ladies were all in some form of upkeep during every commercial break. And Pia was getting tweaked and adjusted for two or three breaks before her performance. But she's a hair stylist, right? So she knows what she likes.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Pia was tops for the night, followed by Thia. Heh. That rhymes. Lauren Turner probably gave the third best vocal, while Lauren Alaina was somewhere in the Top 4, performance-wise. And props to Naima's dress and to her potential, somewhat unfulfilled.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Tatynisa, Rachel and Julie were pretty bad.
IN DANGER: Thia, Pia and Lauren Alaina are almost certain to be voted in. Tatynisa and Rachel probably don't stand a chance of advancing either with the help of the judges or the American People. This is where things get interesting. I can easily imagine Lauren Turner not getting voted in and forcing the judges to give her a Wild Card slot. Ditto with Karen Rodriguez, who would probably be J-Lo's pick if she isn't America's. If the voters make the right choices, somebody like a Julie Zorrilla might get a pity Wild Card based on previously displayed potential. But really, this sucker is wide open on the Ladies' Side.
What did you think?
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