Last week, the first group of Top 36 singers started strong (Ricky Braddy, Alexis Grace), came crashing down in the middle (Casey Carlson, Stevie Wright) and ended with the official "American Idol" coronation of Danny "The Redeemer" Gokey.
Would Wednesday (Feb. 25) night's "American Idol" be more consistent? Would anybody rise to challenge the Gokey Juggernaut? Or would Wednesday's show only be about making fun of Nick "Normund Gentle" Mitchell?
Full results after the break...
Singer: JASMINE MURRAY
Song: "Love Song"
My Take: This is one of those songs that starts low and moves up, so Jasmine doesn't sound completely comfortable until she hits the first chorus. In fact, the song may be just a smidge too low for her throughout, as she frequently gets lost in the arrangement. Jasmine was one of the early favorites and she's never been anything less than proficient in any of the clips we've seen. Tonight, it's hard to really hear her singing, since she hops, skips and jumps around the melody. You can still tell how good she could be, but that isn't the same as how she's sounding tonight. She looks comfortable and mature well beyond her years and doesn't suffer from the immediate stagefright that crushed Stevie last week.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: You know what's funny? It was pitchy all the way throughout for Randy, who didn't really like the song selection. Kara thought it was all over the place and she agrees with me that it started too low. Paula wants to disagree, but she can't. "I'm actually disappointed, because I like you," Simon says, praising her look, attitude and confidence, but not her voice. He suggests that she's a couple years too early.
Singer: MATT GIRAUD
Song: "Viva La Vida"
My Take: Matt reminds me a little bit of John from Cincinnati. Am I the only one? Nevermind. It's a mighty gutsy choice, singing a song this recent and this decorated. In the audition rounds, I compared Matt to Chris Richardson, but this is like a bad Chris Richardson performance. Where's the soulful touch Matt boldly announced he was going to bring to the song? To my mind, he's annoying, thin-voiced and warbly. He keeps throwing in vibrato, runs and at least one really unfortunate falsetto. And when I say "unfortunate falsetto," I mean I actually got a little bit queasy as he squealed off-pitch. All he made me do was recognize what amazing rock vocalist Chris Martin is. That's now two straight singers who are going to leave viewers trying to remember what they liked about them previously.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Kara starts off the commentary by remembering how much she was blown away by Matt before and how much she's not blown away now. She blames song-choice. Paula thinks it was a risky song choice and that he was better than in rehearsal. Who cares? Simon says it was "verging on a horrible performance," dubbing it "jerky and uncomfortable." Randy goes last this time, which just confuses me. He adds nothing new. Oh and if Randy thinks Chris Martin do a darned fine cover of any number of Ray Charles songs, he's nuts. Ryan tries making things awkward by leading a disagreement with the judges. Please shut up, Ryan.
Singer: JEANINE VAILES
Song: "This Love"
My Take: I have no memory at all of Jeanine. None. That means I don't have any expectations for her and that she can't let me down. And that's the nicest thing I have to say about her performance. She stumbles over the Maroon Five rhythms and basically lets the background singers handle the chorus for her. Perhaps to compensate, she oversings every other bit of the song. She shouts. She inserts runs. She shrieks. She does her own thing to avoid the melody. She nails the last note, but the performance is all gimmick.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Paula begins by raving about Jeanine's legs. That's it. Nothing else. Then she passes the baton to Simon, who calls it "terrible." This is the third straight wrong song for the night. He also likes her likes. The camera pans up. Randy throws in his one cent on the legs. At Simon's suggestion, Kara praises her lips, then calls it overdone. Jeanine protests that because she's been under-the-radar, she had to come out big. Kara quickly responds, "That's over-compensating." Ryan continues the talk about her legs.
Singer: NICK "NORMUND GENTLE" MITCHELL
Song: "I Am Telling You"
My Take: The early phases of tonight's episode have played right into Nick's hands. Jasmine was forgettable. Matt and Jeanine were horrible. Because Nick could hardly be less than memorable, it doesn't matter if he's good or bad, if he's Nick or Normund. He's going to stand out. He goes full-comedy and full Normund. This is absolutely without "American Idol" precedent, a contestant making an utter mockery of TV's most-watched show outside of the freakfest of the audition rounds. He vamps on the lyrics, plays to the crowd, serenades Doogie Howser and rocks the red headband and wristbands. He ruins the melody in several key parts, but voice-cracking, he doesn't seem to care. Say what you will, but the guy doesn't have any shame at all, while his last note is respectable and viable (especially after Matt and Jeanine. Does anybody really think he isn't going to advance?
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: I don't like this revolving judging order. Never again, eh? "I pray you do not go through to the next round," Simon says, insisting he's doing Nick a favor, calling it one of the worst performances in the history of the show. Randy, though, calls it one of the most entertaining performances, calling it funny. "At least we remember him," Kara says, comparing Normund's shiny shirt to Simon's. Paula compares him to Jerry Lewis and Olivia Newton-John, dubbing him a true performer. Even Normund confesses that some of the notes got lost. Ryan and Simon have one of their patented teasing homoerotic back-and-forths. We have a lot of time for Ryan banter this week because we aren't spending Red Room time with the parents.
Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
My Take: I missed San Francisco, so I haven't seen the bizarrely inarticulate Allison Iraheta before. Again, that means no expectations. She's dressed for her punky junior prom. I hope her date brings her a corsage. It starts out boring, but she gets much better when she gets to the chorus. Or at least she gets louder. She has the pipes for the yelling, but not entirely for the singing, so she gets pitchy at times. Her voice is raw, but impressively powerful. Right now? She isn't close to polished, but she's one of those singers who could get trained and made-over through the "American Idol" process and we might be left with something good.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: This show is still funny for Randy, who announces that Allison "blew it out da box." He says it "might be one da hottest tonight." Kara's impressed with how serious Allison is and urges her to just keep getting comfortable, and predicts a big hit. Paula whips out her "You could sing the telephone book." Last year, David Archuleta was able to sing the telephone book at least four or five times. Simon says she's the best tonight by "a clear mile." I'm going to agree that Allison is tonight's best, but there isn't any competition. I have a feeling that the judges upped their rhetoric as a direct reaction to Normund.
Singer: KRIS ALLEN
Song: "Man in the Mirror"
My Take: Who? How did this guy get into the Top 36, judges? This is embarrassingly middle-of-the-road, karaoke, talent-show. It's less than middle-of-the-road. At least Nick Mitchell was joking and found ways to get away from his vocal liabilities. Kris just sings earnestly, without distinction or self-awaress, blending into the background before my eyes. Generic. He couldn't make the Top 12 on "Canadian Idol."
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Kara likes his back-half more than his front-half, telling us that he was much better in Hollywood week. Since the producers chose not to show us anything in Hollywood, that's irrelevant, Kara. Paula went to her happy place, saying that he nailed it. Simon agrees with Paula. Simon's clever and knows that the only way to keep Nick out is to pimp excessively for lesser candidates. Randy says Kris did it without the guitar, praising his "jump off." Wow. I'm liking Kara more and more every second. She's suddenly the only judge making any sense. We seem to be running long, because Kris doesn't get any post-song interview.
Singer: MEGAN JOY CORKREY
Song: "Put Your Record On"
My Take: I loved Megan's audition. Then they didn't show her in the Hollywood rounds. I could have done without the background singers, but Megan may be the season's first actual vocal stylist, somebody capable of being unique and distinctive. Her stage presence is a bit laughable. She has a broke babydoll shimmy she does. Her hips swing awkwardly, her arms flop loosely in front of her. She's a puppet without a puppeteer. And yet she's beautiful and camera-friendly and totally at ease with herself. It's not a combination that seems to go together.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Paula says Megan picked the right song, that she's interesting, relevant, hip and cool and beautiful. "You're a funny little thing, aren't you?" Simon asks. Though he says she oversang the second half of the song, he urges America to vote for her. Randy throws out a few comparisons. Kara calls her a "package artist," promising that with the right song, she could have a breakout hit. I believe we can safely assume that even if America doesn't pick her, Megan will make her way into the Top 12 somehow. Ryan asks her about her dance move, The Corkrey. "You should see me do the Cold-Hearted Snake," Ryan adds. That's possibly the gayest thing he's ever said, but Simon keeps mum.
Singer: MATT BREITZKE
Song: "If You Could Only See"
My Take: Matt is a welder like Michael Sarver is an oilrigger, which is to say that it's a personal narrative that we're never going to hear the end of. Matt's a bar band singer and he has a certain control and confidence on the stage. He connects with the camera and with his environment. Vocally, it's OK at best. Nothing in Matt's voice is rock-y or blues-y or soulful. It just hits the notes.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Simon likes Matt, but he "absolutely hated that song." He'd have advised a different song choice. Matt disagrees, and not in nice way. Randy also wanted something more exciting, more edge and energy. Can we stop saying we like Matt? What difference does that make? Kara thought it was flat. Paula says every note was in key. Simon asks him if Matt if he still disagrees after hearing the criticism. He does. He's becoming less likable by the second.
Singer: JESSE LANGSETH
Song: "Betty Davis Eyes
My Take: This season's theme, in case you haven't caught on, is Hot Moms. This is one of the night's better song choices. Jesse's nasal and affected and the song doesn't showcase all that much range, but she's also got a smoke tone and she's able to work the lyrics of the song. Boy, I'd prefer if she's open her own eyes and tone down the funny faces.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Randy thought it was "OK of a performance." He wanted, though, to be "blown out da box" again. She decides to ask him what he wanted to see instead. There's a ton of talkback tonight. Kara likes her look and parts of the song. Paula found her captivating, liking her look, her cool and her phrasing. Simon disagrees and says, "I think you're forgettable" and adds "It was too cool for school." Jesse keeps talking back and making faces.
Singer: KAI KALAMA
Song: "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted"
My Take: Kai is a good-looking guy and he has a lot of natural charisma, but he needs to work on his on-stage expressiveness. He keeps making John Stamos faces. Watch him. Think of Stamos. You'll see what I'm talking about. The song has been arranged to require almost nothing of him and other than a couple messy notes, he coasts. If he gets voted through, it will be because the ladies love his charm. This was not a singer's performance.
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Kara says he had pitch issues, but he gave it his all. Paula notes that Kai sounded good on the song except for when he didn't. Simon calls it corny and calls it a wedding and hotel performance. He predicts he'll be a good back-up singer. Randy wanted something hot.
Singer: MISHAVONNA HENSON
Song: "Drops of Jupiter"
My Take: Instant reaction to the song choice? Oh no. Thankfully, it isn't the original arrangement, so it could have been far worse. It's been tailored to her voice, which I think is probably pretty good. There are some bad moments early including a key change that seemed to come out of nowhere. Mishavonna gets better as she goes along. This is yet another song that feels much too easy for this showcase. In the Top 12, where you're just trying not to get the fewest votes, there's something to be said for playing it safe and waiting for somebody else to screw up. At this stage, shouldn't people be trying to blow us away?
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Paula wasn't excited, but Mishavonna can sing. This is actually a song that Simon likes. He thinks she's technically a good singer, but he was left cold. He wanted something fun and youthful. With Paula having a giggle-fit, Randy wanted her to take younger and less band-oriented music. Kara doesn't know where she fits in the music industry. Paula's giggle-fit becomes a sneezing fit. Mishavonna tells Ryan in the most 50-year-old-woman way possible that she's really crazy, or capable of being crazy. Sure you can, honey.
Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
My Take: This is the second straight week that the singer who received the most pre-Top 36 exposure (other than Nick/Normund, obviously) also got the closing pimp spot. The musical theater does exactly the version of "Satisfaction" that I'd expect to hear when the inevitable Rolling Stones compilation musical hits Broadway in the next few years. It's range-y, dynamic and well-enuncianced. At times Adam seems to even be doing an impression of Mick Jagger's stage style, but it's not Mick Jagger, it's a stage performer throwing in Mick Jagger grace notes. If I had to describe Adam in two words, those words would be "entertaining" and "manic."
John, Paul, George and Simon Say: Paula, though, has no words to express her love for what she calls an "Adam Lambert Concert." Simon thought parts were excruciatingly bad and parts were brilliant, predicting it will be a love-it/hate-it performance. Randy also loved it. Randy calls him current and compares him to Robert Pattinson. He drops "da bomb." Kara adores his range and technique. Ryan then references "Edward Cullen" and Adam says he loves the book and the movie.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Megan was my favorite and while I didn't like Adam and Allison quite as much as the judges, they definitely stood out on a night full of so-so and poor performance. And on a second listen, Jasmine Murray was a tiny bit better than I initially thought.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Nick's in a league of his own and critiquing him is pretty pointless. He, at least, was entertaining. Matt Giraud, Kris Allen and Jeanine Vailes weren't even that.
LIKELY TO ADVANCE: I hate to say it, but I think Nick advances along with Adam and either Megan or (my guess) Allison.
What'd y'all think? Is Nick Mitchell a breath of fresh air or the death of the show? And can Adam Lambert possibly live up to the standards set by Robert Pattinson? "Twilight" fans?