Recap: 'American Idol' Semifinals - The Top 13 Men Perform
Let's get down to performing!
I've been doing live-blogs all through the seemingly endless audition and Hollywood phases of the season. I've never tried live-blogging a performance episode. So I'll give it a try tonight and it'll either work or it won't. Probably that means that I'll be updating the blog after each performance. So semi-live-blogging?
Anyway... Let's see how this goes! Follow along and chime in with your own opinions on each performance...
The judges take the stage first with the same weird announcer-guy from last season. Ryan is too cool to wear a tie. J-Lo is very consciously covering her nipples. The newly rebooted "Idol" stage looks very similar to last year's new "Idol" stage.
Seacrest confirms that we will, once again, have a Top 13 determined on Thursday night. Top 5 Guys. Top 5 Gals. And three Wild Cards from the judges. Just like last season.
This week's theme is... Anything.
Singer: Reed Grimm
Song: "Moves Like Jagger"
My Take: Oh God. This is a ridiculous song choice. I know that Reed thinks of himself as a showman, but channeling a song by a judge on a slightly more successful (this season) reality show? That's just a weird choice. Kudos, though, to Reed for sticking with the song's swearing bits, sacrificing three seconds of prime singing time to getting bleeped over. He makes his way to a drum kit on a platform. You know what this performance isn't showcasing at all? Reed's voice. He's doing only the lowest, least interesting part of the song. And he doesn't, in fact, have moves that are anything like Jagger. He moves around the stage decently enough and his energy is good, but as a showcase performance to open the show? This is so-so at best.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "Great choice," says a weirdly confused Randy, who is stuck on comparing Reed to Casey Abrams. J-Lo thinks he showed that he's jazzy and musical and has an amazing voice. Steven Tyler rambles and refers to a whole new generation will be watching Reed's ass. The censor misses and "ass" isn't bleeped.
Singer: Adam Brock
My Take: "I have been told that there is a large black woman trapped inside me," Adam said in his clip package and... well... HERE SHE COMES! I'm a smidge disappointed he didn't hit the stage in full Blues Brothers costume, but this is, in fact, a far superior way to be starting the show than Reed's "Voice"-pandering. The arrangement of the song isn't especially challenging, but Adam is definitely showcasing his status as a better-than-average (but not especially great) blues singer. Unlike Reed's performance, this says EXACTLY who Adam is, for better or for worse. He hits the notes solid, including a big closer.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "It's hard to make a comment about anything here," says professional judge Steven Tyler, calling Adam "brilliant." J-Lo liked the big note at the end. Randy likes the blue-eyed soul vibe. "Good looking out," Randy gushes. But Randy prefers dark chocolate, which Randy takes as a compliment.
Singer: DeAndre Brackensick
My Take: Get ready for the falsetto, kids!!!! THERE IT IS. I know the judges love DeAndre and his falsetto-y affectations, but... Ummm... No. It's not as good as they want to pretend it is and when he transitions out of the falsetto into his natural voice, there's insufficient contrast. Will teenage girls love all of this hair-tossing? Because... It's ridiculous. The judges mocked Brett Loewenstern for excess hair-tossing last year. Will DeAndre be similarly lambasted? I dunno. I've heard much better versions of what DeAndre is trying to be. He's filling a different R&B niche from what the show had had before, but I don't think he's filling it well. The audience seems to love it. Ugh. This is a problem. I get the feeling that America and I are gonna be out-of-synch on DeAndre all season long. I guess now that Willow Smith has cut her hair, there's a void for DeAndre in America's heart.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I told you this was going to happen if you keep singing songs like that," Tyler says of the squealing crowd. "I am so happy," J-Lo says, predicting an amazing year for DeAndre. Randy calls him out-of-the-box commercial. "Loving you," Randy gushes. Randy even brings too small children up to the stage to huge DeAndre. They look like they're meeting a dreamboat rock star.
Singer: Colton Dixon
My Take: Colton says he's going to shock the American viewers who are used to seeing him play the piano. He does this by performing at a piano. I'm distracted by the way the stage lights are reflecting off the tips of his hair. He's like one of those light-wands with the fiber-optics at the end? Know what I'm talking about? Whew. After starting the performance mediocrely on the piano Colton stands and begins taking his nasally wail away from the stool and then up on top of the piano. On the lower notes, he's not very good. It's just not what his voice was designed for. But as it gets higher, he definitely sounds like he could front a Coldplay cover band. He's like James Durbin meets Blake Lewis. I have no idea if that comparison is a compliment or not, but it definitely suggests the possibility of a fauxhawk in his future.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy calls him the show's own "indie alt-rocker," raving at the show's variety, being all "Wow." J-Lo loves that she can feel Colton's heart and that it gets her every time. She calls him "relevant." Steven says that we saw Colton's true talent and he echoes J-Lo's use of "relevant." I'm off to give myself skunk hair. I also want to be relevant.
Singer: Jeremy Rosado
My Take: Weird. A Sarah Bareilles song? This is our second song tonight from the judge on an NBC singing reality show. Because why wouldn't you want to hear a lifeless karaoke version of a singer-songwriter track? I didn't think Jeremy was terrific in Hollywood and he's not great here either, becoming particularly rocky when the band begins playing a counter-melody. He's not good enough staying on a strict melody to sing against the music. His big note is wildly sharp and he seems to pull out of it early. He recovers the melody at the end, but... Yeah. This isn't a good start so far.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That was beautiful. You couldn't have picked a better song," Tyler says, adding that Jeremy should be America's Idol just for his big heart. Tyler adds that it was "as beautiful as beautiful gets." J-Lo calls him "Jer-Bear" and says his voice is a blessing from God. "America, you guys need to know about Jeremy," Randy raves, loving the "tender moments and the big booming vocals." I heard no big, booming vocals.
Singer: Aaron Marcellus
Song: "Never Can Say Good-Bye"
My Take: If you pretend that "Aaron Marcellus" is like Childish Gambino, another performance art piece by Donald Glover, this all becomes much better. This song has been arranged much too low for both Aaron's voice and to capture the interesting aspects of this song. He gets better as the song builds and he has solid stage presence. He is an older singer and he comes across as a good deal more polished and mature than several earlier contestants, even if I don't like the way the song was adjusted for him. I also did NOT need that squealing last note, but the judges did. They give Aaron the night's first standing ovation. I... don't get it. That was OK. But it wasn't Standing OK...
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That run that you did near the end was crazy," Randy says. "Boy can sing. That's the end of the story with you," J-Lo says. Steven Tyler was pleased. And of course he was.
Singer: Chase Likens
Song: "Storm Warning"
My Take: Chase is like a Country Robert Pattinson. I don't know this song at all. Like the best of tonight's performers, Chase is... OK. He works the stage decently. He plays to the crowd well. He hits the higher notes pretty well. He isn't nearly as steady on the lower notes. But he makes the audience happy.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You've got a Brendan Fraser/'The Mummy' look about you," Tyler says. I like mine better. J-Lo also praises his movie star good looks. "You definitely have range," Randy says, adding that he's "a good-looking dude" and he's ready.
Singer: Creighton Fraker
Song: "True Colors"
My Take: Creighton's ready to show his true colors on... yeah. Why is everybody this season singing out of their foreheads? Creighton is yet another nasally caterwauler. It's made even worse by the decision to start his performance on a stool. Creighton Fraker may be a Bronson Pinchot character. That's not going to play as well as either Donald Glover or Robert Pattinson. And that performance was in no way impressive. It was yet another shrill, nasally display of personality. And not only shrill and nasally, but vocally *thin* and shrill and nasally.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo calls that "so beautiful" and she can't imagine how America is going to choose. J-Lo doesn't want him to go home. Tyler compares it possibility to the original, calling Creighton unique. "Dude, you can definitely sing," Randy says.
Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: "In the Air Tonight"
My Take: God Bless, Phil-Phil.For the first time tonight, I'm actually paying attention to vocals, music, to phrasing and to originality. I'm not saying he's appreciably different from or better than David Cook, but following what we've seen tonight so far? Good God. It's like a whole different competition. Mostly? HE DOESN'T SUCK! And... HE ISN'T SINGING OUT OF THE TOP OF HIS HEAD! Plus? Sax solo! More Phil-Phil! More sax solo.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "There is no doubt that you're most of the most special talents we found this year on the road," J-Lo says. "Man, you've got a crazy kind of voice," Tyler says, saying he made it beautiful. Randy wasn't jumping up and down about "the re-harm of the melody," Seriously? That's the first performance you have negative words for? Go away, Randy. He compares him to Dave Matthews. That's not un-true. But seriously, Randy? THAT you're going to criticize?
Singer: Eben Franckewitz
Song: "Set Fire to the Rain"
My Take: Cross-gender covers are always risky, but if you're gonna tap into your inner chanteuse, you might as well go with the one who's got the seven-times platinum album. Unfortunately, as much as I've liked Eben's pure, high voice at previous points in the competition -- he's hot a high voice that doesn't come out of his nose -- this isn't really a good match for his skills. He's high and pure, but he's not powerful in an Adele kinda powerhouse way. Also, the FLAMES ARE EVERYWHERE. Where's Tommy Gavin when you need him? He closes with a big note that pays off and almost saves the performance.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "It wasn't all perfect, but at the end, you brought it home," Randy says. It's true. It was not all perfect. All. That's generous. J-Lo also thinks the middle of the performance was unsure, but that he "really, really held on." Steven recommends that he listen to some blues records. Tyler calls Eben "pretty good," which by tonight's judging standards might as well equal "horrible in every imaginable way," since anything less than "beautiful" or "genius" from Tyler is like being stabbed with a hot poker.
Singer: HeeJun Han
My Take: Heejun is trying SO hard to enunciate tonight. I want to give him credit for that. He has, as ever, flawless tone and solid grasp of the notes. But he's not Robbie Williams and I'm not sure that he's Little Archie. This song isn't what he should be doing. He's soulful, but not schmaltzy and this song requires more schmaltz than he can sell. He nails the ending and I hope America votes for this kid. He's everything "American Idol" has never recognized before. He's funny. He's weird. He loves his mom. He works with special needs kids. Seriously, America. LOVE HEEJUN.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "Smooth as silk," J-Lo says of Heejun's voice, but the song didn't show enough of his voice for her. "There's no denying that you can blow," she adds. Tyler dips his toes into near-racism by singing "Hey Jude." Get over it. Randy also didn't love the song choice. Heejun believes in angels. Hopefully America will believe in him.
Singer: Joshua Lidet
Song: "You Pulled Me Through"
My Take: Wait. We pronounce the "t" at the end of Joshua's name? Well, OK. This is a Jennifer Hudson song? OK. Of the "Idol" head singers, Joshua is the best by a wide margin. He'd be much better off in a season that didn't have six or seven subpar versions of him. He's a straight-up Motown throwback and he's got the potential to utterly blow the doors off this competition. THAT standing ovation I agree with. This kid has range, emotion and some style. Seriously, I hate "Idol" covers of "Change Is Gonna Come," but I want to hear Joshua sing Sam Cooke.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "The doors to the church are wide open," Randy says, saying "this is what singing is all about." "You are amazing," J-Lo, who says she just wants to punch Josh, he's so good. "You are the voice the world's been waiting to hear," Tyler says. Randy punches Joshua on J-Lo's behalf.
Singer: Jermaine Jones
Song: "Dance With My Father"
My Take: Singing John Coffey, For the Win! Deal with it, Cowboy, Pretty Boy and David Leathers Jr. I'm glad Jermaine Jones got a second chance. What I don't get is why the judges brought a 13th guy back, but not a 13th gal. Lauren Gray definitely deserved a second choice. Please, please, please let this guy advance. His rumbling baritone is such a welcome relief after the season's falsetto boys. This dude's a man. The competition needs his voice. He's the Anti-DeAndre Brackensick. The judges stand for him. They want him to Melanie Amaro his way into the Finals. And the actual performance? Well, he doesn't really have a Luther Vandross voice, so it's not Luther karaoke. It's more trained and resonant than most of what we've heard today.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy praises him as different and unique. "You do have such a special voice and you have a special spirit," J-Lo says. "What a beautiful thing, man," Tyler says.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Phillip Phillips and Joshua Lidet were my two favorites tonight by a wide margin. I really don't feel like singling anybody else out for praise.
TONIGHT'S WORST: DeAndre Brackensick makes me sad. I wanted to like Eben Franckewitz, but he was rough. Creighton Fraker was a wreck. And Jeremy Rosado isn't very good. I could ditch seven or eight of these guys without missing them for a second.
Chime in... Who'd you like? Who'd you hate? And who do you REALLY wanna see advance on Thursday?