Recap: 'American Idol' Semifinals - The Women Perform
Tuesday night's "American Idol" wasn't a very good showcase for the season's Top 13 Men.
However, it was a perfectly decent showcase for my ability to do a live-blog for a performance show. I was a bit pitchy at first, but I worked it out and the experience proved that, really, I could recap the phone book.
Thus? I'm ready to go with another live-blog for Wednesday's episode celebrating the Top 12 (unless they sneak in a 13th) Women.
Singer: Chelsea Sorrell
Song: "Cowboy Cassanova"
My Take: Anybody else get the feeling that Chelsea and Skylar Lane may need to have a shooting contest to win the hearts of America's Heartland voters? Chelsea's doing a solid, proficient cover of a Carrie Underwood song that I don't really know. There are some slightly off-notes, but she's already more successfully in the "Idol" country wheelhouse than Chase Likens was yesterday. Unfortunately, Chelsea's only the first of a slew of interchangeable country-inflected "Idol" women tonight and I certainly hope she won't prove to be the best, because if she does, it's gonna be a long night.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You definitely can sing," Randy says, but he didn't love the choice. Randy cautions that she needs to separate herself from Carrie Underwood, which is absurd, because nobody has a clue who Chelsea is at this point, so it's not like we're actually going to confuse her with Carrie. J-Lo, who didn't call a single one of last night's "Idol" males "nasally," calls Chelsea nasally. That's kinda absurd, J-Lo. If Steven said anything constructive, I missed it because my Slingbox had issues. I'm just gonna assume, though, that he didn't say anything constructive.
Singer: Erika Van Pelt
Song: "What About Love"
My Take: Erika's hair is taking itself very seriously tonight. It's sitting down flat, and the streaks are under-played. And she's got J-Lo singing along to her Heart cover immediately. It starts off a vocally unsteady, but as she builds, Erika reminds us that she's one of this season's big-voiced contestants. There's excessive vibrato in the verses that suggests a lack of confidence with singing the song purely -- since this is a straight-up karaoke arrangement -- and that mostly vanishes when she's opening up on the chorus. What I liked about Erika back in her first audition was the big personality that matched the big voice, but tonight the personality is mostly gone. At least the voice is still there?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You are one of our power voices," J-Lo says, but she wanted Erika to push a bit more. "Next time, let loose," J-Lo advises. "What I loved is that you showed that confidence," Randy says, weirdly comparing her to Adele.
Singer: Jen Hirsch
Song: "One and Only"
My Take: It's pretty easy to understand why Jen Hirsch would be targeting an Adele song. Based on what we've seen from her thus far, that's the easy upside for her voice/persona. I'm getting some sharpness on the intermediate notes, but when Jen gets into the big notes towards the end, she's doing what the judges hoped Erika would do, in terms of letting loose and wailing. There's no real "performance" or "presence" to what Jen is doing, but I think you can see enough in her to realize that that's something that will maybe develop as the season goes along.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: My Slingbox has ZERO interest in hearing what the judges have to say tonight. It's very weird. I'm getting the performances, but the judges keep conking out. I return in time for Randy to step back a tiny, tiny bit from last night's excessive praise.
Singer: Brielle Von Hugel
Song: "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay"
My Take: This is amusing, because the last time we heard an "Idol" contestant sing this song, she promptly passed out off the edge of the stage. Maybe that's why Brielle begins her performance sitting at the edge of the stage using the Men as props, specifically Heejun and Phillip Phillips, two singers almost certain to make the Top 13 tomorrow. That's very savvy of Brielle. I dig the strategy. And the singing? Brielle's pretty good and most importantly, she's the night's first woman who seemed like she was trying to put her own stamp on the performance, both in terms of vocals, but in terms of crafting an actual performance around the song. Would I be impressed by this if it led off the night? Maybe not as impressed, but in contest, that was refreshingly individualistic. I'd like her a bit more if she didn't admit that she's kinda a walking stereotype, but Brielle is who Brielle is, I guess.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You've got a great sense of the blues," Steven Tyler gushes. "I think people underestimate you," J-Lo says, calling Brielle "a true performer." Randy tells Brielle that she can actually really sing, dropping the name "Janis Joplin" and rendering it completely meaningless. Well-played, Randy.
Singer: Hallie Day
Song: "Feeling Good"
My Take: We're pretty much guaranteed at least one "Feeling Good" performance each and every season on "Idol," aren't we? Hallie's version is a little less jazzy than some we've heard, but there's something appealingly Jessica Rabbit-ish about her (not her attire, but since she's mostly being shot from the neck up, that doesn't matter). Yeah, it's less jazzy and improvisational and more soulful and powerful? I'm not getting shivers the way I do from a great performance of this song, but I'm appreciative. She doesn't quite know what to do with herself on the stage and I suspect she'd be better off clutching the microphone, crooning into it and not moving at all. The audience likes her.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo watched on the monitor and she thinks Hallie looked like a star. "I think you're beautiful," Tyler says, raving about her old time voice. "I want to take it old school," Hallie agrees. "You've got the voice. You can definitely blow," Randy says, but he doesn't know where Hallie fits.
Singer: Skylar Laine
Song: "Stay With Me"
My Take: Yeah, yeah. We get it, Skylar. You're just a small town gal. As I predicted earlier, Chelsea's gonna have to watch a string of country girls usurp her as the evening progresses. Skylar is just the first. She needs to figure out her presentational issues, because I'd say she's got more mylar, sparkles and fringe than any human body can sustain outside of Reno, especially with those heels. On-stage, she comes across as the oldest 17-year-old in the history of the world, but her energy is undeniable and her voice is big and pull of personality. Look forward to a full season of Reba references where Skylar is concerned.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy doesn't think "Idol" has ever had a rockin' country girl like her before, comparing her to both Reba, but also Kelly Clarkson. "I love your energy, your twang," raves J-Lo, who says the performance was Tina Turner gone country. "You were on fire. You're a pistol," Tyler raves.
Singer: Baylie Brown
My Take: Baylie Brown looks fantastic. I want to say that up-front. I have no objections to an "Idol" singer trying to make a little hay with sex appeal for a few weeks. Tonight, however, she sounds brutal. It is, sadly, amateurish entirely. It's like she's a beauty queen who happens to be trying to sing as a half-hearted talent, rather than a talented singer who also looks ready to get her face on a magazine cover. This is another of my least favorite oft-repeated "Idol" chestnuts and it's almost like Baylie has never heard the melody before. She's stumbling around trying to find it and she never really succeeds. I think it gets less bad as she progresses? Maybe?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "I've heard you sing better, but I enjoyed it," Steven says. "It just was a little bit shaky all the way through," J-Lo says. "I think you just never seized control of the song," Randy says, before saying that she looks amazing. "I don't think I did too awful," Baylie says.
Singer: Hollie Cavanagh
My Take: This is our third song in two nights from an NBC reality TV judge. You'd have thought that we'd be blacklisting "Voice" mentors, right? I would have. Sigh. Thanks, Baylie, for making me appreciate the slightly-above-mediocre karaoke competence of Hollie Cavanagh, who has control problems and mumbles her lyrics, but can at least hit the notes, some of which we know are pretty difficult. On the chorus, when the words aren't relevant anymore, Hollie seems to be getting better. I remember Hollie's confidence issues last season and I think she's somebody who, if she gets into the Top 13, could really get on a roll, with some coaching and some styling help.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "You hit your notes so perfectly and so right on that there was nothing left but passion," Steven says. J-Lo thinks that Hollie has a strong enough voice to win this. Wow. Baylie Brown: Lowering Expectations Since 2012. Randy gets distracted by J-Lo saying "do do." "It wasn't all perfect tonight, but the parts that were brilliant were genius," Randy says.
Singer: Haley Johnsen
Song: "Sweet Dreams"
My Take: "Idol" Pro Tip: Haley, Hollie, Hallie and Baylie are all different people. You may think that just because they're all pretty blondes with straight hair that they're reflective of some weird "Idol" cloning experiment this season, but... well, you may be right. Haley's definitely making a statement about her "differentness" by doing a theatrical spin on Annie Lennox. She's really, really shouty, which is partially a product of an aggressive arrangement that includes both a back-beat and background vocals, but I also just think shouting is what Haley is comfortable with. There are runs and flourishes that have nothing at all to do with the melody. There's nothing even vaguely organic about any of the nonsense Haley is throwing in there. You know how Annie Lennox let us know that she could sing on "Sweet Dreams"? She SANG "Sweet Dreams." Haley has no interest in singing "Sweet Dreams" and only an interest in doing silly things around the edges. The best way to be sure that it's too over-the-top? Creighton Fraker LOVES it.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: J-Lo likes Hayley's skills and her ability, but she doesn't seem to have liked the song choice or the way she did it. "Some of your turnarounds aren't perfect, but what in life is?" says the man whose job tonight is actually to deal with imperfections and perhaps suggest improvements. "It was a bit of a nightmare for me instead of a dream," Randy says. Wow. Accurate commentary from Mr. Randy Jackson.
Singer: Shannon Magrane
Song: "Go Light Your World"
My Take: Shannon's name should be changed to "Kaylie" or to "Haulie" or something. Then she'll fit right in even better with her "American Idol" counterparts. For tonight, Shannon's going after the religiously inclined "American Idol" viewers, which isn't necessarily an awful idea, since she's also going to have at least some pocket of support from younger viewers to work with as well. Shannon said that she wanted to show that she's a performer, in addition to being a singer. She does, indeed, show that she has a huge, raw, barely trained voice. The performance is mostly getting louder, louder and louder and raising her arms higher and higher. It's a very blunt instrument that she's wielding with very little precision. But there's a good chance that she'll get better after she makes the Top 13 and gets to do this a bit more?
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "What a way to come out swinging," Randy says, raving about her presence and how "calm, cool and collected" she is. J-Lo's seal of approval: GOOSIES! Shannon took it up a notch for Steven.
Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: "Love You I Do"
My Take: We got a pre-performance warning about Jessica Sanchez's elaborate medical condition that I believe can be described as "a sore throat." It an unnecessary piece of sympathy-building, because I never would have known that Jessica was suffering from a sore throat. No, she's not Jennifer Hudson, but the girl can SANG. Like Shannon, Jessica could use some buffing and polishing, but she needs a lot less than her far taller counterpart. What I admire here is that Jessica's performance builds. She starts off a bit thin and flat, but by the time she's at the end of the performance, she's tearing into the song like a pro. She gets the night's first standing ovation from the judges. I wonder if they would have been quite that generous if they hadn't been warned that Jessica was near-death with a sore throat.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: "That girl can really sing," Randy says, calling it one of the best of the last two nights. J-Lo calls it "crazy" and means it as a compliment. Tyler's enthusiastic and rambling.
Singer: Elise Testone
Song: "One and Only"
My Take: Somebody at "Idol" hates Jen Hirsh. There's no other explanation for this "Who Wore It Better" showdown, in which Jen was equipped only with her voice and negligible stage presence, while Elise is out tickling the ivories and then wailing with the intensity of a soulful banshee. Yes, the banshee-ness at the end becomes a bit unhinged. The piano helped ground Elise, while without that grounding, she gets carried away either by emotion or intensity or something. But I have no doubt at all that this head-to-head matchup was a clear knockout for Elise.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: I miss the judges first two comments, but I show up in time for Randy. "I hope America gets you, because you are definitely a force to be reckoned with," Randy says. He correctly notes that the Elise was better on the piano than when she left the piano.
TONIGHT'S BEST: Jessica Sanchez and Elise Testone probably closed the show with the evening's two best performances? I guess? I really wasn't especially excited by anything tonight, really.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Well, that least this one is easy. Sorry, Baylie Brown. I'll have no quibbles if America keeps you around, but you were definitely tonight's weakest performer.
Who'd you like? Who'd you hate? And I apologize for any scattershot recapping tonight. Slingbox problems throughout. Not usually an issue. Tonight? An issue.