Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 - Sudden Death, Part 1 - 10 Guys Perform
"American Idol" had its most encouraging night of the season on Wednesday. The judges were entertaining and almost uniformly substantive. Of the 10 girls who performed, three or four of them were very good and an additional two or three were reasonably strong. And when the judges made their five selections to advance, at least four of the picks were absolutely on-the-mark.
That doesn't mean, though, that I'm not approaching Thursday's show with some trepidation. Regardless of how consistently the men have dominated "American Idol" for the past five seasons, I certainly haven't seen a guy capable of winning through auditions and Hollywood. So... Prove me wrong!
8:02 p.m. ET. Mariah Carey finds it hard to articulate what the girls did last night and she says that the men should be concerned. Up first tonight...
Singer: PAUL JOLLEY
Song: "Tonight I Wanna Cry"
My Take: I guess I vaguely remember that Paul Jolley was singing for his recently deceased grandfather. But I don't remember anything else about him. He's singing a Keith Urban song tonight, which is pretty dumb, if you ask me. Why take the most complimentary judge out of trustable commission? Paul is ultra-sincere and ultra-boring. He hits the big last notes fairly well, but the rest of the performance offers almost nothing of merit. He may have fallen asleep half-way through and nobody would know the difference. I can't tell if "sleepy" is his version of "soulful"? For me, though, that did nothing. Then again, a pretty-ish, white country singer? Yeah, Paul Jolley would probably get some votes if he sticks around.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "Thank you, it's a huge honor," Keith says, but he asks Paul not to underestimate the quality of his voice. I have no idea what that means, Keith. "I think that other performances that you've done wowed me over a little bit more," Nicki Minaj. "I think that even when the song may be understated, your eyes are very theatrical," Nicki adds, confusingly. Randy says that country singers today have "ginormous ranges" and that Paul has that potential. but what does that have to do with tonight's snooze of a performance? Mariah felt like the front-half of the song was "an intimate performance" and she enjoyed it.
Singer: JOHNNY KEYSER
Song: "I Won't Give Up"
My Take: Yeah. The "American Idol" Girls came with talent. The "American Idol" Guys are bringing the cheese. That's about all that Johnny Keyser has ever had to offer. He looks into the camera and leers. He's not awful, but he's painfully corny and doing a Jason Mraz song is a bad, bad idea if your tendency is towards cheesy corniness. This performance is straight-up cruise ship/Up With People mediocrity. Sadly, I suspect people would also vote for Johnny, given the chance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith calls it "good" and "effortless." "You came out really, really relaxed," Nicki says, telling Johnny he looked sexy and then she asks him, again, if he has a girlfriend. No, he does not. "To me you don't have the greatest vocal in the world," Nicki says, but she also calls him "masculine and sexy" and says girls will love him. It was just an OK performance for Randy, who wanted more "moments." Mariah also praises Johnny for his masculinity and sexiness. That was kinda gross by the judges. I don't recall any judging rotation with an attractive female that became that lame and reductive. I mean... *I* might have become a blithering idiot over Katharine McPhee, but the judges didn't.
Song: "Rumor Has It"
My Take: Well, you can't say that we've ever had a performer on "Idol" like J'Da before. The judges will have absolutely no idea how to process his cabaret/nightclub vibe, which includes sprawling on the floor for a verse and stripping some layer from an already perplexing wardrobe. Vocally? That wasn't especially good. Entertainment-wise? J-Da certainly tries a good deal harder than Paul or Johnny to entertain the crowd. He's a total ham, but I'm truly not sure that he's talented enough to get away with this. Adam Lambert did some of the things that J'Da did, but Adam Lambert had the voice to match. Adam Lambert was a top-tier Vegas performer and still is. You'd go to a big Vegas venue and if Adam Lambert performed, you'd be satisfied. J'Da's more suited for some place Off-the-Strip. You could have fun at a J'Da show, but you wouldn't want to play more than a $10 cover.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "Well we are in Vegas, J'Da, so you certainly were right at home tonight on that stage," Keith says, before complimenting J'Da for originality and putting on a show. Keith wanted a bit less "counting steps," which means he didn't want the performance to feel as staged as it was. That's actually pretty good. "Work it girl," Nicki says. "I've gotta represent for the gays," J'Da responds. Nicki congratulates J'Da for taking in the audience and the applause, for feeling the warmth of the crowd. "Your vocal wasn't good today," Nicki says. And that was the only thing she didn't love. "If we gave an award for who's got the best performance, it would definitely be you," Randy says, before claiming this is a singing competition. "I felt no originality, really," Randy says. Mariah, though, felt that J'Da was so confident that there wasn't any wavering. Mariah also praises J'Da's "brand of masculinity."
8:31 p.m. Yup. Last night may have been a fluke.
Singer: KEVIN HARRIS
Song: "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You"
My Take: Nope. No memory of Kevin at all. And... Yup. It's our third cheesy performance out of four. And it takes a lot of work to make Bryan Adams cheesier than he already was. Oh and people think Bryan Adams is easy to sing. He's not. Kevin doesn't have nearly the range for this. He gets lost in the big orchestration and misses as many notes as he hits. This was awful. Stop. Enough, Kevin Harris. No points for the affected falsetto at the end. No points at all. And as for the wooden overall stage presence? No thank you.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith Urban loves the song and he thought it was a good song for Keith. "Your range is crazy," Keith says incorrectly. He's got middling range and then a falsetto. That's not the same as range. Keith calls it "very good." Nicki says every choice Kevin made tonight was "perfection." Holy cow. "There was so much control. I love your vibrato. I love that you went falsetto at the end," Nicki says, calling the vocal "100 percent." Randy "disagrees with that 100 percent." Team Randy! He didn't like the choices or the falsetto or anything. "I wasn't blown out at all," Randy says correctly. Kevin has been one of Mariah's favorites from the beginning. Mariah likes the song, but wishes Kevin had done something that let him do more, but she thinks he's a professional. "It was the same song, just at different times in our lives," Randy says of his difference of interpretation with Nicki. Don't worry, Randy. I'm right there with you!
Singer: CHRIS WATSON
Song: "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay"
My Take: I'm just having one of those nights. I guess that Chris Watson's glammed-up take on Otis Redding has a couple decent moments, but it's wildly over-sung. He refuses to hold any note for even a second. And its not like he does runs or vibrato. His voice is just wobbly. He loses rhythm a couple times and, by the end, has abandoned all but a two or three note range in the melody. He looks like he's having fun, but I was not. Chris has a good look, but that's about it. Great cheekbones. Perfunctory performance. Uninteresting voice.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith thinks that this may be more of a "connection competition" than a "singing competition." Keith didn't like the song choice, but he liked the performance and Chris' connection. "You are the prettiest man I've seen in my life," Nicki says. "I want to marry your vibrato," Nicki adds, adding that she loves him and is obsessed with him. Yeah. I'm uncomfortable with all of this. Randy and I are simpatico tonight. Randy loves Chris' persona, but he wanted a song that gave him the chance to do more vocally. "I don't know what I was hearing. I was bored," Randy says correctly. Mariah also didn't love the song choice, but she thinks he's a survivor. And she also praises his beautiful face and says that while it wasn't his best performance vocally "certain things have overridden that." Sigh.
Singer: DEVIN VELEZ
My Take: Devin's one of the guys I've kinda appreciated in his previously showcased moments. I like that Devin's starting in a lower register, that his performance isn't entirely nasally and squealing. Unlike Kevin Harris, Devin actually has a ton of range. And as for his sweater-blazer? Pretty stylish. And his mid-song transition into Spanish? Not bad at all. Savvy. I think Devin has potential that nobody else we've seen tonight has even hinted at, especially since he's only 18. This is easily the most difficult song that any of the men have tackled and he's doing it *reasonably* well. It's not close to perfect, but on the ridiculous grading curve of this night, he's the first guy I haven't hated. YAY!
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "You've got a voice. You made a connection with me from your voice. You didn't have to do anything else," Keith says. "I think you made a smart choice as an artist to sing in Spanish, because obviously that opens you up to another world," Nicki says, calling it "a great job." "Dude. I love you. I thought it was amazing," Randy says. Mariah tells Devin that he shouldn't actively critique himself as he's singing. She also endorses the singing in Spanish.
8:50 p.m. We're through five performances and there is NOBODY who I'd want to see perform ever again.
8:53 p.m. And I'm never comfortable when Randy's the only judge I'm feeling. And having Mariah Carey as the second sanest "Idol" judge also concerns me.
Singer: ELIJAH LIU
Song: "Talking to the Moon"
My Take: Going with Bruno Mars, Elijah has to start high as well. That's OK on the verses, where his voice is nasally, but pure and on-pitch. When it gets to the chorus, he doesn't have what he needs to take the song to the next level. I don't know if there's a falsetto required that he doesn't have or if there's just another octave that he doesn't possess. The choruses are fine. The verses are dreadful. And the performance is a snooze. If you're looking for a Mexican-Chinese Justin Bieber only with a lesser voice, Elijah Liu is your man. I am not looking for a Mexican-Chinese Justin Bieber.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "I think it was a fairly shaky performance tonight," Keith says, but he thinks that Elijah is current and relevant. "I don't care about that song, you are a super-duper star, little boy. I want to have your babies," Nicki says, calling him "sexy" and "my new favorite boy." She swears that she would sign him today because of his marketability. "This was not a great vocal. You had no moments in this song. But I know you're capable of it," Randy says. Mariah felt there were two moments and she loves his upper register.
Singer: CHARLIE ASKEW
Song: "Rocket Man"
My Take: Help me, Charlie Askew. You're my only hope. I mean, he's performing in a vintage black frilly tuxedo shirt and he's wandering around with a golf club which, disappointingly, he's using to simulate his microphone, rather than using as a walking stick. It's a pretty dreadful song choice, unfortunate. It's not that Charlie doesn't have the range to sing Elton John, but I don't know what he thinks he's doing with this particular performance. I get that his bouncing up and down is part of his "weirdness," but he can't sing and bounce at the same time. He's out of breath throughout and it's far from the best he could have done, singing-wise. So either you pat him on the head and reward him only for eccentricity -- as the audience seems to -- or you evaluate that performance, which was painful. Charlie is BETTER than this. I shouldn't have to pat him on the back and compliment him for that performance. I'd love to see him stick around and do more, because I want to support him, but surely there has to be a rational limit, doesn't there?
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "It's like if Freddie Mercury had a lovechild out of Woodstock," Keith says, raving at Charlie's originality. Nicki is excited by Charlie's awkwardness. "It's rock star. It's fresh. It's crazy," Nicki says. "Charlie, I want to cradle you in my arms," Nicki adds, comparing Charlie to her younger brother. "I don't know where I am right now. I don't know what's going on," Randy says. "Forget singing tonight. Let's just all perform," says the frustrated Randy. "Charlie, I live for the song choice. I think it's amazing to hear that," Mariah says. To her credit, Mariah praises previous performances, but doesn't praise this one. But then she calls it "fantastic."
9:19 p.m. The best thing about Nicki comparing Charlie Askew to her brother is that it means she doesn't want to be impregnated by him. Nicki Minaj could cost "Idol" a lot this season in lawsuits and DNA tests.
Singer: JIMMY SMITH
Song: "Raining on Sunday"
My Take: This show has now become my nightmare. I would not watch a show of refried country cornballs doing Keith Urban covers. And that's what "Idol" has become today. Jimmy Smith is like a Muppet Babies version of John Schneider, only John Schneider is a really good country singer. Jimmy Smith is not.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "It's really hard to critique somebody who just sang your song," Keith says, crediting Radney Foster and saying Jimmy did "a really good job." "I thought it was a really good vocal, but I was a little bit bored," says Nicki, who admits she was still thinking about Charlie. "It was definitely a little bit boring for me," Randy says. Mariah says she's been fighting for Jimmy. She suggests that this isn't the right venue for him, that he may be better suited to smaller venues.
Singer: CURTIS FINCH JR.
My Take: Tonight's Least Surprising Song Choice goes to... Curtis Finch Jr. for doing a churchy version of Luther Vandross' version of "Superstar." Which curve do I grade Curtis on? By tonight's standards, he's just better and more polished than the other boys. But he's no Velvet Teddybear, now is he? But Curtis can sing. So many of tonight's performers have not been able to sing. And he can. He also seems to be singing for five or six different performs. He's all over the place. But nobody else in this night could have done ANY of the myriad things Curtis tried tonight. So... Yeah. He's Jacob Lusk 2.0 if you like that sort of thing. And he's Jacob Lusk 2.0 if you hate that sort of thing.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: "Preach on, Brother Curtis," Keith Urban says, calling it "beautiful," but also "overperformed." "You're ready. You're poised. It's your time," Nicki says. "Your can blow. You can sing anything," Randy says, cautioning Curtis to try to be young and not seem old-fashioned. "I wouldn't even begin to critique you, because you know what you do," Mariah says, claiming that he moved her to tears.
9:36 p.m. And that caps one of the worst nights of "American Idol" performances in the show's history. Period. Full stop.
9:38 p.m. Curtis will advance and should advance. The only other person *I* would put through is Devin and I can absolutely imagine a situation in which Nicki Minaj's loins could leave Devin snubbed. Beyond that, it's a lock that three performers I really disliked are going to advance.
9:40 p.m. Results time! And we have one split decision. That means Jimmy Iovine will come into play. "I think this was really, really difficult," Randy says. "I fought for a couple of my favorites," Nicki Minaj's Loins say.
9:41 p.m. We're going to send Curtis through first, because he's such a total no-brainer. "You know damn well you going through," Nicki Minaj's Loins say. CURTIS FINCH JR. is in the Top 20.
9:42 p.m. Up next is Jimmy Smith, who shouldn't advance. "This is really torture for us," Randy insists, before telling Jimmy that he didn't advance. Keith gives Jimmy a hug. Farewell, Jimmy.
9:43 p.m. Up next is Kevin Harris, who shouldn't advance. Listening to the replay of his performance was even worse than the first time. Mariah loves Kevin and his voice and his children and she expects to hear him again someday. But he isn't advancing. Farewell, Kevin.
9:44 p.m. It's time for Elijah Liu, who shouldn't advance. Actually, if you forced me at gunpoint to pick five people, I would have picked Elijah, I guess. "I so wish that I could keep you and I'm glad that we are," Keith says. ELIJAH LIU is in the Top 20. Yay?
9:45 p.m. It's J'Da time. Nicki loves J'Da as a human being. But J'Da isn't advancing. I have no real opinion on that. "Thanks for everything and thanks for sharing your glitter with us," Ryan says.
9:47 p.m. I don't even remember that Paul Jolley existed. Ultimately there were many people worse than Paul tonight, but few less memorable. Perhaps that's why Paul is their split. Wait. What does that mean for everybody else? Jimmy Iovine thought it was a good singer with the wrong song, comparing it to an audition for "Phantom of the Opera." Jimmy recommends that Paul advances, which apparently means that PAUL JOLLEY is in the Top 20. That means there's somebody else who would have advanced under different circumstance who now gets left out.
9:53 p.m. Up next is Chris Watson, who shouldn't advance. "This was tough tonight as we've all been saying," Randy says. "Tonight, it didn't go in your favor," Randy tells Chis. And that's it for one of them men Nicki Minaj's Loins loved most.
9:54 p.m. Charlie Askew shouldn't advance based on tonight's performance, but if I had five passes to give out, Charlie would definitely get one. Surely he's smart enough to know the way "Idol" arranges these verdicts, which suggests he's going through. Indeed, CHARLIE ASKEW is in the Top 20. I guess I can live with that, since I have to.
9:56 p.m. That means it's down to Johnny Keyser and Devin Velez. If Johnny advances, I'm blaming Nicki Minaj's Loins and I'm going to throw a hissy fit. Devin thinks he did everything he could. Johnny thinks he did everything he could.
9:58 p.m. This really shouldn't be close. Devin sang a hard song and sang it well. Johnny sang a less difficult song and sang it weakly. "Johnny, your journey ends here," Nicki says. Whew. DEVIN VELEZ is in the Top 20. Do we assume that Johnny would have advanced if Jimmy hadn't put Paul through?
9:59 p.m. I think that the judges *probably* put through my gun-to-the-head Top 5. But that was just a bad night of TV.
What'd you think of these guys? And what'd you think of the decisions made by the judges?