Thursday, March 8, 2012

idol top 13: better than expected

“When you see life flash before your eyes –
The good, the bad, the wrong, the right –
Fade into a bright white light
Shining down on you.

When hanging on by a thread,
Wondering which one’s your last breath,
Knowing there’s so much you have left to do?

You live your life a better man,
When you’ve been halfway to heaven …”

-----------------------------------

What can I say, I’ve been on a Brantley Gilbert kick lately.  Unlike last year on “Idol”, we aren’t country music dominated this year.  This year’s top 13 figures to actually be entertaining and (gasp) feature music other than in the country genre.  What a novel idea – actually show growth and development as an artist as the competition goes on!  Quick, somebody catch the judges before they keel over from shock at actually grooming an artist, versus verbally fellating a one-trick pony!

I did cheat a little bit, in that I watched the Top 24 (plus one) this year, so entering the Top 13, I at least know what I’m in for.  And I gotta admit, I’m optimistic for season 11.  Entering last night’s Whitney Houston / Stevie Wonder night, I have my rubber chicken, both female and male, I’m leaning towards … so let’s see how the Top 13 did, and anoint someone as my rooting interest as well*.

(*: previous season’s "Stevo Memorial Rubber Chickens" (aka “rooting interests”): Justin Guarini (season one, finished 2nd); Kimberley Locke (season two, finished 3rd); Diana DiGarmo (season three, finished 2nd); Carrie Underwood (season four, winner!); Elliott Yamin (season five, finished 3rd); Blake Lewis (season six, finished 2nd); David Cook (season seven, winner!); Kris Allen (season eight, winner!); Crystal Bowersox (season nine, finished 2nd); Stefano Langone (last year, finished poorly).  The lesson?  Save for last year, the person I root for at least gets a homecoming.)

* Good grief, fifteen seconds in and Randy has already dropped a “we got some hot singing tonight, RY-UUUUN!”  Remind me again why I love this show?  (Because I’m mentally insane?)  Yup.

* “THIS!  (dramatic pause) … is American Idol!”  Welcome back into my life, Mr. Seacrest!

* Quick aside: do you realize this is the first time since 2008 there hasn’t been a change to the judges panel?  Not sure if this is a good thing or not.

* For the tenth straight season, no Brian Dunkleman.  Tragic.

* My initial impressions of a couple contestants: Heejun looks (and seems) like he’d be fun to hang out at a party with; Colton has a dead animal on his head; Shannon is drop dead gorgeous; Phil is trying too hard to be something he can’t be (Dave Matthews); and Deandre looks like he’s going to be this year’s Jason Castro Memorial “How Many Bong Hits Can I Sneak In Before Taking the Stage” winner, won last year by Paul MacDonald.  What can I say, I know a toker when I see one.  (Looking in the mirror …)

Oh, and one of those previously mentioned contestants is my rubber chicken entering the Top 13.  So stay tuned.

* Guys doing Stevie Wonder, girls doing Whitney Houston … America votes for the bottom guy and bottom girl … and the judges decide who leaves.  Interesting.  I kinda like it, to be honest.  One way to deal with the “fourteen year old girl with unlimited text messaging”.

* This week’s guest mentor: Mary J. Blige.

* First up, Joshua Ledet, doing “I Wish”.  It’s ok.  I wasn’t overly impressed.  I’ve seen better on the karaoke stage at the Red Balloon on a Friday night, and I’ve seen worse.  If this is the worst performance of the night, this night will rival Bon Jovi Night in season six for “Best Idol Ever”.  If this is the best performance of the night?  We’ve got another Barry Gibb trainwreck from season six on our hands.

Randy says he “blew it out!”  Says it was “flavorless”, then corrects himself by saying he meant “flawless”.  To think this man earns more in five minutes than I do in a year.

JLo says she “felt the music”.

Steven says he “nailed it.  Beautiful”.  Apparently the three of them heard something I didn’t.  He’ll survive another week, but this wasn’t Blake covering “You Give Love a Bad Name” or Crystal covering “Midnight Train to Georgia” epically awesome.

* Elise up next.  “Greatest Love of All”.  Mary J looks as repulsed in rehearsals … and we got a change-up to “I’m Your Baby Tonight”.  She’s not any better in rehearsals on that one either.

And we begin the performance … and … uum … how can I put this politely … it’s awful.  It’s worse than awful.  This is worse than me covering “Bye Bye Bye” at Cronin’s awful.

No sweetie, you are NOT giving me ecstasy, and you most definitely are NOT my fantasy, with this performance.  If she’s not in the bottom two, I cringe to think of how awful this episode (Idol’s 400th according to Mr. Seacrest in the open) is going to wind up.

Randy punts.  “What did you think, Jennifer?”  JLo rips her in a positive way, if that’s possible.  We go back to Randy, and believe it or not, he makes sense, noting “it’s like you were boxing with the song”.  Audience boos, but he’s right – it was an awful, awkward performance.

You know what she should have done, because I actually agree with JLo that this chick has a decent voice – “One Moment in Time”.  She could have gone slow, built to the chorus, and her voice would have nailed it.  Up-tempo does NOT suit this chick well.

* Jermaine up next, “Knocks Me Off My Feet”.  Seacrest calls him “the gentle giant”.  I see Ruben Studdard Junior, or Jacob Lusk Junior.  And I didn’t care for either of those two contestants.  Mary J says his voice is “gigantic”.  At least, I think she meant his voice.

Actually, I apologize to Ruben – he had a range.  This guy couldn’t hit a note about middle C if you put a cap gun to his head.  This is a decent performance, I’m kind of digging it, but he’s going to crap out in seventh, eighth place at best.  (Then again, I thought the same thing about Scotty last year, so what do I know).

Steven: “the voice fit the song beautifully”.  True.  JLo: “you’re concentrating too much”.  Exactly, have fun up there.  I have no idea what the hell Randy just said, other than I just lost 45 seconds of my life I will never get back.

He’ll move on to Top 12.  That’s the best performance so far.  Which ain’t saying much.  But there’s still ten more to go, including the dude and the chick vying for that coveted “Stevo’s Rubber Chicken” designation …

* Erica up next, and dear God, what is with that dress?  I like the hair, but my God, that dress is hideous.  And … large, it’s very large.  I get that she’s a tall chick, but why in the hell would you wear a floor-length dress if you’re six feet tall?  Not a flattering look.

She’s covering “I Believe in You and Me”.  Here’s a positive – both chicks so far, have worn a fedora in rehearsal!  I can dig it.  Here’s another positive – I like her voice.  Kind of a Michelle Ngelochello (spelling?) sound to it, very low end of the scale.  It’s a change-up you don’t see coming.

That wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t epic.  Another middle of the road, mediocre effort.  I’m guessing her crap-out range is anywhere from fourth to seventh.  She’s not getting a homecoming.

Randy dug the performance.  That, or he was hitting the dugout during it, you can never be sure.  JLo had “goosies” during that.  Uum, what?  Steven thinks she’s “perfect” and “great”.  I assume he meant the performance.

Ryan dubs her “EVP!”.  God help us.

Up next?  The two contestants vying for my “Rubber Chicken” designation … Colton and Shannon.

God bless it, Colton’s covering my favorite Stevie song, “Lately”.  And I gotta admit, this is not good in rehearsal.  Mary J: “Watching him do him?  He’s gotta do him”.  Again, I assume she means the performance … of the song.

He starts out pretty awful as the song begins … but by the time he hits the end of verse one, it’s pretty good.  And when he hits the ending, it’s really good.  This is REALLY good.  If the gold standard for a cover of this song is Jodeci’s amazing cover, this is at least in sight of said Jodeci cover.  THAT was EXTREMELY good!

Steven: “that was outstanding”.  JLo: something about showing his heart.  Randy: pretty much agreed with how I felt – started bad, ended epic. 

I think the kid has some Blaker in him.  I’m just saying.  We might get one helluva performance out of him before he craps out in the three to five range.

* Shannon next, doing “I Have Nothing”.  Should probably note, now that we’ve hit the halfway point, Mary J Blige is NAILING her advice so far.  Can we just hire her and fire Jimmy Iovine?  Please?

And this is … uum … not her best effort.  And by “not her best effort”, I mean “this might be a shock elimination tonight” bad. 

JLo: I think rips the performance.  Something about think but don’t think.  Steven: nerves got the best of you.  I’ll go with it.  To Shannon’s credit, she’s agreeing with the criticisms.  I admire people who know when they fail, and don’t deny it, but embrace it as something to strengthen and grow from. 

I hope she sticks around one more week … but I wouldn’t wager the $3.62 in my savings account on it happening.

* Deandre up next, and he looks nervous as hell talking to Seacrest.  Doing “Master Blaster”, and taking it reggae in rehearsal.  It’s got potential.  Hang on, let me grab the dugout to properly enjoy this …

OK, how can I put this in the proper context … I am DIGGING the sound, and I like the performance … but I can’t understand one damned word coming out of his mouth.  It’s good … but it SHOULD be better based on everything other than the vocal.

Steven: “you got a different flavor than everyone else, and I’ve always loved it”.  JLo: “you have swag up there”.  No, chica, it’s called “weed”, not “swag”.  Randy compares him to Maxwell.  That’s a stretch … but not as big of one as you’d think.  I enjoyed that.  It was very good.  But not as good as it should have been.

* Skylar, the resident “angry country chick”, up next, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”.  OMG, this is going to either be god-awful awful, or epically good, there’s no in between.

OK, let me put it this way.  Season seven, there’s a moment in Top 24 night, as David Cook is performing “Hello”, when he hits the final chorus, and his eyes light up, as both he and the audience know he’s just NAILED a song he has no business nailing.  THAT?  Rivaled David Cook nailing “Hello”.  That was incredible.

JLo: “amazing”.  Steven: “well done”, “fantastic”.  Randy: “you just proved you can sing any song”.  Agreed on all counts.  That was REALLY good.  By far the best performance of the night.  That’s worth the $1.29 on iTunes this morning.

Wow.

* Heejun Han up next.  His interview with Seacrest is pretty funny.  “All is Fair in Love” is what he’s doing, and Mary J with the line of the night: “I didn’t expect Hee-jun to sound like Hee-did”.  (rimshot!)  Rehearsal sounds good, let’s see what we wind up with.

The performance is good … but man, is it slow.  It’s middle of the pack.  It’s, to steal Randy’s fiftieth favorite phrase, it’s “safe”.  Randy punts again on giving a critique.  JLo “loves him”.  Steven “loves his voice”.  Randy: “it wasn’t perfect, but it was really good”.  Half of that phrase is correct.  And it ain’t the latter half.

* Next up, Hollie doing “All The Man That I Need”.  Not too shabby.  Not too shabby at all.

Randy: “you nailed it”.  JLo: “that’s the Hollie I know”.  JLo wants an all-girl final.  Steven: “you’ve nailed it every time, that’s why you’re here”.  Gotta admit, that was good.  That was “she’s not going home this week” good.

* Jeremy in our eleventh slot, “Ribbon in the Sky”.  Rehearsal is awful.

Thankfully, the performance is much better.  It’s not the greatest vocal you’ll ever hear, but it won’t conjure up memories of Sanjaya either (praise Jesus). 

Steven has somehow managed to add a scarf to his mic.  JLo: “I love to hear your interpretation of songs”.  Randy: “for me it wasn’t your best performance”.  Holy shit, has Randy “Yo Dog” Jackson actually evolved into a legitimate judge?  (weezer voice) Say it ain’t so!

* Jessica is our last girl up tonight, covering “I Will Always Love You”.  (stevo cringing in anticipation of how awful this is gonna be …)

Uum, gotta admit, rehearsal has me actually wanting to hear this.

(stevo pausing the DVR for a moment) IF, and this is a gigantic IF, IF she nails this live as she just did in the rehearsal?  Any fan of this show knows that every season, a moment arrives when THE person to beat reveals their cards.  Jordin doing “Broken Wing”.  Carrie doing “Alone”.  David Cook’s “Hello”.  Kris Allen’s cover of Kanye’s “Heartless”.  The moment when a front-runner emerges from the pack.  IF, and this is a gigantic IF, IF Jessica is as good live as she was in rehearsal?

We have our pony / puppy / rooster / rubber chicken everyone else is chasing. 


(ninety seconds later)  Sweet.  F*cking.  Jesus.  Hang on, this deserves at least one rewind.

(ninety seconds later)  Sweet.  F*cking.  Hey.  Zeus!  (zeus voice) bark!  bark!  Sorry, I mean Sweet.  F*cking.  Jesus!  I look Puerto Rican to you*?

(*: been waiting ALL f*cking YEAR to haul that classic out).

Randy: “give it all to her!”  JLo on the verge of tears.  “I’m speechless”.  Steven: “you may be the one”.  He’s 0 for 1 in predicting “the one” … but Lauren did finish 2nd last year.  At this point?  There’s no way she’s not getting a homecoming. 

THAT?  Is why I love this show so f*cking much.

* Phil up last, doing “Superstition”.  Our Dave Matthews wanna-be.  To his credit?  Rehearsal sounded good.  To his detriment?  How the hell do you follow up what we just heard?

The answer: (jimmy johnson voice) puurly.  That was awful.  In the bastardized words of former VP nominee and former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentson, “I know Dave Matthews.  You, sir, are no Dave Matthews”.

Not a good way to close down a fairly enjoyable episode.

Steven: “you just are”.  God above, what is he saying.  JLo: “you killed it”.  Yup.  With the lead pipe, in the conservatory*.  Randy: “you have an alt / indie kind of spirit going on”.  Very true.

(*: come on, the Clue references NEVER get old).

Final thoughts:

* Best performance: Jessica.
* Worst performance: Shannon, barely “edging” out Elise for that “honor”.
* Bottom Two Prediction: Elise and Jeremy.
* Going Home: Elise.

* And … Season Eleven’s “Stevo Memorial Rubber Chicken”?  Anyone can pick Jessica, who has to be the clear, at worst even-odds favorite to win this.  Me?  Give me Colton.  The kid reminds me of my favorite “Idol” contestant ever, Blake Lewis.  I think he’s got a few epic moments in him.  I’m looking forward to being proven correct in that assumption …

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