So we are ready to head out on the 12th journey with American Idol, an arduous and time-consuming to be sure. The first thing we learned about the new season was that the producers went out and hired an interesting mix for the judging panel, with the addition of Maria Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban to the lone remaining original judge, Randy Jackson. With the addition of Minaj and Urban, this panel is arguably the most current in history, which had previously tapped people well-past their heyday. And as the production also fed gossip about fights between Carey and Minaj to 'news' organizations, we recognized that producers were trying to cash in on those names.
Left to right: Randy Jackson; Maria Carey; Ryan Seacrest; Nicki Minaj; and Keith Urban.
For the last two months, the show has been airing the normal material, from auditions to Hollywood week, and most recently the semi-finals, all in an effort to whittle the numbers down to a Top 10. I have to admit I skipped most of this, catching a few auditions, and tuning in last week to see the Top 10 announced. It seems the judges and producers worked hard to make sure there would be no white guy with guitar this season, ending the dominance on the competition for that 'genre' as well as the supposed 'cougars' who voted for them. This perhaps opens up the show for a possible female singer to have a chance, something that seemed unlikely since season 6. I did watch a bit last week, especially when they announced the Top 10, and it was an interesting watch for me.
Top row: Angie Miller; Kree Harrison; Janelle Arthur; Devin Velez; Amber Holcomb; Burnell Taylor; ; and Candice Glover. Bottom row: Curtis Finch, Jr.; Lazaro Arbos; and Paul Jolley.
The group was an interesting combination of 'types' we had seen before, but some of the types were missing. There was not a talent-challenged teen boy to be the focus of torment, nor the moderately talented handsome guy and girl make voters swoon. And as I mentioned earlier, there was no white guy with guitar, the 'type' who took the crown in 4 of the last 5 years. That said, the Top 10 was more diverse, presenting a cross section of the population, not nearly as whitewashed as previous seasons. I'll admit I was less than impressed with a couple of the finalists when they sang their 'victory' song, but hopefully they can do better tonight. With the first episode of finals, the will be taking on 'The Music of American Idols', being able to choose any of the songs sung by the previous 11 winners of the show, excluding the winner's single, or any music released post-show. Later, it was changed to take away all the restrictions, just a song sung by a former Idol at some point in their lives. So, that would be any theme from the last 11 years, or a song for any genre you would like. Seems like it was tailor-made to offer no one an advantage, to level the playing field. Well, only time will tell if that is what came to be. Soon it will be starting all over again.
For those who might be new to my recaps, I will point out I will not be using the clips of the finalist singing songs, but the original artists. And not all the songs, just a select few. Of course, it once again begins with Crusty offer the trademark line, "This is....American Idol". The broadcast begins with mini-clips of the previous 11 American Idol winners, and then a few words from each finalist. Soon the judges come out - well at least three of four. It seems Nicki Minaj is caught in traffic, but on her way. Soon, Ryan introduces the Top 10 as a group, who come out on stage with screams from the audience. Then we get the usual propaganda, this time the American Idol App, with the super-vote feature, and other nonsense. First up, we have Curtis Finch, Jr. singing "I Believe", the coronation song for Fantasia, the winner of season three.
Well, I have to say it is tough to take on that particular song, because Fantasia slayed it. And Curtis did not. It was a tepid performance, with Curtis sliding off-key and back on again. He only really seems engaged during the chorus, when he would like to see his voice soar. His vocals in the verse fail to communicate much. Honestly, I bet Nicki is glad she was in a car with the radio playing. Keith liked it, but Randy wanted him to change it up a bit, show us all something new. Mariah, on the other hand, wants more of the same, cause that is what she loves about him, his gospel chorus stylings. Soon Crusty is jumping off the stage, as if he was getting Nicki out of her car. After the break, Crusty is on stage to chat with Janelle Arthur, telling a story in such an old-home-kinda-way. Soon the clip runs, and she is talking to Jimmy Iovine, and we find out she wants to go the classic Country route, none of this cross-over crap. She will be singing Montgomery Gentry's "Gone", sung on the show by Scotty McCreery. While this is the type of music Janelle would like to perform, the song shows a certain thin quality to her voice, no real punch to it. It was a bit lacking. Keith loved it, and then Nicki liked it, but didn't love the song choice. She always has a question about her song choice, and she just wants her to sing something pretty that will show off her pretty voice. Randy agreed with Nicki, feeling the song went nowhere, much like her performance. And Mariah looked like she was searching high and low, and finally said she would prefer Janelle sing a pretty ballad. In other words, she agreed with Nicki, and it killed Mariah to admit it. Soon, it sounded like Crusty resurrected an old Kellie Pickler bit on stage with Janelle, proving silly bits never die. We go to another commercial, with the threat of more performances to come. After the break, we get Devin Velez chatting with Jimmy Iovine, offering his advice on his career path. He will be taking on Carrie Underwood, singing her "Temporary Home", off her third album, 'Play On'. He takes on Country, for he knows he needs to take chances in the competition. It was an odd song choice, and he sounded very nervous. And the song was a bit too story intensive, lacking intensity in the vocal performance. For the first time tonight, Keith finds a negative note, and thinks it was the wrong song, and it fell flat with him. Nicki disagrees, thinking it was beautiful, better than she imagined it would be. Randy didn't like it much at all, and needs the power and gymnastics to prove he deserves to be there. Mariah wriggled her was through a negative review with the song choice nugget, wanting Devin to soar with bigger songs. Another break gave me a chance to catch up, and after this one it was time for Angie Miller talking with Jimmy I, who tells her she sometimes gets a bit beauty pageant, which surprises her. She will be singing "I Surrender". It is the Celine Dion song sung by the first Idol, Kelly Clarkson, during her Top 4 week.
Well, despite Angie telling us she thinks she can sing it as well as Kelly, I didn't hear that. During the beginning of the song, she voice was a bit thin, even brittle. Her top end is tough for me, really, it feels a bit strained. She pulled it back together by the end, but it was beginning wasn't there for me. Keith loved it, and thought she was amazing. Nicki started out by telling her she looked great, and then called her perfection. Randy pulled out another tired phrase, proving you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He loved her. Mariah called her stellar, and left it at that. I think there much be something wrong with the speaker on my television. During yet another commercial break, I get a sip of Green Tea, and decide to let that last bit go. I was already warned by Crusty that next up would be Paul Jolley, who takes his turn with Jimmy I. But first Crusty points out the songs can be purchased online. Back with Jimmy I, he tells Paul he over sings everything, just like everyone on Broadway. What an asshole statement, Jimmy. I lose respect for him even more now. Paul is going to sing "Baby, I'm Amazed By You" by Lonestar, another song performed by Scotty McCreery during his winning run. And he will try to show some restraint. He sounds sweet, and is never off-key. I was a tad bored by it, for it got slow and soft in the beginning. But he has a gorgeous voice, and the last third of the song was wonderful. Keith thought he has been listening to what he was being told, and it was his best performance yet. Nicki thought he looked good, and it was the first time he turned her on. And she thought he sounded great. Randy tried to take credit for his sounding the best yet, while Mariah thought he sounded great, but doesn't want this talk of restraint to keep him from using those gifts he has, and why Jimmy I. kept him in the competition a few weeks ago. Frankly, I am still so annoyed by Jimmy I's comments, I just wanna hug Mariah for her little bitch-slap at him. After another break, Crusty speaks to Candice Glover about her getting a picture from home. Then she talks to Jimmy I, and he talks about her gorgeous voice, and she plans to showcase it with "I (Who Have Nothing)" sung by Jordin Sparks in Season 6. I remember it sung by the great Dame Shirley Bassey.
Candice did a great job, although I did hear a little bit of shrill on her top end near the front of that song. But when the song kicked in, it is in the gorgeous part of her voice. She simplified her runs, and put in emotion where it belongs. It is by far the best of the night so far. Keith loved it, and goes on and on. Nicki loved it too, and thinks the song can be retired now. Randy thought it perfection. He started with his platitudes, and called it the best vocal of season, in the first performance show of the year. Yeah, just sayin'... Mariah loved it, but didn't stand because her skirt is too tight. But she adores Candice. Again, I thought it was wonderful, but I'll take Jordin's performance in a head-to-head... Soon it was another break and it is time for Lazaro Arbos to chat with Jimmy I, who points out he needs to learn the song, which has been his failing thus far. He will be singing Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway", from her album of the same name. For the first half of the song, it lies in the bottom of his voice, not a good place to be. He sounds breathy and weak, needing the chorus to brighten up an otherwise lackluster performance. Keith starts out by asking a question, which Lazaro struggles to answer. But Keith admits it as not a good performance, and hopes they see him next week. Nicki feels Jimmy shook his confidence, and he needs to find that again. Randy tells him the song was too big for him, which is meaningless critique. It was out of his vocal range, and he was strong when the song called for it. Mariah didn't mind the song choice, but thinks there could be better songs to show off his voice. And she thinks people all love his bravery, obviously looking to gain him some extra votes. Another endless barrage of commercials ends, and it is time for Kree Harrison to take to the stage. Jimmy loves her tone, and her range, and will take on a gorgeous song by Roy Orbison, "Crying". Carrie took it on in Season 4. Kree does have a stunning voice, and she kinda reminds me of Carrie a bit. While she is great on the vocals, I thought the arrangement was not great, a little stop/go during the first half. She took command of the final third, and it began to soar. I just wish she took the whole song on. Keith loved it, and will buy Kree's record. Nicki thought listening to her sing was like eating her favorite breakfast, making her all warm and delicious. Randy seemed confused by that, but went on to say she is so talented. Mariah loved the song choice - one of the greatest songs ever written - and loved the way she sings. She loves her. Then Kree called Crusty Randy, and the opposite of hilarity ensued. Thankfully, that was broken up by another commercial break. Next up, we have Burnell Taylor chatting with Jimmy I, who has little of interest to say on the clip. Burnell will be singing "Flying Without Wings", sung by Ruben Studdard on the Season 2 finale. Simon brought that with him from the UK, where his group Westlife had a big hit with the song.
He had a strong performance, but it was a song that didn't feel like a good fit for him. He still put his own flavor on it, but allowed the song to swallow him a little bit. He was good, but not great. I think he can do better. Keith loved it, Thinking he has a great timbre in his voice. And so did Nicki, although she did admit it wasn't her favorite so far. Randy loved it, with nary a bad thought in his mind. Mariah spoke of how she loved him, and the choices he makes as an artist. After the commercial break, it is time for Amber Holcomb to met with Jimmy I, who tells her she is pretty. She will be singing "A Moment Like This", and Jimmy suggests she take it up-tempo. She doubts she will do that, but she will make it her own. As the song starts, it sounds exactly like Kelly's version, only Amber doesn't have Kelly's voice. She takes an inspiring song, and makes it pedestrian. I thought it showed more of what was lacking in her voice. And the final few notes sounded sharp to me, just going over where it they needed to be. Not surprising to me, Keith loved it. I was stunned, however, when Nicki said that was the performance of the night, and it was young Whitney reborn. Huh? Randy loved it, and thinks the girls killed the guys tonight. Mariah gave it hashtag POW, and thought she sounded magnificent. Again, the sound on my television must be bad. Crusty calls her mother to the stage, and she gives her an early birthday present.
The video recap with the voting numbers rolls, and I am reminded that for me, Candice took the night, with Paul hot on her heels. There were several who lurk in the middle, giving good but not great performances. The weakest of the night for me were Curtis, Janelle, and Lazaro. But will the voters agree with me? Can Lazaro's bravery keep him out of the bottom? Are too many Country artists going to break up that voting block, putting someone in jeopardy? I might not know now, but we will learn tomorrow night when the results are broadcast at 8PM on Fox.