March 02, 2011

MUSIC: American Idol 2011: women's semi-finals

The ladies take their turn in the spotlight, and I'm left with the impression that this year is going to be all about the men. It's not a strong night overall, and even the best performances pale in comparison to the best of last night.

The rundown:

Ta-Tynisa, "Only Girl (in the World)" -- The adrenaline's getting to her, and she's just a bit sharp throughout. She's got a powerful voice, though, and if she makes it through and settles down a bit, there might be something there.

Naima, "Summertime" -- What are all those poor folks on the Lido Deck going to do for entertainment now that Naima has abandoned them for Idol? Oh well, I suspect she'll be back on the Pacific Princess by the end of the week. There may be talent there, but it's buried under so many layers of bad taste that it's not going to be worth digging for it.

Kendra, "Impossible" -- A bit heavy on the ruffles and flourishes for my liking, but it is a Christina Aguilera song, so I suppose that's not inappropriate. Nice voice, well sung. Very solid, though not hugely memorable. I worry a bit about how squinty and pained she looks on the highest notes; that suggests that her technique isn't as solid as it should be.

Rachel, "Criminal" -- Terrible song choice. She doesn't have the naughty sultriness that's called for, which makes her look like a little girl playing dress-up in mommy's closet. Musically, it feels like it's in the wrong key, and she's straining to hit the low notes.

Karen, "Hero" -- Lovely. I like her smooth silky tone a lot, and I really admire her high notes, which are perfectly in tune and (unlike a lot of Idol women) not remotely shrill or piercing. She's also very poised and comfortable on stage.

Lauren T, "Seven Day Fool" -- Strong powerful voice with a distinctive husky quality, though the words occasionally get buried in all that darkness. I'm not wildly enthusiastic yet, but she's interesting enough that I'd like to see more.

Ashthon, "Love All Over Me" -- It's like someone took every major black diva of the last 20 years into a lab and cross-bred them all. What's missing, though, is any sense of a personality to go with the voice; there's something a bit robotic and chilly about her performance.

Julie, "Breakaway" -- The song is bigger than she is, and she's pushing so hard to be big enough that she's gasping for breath by the end. The final note, which is clearly meant to be a big dramatic finish, just fizzles out into nothing.

Haley, "Fallin'" -- I like her playfulness, and the ease with which she bounces from one register of her voice to another. She overdoes the growly thing a bit, but that's a relatively small flaw in an otherwise solid piece of work.

Thia, "Out Here On My Own" -- Some of the high notes are a touch flat, but I like that she had the nerve to do something relatively quiet and intimate. Love that she can get quiet without the voice disappearing entirely; there's still a solid core of sound there. Very promising.

Lauren A, "Turn On the Radio" -- The song calls for assertive and powerful, which Lauren translates as loud and shouty. It's a grownup's song, and Lauren isn't old enough to give it the right emotional layers.

Pia, "I'll Stand By You" -- Very good. I like the simple clarity of her voice, though like so many Idol women, she doesn't have any power in her lower register.

The choices are much harder to make among the women than they were among the men, because the women are (a) not as good and (b) far more evenly grouped. Where the men ran the range of talent from A to Z, the women are more tightly bunched from, oh, H to P.

So who deserves to stay? Well, I'd say that Karen, Thia, and Pia are the best of the bunch, and certainly deserve to move on. Beyond that, it's just a big bunch of OK. Pick any two from Haley, Kendra, Ashthon, and the Laurens.

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