March 21, 2012

TV: American Idol 2012: Billy Joel

It's Billy Joel night, for the first time since season 2. Joel's songs are usually about very specific characters, and tonight will be not only a singing challenge, but an acting one as well. And what more logical choice could there be for a mentor on Billy Joel night than...Diddy? But he's very supportive, with a strong understanding of the emotional throughlines, and he's a nice complement to Jimmy's musical advice.

The rundown:

DeAndre, "Only the Good Die Young" -- It's fun and perky and energetic, but it's missing the element of danger and edge that makes the song so seductive. There's nothing of the bad boy in this performance (though he almost finds it on "the sinners have much more fun"); rather than being the boy your mother warned you about, DeAndre is the nice boy your mother always hoped you'll date.

Erika, "New York State of Mind" -- Quite lovely, powerful and soulful. Not quite the kind of performance that sends chills down the spine, but by far her best work yet, and it should certainly be enough to keep her around for another week. And goodness, the show's new style consultant Tommy Hilifiger isn't going to be bashful about making big changes, is he?

Joshua, "She's Got a Way" -- The strengths of this song, I think, are its simplicity and its delicacy. It's not a song that stands up well under all the melisma and the full go-to-church treatment. So, some markdown just on the question of taste. And perhaps because the style and the song don't match, I'm not getting a strong emotional connection. Bad song selection, but I'm not sure which Joel song would have been a better fit.

Skylar, "Shameless" -- Pleasant, though not particularly memorable. Some of the low notes in the verse are getting lost, which is consistently a problem for her; not sure if she's choosing the wrong keys or she just doesn't have as wide a range as the other singers. And since we're now apparently supposed to care more about style, I think that jacket/dress combo draws focus to her hips in a very unflattering way. (Hey, I haven't watched 11 seasons of Project Runway for nothing.)

Elise, "Vienna" -- She's relying far too much on the rasp in her voice to give it character that it doesn't otherwise have, and the effect is monotonous after a while. The final bars -- those last two repetitions of "Vienna waits for you" -- are painful, a strange mix of screechy falsetto, off-key runs, and growls that don't work at all.

Phillip, "Movin' Out" -- At least he's pretty. The arrangement didn't work and the performance was devoid of personality. An utter flop. (And the judges are crazy on this one.)

Hollie, "Honesty" -- Some pitch problems, and she frequently pulls the mike away from her mouth before the note is actually finished. But the biggest problem is that this just isn't a big belty anthem; it's a rueful meditation. Her approach to the song is so wrong that it gets in the way of noticing the things she does well.

Heejun, "My Life" -- Well, that was unexpected. After two weeks of breathy ballads, it's a relief to see that there is actually a voice in there. It's not an especially pretty voice, though, the pitch is all over the place., and he hasn't quite learned the lyrics. As for the shtick -- the fake-out opening, the mike twirling -- that's just embarrassing. He's still not a good singer, but at least he's willing to take some chances and shake things up a bit.

Jessica, "Everybody Has a Dream" -- That last run of ultra-high notes was impressive, and lord knows she can hit the big money notes for days. But there's so much vibrato and melisma in parts of the chorus that I still don't actually know what her dream is. You must communicate the text. You must communicate the text. You must communicate the text. If you don't do that, you have failed.

Colton, "Piano Man" -- The quieter verses in the lower register are especially nice here, and even when he goes up the octave for the high stuff, it's still mostly fine. But there are spots where that yodel-y yelp-y crack slips into his voice; it's not a pretty sound to begin with, and it's particularly out of place in this song. Still, this is easily the best of the night.

For the night: Colton, Erika, Jessica, Joshua, DeAndre, Hollie, Skylar, Heejun, Elise, Phillip.

For the season: Joshua, Jessica, Hollie, Erika, Skylar, Colton, DeAndre, Phillip, Elise, Heejun.

Let's send home: Heejun has now demonstrated that he can't really sing ballads or up-tempo. His comic relief has outlived its usefulness.

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