March 14, 2012

TV: American Idol 2012: Songs from birth years

The oldest song in the batch comes from 1983. (Well, that's not really true, since several of tonight's songs are older than their singers, but they're slipping in because of cover versions dating from the singer's birth year.) This means that I was graduated from high school before any of this year's contestants were born. I am now officially old.

So crank up the volume a notch or two, because This! is the rundown:

Philip, "Hard to Handle" --It's an entirely serviceable performance, nothing terribly wrong with it, but nothing I'm going to remember for long, either. What I am struck by is the mismatch between the song and his singer; the pretty face and the bright smile and the polo shirt don't quite fit the bluesy song, and the effect is weirdly distracting. Not complaining, mind you, because it is a very pretty face indeed, but I wonder if we'll see him get an image overhaul as the season goes on.

Jessica, "Turn the Beat Around" -- It wouldn't be fair to expect her to match last week's performance every week, but this is a bigger letdown than I'd hoped for. She doesn't need to work this hard, or to shout this much. Some of those high notes are coming out with a lot of harsh rasp that is clearly not intended. The rappish sections are cleanly enunciated, which is a nice change from most Idol versions of the song, but they don't have the crisp percussive quality they need. (As the judges comment, Jennifer nails the exact problem -- her vibrato doesn't suit the song well.)

Heejun, "Right Here Waiting" -- There's a lot of air in the sound, which means that by the end of the phrase, he's running out of it, and since the high notes tend to come at the ends of the phrases in this song, they are almost always under pitch. The chorus is a bit better, because he's singing full voice, but even here, his breath control is weak enough that he's not able to get through complete phrases without breathing (and the phrases aren't that long). At his best, he has a pretty voice, but his technical problems don't allow him to stay at his best for more than a few notes at a time.

Elise, "Let's Stay Together" -- The sleepy lounge-act opening verse doesn't work at all. Things improve when we hit the chorus and the horns kick in, but this really isn't a song that shows off a singer's technical ability. It's about style and attitude and sexiness, and Elise isn't bringing any of those things to the party. Yeah, the notes are pretty much all there, and she's throwing in the obligatory runs, but it all feels a bit lazy and sloppy.

DeAndre, "Endless Love" -- Mostly pretty, in a bland kind of way, but those falsetto notes are not pleasant; they're thin and pinched and always just under pitch. And emotionally, it's the most passionless rendition of the song I've ever heard. I don't believe this is an endless love; hell, I barely believe that it's a good one night stand. He's lucky that it's been such a weak night so far; on a good night, this performance would get him sent home.

Shannon, "One Sweet Day" -- Jimmy and are right that her voice gets tight when she tries to belt, and even when she's not belting, there's nothing interesting or distinctive about her. She'd probably win her high school talent show, but she doesn't belong on Idol. And it's not a very interesting song, either.

Colton, "Broken Heart" -- This certainly suits his voice better than Stevie Wonder did, though I'm still driven nuts by the way his voice breaks in strange places. Good performance, nothing special. Conventional wisdom would say that he'll be hurt in the voting by the choice of so obscure a song; I'm skeptical that there's any validity to the idea.

Erika, "Heaven" -- Nice; in comparison to what we've been getting tonight, very nice. Some of the low notes are a bit off pitch, and I shudder to think what's going to happen when she has to sing anything that requires agility with a voice that heavy, but this was pleasant.

And at this point, we get the dismissal of Jermaine due to outstanding arrest warrants that he hadn't told the producers about. It is handled in as tasteful and dignified a manner as one could reasonbly expect from Idol, but it is significant that Ryan tells us that the lowest vote-getter tomorrow night will be "at risk for elimination," not that s/he will be eliminated. We're probably looking at someone getting a free pass because of Jermaine's disqualification.

Skylar, "Love Sneaking Up On You" -- Some of the low notes at the beginning are getting lost, and her enunciation is sloppy; the actual words are getting buried in rasp and twang. It's very powerful rasp and twang, to be sure, and not unpleasant to listen to, but the goal of singing is to communicate, and if we can't tell what you're saying, you're not communicating.

Joshua, "When a Man Loves a Woman" -- Ooh, hell, yes! He even got away with the cheesy taking-off-the-jacket move. Those high notes coming back into the last verse were impeccable, and there's not really much to complain about anywhere. Best of the night so far by seventeen or eighteen miles. (I worry a bit, though, because he reminds me a lot of Jacob Lusk, who had a similar style and went home far too early last season.)

Hollie, "Power of Love" -- There's not much to the song but an excuse to stand and belt for 90 seconds, and she certainly does that in impressive fashion. But we know from last week that she's capable of more subtle singing than this, and I hope she won't turn into this year's Siobhan Magnus, getting more obsessed every week with the big notes until we're bored and have forgotten why we liked her in the first place.

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

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

Let's send home: Assuming we send anyone home at alll, that is, which seems unlikely. About the only other option they have to stretch the season a week would be not to do a double elimination the week after the judges' save, but then they're screwed if the judges never use the save. But if we do send someone home, it should be either Elise or Heejun.

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