April 25, 2012

TV: American Idol 2012: Queen/Singers' choice

It's Queen night, which has produced some scary results in the past, as the singers search for the theatricallity and flamboyance of Freddie Mercury. The second round tonight is wide open, which should allow everyone to find something they can do well. But we've been led down that path of false optimism many times before, haven't we?

The rundown:

Round One: Queen

Jessica, "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- This song will never work on Idol because it has to be chopped to bits to fit the time limit; it's like "Good Vibrations," in that all of those shifts in tempo and mood are very carefully put together, and if you take out even one piece, the Jenga tower collapses. As for the performance, Jessica is too poised and elegant for this song; she's singing it too prettily, with no rough edges (and unusually, a couple of high notes that are a little flat). Has anyone ever sung "just killed a man" less convincingly?

Skylar, "The Show Must Go On" -- On the whole, very good. The bridge is the weak spot, where she gives in to her tendency to sloppy enunciation, but the rest of the song works quite well. She's finding a nice balance between her natural country twang and a harder rock edge that's particularly effective in the opening verse. Skylar's been frustratingly inconsistent this season, but when she's on, she's good enough to win the whole thing.

Joshua, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" -- Disastrously bad song choice. I like Joshua, but even at his best, he leans to the overwrought, and this is one of the most laid-back Queen songs I can think of; style and singer clash even more badly here than they did with Jessica earlier in the show. And it's not as if there aren't plenty of Queen songs that would lend themselves to Joshua's oversized performance style; this round should have been a gimme for him.

Elise, "I Want It All"-- She's perfectly at home in the style. It's an energetic and entertaining performance. It's not as memorable or exciting as her "Whole Lotta Love" from a few weeks back, but on a night when the frontrunners are struggling, this ought to be enough to keep her around for another week.

Phillip, "Fat Bottomed Girls" -- On the choral stuff in the choruses, he's always just a hair behind every one else, and the pitches at the ends of phrases tend to drop off instead of being sustained to the end of the note. And the more I hear of him, the more creeped out I am by the artifice of his voice; he comes off to me as if he's playing the role of a Southern blues singer (and playing it way too broadly) instead as if he actually is one.

Hollie, "Save Me" -- The verse leaves me with the odd sensation that someone is playing with the volume control on her microphone; she leaps from loud to quiet and back from note to note, making it hard to follow the lyrics. Beyond that, it's a standard Hollie performance; it's nice, and she'd be the easy winner at her high school talent show, but she's not at the same level as the other contestants. She gets credit, though, for smartly choosing a song that didn't require her to rock too hard.

For Round One: Elise, Skylar, Jessica, Hollie, Phillip, Joshua.

Round Two: Singers' choice

Jessica, "Dance With My Father" -- As an acting teacher of mine once said, "If you cry, the audience won't." This song requires a delicate touch; it's inherently sentimental, and you need to just sing it and get out of the way. What you cannot do is milk the emotion; take the slightest step in that direction, and it's going to feel overdone and gooey. And Jessica doesn't just take a slight step towards milking; she's filling the entire damn dairy case.

Skylar, "Tattoos on This Town" -- I don't care for the song; it's a strange bit of imagery. Our romance and our escapades are like tattoos on the town, which means what? Everyone will find us vaguely embarassing and wish they could get rid of us in twenty years? The performance is distinctly meh; competent, a bit bland, instantly forgettable.

Joshua, "Ready for Love" -- That downward run at the end of the song? Viciously difficult, and impeccably in tune. A few too many runs and frills for my taste, but this was beautifully sung, and I particularly liked the beginning, a nice reminder that emotion can be quiet.

Elise, "Bold as Love" -- Something clicks for me during this performance, and I think I'm beginning to understand where Elise's style comes from, why her enunciation can go from weirdly overprecise to incomprehensible mush within the same phrase: She's not so much a pop singer as she is a jazz singer, and she thinks of her voice as just another instrument in the mix. She's less interested in the words as such than she is in words as pure sound, and if eliding a few consonants here and there will give her the effect she wants, then so be it. Aside from that epiphany, the performance doesn't do much for me; it's rather boring.

Phillip, "The Stone" -- The first half of that was the most natural and unaffected I think he's ever sounded; unfortunately, we can't quite hear what he's saying because he's not mixed loud enough. The song is a strange choice, though, an absolute snooze that shows off nothing of a singer's skill or range. At this point in the competition, yawns are not the reaction you need to be generating.

Hollie, "The Climb" -- Perfect song choice. The big notes were, as they usually are with Hollie, impressive, and she did a better job than usual of modulating her voice so that even the quieter moments worked well. Pitch was steady, which itself is a significant achievement for Hollie. Her best moment since she made such a good impression on Whitney night at the beginning of the season.

For Round Two: Joshua, Hollie, Jessica, Skylar, Phillip, Elise

For the night: Hollie, Skylar, Joshua, Elise, Jessica, Phillip. No one put together two good songs, and Joshua managed the nifty feat of giving both the best and the worst performance of the night.

For the season: Joshua, Skylar, Elise, Hollie, Jessica, Phillip.

Let's send home: As has been true for a while now, it ought to be Phillip. I'd put my money on Elise, though.

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