May 16, 2012

TV: American Idol 2012: Judge's choice / Idol's choice / Jimmy's choice

It's the traditional final three "choice" night. It's not quite as much fun with Jimmy Iovine as it used to be with the Dessicated Corpse of Clive Davis, but this is often one of the best nights of the year, as the would-be Idols have to submit to the choices of people with actual experience in the industry. Tonight is also the night for hometown visits, which shows Idol at its most sappily sentimental. Let's hope the performances outweigh the sap.
The rundown:

Round One -- Judge's choice:

Joshua, "I'd Rather Go Blind" -- Marvelous. The style is right; the technique is impeccable; the emotion comes through loud and clear. Most important, it never feels like work. And because he's having fun, so are we.

Jessica, "My All" -- A lot of little technique problems. The low notes are hard to hear, and what we can hear, we can't understand. She doesn't have the breath control to get through the long phrases, or enough experience to avoid gasping into the mike. When she's this quiet, her upper register gets slightly pinched. Even worse, she looks scared and stiff, which only emphasizes her tendency to seem robotic and emotionless.

Phillip, "Beggin'" -- The song is so intensely uninteresting that it's hard to feel like there's anything to judge. Yeah, I guess it was in tune, and it was less affected than Phillip can be at his worst. But he brought nothing interesting, memorable, or distinctive to the performance. It was elevator music.

For Round One: Joshua, Jessica, Phillip.

Round Two -- Idol's choice:

Joshua, "Imagine" -- I like the relative restraint of it; there's enough ornamention and R&B frills that it's recognizable as a Joshua performance, but they never get in the way of the song's message. It's not as thrilling as Joshua can be when he's truly in his wheelhouse, but it's entertaining, believable, and sincere.

Jessica, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" -- When she can belt, she sounds fine (though the big note at the end was uncharacteristically wobbly); when she tries for quiet, restraint, or subtlety, she's less effective. And even at her best, there's something plastic and Miss California about it, a wall that keeps her emotions locked away where we can't see them.

Phillip, "Disease" -- That was as good as Phillip's been all season. In the last two or three weeks, he's finally finding a voice that feels like his, instead of something he stole from an asthmatic blues singer. This was comfortable and relaxed; at his best, Phillip's advantage over the other two (aside from being another White Guy With a Guitar) is that he feels the most contemporary.

For Round Two: Phillip, Joshua, Jessica.

Round Three -- Jimmy's choice:

Joshua, "No More Drama" -- And here we see why Joshua sticks to the classics: They've got substance that this song doesn't. When you go crazy at the end of "Man's World," you've already built something that can stand up to that level of decorative singing; doing the same thing to this song is like piling the ornaments from the Rockefeller Plaza tree onto Charlie Brown's sorry twig. The performance is fine; it feels a little hollow only because the song isn't that good. (And is that piano part borrowed from "Nadia's Theme," or is that my imagination?)

Jessica, "I'll Be There" -- Very smart choice from Jimmy. The youth and innocence of this song suit her so much better than the Grand Diva stuff she chooses for herself, and most of the song lies right in her sweet spot. The B section -- "I'll be there to comfort you" -- is pitched lower, and her voice takes on a heaviness that doesn't quite suit the song. She's more restrained than usual, and that simplicity works for her. I liked this very much.

Phillip, "We've Got Tonight" -- That didn't quite work. I've gotten so used to Phillip's quirky phrasing and melodic liberties that when he actually sings a song in a more straightforward manner, it feels terribly stiff and (to conjure up the ghost of Simon Cowell) karaoke. He seems nervous and uncomfortable without his guitar, and has no idea what to do with his left hand. The song is well suited to his voice, and I suspect that if he'd had more time to learn it, we would have gotten something interesting, but this fell flat.

For Round Three: Jessica, Joshua, Phillip.

For the night: Joshua, Jessica, Phillip.

For the season: Joshua, Jessica, Phillip.

Let's send home: It should be Phillip. I will be mildly disappointed, but not terribly surprised, if it's Jessica. I will be extremely disappointed if it's Joshua.

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