And we're back, for another season of American Idol! It's a 4-judge panel this season (unfortunately), with Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey joining Randy Jackson; and we're stretching the semi-final rounds out for a week longer than last year by starting off with a top 40. Ten women tonight, ten men tomorrow night, and the same thing next week, and we don't even get to vote yet. The judges will instantly eliminate half of each group, and we'll be down to a top 20 in two weeks.
As usual, I'm jumping in to the season at this point; I've seen a grand total of about ten minutes of the audition episodes, so everyone's a mystery to me. The buzz says that the women are particularly strong this year, but let's not get our hopes up too high, shall we?
Jenny Beth, "Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love" -- Yawn. She's like an escapee from a Six Flags park show. It's not horrible (though the low notes in the verses are too low for her to sing), but it's got no personality at all.
Tenna, "Soulmate" -- I can't say that I particularly like her style -- the quiet breathiness, the abruptly terraced dynamics, the "never sing one note when you can sing 18" melisma overload -- but she's got impeccable control over what she's doing, and she's certainly grabbing the audience. And she's doing it with a relatively understated ballad, which is a gutsy choice for an all-or-nothing performance.
Adriana, "Ain't No Way" -- If you're going to end the song with a big note, then by god that note had better be in tune, and she was way flat. And I was sort of with her up to that point. It wasn't exciting (but then, it's not an exciting song), but it was holding my attention. May have killed her chances with the last note, though.
Brandy, "Anymore" -- A bit pitchy throughout, as Mr. Jackson might say, and not terribly interesting, either. Yeah, it's a big voice, but it's on the bland side, the enunciation is a little mushy, and she's not conveying a lick of emotion.
(A side note before the next contestant sings: I almost want to root for her just because of ter name: Shubha Vedula. I can't stop repeating it: Shubha Vedula Shubha Vedula Shubha Vedula.)
Shubha, "Born This Way" -- The arrangement's a mess; her enunciation is non-existent -- I know this song reasonably well, and I had no idea what she was saying most of the time -- and while there's certainly a lot of emotion coming across, that emotion is, weirdly enough, anger. She was born this way, dammit, and I feel like she's ready to kill the bastard responsible.
Kamaria, "Mr. Know It All" -- She's flat a lot of the time, and even when she's not, there's a thickness and a weight to her voice that makes it feel like she is. It's not an attractive sound. And I don't think the song plays to the strengths she does have; she needs something a bit more R&B, I think.
Kree, "Up to the Mountain" -- Now that, boys and girls, is how you hit a big note in tune. The melisma was occasionally a tad overwrought, but she's able to sing quietly with solid tone, unlike many Idol women, who get breathy at low volume. Strong voice, no major technical flaws, certainly good enough to move forward on a weak night.
Angela, "Nobody's Perfect" -- Solid performance. I'm particularly impressed with her wide dynamic range, and with the control she has over all of it. I don't think her look helps her, though; she's tackily dressed and overly made up in a way that says she doesn't trust her voice to hold our attention.
Isabelle, "God Bless the Child" -- Tonight, in the Starlight Lounge, Carnival Cruises is proud to present Isabelle!
Amber, "My Funny Valentine" -- Oh, my, yes. Send her straight through to the top ten. Gorgeous voice, performance that's contemporary but respectful of the song, fine technique -- what more do you want?
So, if the judges have been paying attention, these will be their decisions:
IN: Amber, Kree, Angela, Tenna, Adriana
OUT: Isabelle, Shubha, Brandy, Jenny Beth, Kamaria
Only the first three of those really excited me much, and I wouldn't be crushed if Isabelle slipped in over Tenna or Adriana; the bottom four really don't deserve to move on.
And now, we endure a long, padded series of announcements as each singer is trotted out to learn whether she'll stay or go.
Jenny Beth, out. Brandy, out. Tenna, in. Kree, in. Isabelle, out. Angela, in. Commercial break. Kamaria, out. Amber, in. That leaves Shubha vs. Adriana for the last spot, and did you know that they're best friends (of course they are), and Adriana gets it, which means that the judges got it completely right.
Tomorrow night, the first ten guys.