February 21, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Male, Group 1

After a reasonably good night from the first batch of female semifinalists, the guys get their shot tonight. Dare we hope for anything as good as Amber or Kree? Probably not, but let's cross our fingers.

The rundown:

Paul, "Tonight I Wanna Cry" -- The big loud notes are pretty. Unfortunately, not much else is. He's falling into the "sincere = breathy" trap, and the sound is so puffed with air that the words are either inaudible or incomprehensible.

Johnny, "I Won't Give Up" -- The upper register isn't bad, but in the opening part of the song, when the pitch is lower, he seems to be always on the verge of running out of breath, and those are short phrases. He hasn't been helped by the show's makeup crew, who have given him the creepy waxiness of the young John Davidson.

Jda, "Rumor Has It" -- I'm not sure I liked it, exactly, but it was interesting in a way that nothing else has been. He certainly takes command of the stage and the audience, and there's personality to spare. Enunciation could be a bit crisper. He might be just a one-trick novelty act, but I'd like the chance to find out. (And during judges' commentary, he becomes the first openly gay Idol contestant to get beyond auditions/Hollywood week; other contestants have come out only after their Idol runs were over.)

Kevin, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" -- It's a pretty enough voice, smooth and silky, but when a man sings this high up, pitch problems are painfully noticeable, and there were a few here. And he needs to learn, I think, to put a little more variety into his voice, some texture or power, so that it's not just a soft cushiony sound, because that risks lulling the audience to sleep.

Chris, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" -- On most nights, that might have come off as filled with personality and flash, but after Jda, the theatricality comes off as rather tepid and ineffectual. His voice is pinched and a bit nasal. And (tonight's biggest problem, and a perpetual flaw in the young singers Idol brings us) I couldn't understand 90% of what he said.

Devin, "Listen" -- If they had beauty pageants for men and the men had to sing cheesy ballads in the talent round of those pageants, this would have fit in very nicely there. And how much reverb was there on his mike? Especially in the opening verse, it was all-all-all echo-echo-echo. But it's been an awfully weak night, and this might be good enough to get him through.

Elijah, "Talking to the Moon" -- He looks like he's in pain when he's singing; if you're doing it right, it doesn't hurt, and it doesn't put that kind of stress on your facial muscles. He doesn't have any volume on his falsetto, and even at his best, he's a whiny imitation Bieber.

(Recurring motif of the night: The female judges, especially Nicki, are drooling over some of these guys in a way that makes even the worst excesses of Steven Tyler look practically Victorian. Nicki has offered to bear the children of two or three already, and the night's not done yet.)

Charlie, "Rocket Man" -- He's a bit self-consciously quirky but if he learns where his range actually is, and stops attempting flashy runs and high notes that he can't quite manage, he could be a fine singer. He sang this tricky melody quite nicely, getting those awkward wide leaps mostly right. Not great, but on what may be the worst night in Idol history, it's good enough.
Jimmy, "Raining on Sunday" -- I almost never use this word, because it's such a judging cliche, but that was karaoke. It's a perfectly pleasant voice, but there's nothing distinctive or interesting about it, and there's so little power to it that the band is drowning him out on what should be the big climactic notes.

Curtis, "Superstar" -- This is not a style I have much use for myself -- the melodrama, the "oh, you KNOW I'm sexy" slinking about -- and I hate this song done this way, but what he does, he does competently.

So, what should the judges do with this mightly slim batch o' pickins?

They should send on Curtis, because his was the only singing of the night that was even close to good. I'd put Jda and Charlie through, not so much because they have great voices, but because they kept me interested and I'm curious to see what they do next. That's about it, as far as being deserving. Force me to pick two more, and I'll settle for some combination of Devin, Johnny, and Jimmy. As for Elijah, Kevin, Chris, and Paul, drop 'em at the Greyhound station and let 'em find their own way home.

And now, the drawn-out reveal of the judges' decisions:

Curtis, in. Jimmy, out. Kevin, out. Elijah, in. Jda, out. Paul, in (by Jimmy Iovine's decision, since the judges were split).

Commercial break. Chris, no. Charlie, yes. The final spot comes down to Devin and Johnny, which is the least exciting head-to-head confrontation imaginable, and Devin gets the final spot. Not the best choices the judges could have made, but then again, there weren't many good choices to make.

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