February 27, 2013

TV: American Idol 2013: Sudden Death/Female, Group 2

Week one of Sudden Death gave us an impressive night from the women, a disastrous night from the men, and a promising debut from the new judges, who offered surprisingly constructive criticism. This week, another 20 wannabes put it all on the line with one in-or-out performance.

The rundown:

Melinda, "Nobody's Perfect" -- The arrangement isn't working well; it's choppy and jerky, and it doesn't allow her to show any range or breath control. I suppose she's trying to do that with the abrupt style shift for the last 30 seconds, but it comes off as unpleasantly disconnected from the rest of the performance. She may be a good singer, but she needs to choose material and arrangements that will let her demonstrate it, and she hasn't done that tonight.

Candice, "A Natural Woman" -- Very nice, and it never felt like work. The little growl on "baby" is delicious, and her melisma feels natural and spontaneous, as opposed to mere "let's see how many notes I can cram into this run" athleticism. Not wild about the styling, which makes her look ten years older than she is.

Juliana, "Skyscraper" -- About half of what she sings is nothing but air, and because of that, it's all over the place in terms of pitch. When there is any substance to the sound, it's not pretty, and the abrupt transitions between air and sound (as in the closing "scraper") are intensely unpleasant. Not a keeper, I'm afraid.

Jett, "Only Girl in the World" -- What's interesting about the original version of this song is the energy, the rhythm, the propulsion. And Jett has sucked all of that out, turning it into an outtake from a Steve'n'Eydie Vegas lounge show. The voice is pleasant enough, I suppose, if a bit nasal in spots, but the performance suggests a problematic lack of taste and good judgment.

Cristabel, "No One" -- That odd little Macy Gray-ish squeaking crack in her voice wears out its welcome about five times faster than she thinks it does, and her melisma does feel like notes for notes' sake. But I do like the sound of her voice, and on a night that hasn't been quite so strong as last week's women, this might get her through. (And I remember having a similar reaction to the weirdness of Fantasia Barrino's voice on first hearing, so y'never know.)

Aubrey, "Sweet Dreams" -- There's an odd thing she does repeatedly on the high note in "beautiful NIGHTmare;" she can't quite hit the note, so she goes into breathy head voice, hits the vowel just long enough for us to hear what it is, and instantly fades into silence for the rest of the note's length. She's not hitting those high notes; she's just implying them, and we're convincing ourselves that we're hearing an actual note for the whole duration. It's a clever way to disguise a technical weakness, but it's the only interesting thing about an otherwise bland performance.

Rachel, "Nothing But the Water" -- Someone has told her that she's a country/blues singer, but I don't think she really is. The country twang doesn't come naturally to her, and some of those vowels ("dah-ooon" for "down") are very affected. But she's got a strong, powerful voice, and if she can figure out what she should be singing, she could be terrific.

Breanna, "Bust Your Windows" -- It's pleasant, but it's not memorable, and it's got none of the anger it should have. I don't know the original, but I'm wondering if it was quite so Latin/tango as this, because that seemed an odd fit for the song. On the whole, a decidedly meh performance.

Janelle, "Just a Kiss" -- Started off reasonably well, but her pitch got more frequently out of whack as the song went on. Wasn't horrifyingly bad, and she's the only real country singer we've heard tonight, so she might survive, if only for the sake of stylistic diversity on the show.

Zoanette, "Circle of Life" -- Well, it held my attention. She's got a huge voice, but I'm not sure there's anything to it beyond size. The pitch was occasionally wobbly, and there's no lightness or subtlety in her voice; it's as if someone tried to turn Darth Vader into a pop diva. Is raw power and showmanship enough to get her through on a mediocre night? Maybe.

And there we are. It wasn't nearly as good as last week's female round, but that was to be expected. I only have strong feelings about a few of tonight's singers. Candice deserves to move on; Aubrey, Jett, and Juliana should be given a year's supply of Turtle Wax and sent home.

I'm noncommital about the rest, but I would probably keep Janelle, because she's the only pure country singer in the bunch; Zoanette, for sheer unpredictability and potential entertainment value; Rachel, because of her potential to turn into something amazing; and Cristabel, because that strange voice is still squeaking in my mind an hour later.

And now, let's see what the judges decide:

Zoanette, yes. Melinda, no. Juliana, no, Aubrey, yes. Cristabel, no. Candice, yes. Jett, no. Breanna, yes. Which takes us Rachel and Janelle for the last spot, which goes to Janelle.

Tomorrow night, ten more guys. And just as it was nearly impossible for tonight's women to be as good as last week's, you'd think that tomorrow's guys have to be an improvement over the batch we got last Thursday. Wouldn't you?

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