The competition gets underway in earnest this week, with a rather nebulous theme: Pick a song sung by a previous Idol champ, either during their time on the show or during their post-Idol career. With eleven winners to choose from, there are 100 or so in-show songs to choose from, covering a wide range of musical styles. One would think that the women might have an advantage, as the ongoing careers of the female winners have been, on the whole, more successful than those of the men. But who knows? Maybe the show will give us exciting covers of every song from Lee DeWyze's Live It Up.
Curtis, "I Believe" -- I was actually enjoying his relative restraint until he went for that high note at the end, which was neither necessary nor tasteful. Some pitch problems throughout, and a restrained Curtis does pile on the runs and flourishes. Perfectly nice performance, though lacking in the get-up-outta-your-pew gospel thrills the song needs. (And the paisley jacket? No. Absolutely not. Never again.)
Janelle, "Gone" -- Making it to the top ten has given her a needed ego boost, and she looks more confident than she has before. There are moments in the verse when she finds the right sassy attitude for the song, but once she hits the chorus, that vanishes and it becomes just a piece of pretty singing with not much personality. She does well with the passages of rapid-fire lyrics, though, almost every word of which can be clearly understood.
Devin, "Temporary Home" -- That was astonishingly tepid. No energy, no emotion, no style, no nothing that would bring it to life or make it even slighly memorable for an instant. The song gets a small part of the blame, but most of it falls squarely on Devin. And how was this supposed to be a breakout from the comfort zone of ballads?
Angie, "I Surrender" -- Very good, and little to complain about. One small technical thing in some of the opening phrases: She's climbing in pitch at the same time that she's increasing in volume. Because the higher notes are easier to sing, the volume will tend to increase naturally, so she doesn't need to work as hard to get that crescendo as she is working, and some of the top notes pop out a little too much, making the crescendo less smooth than it should be. But the fact that I'm commenting on such a nitpicky thing is a sign of how solid the performance was.
Paul, "Amazed" -- He's still equating "sensitive" with "breathy," so about 80% of the verse is too airy to register as sound, much less as coherent words. And the chorus is a string of pretty notes with no emotional force or impact. He could be eating a bowl of tapioca for all the amazement he's showing.
Candice, "I (Who Have Nothing)" -- This song brings out the best in Idol women; it was the best performance of Jordin Sparks' run on the show, and Haley Reinhart's stalker-scary take was brilliant. And this is right up there with both of those. Absolutely riveting. There were moments here that sent chills up my spine -- that drop from a full belt into falsetto-y head voice on the "I love you" at the end of the first verse, for instance. No complaints at all.
Lazaro, "Breakaway" -- A few years back when Sanjaya Malakar was on the show, I eventually ran out of ways to describe the ineptness of his performances; it started to feel like beating up on the guy. So I decided that for the rest of his run, I would say nothing more than "He did his best. It wasn't very good." It's sad to reach that point with Lazaro after only three performances, but that's where I am. So: He did his best. It wasn't very good.
Kree, "Crying" -- The problem with this as an Idol song has been that if the performance is too faithful to the original, the time constraints don't allow for the smooth build up to the high octave, resulting in a sudden awkward jump. This arrangement tinkers with the melody just enough to smooth out that transition, and it lets Kree show off her terrific range. The high notes never feel forced or pushed, and the low notes have enough force behind them to be heard. Very nice.
Burnell, "Flying Without Wings" -- I'm a little disappointed that he's let the stylists take away his glasses; he had a distinctive look, and now he's just another cute R&B singer. Some of the high notes sounded a little pinched, and there wasn't much emotional depth in the performance (then again, there's not much in the song). There were some low notes, though, that I don't think we've heard before, and I'd like to hear more of that part of his voice.
Amber, "A Moment Like This" -- Amber has a big powerful voice, and she is barrelling through this song like Godzilla through Tokyo. But the song requires at least some measure of vulnerability, of "I can't believe this is happening to me," and she's missing that entirely. "Some people wait a lifetime," she seems to be saying, "and I laugh at those puny, pathetic people."
And so, not too many surprises in the first week, as the favorites mostly do well, and the long-shots mostly don't, with Amber's stumble being the major exception. The most interesting storyline of the season, however, is Lazaro, who will give us an answer to this question: In the absence of talent, how far into the season can one get purely on sympathy and pity? I'm betting it'll take him at least to the top six.
For the night: Candice, Kree, Angie, Burnell, Curtis, Janelle, Amber, Devin, Paul, Lazaro
For the season: Candice, Kree, Angie, Burnell, Curtis, Amber, Janelle, Devin, Paul, Lazaro
Let's send home: It should be Lazaro, but it won't be. Either Paul or Devin would be an acceptable alternative.