American Idol: Playing It Too Safe
The biggest buzzword from last week's American Idol: frustration.

I mean, how many contestants got the "we're frustrated and disappointed at you" remark from the judges? Jermaine Sellers got that. Andrew Garcia got that. Haeley Vaughn got that. Lacey Brown got that.

And to think that it's been two weeks into the competition. Yes, people get jittery on the first week, but it seems most of the contestants--and I count those who were eliminated--we're playing it too safe. The lesson from last week's American Idol: it's better to be bad than to be forgettable. And it's absolutely better to be bad because you took a risk, rather than being bad just because you are.

No wonder I've been struggling with choosing standout performances over the past couple of weeks. Yes, I know I've picked favorites, but I am still waiting for that wow moment. And no, it doesn't have to be that one loud, shocking, surprising, satisfying second that changes the game--nothing like, say, Siobhan Magnus' final note last week. It doesn't have to be a song that's totally changed up.

In fact, I'm settling for a good vocal performance. Just a good vocal performance. I don't think it's a good thing.

Some may say that this year's Top 24--err, Top 20, err, Top 16--isn't as good as previous seasons, simply because they haven't churned out good performances. I say they've got the potential, and not in a "you need a year to train that" way like Haeley Vaughn did. Remember what we saw in the auditions?

Lacey Brown, for example. I'll refer (again) to her performance during the first set of auditions. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" spun in a totally quirky different way. That's who she is, and that's what I'll remember her for. So I'm looking for that in her performances, and instead, she made a couple of pretty big misses--a bad song choice the first week, a slight misdirection the second week--and, alongside it, a couple of huge saves.

Maybe she isn't really up to it, but I sense her troubles stem from the fact that she just isn't confident with what she's able to do. I mean, you've got a week to think things over. Why play it safe? I'm not asking for a big risk every week, but I want to see the thing that made me like you in the first place. You're hiding that.

It's something the other contestants are guilty of doing, too. Say, Todrick Hall's reliance on butchering songs rather than singing (and dancing) his way. Didi Benami, who isn't sticking with the singer-songwriter plan she has. Heck, even Katie Stevens, who's pure vocals are getting lost with her search for another identity.

Okay. Maybe the other thing bogging this batch of contestants down is the fact that they just aren't up to it. Is there a potential in Tim Urban? He isn't even a fit for Glee. John Park had a good voice but his one-track nature proved to be a problem. And maybe some contestants just peaked too early, like Andrew Garcia. Or maybe they're just having a hard time finding their niche on the show, like Paige Miles.

So sure, some of this year's contestants were stinkers, like every other batch, but not all of them. You can only say that when we're five weeks into the competition and everybody is still playing it safe. By then, I probably would've dozed off in frustration, after about three performances... and that's much worse.

(Image courtesy of Fox)