The pressures of Hollywood Week are finally behind us on American Idol
, when the performers sang for their lives and every performance could've been their last. Now, it's time for the intense pressure of the first-ever sudden death Las Vegas round, where the performers will sing for their lives and their ONLY performance could be their last. By the end of next week, the top 40 will become the top 20.
The singers will once again be split by gender, with 10 girls and 10 boys performing each week. And at the end of each night, the judges will cut the groups in half, sending five packing. It's the most important performance so far, with the only options being go home or start preparing for the next "most important performance so far." The format of these Las Vegas performances has the obvious flaw of the seventh best one week potentially being the third best the next, meaning we end up with a top 10 that might not actually be THE top 10. But that just adds to the do-or-die mentality.
The girls are up first, with four of my favorites among the 10 set to perform in front of a live audience for the first time. We'll also see two of the ladies who we've never heard from before. So with 10 songs in two hours (or five songs each hour), that means each lady will be getting about 10 minutes of screen time. Goodbye Hollywood, hello filler. You and I are going to be seeing a lot of each other over the next several weeks.
One Song, One Chance, No Mercy
It's strange to see such a big crowd and know that America won't have any input on the cuts. I don't always trust Nicki's judgment, because she tends to favor personality and individuality over talent. For the sudden-death round, the singers can pick any song in any genre, and if there's a split decision at the end, Jimmy Iovine will cast the tiebreaking vote. Ryan Seacrest touts the ladies prowess over the boys this year, and it's time to get started. Jenny Beth Willis is kicking things off. We only saw her briefly, so now is really her first opportunity to wow us.
Jenny Beth Willis
Jenny Beth Willis is a 17-year-old high school junior with country roots. They must not have stylists yet, because her pink and black dress is kinda horrible. It looks like a bad prom dress, which I guess isn't a stretch for a high school junior.
Jenny Beth is singing a country song that I don't know, probably called "The Power of Love." (Turns out it's Trisha Yearwood's "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love") She's decent but not great, though the last big note is solid.
Keith Urban has mixed feelings about it, not really a fan of the song choice but liking her confidence. Nicki Minaj enjoyed her voice but didn't think she came alive and had fun with it until the end. Randy Jackson thought it was jerky, and Mariah Carey called it "a nice performance." Not good.
I've always felt Tenna Torres screeched more than she sang, though she obviously has a good voice when she tones it down. She's getting up there at 28, so this is her last shot. She's singing Natasha Beddingfield's "Soulmate," and it's a great choice for her because it's slower and a bit more subdued. I think she still struggles a bit with the bigger notes, but overall, it's really good.
Keith calls it a deceptively big song that requires control that she mostly had, which seems to back me up. Nicki asks why she looks sad (cause it's a sad song, duh), but thinks she had perfect control throughout the song (mainly as an F-you to fans who thought she overhyped Tenna). She also advises Tenna to "lose the hair." Randy loved the emotional connection and says the night started here. Mariah adds that she gave every bit of herself and her emotion to the song.
Adriana Latonio is our first semi-finalist ever from Alaska, and we haven't heard a single peep from her so far this season. I have no idea what to expect. She's taking on Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," and I don't know why they didn't highlight her before. She definitely would've been much higher in the rankings. She's pretty spectacular, just short of giving chills, and ends on a huge note.
Keith says NOW the night has officially started, and he loves the soul she put into the song. Nicki calls her a little tiny thing (she's only 5 feet tall) who commands the stage without an ounce of fear. Randy says Adriana is born to do this and calls her a pro. Mariah is proud of her. Making Mariah go last really limits the things she can add to the commentary.
Brandy Hotard is another one of our budding country singers. The 26-year-old psychiatric nurse wants to bring sass and personality to Idol, and she's slowing it down with Travis Tritt's "Anymore." It's an up-and-down performance for me. She handles the big notes really well, but the rest is a little boring. The ending is a bit rough.
Keith loves the song choice, but had issues with her inconsistent emotional connection. Nicki wants Keith to stay out of her head, because she didn't like that Brandy smiled during the sad song either (Apparently she is now all about mood reflecting song tone). She calls it a pageant. Randy echos the same sentiment, saying it didn't express to him what kind of artist she wants to be. Mariah didn't even notice the smile, but thinks she came up a bit short. It's never good when you sing your heart out and four people say, "Well, you look really good."
This youngster has been one of my favorites since the audition round, and her final solo performance in Hollywood was one of the season's best. I thought she looked like a 12-year-old before she came out looking stunning, and her voice is huge. Shubha Vedula is playing the piano and singing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," and it's the first song I don't have to look up to find out what it is.
It's all over the place from the beginning, and it really falls apart once she leaves the piano and jumps into the more up-tempo part. Her voice is still good and some of the notes are spectacular, but it's sloppy and I can only assume her nerves got to her a bit. It seemed like she never decided if she wanted it to be soulful and slow or a big pop performance. Way too many runs.
Keith says she crammed a lot into the song and it was confusing, but that her voice still powered through. Nicki says it was too busy and that there's a comedic aspect to her performance. Randy says she has unbelievable potential but that she overdid the song, and that she should've stayed at the piano. Mariah agrees with Randy.
She could advance on potential, but she may need some others to slip up.
Kamaria Ousley has been singing backup for a long time and is hoping this is her chance to step into the spotlight. She's singing Kelly Clarkson's "Mr. Know It All," and it's not her best. It's mostly off key, and some of the notes are downright cringe-worthy. Poor girl. Don't know what happened to her. She was pretty solid in Hollywood. She hits the final note, but one note does not make a song.
Keith lets her down easy, simply saying it was a bad song choice and lacking in emotional connection. He also didn't like the unnecessary theatrics. Nicki says she looks great, but it didn't work, Randy says the pitch was all over the place, and there is nothing redeemable he can say about it. Mariah wonders if she had trouble hearing herself.
Kree Harrison wasn't even on anyone's radar until her emotional final solo in Hollywood, when she channeled her deceased parents. She's a Nashville singer, and the country demo is crowded this year. Kree is singing another song I've never heard before, Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain." It's similar to her last performance, and I'm wondering about the range of songs she can pull off. But this one is also good, and she gets very emotionally involved.
Keith calls her a natural singer and loves that she brings soul and Gospel to country music. Nicki says the other girls should be afraid, because Kree "makes love" to her songs. Randy says she's just a born singer who doesn't need to wear flashy outfits to excel at her craft, and that her performance is effortless. Mariah wonders if she can add anything to what has already been said, and she goes with "You're lost in the song, and that is a beautiful thing to watch."
Clearly the judges love her, and I hope she can bring it when it's not slow and emotional.
Angela Miller was a so-so performer with a good voice until her final Hollywood solo, when she sang an original song and turned in the best moment of the season so far. "You Set Me Free" could be a single right now, and the pressure is on for her to deliver again. She and her amazing legs are tackling Jessie J's "Nobody's Perfect." It's one of the best so far, and she's an emerging star in the competition.
Keith says she is a huge talent who can do a lot with a little, so she doesn't need to overcompensate. Nicki loves her, but worries that nothing will compare to her original song. Still, she calls her a top contender. Randy says she is one of his favorites, and Mariah says she was "clothed in goose bumps" during Angela's LAST performance.
I labeled Isabelle the one to beat after three stellar performances, even though we didn't get to see her final solo, and I have enormous expectations for her. She is singing Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," and while it's not her best, her voice is still spectacular. There are a few uncharacteristically off-key notes, but she ends in a huge way.
Keith calls the performance a key to the side of the car of every guy who never asked her out, and Nicki says she is a diva who really shined. Randy tells her she is an inspiration with a huge talent, but says it was a bit old fashioned for him. Mariah thinks it should've been simpler.
I don't really like Isabelle's diva attitude, particularly in her banter with the judges. But she's got talent, so I guess that's allowed.
Amber Holcomb is the other singer who we haven't seen one time all season, but can she deliver like Adriana did? Amber is an 18-year-old assistant teacher from Texas who tried out last year and got cut in Vegas. She's gotten louder and more confident, and she is determined to really bring it this year. "My Funny Valentine" seems like an odd song choice to me, because it's so not contemporary. Not that Isabelle's was either. And though Amber has some highlights, the performance is a bit all over the place for me. There are some screechy moments, and it's just too inconsistent for my liking, but the crowd and judges seemed to really enjoy it.
Keith wonders why Amber makes it so hard on everyone else? He calls it's technically great, especially the breath control (what?), and that she knocked it out of the park. Nicki says she has legs for days and that it was an A+++ vocally, but she's wondering if the "inner shine" was evident through the TV. It wasn't. Neither was the "outer shine." Randy says the vocal was amazing and that her best run came through like a shining diamond. Mariah says it was brilliant.
What did I miss here? I'm very confused. I didn't think it was bad by any means, but I certainly didn't think it was the most amazing performance of the night.
Who's Going Home?
Since these eliminations are up the judges and not America, I have a bad feeling I'm going to be disappointed with the results. I feel like they were trying to sell us on Amber Holcomb, like her dad signs the checks or something.
Apparently the judges were unanimous, so thanks for stopping by Jimmy Iovine. First up to hear the news is Jenny Beth Willis, who walks out to center stage and gets sent home. Keith partially blames it on her having to go first. I blame it on her subpar performance.
Brandy Hotard is also sent packing, but Tenna Torres nabs the first spot in the finals. Jamaica, Queens, in the house! It's not shocking, but it means at least one singer I really like is leaving.
Kree Harrison is moving on, but Isabelle is not. That's a real shock for me, particularly after Keith consoles her by calling it "a really solid, strong vocal powerhouse performance." I'm sure she'll be better than at least one of the girls who makes it to the finals next week, but that's how it goes. And just like that, my top pick is out before the finals even begin.
Angela Miller advances, meaning we've got two spots left for four girls. Judging strictly by these performances, I think the choices are a disappointing no-brainer, meaning two of my top three girls overall are likely gone. Why, Shubha Vedula, whyyyyy??? I love saying your name!
Kamaria Ousley admits that it was not her best performance, but she's not making excuses and understands why she's out. Randy says they try to consider all the performances, but if that were true, there's no way Tenna Torres is advancing over Isabelle.
Amber Holcomb is up next, and despite my disagreement with the judges, of course she is going through. They practically anointed her the next American Idol after she sang.
That means it comes down to Adriana Latonio and Shubha Vedula. This was the first time we saw Adriana, so there's nothing to compare it to from earlier in the season. And while Shubha was stellar in every performance before this one, if we're just looking at these two songs, it's not a debate. I'm sad to see Shubha Vedula leave, but Keith promises us some of the judges fought for her.
Las Vegas started out rough for me, as I saw big things for Isabelle and Shubha, and I can't believe they're both out. What did you think of the performances? Adriana Latonio and Angela Miller really stood out to me, but no one gave me goose bumps.
Did anyone blow you away? Were you surprised by any of the eliminations? Did you think Amber Holcomb was as amazing as the judges did? Tune in Thursday, when 10 of the guys will sing for the chance to sing for your vote. Hopefully my top guys will stick around this time.
You can watch American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday at 8pm on FOX.
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