The ShamWow that is American Idol: The Farewell Season trolls on, with The Top 8 hitting the stage (again) to basically sing whatever they want before two more are eliminated in rounding out the pretend Top 6.
I say the pretend Top 6 because the format leaves little doubt that combined powers of viewers and the judges will Donald Trump the quest for Kelly Clarkson’s bookend into complete and utter chaos.
All Aboard the Crazy Train
Historically, the mostly female voting bloc leans male (thus the WGWG phenomenon), whereas the judges have clearly been instructed to seek out a woman to carry on the legacy. And as such, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr., have been the ultimate puppet masters of the season, pulling the strings to ensure the desired outcome.
They’ve been given the final say on everything, with the your-votes-don’t-matter trend continuing even when it seemed like we were finally being given control. But instead, after they narrowed down the entire field to the Top 14 before choosing the first four members of the Top 10 — with viewers picking up the scraps — the trio of dictators still makes the call on who stays and who goes.
And that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.
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Follow me, here. You have viewers determining the bottom three, which is likely to be filled with girls. And then the judges, who are trying to save girls, disregard vote totals and decide who advances. So even if America does get it right based on performances, or even in the extreme case that a singer does not garner a single viewer vote, he or she could STILL be saved based on an entirely different performance than than the one that didn’t earn him or her any votes.
Personally, I can’t wait until the final two square off and then get one additional performance each in the finale so that the judges can decide who will be the last Idol. America the moot-iful, indeed.
Billy Mays is turning over in his grave.
Who is in the Bottom 3?
My predictions tend to be based on a combination of what should happen and what I believe will happen, and for that reason, my thoughts on the pending bottom three fly in the face of everything I just wrote. And it’s also why I’m sure I’m completely wrong and expect at least one more shocking elimination.
But hey, a guy has to get eliminated eventually right? And just because it should be Lee Jean doesn’t mean that it will be, though my end result in this case is in line with esteemed colleague Jeff Dodge.
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I agree that La’Porsha Renae and Trent Harmon are definitely safe, but I’d add Tristan McIntosh, who redeemed herself in a way that ensures she’ll stick around at least one more week, to that group.
The middle tier consists of MacKenzie Bourg and Avalon Young, with the latter having nailed the Judge Save performance that essentially counts twice — once to overcome the previous subpar performance and once to win votes for the following week. But let’s be honest, Olivia Rox never should’ve been in the position to be outdone by Avalon in the first place.
That leaves a bottom three of Lee Jean (should’ve been gone last week), Dalton Rapattoni (a rare miss) and Sonika Vaid (who doesn’t quite seem to have a firm handle on that “angry girlfriend” persona). It represents the conundrum of choosing between raw talent in the correct gender vs. creativity, originality and consistency in the sex you hope to rid from the stage.
But if Lee somehow survives the vote, then brace yourself for all hell breaking loose.
The Live Blog Begins Now
The vague theme-du-jour this week is the “American Idol songbook,” which means regurgitating the tunes we’ve grown tired of over the past 15 years. Or, you know, if you don’t want to be repetitive, just sing whatever you want. As long as one person sang it at least one time from the audition round through to the finals, you’re covered.
Ryan Seacrest, who has traded his usual suit for a Simon Cowell-esque V-neck T with a sport coat, welcomes the judges. Keith and Harry are in typical garb, while J-Lo rocks a pink dress that would get your daughter kicked out of the prom.
Two is Better than One
Apparently we’re incorporating duets this time, and leading off are La’Porsha Renae and Trent Harmon. His voice is actually higher than hers, and so they speculate we’ll be in for some surprises on their rendition of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”
The powerful voices are restrained to match the emotional tone of the song, but I’m not sure they nail the actual feelings. There are a few moments where La’Porsha overruns, but it’s pretty spectacular overall. Just an enjoyable listening experience provided by two of the season’s best.
Keith thinks it was the perfect song that played to both their strengths, and it was collaborative and great. J-Lo believes the whole thing was magical, and Harry appreciates how well their voices blended together.
Are we supposed to be including these duets in our voting? Is it even fair?
Avalon and Sonika Have to Follow That?
I’m assuming they are just for our entertainment, because it seems like we’re getting all the duets out of the way up front. Sonika Vaid and Avalon Young, who are the best of friends, are teaming up next on Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”
Sonika’s vocals are near perfection, as usual, and Avalon provides a nice compliment with some gorgeous harmonies. Still, it seems like they’re having fun with this as opposed to using it for competition. They’re singing about overcoming adversity with big smiles on their faces.
J-Lo and her busting out boobies love that they pushed each other to be better, but seeing as how it is such an inspirational song, she would’ve like to have seen that reflected in the body language. Harry gives the advantage to Avalon because she’s more of a rhythmic singer, but Sonika’s voice is breathtaking. Keith found it interesting, but they have different strengths and Avalon’s performance was more effortless.
MacKenzie and Dalton Want it That Way
These two have very different styles, and so it’ll be a bit of a challenge for them to tackle The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way.” Mack likes to bring the style and Dalton the edge, so they’ve worked to find a balance.
It kicks off with MacKenzie singing the opening bars while accompanying on the guitar, and then Dalton takes over. He’s forced to rein it in so far that it’s borderline uncomfortable and boring, and it doesn’t seem like he cares much. Their harmonies are nice, but this one is MacKenzie doing MacKenzie and Dalton dumbing down his performance to match.
Prior to the song, Scott Borchetta said that collaborations are important, but it’s paramount that they distinguish themselves individuals. And Dalton faded into the back in an overall low-energy showing, while MacKenzie barely stood out from himself.
Harry isn’t sure who picked the song, because it was a terrible choice and neither of them had any idea what they were singing about. Keith agrees, and this one didn’t benefit anyone. J-Lo had been wondering what they were going to do with it, and she’s disappointed that the answer was nothing. Sabotage?
Tristan and Lee Miss a Thing
The two teen were excited to learn they would be working together, but Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is a tall order.
Even with the country twist Tristan puts on the song, it’s actually much better than I expected. Lee sounds alright, again doing something out of his comfort zone. And even though he can’t match Tristan’s power, she only moderately overshadows him. Overall, it’s enjoyable but not memorable. She is the clear winner of the pairing, but I expected “train wreck” and instead got “not terrible.”
Keith loves the song, but the challenge is that the two of them have different registers. J-Lo thinks Tristan stood out vocally, while Lee did everything he could to keep up. But it could have been stronger. The problem for Harry was 100 percent in the arrangement, because neither of them is “slow rock.”
On to the solo round! Thank goodness.
La’Porsha Comes Together
La’Porsha knew at a young age that she wanted to be a singer, but her military dad needed everyone to have a plan. She wasn’t feeling the armed forces and wondered if she was born into the wrong family, but she had a teacher who encouraged her to not fit in. That teacher surprised her during the week and is in attendance tonight, and for once, her dad is happy to be wrong.
She’s singing The Beatles’ “Come Together” in all leather, and the weird thing about the theme is that we have so many others with which to compare performances. This one is high energy, fun, powerful and even includes some judge interaction, and her falsetto at the end is on point. But does it rank with the greatest performances of this song? The judges and audience certainly seem to think so.
J-Lo calls her a full-on diva, and La’Porsha’s performance makes her feel cooler by watching. It was incredible all around for Harry, and Keith gives props to George Martin before praising the song selection.
MacKenzie is a Guy’s Guy
He might seem like a sensitive singer-songwriter, but he was all about sports growing up, to the point that his first performances were in front of his basketball teammates. His coach got him into theater, and he’d bounce back and forth between games and rehearsals. (It’s something I actually did my freshman year of college, playing an intramural game while wearing makeup to make me look like an elderly man so I could be murdered in Arsenic and Old Lace.)
MacKenzie is singing Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” and he needs to hit the emotion and avoid the sexy eyes if this is going to work for me. He is sans guitar and he’s putting his soul into it. His voice is more smooth than powerful, but he nails the higher notes. It stops short of goose bumps for me, but it is solid overall.
Harry doesn’t think he could’ve picked a better or more appropriate song, and it should make Mack feel better after his duet. Keith applauds him for being the one to choose it, and he made an old song sound new. J-Lo calls him a mix of crooner and indie rock, and he played to his biggest strengths. He’s singing to one girl who all the other girls wish they were.
Nick Fradiani Comes Home
Keith apparently scarfed down some sushi during the commercial break, and then it’s on to debut of Nick Fradiani’s “Get You Home.” It sounds like a weird blend of 80s rock and Mike Posner’s “Cooler than Me,” and it even includes a hearty “If you want it, baby you got it.”
He remains a poor man’s Daughtry, and his win is a gut punch to Clark Beckham and his inability to ever sound current or care what anyone else thought of him. The song is mostly terrible, and it’s off-and-on key in the same vein as half of his Idol performances. His coronation song won him the season, and it might end up being his only radio hit.
Back to what matters…
Trent Harmon Will Stand By You
He had an obsession with horses as a child, but he didn’t want to be a cowboy, rather an actual horse. He misses his family, but he won’t let them fly out because while he treats it as a job, he’s also superstitious about getting them involved and mixing up his routine.
It’s Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” and he starts off with his own a capella take before the traditional arrangement takes over. It’s deceptive, but he might be the most talented vocalist left in the competition. He has a poise and an ease on stage, and he never feels out of the moment in relation to the content of the lyrics.
Weird facial expressions aside, I have nothing negative to say. Am I blown away? No, but that’s because it’s so easy for him. His middle of the road is better than nearly everyone’s best, and he’s matured more than anyone.
Keith applauds his growth over the past several months, and he urges him to choose only a few moments to lean on for artistic style instead of relying on it. J-Lo calls him a badass, and she loves what he does with his voice even if the audience doesn’t understand how much of a badass he’s become. Harry agrees that it was great, but his small suggestion is for Trent to allow himself to sink even further into the rhythm.
Tristan McIntosh Mends Some Wings
Her last performance meant so much because it was dedicated to her grandpa, who is battling a disease. He is the one who shaped her as a musician and performer, and he was the first to discover her talents. He loves to hear her sing more than anything, to the point where he needs to be wheeled in with his oxygen tank every time, and he records a sweet message of encouragement.
Tristan is singing Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing,” and the first verse is sleepy in the hopes of building to a crescendo. And thankfully, she opens it up leading to the chorus, which elevates to another level. There are some pitchy moments on her big runs, but it appears she’s turned a corner instead of having last week be an anomaly.
J-Lo believes Tristan’s voice is perfectly suited to country, and outside of one massive swing and a miss on a big note, it worked. Harry puts her on the spot with a question about lyrical interpretation, and then he and Keith gush about the song choice they believe was perfect and great and code: Vote for Tristan.
Dalton Rapattoni has the Final Guaranteed Spot in the Top 6
He grew up in the typical Texas suburb with the picture of a housewife for a mother. When you think of a stereotypical mom, that’s what he had, but she herself was a badass (not in the same way as Trent is a badass) while growing up in the 80s. This makes me feel old and somewhat of a failure, as I grew up in the 80s and have no children, let alone ones who are currently in the Top 6 on American Idol.
Still, she was into the punk scene, but she never let him in on her secrets until he started with music. So he’s got a stereotypical mom who is also a badass, and they can share eyeliner. I honestly love almost everything about him.
He’s back to putting his own spin on arrangements, and this time it’s The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” He’s got an orchestra accompanying him, and while it’s a rebound, I don’t know if it’s a performance that will resonate with voters. His level of comfort on stage is apparent and infectious, and the end note is spectacular, but it’s a bit of an obscure song choice for the younger generation.
Harry loves the key Dalton chose, which was perfectly in the sweet spot between too much and not enough, and he pushed it about as far as possible. Harry also points out that many in the audience probably don’t know the tune, and so Dalton was able introduced it to them. Keith appreciates the theatrical value and dark undercurrent, and L-Lo praises him both for the return to being Dalton and for nailing the final note.
Avalon Young Kicks off the Bottom 3
It’s Avalon (again), Lee and Sonika in the bottom three, and considering the not-so-secret female-winner ambition, I imagine Lee is the Gianna of this week. Let the ladies duke it out and be on your way, good sir. Thank you for coming, but all good things must come to an end. It’s been real, and it’s been fun. But has it been real fun?
Avalon goes first, and she mostly slept as a child until she discovered music. She’s always been a tomboy, and she suffers from ADHD and anxiety that prompts facial ticks at various times. Like folks with a stutter who lose it when they sing, she’s tick-free while performing.
She’s back in wheelhouse with Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing,” and I go back and forth with these comfort songs for her. On one hand, it’s what she excels at and what sets her apart. But on the other, they tend to blur together. She has flashes of vocal brilliance while remaining laid back, but if you imagined for a second what it would be like to watch MJ perform this, you’re like, who the hell is Avalon Young?
Keith finds it confusing that Avalon does such a great job connecting with the audience yet keeps ending up in the bottom three, and if she moves on, she has to make an emotional connection with viewers at home. J-Lo loves everything about it, but this all has to mean something, and she wants to see what else Avalon is capable of. Harry wants to hear a ballad or just something different, but in terms of this, he wants her to have a sense of urgency instead of strolling around the stage.
Lee Jean Lets it Be
He moved around as a kid, which was tough for him due to his shyness. He didn’t have a ton of friends and mostly kept to himself, but then one day, he realized he could sing. His one friend forced him to sing in front of his classmates, which led to instant popularity and changed his life. It’s what gave him the confidence to audition for Idol.
He’s singing The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” which is probably the perfect song for him to have a chance at sticking around. It’s an easy emotional connection, and if he nails it vocally, it resonates. There are goose bumps right off the bat, but unfortunately, Lee does not nail it vocally. It’s pitchy for days, and there’s no way it’s enough to keep him in the competition. But I appreciate it as much as anything he’s done because at the very least, it’s authentic.
J-Lo talks about his potential, from style to voice to future growth, but she does everything short of saying it won’t be enough because it was too shaky. Harry tells him to do a Dijon mustard commercial before applauding the emotional connection while also bashing his pitch. Keith attributes it to nerves while praising his tone, and he has plenty of time to work on his issues. Just, you know, on his own.
Sonika Has Nothing
Sonika’s name came from the moment her mother saw her for the first time, and she uttered a word she wasn’t even sure could be a name. She also comes from a musical family, and her mom has a history in Bollywood. She took the academic route growing up, but her hidden desire was to give singing a shot. And all her parents want for her is that she chases her dreams. (Hear that, Mr. Renae?)
Sonika has picked a make-or-break song in Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” and she certainly has the chops to advance based on vocal ability alone. But if immersing herself in the lyrical content and emoting on stage has been her main issue, this definitely gives her a chance to break that mold.
There are goose bumps from the start, and there’s a quick shot of Avalon seemingly in slow motion realizing that she’s done. Sonika is trying her best to give off that sense of desperation inherent to the lyrics, but oddly enough, it comes at the expense of pitch. So I appreciate that she’s pushing the envelope and has her sights set on maturity, even if it doesn’t quite work out perfectly.
Harry points out that the song has been done six times so far on Idol, and it’s high risk/high reward. And he loved it. Keith urges her to continue to release and let go, because it’ll be amazing once she’s able to harness it. J-Lo says over and over what a hard song it is to sing, but Sonika did good with it.
Rounding Out the Top 6
It was a stumble for Sonkia vocally, for sure, but it’s also the first time she’s showed growth. I think if Avalon had been stellar, we might have another shocking elimination or at least a difficult decision like last week. But how the scenario played out means that Sonika is the reluctant save.
The judges have discussed and…
Sonika Vaid is safe
So after four eliminations, we are basically where I thought we’d be with the exception of Olivia getting the boot at the expense of Tristan. And I can make peace with that to some degree by the steps forward the youngster has taken in recent weeks.
I still think it was the wrong call and hope to see more of Olivia in the future, though, preferably as a rock band frontwoman who doesn’t seem uncomfortable in her own skin.
The duets were a strange thing to add, but the La’Porsha/Trent pairing was easily the highlight of the night. And it’s always difficult when nothing lives up to the first thing you saw in a two-hour show.
Who stood out for you, and who came up short? Who do you think is in danger of being eliminated?
It was a ho-hum night overall, with Nick Fradiani, Sonika and Tristan in my likely bottom three two. The real question now is if it will be America or the judges who determine which one is headed home.
American Idol airs Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)