Here we are America, the Top 24, well half of them, are finally taking the stage and singing. Yes, singing! That thing that has been suspiciously absent for the entire audition process despite the fact that American Idol is a show about singing. That all changes tonight when the Top 12 girls take the Idol stage and serenade us with Hot Billboard Singles from 1958-1972 and 2003-2010. Hopefully more of them go with our positive recommendations, instead of sullying themselves with the song suicide that’s among our worst picks.
Watch along with me tonight as we’re introduced to all of the Top 12 ladies and not just the ones with sad back stories or amazing legs. (cough, cough, Janell Wheeler) If you were lucky enough to have avoided the Idol audition process, not only am I extremely envious of you, I’m also a complete stranger. Since I’ll be sharing your Idol journey this season, here’s a little intro about me.
Tonight it’s all about the songs and not the sob stories, so if you want more information about Didi Benami’s deceased best friend or Katie Stevens’ Portuguese Grandmother, you’re S.O.L. Tonight, finally, American Idol is a singing competition and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited.
Before we get started, who do you think will dominate tonight’s competition? Who’s going to feel Simon’s wrath?
Finally, we are on the big American Idol stage, Ryan Seacrest says “This is American Idol” as dramatically as he can muster in that tiny little body of his and this time he means it for real. None of that fake audition stuff. This is American Idol. This is live. And these are the ladies. Out of this group, if we’re to believe the buzz and Simon Cowell, our winner is in here. I am so ready for this. Are you?
The Cheer-o-Meter – Snap American Idol Audience Reaction:
Didi Benami got the loudest cheers for the ladies. Crystal Bowersox and Katie Stevens also got healthy audience appreciation.
For Ellen’s official Idol debut, she and Simon have been separated to opposite ends of the judges’ table. We think this is because they are way too strong of personalities to share the same direct breathing air, but Ellen rehashes a joke she used on her show (and even a video clip from it) about Simon’s crush on her and his case of wandering hands. This joke is already old, so hopefully it’s the last time we hear it. My guess? None of us are near that lucky.
“All Right Now” by Free
Ah, Paige Miles, the invisible woman. Paige seems sweet in the pre-roll where she talks about being a pre-school teacher and kids’ snot. Unfortunately, unless she completely wows us right now in a way that blows everyone else out of the water, she is in some serious trouble.
She starts out with a flat note, but gains confidence and swagger as she gets further into the song. However, it’s a completely unmemorable vocal with way too much melisma for anyone’s good. That said, Paige has that big voice that Idol loves so much and she hits a hell of a last note. Still, the whole performance stunk of casino cover band. Unless someone blows it, hard, I think Paige is in trouble.
Simon Says (Most Notable Judges’ Comments):
“Out of all the girls, I think you have the best voice.” The rest of the judges agree on everything but song choice, some of them loved the song choice, some of them hated it. I’m in the hate camp on that one.
Snap Judgment (will she be Safe, Shaky, or Should She Be Packing):
She should be packing her bags. (Unless the next hour forty-five is a total vocal snooze fest.)
“Happy” by Leona Lewis
It’s a risky choice to sing a song by another Simon Cowell protege. But Ashley has the vocal chops to do it, what with her prestigious Berklee School of Music degree. Ashley has the huge pipes and the album cover ready looks that American Idol dreams about, so getting through night one should be a breeze. Or not…she struggles a bit in the middle and does nothing unique with the song. All in all it was a pretty solid performance that does nothing to change the notion that Ashley is a cover singer and not a stand-alone singer or star. She’s the vocal equivalent of a body double.
“I thought it was clumsy, your version. I think you’re going backwards, I don’t feel you as a contemporary recording audience. Just somebody who sings somebody else’s song and not very well. I think you could be in trouble tonight.”
Shaky (much more so than expected)
“What About Love” by Heart
I love this song and I love Janell and I would have never EVER chosen this song for her. Janell adds a soft twang and rasp to this rocker, but struggles with the all important chorus. The size of this song kills the interesting bits of Janell’s voice I love most. Still, for me, it’s the best performance and arrangement we’ve seen tonight and yet still too much of a straight up cover.
“You gave it 100% effort and probably delivered 65%.” Everyone but Ellen hated the song choice.
“Fixing A Hole” by The Beatles
Lilly is the first girl to use an acoustic guitar, as allowed by the rules this week. No reason to lie, that gets instant extra points from me. That means (if she does it well) Lilly isn’t just a singer, she’s a musician. I have a thing for musicians. And for Lilly it would seem.
Lilly does another jazzy phrased revamp of a classic and shows off those distinctive vocal quirks I love so much. They also definitely make her this years’ acquired taste contestant, otherwise known as the Megan Joy award. For me, Lilly was the first girl who took a song and made it her own and I love her for that. I’ll be ordering it from iTunes tonight.
“Definitely the best we’ve had so far. I’m still not feeling much star power from you.” Kara, Randy and Ellen were absolutely crazy for her distinctive, memorable vocals. Randy goes so far to say, “I love that you’re a real indie artist, which I don’t think we’ve ever had.”
“Oh Darling” by The Beatles
Katelyn does a bluesy boudoir version of “Oh Darling,” with the strongest vocals we’ve heard all night. She sounds like Duffy and the other British “new soul” singers. There aren’t too many vocal runs and the tone is what’s big about her voice, not the volume. It’s kind of crappy for both her and Lilly to be placed back-to-back with Beatles tunes, though. It’s as if Idol is saying, “these girls are interchangeable: choose one.” And that would be a shame, because I really loved what we just heard from Katelyn, my favorite performance from her yet.
Well, Kara actually. “You’ve been singing your whole life? You know your voice very very well. You know exactly what you’re doing up there.” Kara clearly loved everything about Katelyn, except her make up.
“I Wanna to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles
Three Beatles songs in a row? I’m a Beatles fan, but youch. Haeley completely rewrites “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to a musically unrecognizable slow rocker, which I’m not sure I’m keen on. Arrangement aside, Haeley finally showed a bit of the bubbly charm that we saw in her first audition and finally reminded me why I liked her in the first place. Sadly, it has nothing to do with her voice, which I still find grating at best. She struggles with flat notes, but is engaging as all get out. Her personality and likability may get her through tonight, but not a whole lot further.
“If I’m being honest, it was verging on terrible.” Ah, the classic Simon is back. I’ve missed you. Randy agrees that Haeley’s voice is kind of full of flat-note nightmares, “When you hit those high notes, they’re not pleasing.”
Shaky (she’d be packing her bags if she wasn’t pre-show pimped)
“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
One of my favorite songs ever, so I’ll either be pre-ordering this tonight or cursing Lacey’s name. Lacey has some tempo issues and is doing too much interchanging between her full-throated big voice and sultry whisper. Annoyingly so. Like, you’d have to keep changing the volume if you were listening on your head phones. Truthfully though, you might as well mute it all together for all the pitchiness. I like Lacey and her voice when she uses it well, so I don’t hate her for it, but I definitely won’t be buying the song.
“After 15 seconds I was working out how much longer there was in the song. And I thought it was indulgent.” Everyone agrees, even Ellen who’s been almost universally positive so far tonight.
She should be packing her bags. (Though I’m hoping she doesn’t have to use them.)
We’re more than halfway through tonight, who is everyone’s favorite? Least favorite?
“Falling” by Alicia Keys
Oh no. Michelle is the first girl to go expressly against my song choice advice, covering Alicia Keys and making herself easily mistaken with Ashley Rodriguez. However, at least they’ll mistake her for the Ashley Rodriguez who can sing (and not the one we saw tonight), because Michelle was sultry smokey fire on stage. She didn’t vary much from Alicia Keys song structure, but she did add some tasteful vocal runs and character in her tone. After Ashley’s flub of Leona Lewis at the start of the show Michelle Delamor may very well be the new Ashley Rodriguez.
“You’re a very, very professional singer. There wasn’t one moment in the performance where I thought wow.” Ellen loved it, but Kara thought there were spots where it was not great and lacked believability.
“The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson
Love the current song choice for Didi, but she needs to make it her own. Seriously. You see, put on glasses her and she could be mistaken for Ingrid Michaelson. To fix this perplexing problem, Didi draws out some of the notes in the chorus to make it her own and reminds everyone why she is a pre-season favorite. Didi’s voice is clearly trained and studied, but it’s still unique and interesting. It’s “big” but not in the usual over singing, melisma abuser way. It’s big like Regina Spektor’s voice is big: it’s bawdy, bold and beautiful.
“I think you are a good singer. What I’m missing is a spark here, something which excites me.” He then compares it to an unmemorable first kiss. The judges are split on Didi, they love her, but not the song choice or performance.
“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak
Is it terrible I am just a little (okay. a lot.) disappointed Siobhan isn’t singing “It’s Raining Men?” like the spoiler promise. On the other hand, I really like Siobhan and didn’t want to see her sacrificed at the Idol altar on song-choice alone.
I love Siobhan’s voice and it’s actually really well-matched for the passionate nasalness of Chris Isaak, but this was a bit of a dull song choice for someone who needed to be recognized and remembered. Siobhan should have gone with a rocker, not a ballad. That being said, Siobhan can definitely sing and I’m not sure the same can be said for everyone else we’ve seen tonight. Sadly, I’m not sure America will be calling in for that performance.
“You really are a funny little thing, aren’t you? I liked the song, but I didn’t love the song.” Ellen forgot she was judging a singing competition and just felt like she was being entertained.
Shaky (based on being an unknown before tonight and being rather dull)
“Hand in my Pocket” by Alanis Morrisette
So clearly Idol wasn’t too strict on when these songs were written, this is totally a ’90s tune. As an angsty teenage girl in the ’90s I can vouch for that like an encyclopedia. While I wouldn’t have chosen it, Crystal is just the girl to sing Alanis Morisette. Her voice is filled with power, sass, and emotion just like Alanis Morisette and if she is to succeed in the industry she’ll be aiming to do so in the same way that Alanis did: following her own rules and writing her own songs. Crystal doesn’t just play guitar, she brings in a oh-so hot harmonica solo. It’s a folk rock version of “Hand in my Pocket,” which is no surprise, but it’s still a completely awesome version. I love this woman, I love her honest earnestness, and I hope she goes far. She’ll have to get away from the Dylan with dreads approach to every song to not be pigeon-holed as just a folk singer, but still one of my favorites of the night.
“The truth is there are thousands of you doing this outside subway stations everywhere. But I don’t want to be too critical because I really, really like you and I want you to do well.” Everyone else loves Crystal, her honesty and her approach. Meanwhile, Crystal is bummed she can’t sing original songs. (Which makes me love her own.)
And the least surprising pimp spot goes too…
“Feeling Good” by Michael Buble
We know that Katie can do the retro ballads, so I wish she’d chosen a different modern artist than Michael Buble. In fact, I said the worst song she could do was a song like the one she chose. That being said, Katie has the power, presence and pipes of the most successful of Idol contestants. Considering that she’s only 16 her strut, swagger, confidence and total control of the stage and the audience is impressive. She needs to prove she’s current and contemporary and can do more than big ballads on her next night out, but there’s no doubt she’ll get a chance to do it next week. (And the week after that. And the week after that. And the week after that….)
Ellen says what we’re all thinking, “It was good, it was great, but you’re 17 and it was very conservative. But I want to see you be 17 and be fresh and current and modern. It was a little old for you.” Simon goes a step further and says “it’s like your Mom and Dad dressed you and chose the song, to the point it was annoying. You’ve got to become a modern recording audience, not like someone singing at their Mom’s birthday.”
Safe (no matter what the judges say)
So there you have it America, your Top 12 girls have performed. There were some surprises and some disappointments.
Let’s do the final iTunes run down, shall we?
Which songs should you Pre-Order on iTunes tonight?
Katelyn Epperly’s “Oh Darling”
Lilly Scott’s “Fixing a Hole”
Crystal Bowersox’s “Hand In My Pocket”
Which songs should American Idol and iTuens pay us to download?
Lacey Brown’s “Landslide”
Ashley Rodriguez’s “Happy” (just buy the original)
Thanks for watching with me guys, come back tomorrow as we watch the Top 12 guys take the stage for the first time. (We have recommendations for what they should and should not sing. Unlike the ladies, we hope they take our advice.)
Who do you think was the Queen of the Idol stage tonight? And who’s coach is turning into a pumpkin at midnight? I think that Paige and Lacey should sadly be packing their bags, but if I were Haeley or Ashley I wouldn’t be sleeping well either.