Last week was a mixed bag on “American Idol.”
On Wednesday, a group of 10 women, led by Angela Martin and Amber Holcomb, really shined. There were only a couple truly bad performances and I could have justified sending six or seven singers through.
On Thursday, a group of 10 men, led by nobody in particular, laid a huge egg. I wouldn’t have let more than two or three of them advance.
Another group of 10 women will be hitting the Las Vegas stage on Wednesday (February 27) and while we’ve seen indications that a few of them are talented… Who knows?
8:01 p.m. ET. Give a warm Vegas welcome to our judges.
8:02 p.m. Of tonight’s 10 performers, I think I recognize… six or seven of them? Or maybe I just recognize Zoanette enough for five or six normal women? Up first…
Singer: MELINDA ADEMI
Song: “Nobody’s Perfect”
My Take: The thing about Jessie J is that she has enough vocal range that when a song starts low and works its way up the ladder, she has the voice to sing both the starting parts and the choruses. Alas, Melinda Ademi does not have the range. The song is WAY too low and her voice gets buried for the first 30 seconds in the song. She has a couple decent moments towards the end, but in the middle she’s pretty frantic, trying to stay with the tempo of the song. The worst thing, though? Angela Miller sang this one last week and she kinda rocked it. You don’t want to get compared to Angela Miller this season. It’s just not good business. On the same song, Angela was more composed, showed far greater range and really just looked like a star. Melinda looked like a nervous little kid.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “What a great way to start the show. I really loved that performance,” Keith says, claiming that Melinda has “so much raw talent and so much potential.” Nicki calls Melinda a “little ladybug” and, accurately, compares Melinda negatively to Angela’s performance from last week. “I don’t know if you had enough big moments,” says Randy, repeating his Season 12 mantra. “I feel like perhaps being in this venue, the nerves got to you a bit,” Mariah excuses, wishing her the best of luck.
Singer: CANDICE GLOVER
Song: “Natural Woman”
My Take: Lots of returning contestants tonight. Or two in a row, at least. This is a ballsy choice for Candice. I mean, it’s Carole King and it’s Aretha *and* it’s Kelly Clarkson on “Idol.” For the first minute, it’s strong, but by-the-numbers. It’s very good karaoke, but it’s not above karaoke. Or maybe it’s above karaoke, but it’s still not inspired. Candice closes very strong, with a huge last note, but also with a few personal flourishes. It’s possible that my being slightly underwhelmed by the first half is brought about by how easy Candice made that look. It’s not an easy song and she made it seem like a breeze, because she’s got that kind of voice. She’s advancing.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You’re a natural singer,” Keith sings to Candice. “You definitely were born to do this,” says Nicki, confused by Candice not making it past Vegas last season. “Your confidence is worth a billion words,” Nicki adds. Randy has seen Candice better than that, but he wants her to “feel free.” “I definitely agree that you are a bona fide singer and that’s what this competition is all about,” Mariah says.
My Take: Good for Juliana as tonight’s first instrument player. The 15-year-old strums a huge guitar amiably and does a slowed, breathy Demi Lovato cover. I don’t love the upper register that she’s determined to use on the choruses. I don’t know if she’s missing notes because of her sense of pitch or if she’s being hampered by nervousness, that renders her voice even more fluttery than it already would be. What I do love is that she’s a teenager, but she’s determined to be musical and unique, or if not unique, distinctive. Juliana’s voice can’t compare to Candice’s voice, for example. But her musicality makes her possibly more interesting to me. If she doesn’t advance, I’m going to be very angry, because she’s TRYING and I think her potential for growth is immense. I mean, she’s standing up there shaking through the entire song, but I can also tell she’s enjoying this. She could get so much better with two or three months of the “Idol” spotlight. [Or she could freak out and breakdown entirely, I guess.]
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith says that Juliana was struggling with pitch, which is true. But he loves her “purity of tone” and calls her “totally real.” Nicki likes that she has a signature sound already. Nicki can picture herself at a Juliana show, but she isn’t sure if she’s going to get lost in this competition. Randy loves the honesty of her deliver. “There was an angelic quality that I felt,” Mariah says, also calling her “celestial.”
Singer: JETT HERMANO
Song: “Only Girl”
My Take: Who? Have we seen this 25-year-old legal assistant before? Oh, I really want to like Jett. She’s at a piano and she’s actually doing some playing. But I really don’t like her voice. It’s just too head-y and shrill and it builds and builds and builds, but it builds so slowly that it never quite gets wherever I feel like it’s heading. I appreciate that she’s doing her own, much more musical, version of this Rihanna song, but I fear that the point of this sort of version is to say, “Yo, I have a better voice than Rihanna has,” which isn’t all that difficult, but I’m not so sure that Jett does. But I’m interested in Jett. I’d be willing to give her a second shot, even if I think she has less growth potential than Juliana does. And I really wanna emphasize that these last three performances were all better and more distinctive than anything we saw from the men on Thursday. So… Yay? Except that five of those men got to advance and only five of these women will get the same chance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I love that you did that unique arrangement of that song,” Keith says, praising her for bringing out a different kind of sexiness in the song. “I thought it was going to climax to something and I never felt that,” Nicki says. Randy liked the restraint, except that he didn’t like the restraint. Mariah calls her “an interesting addition” to the competition, also calling her “intriguing.”
Singer: CRISTABEL CLACK
Song: “No One”
My Take: That was a very long story Ryan let 29-year-old worship leader Cristabel tell about how God wants her in the competition. Very long. I’m not sure that Cristabel isn’t a Maya Rudolph sketch character, but that’s not an insult, because Maya Rudolph’s got a pretty great voice. In fact, Maya Rudolph almost certainly has a better voice. Cristabel sounds good at first, but her voice seems to hit a ceiling on the choruses. I don’t know if she’s got a cold or if she’s just got a limitation to her range. When she’s in her happy place, I like listening to her, but when she bumps against that limitation, I’m not sure. The judges, however, are completely sure. She gets at least two standing ovations.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith loves her “Soul-croaky-cool thing.” Hmmm… He seems to have thought that what I didn’t like was her “thing.” Now I’m a bit confused. Nicki suggests that today, Cristabel’s rasp got a little out-of-control. Yes. I agree with Nicki on that. “I think you were on-point. I love the rasp,” Randy says. Mariah liked an earlier performance from Cristabel a bit more, but she salutes Cristabel and all background singers.
Singer: AUBREY CLELAND
Song: “Sweet Dreams”
My Take: Aubrey is a very, very pretty girl and she really, really wants us to think that she could be Beyonce-esque. But her stage presence it a bit wooden — the tight dress is helping except for the ways it isn’t helping — and her voice is very good, but also forgettable. In terms of risk management, you could definitely get behind Aubrey. She’s young and beautiful and her voice is good, so there’s a lot of upside to her. She won’t embarrass herself or the show, but I’m just a bit cold on her. Or maybe I’m cold on this performance? I’m not sure.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Randy loves Aubrey’s poise and the fire in her voice. “I am obsessed with you,” Nicki says, telling Aubrey that she could model if she didn’t sing. “You look the part, you sound the part, you felt right,” Nicki adds. “You’re a very great commercial artist,” Randy says, but he doesn’t think it was the perfect song for her. Nicki disagrees and Keith jumps into the fray. “I think you’re limitless,” Mariah says.
Singer: RACHEL HALE
Song: “Nothing But The Water”
My Take: I love the musical arrangement on this song. We’ve got some fun stuff going on behind Rachel. The harmonica player is going nuts and the guitar section is having a great time. What Rachel does is blend well with the band. Sometimes she lets the band shine. Sometimes she shines herself. If this were a concert, I’d feel like she did exactly the right thing. I’m not completely sure that she did the right thing for “American Idol.” That was a great performance from the ensemble, but I’m more likely to talk about the harmonica playing than Rachel, I fear.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith also starts by giving a shout-out to the band. “I felt like the song maybe got on top of you a bit in parts,” Keith suggests. “Where did this birth of crazy confidence come from?” Nicki asks. The answer? Prayer. “I’m excited that you came alive,” Nicki adds. Randy was glad that we got an up-tempo song tonight, calling her “fearless.” More discussion of prayer. “I may have heard you more on other songs and other performances,” Mariah notes correctly. Rachel is chirpy and frantic in person, which actually makes me admire how well she channeled that energy in the performance.
9:04 p.m. I’m not sure we’ve had any BAD performances tonight, though I’m pretty sure Melinda Ademi isn’t advancing. So far, I’d have Candice and Juliana as sure things, but with the others, I’m not passionate one way or the other. I want a bit more passion. From them and from me…
Singer: BREANNA STEER
Song: “Bust the Windows”
My Take: This Jazmine Sullivan song practically requires a certain fierceness from a performance and Beanna’s got a lot of fierceness. Apparently it comes from Hurricane Isaac. She’s definitely connected nicely to both the song and to the audience. I think she has a very radio-friendly voice, instantly and easily packageable and commercial. It’s a little vocally thin for me, but she doesn’t lack for range or attitude. Aubrey and Breanna are very similar and they have a lot of the same strengths, but I got more of a spark from Breanna. I want to look at Aubrey, but I want to WATCH Breanna. Does that make sense? She has my attention.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith doesn’t know the song, which makes Nicki want to strangle him. “You sang it right,” Keith insists anyway. “Miss Little Ladybug. Work. Work, work, work,” Nicki says. “You and Aubrey should probably do a group,” Nicki suggests. Unfortunately, this isn’t “X Factor.” Randy agrees that Breanna has the whole package. “You brought us drama. You brought so much drama Keith believed you would bust the windows out his damn expensive car,” Randy adds. Mariah loved the song and the presentation.
Singer: JANELLE ARTHUR
Song: “Just a Kiss”
My Take: Janelle is full-on twangy country and while she’s got a good, big voice she’s wrestling with a lot of the notes. She keeps hitting notes wrong and fighting them into shape, which leads to a sound of exertion that isn’t always pleasant to listen to. It sounds hard in places and Janelle ought to be making it sound effortless, like a country version of Candice. Was this the wrong song or the wrong performance? “Idol” knows, however, that it can work with Janelle and get people to vote for her, so she may get the benefit of the doubt beyond this performance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith knows this song and he says it’s “a limiting melody” in the chorus. I’m glad to see that Keith can be substantive if he wants to, because that was actually a very interesting criticism. “A lot of that fell a little bit flat,” Nicki says, calling it “disconnected.” “Don’t ever try to hard, because you don’t have to try hard,” Nicki says, correctly. “You are my favorite country singer in this competition,” Randy says. “I’m rooting for you. I’m really rooting for you,” Mariah says.
Singer: ZOANETTE JOHNSON
Song: “Circle of Life”
My Take: Zoanette is representing for Liberia. That’s a bit awesome. Zoanette is doing “Circle of Life,” complete with the African opening. She’s even got her hair blown out almost like a lion’s mane. I really have no clue if Zoanette can sing. Does anybody know? He’s got a massive bellow of a voice and I’d accept “force of nature” for her before I’d accept “pop singer.” She’s absolutely bonkers and it’s impossible to judge her by the standards you judge anybody else. That performance was alive and elemental in a way nothing else tonight was. I just don’t know if it was “good.” But “off-the-wall unhinged” has something to recommend it. Three of the four judges stand for Zoanette. Mariah doesn’t/can’t stand. Every once in a while, “American Idol” needs a performance artist and to that end… Zoanette.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “I love that I have no clue what you’re going to do. I sometimes wonder if you do too,” Keith says, calling her “The Queen of the Jungle.” “Who gonna check you, boo? You just served it,” Nicki says. “I don’t care what people say about you, you’re the person we’re gonna remember you after tonight,” Nicki notes, probably correctly. “This is the reason she’s here,” Randy says. “It’s almost like your spirit is too big to be contained,” Mariah says.
9:39 p.m. I really can’t predict how this is going to go. At all. For example, the show probably needs Janelle. She doesn’t deserve to advance based on tonight. Which way will the judges go? How will they pick between an assortment of decent-but-not-spectacular divas?
9:41 p.m. The judges weren’t unanimous, but they don’t need Jimmy Iovine tonight.
9:41 p.m. We’re starting with Zoanette. As I just wrote in the comments, “Idol” needs Zoanette. Ideally, they need somebody people will talk about the next day. And they’re almost certainly curious as to whether or not America can be made to vote for her. Heck, I want to see how America will treat her. And they’ll get that chance. ZOANETTE JOHNSON is advancing.
9:43 p.m. Melinda Ademi’s a definite “No” for me. Mariah reassures her that she’s young and she has a long road ahead of her. “Please know that you’re talented and that you’re stellar, beautiful girl,” Mariah reassures Melinda after giving her the boot.
9:44 p.m. I’d put Juliana Chahayed through because she sounds like absolutely nobody else we heard tonight. In the interest of musicality and performance diversity, I’d want more of her. The judges, however, disagree with me. Oh well. Farewell, Juliana.
9:46 p.m. See, do we really need both Aubrey Cleland *and* Breanna Steer? I wouldn’t think so, personally. Nicki fakes her out a little but AUBREY CLELAND is advancing.
9:47 p.m. And if we need both Aubrey and Breanna, are we really going to need Cristabel Clack? Apparently not. Randy breaks the news that she didn’t make it.
9:48 p.m. Candice Glover is a no-brainer. I’m having connection trouble with my Slingbox, but there’s no suspense here, even with buffering issues. CANDICE GLOVER is advancing.
9:54 p.m. Three people have advanced. Two spots remain.
9:54 p.m. Jett Hermano is next. On one hand, I think it’d be absurd to put Jett through over Juliana. On the other hand, I think it’d be even more absurd to reject the only two singers who decided to play instruments. Unfortunately, it’s the latter. Jett is done.
9:55 p.m. Breanna is next, which means she’s advancing and our last choice is an interesting one between Rachel and Janelle. I think there’s some redundancy here with Beanna and Aubrey and Nicki is doing another fake-out. BREANNA STEER is, of course, advancing.
9:56 p.m. Rachel and Janelle are buddies. Based on tonight’s performance, it’s Rachel in a rout. Based on body of work, I understand why the judges might lean in Janelle’s direction.
9:58 p.m. Randy tells Janelle she worked it out even if it wasn’t her best performance, while they love Rachel’s spirit. “This was a tough one for us as well,” Randy says. Rachel isn’t advancing. So JANELLE ARTHUR is advancing. It may hurt, but Rachel smiles, because she smiles about things.
9:59 p.m. So that’s Breanna, Janelle, Candice, Aubrey and Zoanette advancing. A bit of an odd group, eh? I would describe tonight’s show as “Not as good as last Wednesday, but far better than last Thursday.”
What’d you think?