I hated the way “American Idol” handled Hollywood Week this year, with the pointless gender splitting and subsequent elongation of an already dull slog.
But I’ve liked the Sudden Death approach to the Top 40. Let America actually see some full performances before they get to vote. Yes, it allows the judges to put an additional early imprint on contestants who are favorites due to talent — Angela Miller, Curtis Finch Jr. etc — and also contestants who are favorites due to narrative or personality — Charlie Askew, Zoanette Johnson, etc. But I think it may make the electorate a bit more informed when voting begins next week. Maybe.
The first week of Sudden Death, we saw the highs of the first group of girls and the lows of the first group of boys. And last night, we got a pretty representative group, with a few standouts, a few weak performances and whatever you want to say about Zoanette.
How would the last group of men do? Click through…
8:01 p.m. ET. Apparently they’re staying in Las Vegas for next week’s performances. Interesting, I guess.
Singer: MATHENEE TRECO
Song: “A Little Less Conversation”
My Take: Mathenee works in the Bahamas putting together shows. That sounds like a good life. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such a vocally thin version of “A Little Less Conversation.” Mathenee has a lot of energy, but there’s almost no voice behind it. By the end, it’s all squeaky falsetto and head-voice. And despite his background in choreography, all he does is bounce around. There’s no actual dancing. I guess as a way to kick off the show, at least he has a little life, but that was NOT a good performance on any measurably musical level.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You have a huge range vocally,” Keith says inexplicably, also praising his “immense power.” Seriously, Keith? Did you see “immense power” in that performance? Because if you did, that concerns me. He kinda says that the entertainment overwhelmed the voice, but only kinda. Nicki Minaj addresses Mathenee with her British accent and tells him that it felt “very cheesy and karaoke.” She’s correct, of course. Randy thinks the song choice was so wrong. They ask Mathenee who he is and he says he’s influenced by hip-hop and hard rock, which were both completely lacking in that performance. Mariah Carey likes Mathenee and wants to invite him over for dinner. She had greater expectations, but she stops short of criticizing him.
Singer: GURPREET SINGH SARIN
Song: “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You”
My Take: I’m a fan of The Turbanator. He’s almost entirely unembellished when he performs. He’s just a smooth, pure, simple voice and listening to him probably won’t ever be unpleasant. I don’t sense that he’s got a huge range or that he’s ever going to be capable of a performance that’s going to blow us away, but it’s nice to listen to him and he’s completely amiable. This is weird song choice and it doesn’t do him any favors. I mean, if the song is called “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You,” why is he smiling away? And where is the pain? The hurt? The soul? This is affectless and forgettable, but not bad, per se. I like his bright yellow turban-and-pants combo.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith likes Gurpreet’s voice when he performs with his guitar, but he loves his voice. Nicki, whose shirt matches Gurpreet’s ensemble, wanted a more intimate performance as well. “Honey child, hell no,” Nicki tells him. Apparently Nicki’s loins aren’t burning in the same way tonight. “Honestly? That was terrible,” Randy says, dropping the boom. Randy, in fact, is incredulous.
Singer: VINCENT POWELL
Song: “Cause I Love You”
My Take: Yeah, Vince is kinda making Gurpreet look bad. Oh well. Vince’s a worship leader and he definitely had that Singing Preacher vibe, but it’s mingled with a classic Detroit ’60s and ’70s sound. He’s a bit like Joshua Ledet from last season, in that I can imagine him doing Sam Cooke and I can imagine him doing Otis and I want to hear these things. He’s got outrageous range and put a lot of emotion behind every word. He’s a salesman and this is definitely the night’s first real stand-out performance. In fact, I think it’s the best performance by an “Idol” male in the Sudden Death round. Heck, he gets Mariah Carey on her feet.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “Preach on, Brother Vincent,” Keith says. Nicki thinks it was old-fashioned, but… “It was a good old-fashioned, it was a sexy old-fashioned,” Nicki says. “I felt like the show tonight started right here,” Randy says. “Finally,” Ryan goes into the audience and asks the excitable Zoanette if she needs an ice pack. Mariah says. “Get it Papa Smurf,” Zoanette yells. Excellent. See, that’s why we need Zoanette around.
Singer: NICK BODDINGTON
Song: “Say Something Now”
My Take: Nick Boddington’s got some White Boy Soul. No question about it. I remember liking him last season, but I haven’t been as impressed by the snippets we saw from Hollywood this year. This performance probably over-relies on his falsetto, at least for my tastes. But it’s not a bad falsetto. I’m just not a huge falsetto fan, am I? I seem to remember Nick having a bigger voice than this and I also seem to remember him playing an instrument. I want bigger and more instrumental from Nick.This is better than the first two performances, but a big drop from Vincent. I guess that’s how it goes. Nick would have easily been in the Top 5 in the first group of guys and now I’m wondering how tonight’s going to play out.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith thinks Nick is easy to listen to, but he wanted to be more connected to Nick as a person. Nicki loves the warmth in his voice and she loved his past performances, but this wasn’t a 10 for her. “I don’t know if that was the correct song for you,” Randy says and then he says his thing about looking for moments. Mariah, however, forces Randy to admit that there was one moment.
Singer: JOSH HOLIDAY
Song: “Better With You”
My Take: Are we seeing the next American Idol? A pretty white boy from Middle America with Nashville experience and the ability to play a musical instrument? Now if only Josh could sing! He starts of on a piano and it’s corny and mumbly and, frankly, kinda silly. When he gets away from the piano and stands up, his voice opens a little, before he gets silly at the end. Part of the problem may be that Josh is singing an original song, which is somewhat admirable, because it shows that he is, indeed, an artist and a musician. But this song is self-indulgent to Josh’s lesser vocal traits. It’s cutesy and he’s cutesy. This lets me know what he may be as an artist, but it doesn’t let me know what his range is. This isn’t like Angela Miller’s original in Hollywood Week where the reaction was, “I want that song right now, with her singing it.” With Josh it’s more like, “How cool that he can do that! But… can he sing?” I’d keep Josh around on potential probably, but it wouldn’t be for this performance, I don’t think.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You have a really great voice,” Keith says, but he wants Josh to cut loose. Nicki wanted Josh to stay at the piano and felt that he was too eager-to-please when he stood up. Randy liked the song and the arrangement, but he wasn’t wowed by it. Mariah loves that he’s a singer-songwriter.
8:47 p.m. This is a much better night for the guys than last Thursday. It is, in fact, making me worried. It’s a lock that somebody will go home from this group who had more talent than most of the people in last week’s male Top 5. That’s the flaw with this Sudden Death thing.
Singer: DAVID OLIVER WILLIS
My Take: David has a father who was born in 1906. Wait. Really? Is that possible? I’m not sure if I’ve seen David before, but I like him. He hits the stage looking like a ’70s disco cowboy and strumming his guitar to an arrangement of “Fever” that I’ve never heard before. “Fever” is a song that’s great for showing off vocal tone and David has that to burn. I’d love to get a better sense of his range, but I could be a fan of this kid. Towards the end he steps outside of the song to give himself one big note. I appreciate it. Perhaps our second best performance of the night, but it doesn’t get any of the judges standing.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “That was not the right song to show more of that,” Keith says of David’s big note. David has a very attractive wife, which leaves Nicki feeling threatened. She says it felt like a kid who got a guitar for Christmas and was showing off for his family. Boo. Randy thought David’s voice is bigger than that, but he likes that David is different. Mariah seems to have been a bit confused. Boo. I liked David more than the judges did, apparently.
Singer: BRYANT TADEO
Song: “New York State of Mind”
My Take: Hmmm… Remember what I said about Gurpreet when I started typing my recap of his performance before I got bored with it by the end? I think Bryant may be a slightly better example of the sort of clean, pure voice I thought Gurpreet might have. Bryant’s an absolutely bore, but he’s doing a serviceable version of an understated song. It drifts and drifts and drifts. He does some pretty things at the end. Solid. Not remarkable. But he would have advanced from Group 1.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: Keith thought that was a good song for Bryant and he handled it well. Nicki loved the last note, but she didn’t like anything else. “I loved the beginning, but I was waiting for it to go somewhere by the end,” Randy. Mariah praises the tonality of Bryant’s voice and his raw talent.
Singer: BURNELL TAYLOR
Song: “This Time”
My Take: Burnell Taylor has lost 40 pounds, but it looks like he’s down even more than that from what we saw in his original auditions. Good for him. Burnell’s just got great tone and he enunciates and he phrases and he works every word and verse. It’s a radio-ready voice and his “I’m conducting an orchestra” thing gives the impression that he knows what he’s doing on the stage and he knows what he’s doing to the audience. The kid has style and confidence and he will be advancing. This definitely tops David as my second favorite for tonight.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “Gosh, I liked that performance. I really did,” Keith says. “I would pay to see you sing,” Nicki says, getting emotional about Burnell’s weight-loss and his attempts to lift his family up. “The best by far tonight,” Nicki raves. Randy found it captivating and unique. Mariah’s a fan as well.
Singer: LAZARO ARBOS
Song: “Tonight I Wanna Cry”
My Take: We all love Lazaro’s story. He’s inspiring. Make no mistake of that. And “American Idol” loves his story and I suspect Lazaro is going to advance and he doesn’t deserve to in the slightest based on this performance. It starts way, way too long and it’s hard to listen to until he gets to the chorus. Also, I know it’s partially unfair to say this because of his speech impediment and because English isn’t his first language, but he struggles with words when he sings. Coming after Burnell’s precise and meaningful phrasing, Lazaro can’t help but be disappointing. I support the heck out of the kid, but the crowd’s adulation is for his story and not his talent in this moment and I doubt the judges will have the guts to say anything.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: It’s Keith’s song, so he thanks Lazaro. “I don’t think that was a great song for you tonight, because I never felt like you got comfortable with it tonight,” Keith says. He ends up praises Lazaro’s “spirit,” which has very little to do with anything. Nicki speaks Spanish with Lazaro and praises him for always giving us Lazaro. “You played it safe, but in a good way,” Nicki says. Sigh. “It wasn’t my best song, though. But I did the best I could,” Lazaro says. See? He’s a sweet kid! Randy loved Lazaro on the chorus. Yup. We’re just coddling the kid. Mariah has heard Lazaro do a stronger vocal, but she loves the purity of his emotion and his struggle. “You’ve got a big heart,” Ryan tells him. Lazaro is advancing for sure.
Singer: CORTEZ SHAW
My Take: I want Cortez to do well, both because I like his voice and I wanna shout out “Cortez the KILLER!” when he performs well. Can we make this happen? Cortez’s problem is that he may have too much range, so he arranges songs that showcase each and every note of that range, rather than finding a good song that lets him concentrate on the places he’s best. His upper register is just remarkable. Those notes he’s hitting at the end? That’s his voice. That’s not falsetto. He just goes that darned high. He’s not as good with the lower stuff. So he kills the end, but it takes him a while to really sound comfortable. I think this is not the best arrangement of a very good song. I still want to see him advance.
Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey Say: “You guys love the big notes, don’t you?” Keith tells the appreciative audience. Keith wasn’t a fan of the arrangement, which made things too slow. “Is it hot in here or is it just me? I liked you, Cortez,” Nicki says. Randy didn’t love the notes in the middle, but he’s a fan of the full-voice upper range. Mariah loved the arrangement and she loves what Cortez did.
9:37 p.m. Yeah. Three or four guys are going home tonight who would have advanced from that first group of men. Mathenee and The Turbanator aren’t advancing and Bryant shouldn’t advance, but I can make arguments for the other seven guys. Vincent, Burnell and Cortez are probably locks. Lazaro is probably advancing, even though he shouldn’t. But David, Josh and Nick all would have cruised last week.
9:40 p.m. Will Jimmy Iovine be called into play tonight? Unclear, but Mariah says it was a difficult choice.
9:41 p.m. David Oliver Willis is up first. Mariah tells him she appreciates that he loves music, but it’s a “No” for tonight. BOO. That’s bunk. I wonder if they’re going to boot Josh as well, making it a second consecutive night on which it turned out to be a bad decision to play an instrument.
9:42 p.m. Bryant Tadeo is next. Keith says he liked the song and tonight’s performance, but majority rules and they couldn’t take Bryant. The audience boos. They’re wrong. There’s no way Bryant should have advanced out of this group.
9:43 p.m. Vincent Powell is probably going to be our first “Yes.” Nicki doesn’t hesitate. Why bother? VINCENT POWELL is advancing.
9:44 p.m. Mathenee Treco is next. We’re really putting the eliminations up-front tonight. I guess I’m glad that they’re varying the elimination patterns. Randy tells Mathenee that he took a risk tonight, but he didn’t make it. We know that The Turbanator isn’t going, so that means there’s only one other “No” out there. Presumably that means either Nick or Josh.
9:46 p.m. Lazaro Arbos is next. Mariah tells him it’s been tough. LAZARO ARBOS is, of course, advancing.
9:47 p.m. Cortez the Killer is up next. Cortez felt “pretty good” about tonight’s performance, though he says there’s room for improvement. Keith tells him he’ll get the chance to improve. CORTEZ SHAW is in the Top 20.
9:53 p.m. Josh Holiday is next. He’s going home, which isn’t exactly wrong. I’m annoyed that all four people with the guts to play instruments the past two nights were sent home. That’s not a message I like. Oh well.
9:55 p.m. Burnell Taylor is the ante-penultimate person in the spotlight, which means he’s guaranteed to advance, but Randy spins his wheels pointlessly. “Sometimes things go one way, they go another way,” Randy says. BURNELL TAYLOR is advancing, as we knew he was.
9:56 p.m. So it’s actually Nick and The Turbanator for the last spot. They auditioned on the same day in New York City, so they’re buddies. To me, this is a clear advantage for Nick, but will Mariah Carey agree. She whines for a bit before telling The Turbanator he isn’t advancing. NICK BODDINGTON is advancing.
9:59 p.m. So that’s Nick, Burnell, Lazaro, Cortez and Vincent advancing tonight. Not a bad group.
What’d you think of tonight’s performances and results?