Thursday, April 26, 2012

American Idol: Top 6 - April 25, 2012

Top 6 - Queen & Contestant's Choice Week: April 25, 2012

1. Jessica Sanchez - "Bohemian Rhapsody" A/A-
What an unexpected song choice from the girl with arguably the biggest, most traditional "American Idol voice" in the competition. It was gorgeous and nuanced. Really phenomenal overall. I thought she did a great job overall with a song that should never be reduced to 2 minutes. Jennifer Lopez was right when she said that Jessica could have commanded the stage more for such a true rock 'n roll song.

2. Skylar Laine - "The Show Must Go On" A/A-
Skylar sang with so much passion and conviction. But in the back of my mind, I had Carly Smithson's unbelievable version from Season 7. The second half of the song improved on the first. Skylar has such a big voice and is so fierce. I would love to say that I think she's a lock for the finale, but at this point, I'm not sure what will happen. Regardless, what a tour-de-force performance! One I am sure I will play many times on iTunes.

Check out Carly's version here.

3. Joshua Ledet - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" B
I have never liked this song and I'm pretty sure my love for Tim Urban's gorgeous hair distracted me into giving Tim's Season 9 rendition a better grade than it deserved (a B+ if you're curious). I wasn't much a fan of this version either, which veered into shouting at points. One thing that's consistently wonderful about Joshua is that he's an awesome performer. I loved his use of the old-fashioned, 50's doo-wop style microphone, which earned a lot of bonus points with me. I liked it better on a second listen than I did on the original broadcast.

4. Elise Testone - "I Want It All" A-
This was the moment where I felt like I was at an Elise concert. (No I didn't borrow that phrase from Randy...God help us all.) One thing that Elise always brings to her performance is a sexiness and worldliness that her younger contestant peers can't ever match. This was such a great fit for her voice. Overall, a great job and song choice by Elise with lots of passion and energy.

5. Philip Philips - "Fat Bottomed Girls" C+

Philip sounded out of breath from the start on one of my All-Time Favorite Queen songs. It fell short of the original version or even Mark Salling's (Puck) amazing cover on Glee. It was pretty average for me, for you.There isn't much I can analyze here, except how bizarre it was that Steven Tyler said to Philip, "I love the way you run out of breath". Isn't that considered a bad thing for a singer? Hmmm.

6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Save Me" B-
Hollie's performance didn't really grab me. I never got into it the way I wanted to. An interesting and a bit unorthodox song choice that sounded like it would be a match made in heaven for Hollie's voice in theory at least. Maybe it was that the chorus was so repetitive (always something that bothers me more than your average person). The ending was pretty beautiful though.

7. Jessica Sanchez - "Dance With My Father" A
Jessica's version was breathtakingly beautiful. She brought something special to this song, undoubtedly. I wasn't sure I agreed with her song choice for personal reasons. Her voice was flawless and confident. However, I finally felt true emotion from her as she connected to the song more this week than in any past weeks.

8. Skylar Laine - "Tattoos On This Town" A
Skylar made Jason Aldean's hit song sound like she had written and recorded it herself. She delivered such an impassioned version of this song I believed every single word of it. I loved how she dedicated it to her friends and her hometown. Skylar has quietly and consistently become the one to beat on this competition and perhaps the contestant most likely to go on to a successful post-Idol career.

9. Joshua Ledet - "Ready For Love" A-
I instantly remembered Michael Lynche's Season 9 version of this song - the only other version I've ever heard. I didn't know who the original was by until I looked it up on the Internet. That said, I have never really warmed up to this song. Joshua picked two songs tonight that I never cared for. But I really liked Joshua's rendition. I loved the emotion and overall vocal performance by Joshua. He has such a beautiful voice at times when it is harnessed in the right song. I think Joshua's performance was better than Michael's version.

10. Elise Testone - "Bold As Love" B
What a BOLD move for Elise to pick a song by Jimi Hendrix, let alone one that isn't one of his most 3 or so well-known hits. The degree of difficulty on this song was by far the highest of all the songs performed by the contestants tonight. It required to dip into talk-singing, lots of interesting inflections, tongue-twisting lyrics that are reminiscent of poetry, and an overall 70's vibe.

11. Philip Philips - "The Stone" D
If I never heard this again, that would be great. No melody, no fun, nothing I liked. I thought it was a bizarre choice for Philip to cover a Dave Matthews Band song, considering the incessant (and spot-on) comparisons between him and my least favorite band of all time. I hated the violin component of this song. Pretty boring overall, even though I usually like but don't love Philip.

12. Hollie Cavanagh - "The Climb" B+
My first thought was that Hollie's voice may even be too big for this song. But I have to give her credit for picking an age-appropriate song after past choices like "Son Of A Preacher Man" may have been a bit too old for her thematically. Her voice sounded beautiful here in both the big moments and the dialed back ones. The last note was perfect.

Best of the night: Skylar
Worst of the night: Philip

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alex Clare - "Too Close": Top Songs of 2012

The song "Too Close" by Alex Clare is only the second song I've heard all year (after "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men) that is an inevitable lock for my Top 10 Songs Of 2012 list.

It's quickly shot up to my Top 25 iTunes Most Played list - phenomenal considering I've only added it 6 days ago. And yet, I haven't gotten burned out on "Too Close" - there is something layered about the song, something new that I discover and rediscover each time I listen.

This song has come out of nowhere to rocket up the iTunes charts and is prominently featured in a new commercial for Windows & Internet Explorer.

I'd say my initial attraction to the song was based on the juxtaposition between music and lyrics. To my chagrin, it's been a long time since I've heard an upbeat, electronic-based song that has thematic material not consumed with drinking and going to the club.

You know I'm not one to break promises  
I don't want to hurt you but I need to breathe  
At the end of it all, you're still my best friend 
But there's something inside that I need to release 

The song pulsates with urgency and explodes into a thudding dubstep breakdown on the chorus.  The lyrics are desperate and sad, about a breakup between two lovers who have over time cooled to friendship. The musicality expresses the nuts and bolts of technology, all blips and synthesizer. But the lyrics are passionate and heartbreakingly honest. 

It is literally like nothing I have ever heard before. 
It is one of the most singularly perfect songs of 2012, undoubtedly.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

American Idol: Top 7 (Part 2) - April 18, 2012

Top 7 (Part II) - Now & Then - April 18, 2012

The most music in a regular American Idol telecast ever! 14 songs in 2 hours. I was highly impressed by Ryan Seacrest's tribute to Dick Clark at the top of the show. Ryan honored someone who had clearly had a huge influence on him both personally and professionally in a succinct and classy manner.

1. Hollie Cavanagh - "Rolling In The Deep" A-

I was worried for Hollie when I heard she had chosen the done-to-death Adele hit. But I loved it despite myself. The acapella intro and more dramatic instrumentation gave it a feel of a fighter in the ring. She had a nice anger (oxymoron?) throughout this and threw in a few different inflections to change it up from the Adele version ever-so-slightly.

2. Colton Dixon - "Bad Romance" A

What a risky song choice which completely paid off for Colton! I could see Colton making music like this after Idol - and he should. There was a touch of the theatricality of Adam Lambert and the rocker edge of James Durbin. Everything about this performance was perfect - from the staging, the all-female backing band dressed in white, the costuming, the arrangement, and the vocal. The thing that stopped me from giving this performance an A+ was the inclusion of the "oh la la roma roma" section which seemed like a silly way to end the performance.

3. Elise Testone - "No One" B

Let's be clear. I have never liked this song since it came out and was a monster hit my senior year of college. Elise's voice sounded so pretty throughout this song and I liked it (of course) better than the original. But I can't love this song in any incarnation. It seemed to me like Elise was trying to pick a happier, bouncier song that she could smile through. The reasons why the judges loved this performance were probably the reasons I didn't like it as much as her other performances.

4. Philip Philips - "U Got It Bad" A-

He pushed himself on parts and drew back on other parts - the perfect give-and-take for this performance. The way he dropped his voice on "messed around" expressed the shame and desperation of the lyrics. It definitely felt like an interlude at his concert. With the right material, I think Philip has a great touring career ahead of him.

5. Jessica Sanchez - "Fallin'" B+

I liked the liberties Jessica took with this song. She really brought a world-weariness to it that I wasn't expecting from her. My biggest issue with Jessica overall is that it always seems like she is imitating Beyonce, from her intonations to her physicality.

6. Skylar Laine - "Born This Way" A-

I loved the country lyrics Skylar infused into this version. This girl has a huge country career ahead of her because she can perform live, has an amazing voice, and can tell a story with the songs she chooses to sing. She has amazing energy. Skylar is beyond ready for primetime. A fun, well-done performance.

7. Joshua Ledet - "I Believe" A

A real love letter to us long time Idol fans. To those who don't know, "I Believe" was Fantasia's Idol single and "winner's song" way back in 2004's Season 3. I didn't want it to end. And I must admit, like I do with almost any Idol coronation song, I got a bit teary-eyed. What a powerhouse vocal. I was beyond impressed.

8. Hollie Cavanagh - "Son Of A Preacher Man" A

This was the kind of performance I have been waiting for from Hollie since her sublime cover of "All The Man I Need" back during Whitney Houston week. She seriously looked like she was having a good time. A great vocal and a wonderfully fun performance. Sure to be one of my most played on iTunes.

9. Colton Dixon - "September" A/A-

I was bizarrely captivated by this performance and I have to say that's a compliment of the highest order. I think the music drowned out his vocals at points, but overall, it was just so spot-on. This was so different and interesting.

10. Elise Testone - "Let's Get It On" A-

For me, the definitive version of "Let's Get It On" will have to be by one of my favorite Idol contestants ever, Matt Giraud. I devoted an entire blog post to his American Idol run back in 2009, the only time I've ever done that for any Idol contestant.

But, back to Elise - who is my favorite Idol contestant this season, ya know, if you couldn't tell by now. This performance dripped with sex appeal in a way that no other Idol contestant has been able to master this season. The growls were perfect. Overall, a great rendition of the song but I probably would have liked it more if Matt's version wasn't in the back of my head.

11. Philip Philips - "In The Midnight Hour" B/B-

One of my favorite 60's soul songs - just a perfect ode to half romance, half lust. I liked that Philip chose to perform without his guitar on this song and got a bit more crazy with it overall. I liked the song overall, but felt it was probably one of Philip's less memorable performances. Pretty average for me.

12. Jessica Sanchez - "Try A Little Tenderness" B-

There was something off about the arrangement from the beginning to my ears. This is the kind of song you need to get a bit ugly with and the arrangement sounded way too bouncy and poppy. This song has a lot of raw soul and bleeding passion in it and I never felt the true grit in Jessica's performance. Everything seemed way too affected and forced.

13. Skylar Laine - "Heard It Through The Grapevine" A

If I didn't already think that someday I might go to my first country concert to go see Skylar Laine, this performance solidified it for me. This was such an awesomely fun version of a song I have loved for a lifetime. My only critique on this one was that a few of her words turned more into shouting than singing.

14. Joshua Ledet - "A Change Is Gonna Come" A/A-

This was a perfect song choice for Joshua who has stuck pretty firmly in a soul/gospel lane with a few uptempo exceptions. So much emotion and flair in this performance. I'd still have to say Joshua's signature performance so far has been "When A Man Loves A Woman". In fact, I think I'm going to go listen to that one again. And you should too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

American Idol: Top 7 - April 11, 2012

Top 7 - Songs From The 2010's - April 11, 2012

1. Skylar Laine - "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You" A
(originally by Kellie Pickler)

Skylar is a truly captivating performer, more than just a singer. I think that's what makes the difference between someone that has a good Idol run and someone that translates their Idol success into a real career. It was a little bizarre that Jimmy Iovine tried to dissuade Skylar from playing her guitar (imagine if they did that to Philip!), so I was glad that she stuck to her guns. She has a great way of interpreting the lyrics and telling a story. While that is a hallmark of country music, not every country performer has that ability (see: Lauren Alaina). Loved the guitar on the track. Overall, a great song choice for Skylar. Since this wasn't a big crossover hit, it's likely that Skylar's version is the one the audience will know and remember.

2. Colton Dixon - "Love The Way You Lie" A
(originally by Skylar Grey, sampled in Eminem & Rihanna's song)

I was glad to see that Colton covered the original song, with its beautiful and poignant lyrics. This was gorgeous and haunting and cemented Colton as a more consistently original contestant that Philip. I find it a bit disturbing that Jimmy Iovine feels the need to pit contestants against each other (ie: Jessica vs. Hollie last week and Philip vs. Colton this week). The arrangement with just the strings section and the piano was absolutely perfect in the creation of an "Idol Moment" for Colton. It is crazy that the judges gave a standing ovation to Joshua this week but not Colton. Maybe the producers told them that giving 5 standing ovations in one night (2 weeks ago) is overkill.

3. Jessica Sanchez - "Stuttering" A-
(originally by Jazmine Sullivan)

I have never heard the original song but Jessica did a great job with what is an inherently difficult song. I love that she chose a stripped-down arrangement to really show off her voice. The chorus features a stuttering intonation (hence the title of the song) that is extremely hard to pull off without sounding a bit off - and Jessica managed to do this. She reminds me so much of Beyonce, from all of her song choices to her hand gestures and affectations. Her high note at the end was really gorgeous. One of her best performances.

4. Joshua Ledet - "Runaway Baby" B+
(originally by Bruno Mars)

I could see Joshua having a career in the style of Bruno Mars after Idol is over - a neo-soul/R&B type of thing. I was happy to see Joshua do an uptempo song because we know he can. Unfortunately, in this day and age, no musician can make a career solely on doing ballads. No, not even Adele. Joshua brought a ton of fun energy to this song and showed what a great overall entertainer he is. I am still not a fan of the strained vocal acrobatics he incorporated towards the end of the song though.

5. Hollie Cavanagh - "Perfect" B
(originally by Pink)

I don't understand why the wardrobe people feel the need to dress Hollie in some sort of "Dancing With The Stars" reject costume each week. I think it makes the audience take her less seriously as a contender. That said, Hollie's performance this week was good, but not great. I think the arrangement allowed her voice to shine through, but also it makes it easier to hear each flaw. Hollie has a stronger voice than Pink and it was easy to see. That said, Pink sings the song with more raw emotion which is fitting for the subject matter. I think there was an improvement for Hollie from last week to this week, but she still may be in jeopardy. She didn't deserve the harsh judges comments however, when almost everyone else gets a free pass. Overall, it's a solid performance but not one I would download or seek out again.

6. Philip Philips - "Give A Little More" A-
(originally by Maroon 5)

I was glad to see that Philip looked like he was having FUN FOR ONCE! He brings an angry energy to each song, even when the lyrics don't demand it. I thought he brought a better, sexier tone to the song than the original. One of my favorite performances from Philip, whose consistency is turning into complacency quickly. If Philip wants to follow in the footsteps of Kris, Lee, and Scotty, I think he needs a true Idol Moment that sets him apart from HIMSELF.

7. Elise Testone - "You And I" A
(originally by Lady Gaga)

This was unbelievable. Elise has quickly emerged as my favorite contestant and the one I have consistently voted for each week. A perfect song choice for her, although I would have loved to see her sing "Paparazzi" (unfortunately that song came out in 2008/2009 and thus was not eligible for this theme night). Elise has a jazzy voice that is perfectly suited to this type of song. She throws herself so passionately into each song and I loved her ad-libs towards the end. I will listen to this version of the song over and over again - it is right up there with Haley Reinhart's A+ performance of the song last season! (I have to give the edge to Haley though. Check out her unbelievable performance here.)

Best of the night: Elise
Worst of the night: Hollie

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Hunger Games Soundtrack Review

1. Arcade Fire - "Abraham's Daughter"
The last image of the "Hunger Games" film shows President Snow glowering at his television, plotting his next move against the Girl On Fire and the Boy With the Bread. The filmmakers chose this song to play over the end credits. The song starts off suspiciously like the intro that plays at the start of each Guitar Hero song - slow and ominous. The music evokes the rat-a-tat-tat of war drums, coupled with folky yet breezy vocals. The viewer of the film instantly, viscerally feels that the story is not resolved.

I had supposed that as the lead single from the soundtrack, "Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars would close out the film. However, that message of tentative optimism and nurturing would be at odds with an unresolved ending that hints at further tension. "Abraham's Daughter" was the perfect song selection for this purpose.

and when he saw her raised for the slaughter
abraham's daughter raised her bow

2. The Secret Sisters - "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder"

A sweet, sad song of yearning for something better than we know. The harmonies are really beautiful on this song. This song is so fascinatingly juxtaposed with the one before it - which also hints of what's to come. However, both songs imagine quite different realities. "Tomorrow" acknowledges the pain of the past but still manages to look towards the future with hope. "Abraham's Daughter" speaks of a revolution brought forward by one hand.

sorrow weighs my shoulders down
and trouble haunts my mind

but i know the present will not last
and tomorrow will be kinder

3. Neko Case - "Nothing To Remember"

One of my favorite songs on the soundtrack, this song is unabashedly written from Katniss's point of view. Over time, she has grown accustomed to her life in District 12, resigned to subverting it in subtle ways but not overtly enough to draw attention to herself. She feels that she does not have a choice, that her life is lived without autonomy.

I spend my life, becoming invisible
It's hard to maintain and it's hard to get by
I don't recall fight or flight setting in
I have no introduction, I just breathe it in like the air

The lyrics trace her progression from her life in District 12 to her life in the arena - where she has to learn to cope with the choices she makes: taking lives and the tangled confusion of her feelings for Peeta.

Don't take me home, I can't face that yet
I'm ashamed that I'm barely human
And I'm ashamed that I don't have a heart you can break
I'm just action, and at other times reaction

The lyrics on "Nothing To Remember" are amongst the most poignant and relevant on the entire soundtrack. There's a driving drum beat under a pretty vocal which hints at the urgency embedded throughout.

4. Taylor Swift & the Civil Wars - "Safe And Sound"

The song on the soundtrack that took the longest to grow on me. It was only in the larger context of the soundtrack that it truly came alive for me. A song that evokes the lullaby Katniss sings to both Prim and Rue at different points in the story.

Unfortunately, Taylor Swift's voice proves to be quite thin and reedy on this song. Even the backing vocals from the Civil Wars during the chorus does not give her the necessary support to stand upon. Although the lyrics are quite fitting for the story, I wish we could have seen what a more capable vocalist could have done with the sentiment.

Everything's on fire
The war outside our door keeps raging on
Hold onto this lullaby
Even when the music's gone

5. Kid Cudi - "The Ruler And The Killer"

A tour-de-force of a song that could not be more fitting for inclusion on this soundtrack, although it seems like an oddball choice at first. Written from the point of the view of Capitol or President Snow, it is absolutely epic and viscerally evil. It sounds like a sonic assault borne out of the ashes of the future. Terrifying and chilling and absolutely amazing.

Remember you belong to me
Come on we should get it going
Now what I want is specific
You putting on a show for me

6. Punch Brothers - "Dark Days"

The song title instantly evokes the name the Capitol bestowed on the original revolution - "The Dark Days". A sweet song with average vocals and a plucky banjo for accompaniment. The lyrics describe the versatility of family and the necessity of the keeping of secrets. In the background, a heart beat pulsates throughout the song - reminding us that life carries on through the darkest of times.

Our love will see us through these dark, dark days, sister
'Til it lights the way back home
Sister, hide our love away
It can turn the whole world upside down

7. The Decemberists - "One Engine"

From the opening notes of the song, the guitar hints at urgency and evokes the ever-turning wheels of a train. There is something very 2004 about the vocals in this song, which remind me of both Interpol and Green Day (never thought I would say that in a sentence). If the songs from the soundtrack had featured into the movie, I could have seen this song in the scene where Katniss is running from the fire the gamemakers created. The lyrics describe the way Katniss becomes the face of the revolution and struggles with her role in the larger context. A song that is overall a bit too repetitive.

And the martyr line,
It's a bitter pill
And the line of right,
It will barely make you feel

8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Daughter's Lament"

A song that is largely acapella with only the barest hint of accompaniment. The song on the soundtrack that most directly addresses the plot of the books, with references to the mockingjay, the mines, and the death of Katniss's father. The most plainly devastating song on the entire CD, as it hits closest to home. A song short in length, but immensely powerful. A tough listen.

And she went home to her house that night
That house so cold and mean
And she held her sister close to her side
And never more did sing, sing

9. The Civil Wars - "Kingdom Come"

One of my least favorite songs on the soundtrack. The two vocalists blend together in a quavering harmony that never quite does it for me - probably because it is the musical cousin of "Safe and Sound". A slice of cold Americana that hums along and bends like a willow tree. The vocals become more impassioned, and thus stronger, at the conclusion of the song.

Run, run, run away
Buy yourself another day
A cold wind's whispering
Secrets in your ear
So low only you can hear

10. Glen Hansard - "Take The Heartland"

The only song on the soundtrack which burns with unadulterated and uncontrolled anger. Crazy and more than a little unhinged, this song veers off the tracks and crashes and burns. The vocals alone have a punk feel that's not matched by the more standard musical aspects of the song. A song I would be more than happy to never hear again.

Take the heartland with a sense of revenge
Take the heartland and make it look easy
Take the heartland- you’ll die in the end

11. Maroon 5 feat. Rozzi Crane - "Come Away To The Water"

Even though I am a fan, I was a bit stunned at Maroon 5's inclusion on this CD. However, this may be the most underhandedly subversive song of all. The music is slow but heavy and the vocals are sweet, but the lyrics belie the trappings of it all. Adam Levine's voice has never sounded better as he coaxes an innocent into sin. Taking responsibility out of one's hands and turning light to darkness. The lyrical themes in this song are so heavy, they're hidden under the weight of one of the most famous artists on the CD.

Come away little lamb
Come away to the slaughter
To the ones appointed to see this through
We are calling for you
We are coming for you

12. Miranda Lambert feat. Pistol Annies - "Run Daddy Run"

The acapella harmony intro doesn't grab me in the way it is orchestrated to and the harmonies border on the edge of unpleasantness throughout the song. The song finds its stride in the second half when the lyrics grow in meaning and intensity.

Mama's been crying in the kitchen
Sister's been afraid of the dark
I've been gathering the pieces of all these shattered hearts
And I don't care where you go to
And I don't care where you land
But just get out of there daddy as fast as you can

13. Jayme Dee - "Rules"

The saddest and most beautiful song on the soundtrack and one of my favorites. There is something plaintive yet dull in Jayme's voice - indicating the dueling feelings of love and betrayal. I could not have imagined a better song that illustrates the Katniss & Peeta relationship in the first book. Unfortunately, the movie does not delve into their relationship with the depth I would have appreciated - so this song truly captures their characterization in the book itself.

The lyrics describe the dull feeling of questioning the person you love and motives that are less than pure. The song sets up many of the themes that will continue into the next two books - a truly commendable feat.

This blood keeps me alive, but what is it that runs through you?
Electricity and wires, dictating everything you do.
You tell me that you hear me and all your memories are real,
But how do I know you don't just feel what you've been told to feel?

14. Taylor Swift - "Eyes Open"

By far the most commercial song on the soundtrack and one that would have been a massive hit in the age of soundtrack hits (oh the 90's, I miss you everyday).

So here you are, two steps ahead and staying on guard
Every lesson forms a new scar
They never thought you'd make it this far
But turn around, oh they've surrounded you
It's a showdown, and nobody comes to save you now

15. The Low Anthem - "Lover Is Childlike"

This could have been my favorite song in 2004; it sounds so much like all the songs I've loved by Death Cab For Cutie ("Photobooth", "Tiny Vessels"). The beginning of the song features a musical tone that could have come directly from a Bright Eyes song. It's a bit harder to make the connection to the Hunger Games specifically in this song, because I hear so many other connections and implications embedded in the lyrics. This song is the sleeper hit anthem of the CD. I can smell the sea salt in the air and I can feel the wind on my face when I listen to a song like this, that really paints a picture with three chords and a haunting, windswept feel throughout.

Meet me down by the whale watch
Meet me down by the sea
Meet me down at Coney Island
We'll go out on the sea

16. Birdy - "Just A Game"

The only other song besides "Daughter's Lament" that addresses the books specifically and directly. I'm not a huge fan of the vocals on this song which are sung a few bars too high throughout. I don't get the feeling from the vocals on the verses, but instead in the semi-chorus, it comes through a bit. This song screams for a different type of vocal to really emphasize all of the feeling brought about by the music and lyrics. The last line - "We're all just pieces in their games" - speaks to a beat-down resignation to the way things are.

There comes you to keep me safe from harm
There comes you to take me in your arms
Is it just a game? I don’t know
To keep you safe from my world
Take my hand and my heart races
The flames illuminate our faces
And we’re on fire
Blow a kiss to the crowd
They’re our only hope now

Best songs: Jayme Dee - "Rules", Neko Case - "Nothing To Remember", Taylor Swift - "Eyes Open", The Low Anthem - "Lover Is Childlike"
Worst songs: Glen Hansard - "Take The Heartland", Birdy - "Just A Game"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

American Idol: Top 8 - April 4, 2012

Top 8 - Songs From The 80's - April 4, 2012

1. Deandre Brackensick - "I Like It" (by Debarge) A-
This was the perfect song choice for Deandre, who got to show off his "regular voice" and his falsetto. Upon repeat listenings, his version of "Sometimes I Cry" from last week, which was sung entirely in falsetto, comes off shrill and hard to listen to. If I could, I would definitely reduce his letter grade from last week. This song was a bit cheesy and that's probably why I enjoyed it! I found it odd that he started the song sitting down between two audience members; the staging of that is inherently a bit awkward. But Deandre really had a "comeback moment" this week with a midtempo song that was awesomely fun.

2. Elise Testone - "I Want To Know What Love Is" (by Foreigner) B+
The intriacies of her voice brought new meaning and emotion to lyrics I've heard a hundred times. I am not a big fan of this song and I am still scratching my head as to how Randy could have named this "one of the greatest songs ever". I would have loved a new arrangement or acoustic style for this song, which would have really emphasized her voice and the lyrics. I can't imagine the music she will record in her "real life" would ever feature a gospel choir and something about that just didn't work.

Elise was originally deciding between this song and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Obviously "Hallelujah" has been done to death on the Idol stage by contestants as widely varying as Tim Urban (pretty but empty), Jason Castro (a game changing performance by him), and Lee Dewyze (I don't actually remember this performance which maybe says something?) But I would have died to see Elise cover that song with all the grit, emotion, and gravity that it deserves. Here is a fascinating article by a blog called Killing The Buddha on the subject of this song and its performance by Idol contestants.

3. Philip Philips - "That's All" (by Genesis) A
I instantly loved this performance by Philip and it was the one that stuck in my head long after the show was over. This was my favorite performance of Philip's since "Nice And Slow" in the Hollywood Final Solo rounds. There were a few shouty moments which weren't perfect, but overall his voice fit this song like a glove. I loved the fact that his brother-in-law came out to play guitar with him. When his voice got a bit softer on the line "But I loved you, more than I wanted to", it just solidified this performance for me.

4. Joshua Ledet - "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (by Simply Red) B
I liked the different arrangement, which was clearly tailored to suit his voice more. Much like "I Want To Know What Love Is", I have never really enjoyed this song. Joshua's performance started out really strong, but he lost me with the unnecessary vocal acrobatics at the end. Overall, it was a good performance but I could not get excited about it.

5. Jessica Sanchez - "How Will I Know" (by Whitney Houston) C+
Something was off about this performance from the very beginning. I felt like she was a bit behind the tempo and pacing of the song, which bounces along very quickly. I didn't feel that Jessica expressed the plaintive emotion behind the song. Overall, not a version of this song I would download or listen to again.

Maybe in my mind I was comparing it to Whitney Houston who as Randy would say "sang the I don't know what out of that song". Please never let me quote Randy again. Frightening. Here is the to-die-for vocal only track of Whitney Houston singing this phenomenal song.

6. Hollie Cavanagh - "What A Feeling" (by Irene Cara) B/B-
I loved all the 80's elements of Hollie's performance: her teased hair, blue fringey dress, and best of all, the KEYTAR! Hollie looked great and sounded great overall. There were a few moments where it sounded like she was struggling a bit, however. This may not have been the right song choice for her in practice, although on paper it looked perfect. I loved the way she ended the song differently than the original.

7. Colton Dixon - "Time After Time" (by Cyndi Lauper) B/B-
For some reason, this entire performance reminded me of the Smallville soundtrack and how I could see Colton's version of it on that soundtrack, or maybe Supernatural or Roswell. I liked the breakdown and emphasis on drumming toward the end of the song - right after the line "the drum beats out of time". How literal! A good version of Cyndi's classic, but not a great one.

8. Skylar Laine - "Wind Beneath My Wings" (by Bette Midler) A-
Skylar originally was deciding between this song and Dolly Parton's "9 To 5". I was happy to see she picked this song, which is not originally a country song, but clearly lends itself to being transformed into one. I loved the passion Skylar put into the lyrics, especially in the second half of the song. She has a beautiful voice and will certainly go on to have a great country career after this. Skylar ended on such a strong note.

Best of the night: Philip
Worst of the night: Jessica
Best group performance: Philip and Elise's version of "Stop Dragging My Heart Around"