Tuesday, May 22, 2012

American Idol: Finale Performance Night - May 22, 2012



Finale Performance Night (Top 2) - May 22, 2012
Some quick thoughts on American Idol tonight before I head to bed. Will update more tomorrow with my in-depth commentary!

1. Jessica Sanchez - "I Have Nothing" A-
A very pretty performance from Jessica, who gave this one her all. Jessica is a true powerhouse vocalist and will hopefully have a huge career after this show. Sounds like Beyonce covering Whitney. Unfortunately, Jessica's degree of difficulty in the song that Simon Fuller chose for her was much higher than the one Simon selected for Philip. Does anyone else remember Shannon Magrane's cover of this song during Whitney Houston week? Jessica sang circles around Shannon with this version.

2. Philip Philips - "Stand By Me" A+
I actually said out loud "this will be boring" when Ryan announced Philip's song title. I was stunned by the result. My notes: "This was insanely unbelievable. Oh good God, that was unbelievable." Perfect arrangement and staging. This was by far one of his best performances on the Idol stage. He sounded perfect. I loved the way he took his time with the song and really turned a simple song into a huge moment. I didn't want to like it, but I LOVED IT.


3. Jessica Sanchez - "The Prayer" A+
Gorgeous and thoughtful. Jessica made a great song choice in picking her Vegas solo (a song she did not perform on a live show). Seemed fresh in comparison to Philip's choice. It was an achingly beautiful, restrained, yet emotional vocal from Jessica  I loved it and thought she really picked the perfect song for this moment on the show. If any performance could win her the title, it would be this one. I only wish she had been able to close the show with this perfect performance!


4. Philip Philips - "Movin' Out" B
A retread of his original performance. There was really nothing different I could notice about the two performances. I wished he had performed it slightly differently. I liked how in the beginning of the performance, it was dark with the spotlight just on Philip and I wished he had stuck with the acoustic opening to the performance throughout the entire song. Solid but nothing to write home about - good but not great. Like I said with my original review of this song, there is something slightly subversive about his performance which added another layer of depth to it. Oddly, it's still stuck in my head.

5. Jessica Sanchez - "Change Nothing" C+
An odd song choice for Jessica, both lyrically and musically. The pitch was too low on verses. And the lyrics describe a potentially damaging relationship that the singer's friends and family don't approve of - "Should have shut my mouth and kept it all to myself, 'cause now they've got me feeling like I should have been with somebody else". Certainly a bizarre song for a 16 year old girl to sing as her "original song" and "potential coronation song" on American Idol. I think Jessica did the best she could with the song but it wasn't pleasant to the ear and seemed all wrong in every way for Jessica. A lesser vocalist certainly would have tanked with this song and Jessica managed to pull it off, sort of.

I wouldn't really want to hear it again. I want an inspirational song, dammit! When "No Boundaries" seems good in comparison, you know you have a problem. I still tear up watching Kelly Clarkson win Season 1 on my American Idol DVD - confetti shower, fireworks, and "A Moment Like This". Probably the most singularly perfect American Idol moment ever. "Change Nothing" couldn't even come close to that, let alone decent wining anthems like "This Is My Now".

Some lyrics from "Change Nothing" (which have absolutely nothing inspirational in them):
They say we don't fit together
I could do better
There's always something
They don't know the hell we've been through
Cause when you hold me like you do
That's when I wanna change nothing


6. Philip Philips - "Home" D-
OOF. One of the worst performances on American Idol all season, vocally and musically. I think this song reveals the limitations of his voice. It's certainly not the type of song I would ever listen to. Many online reviewers are commenting that this song sounds a lot like Mumford & Sons. Well, that would make sense as to why I have such a strong negative opinion about this song! I HATE Mumford and Sons. It's just not my type of music in the slightest. I thought the staging was interesting with the drumline coming out during the repetitive "ooooooooh" part of the song. I can't find any lyrics to "Home" online - probably because a good portion of the song doesn't contain lyrics. Just inane "folksy" music. UGH.

Best performance of the night: Philip - "Stand By Me" or Jessica - "The Prayer"
Best overall of the night: Jessica
Best overall of the season (of the final 2): Jessica
WHY ON EARTH DID THEY GO HOME?!: Elise, Skylar, Joshua, Colton

Friday, May 18, 2012

American Idol: Top 3 - May 16, 2012


Top 3 - Contestant's, Judge's, and Jimmy's Picks - May 16, 2012

1. Joshua Ledet - "I'd Rather Go Blind" A-
(originally by Etta James)

I love Joshua's style on this song. The way his voice caressed the words, the old-school style microphone, suit and rose on his lapel. Joshua is by far and away the best performer of the Top 3 and has arguably the strongest voice. This was a pretty good song choice for Joshua from the judges, although it didn't allow him to do anything that we hadn't seen from him at this point. The run at the end was unbelievable!

2. Jessica Sanchez - "My All" B
(originally by Mariah Carey)

The judges saddled Jessica with the most challenging song of the night. While the judges' song choices for both Joshua and Philip were right in their respective comfort zones, Jessica had to tackle the insanely difficult Mariah Carey hit. While she sang beautifully, Jessica always sounded just a bit off as though she was trying to hit each note with perfection. She especially struggled in the later half of the song.

3. Philip Philips - "Beggin'" B+
(originally by the Four Seasons, covered by MadCon)

I think I liked this cover by Philip mainly because I was not familiar with the original version of the song, or MadCon's cover. Extremely catchy song and refrain that's definitely fun to sing along with. I loved the breakdown towards the end of the song. I notice as I'm about to wrap of this review, that the only thing I've mentioned is the song, not Philip's version of it, and maybe that says it all.

4. Joshua Ledet - "Imagine" B+
(originally by John Lennon)

The second I heard Joshua was tackling "Imagine", I immediately though of David Archuleta's seminal performance from Season 7 that has got to be in the Top 25 Idol Performances Of All Time (if not the Top 10). Of course, for me, for you, Joshua's cover could not live up to that, but that's not to say it wasn't pretty good in its own right. There were some beautiful moments here. I loved the way he gave it the perfect amount of restraint and letting go in equal measure.
David Archuleta's 2008 Season 7 cover:

5. Jessica Sanchez - "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" A-/B+
(originally by Aerosmith)

A very gorgeous cover of a song that has a lot of personal meaning to me. I think it blew my mind when Ryan told the audience that Jessica was only 3 when this song was released on the Armageddon soundtrack in 1998. Wow, I feel old now. Moving on. I think while Jessica's cover was beautiful, it lacked a real emotional connection to the song for the majority of the performance.


6. Philip Philips - "Disease" C
(originally by Matchbox 20)

Something about this performance deeply confused me. I literally still do not know what to think of it. I can't decide whether I actually like it, begrudgingly admit it's decent, or absolutely hate it. That's really all I have to say about it. I think I could listen to this a dozen more times and still not be sure.

7. Joshua Ledet - "No More Drama" A-
(originally by Mary J. Blidge)

Full disclosure: I have never liked this song or many of Mary J's later hits. ("I'm Goin' Down" and "Not Gon' Cry", both from the early to mid 90's, are insanely awesome however.)  That said, Joshua brought everything and more that he needed to bring to this song that requires that you get a little crazy. The reaction shot of the rest of the Top 12 contestants rocking out from the audience says it all. Joshua is the ultimate performer and he really brought it home with this performance - both visually and vocally.

8. Jessica Sanchez - "I'll Be There" B-
(originally by Jackson 5)

Jessica really made this her own by distinguishing it from the amazing Mariah Carey live cover. The problem that she faced (and that Mariah did not) was both the original and Mariah's cover feature multiple vocalists singing the different parts. Barring that, Jessica did a pretty good job and showed off the beautiful tone to her voice. The problem is, this is not a performance I will remember in a few weeks. More of a Top 9 performance.

9. Philip Philips - "We've Got Tonight" A-
(originally by Bob Seger)

Did anyone else notice the way Philip's voice slipped into a tone that reminded me of Kermit the Frog (especially in the first minute) of the song? That said, the performance was staged beautifully and subtly - in a season that has thrived on being, as Steven would put it, "over the top" with staging. Philip's singing greatly improved as the song went on. Philip had a real moment here where everything came together - a great song, subtle performance, and excellent staging.

Would love to hear some opinions by anyone reading this on Philip's performance!



Best performance of the night: Joshua - "No More Drama"
Worst performance of the night: Philip - "Disease"

All that said - now that I am writing this blog post a day late and I know who went home (Joshua), it is an absolute travesty. Joshua and Jessica have arguably the best voices in the competition and Joshua has been consistently amazing from week to week. Joshua's amazing performances on the show include "To Love Somebody", "When A Man Loves A Woman", "I Wish", "Runaway Baby", and of course the song he chose as his exit performance: "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World".

AMAZING.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

American Idol: Top 4 - May 9, 2012



Top 4: California Dreamin & Songs You Wish You Wrote - May 9, 2012

1. Philip Philips - "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" C
(originally by CCR)

I love this song so much and this version of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" did not do the song justice. I suppose it was a competent cover but in a singing competition like this, everyone's looking for more than just competent. Philip was solid but forgettable on this track, which sounded strained at points. It was a boring performance overall and not one I would download. Philip's going to have to do more than this to win American Idol (at least I hope so).

2. Hollie Cavanagh - "Faithfully" B+
(originally by Journey)

A pretty and restrained cover of this gorgeous Journey classic. I wanted to see her a bit more intense at the end and lift her voice even higher than she did. However, the end was lovely. I was a bit puzzled by the fact she said she didn't understand the lyrics at first. I wouldn't call them extremely complicated - don't we all know too well how lovin' a music man ain't always what it's supposed to be? (The blog post I never wrote was going to compare Kid Rock's "Cold and Empty" to Journey's "Faithfully. I better write that eventually!)

3. Joshua Ledet - "You Raise Me Up" B-
(originally by Josh Groban)

Joshua started off this song by really reining it in. Overall, he delivered what I'd call a restrained cover for Joshua's interpretive style. It felt a bit low for his voice in several places which made me wonder why he chose to sing it in that key. There were a few unpleasant moments in an overall snoozy performance and song choice. I've never really liked this cheesy empowerment anthem (which is somewhat shocking, I know) or Josh Groban songs in general. Joshua's performance was good but not great here.

4. Jessica Sanchez - "Steal Away" A+
(originally by Etta James)

Jessica dug deep within herself here and really inhabited this song. I was INSANELY impressed. I've never fully understood judges' criticisms that young contestants can't possibly have the life experience or past relationship experience to really understand/relate to/connect to certain songs. COME ON. Being in high school has got to be the most dramatic, overwrought time of one's life. You fall in love with every drop of blood in your being, your triumphs are mystical, your failures are life-threatening.

The lyrics of this song are all about sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a lover your parents don't approve of. I think the absolute right person to sing this song is a 16 year old! Anyway, back to Jessica's performance: It was gritty. Amazing. Captivating. An absolute must download!

Don't make me start thinking
‘Cause I might change my mind
My folks are sleeping
so please don’t waste no time
I know it's late but please don’t make me wait
So come on steal away
Please let’s steal away


5. Philip Philips - "Volcano" A/A-
(originally by Damien Rice)

I have loved this song desperately since I first heard it in 2002. The second I heard Philip was going to sing Damien Rice's haunting ode to knowing your love could destroy someone else, I was a bit apprehensive. But I'd have to say this was one of Philip's best performances on the Idol stage, right up there with "Nice And Slow", "Give A Little More", and "U Got It Bad". I loved that they kept the duet style of the song intact with a female vocalist to accompany Philip. I also loved the abrupt ending to the song.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to Damien Rice's unbelievable song here (it made my Top 100 Songs of My Life list):


6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Can't Make You Love Me" B
(originally by Bonnie Raitt)

Tender and pretty. Little know fact: Carrie Underwood sang this song in her original American Idol audition. I would have loved Hollie to sing an acoustic guitar rendition of this song and just let all the emotion out in a stripped-down setting. This was a nice song for Hollie but I feel like she needed a bigger moment.

7. Joshua Ledet - "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" A
(originally by James Brown)

What a tour-de-force performance. WOW. I love the emotion he threw in here so effortlessly. I loved when he let his voice go deep and then brought it back up. I loved the cry in his voice. I loved the ominous tone to the performance like it was going to go off the rails at any moment. I loved the grit. DUDE! YO! (OK, that's enough quoting Randy Jackson.) I also love that the performance was allowed to be 3 minutes and 10 seconds, when most of them are condensed.


And because we will not forget, Elise's Top 42 performance of the same song:



8. Jessica Sanchez - "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" A+
(originally by Jennifer Holliday)

HOW ON EARTH DOES SHE SING LIKE THAT? She brought a world-weariness and intensity to this performance that was so unbelievably compelling. This was just insane!! I loved how overcome she was by emotion and I love that she infused that into her performance so believably.

Best of the night: Jessica
Worst of the night: Philip (only because Hollie was B+/B consistent over 2 and he did badly on one song and great on the other)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

American Idol: Top 5 - May 2, 2012


Top 5 - 60's & British Invasion Week - May 2, 2012

1. Hollie Cavanagh - "River Deep, Mountain High" B

I think Hollie could have brought even more energy to this Tina Turner classic than she did. It amazes me how some contestants acknowledge the history and dare-I-say mythology of the show (best example of this during this season would be Colton Dixon, who knew how to play the game) and others who ignore it completely. The quintessential balladeer of last season, Pia Toscano, was shockingly eliminated after her performance of this song. But it just might have been that frightening jumpsuit Gwen Stefani styled her in. Anyway, back to Hollie, this was a competent and a good performance but something about it was missing for me. She sounded good and looked great but I think she lacked the charm of the Pia Toscano and Glee versions that have come out recently.

2. Philip Philips - "The Letter" D+

So much to talk about on this song. The fact that Jennifer Lopez HAS NEVER HEARD this song?!?!  That kills me as someone who grew up on the music of the 50's and 60's. What else killed me? Philip's bizarre version of this beloved song. His cover left the song absolutely unrecognizable. I give him credit for trying to bring something different to the Idol stage, but this did not work. It sounded again like a Dave Matthews Band type arrangement of the song. I would never listen to this again if I could help it.

To get this awful version out of my head, I am posting two vastly superior versions of this song:

American Idol Winner Season 9 - Lee Dewyze - "The Letter" (Live)


And, one of the BEST AMERICAN IDOL PERFORMANCES OF ALL TIME, Season 7 contestants Carly Smithson & Michael Johns. If you never listen to anything I post on this blog, LISTEN TO THIS.


3. Skylar Laine - "Fortunate Son" B

I loved Skylar's energy on this CCR classic rock song. She really rocked it out and made it look easy. The vocal had a few moments of brilliance in the verses, but the chorus wasn't my favorite for me, for you. Absolutely explosive and untamed, she is the consummate performer of Season 11. 

Duet - Joshua & Philip - "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" A-
Philip sounded the best he has sounded all season on the opening verse of this duet. It was wildly cheesy in the best possible way. I knew I shouldn't love this, that the harmonies weren't quite right, that it didn't really work in the way it should - but god help me, I did. I also loved that this song was almost 3 minutes long - giving it the time it deserved. (Most Idol covers are slightly less than 2 minutes to 2 1/2 minutes.)

4. Jessica Sanchez - "Proud Mary" A-

So much energy and just perfectly delivered. I just wish the Idol costume department didn't put all the girls in 5 inch heels, inhibiting their ability to run around the stage and truly command it. I loved the way Jessica started the song, slow and deliberate, and then let it go with the wild second half of the song.

5. Joshua Ledet - "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" A

This was just awesome from start to finish. The choreography, the outfit, the presentation, just everything worked. It evoked the doo-wop style of the 60's with an edge of something slightly more modern. One of my favorite performances of the night. Undoubtedly, Joshua would have been a huge star in the 60's. 

6. Hollie Cavanagh - "Bleeding Love" A+

Achingly gorgeous and sung with perfection. She took her time with the song and let each word land with resonance. Full disclosure: I absolutely hate this Leona Lewis song. I turn it off everytime it comes on the radio which thankfully is less and less often. But Hollie did the impossible - turned this awful Leona Lewis hit into something with emotion, pitch perfection, and overall beauty.

7. Philip Philips - "Time Of The Season" C

In direct contrast to Hollie, Philip took a song by The Zombies I absolutely love and delivered it in a way I could not abide. Philip's voice could not hit the higher notes on the chorus and still sound pleasant. There were a few brilliant moments, especially on the second verse, and brilliant is Philip capitalizing on one of his best moments on the show ("Does your Daddy let you date?" with lyrical content that mirrored that.

Trio - Jessica, Hollie, and Skylar - "Higher And Higher" B+

Overall, a lot of fun and great to see the three girls interact with each other. I loved Skylar's attitude on this and the three singers sounded great together.

8. Skylar Laine - "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" A

The lampposts, couple on the bench, moody fog lighting was perhaps some of the most interesting staging I have ever seen on American Idol. And yet, despite itself, it still kind of worked. Skylar really brought the complete anguish and heartache to this song to embody the lyrics fully. Watching this performance made me see so clearly the career Skylar will undoubtedly go on to have. Singing requires a bit of acting - both in the tone of one's voice and also the expression on one's face (especially through the ever-less-important medium of music videos). And Skylar has that talent in spades.

9. Jessica Sanchez - "You Are So Beautiful" A/A-

Very simple and pretty. She really delivered the song in an emotional way and her voice is almost too perfect at times (is that even possible?). I really don't have much to say about this performance though.

10. Joshua Ledet - "To Love Somebody" A+

I got closer to my TV as Joshua began this song. I was expecting great things. And I got them. I was expecting a bit more of dramatic instrumentation when Joshua began the first "you don't know what it's like", but I can get over that. Sort of. Joshua inhabited this song so amazingly I forgot about everything else. This was a revelation.

But of course, I have to post Clay Aiken's AMAZING Season 2 version of "To Love Somebody" (which garners some high praise from Simon) to close out this blog post:


Best of the night: Joshua
Worst of the night: Philip