Wednesday, April 24, 2013

American Idol: Top 4 - April 24, 2013

Top 4 - April 24, 2013 - Contestant's Choice & 1 Hit Wonders

1. Amber Holcomb - "The Power Of Love" A

Amber's performance of this song, originally by Laura Branigan and most famously covered by Celine Dion, was unbelievably gorgeous. I could only notice one "off" note. The rest of it was right on point. I could hear a youthfulness in her voice that I've never really heard in anyone's rendition of this song before (not even Hollie Cavanagah's from last season).

Now, examining this performance in the context of the competition, it came off EXTREMELY dated. Celine's version came out in 1993 and that is EXACTLY when this performance - both visually and auditory - could have been taped. It could have been a performance at the 1993 Grammy Awards. Now, I'm not complaining, because I love the 80's and 90's when it comes to fashion, technology, music, movies, TV, etc. BUT the judges spent literally the majority of the show tonight - even after OTHER contestants' performances - praising Amber and saying how "current" this performance was. Don't get me wrong, it was a great performance, but NOTHING current about it.

2. Candice Glover - "Find Your Love" A+

I loved the deep parts of her voice, I loved how she infused this whole song with a jazzy, slow-burn vocal. It is an absolute TRAVESTY how Candice did not get the credit she deserved for this original, exciting, unexpected performance from the judges. She took a hip-hop song with a rap vocal and turned it into a completely different, unique song with both jazz and R&B elements. It was fascinating and fabulous. I won't even waste space on how off-base and insane the judges were with their critique on this performance. I like it even better the second time I listened to it than the first!

For those not familiar with the original version by Drake, I've embededed it:

And Candice's version:

3. Kree Harrison - "Hurts So Bad" A-

I heard some Carrie Underwood in her voice, for the first time in this competition. It's not a bad comparison to make, for sure! Kree really had a lot of grit and a gravelly tone in her voice during this song, which made it a bit different from some of her previous performances. It was a great choice for Kree, who gravitates towards country songs with a blues base.

4. Angie Miller - "Who You Are" B

I can't lie, this song has been done to death on Idol this season and I find it to be a very cloying, "dare to be different", artificial song without much that's genuine or moving to it. I mean, with lyrics like, "it's OK not to be OK"....come on. Ugh. I feel like I've heard it way too many times on Idol, and the song's melody forces Angie into a place where to me she sounds a bit unpleasant and sharp. Angie started the song very pretty but she lost me a bit along the way as the song irritated me more and more. I do love her performances at the piano where she can really shine.

DUET #1 - Kree & Amber - "Rumour Has It" B-/C+

There was just something off about this whole performance from start to finish. The chemistry between the two singers wasn't there, as Nicki correctly pointed out. I loved the staging with the giant drums and film strip background. The vocals weren't as up to par as they could have been. It's not something I'd listen to ever again.

DUET #2 - Angie & Candice - "Stay" A

This was infinitely better than the previous duet. It must be pointed out that these two ladies had the benefit of hearing the critique Nicki Minaj gave the previous duet and perhaps adjusting their performance slightly based on it. But maybe not. This was all around a better song choice, better vocals, and a more interesting performance visually and vocally.

5. Amber Holcomb - "MacArthur Park" C-

Let's point out a few things about this song. First, it was already performed by Carrie Underwood on this show, so it's a bit of a dangerous tread. Second, it ACTUALLY contains the following lyrics:

Someone left the cake out in the rain / I don't think that I can take it / Cause it took so long to bake it / And I'll never have that recipe again

I am honestly not sure what to make of it. Also the lyrics mention "drinking wine while it is warm", which is just a disgusting idea in general. This song was also released in 1968, making it even more strange that the judges would give Amber constant critiques of being "the whole package", "so 2013", "the next Rihanna", etc. when she chose a 1993 Celine Dion power ballad and this sap fest from 1968. Her vocal was wobbly from the start on this song and the disco part was atrocious. How is she current when she can't even move around on an uptempo? It's basically a requirement for pop stars to dance and perform these days. Gone are the days when people can stand still at a mic stand and perform - although you'd never know it from watching American Idol this season!

6. Candice Glover - "Emotions" A-/B+

I've never liked this song much - the Destiny's Child version OR Bee Gees version - I have to be honest, but Candice breathed new life into it for me. I loved the part where the music dropped for a second and her vocal was allowed to take center stage. I would have to admit that it's a bit of a boring song choice and not particularly memorable. Probably my least favorite of Candice's performances, but she is such an unbelievable singer that she literally probably could sing the hell out of any song.

7. Kree - "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" A-

I think right off the bat I had to give Kree some bonus points for song choice. This song is absolutely unbelievable and one that I'll always remember from growing up on the music of Motown, the 50's, and 60's. Her voice sounded sweet and ethereal in the beginning verse - I think I would have loved to hear more angst in it right from the start. I probably would have given Kree a B+ otherwise, but this song really grabbed me. I wished she had done a bit more with it however.

8. Angie - "Cry Me A River" A+

SADLY, Angie did not perform the Justin Timberlake song, but a true one hit wonder song that I had never heard. This performance was VERY Broadway - in the delivery and the staging. I almost feel like this could have been a number from CATS. That is not exactly a compliment or an insult. Angie's voice was absolutely beautiful and I loved that she put some attitude in her vocal without losing that beauty. Listening to this performance made me wonder if she will go on to star on Broadway - I wouldn't doubt it!

Best of the night: Candice - "Find Your Love" and Angie - "Cry Me A River"
Worst of the night: Amber - "MacArthur Park"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Idol: Top 5 - April 17, 2013

Top 5 - Year You Were Born & Divas - April 17, 2013 (UPDATED)

I'm trying something a little different this week - I'm just going to post about the first round of performances for now ("Year You Were Born") and then update later with the second half ("Divas").

1. Candice Glover - "Straight Up" (1989) A/A-

This was an effortlessly cool performance. Candice made this song seem very modern and current. She actually brought out the meaning in the lyric and gave it an attitude. (I can NOT be the only one who misses Paul Abdul on my singing reality competitions.) Mariah was right when she said it was an unpredictable song choice - it was fun and had a jazzy energy to it which started off the show on the right foot.

2. Janelle Arthur - "When I Call Your Name" (1989) A

I am honestly trying to figure out how this song could stop anyone from crying. It is absolutely heartwrenching and devastating. This might just be Janelle's best performance on the show to date I think! While she hasn't put as much true emotion into past performances as she could have, I really felt the emotion from her in this song, so I'd have to disagree with Keith on this one. (Then again, I maybe benefited from not having the original Vince Gill version to compare it to, as I've never heard this song before tonight.) It was a vast improvement from her cover of Garth Brooks' "The Dance" last week. I loved the soft, beautiful way she ended the song.

3. Kree Harrison - "She Talks To Angels" (1990) B

The arrangement was pretty sleepy for a rock song; it was a dentist's office sort of version of a song with a lot of grit and blues to it. That really brought the overall enjoyment of the song down for me. I loved the simple, acoustic way she started the song with just the one sexy guitar player. I would have loved if she had stayed that way and really let her vocals shine. The arrangement did not allow her voice to soar at all and seemed very amateur and boring to me. Overall, it wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I do applaud Kree picking a unique song choice,

4. Angie Miller - "I'll Stand By You" (1994) A-

Angie has been criticized by some (not usually the judges) for being too polished and dramatic in her delivery, performances, enunciation, and just overall demeanor. This song showcased a much more raw tone in her voice. Especially towards the end of the song, it was more of a rock vocal than we've heard from her in the past. It may have been her getting lost in the emotion, which contributed to her stumbling on her words (but recovering almost immediately) in a few places. I would honestly much rather see that from her, or really any singer, than a performance that comes off as hollow and affected. Music is about feeling and passion at its core

5. Amber Holcomb - "Without You" (1994) C

4 years ago, I wrote a blog post about this song. It's an intensely powerful song with the sort of desperate lyrics that don't get written anymore. It's visceral and if sung correctly, should leave you with a feeling in the pit of your stomach. The lyrics are literally "I can't live, if living is without you", that untold despair of the hopelessness of lost love.

Amber's version was very soulless and sleepy in comparison to the best versions I've heard of this song. She did not evoke any of the passion of the song, and it even came off a bit tired and lazy in the beginning of the performance. It wasn't that she didn't hit the notes properly I suppose, but I couldn't believe Keith could critique Janelle for not showing any emotion in her performance when Amber's lack of passion was much more egregious. I was really overall disappointed.

Below I've embedded the unbelievable Kelly Clarkson version from the first season of American Idol. Don't even bother trying to find Amber's version. Seriously.

Best of the 1st Round Janelle
Worst of the 1st Round: Amber

6. Candice Glover - "When You Believe" B+

I must admit, the first time I listened to this performance (the live show airing) I gave it a B-/C+. I felt like it was Candice's worst performance on the show - and while I still stand by that assessment, it must come with a caveat. Candice's "worst" performance is still the kind of performance all Idol contestants can only hope to aspire to. This song has a high degree of difficulty as evidenced by the fact that two of the greatest vocalists of our modern era - Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey - sang it originally. But as for the Idol performance, I think the arrangement is pretty awful and dinky sounding. It literally sounds like a xylophone. On second listen, Candice's voice is a master class in perfection. She really caresses the song and just sounds absolutely gorgeous. I think with a better arrangement, this performance could have been "A" level.

7. Janelle Arthur - "Dumb Blonde" B-

Janelle is a true performer - I can see her playing arenas. Unlike many of the other contestants, Janelle moves around on stage, tries uptempo songs, and actually appears to be having fun. Unfortunately, she was off the pitch at parts throughout the song. I loved her delivery and attitude; the song choice was pretty ballsy as it's a lesser-known song to most of the audience. It looked like she had a lot of fun performing a song she really loved; I just wish her vocals had been more on point.

8. Kree Harrison - "Have You Ever Been In Love" A

Kree was smart to pick a song by Celine Dion that isn't as omnipresent as "My Heart Will Go On" or "Because You Loved Me" - it still gave her the ability to soar vocally without drawing a direct comparison to The Best Singer In The World. One thing I really like about Kree is the fact she sings a wide variety of genres of song, but always gives a slightly country spin to it. This was gorgeous - I really stopped and listened, put down my pen and paper, and felt the emotion in the song she was singing.

9. Angie Miller - "Halo" A-

She started the song very breathy and low, slowly building to the intensity. The second half of the song, where she could really belt the words, was significantly better than the first. I absolutely adored her dress, and generally all of the fashion she's worn on the show. Her tendency to overenunicate EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. is off-putting after a while and I hope that she works on this affect. This was a very powerful performance - she had much more intensity tonight than in the past - and I loved how her performances took on more of a rock edge.

10. Amber Holcomb - "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life" A

The show is trying VERY, VERY hard to give Amber an "Idol Moment TM". Maybe they feel that she can be a viable successor to Rihanna - with an actual singing voice. This was an absolutely gorgeous performance. The staging was perfect (although very very old fashioned for a girl born in 1994 - it reminded me of something out of the Lost Generation, 1920's era...although coming from me, that's a compliment). Amber's voice sounded honey-smooth and thick, extremely beautiful. I think it was a smart move by Amber to choose a song that a lot of the audience may be unfamiliar with. It's difficult to pick songs with a theme like "Divas". Like I mentioned with Kree, if the contestant does a note-for-note carbon copy version, they better be on point or risk coming up short. But with this song, Amber could really make the song her own and shine.

Best of the 2nd round: Amber
Worst of the 2nd round: Janelle

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

American Idol: Top 6 - April 10, 2013

Top 6 - Bacharach/Hal David Songbook & "Song You Wish You Had Written"

It was fascinating how quickly the show glossed over the intro packages and the entire THEME of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David songbook

1. Angie Miller - "Anyone Who Had A Heart" A-

Very pretty rendition of this song. I thought it was interesting that Keith told her to be more impassioned in her delivery when I had specifically written that I thought she was "impassioned" as she sang.

2. Amber Holcomb - "I Say A Little Prayer" A-/B+

Even though this was SO VERY SEASON 3 in every possible way, I liked it in spite of myself! Amber's voice sounded great and I liked that she made some interesting choice of inflection with the song. I think this was probably the best song choice she could have made when choosing from the approved songs for the theme. A fun uptempo choice, although no one could avoid how dated this song sounds.

3. Lazaro Arbos - "(They Long To Be) Close To You" D

I am not even sure what to make of this. Lazaro was off the pitch for most of the song and sounded out of sync with the band. He looked terrified and uncomfortable. He sang in a tentative and quiet tone that made it hard to hear. This is something I would expect to see performed in my living room after too many drinks. Also - what in the name of God was he wearing? A green, reptilian suit! Sadly, the suit was probably the most interesting thing about this performance. Oh, Lazaro is so out of his element now. It's tough to watch.

4. Kree Harrison - "What The World Needs Now Is Love" A-

I LOVED the acapella intro and really wished she had sang the entire song acapella. It would have been a bold choice that would have paid off immensely. Kree really put a country twist to a song that I've never heard as anything but easy listening.

5. Janelle Arthur - "Ill Never Fall In Love Again" B-

Unfortunately this song choice came off as very cheesy and dated, almost like from a variety show or Broadway musical. It also sounded IMMENSELY like "I Won't Say I'm In Love" from the Disney movie Hercules. (OK, that movie never really stood the test of time, but give the song a chance - it's by far the best thing about the movie!!) Compare them by listening to Janelle's song. Tell me it's not the same! While Janelle did a good job, it was really more cute than anything else.

6. Candice Glover - "Don't Make Me Over" A

Candice makes it look easy. I hope that the effortless way in which she sings doesn't make people think that what she does is easily attainable. I love that Nicki said that Candice made an older song sound like contemporary R&B and I definitely think she gave it a John Legend vibe. She delivered in a way that was both powerful and laidback. The high notes were gorgeous and she is just so fierce. I love her - my favorite contestant this season.

7. Angie Miller - "Love Came Down" A

I really felt Angie's emotions behind this song. When she sits at the piano, her songs take on a different, more intense vibe. I wish she would stop focusing on making eyes at the camera and lose herself in her music however.

8. Amber Holcomb - "Love On Top" B-

Since this is one of my favorite Beyonce songs, I had high hopes for Amber's performance. I don't know if it was that she couldn't compare to Beyonce, or that her energy was lacking as she performed her first true uptempo on the show. Something was certainly lacking over all for me. The judges' feedback was truly over the top (or as Mariah might put it, OTT) tonight for Amber - overly effusive and complimentary. It's making me wonder if they're setting her up for the save tomorrow. My prediction? Amber or Janelle will garner the lowest number of votes and be saved. At this point, I think it may be Amber since Janelle's fans should be more motivated to vote for her this week since she was in the Bottom 2 last week.

9. Lazaro Arbos - "Angels" C

This was an infinitely better performance for Lazaro, but tonight everyone else in the competition blatantly outsang him. His voice trembled in parts and it was just absolutely not memorable. If Lazaro does not go home tonight, he's going to win this show.

10. Kree Harrison - "Help Me Make It Through The Night" A-/B+

I love how Keith threw a little shade at the pop/country trend by saying that Kree was an authentic country singer and knows definitively who she is. Her voice is flawless and "thick" with emotion and beauty. This was a sleepy song for me and I would have liked to hear a different choice from her, but there's no denying she sang it unbelievably.

11. Janelle Arthur - "The Dance" B+

It only takes about 30 seconds of this heartbreaking, beautiful song to make me start crying. And if you have not heard this unbelievable song by Garth Brooks, I have no idea what in the world you are waiting for. Janelle's version was not as great as I'd hoped it had the potential to be - the emotion and pain were severely lacking. The overall performance suffered for it. I think Keith was correct when he said it would have been amazing if she had played it on an acoustic guitar. What a missed opportunity! This really disappointed me. I'm giving Janelle some extra points for song selection, but the vocals/performance were more of a B-.

12. Candice Glover - "Love Song" A++++

SERIOUSLY. JUST GO LISTEN TO THIS. Download the MP3. Listen to it a million times. This is a master class in singing, in feeling the true emotion of a song, of making it your own. I loved the arrangement, I loved the pure artistry of it, I felt every word. This has got to be one of the best performances I have ever seen in my years of watching American Idol (or the X Factor or the Voice or any singing competition ever).

On a related note, I am very puzzled by the creepy demon sound in the middle of Candice's performance so prepare yourself for that. I thought it was just my TV (but apparently not!!)

Best of the night: Candice - "Love Song" 
Worst of the night: Lazaro - "Close To You"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

American Idol: Top 7 - April 3, 2013

Classic Rock, No Ballads - April 3, 2013

This is going to be a quick post since I am packing for my ski trip to Vermont! That said, I was extremely excited to see this week's theme. Would my very high expectations be met?

1. Burnell Taylor - "You Give Love A Bad Name" C+

Burnell seemed to be singing too slow for the song, and as Randy pointed out, was behind the beat for the song's duration. It was great to hear the grit in his voice which seemed perfect for a rock 'n roll song. However, the execution was pretty lacking. Burnell's performance was awkward to watch since he didn't have the right amount of energy the song required.

Angie & Lazaro - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" D+

I must admit, I absolutely HATE this song. I love Queen, but this song has never done it for me and actively irritates me. Lazaro sang too softly to start off the song and then forgot his lyrics (again). I can't even count how many times he's forgotten his lyrics and it's past the point of irritating. Neither of them sounded good. 

2. Kree Harrison - "Piece Of My Heart" A-/B+

I would have loved to hear Kree sing "Cry Baby" or "Me & Bobby McGee" if we're talking about Janis Joplin songs. There were some beautiful moments in the song, yet it seemed underwhelming at times. It made a lot more sense to find out Kree was playing hurt with a pinched nerve which explains it! She is a true professional and always embodies her song choices.

Burnell & Candice - "The Letter" A

I ADORE this song and was actually listening to the perfect version of this song earlier - Carly Smithson & Michael John's A+++ performance (embedded below). While Burnell and Candice's version could not quite compare, it was still a lot of fun to watch and the best performance of the night up to this point! When doing the song as a duet, chemistry is important and these two really got that aspect of it right.

3. Janelle Arthur - "You May Be Right" A/A-

Janelle was one of my two favorites on the night! I was really surprised how naturally she performed on this Billy Joel track. She performed with energy and her voice sounded beautiful. After she stumbled a bit on her past uptempo ("Gone"), it was great to see her really shine here.

4. Lazaro Arbos - "We Are The Champions" D+

As I wrote in my notes, "OH GOD NO!" I feel like he's not even trying anymore. It felt like a victory that he just made it through the song and didn't forget the lyrics. At this point in the competition, he is way overmatched by the other contestants (and even some of the ones who went home, or who were evicted in the Hollywood rounds). The arrangement and his singing did not line up harmoniously at all. How tight are those pants and how long are those eyelashes?

Janelle, Amber, and Kree - "It's Still Rock 'N Roll To Me" C+

If I was 16 (and let's be real, what's changed?), I would DIE to wear Amber's outfit. I would probably take scissors to my ripped jeans in an attempt to make this outfit and fail miserably. Her outfit was by far and away the best thing about this performance which was oddly arranged. The girls jumped in on each other's lines in a way that sounded choppy. Nicki was right when she said it was cheesy and not that enjoyable.

5. Candice Glover - "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" B+

It wasn't my favorite song choice for her. Of all the rock 'n roll songs I would have loved to see her cover, this wouldn't have been on my list. She sang the hell out of it, but she has performed much better in past weeks.

6. Amber Holcomb - "What About Love" A

Amber absolutely killed this song. Anything by Heart innately carries a high degree of difficulty for a singer.  I definitely heard aspects of Whitney Houston in her voice. It fell a little flat in the first chorus compared to her strong beginning, but she recovered quickly.  Everything about this performance worked - the arrangement, vocal, staging, fashion.

7. Angie Miller - "Bring Me To Life" B-/C+

This was a truly strange performance and I'm really not sure how to judge it or what to make of it. It was (of course) very theatrical. I think it would have worked if she had stayed at the piano and arranged the song a bit differently, but it quickly spiraled into something I'm still trying to make sense of!! Didn't love it or hate it, but I had a strong reaction!

Best of the night: Amber
Worst of the night: Lazaro