Sunday, March 31, 2013

American Idol: Top 8 - March 27, 2013

American Idol: Top 8 - March 27, 2013

Tonight's theme is technically "Songs From The Motor City", which translates into Motown. I grew up on the music of Motown so this could be a very promising theme in my opinion.

1. Candice Glover - "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" A/A-

Candice gave the song a jazzy, ad-libbed feel which was absolutely perfect, and kept this oft-performed Idol song from turning into standard karaoke. I loved the new, horn-heavy arrrangement which allowed Candice to settle into the song. I always believe Candice when she sings - which sounds like a no-brainer, but is actually rare amongst Idol contestants. This year isn't as heavy on the teenage contestants, but in years past, many of the contestants have come off very pagent-like and practiced, rather than musicians who are feeling the emotions of what they sing.

Group Performance #1 - Janelle & Kree - "Like A Prayer" B/B-

Sort of an odd song choice here, which came off a bit karaoke at parts. Nicki hit it right on the head when she said it seemed like Kree was the superstar who flew into do a duet with an Idol contestant. Kree comes off extremely natural on the stage, whereas Janelle was more pitchy and just all around "off" in this performance. That said, it was an unoffensive performance that it is hard to find a lot of fault with. It wasn't particularly memorable however.

2. Lazaro Arbos - "For Once In My Life" B-/C+

Much has been said online about Lazaro and I'll sum up my thoughts in one sentence: Lazaro is now painfully out of his element and is consistently outshined by the other contestants. It's actually getting a bit hard to watch. This was Lazaro's best performance in a little while and it was nice to see him go uptempo for at least half of the song. His voice sounded a bit strained and weak at points during the song; he's not a natural performer when it comes to "commanding the stage" as they say. There were a few highlights to the performance - "this is mine, you can't take it" and that very shiny leather coat.

3. Janelle Arthur - "You Keep Me Hangin' On" A+

I LOVED that Janelle explained she created her own arrangement to this song when she was 14. As Keith Urban pointed out, she really brought out the angst to the lyric that's deeply embedded in the cheery upbeat tempo of the song as its usually performed. It was original and haunting. I loved that the staging let her literally take "center stage", just focusing on her and the guitar. I do have to say I wish she had not gone for the "glory note" at the end, but just let the song end organically. SUBLIME.

4. Devin Velez - "The Tracks Of My Tears" B+

I was pleasantly surprised by Devin's rendition of one of my favorite Motown songs (so masterfully done by Adam Lambert in the legendary Season 8).  I was dubious at first when heard the song choice, but I quickly fell in love (or at least a really strong like) with Devin's version. I loved the falsetto and his sharp red suit jacket. However, in sharp contrast to Janelle and Candice, there was no deep emotion behind Devin's delivery. That said, it was more than enjoyable and one I'll be downloading. Devin's best performance on the show weeks - he CERTAINLY did not deserve to go home over Lazaro.

Group Performance #2: Angie, Candice, and Amber - "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" A

This was such an amazing tribute to Motown and Diana Ross & The Supremes! It was so immensely fun to watch and the girls' voices blended together so well on the chorus, while allowing each individual singer to highlight her particular style of singing. This performance should be shown to all current and future Idol contestants as a lesson on how to perform as a group.

5. Burnell Taylor - "My Cherie Amour" B

Burnell utilized a jazzy arrangement and tone to his voice for a very unique performance. Many bloggers have pointed out his strange pronunciation, adding an "m" to the end of each line. I didn't notice this the first time I watched his performance, but it's very distracting to be made aware of on subsequent listening! This was a competent and interesting performance, but not one that will really stick with me too much. I would have liked to see him move a bit to the beat and really try to "perform" more than he has, since the song is an uptempo (or at the very least, midtempo).

6. Angie Miller - "Shop Around" B-

I love that she tried a rock arrangement to this song - it had the potential to make it exciting and fresh. But something just did not work throughout this whole performance and I'm struggling to put my finger on it. Maybe it's that she's not believable as a rock singer or that her delivery really did not match the arrangement. She sounded a bit breathy and "off" throughout the song. I really wanted to like this much more than I did.

7. Amber Holcomb - "Lately" A-/B+

Amber is an amazing singer, but she doesn't excite me when she performs. I don't anticipate her performances like I would with Candice, Kree, or even Angie. (Also - I hate to say it, but Stevie Wonder songs are more than overplayed on Idol. WHY hasn't anyone sang "I Just Called To Say I Love You", BY FAR the best Stevie song?!?) Amber has what I would describe as a "crazy amazing voice", but I just found this performance a bit sleepy and similar to all her past performances. My grade is more based on technical merit than true emotion.

Group Performance #3: Devin, Burnell, & Lazaro - "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" D-

It's been a long time since I've seen a performance on Idol that can only be described as "TRAIN WRECK". This was absymal. I noticed that the camera panned away from Lazaro quite a few times, probably to take away from the fact that he didn't know the very simple side-to-side choreography and had to keep looking over at the other two guys. Lazaro completely forgot the words and there was an entire line where no one sang. Poor Devin definitely picked up a lot of Lazaro's dropped lines. But this was pretty absymal for a live Top 8 Idol performance.

8. Kree Harrison - "Don't Play That Song" B+

Kree makes it look so absolutely effortless I don't even know if people understand the degree of difficulty behind everything she does. I wasn't a huge fan of this song and would have loved to hear her take on a lot of other songs in lieu of this one. Her voice sounded amazing however!

Best of the night: Janelle
Worst of the night: Lazaro

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

American Idol: Top 9 - March 20, 2013

March 20, 2013: Top 9 - Lennon-McCartney Songbook

1. Kree Harrison - "With A Little Help From My Friends" A

I love the choices Kree makes with her phrasing, with her notes, with everything about her singing. She put a country feel on the song that was perfect in its intensity - not too subtle but not overwhelming. Kree makes her singing looking effortless (no easy task at her skill level) and infuses all her song choices with unbridled emotion that is never overdone or false. I also love the rock-inspired makeover she's been given - she is on her way to being a huge star. I love to see an "Idol Journey TM" unfold on the show. I can't wait to hear the original material Kree will hopefully record.

2. Burnell Taylor - "Let It Be" A-/B+

Burnell has really grown on me over the past 2 weeks. I find myself always intrigued by his vocal, listening carefully to all of the inflections and tone. There were a few unpleasant notes in Burnell's cover of "Let It Be", but overall it captured my attention and held it there. I hope Burnell will be around next week because he's someone I am genuinely interested in hearing sing.

3. Amber Holcomb - "She's Leaving Home" A-/B+

Amber has a HUGE voice and I hear traces of Whitney Houston in every song she sings. I have to commend Amber for choosing a lesser-known Beatles song, which prevented me from comparing it to past Idol performances. I could really hear the emotion in her voice as she delivered the song. Yet something prevented me from absolutely loving this performance as much as I loved Kree's. I don't think she's as dynamic a performer as the other girls which may lead to an early exit for her.

4. Lazaro Arbos - "In My Life" C

I was shocked by Lazaro's reaction to extremely mild criticism from the judges. What would Simon Cowell have said in his heyday about this performance? Lazaro delivered another sub-par performance that was sadly forgettable. It wasn't awful by any means, and perhaps that's what makes it forgettable - neither a good nor bad showing.  I heard a Spanish accent in a few of his phrases - I would love to hear him sing a song in Spanish. Based on this performance, he should be going home tomorrow, but I know he won't.

5. Candice Glover - "Come Together" A

I could not even write any notes down during this performance because I was rocking out too much. Let's be real: if Candice does not win this entire show, I don't even know what I'm going to do with myself. This was a dynamic rock star performance. She knows how to command a stage AND sing uptempo. In a sea of ballads, Candice's performance was more than welcome. I absolutely adored that high note and how much fun the band seemed to be having behind her. I could watch this performance again and again - it's the opposite of my review below of Paul.

6. Paul Jolley - "Eleanor Rigby" B

The staging for this song reminded me so strongly of "Phantom of the Opera". I could really see Paul on Broadway or the stage in some way. In no way, shape, or form is Paul a country star. I know that "going the country lane" is popular these days as a way to sell records, or particularly for new artists who are looking to attract fans (Danny Gokey, I'm looking at you). But Paul doesn't have any authenticity in this lane and I have a feeling hard-core country fans will reject him. Paul didn't have very much connection to his lyrics in this performance, and thus, I didn't feel a connection with him or his singing. While the vocal was pretty good, I'd rather listen to the recording of Paul singing than actually watch him.

7. Angie Miller - "Yesterday" A-

I liked that she started the song at such a high pitch - it was fresh and different from other cover versions I've heard of this song. I loved the style makeover tonight with the straight hair and the black leather outfit. Yet - I'm still trying to figure out what type of CD Angie will make. Christian rock? Singer/songwriter? Piano? Rock/pop? I guess the beauty of this show is that by trying different themes and genres, she can figure that out as well. Although Idol's gotten away from their craziest theme weeks (remember Big Band Week from Season 1?), there are still a wide variety of themes to choose from. Her voice sounded beautiful and it was definitely a memorable performance.

8. Devin Velez - "The Long & Winding Road" B

Devin never turns in a bad vocal performance. But he never turns in an exciting one ever. They've all blurred together for me into one. I would love to listen to an album of his cover songs while I'm getting ready for bed, but I could never play it in the car because I'd be afraid it would lull me to sleep. I always know what sort of performance I'll get from Devin, which earns him a remarkable grade for consistency and sounding pleasant to the ear. But on a show like this, that's not going to inspire the power-texters to vote for you.

9. Janelle Arthur - "I Will" A/A-

Janelle's performance tonight was miles better than last week's performance. I was glad to hear a performance from her that was worthy of the endless hype she's been getting from the show's producer. She looked beautiful tonight and was styled perfectly. The arrangement of the song - heavy on the violin - was great. Her vocal seemed effortless and endlessly pretty. This was the moment where she felt like an already established star to me and not an American Idol contestant.

Best of the night: Candice
Worst of the night: Lazaro

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

American Idol: Top 10 - March 13, 2013

Top 10 - "Songs From The Idol Winners" - March 13, 2013

The journey continues! This is my 5th consecutive year blogging American Idol and I'm still more excited than ever to do it. This year's judging panel has been a welcome change from the sleepy panels of the past 3 seasons. I had no idea what to expect at the outset of the season, but all 3 new judges have brought something different to the table and have managed insightful or at least interesting critiques. Even Randy has offered a few nuggets of wisdom in between "she wants it, Ryan!", "in it to win it", and "you can sing anything". So I'm hopeful for this season and hoping that Candice, Angela, or Kree will be the last one standing.

Tonight's theme featured the current contestants singing songs that were either by or had been performed by past Idol winners while they were on the show. The represented idols tonight were Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, and Ruben Studdard.

1. Curtis Finch Jr. - "I Believe" (coronation song by Fantasia) D+

I honestly can't get past Curtis's smarmy performing style and attitude. Also, what on earth was that red paisley suit jacket? Is there an alternate universe in which this is considered stylish? Let me know, I never want to visit there. The vocal was subpar and overbaked, like cheese that's been left in the oven too long. The falsetto on "strive to be my very best" seemed calculated and poorly executed. It's also way too early in the season for a full-on gospel choir - we're only at the top 10 for God's sake.

For a far superior cover of the Fantasia song, check out Joshua Ledet's cover from last season:

2. Janelle Arthur - "Gone" (by Montgomery Gentry, sung by Scotty McCreery) C+

Janelle looked great and really commanded the stage as a performer. Unfortunately, her vocals weren't quite up to par - listening to the song back without the accompanying visual makes this painfully clear. The song has a snarl and a fast cadence that Scotty performed masterfully back in Season 10 (I gave Scotty an A- on his first performance and an A on the repeat for the finale night). Janelle has not lived up to her hype so far, which is a shame, because I can see how desperately the show wants to crown her its next champion. Her vocals seemed out of breath at times. That said, a vast improvement from her Lady Antebellum and Elvis covers over the past 2 weeks.

3. Devin Velez - "Temporary Home" (Carrie Underwood) C

It was really interesting to hear this song sung by a male voice, but the novelty wore off quickly as there were only a few bright spots throughout Devin's performance, such as the chorus. A lot of the performance fell flat. I wanted to like this so badly but I could not, as it seemed very amateur. Shockingly, I agreed with Randy that the contestants need to use every opportunity, every performance to win the show. There is really no safety net, no chance to have an "off night". Yes, there is the Judges' Save, but no contestant should bank on that ever. A very bland performance by Devin.

4. Angie Miller - "I Surrender" (by Celine Dion, sung by Kelly Clarkson) B+

A very beautiful performance but something was a bit lacking for me that prevented me from putting it in the "A" range. Angela should be careful about pushing her voice too hard in certain areas of the song. I think what did it for me was that this Celine cover was not as good as her absolutely amazing A+ performance last week of Colton Dixon's "Never Gone", a performance she brought purpose and passion to.

5. Paul Jolley - "Amazed" (by Lonestar, sung by Scotty McCreery) C

This performance bored me to tears. And yes, you can say it's a saccharine song and maybe that's why I found it boring, but of course, I love this song. It's not the song. It's Paul's infinitely boring stage presence and delivery. There is nothing about Paul that stands out to me unfortunately, and above all, I do not buy him as a country singer. It's not as though he sung the song badly, don't get me wrong, but there was absolutely nothing interesting or distinctive about it. AT ALL.

6. Candice Glover - "I (Who Have Nothing)" (by Ben E. King, sung by Jordin Sparks [AND HALEY REINHART - never forget!]) A+

This was to die for amazing. How many words can I use to describe this powerhouse performance? The passion and emotion with which she infuses every performance seems effortless - that's how believable Candice is as a singer. There was equal parts of longing and anger in Candice's version of the song ("bright sparkling diamonds" - wow, I die). If Candice Glover is not this year's American Idol, I will undoubtedly end up throwing things at the TV. This performance was hands down the best of the night and I can only hope Candice stays around for many more weeks!!

Haley's unbelievable version:

7. Lazaro Arbos - "Breakaway" (by Kelly Clarkson) B-/C+

Lazaro was visibly nervous tonight, and I'm not the kind of person who usually notices these things, so that's really saying something. He seemed uncomfortable on the stage and it really showed through in his performance. I've never been a fan of this midtempo Kelly Clarkson classic, despite it being released during my formative year (2004). I like Lazaro but I wish I liked his performances more. On a singing competition, he is going to get eaten alive. He let the back up singers carry him on this song for an underwhelming performance that will likely be quickly forgotten.

8. Kree Harrison - "Cryin'" (by Roy Orbison, sung by Carrie Underwood) A

Wow. This is one I would love to download and listen to over and over. Kree's voice is achingly gorgeous and she fully embodies the emotion in whatever song she is singing. Her voice sounded more than perfect on the refrain. I am a bit worried Kree makes it look almost too easy - the talent she has is not easy to come by however and she should be rewarded for making songs with a high level of difficulty look effortless. I would be more than happy if Kree won this season.

9. Burnell Taylor - "Flying Without Wings" (coronation song by Ruben Studdard) A-

Full disclosure: I did NOT want to like Burnell's performance. I haven't enjoyed many of his past performances and fully expected to give this one a low letter grade. But, I've always been a sucker for sappy Idol coronation songs (yes, including "No Boundaries", well sort of). Burnell's deep tone sounded unbelievable and he did a wonderful job with the song.

10. Amber Holcomb - "A Moment Like This" (coronation song by Kelly Clarkson) A-/B+

Amber's vocal sounded a bit sped up in comparison to the music which threw me off my enjoyment of her song. Clearly she has a great voice, but I'm not sure I heard the emotional connection to the song here. I'll have to disagree with the judges here - Amber was definitely not the best of the night - Candice, Kree, and Burnell (in that order) were far better.

Best of the night: Candice
Worst of the night: Curtis Finch Jr.