“American Idol” Goes Through The Looking Glass

Mar 4th, 2009 // 20 Comments

A performance of “Hey There Delilah” being my favorite of the night. Von Smith not being annoying. An 18-year-old with a neck tattoo. Last night’s American Idol, in which the last third of the Top 36 competed for America’s phoned-in affections, was full of odd things, and made me wonder just how the other two episodes airing this week—tonight’s finalist announcement and tomorrow’s Wild Card round—would out-weird the two hours that aired last night. Rankings and reactions after the jump!

12. Alex Wagner-Trugman. Imagine going to a karaoke bar and being forced to watch a guy who was tipsy on a lite beer and a half sing “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” and who was suddenly emboldened to embellish certain lyrics and gallivant around the stage so much that he knocks over the microphone stand. Yeah. I guess he figured that he had no chance, so he should perform in such a way that would get him noticed by the Internet?

11. Kristen McNamara. The beauty of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” is its minimalism. Turning it into a version appropriate for a wedding band’s dinner music not only torpedoes the song’s reason for being, it makes the singer seem much older and more… tawdry, I guess?

10. Taylor Vaifanua. Didn’t she perform Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” at Hollywood Week? This version was pitched just differently enough for the lower register to give her problems. She hit the glory note, which I guess was the reason for the recalibrating, but there were no other high points in her performance.

9. Kendall Beard. The adjective “pageanty” was invented to describe every aspect of her performance, from her Big Bird bubble dress to her bottle-blonde hair to her cheesetastic performance of a Martina McBride song, which was accentuated by a botched glory note. Blech.

8. Nathaniel Marshall. Was too distracted from his capable, if sorta boring, performance of Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”: “Isn’t this kid 18 years old? How does he already have a neck tattoo?” I guess people have to stand out in any way they can.

7. Arianna Afsar. Protip: Don’t sing songs about winners taking it all until you’re through to the top six. Although it’s exciting that Abba is now in the Idol mix—let’s see a “Waterloo” group-sing on Wild Card night!

6. Felicia Barton. The last-minute replacement muffed a couple of notes on her overly exuberant version of “No One,” but I’m going to hazard a guess that she’s a lock for at least one more performance; if she doesn’t make it into the Top 12, she’s definitely going to make it into the Wild Card round, judging by the judges’ bubbling over her Comeback Kid status.

5. Scott MacIntyre. What is with the dreary song choices? Seriously, my theory that the backing band for these semifinals was picked up from Freddy’s Wedding Band Emporium is being borne out by songs like Bruce Hornsby’s nice-on-the-radio, not-for-a-one-shot-performance “Mandolin Rain.” A lock to make it through to the Top 12, what with the judges saying they can’t wait to see him next week and falling at his feet to be condescending toward him, not to mention him lapping the competition on DialIdol.

4. Von Smith. Bigmouth didn’t strike again this week (he said in his pre-performance package that he didn’t want people to think he was yelling at them!), and his version of “You’re All I Need To Get By” was capable. A little straight-laced, which no doubt inspired Simon’s comparison between him and Clay.

3. Jorge Nunez. His version of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was more inspired by George Michael than Elton John, but who’s to complain about that? Also he was the recipient of some crazy accent-related comments from Paula, and I suspect the producers will feel bad enough about that to let him perform in the Wild Card round on Thursday.

2. Lil Rounds. This week’s recipient of the pimp spot—the final spot on the show, right before Ryan officially opens the phone/text lines—will definitely sail through to the Top 12, thanks to weak performances by pretty much every woman in the field and her being fawned all over by the judges. But if you’re going to take on Mary J. Blige, shouldn’t you be able to match her lower register as well as her glory notes? (Plus, her changing a line to a plea for phone calls was cheesy enough for her to be docked.)

1. Ju’Not Joyner. In theory, turning the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah” into a Quiet Storm track is a somewhat interesting idea. In practice? Sure, it’s better than the original, but I would have much rather heard his voice—which I like a lot!—take on something like “Piano In The Dark.” Perhaps in the coming weeks?

WHO I WOULD HAVE VOTED FOR: Ju’Not, Jorge. (Lil kind of doesn’t need my call.)

WHO’S GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH: Lil, Jorge, Scott.

REVEALING DIOGUARDISM OF THE NIGHT: “We don’t know about that, Simon. America is still voting.” — Kara on Alex’s chances for coming back, even though she didn’t like him very much. Someone’s still bitter about “Disturbia” being popular!

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  1. Rob Murphy

    Any word on whether Kara has yet found out what it’s like to go shopping with Taylor???

  2. Anonymous

    Putting Arianna at #7 is generous. Those runs were painfully out of tune.

    I am irritated with their pandering over the (really average) blind guy, but chuckled at how frequently all of the judges used the word *see* in their comments.

  3. righteousmaelstrom

    If Scott McIntyre were not blind, ain’t no way he would have made it out of Hollywood. There, I said it.

  4. Maura Johnston

    @whoneedslight: the abba song may have resulted in some grade inflation.

  5. brasstax

    @righteousmaelstrom: And you’re absolutely right.

    I like Ju’Not and Felicia both, but I doubt they make it through tonight (perhaps tomorrow). I was really really impressed with Jorge and, of course, Lil Rounds though. Especially glad there were a number of performances better than Nathaniel’s, because my biggest worry last night was that guy getting through.

  6. Audif Jackson Winters III

    Someone please tell Kara to stop pounding the judge’s table with her fists. There’s a microphone on that desk.

  7. Rory B. Bellows

    I voted for Alex more than I have ever voted for anyone. I really liked his personality. And I am already really tired of feeling like I am being manipulated this season. (We get it, you want Danny, the Vampire and Lil to be the final three. Sure thing, AI.)

    On that note, how do we think the new format will alter the normal backlash that develops against the chosen contestants? Most years there is one uber-pimped contestant, but a few others that get extra attention. This might take some of the focus off the chosen one some weeks, and slow down the backlash. This year, there is clearly one person that they are pimping each episode and it seems like the groups are even broken up to highlight one particular person. Will the lack of other pimpees each night speed up the resentment? Or have they created 3 “stars” of the season instead of 1. Will the 3 stars keep the backlash in check?

    Also, in past seasons, they only get rid of 1-2 contestants a week. People supporting these 1-2 singers have time to be absorbed into the fan base of other singers. By dumping 6 a night, will the people that voted for those 6 be invested enough to pick a new horse? And, perhaps more importantly, will the people supporting those six blame that night’s pimped singer for their contestant’s downfall. Will it permanently turn them off of the pimpee — speeding up the backlash at 3-6 times the normal rate?

    Personally, I am leaning towards speeding up the process. I hate the 3 final singers earlier than I have hated the front runner in past years.

  8. Audif Jackson Winters III

    Also, my favorite comment of the night was Paula’s observation that Nathaniel’s take on “I Would Do Anything … ” was “like Boy George doing that song.”

  9. Rory B. Bellows

    @Rory B. Bellows: Correction — dumping 8 per week after factoring in the wild card.

  10. Anonymous

    If I’d voted, it’d have been for Alex, definitely. There’s just something about him; maybe I see a little of myself in him.

    Lil was the only other contestant from last night I gave half a damn about. Come on, Wild Card Round!

  11. fabulousrobots

    @Rory B. Bellows: I am sick of the manipulation too. It’s so obvious this year. The reviews they give people are very deliberate.
    I almost voted for Alex, because he does seem like a cool kid, but ultimately picked Nathaniel because he’s the last person the judges would like to go through. I think he makes them uncomfortable, and I really hated how Ryan made him go over to Simon. He seems sweet and genuine.
    I miss Carly. A lot.

  12. bcapirigi

    Glad Lil got the last spot. That was probably because America seems to only like white people this year, and I really didn’t want Jasmine Murray to be in the wild card round just because.

  13. Maura Johnston

    @fabulousrobots: i miss jason. and crazy brooke, too.

  14. Anonymous

    Sorry guys, but I’m not looking forward to “Lil Rounds” Mary Jin’ her way to the top. Yes she’s loud, but is there really anything special about her? They compare her to Fantasia all the time, but Fantasia was a lot more original(on the show anyway). And go ahead and give me crap, I thought Scott was pretty good last night. Sure he’ll get some sympathy votes, but he sang that song well and I don’t even like Bruce Hornsby. I also enjoyed Ju’Not’s perfomance. Didn’t they show him doing the same song during Hollywood Week?

  15. Audif Jackson Winters III

    I liked Scott. I thought he demonstrated some actual emotion.

  16. Anonymous

    lol @ “pimpee,” which i need to incorporate into my daily conversation.

  17. Anonymous

    I like Scott fine as a person, but jesus, dude’s not a solid, unquavering enough vocalist to still be in this competition. When he’s grinding on runs he’s pretty amazing, but everything else makes me go “he’s only here cuz he’s blind.”

  18. Chris Molanphy

    As Maura suggested, I voted for Ju’Not and Jorge.

    Last night was actually my favorite of the three semifinal shows, by far. Song choices weren’t nearly as horrible as in the past two weeks, and the pimping of Lil Rounds didn’t feel as egregious to me. Also, I could think of five or six people I’d consider acceptable in the Top 12 (basically, the Top 6 above); I wouldn’t say that about the previous weeks.

    Maura’s ranking is mostly right-on. I’d swap Kristen for Arianna — that was a misbegotten performance all-around. Totally agreed about Kristen’s ridiculous song choice on the Chapman track, and I wanted to hate it, but it was a decent, fully on-key performance, if an nonsensical one. Mostly, I want Kristen to go down in flames because I firmly believe she was the instigator of trouble in her Hollywood week group (and Drama Queen Nathaniel fanned the flames), not the person who got ousted — I felt for her.

    I’d also probably swap Lil Rounds for Jorge or even Von. I’m actually with antistar2000: I like Lil Rounds personally, and she has pipes, but I agree that the Mary J. performance was wildly overrated. I noticed a couple of the judges tempering their comments on the actual perf of “Be Without You.” Never mind that the original recording can’t be improved upon; Lil’s take often bordered on shouty (which Mary is on the original, but on her it works, as always). And good on Maura for calling her out on the low notes.

    I have mixed feelings on Scott. righteousmaelstrom has a point, but I think the judges were sincere about wanting to have him behind a piano again. I must say, the kid knows his wheelhouse: first Billy Joel, then Bruce Hornsby? How many more midtempo singing piano players is he going to make his way through before it’s all over? Ben Folds, brace yourself…

  19. righteousmaelstrom

    @raycummings: It’s certainly not a performance that should make you the top male vote getter.

  20. righteousmaelstrom

    @Chris Molanphy: Agreed on Kristen’s performance — that Chapman track is a I-IV-V chord arrangement with a couple of key changes. It’s certainly not something that inherently would be a good match for vocal acrobatics.

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