American Idol: The top 13 guys perform
I'm with Steven Tyler: I'll take dark chocolate over white any day of the week, but what I especially can't abide is vanilla. And it felt like we got almost an entire two hours of that on the first live American Idol performance show of Season 11.
There were a few shots of flavour here and there, but mostly it was weird song choices, uninspired delivery and ra ra commentary in place of judging.
When Jennifer Lopez said, while commenting on Jeremy Rosado's performance, "I'm drawn in and I forget that I'm on a show and I'm judging anything," she could have been describing virtually her entire tenure on the series so far.
Randy Jackson told the media near the beginning of the month that they would see a change in JLo and Steven Tyler, that they would be "a little more stern" with contestants.
Oh puhleeze. Steven used the word "beautiful" at least eight times on Tuesday and threw in one "stupendous" for good measure.
Among JLo's critiques was telling country singer Chase Likens, "Tonight is about showing America who you are and you definitely did that with that song" after he sang a country tune. And they're paying her how many million a season for insight like that?
Randy, meanwhile, has taken his role as senior judge to heart and started acting like a moderator, inviting Jennifer and Steven to speak while adding nothing substantive to the commentary in his own right.
As for the singing, well, it's the first live show so I suppose allowances have to be made for nerves and inexperience. On the other hand, it's the first live show and more than half of these guys will be gone by next week, so why in heaven's name aren't they singing like their lives depend on it?
Here's how I rated the performances:
Joshua Ledet: Jacob Lusk left such a bad taste in my mouth last season that I've become wary of vocal gymnastics, but Joshua can do the runs without falling off the edge like Jacob often did. He was one of the few who performed as if he believed in what he was singing (the song was Jennifer Hudson's "You Pull Me Through") and probably the only one whose standing ovation from the judges was truly deserved.
Jermaine Jones: When you think about it, Jermaine was the only logical choice of the four names floated for the mystery callback by the judges. Richie Law's too derivative and too annoying; Johnny Keyser didn't make enough of a mark in Hollywood and Vegas; and David Leathers Jr. is young enough to keep trying. There wasn't one false note in Jermaine's version of Luther Vandross's "Dance With My Father." I just wish Ryan Seacrest had let him stand on his own two feet and not brought Jermaine's mother out onstage for yet another reminder of what a mama's boy this 25-year-old is.
Jeremy Rosado: I wasn't a big Jeremy fan early in the competition, but I'm starting to think he has one of the purest voices this season. His rendition of Sara Bareilles' "Gravity" was heartfelt and well sung, if slightly sibilant. He seems like a really nice kid, too, so hopefully he won't get overlooked for the preteen girl bait. He gets extra points from me for being one of the few contestants who didn't prowl the catwalk reaching out for girls' hands as he sang.
Phillip Phillips: First off, why Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"? There's nothing about that song that seems a natural fit for Phil's growly vocals. Secondly, with the arrangement slowed down and dominated by a sax, it seemed alternately dream-like and dirge-like. Yet that big guttural "Yeah" at the end made it all worthwhile. In a rare example of a judge actually judging, Randy said he wasn't crazy about the "reharm," i.e. reharmonization of the melody.
Aaron Marcellus: Does Aaron have a good voice? Sure. Did he push it anywhere near its limits on the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye"? Not even close. So why were the judges jumping out of their seats?It was respectable but not particularly moving, so I have no idea what Steven was talking about when he said Aaron had raised the bar for himself.
Reed Grimm: I have generally gravitated to the more quirky singers on Idol, like Siobhan Magnus and Casey Abrams, but there's quirk and then there's quirk overload. Reed's show-opening performance was the latter. "Moves Like Jagger" is a pretty cheesy song to begin with, but the catchy melody makes it bearable (at least for me). By turning it into a slowed-down jazz ditty, complete with incongruous drum solo, Reed increased the cheese but cut the catchiness. I still like his voice a lot and hope he makes it through to next week.
Chase Likens: What can I say about Chase? He's nice-looking and he has a pleasant voice. But his "Storm Warning" seemed more like "Light Breeze Watch" to me. Steven seems to think he's this season's cougar bait, telling him he looks like Brendan Fraser from The Mummy movies and "you're gonna set some hearts on fire, some mommies at home."
Heejun Han: Maybe Heejun's not as good a singer as I thought he was and I've just been blinded by his wit (Wednesday's line: "Tonight I'm going to show the world that Asian people can not only get a high score on SAT; an Asian can also sing and melt their heart"). Certainly, he did nothing particularly interesting vocally with "Angel" and his stand-and-deliver style was boring. If his personality gets him through to next week, hopefully he'll pick a better song.
Creighton Fraker: I suspect Creighton will be one of the unlucky ones next week, a suspicion Jennifer seemed to allude to when she said, "With a voice like that, I don't want you to go home." On the bright side, Creighton dialled down the usual histrionics on Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," but he didn't do anything fresh with it either, contrary to what Steven said. The ending was quite nice, though.
Colton Dixon: I might have rated Colton a little higher if not for the affectations during his performance. He said during his pre-song interview he was "gonna shock a few people," which apparently meant getting up from behind the piano during Paramore's "Decode" and doing what I call Durbin lite, with some rock star posing on the catwalk and a leap onto the piano. Both JLo and Steven praised him as being a "relevant artist," which I guess means doing something the kids might want to download.
Adam Brock: Adam dragged out his "I have been told there is a large black woman trapped inside of my body" line again and called himself, apparently unironically, "white chocolate." If the black woman part is true, she must have been dying to get out so she could slap him upside the head for that tepid rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Think." Black woman, my ass. Dull white guy is more like it.
Deandre Brackensick: This is one calculating young fellow. Everything from the falsetto notes to the hair flips to the reaching out to the girls in the audience to the side glances at the camera seemed very contrived. Apparently, he sang Earth, Wind and Fire's "Reasons." I couldn't make out any lyrics, so I couldn't really tell. But the judges all seem to be head over heels for him as no doubt will be many of the young girls watching.
Eben Franckewitz: Sweet as Eben is, he was way over his head with Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain." It needs a big, bold voice to pull it off, but instead we got tentative, occasionally flat vocals that seemed in danger of being drowned out by the orchestration. The judges at least acknowledged the pitch problems in what seemed more of a pep talk than a critique. "Shake it off a little bit," Steven advised him.
So were you as underwhelmed as I was with the first live show of the season? Were you happy to see Jermaine return? Comment here, tweet me @realityeo or visit my Facebook page.
(The photos of Joshua and Reed are by Michael Becker for Fox.)