This year’s American Idol semifinals round is shaping up to have more unexpected twists and turns than an entire season of Jennifer Lopez’s Shades of Blue. (OK, admittedly, that’s not the most appropriate analogy. I’ve never even seen that show. Is it still on the air?)
This is what I’m trying to say: After initial spoilers indicating that only two of this season’s top 10 finalists, the “Wild Cards,” would be elected by America – and that J.Lo and her fellow judges would pick the other eight – Fox’s powers-that-be apparently decided to make Idol a democracy again. Sort of.
True, Season 15 is hardly on par with past seasons, when the voting lines opened during the top 24 or even top 36 round. But at least now viewers will get to choose six, not two, of this season’s top 10 finalists. On Wednesday, the judges utilized their “Fast Pass” power to automatically advance four of the top 14 contestants, and then the remaining 10 contestants competed for America’s vote for the first time this season.
As for the four “Fast Pass” singers announced on Wednesday, I can’t really quibble with the judges’ unanimous decision. Three of my top picks of the entire season (punk-pop Broadway baby Dalton Rapattoni, Kelly-Clarkson-in-training Olivia Rox, and Southern indie-soul crooner Trent Harmon) made the cut, along with, thankfully, La’Porsha Renae – this year’s only R&B diva, one of Season 15’s straight-up best belters, and one of the few contestants who doesn’t seem like she just graduated from middle school and is trying out for American Juniors. These four contenders would have had my vote anyway. So… good job, J.Lo and company! Thanks for not messing that one up.
As for the other six I’ll actually be voting for this week, they are, in alphabetical order but for very different reasons: Jenn Blosil, MacKenzie Bourg (I’m actually surprised he didn’t get a Fast Pass), Tristan McIntosh, Jeneve Rose Mitchell, Thomas Stringfellow, and Avalon Young.
Yep, that’s a lot of indie – an assortment of my usual favorite Guys With Guitars and Quirky Girls – so I doubt I’ll totally get my way. But if I did get magically, miraculously get my way, Season 15 would be the most Reality Rocks-ish Idol season ever. And wouldn’t that be a nice farewell present to me, after all the nights I’ve sacrificed (cue Amelia Eisenhauer’s tiniest violin) to blog this show since 2007, when this column started?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After the “Fast Pass” announcement at the top of Wednesday’s hour-long episode, there were 10 more performances to power through in the remaining 56 minutes. These performances were somewhat anticlimactic, since they were all reprises of previous numbers; I would have much preferred if the contestants had showcased new sides of themselves. But, like I said before, I don’t always get my way when it comes to Idol.
Here’s how it went…
Manny did “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder. It wasn’t a blast. It was a competent karaoke performance. He didn’t impress me the first time he did this, and he didn’t impress me now. I think Manny should just be happy that, no matter what, he’ll go down in history as the final golden ticket recipient in Idol history. But now it’s time for him to go.
When Gianna did “I Put a Spell on You” last week, it was vocally great, but lacking the grit, mystique, and element of danger that this devilish, creepy Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic requires. This week, I have to say, Gianna dug a bit deeper. She wasn’t exactly at a Quentin Alexander or Casey Abrams level (and don’t even get me started on what the unimpeachable Annie Lennox can do with this song), but she seemed to have a better understanding of the song’s lyrics. This was a moodier, more vibey, more mature attempt, with her cutesy pageanty smiling mostly under control. I was impressed with her quick progress. Maybe there’s potential for Gianna after all… if she makes it through.
Thomas hit the stage warbling One Direction’s “Story of My Life” like he was auditioning to be Zayn Malik’s replacement. It was too pure pop for my tastes. I missed his guitar; I wasn’t into his Bieber-wear (my gurl Avalon Young pulls off that look much better); and I really wish he’d reprised Radiohead’s “Creep” instead. (The recently dumped Thomas shines on angst-y ballads, not on peppy boy-band fare.) “Cracking almost every note at the end, you have to stop. It’s too much, all the time, unless you’re the lead singer for the Cranberries,” grunted Harry Connick Jr. All right, that settles it – if Thomas makes it through to the top 10 (and I’m still rooting for him, although I’m worried now), then he totally needs to do “Zombie” next week.
After last week’s two awkward, tarted-up, manic pop-country performances, Tristan got back to what she does best – weeper ballads, dedicated to her military mom – with Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most.” This was the Tristan that America will vote for. She looked and sounded gorgeous – the judges said she was better than ever, in fact – and with this, she basically secured her spot in the top 10 and beyond. If Tristan had done “Good Girl” this week, I’d be very concerned for her, but she delivered the right performance at the right time.
I really wish there’d been five Fast Passes this week. Because if Avalon isn’t in the top 10 this year, this season is going to have a lot less swag. It’s basically be swagger-free. Seriously, look up “swag” in your Funk ‘N’ Wagnalls, and you’ll see a screenshot of Avalon’s charismatic, confident, crazysexycool rendition of Chris Brown’s “Yo (Excuse Me Miss),” which Jennifer called “smooth like buttah.” I adore this girl.
OK, first of all, can we please talk about Jenn’s utterly awesome press-on glitter eyebrows? They were beautiful like a rainbow, just like the “True Colors” song she sang this week. Cyndi Lauper would even approve. But will mainstream America approve? I sincerely hope that the disco caterpillars on Jenn’s face didn’t distract voters from her exquisite performance this Wednesday, which Harry Connick Jr. called a “flawless lyric delivery.”
Lee, a 15-year-old going on 12, just didn’t have the bluster and bravado to do Ed Sheeran’s fiery “Make It Rain” justice. Props to the talented kid for playing guitar – something very few contestants did Wednesday, oddly – but nothing about this performance, which Keith Urban grinningly dismissed as “laid-back,” really grabbed me. This was merely pleasant, when it needed to be powerful.
Sonika is without a doubt one of this season’s strongest vocalists; few other contestants this season could pull off belting Celine Dion’s “I Surrender.” (Thomas Stringfellow would’ve cracked all over the place!) But she’s just so bland and blank onstage. There’s no passion, no emotion, no depth. And you know, I’ll take an imperfect but interesting voice-cracker over a proficient technician any day. J.Lo said she got goosies on her face after this performance, but the only thing on my face was an expression as vacant as Sonika’s. I was unmoved.
Jeneve Rose Mitchell
Haters, back off. I love me some JRM. She’s the real deal. Yes, she’s a total spaz and so weird she makes Jenn Blosil look like Sonika Vaid, but she’s weird weird in the best and most authentic way. I love how she just goes for it. In a self-conscious era when most 15-year-olds obsess over how many “likes” their Instagram selfies rack up, Jeneve is unapologetically, awesomely herself and doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. (Maybe more teens should live off-the-grid?) Her cover of Johnny Cash’s June Carter-penned “Ring of Fire” was fascinating and strange and full of wild-eyed passion – everything Sonika’s staid performance was not. But, as Harry warned, it was also very polarizing. I fear the country fans that may have voted for the previously eliminated Shelbie Z. or Emily Brooke will switch their allegiance to Tristan McIntosh, and not “get” Jeneve’s throwback Hee-Haw vibe.
MacKenzie didn’t get a Fast Pass, but he got the pimp spot and an opportunity to reprise his own original song, “Roses,” so he came out of this show a winner anyway. There’s no way the girls won’t be voting for MacKenzie this week. He’s like if Kris Allen and Phillip Phillips had a baby and named him Alex Preston Jr. And “Roses” is a damn good song, too. It’ll be coming up roses for MacKenzie on Thursday’s results show.
So, on Thursday, the semi-democratically elected top 10 will at long last be revealed, and the real competition will at long last truly begin. Will my picks make it? Will yours? We shall soon see. We’ll also see guest judge Kelly Clarkson, which is going to rule no matter what the actual results are.
Until then, Parker out.