After Wednesday’s uneven evening at Detroit’s Fillmore with the top 12 boys, American Idol's semifinals continued apace this Thursday with the top 12 ladies. This too was a mixed bunch: There were some truly fantastic performances, some simply good ones, and a couple disasters that, had they taken place on Season 12, totally would have had Nicki Minaj shrieking, “Get off the stage!” This was definitely a night that separated the women from the girls, so to speak.
But how will the girls really be separated, after the first public vote of the season is tallied? Which eight girls will be voted through to the top 16 round and granted the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with next week’s illustrious guest mentor, Aretha Franklin, and which four will get no R.E.S.P.E.C.T.? Let’s discuss.
Lovey James – Lovey’s cover of OneRepublic’s “Love Runs Out” almost ran out of gas. It was more like “Lovey Runs Out,” if you will. Her performance started off in a weird key that seemed way too deep for her girlish, sweet ‘n’ squeaky voice (“It’s always risky to sing a song that starts so low,” noted Harry Connick Jr.), and there was something about the song that brought out all her grating nasal qualities. She sounded like she had a cold, or like that viral Tonight Show clip of Christina Aguilera impersonating Britney Spears. Lovey exuded a lot of eager-to-please energy onstage, but her performance ultimately came across as too pageanty, too High School Musical, too American Juniors.
Adanna Duru – Adanna was on The Voice a couple years ago and didn’t get very far, but now the 18-year-old seems more than ready for prime time. Her ballad version of Clean Bandit’s EDM smash “Rather Be” had lots of Mary J. Blige-style drama, and even though things got a little too dramatic towards the end and she lost some vocal control, this was still a strong, confident performance from a competitor that, as Jennifer Lopez put it, seemed to be “going for blood.” (I think “going for blood” is J.Lo’s own way of saying “in it to win it.”) While Harry had some issues with the second half of Adanna’s performance, he said the first half was the best he’d ever heard her sing. I think that first half was more than enough to get Adanna through to the top 16.
Alexis Gomez – This self-described “hippy Mexican hillbilly” has always been one of my favorite Season 14 girls, but I don’t think she differentiated herself enough with her version of Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead.” A sassy country lady covering another sassy country lady’s oft-covered song was just too copycat, too karaoke. I really wish Alexis had tapped into her Latin roots more — maybe even sung in Spanish again, like J.Lo advised (“La Pólvora y El Plomo” would have been amazing!) — instead of relying on a fake Southern twang that totally got her called out by Harry. That being said, Alexis is just cool in any language. I like her spunk. If she doesn’t get through, I’ll be quite triste.
Joey Cook – The squeezebox was back! Actually, I was worried that Joey’s accordion-playing would be a gimmicky distraction, but I couldn’t help but grin as she so entertainingly and inventively turned Keith Urban’s own “Somebody Like You” into something that sounded like They Might Be Giants fronted by Judy Tenuta. (Harry amusingly described Joey’s vibe thusly: “If me and Keith ever had a kid, that’s what the music would sound like.”) Keith was grinning, too; he clearly loved this unexpected oddball homage, giving Joey a standing ovation and declaring, “That’s what artists do!” Said Jennifer: “That was all the best things about you… it showcased exactly who you are.” I guess I needn’t have feared that Joey would be just a one-accordion-note novelty act. Now I’m glad she didn’t “turn off the weird,” because she does weird so very, very well.
Katherine Winston – I had high hopes for Katherine, another one of my favorites, and I thought the Taylor Swift/Civil Wars folk ballad “Safe and Sound” would be perfect for her. But now, sadly, I don’t think Katherine will be safe and sound. This performance was just such a letdown. Katherine seemed incredibly nervous, strangely muted, and completely disconnected from both the song and the audience. And why was she dressed so frumpily on her big night out? It almost seemed like she didn’t even want to be onstage. J.Lo called Katherine “captivating” and “magical,” and Keith loved Katherine’s “gorgeous tone,” but Harry questioned the song choice, which he didn’t think would make enough of an impression. I mostly agreed with Harry… and I am worried that America will, too.
Shannon Berthiaume – Shannon, one of this season’s least experienced contestants, came into her own at the end of Hollywood Week and appeared poised for a classic Idol “artistic growth” story arc. But, no. This week, after seeing her perform “Who Knew,” I realize she is more green than Pink. She almost seemed drunk during her slowed-down, mush-mouthed version of the pop-rock breakup song, as she gulped and garbled her words and trailed off her lines. (Side note: I am not saying she actually was drunk. She’s only 17. But this was a very sloppy performance.) Harry noted that Shannon’s lack of polish, compared to the other contestants, made her interesting at first, but warned her: “That novelty is probably going to wear off. You need to be more energetic, more committed to the lyrics.” Keith told Shannon it was unwise to cover someone as “challenging” as Pink, because “Pink’s songs sound like anyone can sing them… but they can’t.” Well, Shannon certainly can’t — at least not yet. She’s just not ready.
Loren Lott – Loren, should she continue on this show, is bound to be a polarizing contestant. Viewers will either love or hate her Broadway-baby theatricality. Me? I’m in sort of a love/hate situation with Loren. On the one hand, her performance of the JoJo/Charice ballad “Note to God” was unapologetically unsubtle, and she seemed inauthentic and, for lack of a better adjective, actressy as she blustered her way through it. It was also a very old-fashioned performance, very Season 3. But… this was one of the better vocals of the night, and Loren definitely knew how to work the camera, a skill that J.Lo has complained many other contestants lack. Besides, on a night when Alexis played it safe, Katherine was timid and tentative, and Shannon didn’t seem to give a damn, I had to grudgingly admire Loren for really going for it. She was going for blood, as J.Lo might say. I don’t know if I ultimately want Loren in the top 10, but I do think this performance earned her a spot in next week’s top 16.
Shi Scott – If Vote for the Worst was still around, Shi would be that site’s Season 14 posterchild. (I can even imagine the Shi caricature now.) Yes, this really was the worst performance of the night; Shi seriously made Shannon Berthiaumeseem like an old pro. Her bizarrely melody-free cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was barely recognizable, save from the “ella, ella, ella” refrain in the middle. She was groaning her way through the song (and I know I was groaning at home), and by the end, Shi was pretty much yelling, as if her lyric sheet was printed in ALL CAPS. I think there were many factors at play here, but all three judges solely blamed the song choice for Shi’s undoing. That was kind of nice of them, but a dismayed Shi still blurted out, “Oh man, that sucks!” It was human reaction, and actually an amusing one, but I am sure many viewers interpreted Shi’s unfiltered remark as ungracious and unsportswomanlike. So if Shi’s terrible performance wasn’t enough to lose her votes, then that little outburst surely sealed her fate.
Maddie Walker – There was nothing egregiously wrong with Maddie’s cover of Shania Twain’s “Love Gets Me Every Time,” but it was not standout moment. Like Lovey, she seemed like a pageant girl, and when she tried to emulate Shania’s sexy sass, it felt flat. Keith said there are other songs in the Shania catalog that would have better showcased Maddie’s balladeer strengths, and J.Lo, after telling Maddie she did not “wow America,” sent her off with a dismissive “good luck.” I think Maddie, one of only two country girls this season, still has a shot; she’ll probably make the top 16. But she needs to step it up and make wiser choices going forward.
Sarina-Joi Crowe – Sarina tried out FOUR TIMES for American Idol. Let me tell you, she was worth the wait. Here’s one contestant that’s totally ready. Sarina hit the stage like she’d been ready for her close-up for years, in fact, and she milked every second of her screentime. She worked the crowd, she worked the camera, and she gave her vocal cords quite a workout, too. I loved everything about this dynamite lady’s intensely in-the-zone performance of Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best.” The air-punch! The wink! The high-kick! And of course, the awesome, awesome vocals that J.Lo said actually rivaled Jessie’s. I can’t believe Sarina didn’t make it to the semifinals in previous seasons. I am so glad she never gave up.
Jax – OK, what the stupendous Quentin Alexander was to Wednesday’s episode, Jax was to Thursday’s. This petite rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse was my fingerless-gloved-hands-down favorite of the night. Her sublimely attitudinal, astoundingly fearless, very riot-grrrrly cover of Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” reminded me of Siobhan Magnus’s thrillingly unhinged “Paint It Black” from Season 9, but also brought to mind Garbage’s Shirley Manson, the Runaways’ Cherie Currie, and Maja Ivarsson of the Sounds. (And her hair was totally Taylor Jacobson circa The Rachel Zoe Project Season 1, too. That’s a compliment.) Jax owned the stage, and she owned the night. “I love your artistry. I love your originality. I thought that was killer,” said Keith. “We’re so lucky to have you in the competition this year. We’ll definitely be seeing you next week,” said Jennifer. I think we could be seeing Jax on the finale, actually.
Tyanna Jones – Tyanna did Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin’” — and whileI wasn’t crazy about thesong choice as a vocal showcase (it’s not a particularly rangey or difficult song), as a vehicle for Tyanna’s adorably outsized personality, the bouncy, soca-flavored ditty absolutely worked. The energy Tyanna brings to the stage is always infectious; she’s a born performer, and she’s total Idol material. Harry called Tyanna “ridiculously talented.” Jennifer raved, “That voice is just from God.” Yes, when Tyanna Jones’s lips are movin’, very good things happen.
So next week, eight of these girls will advance. Joey, Sarina, Jax, and Tyanna all seem like shoo-ins, and they’re my top four picks as well. But what about the other four? It’s a toss-up, but I’m predicting it’ll be Adanna, Loren, Maddie, and either Alexis or Katherine. (Probably Alexis, but you never know.)
Tune in next week to find out if I’m right! Until then, Parker out.