Last week when the top 24 were announced on "American Idol," it was revealed that there would in fact be a top TWENTY-FIVE this season, with a 13th boy added to the mix after the judges supposedly experienced a last-minute change of heart. But we would not know who this mysterious bonus boy was until this Tuesday, when "Idol" aired its first live competitive show of the season. Of course, it was obvious that this was a just a gimmick to increase ratings...but what a smart gimmick it was!
So, would it be controversial cowboy Richie Law, who would come back to stir up TV drama and annoy his arch nemesis, Heejun Han? Would it be hunky cougar-baiter waiter Johnny Keyser, an early favorite that many fans were surprised to see get cut so early? Or would it be boy wonder David Leathers Jr., who I personally think should have never been passed over for Eben Franckewitz?
No one knew, supposedly not even the judges or the other contestants, until this Tuesday night. But then finally, at the end of the top 13 boys' episode, the stage doors dramatically parted, and out walked...Jermaine Jones.
Most. Anti-Climactic. Idol. Moment. Ever. To borrow Steven Tyler's latest catchphrase, I was as confused as a baby in a topless bar.
Nothing against Jermaine, of course. He has talent, he seems like a very nice fellow, and I have a bit of a soft spot for him and his mother. But he never seemed like a frontrunner to me. He definitely never seemed like the type of standout contestant who'd cause a multi-million-dollar, major-network TV show to halt production and impulsively alter its rules. And Jermaine's fine but certainly not game-changing performance of Luther Vandross's "Dance With My Father" this Tuesday didn't sway my opinion in that regard.
So it seems like Jermaine's return was more of a blatant ploy to boost ratings, as suspected, than a genuine attempt to reorganize the semifinals in any way that might actually affect this season's results (unlike what happened when Simon Cowell changed his mind on "The X Factor" and brought back a bonus contestant, who ended up being winner Melanie Amaro).
And so, Jermaine sang his heart out Tuesday, and now in two days he'll probably get voted off and we'll have to see him cry his gentle-giant guts out in his mama's arms all over again. I actually feel bad for the guy. I think Jermaine got played. And so did the other three contestants (Richie, Johnny, David) who might have thought they were getting a second chance. And, come to think of it, "Idol" viewers got played too.
Oh well. As for all of the boys' performances, there were plenty of other disappointments (especially since I went into Tuesday's show thinking the boys were more interesting and exciting than this season's girls). But luckily, there were enough good singers in the mix to comprise a solid top six, possibly seven, boys--assuming America votes correctly, and viewers don't just vote for Jermaine because they don't want to see him get his heart broken again.
Here's how the top 13 did Tuesday:
Reed Grimm - I love Reed--he's been one of my favorites of this season--so I feared for him when I found out he'd be singing first, in the traditional kiss-of-death spot. And I'm not sure this was the performance to improve his already diminished chances. His slowed-down, jazz-lounge interpretation of "Moves Like Jagger" (ironically, a hit by two "Voice" judges) was cool, with its scatting and Sheila E.-esque stand-up drumming interlude, but it probably wasn't the kind of performance that'd win over middle America--especially since he seemed to sing the "S-H word" from the song's R-rated version. (The seven-second delay that beeped him out either was a preemptive measure by trigger-fingered Fox censors, or Reed really did go there.) "I'm glad it was you who was bold enough to start off," barked Randy Jackson. Jennifer Lopez said Reed "showed America who they are dealing with." Steven Tyler used the word "a**" in some sort of positive context--before the Fox censors managed to get to him. Oops! Well, I'll give Reed this: He certainly made an impression. I just hope it was the right one.
Adam Brock - Once again, this blowhard described himself in his pre-performance interview as "a large black woman trapped in a man's body"--kind of an offensive statement, considering that no actual black women, of any size, made this season's top 24. Anyway, whichever black woman is supposedly trapped inside Adam, it's clearly not Aretha Franklin, since Adam's performance of Aretha's "Think" didn't at all come close to her original version. He hit the notes all right, but it was all very karaoke (or "kare-Gokey," more specifically). Once again, the softballing judges went easy. "It's hard to make a comment about anything here," said Steven, despite the fact that it's his JOB to say something, anything, about each performance. J.Lo raved about Adam's "big finish." Randy loved Mr. White Chocolate's "throwback thing." I say throw Adam back onto the reject pile. Sorry to be so harsh, but since the judges refuse to be, I have no choice. I simply don't want Adam in the top 13.
Deandre Brackensick - I think Deandre is a total star and (as Randy pointed out) one of the most commercial "Idol" contestants to come around in a long time (I was shocked when he was passed over last season). So I had very high hopes for him when he finally performed on the live stage this week. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by his shaky, awkward performance. His falsetto was not quite as Maxwellian as it had been in the past, and I wish this 17-year-old had picked a song a little fresher and younger than Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons." It just didn't work for me. It worked for the judges, though, of course, since they like everything. (I swear, if J.Lo and Steven had been judges in Season 3, William Hung probably would have made the top 24.) Jennifer even called Deandre's voice "perfect" and prematurely told him, "It's going to be such an amazing year for you." I do think Deandre has displayed signs of true greatness before, so I hope if this performance is his downfall--and it very may well be--that he comes back as a Wild Card. I would like him to have an amazing year in the end.
Colton Dixon - Okay, here is when the show finally got a little exciting. One of this season's token heartthrobs, this skunk-haired hunk continued to court the girly vote with his cover of Paramore's Twilight theme, "Decode" (GENIUS!!), and when he hopped atop his piano to wail his lungs out, it was the thrillingly Matt Bellamy-esque moment this sleepy show desperately needed. J.Lo looked confused during Colton's performance (maybe she didn't know the song?), but afterwards she told him, "When you sing, you really sing from your heart, and it just gets me every time." Steven told him, "You are truly a relevant artist for today. Keep rocking!" And Randy said, "It's about time that we had our own little indie alt-rocker," which sounded a bit condescending (and if he thinks Colton is the first indie alt-rocker in "Idol" history, I'd like to reintroduce him to at least half the cast of Season 9). But I agreed with Randy's general statement. "Idol" does need someone like Colton.
Jeremy Rosado - This lovable lug, who has apparently already earned the irritating nickname "Jere Bear" from Jennifer (why not "J.Ro"?), went with the unexpected song choice of Sara Bareilles's "Gravity, which should have been my gurl Brittany Zika's song if she had made the top 24. Le sigh. Anyway, Jeremy seems like a very nice young man, but I thought his performance was very "Idol" Season 2, not, as Randy would put it, Season One-One. It was a little bland, dawg, and when he tried to hit that big money note, it was a little (...wait for it...) pitchy. But the judges just LOVE this kid, for some reason. Steven used his favorite go-to adjective no less than three times, saying, "That was beautiful...as beautiful as beautiful gets!" Randy called Jeremy a "sanger." J.Lo got all mushy and gushed, "Some people are just blessed from God. That's you!" I still don't quite get Jeremy's appeal, but I hope America votes for (or against) him based on his vocals, not on whether he seems like a sweet guy.
Aaron Marcellus - Aaron is one of those unlucky contestants who has received precious little screentime this season, but hopefully his excellent performance of the Jackson Five's "Never Can Say Goodbye" was enough to compensate for that. Aaron displayed what Randy called "CRAZY" vocals, he looked cool, and he seemed current in a Ne-Yo-ish sort of way (granted, that hat helped). I've been whining forever that "Idol" needs a relevant, modern R&B male star, and Aaron could be that guy--if he manages to get through. The judges certainly seemed to hope he does: They gave him the first standing ovation of the night, and Jennifer cried out, "I always believed in you! Your voice just takes me there!" Will Aaron's voice take him to the top 13? I sure hope so. If not, there may very well be a Wild Card with his name on it, especially if J.Lo has a say.
Chase Likens - If there was anyone who got less screentime this season than Aaron, it's this poor guy. He's a good-looking country singer, the kind of contestant who'd get votes under different circumstances, so my only guess why "Idol" honchos haven't featured him more is they already have a country star in last year's Scotty McCreery, and they don't want two country male winners in a row. Well, they needn't worry, because that's so not going to happen. Chase's performance of Hunter Hayes's "Storm Warning" was fine, there was nothing wrong with it, but it was certainly not the perfect storm he needed to get noticed on this busy night. (Personally, I was disappointed that this guy who apparently has some great whistling skills didn't think to cover Guns N' Roses' "Patience" or Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks.") Steven compared Chase to Brendan Fraser and made some joke about "mummies at home" liking him that apparently only I got. (It was funny!) Jennifer verbally patted Chase on the back with some encouraging/parting words about his "growth" this season. Randy told him he had skills. But there's no way this guy is going further than the top 24.
Creighton Fraker - Gawd, I love me some Creighton. The adopted son of a preacherman and the biological son of a headbanger in Flotsam & Jetsam, he is, as Randy might say, the total package. A crazy, rainbow-striped package. With lineage like that, of course he turned out so flamboyant and bizarre and wonderful and rad. A real-life posterboy for the "It Gets Better"/"Glee" age, Creighton was very wise to choose to sing Cyndi Lauper's individuality anthem "True Colors," a well-liked song that allowed him to get his message across without spooking more conservative viewers. I just lurved this. Steven called Creighton's performance "stupendous." Randy told him, "You definitely got the voice." And Jennifer said, "With a performance like that and a voice like that, I don't want you to go home!" I agreed. If Creighton doesn't make the top 13, Season 11 is going to be very long and very uninteresting.
Phillip Phillips - I didn't think P-Squared's cover of Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight" would work. And yet it did, and it was very....well, very Phillip Phillipsy. Or maybe very Dave Matthewsy. (Side note: My eyes rolled so far back into my head when Randy referred to the Dave Matthews Band as "indie," I almost got a migraine. Oh, Randy...) The performance was also David Cooky, as in, Phillip once again proved he is a master of the whole take-a-song-and-turn-it-into-a-'90s-rock-jam shtick. So we can all agree that this Cook/Allen/DeWyze hybrid has already won Season 11, right? Well, maybe the judges don't agree. Bizarrely, considering that all night long no other contestant had heard a discouraging word, suddenly Randy busted out the tough love, telling Phillip that he didn't like how he'd "re-harmed" the chorus. Phillip's diehard fans in the studio audience seemed ready to "re-harm" Randy, after that! The other two judges were much kinder, with Steven explaining that "it's not easy having a voice like yours and making it fit other people's songs, and tonight you did that," and J.Lo saying, "There is no doubt that you're one of the most special talents that we found this year." I think voters will agree with Steven and Jennifer in this instance.
Eben Franckewitz - How interesting--and by "interesting," I mean odd--that "Idol's" all-time youngest contestant took on a song as mature as Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain." It wasn't as bad as I'd expected, but I don't think it was the right song choice for this kid at all. He seemed stiff and flat, and he didn't quite measure up to the high expectations set by any Adele song. "It wasn't all perfect, but at end you brought it all home," Randy said predictably. A too-nice Jennifer told little Eben, "You're a great performer...you can really do this." Wise ole man Tyler advised Eben to listen to some blues records. Will Eben be blue Thursday night, when he gets voted off? Possibly, but you can't underestimate the power of tween girl voters, who'd probably have Eben's back even if he sang some Flotsam & Jetsam.
Heejun Han - This season's lovable cut-up hit the stage with a mission to prove that "Asians can not only get a high score on an SAT, but they can sing and melt your hearts." A noble mission, indeed. But I just wish Heejun was as enjoyable and bubbling with personality onstage as he always is offstage. The guy can sing, but his song choice, the Robbie Williams ballad "Angels," was a snooze. This performance certainly didn't showcase Heejun's quirky charisma--nor did it showcase his vocals, according to the judges. All three judges griped that the song didn't show off Heejun's "smooth as silk" voice, and Steven lamented, "People don't know how good you are." However, as of this writing, Heejun has way more people following him on Twitter than any other top 25 contestant, so hopefully those people stop tweeting, and instead use their mobile devices to vote to keep their favorite Idol in the game. Heejun is probably sweating a lot of water right now.
Joshua Ledet - This gospel belter sometimes goes by the nickname "Mantasia," but amusingly, he chose to cover another Season 3 contestant, Jennifer Hudson, this week, singing "You Pulled Me Through." It was a bit Jacob Luskian in parts, but MAN, what a vocal! This was incredible. Steven looked like he was experiencing a religious epiphany. Randy seemed like he was about to give his critique while speaking in tongues. All three judges gave Mantasia a standing ovation. "Can I get an amen up in here? The doors of the church are wide open! This is what singing is about!" testified Randy. Jennifer raved, "That voice is from another world!" Steven declared, "You are the voice the world's been waiting to hear!" This was definitely THE vocal powerhouse performance of the night.
Jermaine Jones - Of course, after Joshua's tour de force, which under normal top 12 circumstances would have closed the show, Jermaine's unveiling and subsequent "Dance With My Father" performance was underwhelming. "Thank you for proving to us why we asked you to come back," Steven read off his cue cards. But I am not sure Jermaine proved it to America, with this. We shall see.
So now, it is prediction-and-picks time. Five of these guys will be automatically voted through to the top 13 this Thursday--along with five of the 12 female semifinalists, who will compete on Wednesday. (Three more Wild Card judges' picks will round out the overall top 13.) Which five boys will it be? Well, if it were up to me, based solely on these performances alone, it'd be Colton, Phillip, Joshua, Creighton, and Aaron. I have a feeling the first three boys on that list are shoo-ins, but I'm not so sure about Creighton or Aaron. And as for possible Wild Cards? Reed and Deandre seem like obvious choices, but I'd also love for Heejun to get another shot.
Find out Thursday if I'm right--and tune in Wednesday to do it all over again with the top 12 girls! Until then...Parker out.