American Idol Recap: The Top 24

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This week the *real* American Idol kicked off...the American Idol that's about singing. Although I did find this season's audition period less painful than usual...with more focus on the good than the bad...I still am most happy when we settle in and can talk song choice, "whole packages" and pitchiness.

I confess to being a little confused, because I thought they had said they wouldn't be doing a Boys vs. Girls thing where an equal number of each would get into the Finals, and I'm disappointed if that's not the case.

It's also interesting that they're going to a Top 10 Finals, not a Top 12 (where the contestants who come in 11th and 12th don't get to go on tour.

Finally: I also noted that they're already on the big stage, instead of on some weird "intimate" stage space for these next few weeks.

So, what exactly is going to feel different about the Finals, once they're actually here?

Don't ask me, I don't know.

With all of that wondering and questioning out of the way, let's get right down to it!!


On Tuesday night, we heard the Boys:



[Please note: The first 8 boys are not in proper order, because I had to watch afterwards online, and I don't know what order they were actually in. but thank you, interwebs and for posting video!!]


1. Brett sang "Light My Fire" by The Doors


Oh Brett. I totally get that you'd dig the Doors. But honey, you are not there yet. This was too low in the verse, and you sounded weak. When you left the mic stand and started moving around, you were aimless and dancy-prancy -- not smokin' hot, like we are all conditioned to imagine Jim Morrison was. (I say imagine, since I have more of an image in my head about how Morrison performed than actual memories of seeing him on TV or anything, how about you?) Vocally, this got better when it was higher, but you are just a young, thin, light version of the song we all know so well.

Bottom line: I think he's intriguing (and people want another Jason Castro type) so he'll be safe...for now.


2. Clint Jun Gamboa sang "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder


Stevie Wonder is to the boys as Whitney or Mariah is to the girls. IOW: Don't try this at home, at least before you've established yourself with a big fan base that will forgive you for not being as good as the original. Clint has a great voice, and he moves with more natural musicality than most of the other boys. But he didn't bring anything new/unique to this...I could almost hear a more modern rhythm creeping in, but it never materialized.

Bottom line: No matter, he has a terrific voice, and he did show it off. He's safe for sure.


3. James sang "You Got Another Thing Coming" by Judas Priest


I have an issue with James. He always seems to be trying too hard to be Adam Lambert the Second. He has a great voice and great range and great abilities. But he has to find what's uniquely him, uniquely his. From the look to the approach to the vocals. And will he ever do anything where he isn't screaming? Because don't forget, Adam made his biggest impact with a stripped-down "Mad World."

Bottom line: Oh he's safe, no doubt. But he needs to convince me.


4. Jordan sang "OMG" by Usher



American Idol Jordan
Image courtesy FOX


Another song that starts so low it takes 30 seconds for the singer to even sound good. You've only got 90 seconds, people!! And Jordan, sweetie, you're actually not a dancer...either sing it as a song, or pick a song that isn't so associated with dancing and then make only half-ass dance moves. And the falsetto? Was not good.

Bottom line: I think Jordan is quite at risk. It was a weak performance that didn't play up his strengths, but pointed out his weaknesses.


5. Jovany sang "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain


This is one of those fine morose love songs, one of my favorites of the morose love song genre, in fact. Jovany (is that how he always spelled it?) didn't do anything special with it. And actually kind of ruined it with a cheesy key change. All that being said: He has a lovely voice and very nice vibrato.

Bottom line: He's good, but boring. Nothing makes him stand out right now. And he'll need to fix that.


6. Robbie sang "Angel" by Sarah MacLachlan


I want to take this teenager and ask him to not tackle anything this poignant and delicate again. I feel guilty rolling my eyes at someone with such big puppy dog eyes He totally has a nice voice, but it's all a little blah.

Bottom line: Hmm. Think he's at risk. This was uninspiring and even kind of off-putting.


7. Scotty sang "Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery


His voice is so perfectly perfect, it almost sounds like a parody, you know? Not the most exciting song, performance or singer in the world. But he is kind of fun to keep around. And there aren't too many country singers representing this year. (Personally I wish they had kept the pretty cowboy, but that's me.)

Bottom line: I'm sure he's safe for now. But I hope he brings something different to the table soon.


8. Tim sang "Streetcorner" Symphony by Rob Thomas


Yikes, a very pitchy beginning. Double-yikes, pretty pitchy throughout. And lots of aimless pacing. I don't think this bodes well for Tim...who also isn't one of the most memorable folks from auditions or Hollywood Week.

Bottom line: Oh, I think this may be it for Tim.


9. Stefano sang "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars


Such a pretty boy singing such a pretty song with such a pretty voice. Also, Stefano makes me and my S.O. want to say "Hey, how you doin'?" to one another, a la Joey Tribiaini.

Bottom line: He can stay.


10. Paul sang "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart


I thought I was going to really like this. I liked Paul during Hollywood Week, and this is the one Rod Stewart song I can tolerate. But sadly, Paul was just a pale imitation of Rod (saying this as a non-Rod fan), and after about one verse I was bored to tears. And he looked really, really physically uncomfortable, like he just did not know *what* to do with himself!

Bottom line: If everyone was as bored as I was, he's at risk.


11. Jacob sang "A House is not a Home" by Bacharach and David


I know there's a market for this guy...the album I decided to try out by Antony and the Johnsons proves it. but I'm not a fan of that album, and I'm not a fan of this guy, and I'm even more not a fan because I thought telling him his massacre of "God Bless the Child" during Hollywood Week was the best performance ever on American Idol was a TRAVESTY. Too much, over the top, and not my cuppa.

Bottom line: How about you? Have I pissed off any Jacob fans?


12. Casey sang "I Put A Spell on You" by Screaming Jay Hawkins


I liked this, but I didn't actually love it. Too much of his screaming was more high-pitched and whiny, like a gnat, and not deep, throaty and powerful, like the original.

Bottom line: But don't you worry: Casey is this year's Taylor Hicks...different, original, a great musician, and full of real emotion and connection to what he sings.


Wednesday night we heard the Girls:




1. Tatynisia sang "Only Girl in the World" by Rihanna


T has charisma, I'm gonna give her that. Even dressed in an egregious 80s outfit (as several of the women seemed to favor), she knew how to work it. Unfortunately, she didn't really know how to sing it. She was running out of air at the end of every phrase...and running out of air often leads to being under pitch. Which she was, particularly on every chorus. While JLo and STy seemed to both want to be Paula Abdul in all her inexplicable positivity, Randy took on the role of Simon-the-truth-teller by being the only one to point out the obvious pitchiness.

Bottom line: not the worst of the bunch, mostly because she does have a lot of spark...but needs to step it up, starting by picking songs that don't totally overpower her.


2. Naima sang "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess


Wanting to differentiate her "Summertime" from Fantasia's searing an memorable Season 3 performance, Naima performed it as a jazzy number...sort of obliterating the actual meaning of the song and reminding me of the parking lot during a Dead show with all her spinning and dancing. Reminding me of Fantasia in another way, Naima hit one great note during her ending...and then muddied the waters of her great ending by adding about 12 mediocre notes after the real climax. Once again I agreed with the Randster, who didn't find the jazzy approach to be that special or deep.

Bottom line: Naima is very likable and gets you rooting for her to succeed. So I'm confident she'll sail through this week...and hopefully get more considered with her arrangement and performance choices.


3. Kendra sang "Impossible" by Xtina


She has a great voice. And this was such a mannered performance, with very little actual stage presence, I could barely watch her. Every head toss or leg stamp made me feel like she was trying to emulate a hybrid diva...a little Xtina, a little Whitney, a little Mariah, a little Alicia, and so on.

Bottom line: Despite the above: Her voice was really a stand-out, make no mistake. I think she's safe, and could deliver more punch if she stops trying so hard.


4. Rachel sang "Criminal" by Fiona Apple


Oh, wait, did I say Kendra was mannered? Never mind. Rachel takes the cake. I just really prefer people who seem ike they are quirky, not like they're trying to convey quirky. Rachel also happens to have a great voice, but she tried way too hard. Way to hard to make this her own. Way too hard to be sexy, way too hard to move around the stage...and it all felt awkward to me. And like the Randster: I like to recognize the damn song, m'kay?

Bottom line: Either her quirkiness will totally annoy people, and she's on the short list to leave early...or the quirksters will stick together and keep her around. And other folks will think, well, at least she's different, and give her another chance.


5. Karen sang "Hero" by Mariah Carey



American Idol Karen
Image courtesy FOX


These AI girls never, ever lean. Mariah, Xtina, Alicia. Why? Why have that first impression be that you're not quite as good as someone else? Don't get me wrong, I didn't think this was terrible, but is that really the feedback they should be going for? Liked the Spanish; that was cool. But overall it all felt so, to quote the missing SCo, "old-fashioned" -- particularly with her wearing that horrifying schmatte of an "evening dress".

Bottom line: Certainly hope she sticks around, though, because I like the sweetness and agility of her voice.


6. Lauren T sang "Seven Day Fool" by Etta James


Lauren has a great voice and Amy Winehouse vibe, and unlike Rachel trying to jazz up an angsty emo-pop tune, Lauren made the right choice to find material that fits the sound. Someone needs to teach Lauren how to dress herself pronto, and I also think she doesn't need to be all the way up at 11 the whole time she sings. But that is a common mistakes these contestants make.

Bottom line: Definitely has a voice that justifies sticking around.


7. Ashthon sang "Love Over Me" by Monica


This song was way way bigger than the girl with at least one extra H in her name. It started out kinda sweet, but swiftly started falling apart as she tried to hit big note after big note. It was just not good. Nor on key.

Bottom line: I think she's at risk. Listening to it again while I'm typing, it's pretty painful.


8. Julie sang "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson


Another girl picking a song that's too big for her. The beginning was too low for her, and she went straight to the nasal tone to get it out there. She just got buried. And by the way, wearing that Pretty-in-Pink prom dress made this grand pop waltz sound more like an oom-pah-pah beer hall song.

Bottom line: Julie is highly likable and did a great job during Hollywood Week. I think folks will give her another shot, but this might have been the weakest vocal of the evening.


9. Haley sang "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys


While Julie had a very weak vocal, Haley had what I thought was the most painful performance. She doesn't have a bad voice at all, but she just did not get what this song is about or what vibe to go for, and it was all pretty creepy coming from a teenager. You'll learn that one of my pet peeves is smiling and preening your way through a song that's supposed to be anguished or heartbroken. Haley pushed that button every three seconds. By the end I was feeling pretty nauseated.

Bottom line: More than "meh," this was full on "blurg" for me.


10. Thia sang "Out Here on My Own" by Irene Cara from the movie Fame


This was one of the contestants that I didn't think deserved to be in the Top 24. I would have gone with the rocker chick. But she was a breath of fresh air last night, going for something more simple, pared down, spare, pretty. She has a lovely voice and vibrato and a pure tone. I could have done with the stupid "big ending" she decided to add, but overall, she did a nice job.

Bottom line: She proved she deserved to be here last night.


11. Lauren A sang "Turn on the Radio" by Reba McEntire


Of course they flat-ironed Lauren for her big-stage debut. We poor curly-girls are so abused by network TV standards of beauty :( But I digress. So, I'm not a huge country music fan, which doesn't help, but I found this deadly dull. She has a nice strong voice, but so what? Of course, I said the same thing about Carrie Underwood, so what do I know? Also got a little tired of her gyrations...again, the younger performers sometimes make me feel creepy with the hyper-sexuality they display.

Bottom line: Boring or not, she sounded great, and I'm sure she's safe.


12. Pia sang "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders


I didn't quite go into the ecstasy that the judges did, but I did appreciate this performance a lot. Again, didn't go for overpowering vocals the whole two minutes -- it's nice to hear control and finesse, not just screaming. (I sound so old, don't I?)

Bottom line: Oh, I think she's very safe.


Bottom Line for the Top 24:



The boys who should go home: Tim and Jordan were the weakest by far.

The boys who will go home: Which means I think they may actually go home because they should.

The girls who should go home: Personally, I'd send Haley and Ashthon home. Not least because of the extra H.

The girls who will go home: I think Ashthon and Julie are most at risk, because quirky does tend to stick around.

The judges who should go home: Wow, what happened to STy? He's lost all his charm and quirk from the earlier weeks and has nothing clever to say...and likes everything way too much. He's the Most Disappointing Judge after one week.

So, that's my take after one "real" week.

What's yours?


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