GROUP ONE SUFFERS IDENTITY CRISIS
Last night’s show definitely had a theme and it was this: identity crisis. Many of the contestants, perhaps in an effort to “take risks,” sang songs that completely contradicted the artists that they had claimed to be in weeks prior. There is a sense that the contestants feel that they have to be a Whitney Houston or a Celine Dion to impress the voters and the judges. Look at David Cook, though. He is no Whitney Houston.
BAD SONG CHOICES ABOUND
Arguably the worst of the night was 17-year-old Stevie Wright. In an effort to be “younger,” she attempted Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” complete with a mallrat outfit and dance moves reminiscent of Tiffany. Her nerves were palpable and her singing was, well, “atrocious,” as Simon would say. Rachel Bilson look-alike Casey Carlson also seemed like she was trying to be someone she is not when she sang “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” While she is a very pretty girl, her good looks were overshadowed by her strange facial tics and over-annunciating. Even Paula mentioned her extraneous winking.
Even the singers who had good vocals suffered from the identity crisis epidemic. Ricky Braddy, whose voice and shy Southern charmbrought to mind Clay Aiken, had one of the most outstanding voices of the night. The problem is, everybody had already forgotten him by the end of the show. No personality equals no votes. Brent Keith, who in earlier rounds had come off as much more soulful, has apparently decided that he wants to be a country singer. To be fair, this is not a bad tactic. We all know that Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood has gone on to win Grammys and CMA Awards but many “Idol” losers have also found a place in country music, including Kellie Pickler, Phil Stacey and even Bucky Covington. It may have been a good move on Keith’s part to position himself as a country artist, though he probably won’t be around next week to continue that campaign.
Another “soulful” singer who toned down his runs last night was oil roughneck Michael Sarver. He is still extremely relatable to America as an “everyman” but his rendition of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be” was not a standout, though the vocals were good technically. Stephen Fowler, the contestant who left the stage after forgetting the words during Hollywood Week, made the mistake of singing Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” While it was pleasant, the song never really went anywhere and, well, it’s Michael Jackson. It’s best to leave it alone.
Ann Marie Boskovich fell victim to the wrong song choice also. The professional demo singer’s aura radiates “hippy chic,” yet she tried a song that was more “diva.” While her version of “Natural Woman” brought the audience to its feet, the judges did not have positive feedback, even calling it “old fashioned.” Kara offered that she would’ve liked to hear her sing something more like Sara Bareilles’s “Love Song,” but Boskovich countered that she thought that would be “not as good” as “Natural Woman.”
Much of the problem came from contestants choosing songs and artists that were too iconic to touch – Michael Jackson, Sting, Aretha. The exceptions were Danny Gokey and, surprisingly, Tatiana del Toro. While church music director Gokey was still, well – hokey – in his song choice, he actually gave an impressive performance of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” He was the standout of the night and should easily move on to the Top 12. It would be interesting to see him try a song with a little more grit to it; he would do a better job with “I Don’t Want To Be” than Michael Sarver did.
Tatiana del Toro surprised everyone, both with her voice and her demeanor. Perhaps she took a valium before the show or maybe it’s the inner peace that her new Kabbalah bracelet is giving her. Either way, she was calm and collected. No doubt many eyebrows were raised when she announced that she was singing “Saving All My Love For You,” but she pulled it off with a great belt and overall control. Her demeanor when speaking with the judges was very subdued; it was obvious that she was embarrassed by her previously televised antics. Believe it or not, she may have a shot, as she was the most memorable female last night.
One female who was not subdued was Jackie Tohn, who couldn’t be more annoying. While she is a good singer/Janis Joplin impersonator, it was difficult to listen to her voice due to the distraction that her flailing around provided. Making things worse was her Minnie Mouse-on-acid outfit, complete with spandex pants, polka dots and high tops.
Dressing more appropriately were Anoop Desai and Alexis Grace. Anoop’s unexpected choice of Monica’s “Angel Of Mine” left the judges scratching their heads a little but even Simon could not deny Anoop’s “massive likeability.” Pixie-like Alexis Grace was a judge favorite as well, singing Aretha’s “Never Loved A Man” and hitting every note. Cowell compared her to Kelly Clarkson and said that she could be the season’s dark horse. Randy loved it as well. (None of the judges commented on the fact that she was wearing bright red lipstick with pink hair.)
Last night’s “Idol” show marked America’s first opportunity to influence the fate of the contestants. Over the next three weeks we will watch the Top 36 perform in groups of twelve, with our votes determining the Top 12 overall. Rather than “meatloaf night,” Tuesday will now be known as “Performance Night.” Accordingly, Wednesdays are for “Results Shows;” make sure you reprogram your DVR to record “Lost.” Each week, both the male and female with the highest votes will earn spots in the Top 12. Additionally, the person (male or female) with the next highest votes will also progress. While we will vote in nine of the Final 12, the judges will determine the remaining three contestants with their “Wild Card” picks. As a reminder, Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken was a Wild Card choice, so anything is possible. Expect tonight’s Top 3 to include Danny Gokey, Anoop Desai, Alexis Grace or – yes, I’m printing it- Tatiana del Toro.