The Verdict on Idol: Top 11 Performances

It was another exciting evening on American Idol. If not for the lame performances as the contestants tackled the theme of “The Year I Was Born” (yawn) then at least we got some drama! There has recently been some controversy surrounding one contestant. As it turns out, our gentile giant, Jermaine Jones…isn’t as gentile as he seems.
First, there were stories circulating that he had created a back story that wasn’t entirely true. Through out the competition, we had been lead to believe that Jermaine’s father had abandoned him and his mother at a young age, leaving the two to fend for themselves. What he meant to say was that his father had supported him and his family to the point that he was even in the audience last week. Awkward.
Once the powers that be did some investigating on Mr. Jones’ background, they stumbled onto some legal files that were even more of a surprise than that! Turns out he has a criminal history and four outstanding warrants for his arrest that he simply forgot to disclose to the producers. Easy mistake, but one that will force him to be ejected from the competition.
So, for those of you keeping score…Jermaine Jones was kicked out of the top 24, invited back to create an unwarranted top 25, voted into the top 10, and then disqualified by the producers. Good job, Nigel and company. This hot mess of a situation is on you.
On to the performances!
Phillip Phillips – Hard to Handle
Phillip opened the show with a Black Crowes song that simply fit him like a glove. It really played into all of his strengths; the rich texture of his voice, the bluesy tone, and the uptempo sound that allowed him to get into the song. Taking the judge’s advice from last week, he stayed true to the original melody, and restrained himself from injecting his usual growls and grunts. The result was a solid vocal demonstration, and an overall good performance. My only criticism is his lack of stage presence. He simply stood behind the mic stand for the entire performance. A song like Hard to Handle gave him an opportunity to really rock that stage, and he completely wasted that chance, exposing a potential weakness in the process.
Jessica Sanchez – Turn the Beat Around

Coming off of a performance that will forever be etched in the Idol history books, Jessica had some room to take a risk this week. She did just that by choosing an uptempo number, Turn the Beat Around. This type of song gave her ample opportunity to show us another side to her as a performer that we haven’t seen yet. While Jessica displayed confidence and swagger on stage, she made the mistake of trying to inject her powerful voice into the song. This song isn’t meant for a big voice. It’s meant to be delivered in a biting, stacatto manner, in perfect time to the beat. While Jessica was trying to squeeze every little bit out of the notes, she fell behind the beat, and seemed to struggle with keeping up. Still, she sounded fantastic, and showed that she can put on a show. Overall, still a very strong showing. I just wish that judges had given her proper credit for doing well rather than harping on every little thing she did wrong.

Elise Testone – Lets Stay Together

Elise stumbled last week, and it almost cost her the competition. This week, she seems to have picked up on her biggest mistake. “I’m much more optimistic!” she says in her intro video. She smiled more, made a few jokes, and in general, didn’t seem like such a Crabapple McNasty. Good job, Elise! She chose a soulful song, and delivered it in her own style. Beginning with just a piano, she crooned her way through the song with her husky and raspy voice. Midway through, the band kicks in, and we were treated to a sensual and soulful performance that really had Elise’s unique artistic stamp rubbed right in. It was a great comeback from a very big misstep.


HeeJun Han  – Right Here Waiting
HeeJun chose yet another ballad. Yawn. In South Korea, there are tons of singers that make a career out of singing nothing but ballads. The US market is slightly different, and will demand HeeJun to sing something different eventually, especially if HeeJun keeps delivering them like he did tonight. He seemed to have some breathing problems. He was out of breath through out the entire performance, and never seemed to be able to catch up. He didn’t necessarily sound bad…just off. His tone is very rich and soulful, and I really think that it would benefit him to sing something a bit more soulful. His performances are becoming repetitive and flawed, and his margin for error is quickly diminishing.
Deandre Brackensick – Endless Love
Deandre originally wanted to sing Can You Feel the Love Tonight, but Jimmy saw that train wreck a mile away, and steered him toward the relentlessly boring Endless Love. A terrible 90’s song for a boy with terrible 90’s hair. Deandre’s light and airy vocals seemed like a complete mismatch for this deep and soulful ballad. His voice never really found a sweet spot, and it sounded awkward all the way through. Whats worse, is that it looked awkward too. Points for “working the camera,” but after about 5 seconds of staring right into the lens, it becomes awkward for the viewers. Deandre’s eyed bore into that camera for a solid hour and a half. Awkward. For the rest of the performance, he just kind of stood in place wishing the song would end. So were we, Deandre, so were we.
Shannon Magrane – One Sweet Day
Shannon and Hollie have the exact same strategy and concept: pretty girl singing a pretty song. Why then, does Hollie make it work while Shannon struggles to make anything even slightly interesting. One Sweet Day was a bold song choice, and Shannon tackled it with gusto. She gave a solid vocal until the key change, where she once again struggled a bit. She recovered, and finished strong. Do I care? Not even slightly. Shannon simply lacked passion, stage presence, and conviction. I don’t buy her singing these songs for a second. This is the same fatal quality that doomed young singers like her in the past. Thia Megia, Lisa Tucker, Ramiele Maluby, Julia Demato, Katy Stephens…each of them lacked conviction and artistic direction. Shannon needs to figure out who she is and what she’s all about before she meets the same fate as those other contestants you all had to google to remember.
Colton Dixon – Broken Heart
I doubted that Colton could do a real rock song. However, tonight he proved me wrong with a song I’ve never heard before, by a band that I also have never heard of before. Sometimes its good to choose a song that nobody knows. Its a risk, and if it pays off, it effectively puts your own personal stamp on a song and makes it associated more with you than the original artists. Think of it as legal plagiarism. Either way, Colton really nailed this song. He performed it like it was his own, and although his vocals were off in spots, he solid it effectively. This was a great performance that really showed us what he could do with the right song. I want an album. Now.
Erika Van Pelt – Heaven
Eirka is a contestant that continually grows and improves. She is keeping true to her ballad-rocker chick image, and this song did not disappoint. Heaven was a great song choice that really fit her voice like a velvet glove. Unfortunately, Erika tried to do a bit too much with the song, and strayed from the melody at points that just sounded awkward. Still, aside from her stylistic choices, the delivery was solid, and for the first time, her voice sounded naturally beautiful rather than forced. Erika is growing on me, and if she can continue to improve, she can really nail this competition.
Skylar Laine – Love Sneakin’ Up On You
Skylar has been smoking this competition so far. Unfortunately, this turned out to be her first misstep. I thought that this song would have fit her like a glove, until I remembered that it totally sucks. Midtempo is never a good move when you only have a minute and a half to sing. Plus, Bonnie Rait doesn’t really have a big voice. You can’t really sell one of her songs unless you have the tone to back it up. Skylar probably does have enough of a gritty tone to pull it off, but instead, she tried to do too much with it, and it ended up sounding like a bit of a mess. It vould have been a decent performance if she had played with the arrangement a bit, but in the end she turned in a very standard performance that left me cold.
Joshua Ledet – When A Man Loves a Woman
Woah. Just woah. In the semi finals, Josh and Jessica were the best of their respective nights. Last week, Jessica blew everyone away. In response, Joshua ups the ante by delivering a truly incredible performance of his own. When a Man Loves a Woman was an excellent song choice, and Joshua simply came alive with soul, and passion. His singing was effortless, and spot on with the delivery. At the end, he threw out some ad-libs that came off as a bit sloppy, but you know what? That, my friends is soul. Pure soul. It was yet another performance that will forever be labeled as one of Idol’s “showstopping moments.”
Hollie Cavanaugh – The Power of Love
Last week, I said that Hollie reminded me of Celene Dion. This week…she sings Celene Dion! Called it! Following Joshua was no easy feat for anyone, but Hollie really did her damnedest. She tackled this huge song effortlessly. Her voice was simply beautiful; sensual and soothing in the verses, and powerful and commanding in the choruses. She delivered the song with a poise and elegance that defied her young age. My only concern is the same that I have with Shannon. What can she do aside from ballads? Who is she as an artist? What will a Hollie Cavanaugh album sound like? Unlike her fellow pageant-bot, she can really deliver a song with conviction, so that should buy her a few more weeks than Shannon, or even Pia. However, eventually, her time will be cut short in spite of her talent if she can’t pull something different and unique.
Overall, a night that was mostly good…but just good. We had two standout performances, but the rest? Just good. My breakdown is….
11. Deandre Brackensick
10. HeeJun Han
9. Shannon Magrane
8. Skylar Laine
7. Jessica Sanchez
6. Elise Testone
5. Erika Van Pelt
4. Colton Dixon
3. Phillip Phillips
2. Hollie Cavanaugh
1. Joshua Ledet
Although I think that Deandre’s time should be up, my instinct tells me that Shannon will be waving goodbye tomorrow, until the judges use the save to get their pretty little pageant bot on tour. Everybody wins!
Till tomorrow…

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