What a weird night. We had boys acting like GaGa’s on stage, minus the vocals. Nicki Minaj cared nothing about the vocals, she just wanted to marry Chris Watson’s vibrato, cradle Charlie Askew like a little brother, and have Elijah’s babies. Both femme fatale judges were succumbing to the allure of marketability through cool stage presence rather than warm vocal expression. Our country singing Aussie, Keith Urban, though witty, seemed totally bewildered. And Randy Jackson was the only judge who drew a line in the sand for someone who could show him something vocally.
Johnny Keyser was praised by Mariah Carey for bringing his masculinity to TV. The 23-year-old, self-styled musician from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was questioned yet again by Nicki as to whether he had a girlfriend. “I don’t know if you answered me before,” she pushed. “No,” Johnny replied. “I don’t have a girlfriend.” Nicki told him he looked “real sexy tonight”, but concluded that it wasn’t the greatest vocal in the world. Randy found him less than fetching and gave him “just an okay performance”. As first judge to comment, Keith’s lukewarm, “That was good. The best you’ve ever sung for me”, was the positioning of the nail on this contestant’s coffin in the Sudden Death round. His vocals were merely ordinary. If Nicki had not set up such a hullabaloo for him in the auditions, I doubt he would have gotten a golden ticket, or at least not have made it through to another round. That he outlasted Micah Johnson was a travesty that was unforgivable on the part of American Idol.
Jda The Distracted (and distracting), threw everything but the kitchen sink into his wild performance except following through on his vocals. In spite of his in-your-face-I-do-it-my-way flaky approach to being a contestant, the guy/gal could actually sing if he put his mind to it. But he never took the singing as seriously as his showboating. Nicki called him a superstar performer with a whiny voice in his rendition of “Rumor Has It”. Though Keith threw the performer a sop for originality, Randy manned up to the fact that Jda was focused more on the “show” than on the singing, for which he heard NO originality.
Chris Watson, who lives the double life of waiter by day and singer by night, took on Otis Redding’s classic “Dock of the Bay”. Nicki again focused on his personal attributes rather than his singing, calling him “the prettiest man I’ve ever seen in my life”. Though she claimed to be “obsessed by him”, she did go on to say, “I may be the only one.” Look up the word “hyperbole” in the dictionary. Any modern version should have Nicki’s picture right there beside it. However, her fixation on the looks of a contestant at this stage of the game may simply be an old tried and true recipe. Steep the arsenic in honey before Sudden Death.
Eighteen-year-old California native, Elijah Liu, who says he is half Mexican, half Chinese, sang “Talking to the Moon” to mixed reviews. Keith called it a great song choice, but not great vocally, though current and relevant. Actually, that was a very mixed review and I’m not sure where it was going. Though Randy loved him, he said it wasn’t a great vocal and that he was “not great tonight”. Mariah thought him “extremely marketable” because of his really cool, current look. But Nicki was straight-forward and unstoppable. “I don’t care about that song. I want to have your babies. I would sign you today.” Nothing wishy-washy about that opinion. Elijah is through to the top.
Though Charlie Askew, the socially awkward kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, won a standing ovation from Nicki (alone), Keith Urban brought down the house with his comment — “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. If Freddie Mercury had a love child at Woodstock it would be you.” It was such a dead-on description. Dressed in clothes Jda had helped him pick out, and imitating the motions of a rock star like teens do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, Charlie’s hand shook on the microphone in spite of his denial of nerves. It was this performance that was the last straw for Randy. “YO! YO!” yelled The Dawg. “Forget singing tonight. Let’s just all perform.” Okay. Randy said he liked the kid, and I have a warm spot in my heart for the little guy. He can also really sing when he focuses. But there were a couple of other singers who could possibly have been real contenders given the chance.
One possible real contender was Jimmy Smith, country singer and social worker from Franklin, Tennessee, who sang Keith’s song, “Raining on Sunday”. I was not bored with it in the least. I think that on an evening lacking in “the whole package”, Jimmy Smith had it. Vocals, looks, and stage presence.
I agreed with Mariah when she commented that she had seen “a quality about you that was great”. She went on to say that, though it was not his best vocal, she did think America should be able to see what he was capable of and what he could do. I agreed and hoped she would fight for him once again. But it was not to be.
My suggestion for those really good singers who should have made it and didn’t is a new show called “Bring ‘Em Back, American Idol”. Let it be a show between those who had a good fan base, but didn’t make it. I’m curious to see if we get any superstars out of them. I’ll bet there would be teeth-gnashing over the “one who got away”.
My next disappointment in the judges’ decisions was for Kevin Harris from Montgomery, Alabama. And, no, it’s not just because I’m an Alabama native myself. Though Curtis Finch Jr. may have the slick, every-note-in-place pipes, he leaves me cold. Kevin has the heart as well as the singing ability, which wasn’t on the best display with “Everything I Do”. Yes, he was off-pitch some, but the sweetness and integrity of his true voice still shone through. Though Randy called it karaoke and wasn’t “blown out” by his performance, and Keith had mixed feelings about it, Mariah said she would have loved a different song because she felt he was a professional. (Judges had dubbed him “Butter” for his smooth voice). Mariah was the one to tell Kevin he wasn’t going through, but that she expected to hear him on somebody’s radio sometime soon. Yes. It was by far a much better performance than Charlie Askew’s and Elijah Liu’s, who did make it through — and not on their Sudden Death singing abilities.
But by far the best performer of the night, the one who made the audience and judges really “feel” the song, was 18-year-old Devin Velez who sang Beyonce’s “Listen”, part of it in Spanish. Randy could barely suppress the excitement he felt from the performance. “Listen, Dude,” he said. “I love you. I think it was amazing. Dude. Love. Love. Love.” Nicki said there was a warmth in him that shone through and that he did “an amazing job” and it was “a smart choice to sing in Spanish” because it reached a whole wider audience. After enduring all the diva-nesque male show-offs of the night, Keith was inspired to say, “Then there are singers. You made a connection with me from your voice. You didn’t have to do anything else.” Yep, Keith. You got it.
Paul Jolley got through on a less than perfect, but very good performance, though for me it was nothing special. Randy said he had “possibilities” and “great potential”. Nicki said his eyes were too theatrical and both Nicki and Keith felt he had “overperformed” even though he had “a really great voice”. The mixed reviews split the judges in their decision, and tie-breaker Jimmy Lovine, though not wowed by Paul’s performance, cast the vote that sent him through. For me, Paul Jolley seems a sweet and personable young man, and I’m glad he got his chance.
As I said before, Curtis Finch Jr. is as slick as a used car lot’s new brochure. The package is pretty enough to dazzle and cover over the fact that there’s no heart or sweetness anywhere on the premises. He has already showed his true colors once. He may talk the talk and look the look, but we’ve seen his heart, and it’s cold. And he’ll never bring any true life or feeling to a song — just pipes and notes. Keith said parts of the song were over-performed, but really beautiful. Nicki said, “You’re well on your way.” Randy said he was, “one of the best singers. You can blow.” But he cautioned Finch to “keep it young”. Mariah said he “moved her to tears, but that he needed to relax a little. “Loosen up your tie,” she said. He needs to loosen up some real feelings.
Congratulations to the five guys. You’re going through to the voting – Curtis Finch Jr, Elijah Liu, Paul Jolley, Charlie Askew, and Devin Velez.