In a mostly uninspiring Idol evening, Vincent Powell got our attention with his big range and big smooth voice, not to mention keeping us petrified with anticipation as to whether he would run out of breath before he ran out of note. Sure, he was showing off, but hey! Sudden Death, remember? Gotta keep it vital and alive.
This worship leader who lays claim to having lived the “starving artist” life in reality, blew the pants off his audience with “Cause I Love You”. Well, not literally. Nicki Minaj claimed he was sexy enough this time around that fifty and sixty-year-olds would be throwing their unmeantionables at him. Tch, tch, tch. Leave it to Nicki. She was comparing this performance with previous ones which she viewed as “old-fashioned”. Randy Jackson called it the “whole package”, compared him with a lot of music industry names, and exclaimed, “That’s the vibe! That was hot! He’s in it to win it!” Keith said, “That was crazy. You came out and just sang it. Loved it.” For Mariah, “All I can say is, FINALLY.”
The evening was filled with judges waiting for that personal touch and finding precious little of it. Singers were “not connecting”, “not current”, too “old-fashioned” or not following through on the early promise of their performances. Mathanee Treco was first out of the gate with Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”, but didn’t quite run the distance. He got the judges all shook up, but not quite in the way he wanted. Rated as cheesy and karaoke by Nicki, (who hit us with her faux British accent) she accused him of simply trying to please the judges [rather than connecting with his song and his audience]. Keith, though tipping his hat to Treco’s “huge range” and “immense power”, warned him not to UNDER-estimate that power [and go overboard]. Mariah found a “little bit of disconnect” in him, also.
In case some of you were vacationing on Mars the past few weeks and didn’t know by now, Nicki Minaj is no shrinking violet or syrupy sympathizer. “I don’t know what’s happening, honey child,” she said to “The Turbanator” Gurpreet Singh Sarin, “But HELL no!” — after he savaged James Morrison’s “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You”. Randy followed suit with, “WOW! DUDE! DAWG! Honestly, that was terrible!”, followed by Mariah’s contrasting deadpan understatement of being “slightly disappointed”. All of the judges were obviously frustrated that he had changed his style in mid-stream and arrived sans his guitar and softer voice. Although Gurpreet promised to “glue” his guitar on if they put him through, he was among the five who were cut.
Though I predicted four out of the five chosen ones, I missed Nick Boddington, not because I don’t like his voice, but because I went by his less than stellar performance of “Say Something”, and the comments of the judges. (Evidently you can’t judge a choice by its comments). Keith “kept waiting for a connection as a person”. Nicki could not give it a ten, called it “disconnected”, and not his best. Randy didn’t know if it was the right song for Nick and kept looking for a “moment” that was not there. Mariah, however, thought she caught a teensy weensy little moment toward the end, but needed to feel him connecting. Judges did love the “timbre” and “warmth” of his voice, and apparently it was enough to get him a spot in last night’s top five. They do keep us guessing, don’t they?
Josh Holiday is a vocal coach who decided to go original last night, accompanying himself on the piano. He lost the judges when he abandoned his piano to sing front and center. Keith thought it was too controlled, which was the bane of vocal coaches, and wished he would just cut loose. “I’m interested in your passion,” he said. Nicki said Josh started sweet and had actually drawn her in before popping her right back out when he came off the piano. Randy liked the song but was not “wowed by it”. Mariah said the audience was impressed, but that she would have liked to see him stay at the piano. This 24-year-old native of Celeste, Texas, living in Nashville, will be returning to the music capital because he didn’t make it through.
My pick (but who listens to me), was David Oliver Willis of Mt. Dora, Florida. The 22-year-old worship leader played his guitar and sang “Fever”, evoking my first holler of the evening because he got my tepid blood flowing finally. Keith decided David was channeling some really soulful cats in there, and had a moment at the end, but that it was not the right song for him. Nicki pulled out her old standby non-sequitur of “Are You Married?” – Yes – “Okay”, and left it at that. But Randy liked the whole bluesy thing and was “kind of like intrigued”. Mariah was intrigued (where had she heard that word recently) by the backstory of the groups David sang with, adding that the crowd seemed to love his performance, but debated if it was current. Apparently my hollering did him not one ounce of good. He’s heading back to Mt. Dora (which is a beautiful place among several big lakes – I’ve been there). I hope the exposure on Idol takes him to bigger and better things. He seems like a great guy as well as a great singer.
Native Hawaiian Bryant Tadeo singing “A New York State of Mind”, garnered a question mark beside his name on my American Idol notes last night because he ended the song to mixed reviews. Keith commented that “everybody here is on their feet”, that Bryant had “a really beautiful voice”, (I agree), and that he had “made a connection”. Nicki said, “I loved that last note you did, the run, the rift, cause I didn’t like anything else.” She also questioned his nationality, saying she thought he had some “brother” in there. Whether she meant in features or vocals, or possibly both, only The Nick knows for sure. Randy said he was “waiting for something at the end” (me, too), and that it “never quite went there” (no it didn’t). Mariah said he “sounded professional”, but for a couple of moments he “got lost in there”. She praised his “raw talent”, but didn’t know if it was his greatest performance ever.
Burnell Taylor, a 19-year-old New Orleans native, was praised for his look as well as his singing. Burnell, a Louisiana hurricane survivor, apparently overcame a lot of odds to get where he is — one of them battling a huge weight problem. Nicki spoke emotionally about knowing what it felt like to want to “get your family out of the hood”. She said his victory over his weight problem signified a different spirit taking over his life. “I would PAY to see you sing!” she said. “There’s nobody near you tonight.” Keith said he “looked great”, and called him “strikingly original”. “I was connected to the whole thing,” he said. Randy said, “I’m not sure of that performance, but love your story, love that you lost the weight. It was captivating. You’re different. You picked a John Legend song and did it justice. You put your own thing in it.” (Huh? Was Randy undecided, just vacillating, or am I simply confused?). Mariah said she agreed [not sure with whom exactly] but that “this was fantastic”. I like Burnell, even though I was frankly bored with the song. Also, another viewer and I found Burnell’s windmilling arms quite distracting and I wondered why no judge mentioned this awkward stage presence. But — whatever. It’s the judges’ call and he is now in America’s Top Twenty.
Lazaro Arbos took on a Keith Urban song, “Tonight I Want to Cry”, which Keith allowed had “the crowd screaming”. “The crowd loves you Lazaro, and singing my song is very flattering. You are really a great singer with great diversity.” Although Keith went on to say that he felt like “the song got away” from Lazaro, and that it was not a great song for him, Keith did say that there was a spirit that “burned through the vocals”. Nicki liked that Lazaro played it safe with his customary ballad. “Don’t change nothing,” she advised. Randy said everytime Lazaro hit the chorus there was “a sweet spot” in his voice. “Your vibrato has the right metered beat to it,” he said. Mariah praised the purity and simplicity of his singing, and mentioned the ongoing struggle in his life. (Lazaro has such a stuttering problem he can barely get through a simple sentence, though he can sing straight and true). “Music brings you through,” Mariah said. It certainly got him through in this instance. This sweet, handsome, ice cream shop employee is one of America’s Top Twenty flavors.
Cortez Shaw, 22-year-old Dallas, TX, student and warehouse worker, put some stuff on his rendition of “Titanium”, moving Nicki to fan herself and say, “Is it hot in here or is it just me? Good song choice. Sexy,” which caused Randy to quip, “I’m just going to talk about the singing if you don’t mind. Crazy range, here. Very current.” Keith called it a “really bold and brave move to tackle that ballad.” He went on to say there was “a lot of inconsistency in the song, but at the end — total redemption”. Mariah wanted everyone to know that she was a staunch Cortez fan. “I have enjoyed you since the beginning,” she said. “I loved the arrangement. You made some very good choices.” Yep. Things are heating up all right for Cortez. He’s through to the Top Twenty.
I just hope the next segment of Idol ratchets up the energy as well as the vocals. For the most part it has been dry as unbuttered toast (whole grain). If there are any stars in this batch — and a few twinkled brightly before Sudden Death snuffed out their confidence — I wish they would shoot off like Roman candles. I’m tired of ho-hum.
Congratulations to those who survived the last Sudden Death round: Vincent Powell, Lazaro Arbos, Cortez Shaw, Burnell Taylor, and Nick Boddington.
Here’s America’s Top Twenty contestants for whom we will vote next week.
Curtis Finch Jr.