It's difficult to find many threads of consistency among the semi-final rounds of the earlier seasons of American Idol. Outside of the judges and hosts, there aren’t any. The first season intro mantra involves Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman acting like idiots (well-meaning idiots, but still), and the judges non-answering questions about how mean they’re perceived to be.
Alexis Lopez starts the show with Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. Does it really takes this long to get to the chorus from the first verse? I never noticed that before. Anyway, because of the arrangement, she only gets one chorus in, right at the end, and it ends a bit abruptly. Vocally, she's verging on strong and exhibits some range. The Idolsphere gives Ms. Lopez a score of 55 for her efforts.
Stevie Wonder's Ribbon in the Sky will be dragged out twice tonight, and Gil Sinuet will be the first person to sing it. He starts of a bit out of tune, but quickly recovers. The higher parts sound slightly outside of his comfort range, but just about everything is sung well. It's a serviceable, clean vocal. Simon essentially tells Sinuet he's not pretty enough to advance but has a good voice. At the end of it all, he scores a bit below average with a 42.
Angela Peel presents a completely different vocal arrangement to Whitney Houston's Run to You. It's so filled with melisma that if vocal flourishes emitted electricity it would probably power the studio, lights, and cameras. In spite of this, Peel sounds great and in control of her voice the whole time. The judges love her, and the Idolsphere scores Angela at 61: the first four-star performance of the evening.
I'm not sure whether we can consider this performance to be the first result of competitive reality show inbreeding, but AJ Gil has chosen O-Town's All or Nothing. Yes that O-Town, the manufactured boy band. Okay, I'll be more specific, the boy band that people got to see manufactured from the show "Making the Band." What? I haven't talked about AJ's performance? It's dull and WNTS rates him at a 13, so you can't exactly blame me for not wanting to discuss it.
Tenia Taylor does Whitney Houston. No, it's not one of Randy Jackson's VHS tapes hidden in a paper bag, but rather, Taylor's singing Greatest Love of All. She manages to get in tune for the parts that require projection (i.e. the loud parts), but she's out of tune in every other place. Randy bemoans the loss of Tenia's "hoochie shorts" from the Hollywood rounds during his critique. No, I'm not kidding. I think most of America requests that you keep in your pants, judges. Taylor and her semi-formal prom dress earn a 23.
Alexandra Bachelier decides to wear a bikini top and jeans to present a vulnerable love ballad to America. The only thing a binki top makes you vulnerable to when you're on TV is either a shark attack in a horror flick, or a tanning booth mishap on a sitcom. Anyway, Bachelier whispers through Vanessa Williams' Save the Best for Last and she's mostly in tune, but it's boring and she doesn't have much else to offer. She tries to do a run at the end and her head jerks around like she's being possessed. Bachelier ends up with one star, at 15.
In her intro package, Jazmin Lowery claims to have suffered from Ebola since the beginning of the Idol process. I kid, I kid. She does sound a bit under the weather though. Lowery does a fairly decent job with Tamia's You Put a Move on My Heart, but she is shrill on anything involving an "e" vowel. Randy hates the performance but Simon loves her. She ends up with a 38 overall from the Idolsphere.
Jamar takes Careless Whisper by Wham! and does pretty much that: he Whams! ("Wham!s"? "Wham!'s"? How would the verb be formed with proper grammar?) the song against the wall. He's loud and yelling the entire thing with no nuance, emotion... anything. It's just screaming barely worthy of the 14 he ends up with. Jamar does seem terribly nice though, so there's that. Is there a show where I can vote for the most likable person instead of being obligated to vote for the talented ones and...uh, why are you all laughing at me?
Oh, Kelly Clarkson. I'm unabashedly a Clarkson fan so I'm going to try my best to be objective, but it's really, really difficult not to do anything but gush about her after sitting through the last five performances. In the span of two minutes, she does what it takes some contestants months to do: she shows off her full talent, plus a sense of humor, by throwing some quirky sass into Aretha Franklin's Respect. The contestants in the other room flip out when she's finished. Up front, Randy tells her she was very good. Paula remembers Clarkson singing this song from the Hollywood rounds, and they have a cute moment where Paula says "If it ain't broke..." and Kelly finishes with "...don't fix it." Simon non-critiques that he doesn’t remember her. Clarkson is clearly confused by this, probably because it's neither a compliment nor mean, which is all she and the contestants expect from Simon at this point. He goes on to say that she's got a good voice, but he really isn't enthusiastic about her at all. Somehow, she's able to spin an essential "Simon's too busy to care" comment into a loveable aloof moment for herself in the waiting room, by describing the awkwardness of the situation. Clarkson gets an 85, the first and only five-star performance of the night, and yes people, my heart.
Justin Guarini is an interesting contestant, to say the least. Throughout the first season, tThere was no male capable of even being in the same area code with him, vocally or artistically. Guarini delivers the second performance of Ribbon in the Sky and what he might lack technically, he makes up for performance-wise: he emotes, he plays to the cameras, and he employs some very strong understanding of dynamic control, which goes quite a long way. It goes to about 62 tonight, anyway. Also, this may be the show's first instance of obvious judge pimping; Justin leaves the stage and Randy editorializes that Justin was the contestant that made Simon comment that the US contestants were better than the ones from the UK.
The Results Show:
The next night, the judges make the following predictions for each chair:
First: Unanimously Justin. Notably, Randy and Paula say they predict Justin Guarini "to win this show." Whether they meant this round or the entire series isn't clear, but Guarini does end up winning the first chair into the Finals.
Second: The judges are in disagreement. Randy thinks Angela Peel, Paula says Alexis Lopez, while Simon predicts Gil Sinuet, but then changes his mind to Lopez. They're all wrong, but in a good way: Kelly Clarkson earns the votes, and a spot in the Top 10. I think when I originally saw this, I was very surprised (but incredibly ecstatic) that she advanced because of the muted reaction from Simon. He certainly wasn’t mean to her, but Simon did treat Clarkson as though she was filler and not worth a second thought. Simon still doesn't remember her name, despite his claim that producers were calling him up about her after the show aired.
Third: The judges are now unanimous on Lopez, which is interesting because originally she had been cut in Hollywood. Peel is still up there too, so I wonder why they forgot about her. Anyway, they're all wrong again, but this time, in a bad way: AJ Gil takes the final spot because the judges were mean to him, like they were mean to Jim Verraros in week one. Joy.
Simon throws a minor hissy fit about Gil's inclusion in the finalist group, which will boil over in about a week or so. Admittedly, an evil part of me enjoys when the credits roll because every single time they do it on live camera. Very often, one will learn more about the contestants' true nature in those candid forty seconds than by watching their performances, and that's all I'll say.
— By "Phan", WNTS Contributor