And they're off!
The seventh-season semifinals of "American Idol" kicked off Tuesday night with a surprising whimper from the top 12 guys. Producers have been promising the best talent yet since day one, but the mood on the "Idol" stage was subdued right from the get-go.
The normally hyper "walk and wave at the camera" introduction of the 12 contestants — which is a fun way to get a glimpse of each singer's personality — seemed like an afterthought. Not one singer committed to a wild gesture or a fun greeting. Danny Noriega came close, but at the last minute changed his mind, as if a producer was off camera threatening the wild child with violence if he misbehaved.
Ryan introduced a quick recap of the top 12 boys' journey to the semifinals, which, curiously enough, was overloaded with the four singers we haven't heard from yet. But we still didn't get to hear them sing. Instead we saw generic reaction shots while a Blake Lewis song blared on the soundtrack. At least we sort of know what they look like now. Sort of.
Ryan also casually mentioned that Tuesday's songs would all be from the '60s, a big departure from the carefree "anything goes" attitude of previous semifinals. (By the way, don't miss our 60-second recaps of all six previous seasons of "American Idol" here.) Last year, Blake Lewis, Chris Sligh and Chris Richardson all gained fans based on their offbeat song selections. Viewers learned more about the contestants based on song choice than they did from watching a pre-taped 60-second interview package. This new semifinal theme limitation is a terrible idea, and one I hope they ditch by next week's round.
But before I pull a tantrum of Chikezie proportions, let's get to the performances! This is, after all, going to be the best crop of singers yet, right? Right!?
Song: Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour"
Verdict: He turned into a pumpkin
In a taped interview, David wasted no time laying on the sob story. Single mom, broken family, lives in his car. (Oh, wait.) He also said singing is an "escape" for him, which would explain his shoe-gazing presence during his stiff performance. Where did he escape to Tuesday night? (Maybe he went into hiding with Carly Smithson. Anyone else notice the Blue-Tongued One's empty chair in the peanut gallery? I bet she was off shooting another music video for MCA Records.)
Ironic that David picked a song by the guy who sang "Land of 1,000 Dances," considering he only has one move in his repertoire: the Frankenstein. Randy loved David's daring gospel-influenced opening (I did, too, dawg), while Paula tried to sound intelligent by using "industry" phrases like "color 'em up" and "go into your false." Simon perfected the backhanded compliment, starting with "It was better than I thought it was going to be," and ending with "Once the song got going, I didn't hear anything distinct." Ouch. The guy I just compared to last year's Rudy Cardenas better get ready to "escape" into Bottom Two-Land.
Song: The Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday"
Verdict: A downward (and sassy) spiral
We learned three things about Chikezie Tuesday night: One, he dropped his last name for some stupid reason. (What in the Mandisa was he thinking? Chikezie Eze is probably the best name on the planet, except for maybe this one). Two, he recently lost a ton of weight. (Thanks for that pearl of wisdom, Paula!) And three, he is a giant jerkface. After Simon called Chikezie Eze's (screw him, I'm typing his last name forever!) burnt-sienna suit "hideous," the singer wigged out, shouting, "Hold up, player! Is Charlie Chaplin your stylist?" Then, when criticized for giving an old-fashioned performance, he bitched about having to sing a song from the '60s. This is a real class act, folks! True, it was disrespectful when Simon called him "Jacuzzi." And yes, it stinks that they're already confined to a decade. But it's not wise to sass the judges at this stage of the game (especially when you're a contestant who hasn't gotten that much screen time yet.) Plus, for a guy who has an Aaron Nevillish, high-pitched voice, he picked a song that relied far too heavily on his shaky lower register. Bad song choice + bad attitude = bottom two, for sure. (A real pity, because I adored his mother in the audience.)
Song: The Turtles' "Happy Together"
Verdict: Not in love just yet
Have I been listening to the wrong version of "Happy Together" all these years? Both Simon and Randy seemed really freaked out by David's "rocking" take on the tune, but I always considered the Turtles' original to be a rock song. I guess it could be a "pop" track, considering all the ba-ba-bas in the background and the lyrics that refer to blue skies, tossed dice and things of that nature. But the verses are in a minor key, and that organ sounds ominous to my ears. Song classification aside, David Cook's performance was good enough to get him through the end of the week. I wish he didn't shout so much (and I really hope he puts that damn mic stand down next time), but his offering was memorable as a passable "Idol" test drive, even if he looked a little distracted throughout.
Song: Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini's "Moon River"
Verdict: A moon made of cheese
Yeagermeister tanked with this schmaltzy love theme from "Breakfast at Tiffany's." In fact, Jason's goofy, wide-eyed sentimentality was as sickening as Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi is offensive in that movie. Even his son in the audience (who was somehow 16 years old and looked like Eartha Kitt) knew it sucked big time. Paula cushioned the blow by doling out some sage, if not grammatically sound, advice: "The simpler the song is, it's very difficult to sing." Trust her, she'd know. But Simon ripped it apart, comparing Yeager to a dependable but boring old sheep dog. Cowell may have called it a cruise-ship performance, but I think Jason may be more at home on a Lawrence Welk PBS special. Even a late-in-the-game dead-grandma dedication isn't going to save Yeager from sinking to the bottom ... two.
Song: Three Dog Night's "One"
Verdict: Hats off! No, really, take the damn hats off.
Robbie Carrico (who I may end up calling "Blossom" for the rest of the season, thanks to his addiction to headwear) did a heckuva job disguising the fact that he doesn't have a powerhouse voice. Like a good old boy-bander, he knows that pop success is 85 percent image, 15 percent singing ability, which is why he let the backup singers do all the heavy lifting while he just strutted his stuff looking like a Vietnam veteran version of Justin Timberlake. The ruse worked, and he won over the judging panel, including a reluctant Simon, who questioned his authenticity. "This is me!" Robbie insisted, as he prayed nobody would notice that he bought his skullcap on E-Street. (P.S.: Don't think that the irony of his resembling Timberlake would get by me.)
Song: The Miracles' "Shop Around"
Verdict: A smokey bandit
As if we needed another reason to love little David Archuleta, during his pre-taped interview, he burst into an impromptu "Flashdance ... What a Feeling" to describe how he felt when he made the top 24. Do we have another Celine Dion on our hands? Will David respond to all interview questions with song? This should make for some very exciting Coca-Cola Real Moments!
Seacrest: Joe from Dayton wants to know, "How do you stay in shape?"
David: [Sings "Neutron Dance."]
Seacrest: Josie from Anchorage asks, "Do you have any pets?"
David: [Sings "We Are Siamese" from "Lady and the Tramp."]
Seacrest: Marci from Baton Rouge wonders, "Do you have a girlfriend?"
David: [Sings a chorus from any Clay Aiken song.]
David's commanding "Shop Around" was the night's top performance, even though it sounded like he belched during the final long note. Then he nailed the dismount, handling the judges' praise with grace and humility. (The kid's golly-gee-aw-shucks reaction was so endearing, it made Melinda Doolittle look like Mary J. Blige.) But on that note, how many weeks before Simon starts yelling at him for being so humble? I give him three.
Song: Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock"
Verdict: Guilty of loving it
I don't want to be a stickler here, but last time I checked, "Jailhouse Rock" was released in 1957. It's not Danny's fault. I imagine "Idol" gave them all a list of so-called '60s songs to choose from. So I hope whichever PA was in charge of compiling that list got fired. Otherwise, we might hear Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" on country night. (Although, a Kristy Lee Cook/ Trent Reznor collabo would be something.)
That being said, I thought Danny Noriega's boundary-bashing risk paid off in a big way. These semifinal shows are all about sticking out from the crowd, and what better way to do that than with a rip-roaring, if not sacrilegious, romp through rock-and-roll royalty? His vocals were a mess, but of course they were. He was singing "Jailhouse Rock." The song has four different notes total! But from the hilarious intro ("I'm 18 years old. I'm from Asuza, California. And I'm currently unemployed!") to his diva walk down the steps to his expert sassing of the judges (start taking notes, Chikeze Eze!), Danny succeeded in showing off his sparkling personality. Who wouldn't want to see him perform again? Well, Simon, I suppose. The especially grumpy judge said it was "verging on grotesque" before picking a fight with the hopelessly clueless Paula, who continued to ramble about the "colors of the wind" or something. Poor little lamb got stuck in a corner of her own loopy logic before begging for mercy. "OK, help me out here, Randy!"
Song: Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin' "
Verdict: Nobody's listening
Luke has been kept in the "Idol" closet until Tuesday, but instead of making a splashy debut, the Mitt Romney lookalike whispered through a bizarre performance that had me noticing the graphic stage background more than his gossamer vocals. In fact, the only notes I jotted down were "Animated barcode on the monitors. Wifey in audience knew it was bad. Jon Voight is old."
I'd say he'll be in the bottom two, but I've already forgotten who I'm talking about.
Song: Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds"
Verdict: Berry, berry average
Colton Berry was in a similar situation to Luke (although I hesitate to use the term "closet" when discussing Mr. Berry). Prior to Tuesday, we'd only heard Colt 45 sing one line from "A Whole New World." Producers tried throwing Colton a bone by giving him some face time with Seacrest early in the show. Too bad the "theatrical" singer's attempt at charm ("I look like Ellen DeGeneres! Tee-hee!") landed with a resounding thud in the form of an uncomfortable TV host.
Colton didn't fare much better during "Suspicious Minds," either. He over-enunciated every syllable like he'd just learned English, and then he ran out of steam with more than a few "caught in a traps" to go. Paula was pleased to see a "different side" of Colton (as opposed to America, who finally got to see a side of the singer, a side that included bright-blue skinny jeans), but Simon snapped that Colt-of-Personality had no relevance in today's music industry and thus was a "complete waste of time." I guess Nice Simon is officially off on holiday. Regardless, Colton will probably end up in the bottom two.
Song: Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"
Verdict: Frampton comes dead
Continuing the streak of contestants we've barely heard of, (Leif) Garrett was up next. On his "Idol" profile, Garrett lists "Go big or go home" as his favorite quote. Shocking, then, how small and inconsequential Garrett's offering was. The youngster's timid attempt was so bad, Luke What's-His-Name could be seen beaming on the balcony, thrilled that there was a performance even worse than his on the show.
Simon had especially evil words for poor Garrett: "It was boring. Your voice sounded a bit whiney. You look terrified, and it looks as if you've been shut up in your bedroom for about a month, you know? You look verging on haunted! You're pale. You need some fresh air." Yikes, but how do you really feel, Simon? Yet in the face of truly hateful words, Garrett took Simon's bile like a man, albeit a man who needs to shave his weak 'stache. Haley's winning attitude should save him from elimination this week, but he'll definitely be bottom three.
Song: The Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream"
Verdict: I'll have what he's having
Castro concluded the "Silenced by 'Idol' " portion of the program. (Isn't it bizarre that producers stacked all of these previously ignored singers back-to-back in the show lineup?) Seacrest teased hippie Jason before a commercial break as "the first person to play an instrument tonight!" (My wife hilariously predicted that he'd be rocking the bongos.) Big news in "Idol" land! I guess that means instruments will be allowed throughout the competition. (Poor writing in a Hollywood Week episode incorrectly suggested they'd be strumming during the first round of tryouts only.)
The dreadhead picked up a guitar and oozed charisma. As he sang "Daydream," I began daydreaming about Castro's future. It involved opening for Dispatch, releasing studio albums that are "never as good as his live shows" and having his catalog butchered by frat guys hoping to get lucky at a formal.
Randy complained about pitch problems. Paula was blown away. And Simon loved how "current" he sounded. (Somebody tell Simon that the Fratellisthe Fratellis never took off here in the States.) Castro got a contact high from all the rave reviews, acting like a stereotypical dreadlocked white guy post-performance. Seacrest tried to cover for Castro's curiously spacey behavior. "You're still in shock from all of it, eh?" Castro keeps that up, and Natalie Cole will start complaining once he wins Grammys.
Song: The Doors' "Light My Fire"
Verdict: Recycled heat
In his taped piece, Michael Johns worked hard to face the jingoist "Idol" viewers. "I've been [living in the U.S.] for 10 years. My whole adult life has been here!" In other words, "Hey, bloggers! Stop bitching about an Australian participating on 'American Idol.' I'm just as American as Mel Gibson. You all like Mel Gibson still, right? [Crickets.]"
But if this guy's such an assimilated American, then why the hell is he rocking a scarf around his neck? Doesn't he know that only female singers (named Syesha) do that here in the States? He's like the exchange student people tortured in high school. "No, Janick. Women love it when guys call them imbeciles!" Can't you just picture Danny Noriega backstage whispering, "Psst, Aussie bum. Throw this around your neck. All the studs are wearing them."
Not counting the scarf, Michael Johns stuck with what worked in Hollywood Week and rehashed the Doors. (I hope the Rocker Nurse doesn't follow suit Wednesday night. I just don't think I can sit through that hideous "fire" background again this week.) Like the snippet we saw in Hollywood, Johns' Jim Morrison homage is pretty awesome. "Idol" might be earmarking David Cook as this year's Daughtry, but if there's anyone born to front a band this season, it's the dynamic Michael Johns. Simon and Randy agree, the latter idiotically likening Johns to Michael Hutchence, which means he'll end up accidentally killing himself on my birthday.
What was up with all the subpar performances Tuesday night? Maybe "Idol" needs to groom these young singers more. Perhaps they should expand Hollywood Week to include an additional week of intense vocal boot camp. Also, between Yeager's white streak, Garrett's curly nest and Castro's dreadlocks, "Idol" needs to take a page out of Tyra's Big Book of Domination and include a makeover episode, stat!
From these lackluster performances, it's hard to pick two who were the worst, or to predict which two will actually get booted Thursday night. Chikezie's foul 'tude stunk up the room big time, but he's one of the few minority boys this season and I, for one, would like to see the diversity continue a little bit longer. Yeager's "Moon River" was all sorts of stomach-churning wrong, so I think his days are numbered, alongside the depressingly forgettable Luke. Or maybe Elvis fans will be so turned off by Danny Noriega that they'll vote for everyone else hoping to kick Danny off by default.
What did you think? Were you bummed that the theme weeks are starting already? Do you think Danny is this season's Sanjaya? Were these really the strongest guys ever?
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