S11E14: After a gruelling night of more viable contestants than we know what to do with, American Idol’s top 12 girls night was a stark contrast. With the guys, almost every performance had a hook. Even when a singer, like Eben Franckewitz, proved that he’s not quite ready for the competition, he did it without making us regret tuning in. But this evening’s offering of ladies’ tunes made me wonder if I’d been watching a different show all season and if I could somehow convince the judges to give two of the girls’ slots to our guys. That’s the problem with the Idol system: we have to see this equal split of genders in the top 13. Instead of sending through the top 13 best possible performers, we send through the best girls and the best guys. It just so happens that this year, the girls aren’t the group with the best crop of singers.
But I can’t just throw these claims around, so I’ve prepared some proof. If the fact that two singers chose to perform the same Adele song and the fact that the judges weren’t simply singing praises all night isn’t proof enough, here are our ladies from the mind-blowing revelations to moments we wish we could un-witness.
Jessica Sanchez “Love You I Do”
For someone who only really sneaked into the competition during group week, Jessica is suddenly a frontrunner. This girl delivered the best song of the night, hands down. She says her voice is sore, but if that’s what she sounds like when she’s sick, I hope she never gets better. She belongs on that stage. Jennifer praises her use of dynamics and her stage presence - she’s performing at an almost professional level. Randy continues on his comparison tirade, calling her a young Beyonce. While I appreciate the sentiment, these comparisons aren’t good for the contestants - it’s pigeon-holing and pressure all at once.
Shannon Magrane “Go Light Your World”
Here’s how great a singer Shannon Magrane is: she picked a song no one knows in a genre outside of the pop music canon and she’s still a top performer of the night. To put it simply, her voice is phenomenal for a 16 year old. Jennifer says Shannon feels it in her soul like something terrible happened to her at a young age - though I’d hope that great music isn’t only borne of tragedy. Randy is fully on board and Steven spends his allotted time struggling to keep from saying how attractive she is in front of her father...again.
Hollie Cavanaugh “Reflection”
When she started singing, I would never have guessed she’d make into one of my top slots. But I can now say, without a doubt, that she’s one of the strongest, most surprising contestants on the show. She started off a little unsure, but as the song built up, she suddenly broke out with a huge voice that we never saw in auditions. The judges all say they want to see her let her hair down - a delicious prospect after as performance like this - but Jennifer goes far enough to say that Hollie could win this thing. It’s probably a little early to make these claims, but I’m certainly excited to see what she does next.
Hallie Day “Feeling Good”
When Hallie hit the stage after a few mediocre performances from her peers, she was a bit of a relief. She’s got an old soul of a voice and she’s a joy to watch - even though she has trouble working the stage and maintaining her strength. And in truth, she’s a great singer, but when Steven compared her to Adele I had an almost allergic reaction. Adele is the biggest singer in the world right now, the last thing we need is a slate of copy cats. Even if Hallie turns out to be the next Adele, calling her that would only hurt her.
Elise Testone “One and Only”
I always forget about Elise and when she ended up singing the same song as Jen Hirsh, I feared the worst. First, like I said about little Eben on guys’ night: never, ever start with Adele. Why two girls did the same song by an artist no one should cover is beyond me. Good thing for Elise, she delivered the better performance. She makes it her own, taking it into gospel territory - a little more old school than Adele does it. Jennifer says Elise didn’t quite hit the notes she could have because her emotions got in the way - but her emotions are what made this rendition work. Randy says it wasn’t her best performance, but it was great. They say she’s one of the best people in the competition, and I think it’s too soon to tell, but she’s certainly intriguing.
Skylar Laine “Stay With Me”
I’ve liked Skylar since the beginning. She’s an old school country singer with strong vocals, but her stage presences is a little manic this time around. I love this girl, but the shaking arms and vibrations need to scale back a little. Jennifer says she’s what it would be like if “Tina Turner went country.” Randy calls her Reba McEntire/Kelly Clarkson/Tina Turner. Once again, the judges are there to help qualify and all they do is compare unique talents to already established singers. Skylar is Skylar - let’s not put her in a box from the start.
Erika Van Pelt “What About Love”
While she was a favorite throughout auditions, her first live show was not impressive. She played it so incredibly safe and didn’t make use of her character or smokiness. Once again, Randy makes an outrageous comparison, saying she’s got an Adele vibe, which, as I’ve said multiple times in this recap, isn’t helping anyone. She’s got a strong voice but she didn’t really use it, and it could cost her a spot in the competition.
Jen Hirsh “One and Only”
STOP SINGING ADELE SONGS. Jen’s rendition of “One and Only” precedes Elise’s, but that didn’t help her. It’s simply not strong, unique, or emotional enough to let us forget what the original sounds like. I simply couldn’t stop hearing Adele and comparing Jen’s subpar performance to Adele’s heart-breaking one. Jennifer loves it and says she let loose - but it’s not enough, all I can hear is how she tried and failed to sound like Adele. It’s disappointing because in Hollywood, Jen was one who stood out. That original sound is long gone, but if she sticks around maybe she can find it again.
Chelsea Sorrell “Cowboy Casanova”
Chelsea is another contestant I constantly forget, and this song doesn’t really help. She lets the Carrie Underwood tune do the work for her and Randy rightfully questions coming out of the gate with Underwood’s song. It’s true, she floats along with the help of the song and she really doesn’t have her own identity. Plus, when we strip away the bounce of the tune, we’re just left with a slightly nasally country gal. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and the other options are just so much better.
Brielle Von Hugel “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”
Brielle has a bit of an issue going into this competition because we watched her turn into a bit of a diva during Hollywood week. Her onstage bravado is tainted by the attitude issues we saw during that tense week, and to boot, she picks a song that dips out of her range and at times reaches to high for her. Steven loves it because he loves everything. But Jennifer and Randy praise her too. They say she’s a true performer - she’s a ham, but I wouldn’t call her a performer. And Randy says she has Janis Joplin swag. They go a little easy on the girl if you ask me, but maybe my judgement is just a little clouded.
Baylie Brown “Amazed”
She doesn’t belong in the top 24. Not only is the song a terrible choice, but she alternates between going flat and sharp. But hey, she’s gorgeous. The judges rattle off harsh - but not harsh enough - criticisms about everything from her song choice, to her shaky performance, to her lack of oomph. Of course they all manage to tell her how pretty she looks. If her Barbie doll appearance gives her a top 13 slot, I’m going to be a very unhappy camper.
Haley Johnsen “Sweet Dreams”
I’m still not sure what happened here. Haley has no control. She’s off key. The song owned her in the worst possible way. Jennifer says she has so much skill and a unique voice, but I have to assume she’s pulling that from past performances because this sad rendition held none of those things. Steven says she wasn’t perfect, but “who is?” proving his commentary is just a side show. Randy thankfully says it was a bit of a nightmare. Sorry, Haley. I’m going to have to agree whole heartedly with Randy on this one.
Who are your top five? Do you think anyone could win it all? Are you afraid your favorite might be sent home? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler
S11E2: Stop two on the American Idol audition train is Pittsburgh – and because of Fox’s new series The Finder we only get an hour of auditions. I’m going to go ahead and assume the shortened timeslot is the reason behind the lack of the usual dose of crazies. We’re introduced to the steel city the only possible: with Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” playing over the montage of contestants. Ryan Seacrest’s voiceover tells us that this is the “city of champions” and he may be right about the sports teams, but as for Idol, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These are just the auditions, if anything, Pittsburgh is the city of people waving crinkly, yellow pieces of paper (with promise)!
“I think you could be an American Idol.” –Steven
This poor guy comes in, sees the other great singers and immediately feels inadequate. That typical Idol goofball music was playing in the background, so I feared they were starting the night off with a joke, but then again he was so humble. The people they make fun of are rarely humble. The Korea native sang “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton and he was wonderful and even a little soulful. Clearly he gets the ticket to Hollywood.
”You are crazy.” –Randy
Age 26 This guy is a born and raised performer, singing onstage with his family since he was two, so of course he’s going to be a complete and total ham. He sings the theme song from Family Matters because he’s just that cocky. It would seem he has license to be cocky because the guy can sing – and scat. He gets a golden ticket, so maybe we’ll get to see him sing the theme song from Full House next.
“She sings better when I’m planking.” –Patty the Pittsburgh Planker
Some woman who claims to be famous in Pittsburgh for planking attempts to steal her sister’s thunder by planking all over her audition. Patty even planks while her sister sings because she’s either insane or she thinks they’re beating the system and getting her sister more air time, which might be true. Good thing Samantha can actually sing. She does “Like I’ve Never Loved at All” by Faith Hill and it’s pretty, plain, and simple. She’s strong and Randy calls her voice pure, but I call it average. She gets a yes as Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on The Floor” plays in the background because the producers have been waiting to use that song in a literal sense and Patty The Planker answered their prayers.
“That was like Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake had a baby?” –JLo
This jobless kid from New York spends time he could use to get a job singing silly songs in Union Square. So naturally, he spends 9 hours on a bus to get to Pittsburgh and audition for American Idol with a diddy he wrote on that same bus. He’s got serious pipes, but the tone is obnoxious and screechy, still they love him and he gets a ticket through to Hollywood. I fear he’s going to be the James Durbin of Season 11.
“He’s cute, look how cute he is.” –JLo
Apparently, all you have to do to “look like Justin Bieber” is get the right hair cut and be 15 years old with a decent singing voice. But, Eben is sweet and humble, calling the audition a privilege (you mean taking off days of school or work to audition for a singing contest that doesn’t guarantee financial success simply because you have a dream to sing is a luxury? Imagine that). I keep raining on this kid’s parade, but he was actually a pretty decent, sweet little singer. He tries out “Ain’t No Sunshine” and while he doesn’t really have the ability to give it any soul, he does pretty well. He gets a ticket to Hollywood.
“I dropped out of high school. This is an all or nothing thing.” –Travis Orlando
I can’t remember why Travis didn’t make it originally, but the judges insist his voice has gotten stronger, and that they need to hear more of what he’s got. But wait, you can’t dismiss him that easily; he’s got a sob story. His mother ditched his family and now he, his sick dad and his brother live in a shelter. His dad is on dialysis, his brother is in college and he quit high school to do Idol. Personally, I think that auditioning for a show that hasn’t turned out a real star in years instead of finishing one last year of high school is just a little misguided. Luckily for Travis, he gets a “yes.”
“Some kinda magic.” –Steven
Erica Van Pelt
This girl is a Mobile DJ and Wedding Singer, the first of which is a career I didn’t think was actually a thing. There are no gimmicks here, so let’s just get to the goods. She sings “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and sounds a little Joss Stone. She does a little too much of the Christina Aguilera hand and matching head bob, but that usually dies out eventually. She also gets a yes, and continues the streak of winner after winner.
“You ever seen Shrek? I’m going to sing the Hallelujah song that plays right through there.” –Shane Bruce
But it had to end somewhere. Next we meet a young guy who actually likes working in a coal mine. They ruined the surprise of whether he was going to be able to sing or if he’d sound like a monkey being beaten with a feral cat by showing him singing to his work mates, but that doesn’t mean he’s good. He says he’s going to sing some song from Shrek - oh that “song from Shrek” that was written by Leonard Cohen and famously sung by Jeff Buckley and later Rufus Wainwright? His knowledge of music history isn’t the only fumble, he screws up the high notes in the song. Jennifer and Randy tell him to work on it and come back, but Steven tells him sometimes “routine is the secret of life” going on about how being a rock star is his path, but it isn’t for everyone else.
“Music and my husband saved my life.” –Hallie Day
The last contestant of the night is a waitress and a newlywed. She’s bubbly and blonde, so it seems this will be an easy little trip to yellow, crinkly paperville, but nope. She’s the last contestant, and typically these folks have terrible problems in their lives. She moved to New York at 15 to be in a girl group, but she ended up broke and drug addict. Her parents were absent, and the result was extremely low self esteem. She tried to commit suicide, but she lived and then met her husband, Ryan, who gave her the will to live. Normally, I’d say this is overkill, but it’s pretty hard to say a story like that is sensationalized. A story like that just is. She sings “I Will Survive” and while I appreciate the sentiment, the song choice was a little cheesy. Still, she’s a real singer with a strong, smoky voice. The judges all agree that she’s Idol material – and so do I.
All in all the judges handed out 38 tickets in Pittsburgh and snagged a potential winner. It’s a pretty good showing if you ask me. Who do you think was better, Savannah’s Phillip Phillips or Hallie Day? (I can certainly tell you which one has a better stage name.) Let me know in the comments or get at me on Twitter. @KelseaStahler