After 11 blockbuster seasons of American Idol, it's hard to believe the reality series' Season 1 finale was virtually star-free (of course, with the exception of the gigantic star the show was in the process of creating). We only had Top 2 Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson, joining forces with their fellow Top 10 to perform schmaltzy performances that looked as uncomfortable as Ryan Starr's wardrobe. Now, 10 years later, the top-rated series attracts top promotion-minded talent like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Jack Black. (Wait, what?)
While Season 11's finale boasts performers slightly less buzzy, we're still in for a respectable line-up tonight: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor, Kristen Chenoweth, Thelma Houston, Sheila E., Nelly Furtado, and Jennifer Holliday will be paying tribute to the late Donna Summer, while members of our Top 12 will duet with names like Holliday (Jessica Sanchez), Jordin Sparks (Hollie Cavanagh), Reba McEntire (Skylar Laine), Fantasia (Mantasia), and John Fogerty (Phillip Phillips).
Of course, we Idol fans are a fickle bunch who will never be satisfied until we're given complete power of attorney over the series — so naturally, I have to suggest a few Idol-star duets I'd be dying to see in tonight's finale. For all that is holy (like a Haley Reinhart and Tony Bennett performance of "Steppin' Out With My Baby"), please, Idol gods, find a way for these duets to happen in the next 12 hours (and our thoughts are still with you, likely-not-to-appear Jermaine Jones):
Jeremy Rosado: Oh gosh, who to pair with the extremely forgettable 13th place finisher with? Why not throw in Idol MVP Barry Manilow, who's appeared on the series five times? Let's make it an even six!
Shannon Magrane: To avoid awkward staging, let's get someone height-appropriate for the tall Idol contestant. The 5'11" Taylor Swift would also help baseball baby Shannon stray away from the too-mature material she seems to focus on. If you build the youth appeal, they will come. (Record companies, that is.)
Erika Van Pelt: Erika turned out to be one of the season's more uneven performers, delivering songs in styles ranging from dance pop to dated soul. And, as Wikipedia reminds me, Erika has a passion for "rhythm and blues, soul, country, jazz, rock, and classical." So what genre-jumping musician could we pair her with? The duet-friendly Kid Rock. Don't laugh — sure, it's as crazy as "Bawitdaba," but it could work.
Heejun Han: Billy Joel. So he, too, can take a piss out on "My Life."
DeAndre Brackensick: As much as we'd like one of the DeBarge brothers to come to the Nokia Theater to recreate DeAndre's "I Like It," the contestant sorely needs to prove himself as a contemporary, relevant artist. Let's get Robin Thicke to beef up his record sales-friendly profile.
Colton Dixon: Creed. Just kidding — I wouldn't even wish Scott Stapp on Tim Urban. And it wouldn't hurt Colton's accessibility to distance himself from his religion. Instead, let's pair him with another piano-friendly band, The Script.
Elise Testone: I'm tempted to pick Joss Stone for Elise — they both boast a hippie-funk style — but Elise's lack of refinement would make us feel like we're comparing apples to much tastier and shinier apples watching the pair. Instead, why not couple Elise with the ultimate hippie, Willie Nelson, whose laid-back style would allow Elise's powerhouse vocals to dominate the Idol joint (heh)?
Skylar Laine: Cheers, Idol. You actually got this one right, pairing the contestant with Reba McEntire, a star who both looks and sounds so like our fifth-place finisher, I'll be wondering if our finale wine is simply making us see double. That said, I'm still eager to one day hear the "Gunpowder and Lead"/"Diamond-Studded Pistol" mash-up from Skylar and Miranda Lambert.
Hollie Cavanagh: Miley Cyrus might be the obvious choice — Hollie always took up the opportunity to sing "The Climb" faster than she could say "[garbled, confusing British-American statement here]" — but she has far more in common with fellow reality series vet Leona Lewis. Doesn't hurt that Hollie's "Bleeding Love" was one of the few standouts of her season.
Joshua Ledet: The judges insist that Joshua is one of the best singers they've seen in 50 years. So let's test their expertise and couple the third-place finisher with the best singer of the past 50 years, Aretha Franklin.
Jessica Sanchez: Even though holograms are all the rage this 2012, let's not hope for a Whitney Houston duet. (Too soon. Too soon.) Though it's an obvious choice, we'd be crazy in love with the great TV that would come from watching a 16-year-old sing with her own greatest idol, Beyoncé.
Phillip Phillips: No, Phillip should not duet with Dave Matthews Band. Instead, he'd be best served paired with another artist with a distinguishable voice that's distinguishable from his own. The dream duet: Phillip proving he's the Better — nay, best — Man for the Idol crown via a finale performance fellow guitarist Eddie Vedder, who has recreated a song or two in his lifetime. I'm not Hiding My Love Away from that pipe dream!
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Image Credit: FOX]
More: Phillip Phillips Backstage at Idol: 'I Was Scared to Death' American Idol Recap: Opposites Attract American Idol Recap: Blame the Judges!
S11E10: Now that the pressure of makeshift performances on group night and solo night is finally clear, the 70 remaining American Idol contestants are whisked away to Las Vegas to form groups once more. This time, they’ll put together costumes and work with vocal coaches to perform assigned 1950s and 1960s songs. Ryan informs us as dramatically as possible that this time, they’ll get immediate results on stage – as if it’s different than every other episode apart from Solo Night.
The wonderful thing about Vegas performances is that they tend to be colorful, theatrical and fun. We see outfits inspired by USO shows and Elvis performances, but dress-up is more fun when you aren’t sent packing in your fuchsia Diana Ross dress. And while 50s and 60s music seems like an easy task because we all know the words and the notes are clean and simple, but these harmonies and melodies are so tight, it’s terribly obvious when they’re not completely pristine.
Luckily, Idol spares us the uglier performances, delivering only the best of them. We’re also seeing the contestants quickly fall into two groups – even within the ones chosen to stay. There are your average contestants with pretty voices, decent ranges, cute faces, etc., but then you’ve got the people who – as cheesy as it sounds – have music in their souls. The split divides the backstreet boys from the people who seem to view music not as a meal ticket or a means of fame, but as part of their identities.
Cari Quoyeser, Colton Dixon, Chase Likens, Skylar Laine
Before this group takes the stage, Skylar worries her trouble with harmonies will hurt her group – yes, we found an Idol hopeful who’s actually worried about someone other than herself. The group kicks off Day 1 with “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the group was easily split into two groups: the talented ones and the other ones. Colton, despite the praise he gets from the judges time and again, just doesn’t do it for me. He’s a boring combination of 1990s Justin Timberlake and Jason Mraz. Snooze. He’s not bad, he’s just not a stand-out other than the fact that the show continues to highlight him. Chase and Skylar blow their cohorts out of the water despite putting their country voices into unfamiliar territory. Lastly, Cari was a bit “shaky” as Jennifer put it – though I have to agree – and she was the first contestant sent home.
David Leathers, Jr, Gabi Carrubba, Jeremy Rosado, Ariel Sprague
One fourth of the next group, contestant Gabi Carrubba, somehow treads an impossible line between diva and sweetheart, complaining that she doesn’t have a decent enough solo while still maintaining respect for her friends and fellow singers. But when it comes time to sing “Rockin’ Robin” she gets to rock a big note at the end. That sounds like the perfect place to show off if you ask me. As usual, David and Jeremy are incredible – no surprise there. The perfectly average Ariel comes out of the gate with a much bigger game this time – she really does belong up there. Despite their middle school glee club choreography, the judges send them all through – which is good because they’re friends and that could get awkward.
Angie Zeiderman, Erika Van Pelt, Adam Brock, Shelby Tweeten
Another split performance comes from this foursome, who spit out “Great Balls of Fire.” It’s no wonder that Adam shined as he sang and plinked away at the piano and Erika found the overboard sweet spot – the dynamic elements of the song suited her tendency to over perform. Angie is having fun and she’s fully committed, but she’s a little sharp and it’s clear she’s not the same caliber singer as her teammates. Shelby is cute and decent singer, but I’ve yet to find her engaging. They all go through, though Randy leaves poor Angie in limbo for what feels like 45 seconds.
Schyler Dixon, Brielle Von Hugel, Molly Hunt
Colton Dixon’s sister Schyler, didn’t fare as well in her routine as her brother did in his. The girls sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” in reimagined (see: skimpy) army costumes and Steven says he used to make out to this song, reminding us just how old he really is. The performance is over the top, and Schyler, especially, slides to and from notes too much. Brielle is obnoxious, but strong. They must have cut out Molly’s solo, because we have no evidence of her “weak” performance before she is cut. Jennifer adds that Molly is such a sweetheart. Yes, it hurts to send home the nice girl while the one who terrifies her own mother gets to continue.
Haley Johnson, Elise Testone, Eben Franckewitz, Reed Grimm
This unlikely quartet has “modernized” their song, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and while I’m sure they have an official group name, they should probably change it to The Reed Show. Reed dominates the performance, and whether or not you find his personality obnoxious, his clear talent is unavoidable. Elise is fairly solid – though her voice does crack once – and Haley does alright, but her voice is remarkably vanilla. Eben is cute and sweet, but he’s not as remarkable as he once seemed to be, but at the end, he joins the group in scatting and beat boxing, proving that they’re not just singers, they’re truly musical. They carry it, even if their individual voices aren’t that spectacular. All four are moving on.
Richie Law, Jermaine Jones
After MIT kicked Richie out, the two deep-voiced singers couldn’t find groups. But even when they find each other, they have trouble syncing up. Richie once again thinks he’s couldn’t possibly be wrong and blames his vocal coach’s arrangement. Richie’s annoying qualities aside, they managed to pull it together for their performance. Jermaine sings honestly and sweetly and Richie sings like a Kermit the Frog sound-alike who’s watched too many Tim McGraw and Josh Groban videos. The judges love every bit of it – perhaps they were lulled into a happy place but Jermaine’s voice, because Richie sure didn’t have a pleasant effect on me.
Candice Glover, Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick
The trio sings “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and first up, Jessica, overdoes her performance with overdone vibrato, but she does prove to have a decent set of pipes. Deandre’s falcetto is a little hard to hear at first, but it’s lovely. It would lovelier without that mop, though. Candice is solid and acts as the final piece sending the whole group through to the next round.
But they can’t show every performance, so we learn of a few keepers and departures in rapid fire montaged. Strong singers Hallie Day, Baylie Brown, and Chelsea Sorrell will stick around for another day, while Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Aubrey Deickmeyer, Tonya Torrez, and Janelle Arthur are all sent home. But the Day 1 folks learn that at the end of Day 2, they’ll all be brought in for a second round of sudden cuts. Get ready for tears.
Scott Dangerfield, Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker, Curtis Cray
These guys were a lot of fun, in their matching little “Jailhouse Rock” 50s ne’er-do-well get-ups, but it was obvious that the talent wasn’t even across the board. Clayton had fun by the was a little thin and Scott and Adam are the strongest. Curtis was sharp, Jennifer points out that he didn’t make use of dynamics. Curtis is out and while they’re nice as a group, none of them really stand out, vocally or personality-wise.
Jessica Phillips, Brittnee Kellogg, Courtney Williams
These over-confident ladies don’t practice with the band or vocal coaches because they sing for a living, so they don’t “need” the help. They delve into “Keep Me Hanging On” and immediately, Courtney has irregular switches between falcetto and vibrato. Jessica attempts a similar feat but with less risk. Randy calls it “A little much” – and that’s putting it lightly. The judges say both Courtney and Jessica took risks that didn’t pay off. I think that’s more true for Courtney than Jessica. Brittnee and Courtney make it through by some miracle and Jessica is sent home. I’m sorry but were we listening to the same thing? Courtney should be on the road right now. But Jessica is a poor loser, saying that she’s a real artist and calling out people who aren’t real artists, bashes the TV show saying she doesn’t care about it, she only cares about a recording contract. We loved Jessica and felt for her story, but unsportsmanlike behavior is not helping us feel badly for her.
Lauren Gray, Mathenee Treco, Wendy Taylor
This trio clashes hard with their vocal coach, causing her to make a reference to A League of Their Own which seems to do little more than confuse everyone. Lauren is losing her voice, the vocal coach is merciless, but that’s probably for the best. They sing “Will You Still Love Me” and Lauren does well, though it certainly sounds like she’s sick. Mathenee is good, but why are all of his solos in falcetto? That’s not a good way to show off. They cut Mathenee.
Jairon Jackson, Neco Starr, Phil Phillips, Heejun Han
Some Idol genius paired Heejun with Peggy Blue, but she’s actually sweet with him. Their little tete-a-tete is the best part of the coaching bits. “You were scary last year, what’s up with that?” “You’re sweet.” “You’re sweet too…now.” Isn’t that just adorable? And the reason Peggy was so nice is because the group just clicked. Neco’s performance is lovely. Heejun delivers a nice solo, but lacks his usual fire. And Phil actually has to sing sweetly – something he never really does, but he pulls it off. And it’s likable. Peggy actually gets a shout out – what planet is this? Randy messes with them, calls them forward one by one and then phrases the final verdict as if they’re cut. But duh, they all make it through. My favorite jokester lives to see another day.
Nick Boddington, Jen Hirsch, Creighton Fraker, Aaron Marcellus
The foursome is still coping with the loss of their old teammate, Reed Grimm, but they still whip out a rousing rendition of “Sealed With a Kiss.” And it would see my opinion of Creighton Fraker is pretty sealed. I liked him a bit more after “What a Wonderful World” but this week he’s back to delivering his voice as 10 shades of overkill. Jen Hirsch once again blows our minds – where has that voice been hiding? And Aaron is consistent as always. Nick is the only one who can’t really compare to the others and he’s sent home. And to be fair, if he’s overshadowed here, he’ll be overshadowed in the bigger competition too.
Also making it through are Caleb Johnson, Joshua Sanders, Joshua Ledet and Shannon Magrane.
Finally, they bring all the contestants on stage to humiliate them. They stand with groups and are eliminated or kept right then and there. It’s so cruel, but they need to get to 40 (they only make it to 42, but next week they have to get down to 24). And the major cuts are: Gabi Carrubba, Schyler Dixon (whose brother made it after JLo forced him to audition), Angie Zeiderman, Candice Glover, Johnny Keyser, Jairson Jackson, and Britnee Kellogg. But how they can keep a subpar singer like Richie around, in light of those cuts, is beyond me.
Next week, it’s the last chance before the top 24 are chosen. Who do you think will make it?