I've had a bone to pick with American Idol for 11 seasons now. Without fail, the series continues to push mediocre singers through the audition process based purely on the fact that their back story provides a great example of inspiration or triumph. While Idol is congratulating itself for breaking down barriers and supporting folks who've been dealt extreme adversity, we're the ones forced to play the bad guy by noticing, hey, that guy with the terrible home life isn't a good singer, and isn't this a competition for amazing singers?
It's a vicious yearly cycle, and it's one that makes us all a little crazy every year. But this time, while some contestants may have ridden too far on the tails of their real life victories, as so many contestants have before them, at least these judges have the guts to nip the cycle in the bud before we're staring down the barrel of that long walk between the top 40 contestants and the top 24.Only those who deserve it should get to the point where Idol lets America decide.
The last thing we need is another judge breaking down Jennifer Lopez style at the final judges' deliberation as 2013's answer to Chris Medina walks away to sad, lonely music. And this year, we can thank the wonderful, talented, perfect Idol judge Nicki Minaj for keeping Hollywood week honest, even when it wasn't the popular or sweet, sugary thing to do. Nicki may tell everyone she loves them, but when it comes to dishing out the cold, hard truth, no one does it more accurately, fully, or respectfully than she does.
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And Nicki comes out swinging as soon as the first singer of the guys' Hollywood Solo Night steps on stage. Paul Jolley, the handsome young man from Tennessee sings "Blown Away" by Idol alum Carrie Underwood, and dressed in all white, Paul is a bit of a singing angel. He's cute, he's sweet, and he's got a good voice, however, Nicki hates everything about the way he presents himself to the judges. "Give us one minute of professionalism," she says. And she's not overreacting.
Paul comes onstage saying how he just hopes they like him because this is his dream, is an act of defeatism before he even opens his mouth that drives Nicki nuts. If he believes he should be there, he should show it onstage. And she's right... even if the woman judging contestants from behind a pair of dark sunglasses and a general hat is remarking on professionalism.
In Paul's judging group (Idol has done away with the cruel Hollywood week waiting room practice) are Lazaro Arbos, whose rendition of "The Edge of Glory" was technically good without hitting any of the high drama of Lady Gaga's powerhouse song, and Curtis Finch, who's earned my ardent dislike after his selfish group night behavior.
Lazaro and Paul are allowed to stay, and Curtis is willed by that power that be Mariah to stay forever in the presence of the judges. It's an exercise in being careful what one wishes for. If you want backstory to be second to talent, you've got to concede that Curtis belongs here. Even if he did act like a selfish child when his teammate fell ill during group performances. And damnit if he didn't just kill his run-happy cover of "Jar of Hearts," overacting and all.
Next up is someone the producers have clearly been hiding all competition: Devin Velez, who apparently got a standing O from Randy during the Hollywood week sudden death round.
The fact that we're just now meeting him could signal that he's going to be increasingly important in the coming weeks. Idol loves to save its top 24 candidates for Hollywood week reveals. And Devin's "What a Wonderful World" is beautiful, ending on a crystalline high falsetto note. Keith says this guy was born to sing, and despite his constant overzealous commentary that we can only assume comes from a need to keep up with Nicki and Mariah, it appears the country star might be very, very right. No sad story needed.
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Devin is followed by Gurpreet Singh Sarin, who gets down to "Georgia on My Mind." He seems a little uncomfortable holding his guitar while perched on a tiny bar stool, and his vocals aren't exemplary, but his sound and style are slightly off in a way that seems deliberate.
Cortez Shaw gives another off-key performance, saved only by his pretty face and his suave stage presence. We can do better than this.
He could be a nice singer with the right vocal coach, but as for now, I'm not sure why he keeps making it through. But Cortez isn't the problem. At least there's some level of appeal to Cortez, even if his off-pitch moments drive me batty. He has some level of star quality about him.
Matheus Fernandes, however, does not. He continually tells stories to the camera about howIdolis his first chance to sing in front of others and in front of famous judges. He makes an excuse during his audition that he's never sung with a band before.
Yet, he's somehow forgetting the fact that we all have the ability to access Google, even if Nev from Catfish makes it sound like some high-tech mystifying secret. It's not hard for your average Internet user to find out that Matheus was on half a season of The Glee Project and that he sang many songs with backing of all sorts.
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He's milking his height for all its worth. And when he approaches the mic to deliver his big solo, he makes not one, but two references to his height as a means of securing his facade as a miracle contestant plucked from obscurity and fighting the odds. And when he finally opens his mouth to sing, the result isn't pleasant.
His version of "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson held all the playacted emotion of the closing scene of Hamlet in a middle school play, and none of the vocal quality of a singer who deserves a spot onAmerican Idol. When Matheus comes back with excuses about the band, forcing out tears like one might force flavor out of a slice of lime, Nicki, my girl, lays the harsh, harsh truth on him. She notes the various times he's referenced his height before delivering a performance and tells him what we're all thinking, "Sometimes things can go from being inspiring to becoming you wanting a pity party," she says.
Now, her next piece of advice is a puzzle to me, because winter apparently hates my connection to Time Warner Cable, but what I pieced together is something along the lines of, when you're great, no one is going to care about how tall you are, so stop talking about it and just be a good singer. And if that's not what Nicki said and my cable glitch kept me from some other glorious truth, I'm taking that observation as my own.
Next: The necessary cruelty takes another casualty.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox]
When it comes time for another round of should I stay or should I go (now), Gurpreet, Devin, and Cortez are safe and Matheus is sent packing. It would have been a great time to set aside our differences and feel some sympathy for the guy, but even in his exit interview, he's crying and blaming not knowing how to sing with a band for the fact that he gambled by putting his unique body type ahead of his talent and lost.
But Matheus' mistake doesn't seem to teach the other contestants a lesson. Nicholas Mathis kicks off the next string of solos with "Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars and it is basically terrible. I really wanted the sweet father of two, was was so considerate of his and Curtis Finch's sick teammate during group performances, to be amazing. He simply wasn't.
And when Keith asked him what was going on, he simply started crying and saying he missed his kids. It's a natural human emotion to miss one's kids, but as Keith points out, artists sacrifice time with their families and those they love very often in order to experience the sheer validation and value of expressing oneself through music.
If Nicholas can't get through an audition without allowing his misgivings about missing his daughter, then he clearly shouldn't be a famous singer or even a contestant on this show; for him, the priority is getting home to his kids. It doesn't make sense for him to stay, when he's not able to give his all to the competition, whether or not it's for a sweet, family-oriented reason.
Of course, Keith twists the knife a little when he tells Nicholas he was "chasing the song" instead of chasing the dream, and Nicholas is a generally sweet guy, so it's hard to see him so torn up over losing out on his dream.
Nicki's precious Papa Peachez is the next to take the stage, telling cameras beforehand that lots of people who try out forIdolare "puppets" and he's not one of them, before taking the stage for "You and I."
His voice defies logic and it's still got that unique, somewhat confounding appeal, but Peachez appears to be sleeping through his own performance. It's something Nicki, who's gone out on a limb for the contestant multiple times, doesn't take kindly to. "That flame is completely burnt out," she says, disappointing that he "let the competition suck it out of you."
But Nicki's not just disappointed, she's angry, turning to her fellow judges and letting a "What the f**k was that?" slip. But who can blame her? She told him not to be so complacent in the competition, and if anything, he turned the complacency up a notch.
That drama is followed by Jimmy Smith, a '90s country superstar out of a Lifetime movie, with "Landslide." It's nice, but he's still missing the star quality they said he was missing during group performances. Mariah says she was wowed. I was not.
But when the eliminations were doled out, Jimmy was safe along with Johnny Keyser and Vincent Powell and it was Nicholas and Peachez who were doing the walk of shame.
After adjusting to the new losses, we move onto Nick Boddington, who was never very interesting before this solo night performance. He decides to sing while playing the piano and it really works.
His unique look, along with his pleasant, nasal quality of his voice, and his all-or-nothing approach to the competition work in his favor, despite the fact that His falsetto range is a little shaky.
Any quirk Nick might have earned, however, is outdone by Charlie Askew, the funny little guy in a shiny suit and blue track shoes. Nicki is obsessed with him, and truth be told, I kind of love him too.He bravely opens his cover of "Somebody That I Used to Know" by pulling a Taylor Swift and connecting the song to his lost love while the band plays the intro; clearly, this kid is a natural showman.
And while it's a tired song, Charlie kind of kills it. He can't reach every high note, which is somewhat worrisome as the competition continues, but he's a natural weirdo onstage and he's infinitely lovable. When the judges reveal who's staying, it's Nick, Charlie "So Weird It's Art" Askew, JDA, and Mathenee who are going through.
Added to that pile of victors are Burnell Taylor and Marvin Calderon who both take on "Jar of Hearts" shortly after Curtis' performance. Marvin gets good news, but it's hard to be wowed by his rendition of the song after Curtis went all gospel on it and Burnell gave it such delicate, emotional nooks and crannies we didn't even know it had during his solo performance. Burnell is more likely the one of watch of the two.
And with that, the judges were back to delivering bad news, even if traditional Idol logic defied it. Micah Johnson, the guy whose speech impediment is completely gone as long as he's singing, takes on "I Told You So" by Randy Travis and technically, everything about it is great.
It just wasn't awe-inspiring.He played by the rules and hit the right notes when he was supposed to, but there was nothing about the performance that made it unique or exemplary aside from the fact that it is possible despite his personal troubles.
Rather than subject Micah to the group elimination, the judges send him home right then and there. And as if it wasn't already hard enough to turn this poor guy down, he's got a ridiculously upbeat attitude about the whole experience afterward, saying he's thankful for the opportunity and that it will be alright because he's healthy and employed. It's a start contrast to folks like Nicholas who use their last moments on television to disparage their competition mates and cry about how unfair the judges are.
Before the episode comes to a close, we learn that Gabe the baker from Chicago, Sanni the young phenom, and Nate the adorable sign language teacher were also eliminated, but that's not the end of it.
The judges, even with all their harsh (and by some viewers' standards heartless) cuts, still let too many guys stay on past the solo round. Where there should be 20 there are 28, and so after the girls do their (hopefully more dramatic) take on Hollywood week, eight more guys are getting cut.
Of course, it would make sense to make the judges do their job right now since they screwed up, but no. The poor eager singers (and the eager-ish viewers at home) have to wait until next week to find out who makes the surprise second cut.
We would be more excited, but Ryan Seacrest dangles this carrot of a teaser in front of our faces like we don't know what he's up to. We see you, Idol, and this cliffhanger isn't going to make up for a wildly lackluster Guys' Hollywood Week.
All we can do is hope that the girls can deliver where the men failed, and from the looks of the promo, girls are the necessary ingredient for a Heejun-less Hollywood week.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox]
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One thing you might not know from watching American Idol is that although the auditions are edited into nice two-hour episodes, the process definitely doesn’t take two hours. It’s two long, long days. There’s so much we don’t see. All the side clips of people talking? Those take 20-30 minutes each. It’s one interview after another until you finally go and you can breathe that sigh of relief when you find out if you’ve made it or not. It’s crazy; it’s hectic; there’s a lot of anticipation. You can feel it just walking in — there’s a lot of energy going on in the room.
I’m not going to lie, I was totally rolling my eyes at Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in the beginning of the Season 12 premiere. It almost got annoying at how much bickering was going on between the two. On the bright side, I absolutely loved Keith UrbanI think he did a phenomenal job at keeping everyone cool.
Randy Jackson is always great. He has a lot of wisdom, and he’s not scared to say no — unlike the new judges. I loved that at one point the three judges looked at Randy and were like, “Okay, you’re the veteran judge, you’re the one that’s designated to say no from now on.” I also really liked that whenever someone who might’ve been a little different walked into the room, Nicki automatically connected with them. If they didn’t make it, she’d pull them aside and encourage them. That was really cool and I could tell it meant a lot to those contestants.
As far as the singers go, I was pleasantly surprised with Gurpreet Singh Sarin, a.k.a. The Turbanator. I really liked how smooth he sounded and how he contained his joy while singing. But the judges were saying that they didn’t think his voice fit the competition, and I was kind of troubled by that. Music’s not about someone who can belt their way to the top; it’s about the moments that make you feel something, whether it’s feeling right and happy, or making you feel something really strong.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Angela Miller pop up on Idol — she has actually covered my single “Never Gone” on YouTube. She did a phenomenal job in her audition. The last girl, Ashlee Feliceano, was fantastic. I loved her story, that her parents adopted four kids. You could tell they’re a very tight-knit family, and as a family guy myself it was cool to connect with that.
Someone else who stood out was Sarah Restuccio, who sang Carrie Underwood’s “Mama’s Song” and then Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.” I think she had a really, really great voice. “Mama’s Song” is great, but it was strange a cappella — it was really hard to find what key she was in because there are so many chord changes in the song. But she was really good at “Super Bass!” I loved the lyric changes she made. I was with the judges, though: I was not really sure what she was going for there. I’m be curious to see if she’s solely country or she throws some of that flavor into country music, which could be really interesting.
One thing that I really hated was that Randy went all the way to Staten Island to find Jessica Kartalis, then they cut her! They didn’t even give her a second chance to sing when she came in off key. It must’ve been so nerve-wracking. That really rubbed me the wrong way. Why would they go out and invite somebody and tell her she’s not ready yet? It didn’t make any sense. I was totally yelling at the TV.
Shira Gravrielov is already a famous singer in Israel. I know other singing competitions let stuff like that slip by, but I don’t know about this show. I like the idea of American Idol being made up of artists and musicians who are just getting into the industry and trying to figure it out. There’s something that’s so raw about that. I like that they’re not polished at first. It’s cool for America to see an artist start somewhere and come full circle and become a professional. I think if she goes far it’s going to be hard for America to connect with her because she has already been successful.
I was very shocked that the judges didn’t let Evan Ruggiero, the amputee tap dancer, through — but I commend them for it! I know that sounds kind of harsh. I think he’s talented. He had a great voice, but it was more geared toward Broadway. I think a lot of times, especially in the past, American Idol gets so connected with the story that they sometimes let a person through who may not be ready for the show. I commend the judges on not wavering in their decision. I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I would have let him through! Mad props go to that kid: He really has a joy and a hope about him. I hope he’s not down about getting cut, and he realizes that he did inspire people just by auditioning.
As told to Jean Bentley. Colton’s debut album, ‘A Messenger,’ hits shelves on Jan. 29. Check back in a few weeks for Colton’s thoughts on Hollywood week and more!
Follow Colton on Twitter @ColtonDixon
[PHOTO CREDIT: EMI Music]
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The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.