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.
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[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.
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[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox]
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Another dark and dreary Sunday night, another engaging, thought-provoking, and thrilling installment of The Walking Dead. (Seriously, what has happened to this show?) Not only are we now set up for a battle between the prison gang and Woodbury, we have a kidnapped-by-Merle Glen and Maggie, Michonne at the prison, and Andrea in the Governor's bed. A year ago right now, we were still looking for Sophia. Like, seriously — think about that.
First, we learned that — of course — the Governor was never going to let Michonne leave, just as she predicted. He sent out a search-and-destroy team consisting of Merle and three other dudes, and they quickly came across three chopped-up Walker corpses in the forrest. Michonne had left them Walker limbs in the shape of a G and an O, with a Walker back lying next to them. Get it? "Go back!" A biter-gram, said Merle. Seriously, Michonne is adorable. This made the youngster in their group — the newbie — metaphorically s*** his pants. Merle did not like this. "The Governor chose you because he believes in you," he said. Sick. Merle sees being chosen to be a killer as a very good thing — loving that, in this new world, he could hunt and kill with no consequences.
Michonne quickly jumped out of the trees, impaling one goon and beheading another. One of Merle's gunshots clipped her in the leg on her way out, but this wouldn't be enough to stop Michonne. Please. When Merle and the youngster had to take out their fallen friends. the ease in which Merle stabbed his only very recently dead friend's brain was jarring, and a reminder of how shockingly different the elder Dixon is from his brother, and everyone else in the Grimes Gang. Anyway, their little game of cat and mouse continued, and their second meeting's highlights included Michonne spilling disemboweled Walker guts all over herself. This later proved to be a very, very good thing, when a hoard of Walkers sauntered by without picking up her scent. We haven't seen that since Season 1!
After this attack, Merle realized that Michonne was a killing machine who was running into a Walker-infested zone. Going after her would likely lead to his own death, and she'd probably be killed by Walkers anyway, (Except not, because she was covered in their guts.) So, he decided to give up and head home, to tell a little white lie to the Governor. His youngster companion disagreed, so, you know, Merle shot him in the face. As soon as the guy expressed this opinion you knew he was a goner, but the sly, disgusting way in which Merle took him out proved that Merle hasn't changed as much as people have been saying. (And by that, I mean that he hasn't been as sneaky or, most noticeably, racist.) Human beings are completely disposable to Merle. Anyone on this show who admits to enjoying life post Zombpocalpyse eventually becomes some sort of homicidal, violence-loving maniac like Merle, which may spell trouble for one sort-of member of the Grimes Gang. (Stay tuned.) Michonne eventually found herself at the same shopping center as Glenn and Maggie, who were out on a food and ammo run. Unfortunately Merle found them too. Michonne listened from afar, realizing through their conversation that these were Andrea's long-lost people. Merle was psyched that Daryl was alive, and wanted to head back to the prison and see his brother, ASAP. Glen and Maggie, reasonably, offered to bring Daryl to him. This honestly sounds like a very fair, win-win deal, but it wasn't enough for psycho Merle, who put a gun to Maggie's head and whisked the couple off to Woodbury. Meanwhile, back in prison, things weren't much better. At the end of last week, Rick heard a phone ring. Unfortunately, it was just the voices in Rick's head, calling because they wanted to be used as a narrative device. Of course, Rick didn't realize right away what this was. In the first call, a female voice (the ghost of Christmas past) told him they were safe. They were away from them. Ah, a glimmer of hope! Rick cried, and begged: "We're good people here, we just need some help... We're dying here." Hot. Mess. This woman was offering Rick a chance at a post-Apocalyptic utopia, the one thing that everyone wants so badly, but can probably never have again. (Unless they're crazy, and enjoy life in Woodbury.) So, denial — that's the first stage of grief, right?
Later, a man called. (The ghost of Christmas present.) The man was Rick's conscience calling, so we could see that Rick was inwardly working through his issues that stemmed from having to kill people. "How many people have you killed?" the voice asked. Rick told the voice all of his reasons and excuses for his four kills. Cathartic. "Tell me how you lost your wife," the voice demanded. Rick wasn't ready to talk about that one yet. The voice hung up.
Eventually, Hershel came down to Rick's dank, self-imposed insanity cell to try to be an actual human voice of comfort and reason, saying that Rick was a good person, and that Lori had felt bad about her actions with Shane. He also mentioned that they should stay in the prison and continue to build a life there, since they'd run before and there was nowhere else to go. Rick told Hershel about the phone call. Hershel, to his credit, didn't tell Rick he was bananapants crazy. That phone was totally not on. Instead, Hershel said he'd stay and wait with Rick for the phone to ring. Rick refused. He hadn't signed up for group therapy.
Then Christmas Past called back again, wondering why Rick didn't want to talk about Lori's death. "You should talk about it, Rick," CP said. Rick thought this was interesting, because he hadn't ever offered up his name. (Are we at acceptance already?)
The final caller, Christmas Future, revealed herself to be Lori. Fake voice Lori told Rick that earlier he had been talking to Dale and Amy. At least in Rick and Lori's imaginary conversation, Rick was able to tell fake voice Lori that he loved her, one last time. Because, you know, he basically ignored real Lori for her entire pregnancy when she was alive. Again — cathartic, right? Fake voice Lori's finally message to Rick was that he had to get it together for Carl and baby Sophia-Carol-Andrea-Amy-Jackie-Patricia-Lori. Rick put his head down, and the call faded away.
Overall this "use a fake phone call to let us know what's going on in Rick's head" device was kind of an easy way out — and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it. Of course I care about Rick, and Andrew Lincoln's acting was phenomenal, but I think the writers could have given us something better than this. After the final call, Rick emerged from his physical and metaphorical prison cell and rejoined the group, holding his newborn daughter and staring at her with a sense of wonder. What a fast turn around! If this "imaginary phone calls from voices from your past" method of therapy actually works, please do sign me up. Rick and his friends walked outside as a group, together, literally and metaphorically letting the freaking sunshine in. And they picked the right time, because as Rick walked to the gate, he noticed a still-alive Michonne waiting there, carrying Glen and Maggie's box of supplies. Elsewhere in the prison, Carl and Daryl had an adventure of their own. Glen Mazzara and co. pretty much have free reign with Daryl since he didn't appear in the books, and I'm convinced that they're purposefully making him the swoon-worthy redneck Ryan Gosling of The Walking Dead. Last week he held a freaking baby, this week he sweetly consoled Carl over his mother's loss. You know, since Rick had been totally incapable of hanging with Carl for longer than ten seconds since it happened. Be still my heart. The two forgotten sons traded dead mom stories — Daryl's having been burnt to nothing in a smoking cigarettes in bed while drunk incident, Carl's — well, we know what happened to Carl's. The worst part for Daryl, he said, was that it didn't feel real — she was there one day, and then she wasn't. No goodbye, no body. For Carl, this may have sounded like a luxury — it was real, he said. He ended her life himself. Maybe if Carl sticks with Daryl instead of Rick, he'll have a fighting chance at not growing up to be a psycho.
The boys ran into a few Walkers, and one of them had Carol's knife lodged in its neck. In another swoon-worthy moment, Daryl sat alone with the knife, and starting punching and stabbing the walls out of grief. Sexy. Then, in a rare stroke of luck, he removed the Walker and entered the cell its body was blocking —in it, was a weak but still totally alive Carol! Everyone called that, right? Finally, Andrea spent the episode continuing to make horrible decisions. Despite last week's disturbing display of brutality, she told the Governor that she wanted to contribute to the way of life in Woodbury by joining the Night's Watch and helping out on the wall. But Andrea wasn't cut out for this wall — she went through the training process with a pretty lady trainer, but when Andrea jumped off the wall and stabbed a Walker instead of shooting it from afar, her sensei freaked out. "This isn't a game," she said. Following the Governor's rules seems to be the number one priority for all of Woodbury, right? What happens when you break those rules? Maybe it's head in a tank for some people, but if you're hot like Andrea, you just get removed from wall duty and some hot, hot sex.
"I liked the fights," Andrea admitted to the Gov, as she received her sentence in his office. "I didn't like that I liked them." This was music to the Governor's ears. He had her. The pair flirted like high schoolers throughout the episode, with the Governor opening up to Andrea about his disappointing life before the Zombpocalypse. Of course, she just loved that. Ladies like Andrea love it when you expose your messed up, wounded, sensitive side. It's probably a mix of daddy issues and Nicholas Sparks novels. The Governor told Andrea that she didn't have to be ashamed of loving the fight (or, in other words, the kill), and that she was a lot like him. She had what it took. GOD, this guy can be charismatic. That's how he gets people to follow him, and how he got Andrea to go to bed with him. Sad.
So, what did you think of the episode? Did you like the phone call gimmick? Think Andrea and the Governor make a solid couple? Shout out in the comments!
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