March 28's "Songs from the Singers' Idols" episode of American Idol was so enthralling, we can forgive Ryan Seacrest's awkward Hunger Games riffs at the episode's onset. The judges couldn't stop giving standing ovations (five in total) and it took every fiber of my being to not stand up in the middle of my apartment after some of these songs.
I've said this time and again, but this season's set of singers is just unfair. And then there's Heejun. There are nine singers left and if it were up to me, I'd crown five of these folks the 2012 American Idol this second. But alas, there can only be one and there are eight more potentially heated weeks to go before the finale. The Top Nine not only earned spots in the Idol mansion, but they made it to an even bigger milestone: the week in which the great Stevie Nicks provides mentorship. And Nicks follows up Diddy's turn as a candid, outspoken, brutally honest mentor with her own brand of comedy and genuine interest in each and every one of these contestants. Of course, Phillip Phillips got her special attention for resembling Lindsey Buckingham circa 1975. Translation: Stevie Nicks thinks he's a cutie. But from Nicks' emotional moment with Hollie Cavanaugh, to harmonizing with Elise Testone, to her constant jabs at her longtime friend and producer Jimmy Iovine, the best episode yet was presided over by the best guest mentor yet. And whether it was the inspiration of a legend like Nicks shaping their performances or energy drinks secretly slipped into their water supply, the Top Nine turned in some seriously phenomenal performances. And to top it off, they were all able to choose songs by their personal idols, meaning they knew these songs inside and out. Every note means something, every word has been sung in front of a mirror with a hairbrush a thousand times. How is a voter supposed to choose? The Best of the BestBy this point, we've come to expect greatness from Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Skylar Laine and Colton Dixon. March 29 found each of them getting nice and cozy in their sweet spots, delivering performances that actually made me squeal in amazement. These singers, in case you hadn't guessed already, are the five contestants that deserve to win this whole competition right now. The problem is, there's five of them. Skylar Laine broke out of her comfy, solid routine to get a little more boisterous and lot more sultry with Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead." She riled herself up into that tizzy we experienced during her Top 24 performance, giving us a little reminder of why we liked her so much back then. She's a little firecracker and she works the stage like a teen sensation country crooner performing for a sold out stadium. Colton Dixon continued on his alt-rocker path to greatness, giving a tearful rendition of "his favorite worship song of all time" "Everything" by Lifehouse. Say what you will about his genre (or his hair, which Nicks told him to hang onto for dear life), but Dixon has got it down pat. There were some pitch issues that none of the judges seemed to notice, in fact Steven Tyler even told him he had "perfect pitch," but as a total package, Dixon's performance proved one very important thing: this guy can and will sell records. Phillip Phillips has remained a favorite throughout the competition. At the outset, his official Idol Twitter page even had the greatest number of followers, whatever that means. As the competition has progressed, he continues to dig his feet in, refusing to make wardrobe changes and put down his beloved guitar. Usually, that sort of stubbornness plays out badly for Idol contestants, but Phillips defies the stereotype. The more he dresses down and hangs onto to his bluesy, gritty, gutteral sound, the better he gets. This week, his choice of Johnny Lang's "Look Out My Window" couldn't have been any more perfect. Whether or not he's left standing, we'll see more of Phillips. He's the rare Idol picture of an artist's artist. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet are our soulful powerhouses. They're head and shoulders above everyone else, regardless of genre. You just don't encounter voices like these. Sanchez' choice of Beyonce as her mentor had me cheering; the R&B diva is the perfect example of how to turn a giant force of a voice into a pop music powerhouse. And while the slow arrangement of "Sweet Dream" killed the song's momentum for me, despite what the judges said about it being "beautiful," Sanchez has music flowing through her. She doesn't make conscious decisions onstage. She just is, and she is nothing short of phenomenal. Ledet, too, is simply phenomenal. What he has on Sanchez is an emotional connection. Sanchez sings beautifully, but perhaps its her maturity that hasn't quite caught up with her. When Ledet sings, his tone and lyrics work their way into our souls. He's not tugging on heartstrings, he's rocking us to our very cores. It's almost impossible to say one singer stands above everyone in this fantastic competition, but Ledet does, albeit by a very small margin. The Comeback KidsElise Testone and DeAndre Brackensick have been hovering on the lower brackets of the finalist set, and with her weak performance during Billy Joel week, Hollie Cavanaugh's potential dropped immensely. But what a difference a week makes. Testone earned the best performance slot of the night: the finale. Yet, week after week, she's continued to confuse us. Who is she? What's her genre? What's her thing? She's been all over the place, and her ability to ham it up for the camera was practically nonexistent. She's been the vegetable we're supposed to love, but just can bring ourselves to enjoy. Perhaps its the magic of being the last performer of the night, or Testone finally found her sweet spot, but her rendition of Led Zeppelin's "A Whole Lotta Love" was the ultimate comeback. Robert Plant created a sound that no singer should ever attempt to recreate, and Testone didn't do that. She Elise-d it. But it might not be enough. Is this really who she is? Is she the rocker chick leading a brash band? If this sweet spot is where she belongs, her chances could be on the rise, but weeks of indecisive performances are hard to undo. Brackensick also upped the ante, finally picking a song that highlights his fantastic falsetto. Eric Benet's "Sometimes I Cry" is right up there with the sweet spot Brackensick hit when he sang "Woman's Work" by Maxwell. His passionate, flawless rendition of the R&B song was exactly what he needed to stay a bit long in the competition. Unfortunately, he still has an issue with truly connecting, though he certainly tried this week. Perhaps his 17 year-old mentality is just a bit too green to truly connect to the weight of the songs he's singing, but unless he figures out a way around that, we'll be saying goodbye very soon. Cavanaugh finally broke away from her usual schtick: the little pixie girl with a big voice. She always moved around the stage like a small child carrying a heavy box; her voice is fantastic, but she was constantly trying to wrangle it. When she took on "Jesus Take The Wheel" by Idol winner Carrie Underwood, she appeared to have significantly more control over the song and herself. And as emotional as she was able to get thanks to Nicks' candidness during the mentoring session, Cavanaugh still lacks the put-together element that others like Sanchez and even Laine possess. She's got the chops, but she lacks the polish. And Then There's HeejunThe topic of Heejun Han is a bittersweet one. I rooted for him all through Hollywood Week and Las Vegas groups. He's the sweet, funny kid who kept us entertained while the other drama queens had mental breakdowns over singing a Blu Cantrell song. And, his voice has a velvety, beautiful tone that draws us in. Unfortunately, every time that voice draws us in, it doesn't deliver on its promise. It's a nice one, and Han's performances consistently feel right technically. He hits the right notes, he sounds pretty, and he appears to connect to the song, but he's not a performer. He's a good singer. That's it. There's a disconnect between Han and the audience and among his fellow singers, who are all performing as if they're drawing energy from the Earth's core, his simple, sweet performances just aren't cutting it. Are you done with Heejun? Can he compare to singers like Jessica and Joshua? Did Elise and DeAndre do enough to stick around? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler. More:American Idol Rankings: Top Nine Keep The Judges on Their FeetIdol: Is Colton Dixon TV's Tim Tebow? Idol Recap: Colton Dixon Becomes the Piano Man
S10E11: While last night definitely proved that the judges have found quite a few talented people (though some are just very capable karaoke singers), it also proved that the people at Idol sure know how to stretch what should be an hour of television into two dreadfully long hours of waiting. They also proved that they can, in fact, fit in about a million references to The Beatles' Love show in Vegas into an hour. Have they been taking cross promotion lessons from Britney Spears or something?
Last night was actually two episodes. The first was a second group round supposedly invented because there were just too many good contestants this year, but really invented because Idol wanted that extra Beatles cash. Duos and trios sang (in a many cases butchered) Beatles classics on the stage at the Mirage in Vegas, where they were cut from a group of 61 to 40. Then they all traveled back to L.A. to go to the hangar of doom (seriously, it looked like the end of Raiders of Lost Ark if you replaced top secret government stuff with broken dreams and diva tears) for their final elimination and what we thought would finally be the top 24. Oh no, it’s not that easy. Cut to the end of those two hours when the screen went black and the dreaded “To Be Continued” screen came up. Really, Idol? I could have done this in 10 minutes – and I wouldn’t have allowed Clint Jun Gamboa to get through, that’s for damn sure.
“I’ve never even heard a Beatles song.” –Ashton Jones
Let me pause for a minute here. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Ashton wasn’t the only Idol hopeful who admitted on national television to never ever hearing a Beatles song. First of all, unless you’ve never seen TV or a movie or the radio or been to a Walmart on a Saturday, you’ve heard a freaking Beatles song. Trust me. Secondly, how can you call yourself an artist/musician/whatever and not know the Beatles? That’s worse than when Miley Cyrus said she didn’t know who Jay-Z was – and I thought THAT was bad.
“This is freaking me out because Beatleland is where I live.” –Steven
I love how insane Steven is. Never change, Steven; I’m begging you. Anyway, since we’ve got so much to cover, let’s get right into the groups. First up was the duo of Stefano Langone and James Durbin. They sang “Get Back” and while they’re both technically good, I stand by what I’ve been saying all season, which is just because you can hit those high notes correctly, doesn’t mean I want to hear them.
High school buddies Pia Toscano and Karen Rodriguez did “Can’t Buy Me Love” like a couple of wedding singers, but the judges seemed impressed. Jennifer even told them they were some of the folks who really “get it.” I have to disagree. The only thing they get is how their high school show choir taught them to act onstage, and you know what? There’s no way I’d throw down 50 bucks to see either of them.
Then the groups really started to prove why forced groupings isn’t always so hot. You’ve got all these unique voices and sometimes when you smush three together, the result isn’t that pleasant. Jacob Lusk, Naima Adedapa, and Haley Reinhart all have beautiful powerful voices on their own, but their version of “The Long and Winding Road” was just too discordant for my tastes. This truly isn’t because of any faults on their parts; their voices just don’t mesh.
“One hand clapping!” –Steven
Moving right along, we caught glimpses of Rachel Zevita singing “Elenor Rigby” like the total drama kid she is (yeah, we know you’ve been saving that little hat for this for years), Lauren Turner who gave a solid turn at “Let it Be,” and finally Julie Zorilla and Tim Halperin with “Something.” I like Zorilla well enough, but why has Halperin not had more attention? He is such a lovely, lovely singer. (Plus, he’s cute as a button.)
After a few conspicuous shots of the American Idol red phone booth (really?) we moved on to Jerome Bell, Lakeisha Lewis and Tatynisa Wilson with “I Saw Her Standing There.” The judges were split here, saying that the performances were so-so while Steven cried foul. He thought they were fantastic – clearly he needs to get his ears checked. Lakeisha does have some serious pipes, but it’s clear she hasn’t learned how to use them yet and the other two were just alright.
I can’t stop quoting Steven, but someone needs to put down a record of all this. (Plus it’s fun.) The groups dragged along, with Kendra Chantelle and Paul McDonald giving us their pretty little version of “Blackbird.” Kendra’s voice is pretty, but a dime a dozen, while Paul once again showed us why he’s still here. He’s got this sweet, wonderful, honey-soaked rasp that I hope sticks around once the voting starts. He really is a breath of fresh air in the competition.
“Guess what, you’re going to die on stage in front of all those people. I’m going to be lying in my bed watchin’ you croak.” –Peggi the vocal coach “From Hell”
Melinda Ademi and Thia Megia were getting railed on by their vocal coach (that’s right, they had that much help and people still messed up this round) for their version of “Here Comes the Sun” and once they hit the stage it was obvious why. Thia’s got it down, but Melinda (as sweet as she is) was the weak link, fumbling her phrasing and lacking the strength that Thia has.
Also fumbling were Ashley Sullivan and her partner Sophia Shorai. They’re a clear example of those who have technical talent – meaning they can hit the notes correctly – but none of that extra something that makes someone pleasant to watch. Needless to say, they both went home.
“It’s like the Marx Brothers put out a fire thing.” –Steven
When Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, and Denise Jackson hit the stage, they’d already been hit hard by the criticisms from big time producer Jimmy Iovine, but it didn’t seem to help. Though they’re all good singers, they just did not work together. On that same note, buddies Carson Higgins and Caleb Hawley also hit a sour note (literally, OUCH) in their duo performance. Chris Medina and Casey Abrams were actually a great pairing, but it was obvious that (as much as I like Chris) Casey was shouldering the weight in the song.
Finally, Robbie Rosen (love him!), Aaron Sanders, and Jordan Dorsey finished it off with “Got to Get You Into My Life.” Overall, they actually worked well together; it was a little boy bandy, but it worked. Robbie was fantastic as always, but Jordan really seems unable to put the money where his mouth his. He talks big, but he’s not that great. Aaron was fine, but he doesn’t really seem to stand out – then again, that could just be clever editing.
“You win some you lose some, and I just lost a big one.” –Caleb Hawley
Alright, here they are, the first cuts. From what Idol actually told us, we lost Caleb Hawley, Denise Jackson, Ashley Sullivan, Carson Higgins, and Molly DeWolf. It’s tough to see people go, but I can accept that these folks just weren’t the best of the best. Now for the real cuts – well, half of them anyway. Seriously, two hours is a whole lotta Idol.
“I used to watch In Living Color and want to be a fly girl too.” –Naima Adedapo
(Me too, honey.) Now that all that Vegas nonsense is over, we get down to business, forcing the contestants to take the impossibly long, terrifying walk towards a stark stage with four white chairs and a video loop of their last performance in the background. What kind of freaky science fiction movie is this? Naima Adedapo and her impossibly sparkly blue dress were the first additions to the top 24 while the sweet, talented Hollie Cavanaugh was sent home. Jennifer made a point to tell Holly that she was outvoted, but that if Hollie came back in a few years, she’d be strong enough to win, not just make it into the top 24. Wow, I never thought I’d agree with Jennifer Lopez on anything.
Also on the chopping block were Lakeisha Lewis and Alex Ryan, though we could have guessed that after seeing how little screen time they’ve each had. Clint Jun Gamboa was all choked up about Lakeisha’s elimination, but I’m still not buying his emotions. (Yep, I’m holding onto that Jacee grudge.) He actually made it through to the top 24, to which I offer this: WHY? He’s a karaoke host and that’s exactly what he sounds like. His voice is just unpleasant, his personality is unpleasant, and I really don’t want to have to see his face on my TV anymore. America, you know what to do. It’s up to you now. SEND HIM HOME.
“We’ve been watching you and I’m really afraid to say…it’s a yes.” –Steven
Knock that shit off, Steven. The contestants don’t like it and neither do we. Anyway, next to get the go-ahead was Haley Reinhart of the crazy eyes. I’m not sure how I feel about her; her voice kind of seems like it’s too big for her body, which is a bit bothersome, but we’ll see how it turns out.
Crowd favorite Deandre Brackensick was sent packing for his lack of consistency (but he’s young, so he’s got time to improve) while Paul McDonald was ushered into the 24 because Idol’s apparently trying to find “artists” this year. I hope they mean that because Paul is really fantastic and I want to hear as much of his singing on this show as I can. (Even is he resurrects that awful white jacket.) Ashton Jones, who rocked “I’m Telling You” last time, also earned a slot in the top 24. Once again, she’s someone I’m not totally sure of, but I’m willing to see what she brings next week.
“It was honestly a pleasure to meet you, someone like you.” –JLo
Now for the really hard part. Because this is a singing competition, no matter how wonderful and saintly the infinitely likable Chris Medina is, he frankly doesn’t have the chops for the competition. I’ve been afraid to say it all season because I love his story and I want him to stick around for that reason. Sadly, they made Jennifer deliver the news. Thanks producers, you know she was going to have the hardest time with that. Of course she’s concerned she didn’t say it right, but the problem is, there’s no right way to tell someone like Chris that they have to go home.
Boy, tonight’s going to be fun won’t it? No, no it won’t. Get ready for another hour of torture in the science fiction/ Indiana Jones hangar. Damnit, Idol.
Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
In other words The Holiday probably falls under the “guilty pleasure” category. Its not a classic romantic comedy by any standards but darn it it still makes you smile more often than you want to admit. The story centers on two women: Iris (Kate Winslet) a British newspaper columnist hopelessly in love with a man about to marry someone else and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) a highly successful L.A. career woman who just broke up with her latest cheating boyfriend. Being at the right place at the right time these two gals meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Shortly after arriving at their destinations both women find the last thing either wants or expects: A new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris' handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach) mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Jack Black). Oh just go ahead and take a big gooey bite. It’s good for the soul. The biggest problem in The Holiday is unfortunately the casting—which is real shame because you really want the chemistry to zing. They get it right with Winslet and Law who are both trying something a little different as romantic leads. Winslet in fact admitted to Reuters this was one of the more nerve-wracking parts she’s ever played because she couldn’t hide behind an American accent or a costume playing someone closer to well herself. But you would think these two Oscar-nominees had been making these type movies all along especially the insanely gorgeous Law who should have every woman swooning with his sensitivity. Where they get it wrong is with the Americans as the Brits just act giant circles around them. Black is clearly out of place. Although being very charming and funny looking like he made Winslet laugh a LOT (and who wouldn’t with that guy around?) their connection on screen is somewhat amiss. Diaz comes off looking even worse. Even though she’s the veteran of the romantic comedy (There's Something About Mary My Best Friend's Wedding) her screechy neurotic klutzy Amanda is in no way appealing. You have to scratch your head wondering why Law’s Graham would fall so hard for her. What does make The Holiday work however is writer/director Nancy Meyers. She’s proven herself quite adept at the genre with films such as What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give under her belt. With The Holiday Meyers skillfully crafts individual moments of refreshing comedy as well as heartening scenes of blossoming romance. The initial seduction scene between Amanda and Graham is particularly sweet and quirky with the crisp dialogue flying at a nice clip. And isn’t it comforting to see a holiday movie minus feuding neighbors commerciality or any sort of mean-spiritedness? But Meyers has the tendency to go more for the superficial rather than dig deep with her characters. The Holiday has a one of those glossy rosy glows whose only aim is to make you feel good. True the film will mostly speak volumes to the women in the audience (that’s a polite way of saying its a “chick flick”) but oh well. It’s fluff may be a nice reprieve during the hustle and bustle of the season.