June 07, 2013 11:11am EST
50 Cent has never had much luck with cars - the rapper, who famously survived a drive-by shooting, twice almost died behind the wheel as a teenager. The Candy Shop hitmaker purchased a charcoal gray Toyota Land Cruiser in 1994 after making a load of cash selling drugs in his native New York, but the 19 year old immediately returned the vehicle to the dealership after he was mistaken for a notorious Big Apple gangster, known as Black, who had recently bought the same car.
He tells Forbes magazine, "(I asked the dealer), 'Why the f**k did you sell (Black) the same colour truck as me? I almost got killed last night."
The hip-hop star, real name Curtis Jackson, then traded in his set of wheels for a white Mercedes-Benz, but the flashy car attracted too much attention and he was ambushed by armed robbers outside his grandmother's home in Queens.
Jackson again escaped unscathed, but his stroke of bad luck didn't end there - in 2000 he famously cheated death in the backseat of his friend's automobile, where he was struck by nine bullets, and last year (12) he was involved in a terrifying road accident with a truck. The rapper/actor suffered only minor injuries, although the crash likely would have been fatal if the car hadn't been bulletproof.
May 17, 2013 12:13pm EST
American Idol's Season 12 finale provided an incredible moment: the one in which, plagued with happy tears, winner Candice Glover braved her confetti shower and her own overwhelming happiness to sing her brand new single "I Am Beautiful." It was Idol's collagen injection of hope. This show could still bring us to the end of the road and deliver a winner so talented, so lovable, that she's practically guaranteed to blow us away for years to come. But that only accounts for the last 10 minutes of the two-hour broadcast, the whole of which completely undermined Candice's glory. In short: it was a predictably awkward mess, as always.
12. Randy Jackson's send-off was pretty condescending, dawg. The video package started and ended with a table of canines barking on command with doggy jokes provided in subtitle. This is what he gets after 12 years of recycling one-liners (yet somehow never recycling a single pair of shoes or eccentric glasses frames).
11. Ryan Seacrest made it worse. After Randy triumphantly provided the bass on Mariah Carey's performance of "#Beautiful," Seacrest made a funny, saying "Ladies and gentlemen, Mariah Carey and her dog, Randy." Of course, he was referring to "dawg" (and Randy's favorite affectionate nickname for everyone), but he knew what he was doing there.
10. How is it possible that with the exception of Jessie J, every "pro" singer who performed a duet with an eliminated Season 12 contestant wasn't nearly as good as the Idol they were paired with?Seriously, Kimberly Perry. Janelle Arthur wiped the floor with you.
9. Speaking of awkward pairings, we have a few questions about Amber Holcomb's duet with Emeli Sande:Like, why is Amber singing the song Candice just did? Does she like being uncomfortable? Why is Sande dressed like she's going to brunch instead of debuting her music to a broad American audience? And why is Amber dressed like Destiny's Child at the airport?
8. Jennifer Hudson was amazing, but her Disney villain line was hilariously strange.At the end of her duet with Candice, Hudson bellowed "Sing, Candy!" and images of Ursula from The Little Mermaid commanding Ariel to sing so she could steal her pristine princess voice were swathed across my mind. (Still love you, J. Hud.)
7. The "Jordin Sparks Rigged Idol" skit had to make up awful moments for everyone except Lazaro.The video pretended the audience booed Paul Jolley's jokes and Curtis Finch, Jr's crazy paisley blazer, but when it came to Lazaro, they awkwardly left the video in which he sang like a drunkard in a dive bar at 4 AM practically untouched. Ouch.
6. Mariah Carey, diva extraordinaire, it's your job to judge other people's singing abilities — are you seriously lip-syncing on Idol?It sure looked that way. Add to that the fact that she didn't bring her sexy duet partner Miguel in to sing "#Beautiful" with her, and this moment takes many pieces of the awkward cake.
5. Pitbull's boxer briefs were visible and Jennifer Lopez was dressed like a 15-year-old girl in a talent show with no age-appropriate dress-code.Word to the wise, white linen pants are see-through when confronted with the million-watt lights of the Nokia Theater. Also, Jennifer, you are too old to be dressing in costumes that look like they came from Wet Seal's off-brand, Drakar-Noir-drenched ugly stepsister of a clothing store. And no, that Marilyn Monroe quote stolen from a teenager's tumblr page did not make up for the rest of that sweaty nonsense.
4. Why are you doing this to Aretha?Even if they could have gotten her on stage, instead of on a live-feed on the Jumbo-Tron, to actually honor the girls with her magnanimous presence, it's slightly awkward watching a singer we all love so dearly struggle to sing for an audience of 14-year-old girls who don't know her music.
3. Angie Miller's tank top was a sight to behold.Was she stuck in sea urchin? Had she accidentally fused with a pile of ruffles in Betsey Johnson's workshop? Was she being consumed by the smoke monster from Lost and we were all just too dazzled by Adam Lambert and Jessie J to notice?
2. It's uncomfortable and mind-boggling that Keith Urban is still so lovable.I can see your late '90s highlights, Keith! You bop around like a muppet while you sing! Why are you still so damn charming, despite everything?
1. The "affectionate" judges video package was downright ruthless to Mariah and Randy.It played up the cute parts of Keith and Nicki Minaj's judging personalities – Keith's adorable facial expressions and Nicki's unstoppable sass – but when it came to Randy and Mariah, it was all prodding and no laughter.
They poked fun at Randy's numerous "useless" bits of commentary and posted a still of Mariah with a double-chin, something I wouldn't be surprised to hear prompted a lawsuit from Miss Diva. Not cool, Idol. You know you just blamed all the series problems on these people and then fired them, right? Give it a rest.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
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April 17, 2013 12:28pm EST
50 Cent has no interest in meeting his estranged father because he abandoned the rapper before he was even born. The Candy Shop hitmaker was raised by his grandparents after his mother Sabrina passed away when he was a young child and the business mogul admits he had a hard time coming to terms with her death.
During an interview with veteran broadcaster Larry King on his U.S. web series Larry King Now, he says, "I don't think I really dealt with it in the early stages. I lost my mum when I was eight, so I didn't really understand at that point. Later, they (my grandparents) would consistently say, 'She's not coming back,' and I'm like, 'Yeah she is.' My grandfather would look at me like, 'He doesn't understand.' Later, you grow and start to understand."
The hip-hop star, real name Curtis Jackson, started selling drugs to support himself, but he eventually fell foul with the law and the 37 year old is convinced it all could have been avoided if his father had been around to keep him out of trouble.
And now he has no interest in forming a relationship with his dad, adding, "I never knew my father. I never actually met him. Some people have that thing where they actually want that parent that they haven't had in their lives. I have no interest in it.
"The mistakes that I made early on... he could've been here to help me not make those mistakes."
April 11, 2013 4:54pm EST
Damn you, American Idol. Despite my best efforts and previous declarations that he simply didn't do it for me, I've developed a hopeless, involuntary crush on Keith Urban. Now every episode of Idol is like my own personal round of Dreamphone, except instead of mooning over Gary and his super '90s power turtleneck, I'm making googly-eyes at Keith, who's rocking my dad's T-shirt collection and my aunt's haircut.
Of course, as much as I'd like to pretend that the only reason I've been forced into developing a strange crush on Urban during this season of American Idol is because there are no attractive men left vying for our votes, I'd be lying. Unfortunately, I'm not that superficial: In spite of how obnoxious I find his impossibly feathery hair, with its clearly unnatural blonde streaks and a shape that frames his face like a pair of Ikea curtains, whenever I watch Idol, I'm undeniably drawn to him.
I understand that to some folks, especially fans of country music, Urban is a certifiable babe — but sorry, ladies and gents — I just never understood it. To me, Urban's always been a goofy cowboy, and one who seems to be allergic to putting his razor on a setting beyond "graze." Sure, he's a great country music artist, but so was Garth Brooks and you don't see me (or anyone) clamoring after him like a pack of crying teenagers (at least not after he dabbled as Chris Gaines, the Criss Angel of country music). There was that way in which every glance at Urban's Golden Road album cover brought up memories of Britney Spears' "I'm Not a Girl (Not Yet a Woman)" music video. And that floppy haircut fit for some kid named Skylar on my brother's fifth grade baseball team was like a giant warning to stay away from all blonde Australian men with guitars. Urban was a good singer/songwriter, but he wasn't putting stars in my eyes.
Then he joined American Idol, and once the tensions died down between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, we started noticing Urban do things like this:
But it's not just his facial expressiveness that gets me. Just how wonderful is he? Let me count the ways...
This man is passionate. He loves music so entirely that when a pretty voice is laid before him, there's nothing he can do to stop the outpouring of emotion from every piece of his incredibly expressive face. When one of the top contestants sings an emotional ballad, a quick cut to Urban will show him leaning toward the singer, lifting his head up, furrowing his brow with great interest, and leaning out as if to catch the wave of his or her beautiful voice.
He knows when we're laughing at him, and laughs right along with us. This was most evident on Beatles night when he realized the folly of his own repetive commentary (take note, Randy Jackson) and turned it into a joke on himself. Okay, so he's not exactly Jerry Lewis, but it's cute enough to merit a giggle.
His friendship with Nicki Minaj is the stuff dreams are made of. First, he shared his trail mix with her during auditions, like an older brother on a school bus. Then came the friendly banter. Then there were the times when Urban comforted Minaj by lending her a shoulder on which to mourn Curtis Finch, Jr.'s early elimination, and when he lent her his hand so she didn't fall on her way to the judges' table in impossibly high heels. It's enough to make this ol' heart of mine grow a few sizes.
He knows his s**t. For too long, we had judges who had their heads wrapped around pop music, but their interests in country music were fairly tenuous. But when Urban gets going, it's clear he's coming from a place of total, intimate understanding. He knows exactly how every facet of a country song needs to work. He knows who the real country idols are (not just the ones we surface country music listeners know). And he knows what Idol's country crooners need to do to make their voices stand out in a popular genre. Basically, he's a country music genius.
And to that point: He truly cares. It's clear that he genuinely wants these singers to succeed, and when they don't perform at the level he expects, he's not angry or dismissive like Jackson and, on occasion, Minaj. He's clearly saddened everytime one of the contestants misses his or her mark, and you can see in his sweetly pained face that he only wants the best for them, like scruffily handsome den mother.
With all that going on, how could anyone not fall totally and completely in televisual love with this man?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
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March 14, 2013 9:00pm EST
It was a night of firsts on American Idol on Thursday. Ryan Seacrest delivered the specific order in which voters chose the top 10 contestants, Nicki Minaj got so upset that Keith Urban and Randy Jackson had to console her, and judge favorite Curtis Finch Jr. was voted off by America.
But, Curtis sang "I Believe I Can Fly" and made us believe that for the first time, the judges might expend the Save this early in the competition. Nicki was so adamant that Curtis should stay that she exclaimed, "If you go home, I go home" to the eliminated singer. Unfortunately for Nicki, she couldn't convince her fellow judges to give Curtis the shot and the gospel singer was sent home. After all, if America votes a singer out this early on, the Save is practically a waste because they'll likely just vote the rescued singer off again next week. Randy and Keith were right to reserve the save for another day.
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Of course, this potential Save situation was only the most important of the strange occurrences on Thursday's wildly different Idol results show. The second most mind-blowing change was the detailed reveal of voters' choices. Not only did Ryan dole out information about whose state gave each singer the most votes, but he revealed the top three (in no particular order) and the subsequent fourth through tenth place singers in a very deliberate and numerical order, down to the eliminated contestant Curtis.
RELATED: Why Was Nicki Minaj Late for the Top 10?
How America Voted:
Top 3: Candice Glover, Kree Harrison, Angie Miller
4: Lazaro Arbos
5: Amber Holcomb
6: Janelle Arthur
7: Burnell Taylor
8: Paul Jolley
9: Devin Velez
10: Curtis Finch, Jr. ELIMINATED
But the weirdness didn't stop there. They also brought in the Mayor of Kree's hometown in Texas to give her the key to the city, something Hollywood taught me can only happen on the steps of City Hall in that town. Producers brought on your mom's favorite band Bon Jovi to turn the Idol stage into a New Jersey dive bar for four minutes after bringing the Idols on to sing the new single from Dreamworks' The Croods like participants in a theme park parade. (Phillip Phillips' performance was expectedly awesome, but that doesn't really help this freaky narrative.)
The final slice of oddity, during the hour-long broadcast was the young man who proudly told Nicki "I glorify weirdness," Charlie Askew, and fellow Top 20 cast-off Aubrey Cleland. The two singers returned to vie for a sponsored spot on the Idols Live! Tour (thanks, cell phone service I'm not going to name on principle!), singing their respective tunes in hopes of attracting votes from the Idol public. It's sweet, especially considering the way in which Charlie, the talented yet fragile songwriter, was cast off last week, but the presence of this extra moving part during the results show just contributes to the disjointed feel of the televised hour.
Were we finding out who our Top 9 are? Or were we paying a visit to the American Idol variety hour and ho-down? For a while, I wasn't sure. I half expected to people eating cotton candy and holding giant stuffed Tweety Birds in the audience like they were at some sort of summer carnival.
Strangeness aside, the first Season 12 elimination proved a few very important points. First: don't try to pull one over on the Idol audience. We are a cutthroat group with photographic memory. Curtis is far more talented than some of the remaining singers (ahem, Paul Jolley, Devin Velez, and Lazaro Arbos), but just as I was turned off by his behavior towards Charlie during group week and allowed it to color my season-long opinion of Curtis, voters appear to be spurned as well. On this show, anything can happen and now that voting has been made easier, all it takes is one false move to take down an otherwise talented contestant.
The second takeaway is an exciting one: The top five consists of four incredible ladies and Lazaro, which means Idol's dream (and I'll admit, my own hope) of seeing a woman win American Idol this year just might come true, especially since voters don't seem to be taking to dynamo Burnell Taylor who is wasting away in seventh place. That disappointment aside, no one deserves those top three spots more than Kree, Angie, and Candice, but now that they've already hit the right notes for both the judges and the voters can they keep this game up?
Did America get it right with Curtis? Were the judges right not to use the save this early?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: George Holz/Fox]
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March 14, 2013 1:29am EST
There’s a line drawn in the sand for the top 10 contestants on American Idol. On one side, we have a set of singers so perfectly packaged, so talented, so ready for action that picking a favorite is about as easy picking your favorite Internet hedgehog (I’ve tried and it’s impossible. Those suckers are universally adorable). Opposite these fantastic singers are a group of wannabes: people with decent pipes, but no spirit, no direction, and absolutely no ability to compete with the top contestants. The divide has never been more evident and unless a miracle takes place, that’s not going to change. Lucky for the women on the show, they’re all on the more promising side of the competition, especially Miss Candice Glover.
RELATED: Why Was Nicki Minaj Late to the Top 10 Performance?
For the incredibly loosely defined “Idol Songs” week, Candice chose “I (Who Have Nothing)” which was performed by Jordin Sparks on the show, but is actually by Ben E. King (and if we’re splitting hairs, she did the Shirley Bassey version of the song). However, bending of the theme aside, Candice brings her usual brand of unbelievable vocals to the performance, finally finding the right emotional sweet spot for her voice. In a few minutes, she jumps right to the top of heap and brings the entire panel (except Mariah, who’s trapped in a seated position by her impossibly restrictive skirt) to their feet.
Fortunately for us, she’s not the only incredible presence on that stage. Here are my rankings of this week’s Top 10:
1. Candice Glover with “I (Who Have Nothing)” as performed by Jordin Sparks (Duh)
2. Angie Miller with “Surrender” by Celine Dion and as Performed by Kelly Clarkson
While Jimmy Iovine may be concerned that Angie looks too much like a beauty pageant winner, this girl is not slowing down. Performing yet another song that feels like it’s her own, Angie has complete control over the stage, over her vocals, over Dion’s classic ballad. Here’s hoping viewers are on board too.
3. Kree Harrison with “Crying” by Roy Orbison as performed by Carrie Underwood
Again, Kree turns in an incredible performance. It’s so predictable that the lack of drama is almost annoying. Luckily, Nicki made up for the lack of surprise by comparing the happiness she hears while Kree’s singing to her favorite weekend ritual of toasting waffles, melting the butter on top in the microwave, and then covering them with “buttermilk syrup.” I’m not sure what possessed her to use that description, but am I nuts to think it’s actually kind of accurate?
RELATED: Can a Girl Really Win 'Idol'?
4. Burnell Taylor with “Flying Without Wings” by Ruben Studdard
Once again, Burnell is adorable. Incredible. Capable. Wonderful. I do miss his glasses and his goofy little baseball cap, but I can see why the stylists have made him a little more slick. The fog machine, however was cheesy. Burnell is already magical, he doesn’t need a misty lagoon to prove that. But visual annoyances aside, this performance is perfection, as usual. It’s easy for him. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: If a girl doesn’t win this year, let the winner at least be Mr. Burnell Taylor (even if that means we’ll have to watch Randy throw another parade for “the great city of Baton Rouge” — we get it, dawg, you’re from Louisiana).
5. Amber Holcomb with “A Moment Like This” by Kelly Clarkson
I want to say I loved this performance, because once again, we can see Amber’s incredible talent being put to inappropriate use. Jimmy suggested Amber do a more upbeat version of the Kelly Clarkson song, but I think perhaps what he really meant was less Mariah or Whitney Houston in the ‘90s (hey, even Mariah noticed that she stole that fan move from Miss Butterfly herself). Amber continually sings flawless ballads with so little effort it’s infuriating, but she can’t seem to make herself a contemporary artist. Rather than Clarkson’s throwback hit or even Whitney’s hits, Holcomb should try on some Beyonce or even (dare I say it) Adele. She’s wildly talented, but if she doesn’t figure out a way to update her sound, she may slip from voters’ notice.
6. Janelle Arthur with “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry as performed by Scotty McCreery
Janelle tries to follow Jimmy’s good advice and find a way to be unique and sort of succeeds, even if her vocals are slightly spotty. She tries to play a bit of the easy going bad girl, and it mostly works (Idol’s own graphics certainly weren’t helping her to lower the cheese factor though). When she’s done and the judges are confused because the big notes in the song just weren’t there, she explains that her mouth went dry while she was singing. It might be an excuse, but her vocal is a little out of whack this round.
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7. Curtis Finch, Jr. with “I Believe” by Fantasia
Here’s where I draw the line. Despite my overwhelming distaste for Curtis, I can acknowledge that the guy has a good instrument, it’s what he does with it that’s the problem. Jimmy warns him against going too old fashioned, but he can’t seem to change it up too much. He steps onto the stage in a coat made out of a square of the Windsor Castle carpet, with a gospel choir in tow. It’s the same ol’ same ol’ and everyone but Mariah is bored. When Randy comes right out and says it’s boring, it’s usually time to change it up, dawg.
8. Paul Jolley with “Amazed” by Lonestar as performed by Scotty McCreery
Paul tries to heed Jimmy’s advice to ditch the theatrics and oversinging, but he only slightly gets it. He starts off his song a little quieter, sitting at the back of the stage and resisting the urge to get to his favorite spot at the front of the stage, but all he’s really done is make his performance more bland. Again, he’s got great parts of his voice, it’s just not adding up to a potential star when he hits the stage.
9. Devin Velez with “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood
Jimmy tells Devin to stop aiming for old fashioned styles like those of Josh Groban and Michael Buble and unfortunately, that’s exactly what he does with this Carrie Underwood song. The most exciting thing about this performance is the new special effect the Idol set department seems to have discovered this year (where are we? A bubble galaxy? Is Devin still singing?).
10. Lazaro Arbos singing “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson
Once again, Lazaro proves his biggest weakness is his inability to recognize the great parts of his voice. Since this competition began, he’s never been able to pick a song that really highlights who he is. Jimmy warns him about this, but he still sings Clarkson’s hit and to uncomfortable effect. He doesn’t have the range or the connection to the song. It simply doesn’t work. I want to like Lazaro because he’s adorable and has a great backstory, but the vocals just haven’t been cutting it.
Who do you think will go home?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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March 07, 2013 11:40pm EST
Shocker: It’s still a girls game on American Idol. After a quick trip back to Los Angeles, the judges, Ryan Seacrest, and the Top 20 nestled into the Idol auditorium to find out who’d be staying on as part of the Top 10 finalists. Fan favorites like Kree Harrison, Angie Miller, Burnell Taylor, and Lazaro Arbos were easy fits, but as the night wore on, disappointment hit more than a few times.
Of course, most of those time were when we realized that likeable singers like Paul Jolley nabbed spots that could have gone to strong lady singers like castoff Aubrey Cleland were there not a strict five-spot-per-gender rule. Of course, if the past teaches us anything, it’s that voters probably would have kept a few too many of the ho-hum dudes and sent home girls who deserved to stay. Still, it was an exciting night on Idol.
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We got to see what it looks like behind Idol’s famous video screen door. We got to see the singers’ genuine reactions before the judges or the audience, thanks to Ryan delivering the news to them backstage, before anyone else could hear. We got to witness the adorable moment when Keith Urban let Nicki Minaj lean on him as they walked to their seats because Nicki wore impossibly high heels. We got to see Mariah Carey’s incomparable breasts peeking out from behind a mesh v-shape in her patent leather ball gown. We got to witness the cross-promotion of Carey’s new single and the movie she sang it for, Oz the Great and Powerful. But unfortunately, we still didn’t get to see much of Randy Jackson’s prized shoes, which is a shame because Seacrest once told me that Randy has a new pair for every single episode of the show.
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As the finalists were announced, they each got to perform a victory song followed by feedback, but not criticism, from their favorite judges. I know the point is that we’re not supposed to judge, but if you’re like me, the wheels in your brain were turning, you were judging each and every performance, and you’ve already got a ranking system in your head. Here’s mine:
10. Paul Jolley singing “Alone” by Heart: While he was much better than he was on Wednesday night, he’s still not the strongest of the bunch. But man, is he handsome.
9. Lazaro Arbos singing “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel: It was a good emotional reprisal of his audition song considering he’s overcome adversity and made it to the final 10. It’s very sweet, and very much in his comfort zone, but he will need to step it up to make it past the other fantastic singers.
8. Devin Velez singing “The Power of One (Change The World)” by Isreal Houghton: Nicki clearly didn’t like that he shied away from a ballad, but he’s found a way to be a little more relevant with this upbeat song. His ballads are fantastic, but he’s got to be able to do upbeat to be a mainstream artist. And he gets a few bonus points for his adorable blue-eye-shadow-laden mama hitting on Ryan.
7. Curtis Finch singing “So High” by John Legend: Let’s just make peace with the fact that Curtis rubs me the wrong way. That feeling won’t go away, so I’m going to do my best to get past that long enough to write about his performance: I love this song, I love the effortless way in which John Legend sings it. Curtis’ vocal acrobatics prove he’s got a serious skill, but I’m not a fan of the way he pushes this smooth song. That’s why he’s so far down on this list, but still, I can admit he’s talented.
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6. Amber Holcomb singing “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan: This is where I start to get a bit confused because I love, love, love everyone I’ve ranked from sixth to first. I love them all. While Amber has an issue with sounding current, it’s hard to deny she’s got an incredible voice. And she’s not even trying. At all. It’s almost infuriating. Her voice is so good, and the girl never even breaks a sweat.
5. Janelle Arthur singing “Home” by Dierks Bentley: Janelle has never been my cup of tea, but her emotional connection really brought it home on Thursday night. She finally chose a current song and it makes her feel like she really could be a singer with a hit single on the radio right now. And with tears in her pretty little eyes, she’s a delight to watch. America loves themselves a sweet, little blonde country singer.
4. Candice Glover singing “I’m Goin’ Down" by Rose Royce: I love this girl. She’s so, so good. I like her rendition of this song better than Mary J. Blige’s cover, because it just pours out of her so naturally. She’s just strutting around that stage letting her incredible voice just flow, and after watching her go home too soon last season, it’s hard not to cheer her on a time like this.
3. Angie Miller singing “I Was Here” by Beyonce: She’s adorable and misty as she takes the stage in her sparkly pants. Despite being outside of her usual style. Beyonce’s ballad turned out to be a great choice. I like that she didn’t try to Beyonce-ify her performance. She just tried to make it as Angie as possible. It wasn’t a super clean performance, but the emotional connection was so great it almost doesn’t matter. She’s so marketable, so genuine. She belongs up there.
2. Burnell Taylor singing “Ready for Love” by India.Arie: I want a woman to win this year. I really, truly do. But if a man has to take the crown, it had better be Burnell. He. is. amazing. The intricate things he does with his voice are beautiful and his personality comes through every time he sings. He has every piece it takes to be considered the complete package. He’s going to seriously test my feminist resolve this season.
1. Kree Harrison singing “Evidence” by Susan Tedeschi: This girl rocks. Hard. She’s flawless and connected, just like she always has been. If we’re picking horses, this girl is the one to beat.
Now that gender is no longer a factor in who stays and who goes, let’s hope voters can see the great disparity between the incredibly talented women and the fairly talented men on this show.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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March 07, 2013 12:36am EST
Apparently the guys were listening. The Top 10 men on Season 12 of American Idol stepped up their game in a big way after witnessing the women’s incredible set of performances. Of course, for many of our guys that simply means they gave a better performance than the last time, but that they still fall far below the bar of excellence set by the ladies on Tuesday night. But for a few others, that bar is not only within their reach, but within their grasp.
I would like to preemptively declare that no matter how high my praise is in the remainder of this recap, I still want a woman to be the last one standing in that confetti shower at the end of the season. Still, the second half of the guys’ Top 10 was a set of potential winners, from Burnell Taylor to Devin Velez to (reluctantly) Curtis Finch, Jr. But before we get to the goods, we’ve got to wade through the rest.
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Someone I hope isn’t anywhere near that confetti downpour (sorry, kiddo) is young Elijah Liu, who’s giving us more of the teen sensation schtick. This time around, he chose a better song, “Stay” by Rihanna, and he sounds much more comfortable. Still, there’s nothing about it that doesn’t feel like some lucky, cute kid who wound up with his face on the screen. He’s nothing special among the others. Nicki says she could see his face on cups and blankets, but Randy is bored. Mariah is too, but says producers can spark him up a bit if he makes it through. I’m sorry, that’s what a mall contest is for, not a national talent competition like American Idol.
And trucking right along in that category is Cortez Shaw, the sexy guy who can never seem to hit the right spot. This time he sings Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” and it’s a good song choice, but he’s simply hitting the vanilla Bruno Mars nail on the head. His vocals aren’t perfect and he needs to do something to make it feel like he’s an artist and not just a guy who can sing really good covers of a bland pop artist. The best compliment the judges could scare up was that his dancing was “dope.” Take that as you will.
Next is poor little Charlie Askew, who’s truly overstayed his welcome on this show. He tries on “Mama” by Genesis, and it’s pretty terrible. I like him, I really do, but his vocal is strained. He’s not marketable. He’s lost his weird little touch and traded it in for an aggressive, angry, disjointed performance. Nicki is distraught at the loss of her weird little “baby” and while the rest of the judges deliver honest commentary, sweet little Charlie starts to crumble. It takes all Ryan’s cheery strength to keep Charlie in good enough spirits to continue his show for the cameras just a little bit longer. While artists certainly need to be sensitive, there’s an element of endurance in this competition and it’s not possible when the slightest moment of honest cripples you. Sorry, Charlie. Your time is up.
But as inappropriate for this competition as Charlie is, at least he’s not as boring as Nicki Boddington. Nick chooses “I Just Want You To Know Who I Am” by the Goo Goo Dolls, which is apparently one of Nicki’s favorite songs. Yes, it’s a perfect song choice for him and he’s comfortable at the piano. The vocals were a bit spotty, but he connected. The only problem is that there’s no way to sing this Goo Goo Dolls song without feeling dated. It’s something the judges all pick up on: technically he’s good, but can he garner enough attention to get votes? Probably not.
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The reward for getting through this pile of so-so singers is the engrossing Burnell Taylor. He reprises his original song from his first audition and it is fantastic. I’m going to go ahead and say it: I LOVE HIM. He’s so sweet. So perfect. So solid. His song is straightforward, yet emotionally satisfying and truthful. This guy is an artist. He’s got his own sound, his own look, his own style. His whole personality, his whole being is on that stage, it’s something that other talented singers on this show lack. Burnell is the entire package, even up to the part where he comes with that unique special something we never could have anticipated. Burnell is magical.
Paul Jolley also has a special brand of magic, but nothing quite like Burnell’s. Paul’s magical talent is making us love him even when his performances are honestly rather flat. He sings “I’m Just a Fool For You” by Christina Aguilera and it’s simply not that impressive. He’s flat or straining throughout it and it’s clear that he’s pushing his voice unnecessarily. He wants to be the male Taylor Swift, and I don’t think that’s out of his reach, but every time he gets on stage, he’s doing anything but what he says he’s out to accomplish. It’s clear he doesn’t know himself, and the judges are appropriately muddled on the subject. But he’s incredibly handsome and charismatic, and that never seems to hinder Idol finalists.
The charming continues with Lazaro Arbos, whose story has had us smitten since Day One has finally brought his performance up to the right level. He sings “You Know How I Feel” and it’s the most natural he’s ever seemed onstage. He’s having fun, his vocals are strong, and for once I’m not thinking about how I should like it more because he’s disadvantaged. But his stutter was far from anyone’s mind during his best performance ever. I still feel like he’s not able to get over that hump where all of his performances sound old fashioned, but at least he’s finally bridged the gap between almost good and pretty great. Still, he’s not necessarily right for Idol. Now more than ever, it’s important that the acts on Idol actually fit into the music industry instead of just being singers who’ve got significant vocal tools. That’s the edge that the show has: the ability to find stars that fit into the current music scene while its competitors simply focus on the judges. Lazaro is likely not going to help Idol keep that reputation.
Next is Curtis Finch, Jr. who brazenly chooses “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly. Yes, Curtis’ voice is powerful and malleable and he’s got uncanny control over it, but his choice to sing this song that’s since become such an overused ballad is his personality in a nutshell: he’s a self-absorbed showboat. And if his selfish behavior during Hollywood week hadn’t solidified that notion in my brain, this audacious performance would certainly raise some questions. The judges give him a standing ovation, but the thing is Curtis cannot hold a candle to Joshua Ledet, Idol’s standing O king. Yes, this is technically a good performance, and yes, he’s got a good voice, but his lack of genuine gratitude is lacking. Curtis is wearing the face of someone who’s grateful for what he’s been given, but it feels false. He seems like someone who thinks he belongs there, as if it’s owed to him, and while he preaches forgiveness we’ve already seen that he’ll take down a fellow singer if they get in his way.
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Yes, he’s earned a spot for now with his talent, but we like our artists up close and personal now, can he really get away with his faux-personality for long? I hope not, especially with people like Devin Velez and Vincent Powell in the competition.
Devin defies all odds with his rendition of a Perry Como song, “It’s Impossible.” He freshens up the old standard by singing part of it in Spanish like he did last week, and he’s smoothed out the kinks of his later performance. The judges love him, and not just because he’s got an adorable little bowtie. This guy’s got it. Finally, we have the most confounding performance of the night.
Vincent takes the stage with Boyz II Men’s “The End of the Road” and really connects to the song. He’s got a few hiccups, but his overall performance oozes with authenticity. This song could be death, because like “I Believe I Can Fly” it could be a little too familiar, but Vincent connects so heartily to the song that it feels like it’s completely his own and that these lyrics are coming straight from his heart. He’s got an incredible range, he’s got incredible stage presence, and he’s an incredibly genuine person. It’s the way he holds himself that exudes confidence with a layer of gratitude (unlike Curtis, who exudes confidence with a layer of this thing called gratitude that he read about once and he heard makes people like you). The judges all think his performance is off, though at least Mariah has the ability to point out that a bad performance for Vincent is still heads and tails above everyone else.
If I have my way, Vincent, Devin, Burnell, and Lazaro will stick around. Of course, Curtis will stay, but I’ll have no part of that. Thursday night will reveal out Top 10 (five boys and five girls) and the real competition will begin. Of course the real reveal will be how close the judges’ opinions are reflected by audience votes. Something tells me this set may be the most surprising we’ve ever seen.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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February 28, 2013 2:08am EST
The gender disparity continues on American Idol, where the girls present quite the conundrum for the judges in week two of the sudden death rounds.
While this whole process (eschewing group numbers and integrated sexes for individual, last ditch performance rounds for two entire weeks) seems so very un-Idol, it is doing one very important thing: it’s giving a strong appreciation of a few ridiculously strong ladies (and on the guys’ night, an overzealous distaste for the men in the competition). Luckily, Wednesday night was one for the ladies. Still, that doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed girls who can do no wrong.
First up is Melinda Ademi, who’s back for a second shot on Idol. Like Angela Miller before her, she sings “Nobody’s Perfect” by Jessie J, and if her Lisa Frank wardrobe and over-the-top performance aren’t enough, the fact that Nicki can only compare her to the flawless Angela is a surefire way to follow the yellow brick road on home. Melinda, who told the judges she was only trying to use “her artistry,” is cut from the competition.
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The first girl to earn a spot to continue on is our returning singer Candice Glover, who sings “(You Make Me Feel) A Natural Woman” in a very Kelly Clarkson sort of way. It’s almost effortless, it’s old fashioned, but it’s easy to see how Glover’s voice might work on a pop song. Now, like Randy mentions, we’ve seen incredible things from Candice and for her, this was just alright. Still, if this is Candice’s “alright,” just imagine what she can do with one of Randy’s “moments.” Naturally, she stays.
Next up is my own personal heartbreaker. Fifteen-year-old Juliana Chahayed sings Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper,” and while she delivers a fantastic, moving performance the young lady doesn’t stay. She slows the song down and makes it her own (and far more enjoyable than the original), but her voice is thin and she experiences pitch problems here and there. Unfortunately, it’s not something the judges can get past with the ladies (though it would result in a gold star for the dudes). Sweet little Juliana is sent home, but at least she’s got plenty of time to get this whole thing down and try again. Let's remember, she's only 15.
Next, Jett Hermano sings a slow version of “Only Girl” by Rihanna while sitting at a piano. It was an intriguing performance and one marked by Jett’s ability to belt out some serious notes. And while Keith loves the “sexier” arrangement, Nicki and Randy want more, supposing that she was going to pull out the biggest stops at the end of the song. She doesn't and they lose their faith, so much so that Jett is sent home by the end of the night.
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On her last shot at the Idol title is 29-year-old Cristabel Clack. And unfortunately her journey ends too soon. She sings “No One” by Alicia Keys, trying so hard to make it her own, but she gets a little too squeaky at the beginnings of phrases and a little out of control, adding runs here and there because she’s trying so hard to differentiate herself from Keys. I’m interested to see her sing something that isn’t by someone so close to her style so she can show us who she is rather than just trying to cover up her similarities to the artist she’s covering. Unfortunately for the mother of three, she’s headed home. And the next contestant stupidly tries Beyonce on for size.
Aubrey Cleland sings “Sweet Dreams” by Beyonce and while she also slows the song down like Jessica Sanchez did last season when she rocked it, it doesn’t quite work here. Aubrey is a fantastic singer and she looks great on stage, so she gets a spot in the final five, but the slow rendition of the song quite literally takes away the difficult part of singing it, much of which is the simple aspect of keeping up with the incredible pace at with Beyonce is able to perform.
Finally, the almost-reject from Hollywood week, Rachel Hale takes her shot with a song we’ve already heard her sing: “Nothing But the Water” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. She gets to her big moments at the end of the song, but everything leading up to those moments is abysmal. Eventually, the song gets to be very nice, but there’s no way any successful singer could turn you off that much at the beginning of a song and have you stick around for the thrilling conclusion. Randy and Nicki both love it, which is makes it all feel a little strange when they decide to cut Rachel and keep Janelle Arthur, who sings a sweet (but boring) Lady Antebellum song.
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Powerhouse Breanna Steer takes on “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan, and while the arrangement she uses makes the song sound like nothing more than good karaoke ballad, Randy and Nicki are sure she’s “sexy on a stick” and ready to be signed to a label (not that they’re willing to do that instead of throwing her through the Idol ringer). Still, it’s no wonder she’s got a spot in the top 10 ladies group.
Janelle Arthur scrapes by on the skin of her teeth with the overdone cover of “Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum. It was nice, but it wasn’t the right song to wake up non-country fans who might just want to hear something they can connect to. Her good voice keeps her on the show, but she’s still just another sweet blonde country singer. She has pitch issues here and there, but that’s not the issue. She’s just bland. The strange thing is, the judges all seem to agree, but they keep her on.
Finally, we learn why the judges wanted Zoanette Johnson all along: she’s actually really, really good. With her blond afro picked out as she sings “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, it makes sense as to why she’s still on show. She can sing, actually. Where we would hear screeching before, now there’s simply a rich voice that makes sense in this competition - even with all the outside nonsense. How the judges knew that was in there from Day One is a mystery I’ll never understand, but it’s a risk that may just actually pay off, especially now that Zoanette is staying on.
The cuts were incredibly harsh tonight, do you think any of the rejected ladies deserved to stay?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox (2)]
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February 22, 2013 12:50am EST
This is not okay.
Since Jordin Sparks won her rightful title at the end of Season 6, American Idol has continued to crown the cute boy mafia winners. Even during Season 9, when no cute boys were to be found in the finals, America went with the infinitely uninspiring Lee Dwyze over talented lady Crystal Bowersox. The ladies, as it turns out, are at a disadvantage on this show. But then comes Season 12, with a surplus of awe-inspiring ladies and a dearth of male singers who are even a fraction as talented and stage-ready as the women in the competition. Yet, this season, producers are intent on giving each sex an equal set of opportunities to be represented in the group of 12 finalists up for America’s votes.
That would be great if out of the 10 guys who auditioned during the second Las Vegas episode, I could name a single one that belongs on the Idol stage in L.A. Sure, the little quips and crazy comments from the judges are somewhat amusing. The battle between Randy Jackson and Nicki Minaj raging all night was diverting. Keith Urban was loveable as always. Mariah Carey is apparently campaigning to be the new Paula Abdul, as the deliverer of incomprehensible and useless commentary at the end of every performance, but she too was at least somewhat entertaining. Still, these little distractions aren’t enough to curb my blind rage over the sheer lack of value in any of the evening’s performances.
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Idol and these 10 young men just wasted two hours of our lives, and no matter how hard we try, we’ll never get them back. I don’t know about you, but I’m seething.
The evening didn’t start with rage, though. First up is lovely human Paul Jolley, who bravely attempts a song outside of his genre and one by Keith, “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” We know Paul can sing, but this performance is screechy, unpleasant, and over-performed. Oh, and he’s very handsome. The judges are gracious, but no one’s willing to truly praise Paul’s performance except for Mariah, who apparently thinks judges on this show should “nitpick.” Ahem, Miss Carey? I think that lack of nitpicking is what got us in this pickle in the first place.
Idol’s wave of mediocrity continues with returning whipping boy Johnny Keyser, who’s being jerked around by the series for a second time. He’s got a pleasant quality to his voice and Nicki finds him wildly attractive, but he’s simply not strong enough to be here. He wasn’t last year either, yet the judges brought him through to this point both times. Singing “When I Look Into Your Eyes” with a Leave it to Beaver haircut and his crisp, white shirt strategically opened to expose his silver cross necklace, Keyser is still simply vanilla. There’s nothing compelling about his performance, even if you’re just here for the view. He’s simply not engaging. But still, the judges keep it civil. Keith and Nicki love him, even if Nicki didn’t like that whole part where he was moving his voice up and down. But he’s cute, so who cares? Even Randy isn’t that tough on the guy, saying he’s great but he just needs to make us feel something when he sings, you know that thing where music is a serious of sounds that’s meant to elicit an emotional response? Do that. Mariah agrees, but thinks his sexy ass is more important than knowing how to sing. This is when the rage began to form.
As my anger simmered, JDA took the stage singing “Rumor Has It” by Adele. I’d like to preface my scathing criticism of JDA by saying that the fact that he dresses the way he does and loves glitter as much as he does have nothing to do with my inability to praise this performance. I wanted so badly for the guy who endured such prejudice during Hollywood Group Night to step onto this stage and blow away the snooze-worthy guys who came before him. But he doesn't do that. His vocals are weak and wavering. He planned dance moves for every lyric, but they aren't fluid or interesting. This entire performance is amateur hour, from start to finish. Yet, even when the judges so clearly want to tell him it isn't up to snuff, they go easy, telling him that his performance is great and that the vocals need work. False. The entire performance needs help. It is not good. And no amount of whatever Mariah means by JDA’s “bigness” is going to change that.
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The rage subsided a tad when Kevin Harris took the stage. His song choice is all wrong, but the man has a sweet quality to his voice that’s simply a delight to hear. When he reaches the end of “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” he falters a bit, falling into off-key territory, and the performance itself lacks teeth on account of his choice to sing a song that we’ve all heard far too many times and his indecision about which part of his voice to show off at the end. (He wavers between vibrato and falsetto cumbersomely.) Keith is underwhelmed, Nicki thinks it’s perfection but that his sweet personality isn’t enough for America (not everyone has to be a Barb, Nicki). Randy is bored, and even the woman who loves everything, Mariah, thinks he chose the wrong song. Look, the guy cannot compare to the ladies chosen to stay on Wednesday night (and maybe even some of the ones who went home), but he does better than anyone who came before him. And the rage escalates.
Next, we’re dealt a performance from head-scarf-enthusiast Chris Watson. He picks, shocker of all shockers, the most overused Idol semi-finals song ever “Sitting On The Dock of the Bay.” But if the lack of originality wasn’t enough, his two and a half minutes of fame are spent focusing on his ability to gyrate and point at his “adoring” public, instead of, oh I don’t know, singing the song with any level of vocal talent or quality. Keith and Randy like his vibe, but find a nice way to tell the dude his singing is weak. Nicki and Mariah, forever the issue, are in love with the pretty boy. Nicki thinks he's the “prettiest man I’ve seen in my life” and Mariah’s Butterfly Dreams tour tells her that he’s beautiful and the fact that his vocals “weren’t the best” is totally okay in a singing competition. So. Much. Rage.
Finally, (and I thought) thankfully, Devin Velez takes the stage. He's the great hope. The one chance to turn the night around. His unique song choice, “Listen” from Dreamgirls is a brave one. Maybe all's not lost. But when he approaches the huge song, it still feels small. It's clear as he approaches the wise marketing decision that was the Spanish-language section of the song, he becomes concerned about hitting it right and the first part of the song suffers. Still, Devin is better than everyone who came before him, not that he would have any right to let that go to his head. Randy, however, is so excited about listening to someone whose voice is an actual singing voice, that he bursts with joy, calling Devin “amazing” when what he really deserved was “that was nice.” (And yes, I’m considering what a tough song “Listen” actually is.) Mariah is the only one with real criticism (shocker of all shockers) and she tells him that he was too in his head to deliver a really great performance. And that’s when I got angry about the fact that Randy and Nicki were making me so crazy that I agreed with loopy spirit guide, Mariah Carey.
The (frustrated, angry, aggressive) beat went on with young Elijah Liu, whose Bieber antics are obnoxious, but at the very least, they represent someone who might actually have a shot of entertaining someone in the real world after Idol. He sings “Talking to the Moon” by Bruno Mars, and he’s clearly studied how to be just like the multi-platinum artist because he feels like a caricature of what a modern pop performance should be. He gets a little shaky towards the end, but all in all, he’s managed to replicate the pop persona that’s managing to drive teen girls wild right now. Everyone but Randy loves this kid to death. Randy doesn’t dig his vocals, but likes his swag, however his commentary can’t compete with Nicki, who says she wants to have the 18-year-old’s babies, and Mariah, who’s so completely obsessed with the kid’s mixed heritage that she forgets to say something useful.
Rage turns to sadness when my favorite little youngster, Charlie Askew, takes the stage to take on “Rocket Man” by Elton John. His vocals are a mess, and despite the admirable way in which Charlie actually appears to be on this show to actually feel something through music, his silliness gets the better of him. I’m not sure if his visible case of nerves encouraged him to turn on the goof factor as a defense mechanism, or what, but the result wasn’t a performance I’d like to remember. That being said, he is still more compelling than most of his competitors, something the judges acknowledge until Randy finally cages my rage and exclaims, “Forget singing tonight! Let’s just all perform.” Because this definitely isn’t a show about singing. Not tonight, anyway.
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The second-to-last disappointment of the night is Jimmy Smith, the strange, boring 1990s Dawson Leery-esque country singer who loves Keith. He sings a song Keith himself was covering when he sang it, “Raining on Sunday,” and it’s a risk that did not pay off. At all. It’s spotty and boring, like the last karaoke song on a rainy Tuesday night when everyone left in the bar is too drunk or tired or disappointed with their life decisions to heckle the singer. The auditorium was silent. No one is impressed, but don’t worry, Mariah still loves him and thinks she’s the best because her role this evening is apparently the captain of the self-esteem patrol.
And if she’s the captain of the patrol, her main focus is Curtis Finch, who she praises so hyperbolically I worry he might fly up into the atmosphere the next time she speaks to him. He sings “Superstar” by the Carpenters, and while vocally and technically, it was the best performance of the night, it’s not a good performance. It’s cheesy and over-performed. It feels like a performance by some nameless singer for a bunch of folks who just want to hear a nice voice serenade them with the classics. It has no mark of artistry, it’s all a show. Randy and Keith agree, but again, the ladies are bowled over by Curtis’ voice.
It’s something that didn’t stand for the ladies on Wednesday night, just ask eliminated contestants Brandy Hotard or Isabelle, of only one name. Both women possess incredible sets of pipes. They can hit full, high notes with ease, but they’re not compelling performers and they’re not packaged for a modern audience. That’s a sin on girls’ night, but here, in the delusional warmth of super swell guys’ night, it’s not a problem at all.
Eventually, the judges make some cuts, and one even needs the advice of Jimmy Iovine, the tie-breaker, but it doesn’t really matter. The talent in this room is an insultingly small fraction of the talent on the girls’ side. Sticking around, because five people had to stay somehow, are Curtis, Elijah, Charlie, Paul, and Devin. Going home are Jimmy, Kevin, JDA, Chris, and poor, tortured Johnny Keyser. There are a few shakeups in these results, but in the end none of it is all that surprising.
No matter what, we are given a line-up of contenders who can’t hold a teeny, tiny birthday candle to the ladies, we gave them two hours of our lives, and five of these undeserving singers got to stay. There is something to be said for giving singers second chances, because not every performance can be amazing, but there’s something wrong with a talent competition that spends two hours giving credence to a group of folks who give us no clear indication that any of them is significantly more talented me when I’ve have a few too many drinks and I suddenly think that singing Carrie Underwood lyrics in public is a good idea.
You’ve wasted our time, Idol, and I mean it when I say, it’s simply not okay.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox (2)]
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