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.
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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?
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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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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
S10E38: We've been building towards this week all season on Idol and now we've finally seen the big, arena performances from our top two: Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. They each performed three songs: one favorite from earlier in the season, one chosen by their own idols and one brand new song which would double as a single for the one that wins. All along, I've understood that Scotty was probably too strong for anyone to pass him up and take the winner's spot, but after last night, I don't think that call is so easy anymore.
Of course, it's the finale, so we can't have just contestant performances -- that would make too much sense. We got a little intermission with a performance from Taio Cruz singing a song co-written by a handful of people who submitted lyrics online. Genius, right? Nope. Fans submitted their lyrics, American Idol folks chose a handful, then fans voted on which ones were the best, and someone crammed them into an excruciatingly bland pop melody. The result is a song called "Positive" that Idol is GIVING AWAY FOR FREE; sure, that was the plan all along, but they'd have to give it out for free. It's worse than the watered down pop songs my friends and I used to write at middle school slumber parties while we were hopped up on grape soda and peanut M&Ms. Hell, our half-baked choruses even had more going on than "Positive's" recitation of the title over and over...and over. At least we diversified to something with multiple words like "you and me" or -- if we were feeling a little more adventurous -- "you and I."
David Cook also stopped by to perform the song that's been the Idol death knell all season, his cover of "Don't You (Forget About Me)." Sure, we get that it was a bit of a dedication to all the contestants who we will undoubtedly forget about in a few weeks, especially the ones who showed up at auditions dressed as Transformers and confederate soldiers. (Yeah, they included those jokers in the montage that ran behind Cook's head, ensuring there was no way we'd actually pay attention to him.)
Anyway, onto the performances that have actual weight, but before we get into it, I should note that Lauren almost didn't make it. At the last minute, she lost her voice and needed medical attention. Producers even brought Haley Reinhart on-set to rehearse in case Lauren had to drop out. Luckily for Lauren, she recovered and made it to the stage at the Nokia theater in Los Angeles to perform and maybe even get the edge on Scotty.
Round 1, Season Favorites
"Gone" by Montgomery Gentry
Scotty came right out of the gate with this rousing song and worked the stage like a professional. Not only does he own this song, but it's fast-paced enough that it helps push him a little closer to mainstream. This is dangerous for Lauren, because that's her demographic. Scotty has the hard-core country fans on lock, but those who are more interested in pop music would likely lean toward Lauren. This performance tows the line; it's a smart move on Scotty's part.
"Flat on the Floor" by Carrie Underwood
This would have been the best choice for Lauren if she had carried it the way she did the first time she performed. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the fact that she almost didn't get to perform, and maybe it's that the song is a very difficult one, but Lauren just wasn't as great as she usually is. Sure, she hit the notes, she hit her marks on stage, but the total package wasn't something we've come to expect from her. When Scotty comes out of the gate with infinite energy and complete confidence, her shaky and almost unsure performance took her down a notch.
Round 2, Personal Idols' Choices
"Check Yes or No" by George Strait
There's nothing necessarily wrong with this performance, it just wasn't anything special. Scotty did his usual Scotty thing, but the whole performance felt a little sleepy. When you've got someone like Lauren who forges a deep emotional connection to every song she sings, it's just a little disheartening to see Scotty who sings like he's taking a Sunday stroll. It also gives me time to focus on the elements of his performances that simply don't work for me; mainly, it's his facials that bother me. The laid back rendition just made me notice how much his wild-eyed look bothers me.
"Maybe it Was Memphis" by Pam Tillis
Well, I guess Lauren picked the right Idol. Her choice, Carrie Underwood, picked a great song to give Lauren that little push. The song was equally as easy-going as George Strait's choice (his own song) for Scotty, but unlike Scotty, Lauren knows how to give weight to any song. When she gets on stage, even the simplest lyrics mean something. The girl even brought emotion to "Unchained Melody" earlier this season and she's only 16. This song was the perfect way to showcase her knack for tapping into a song's emotional quality.
Round 3, Original Singles
"I Love You This Big"
Scotty did a lovely job with this song and it was certainly interesting to hear him perform a song that no one else has done before. Of course, I still feel like he has trouble connecting to lyrics, which makes sense, because he didn't write them himself and he's a 17 year old boy. I certainly don't hate the guy, but his emotional reactions during songs always have the air of an community theater play. There are always a few kids who overact, but can't actually tap into emotions. The result is a sort of emotional pantomime that undermines everything. Scotty is like those kids. He's got that great voice and that's what's carried him and if he wins, his voice will be the reason, but as an overall performer, he's just missing that little extra something.
"Like My Mother Does"
Well, damn. If her performance of the song itself wasn't enough, the fact that she got down into the crowd and sang this to her mother with big, crocodile tears in her eyes pushed her from contender to front-runner. It may not work, but like I said in round 2, Lauren has the ability that Scotty doesn't. She connects whole-heartedly to the lyrics and in turn connects the audience to those lyrics. That's exactly what a singer should do. Sure, the move to serenade her mother will likely be touted as a cheap move by Scotty fans, but it worked for the song and Lauren is a 16 year old girl. For those of you who've never been a 16 year old girl, let me tell you that most often, girls' relationships with their mothers at that time are extremely tumultuous and equally as loving. It's a very emotional time, so while it may be the "tactic" that pushes her past Scotty, I will disagree with anyone who finds it disingenuous.
Who's going to win?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say Lauren will. I'll probably be wrong, because Scotty is pretty much invincible and I think he expressed that in his performances, but last night really gave Lauren the fighting chance that, frankly, she didn't have at the beginning of the evening. It also helps that she came back from a widely-publicized medical emergency to get onstage and wow us. It's really anyone's game, but for the most part, it doesn't really matter. The last two contestants standing are essentially both winners, because one will win a record deal and the other one will be given a record deal. And really, does it matter which one Scotty or Lauren is?