Wednesday, February 19, 2014

American Idol Season 13: Rush Week Top 10 Girls Perform

Hello remaining watchers of America's pop culture past pastime!  There was little debate of my return to recapping the live shows for this season of American Idol.  But, I did debate whether I'd start this week or when the finals officially start next week.  On a whim, I decided there was enough to comment on in this first live performance that it was worth a quick post.  Unfortunately, it's not really the performances that I felt were praiseworthy!  After a pretty impressive run of auditions and Hollywood Week, I really thought the show was poised to showcase some amazing talent.  But, it didn't seem like the girls were up to the task last night.  Granted, there were contributing factors like the format of this new "Rush Week" theme.  I can understand the nerves of not knowing if and when you're going to perform and having to be ready to perform on the spot.  But, if you've got the goods, none of that should matter.   And, there is no excuse for poor song choices and/or arrangements.  Anyway, let's get into a quick recap of some of the things I'm excited about this year and, of course, those dreadful performances.

Comments on Season 13 So Far
  • There is no doubt that the judging panel is a huge improvement from last year, maybe even the last few years since the departure of Simon Cowell.  Besides definitely being absolutely the most photogenic panel of all time, they are providing some great feedback as well.  And Harry, as many of us assumed he would be, is a breath of fresh air with the critiques.  He's made a lot of comments that I'm usually yelling at the TV or whining about in this recap.  He sees through the BS and the vocal gymnastics of some of the contestants and I love that.  And, he put the fear of embarrassment into any judge that will ever utter the word "pitchy" again.  We also got through the majority of the season without also hearing the word "DAWG".   Of course, that all changed when Randy made his first appearance last week.  But, I don't mind him in his reduced capacity on the show.  It brings a sense of continuity to the past seasons while the show is moving on to new frontiers. 
  • You can tell the production of the show has switched hands.  Not that Nigel Lythgoe was doing an awful job, but the show needed a jolt of new creative energy.  This Swedish guy Per Blankens is doing a great job so far.  You can tell visually that they're trying something new.  Musically, they are letting contestants sing more modern songs so far.  We may see less Motown, 70s Disco and Burt Bacharach weeks (not that I minded them) in favor of what's resonating with the kids today.  You know, like the kids that think Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears are "Oldies".  
  • Voting changes!!!  When I saw all of the instruments coming out in the auditions this year, I feared that they fell into the trap of letting another dude of light pigmentation sporting a guitar get crowned yet again with the Idol trophy.  And considering the talented dudes with guitars this year, that may be the case.  But, finally, gone are the days of a skewed voting system that lets the tweens vote and vote until their fingers fall off.  There is finally a cap on voting from all channels.  Phone numbers - 50 call max.  Texting - 50 text max.  American Idol website - 50 vote max.  American Idol mobile App - 50 vote max.  You can start voting immediately after the performer performs.  But, they don't get any distinct advantage with time because they've capped the voting.  Love it.  That'll save a few seconds on the half hour results night because Ryan won't have to brag about how many millions of pointless votes they received.  Which reminds me:
  • Half Hour results shows!  -  They've promised this before but then still stuck with the hour shows.  I'm sure this could change again this season too depending on how the half hour sitcoms perform that they pair Idol with.  But, for now, this makes me happy.  I'll be able to fast forward through that in 10 minutes tops!
  • The return of Ricky Minor and his band!  No offense to Ray Chew (sp?) from the past few years, but I always loved the arrangements that Ricky and his crew would come up with.  There are only positive things that have happened since Jay Leno has left the airwaves ladies and gentlemen!  
I'm sure there are more things I enjoy about this season, but that's enough to get us started.  Here are some quick thoughts on each of the girl's performances.  

Top 10 Girls Performance Recap
  1. Majesty Rose: Pharrell Williams' "Happy" - Majesty was one of the girls that really impressed me in the auditions.  Her acoustic changed up version of a lesser known Coldplay song was pretty darn fantastic.  She was one of the better performers last night with the upbeat Pharrell tune from Despicable Me 2.  But, I think I just expect more from her in the future.  She shouldn't be in any danger of leaving the competition though.  And, I'll chalk up any reservations I have at this point to going first and being the first live show.  She'll improve, no doubt.  
  2. Kristen O'Connor: Adele's "Turning Tables" - I'm a little biased.  My 2 year old has loved Adele since he was 6 or 7 months old.  It first started when he'd stop crying at the sound of her voice, and it has evolved into him actually singing the tunes when they're on.  And, darn it, that kid emotes more in his very premature singing than anything Kristen was able to muster up in that performance of "Turning Tables"!  It was painful, very painful.  I think she even realized how boring her performance was when she randomly just started singing high notes (which thankfully, Harry commented on a couple performances later.  I hate when people just throw them in there to try and impress people.)  And until a couple of performances later, I had already labeled her the worst of the night!  (There were many worsts of the night kids)  
  3. Briana Oakley: Demi Lovato's "Warrior" - This is the girl that got cut in Vegas last year and came back with a vengeance this year.  She has an amazing voice and is definitely one of the judges'/production team's favorites.  I think she did pretty good last night.  Her voice is clearly one of the dominant powerhouses of the girls this year and that should keep her in the competition.  Of course, the pre-performance clips with Randy and Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry had me focusing on things I may not have focused on if they hadn't made me very keenly aware.  Like, her facial expressions.  If I closed my eyes or looked at my phone for the whole performance (I'll admit it, I do this a lot) I probably would've thought she was amazing.  But, I was drawn to staring at her face and making sure she expressed some feeling to me.  I could feel her attempting to force the emotions through, but all I kept seeing was "crazy eyes!"  I think she can certainly improve on this through the competition.  Her emotional capacity was definitely on a higher plane than the previous performance by Kristen! 
  4. Jena Irene Asciutto: The Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" - Parents of the world, I understand you want to be unique when naming a child.  But naming a girl Jena and pronouncing it like GINA?  That's something that George R. R. Martin would do in his novels!  (And to all of our crossover fans of both Idol and Game of Thrones, you might get that one)  Anyway, I assumed this girl would get picked as the early episodes of this season focused heavily on her.  And, we have to root for our fellow Italian American piano players, right?  I can tell she has the skills to remain in the competition.  I thought her high notes in the chorus were a little off pitch and that was a bit grating to my ears.  I think she'll be better when they let her sit down at her piano and get down to business.  
  5. Bria Anai: Melanie Fiona's "Wrong Side of a Love Song" - I don't know why you'd ever pick a song with a title that can take on so many different meanings with a bad performance.  Because, she definitely was on the wrong side of ANY song.  First Strike against her: She picked a song that I'm guessing most people that would potentially vote for her wouldn't know.  You have to play the odds here.  People want to hear songs they know unless you found a rare gem out there that would instantly move a crowd to tears on first listen.  2nd, VOCAL GYMNASTICS!  This thing was a train wreck.  You can't knock Bria for not emoting as she was working the stage and making all kinds of crazy faces during her performance.  The problem is she was pretty much oversinging the whole song and it was overbearing! 
  6. Marrialle Sellars: Katy Perry's "Roar"- Marrialle, aka Miley Cyrus with a darker complexion, has been a poster child for this season from months even before the season premiered.  They wanted to show off our new judges so her audition video "leaked" early.  Her clip even capped off one of the audition episodes.  The producers clearly had big plans for her.  I actually was never really that impressed from her performances, but figured she'd do enough to stick around until the finals.  Then she went ahead and stole Kristen's title as worst performance of the night.   First of all, what key was that song in?  She sang the whole thing in her lower register and it was awkward to listen to!  That's fine if you have a low tone and that's where you're comfortable.  But, it was so low that it was pretty much inaudible at times and definitely out of tune on the lowest notes she tried to hit.  You'd think you'd want to sing in an octave so that when you get to the chorus, you're in your most comfortable pitch and knocking things out of the park.  This was just a disaster.  Then the whole shoe incident was just bizarre.  I know, she tried to play it off but posing with the shoe at the end?  Great thinking on your "toes" there Marrialle!  It was bad, really bad.  And I don't think she's going to find many voters. 
  7. Jessica Meuse: Luke Bryan's "Drink a Beer"- Jessica definitely got some screen time during the Hollywood Group rounds when she had to deal with Stage Mom (which, I know some of that can be played up in the editing room, but clearly that mother was clearly out of control!).  She's definitely better than this performance showed.  I think my wife and I are suffering from Luke Bryan overexposure in the country world, especially since his songs have gotten very "un-country".  Of course, this song holds a special meaning to him as he wrote it as reflection from when his brother passed away.  But, I'm sure not all audiences really know that and just cheer anytime "Drink a Beer" is mentioned.  Anyway, it's a personally emotional song for Luke, but Jessica displayed no emotions in her presence or her voice when performing it.  Voice is good, guitar playing was average (as Chris Daughtry tried to tell her), presence left something to be desired.  I think she may be okay though.  We were on quite a run in the beginning of the show of having at least one girl with pink hair on the show.  It started with Nikki McKibbin in season 1 (who's son auditioned this year and basically only got through to Hollywood because he was her son) and continued for a few years after.  It's time we get someone with pink hair in the finals again! 
  8. Emily Piriz: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals' "Paris (Ooh La La)" - Forget that the subject matter of the song is not fit for the Idol Stage (and kudos to Harry to continually driving that point home to high comedic value), it's also been a favorite audition song for many contestants for the past years and is just "overexposed" on this show.  I'm personally tired of hearing it, and there isn't much melodic value to the song to try and win over voters.  That said, in a night where there were a lot of ho hum, forgettable mellow performances, this one was more of a standout.  I'm not going to give Emily any points for strategy though.  I think it was just dumb luck!  She has a decent voice, and she expressed some kind of emotion during her performance, albeit a little sultry (there's another word starting with S and ending in Y that has l's, u's and t's in the middle that I could've went with.  But, this is a family blog).  I have a feeling she'll be sticking around. (Updated: though now that I'm looking at who probably will be getting in, there may not be room for her)
  9. MK Nobilette: John Legend's "All of Me" - American Idol is definitely entering the left wing political agenda with all the press MK is getting.  Fine, she's the first openly gay contestant on Idol.  Are we really going to kid ourselves to say that there haven't been a zillion of auditions and eventual contestants that preceded her that fit that bill as well?  I can name on 4 hands contestants that never needed to make a public announcement about it.  Even Adam Lambert himself came out like a day after Idol was over.  But, whatever.  I'm not here to talk politics.  What people do in their personal lives is their own business and I'm here to critique music!  That said, she clearly was going to get picked to perform because Idol wants her on the show this year.  Fortunately for her, she was up to the task and gave a pretty sincere and sweet performance.  She didn't try to compete with the big voices and she didn't need to.  She sang the song with feeling and meaning every word of it.  Now, I don't know if that was her mom on the left when they showed shots of her family, but yikes!  At least wait until she's in the top 13 before crying like a...well, I don't think I've ever seen anything to compare it to!  Naaa, I get it.  I'm a proud parent now too.  It just happens!  She'll definitely be with us next week.     
  10. Malaya Watson: Ray Charles' "Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)" - There was no way they wouldn't be picking this crazy, weird, tuba playing, glasses and braces sporting wonder of a contestant.  She definitely is an unusual contestant but she also definitely stands out from the crowd.  She has a confidence rivaled by none of her female competitors and she can carry a tune as well.  I don't see her winning the whole show or anything, but she definitely will be moving into that top 13!
Oh yeah, and Ben Briley will be joining the top 15 boys tonight.  I'd love it if he didn't even get picked after all of that "we can't pick one" nonsense!   As always, I typed up way more than I thought I would.  With a Top 13 and not having seen the guys, it's tough to say how many girls will or will not be here come Thursday.  So, I'll just take a guess and refine it a bit tomorrow. 

Sure things: Majesty Rose, Briana Oakley, Malaya Watson, MK Nobilette, 
Safe Bets: Jessica Meuse, Jena Asciutto
Wildcard: Emily Priz
Long Shots: Kristen O'Connor, Marrialle Sellers, Bria Annai

The guys seem really talented this year, and most of my favorites from the auditions/Hollywood are in that group.  So, I'm guessing we'll be getting 7 guys and 6 girls.  That said, we're probably looking at only 2 of the Jessica, Jena, Emily grouping getting through.  I can't envision a top 13 where those 4 sure things weren't there.  But, stranger things have happened! 

Well, that's all I have to say today.  Expect much less words for the guys tomorrow and future recaps!  And expect me to say that every week and then write too much yet again every week! Hope you enjoyed my ramblings, hope to see you in the comments, and I'll see you tomorrow! 


Leslie said...

Loving me some Harry this year! From him calling out the vocal gymnastics, which I hate also, to his dad side coming out when talking about the lyrics.

Interesting stuff going on with the format change. I think it messed with most of the contestants and am hoping that they will all settle down and become more natural in their performances instead of looking like they are trying too hard.

Have to say I could do without any more Randy Jackson, but we'll see if his role is actually helpful.

Mike V. said...

Yeah, I wouldn't mind no Randy at all either but if this is how they convinced him to get out off the judge's table so be it!

Usually the first LIVE show is pretty rough. The guys will probably benefit from seeing the girls falter and do a little better. Worst case scenario: this Rush week was a bad idea and they won't try it again next year.

But yeah, hopefully next week will improve when they get back to more familiar territory.

Mary Ellen said...

Mike- Jena has roots to South Jersey! Her sister graduated Cinnaminson high school with Sally. I know Jena didnt grow up here but a lot of her family is still here. I am not watching this season but will be following your comments to hear how she is doing!!

Mike V. said...

Good to know Mary Ellen and good to hear from you! Jena a definitely seems like a south jersey girl, except for that unfortunate spelling of her name. Lol Hope all is well with you and the fam!