That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some strong voices on display, but the ones that were strong chose songs that the judges almost universally pronounced to be “the wrong song” and the entire energy of the show just felt washed-out, dried up, blown away.
The singers who impressed me this night were Siobhan Magnus, who sang “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. She began the song in a nice, very low register and soared to the “I don’t wanna’ fall in love” refrain with a lilting voice that was great. Ellen DeGeneres probably echoed my thoughts the best when she said, “I loved it. I really liked it a lot.” Simon followed up saying, “You really are a funny little thing, aren’t you?” He asked her why she had chosen that particular song, and she responded that she found it “haunting” and “memorable” and “I have a softer side, too.” Simon called it “a very, very dark song,” while Randy encouraged her to “reach for bigger things, but the short snippet that showed her being whispered about as “ a dark horse” were interesting, because Siobhan said, quite disingenuously, “What’s a dark horse?” as though she had never heard the term.
Another singer who has consistently impressed me was the multi-talented Crystal Bowersox, age 24, from Elston, Ohio, who auditioned in Chicago. Crystal sang a song by Alanis Morissette, accompanying herself on guitar and harmonica. The best summation of her performance was, “You were good tonight, but you have greatness in you.” Ellen DeGeneres said: “We are lucky that you auditioned for ‘American Idol.’ You add something fresh to the show.” This on the heels of Crystal’s admission that she had not been a big fan of the show in prior years. Other comments: “Originality. I loved the honesty. I like what you do. I like that honesty. I’m a fan,” from Randy. Crystal, A.I. watchers will recall, is the mother of a young son and got his name tattooed on her back after winning. Her back-story is interesting, too. The only negative remarks were, as usual, from Simon, who, while saying, “I really, really like you. I think you’re refreshing,” urged her to try a song by someone like David Bowie, to present herself in a different light.
Another standout performance was that of Littleton, Colorado’s Lilly Scott, who said, “It means so much to be here right now. Everything I’ve done musically has led up to now.” Lilly has the gray hair and the look of a vampire bride, but she sang, quirkily, with her guitar “Fixin’ a Hole” by the Beatles. She wears eye shadow that makes her resemble a raccoon, but she has a very different quality. Ellen said, “I think that’s what we’re talkin’ about. You sounded great.” She praised Lilly’s “random song choice” but other less positive comments were: “I’m still not feeling much Star Power.” Both Simon and Randy commented on Lilly’s honesty and believability. Simon: “Best so far. Well done. You’re believable. You come from your heart.” “ I could feel you were comfortable in your performance,” said Kara and Randy chimed in with, “I love the honesty. I thought it was great.”
Worst of the night, for me, was final contestant Katie Stevens, singing Michael Buble’s “Feelin’ Good.” Katie was way sharp when she went up for the high notes. When she sang, “Birds feelin’ high”,that was the sharpest off-key note of all of the many. She was pitchy and off-key throughout the song, (Grandmother with Alzheimer’s or not, she seemed to be channeling Granny this night in her performance and her appearance). She looked “old.” Her hair was done in an old-fashioned way, her dress, her demeanor: antique. Ellen DeGeneres said, “I want to see you be 17. The song was a little old for you.” Simon agreed, saying, “I totally agree with Ellen. So much so that it started to become annoying. Very pageant-y.” Kara finally pointed out the elephant on the dining room table, saying, “You were all over the place” on the pitch, and Randy finished up the same critique I would have given her singing saying, “You were pushing so hard that all the notes were going sharp.” Another comment: “Wow! That was not on key.” (Kara) This is never good in the finals of an “American Idol” competition.
Others that were not good: Lacey Brown (Dull. Bad outfit.) Simon said, “It was quite depressing. After about 15 seconds I wondered how much longer we’d have to listen to this. It was just boring. Sorry.” The Dixie Chicks need fear nothing here.
Haeley Vaughn: I have not been a fan of Haeley’s since the would-be black C&W singer made it through to the Final 24 over the far superior (vocally) Angela Martin. I found her song, her voice, her rendition of the Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to be just a little too chipper. I made the note, “Painful” at one point, and then Simon started in saying, “I’m being honest. For me, it was verging on terrible. A complete and utter mess. It wasn’t very good.” (Don’t hold back, Simon. Tell us how you really feel.) Ellen DeGeneres countered, “If it was a mess, it was a hot mess,” as she had previously praised Haeley, the person, saying, “Sixteen and so much presence. You just shine.”
Ashley Rodriguez, who was so promising initially, disappointed with a Leona Lewis song. Kara pointed out “Moments that weren’t great. I couldn’t really see you take a risk.” Simon called her performance “clumsy” and said he “didn’t like the arrangement.” He accurately said, “I think you are going backwards from the first time we met you Just someone who sings other people’s songs not that well” was how he characterized the Chelsea, Massachusetts college student’s performance (Ouch!). Ashley had said in previous clips, “This is the dream. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.” The dream may have to be deferred to another year if Ashley doesn’t step up her game.
Paige Miles, 24, from Naples, Florida had the dubious honor of going first. It wasn’t a memorable performance and telling us that she was sewed into her black dress with the white sash and had been “waiting 5 hours to pee” was a little bit TMI for me. She sang “All Right Now” and, although she was told she “had the best voice out of all the girls” by Simon, and told “You’ve got a ridiculous voice, girl” by Kara, the consensus seemed to be “It’s about self-belief. You have to believe you’re a star.” Paige was not a star this night, but, in all fairness, she had to sing first (always a disadvantage, I feel).
Janell Wheeler, 24, of Orlando, the wine representative who is supposed to be quarterback Tim Teabow’s girlfriend tried a “Heart” song while wearing skin-tight black leggings of some sort. Randy felt that “the song choice didn’t work for you. I like your voice.” Ellen said, “I like that song. I thought you sang it well and I like you.” Simon brought some reality to the bleating of “What about love?” by saying, “You gave it 100% effort and delivered 65%. (Leave it to Simon to articulate the thoughts of the masses.) He did say there were “moments in the song when I did like your voice,” while telling her she had gone off-key at times. He advised Janell, a fairly attractive (but not stunning) blonde, to “try to do something that makes you original” and both Simon and Kara warned her that taking on an Ann Wilson song was “too big” for her voice.
Katelyn Epperly, age 19, from West Des Moines, Iowa is a personal favorite (as an Iowa native). I put her in the “okay” category tonight, because she adopted a black strapless dress with a chanteuse look, a thing in her hair (feather, I think), big earrings, and a much “dirtier girl” look. I liked her better when she first auditioned with her wild fly-away “Witches of Eastwick” hair, and so did Kara, who commented on her look. Simon said, “I actually like you. You’re quirky, interesting, brave. I like you a lot.” Kara said, “You know your voice very, very well, you switched it up in a way,” but Kara was the judge who (also) pined for Katelyn’s fresh-faced look. Katelyn defended the many facts of her personality to Kara’s desire that she be “a little bit more natural.” Randy said, “Here’s the thing I really, really like about you. You concentrate on tone, not runs. I think you can go places and do stuff.” Ellen found her performance “interesting,” but said, “I felt like it was pushed, but you have an amazing voice.” Has the potential to be in THE GOOD category next time out. I think she will stay around.
For me, Didi Benami was also “okay.” She sang in a terrible outfit…a multi-colored vest-like garment, but the judges did not find her memorable, as she wanted the audience to “Take Me the Way I Am.” Her performance was pronounced, “Dreary. Missing a spark. In the real world, I think that would be totally forgettable. You’re just so sleepy for me.” Ellen probably phrased it the most diplomatically, saying, “First impression: A little low key.” I definitely liked her better than the judges seemed to like her.
Michelle DelaMor described herself as “a corporate singer” prior to her selection by “American Idol.” She is tall, dark and sexy. She is 23, from Miami and works at a clothing store.” I’m so excited because I know my family will be there in the audience, and I just hope to make them proud.” She sang Alicia Keys’ “Fallin.” She wore a cute black top and gray pants, but was criticized for mainly doing a cover version of the song that was not unusual or original. (I, in fact, couldn’t remember her at all and had to go back on my TVO and watch her performance for a second time, which means that she wasn’t very memorable.) She has “the look” and is a beautiful girl. Ellen said, “That was fantastic. I feel like it was safe and it seemed so easy for you. I feel like you have more in you. I think that you were great, but I know that you can do better than that. I thought it was amazing.” Simon said, “It sounded close to the original. Not as good as the original. There wasn’t one moment in the performance that I went, ‘Wow!’ I think you’ve done enough to get through to the next round, and you look fantastic by the way.” Kara said, “There were moments that it wasn’t great.” She urged Michelle to be technically immaculate every time she stepped on the stage and she felt that Michelle lacked believability but could “get there.’ Randy said, “You actually did a pretty good job doing it. You’ve got a great voice and a great look. All that is hot and dope and cool. But take some risks. Show me something nobody has showed me yet.”
I think that Simon’s comment about things being “a mess” (countered by Ellen DeGeneres’ saying, “But a hot mess,” followed by Simon’s saying, “Seems to be the way it’s going tonight”) was accurate for the entire program. The girls—who seem stronger than the boys this year— (even Simon was quoted this way in the New York Post) didn’t deliver. It may have been nerves, as the talent is definitely there. My top 3 for the evening may soon be joined by the likes of Katelyn Epperly or Michelle DeLaMor, but, overall, the evening was disappointing, and, without Simon’s caustic honesty, the comments of the other judges would have been fairly insipid.