The Top Ten At Least Avoid No Boundaries

Oh, Season 12, you have so much potential. So many of you can sing! And the judging panel can be moderately entertaining at times. (Also the judging panel does not seem to be opposed to a little dissent among the ranks, which at least makes for varied critiques, even if it sometimes manages to just be four different flavors of dead wrong.) And we got a new theme which actually allowed for a bunch of songs (11 artists’ discographies!) that have never been performed on the show before! But alas, instead we got three coronation songs and “I Surrender” and “Breakaway”, one of the few Idol alum songs that’s already been performed twice on the show. (Both times, unsurprisingly, to remarkably horrifying ends.)

Basically if these contestants ever learn how to pick songs and maybe get introduced to the world of music outside of ballads, we’ll have a great season. After four straight weeks of ballads, though, I’m not looking too hopeful.

Curtis Finch Jr. – “I Believe” (Fantasia)
When Curtis said, “tonight I’m going to be singing ‘I Believe’ by Fantasia” I nearly blacked out from a combination of rage of uncontrollable laughter. Because of course the first performance was going to be “I Believe”, which is not only a coronation song, but a coronation song that’s been sung five times previously on the show (Fantasia, Diana DeGarmo, Lakisha Jones, Syesha Mercado, Joshua Ledet). And while all those previous times it’s been a bad choice greeted with general distaste, it was at least sung well. So Curtis Finch Jr. has the distinction of being the only person to be out of breath, off pitch and wearing a jacket made out of my grandma’s wallpaper. It was so bad that Nicki Minaj pretended to be stuck in traffic just so she could avoid it. (Also, dude, it’s a little early for the gospel choir, isn’t it?) On the plus side, it gave me this:

Janelle Arthur – “Gone” (Montgomery Gentry, covered by Scotty McCreery)
I really love the tone of Janelle’s voice, so I’ve been rooting for her to do well since the quarterfinals. And while she’s been mostly passable, she hasn’t really been good yet. “Gone” was no different. She gets all the points in the world for being the only one to go uptempo (although, I suppose she can’t get all the points because she failed to leap across the stage like Scotty did), but that doesn’t save her from being flat with breath support problems. Also, she’s like aggressively charming and not in a good way, if that’s possible. It’s unnerving.

Devin Velez – “Temporary Home” (Carrie Underwood)
“I want to show them that I can do more than just the ballads,” Devin Velez lied, as he sat on stage and sang the wimpiest Carrie Underwood ballad in existence. It was boring and anemic and no one ever cared. Not the pianist who stuttered over a note in the beginning or the backup singer who sounded a lot like that mechanical female voice on every karaoke track. As with most of the field, he’s a fine singer but this was a poor showcase for that.

Angie Miller – “I Surrender” (Celine Dion, covered by Kelly Clarkson)
Angie Miller still has all the hair. All of it. She somehow managed to steal all the hair from the entire cast of Full House and is keeping it for good. Anyway, she’s a pretty girl with a pretty voice and she actually made it through “I Surrender” with surprising ease. But that’s about where the compliments end. She is no Kelly Clarkson. I don’t know why she would try to sing this song when all anyone is going to be thinking is, “you are no Kelly Clarkson.” Kelly Clarkson could barely speak when she sang “I Surrender” and still Angie couldn’t come close.

Paul Jolley – “Amazed” (Lonestar, covered by Scotty McCreery)
Things said during Paul’s talk with Iovine: “I need to get my stuff straight”, “You ever notice when you go to Broadway, when you go to a show… who sings like that?”, “I don’t know where it comes from”, “What will kill you is those theatrics”, “I need to tone it down a notch.” Basically, what I’m getting at here, is they have all correctly identified that the key to Paul winning Idol is to tone down the gay. And guys, Paul tried so hard! His face really looked like it was fighting to break free most of the performance, but he sort of managed. Anyway, the rest of it was fine and then Nicki Minaj said Paul stimulated her sexual appetite and I wept for the chances of all the girls. (This is mostly hyperbole, I think a girl could win!!! I still have hope!!!)

Candice Glover – “I (Who Have Nothing)” (Ben E. King, covered by Jordin Sparks
Candice Glover has artistry, or whatever the buzz word that Idol decides to use for white guys with guitars. She’s an endlessly creative vocalist and she makes the absolute smartest decisions with her runs. Her turns are always surprising and pleasing and she’s got the ability to take pretty much any song and twist it into a contemporary R&B vibe. She’s crazy good and “I (Who Have Nothing)” was crazy good. Like, probably better than Jordin and Haley crazy good. She’s not going to win. But she should. Because she is CRAZY GOOD.

Lazaro Arbos – “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)
Alright so Lazaro’s actual performance was a horrifying trainwreck of terrible vocals and hilariously literal backdrops and misguided everything. But his pre-performance package with Jimmy looked like two middle school children flirting with each other. It was strange. And oddly endearing. But mostly strange. There was a lot of shy giggling and awkwardly playing with hair and stilted, but fond small talk. I’m not sure what that vibe was all about, really. But even that was way more comfortable than watching Lazaro attempt to explain his song choice to Keith Urban. (Not to be insensitive, but… maybe someone should just hand him a white board.)

Kree Harrison – “Crying” (Roy Orbison, covered by Carrie Underwood)
Kree is great and comes in the mold of genre-ambiguous soul/rock/country white girl that the online Idol audience has been gravitating towards (Elise/Haley/Crystal). Not that Kree is the same as any of those ladies (and not that those ladies are even very similar to each other). Basically, what I’m saying, is like all three of those ladies, I like Kree, but I like her a lot less than most people. She’s great and has a terrific voice and tends to make interesting song choices and seems like a fun person. But on a subjective level, I’m not particularly drawn to her tone and “Crying” didn’t feel particularly special. It was pleasant, but I was too put off by her styling and her staring into the camera to really get into it. Sorry internet!

Burnell Taylor – “Flying Without Wings” (Ruben Studdard)
Burnell has a really strong, interesting voice with a great buttery tone. Of course, Burnell decided to sing a Westlife song dressed as Ruben Studdard’s coronation song and so he kind of hamstrung himself from the get go. He really did the absolute most he could with it and has a great lower register (which offsets his thinner, nasally upper register), but it was still “Flying Without Wings” and therefore totally worthless for the music consuming audience. Like that song is boring and sappy but doesn’t even have the same hokey-but-effective swell of some of the other coronation songs. Just. Why.

Amber Holcomb – “A Moment Like This” (Kelly Clarkson)
You know how the voting audience loves WGWGs and the internet loves folky white girls? Well I perhaps may be a bit biased towards the token R&B black chicks. In this case, that’s Candice and Amber. Which means I, maybe, sort of, just a little bit, love everything Amber does and sings. Even “A Moment Like This.” She’s got a ridiculously smooth, appealing tone that’s a little bit Whitney Houston and this effortless, contemporary delivery style that’s a lot like Beyonce. And honestly is there a better combination out there? (Protip: There isn’t.) And she’s maybe also really attractive but that totally does not factor into my opinion at all. Really.

Bottom 3: Janelle, Devin, Curtis
Going home: Curtis


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